During the decade or more since Fidel Castro entered Havana in triumph, many analyses of the Cuban Revolution have appeared. Some have been good; some have been bad; the overwhelming majority have been simply average. The two works under review are not “simply average.” One is quite good; the other is rather bad.
Superficially, both works are similar. Both are “micro-analyses.” José Yglesias’ In the Fist of the Revolution primarily concerns life in a Cuban country town before, during, and after the armed stage of the Revolution. Elizabeth Sutherland’s The Youngest Revolution deals with life all over Cuba from Havana to Playa Girón primarily since the Revolution came to power. Both are “personal reports,” and both are sympathetic. Yglesias and Sutherland seem relatively close to some of the people and relatively concerned about some of the problems, both of which form the basis of their analyses. And Yglesias and Sutherland are obviously excited by what Cuba is attempting and quite clearly want the Cuban revolutionary experiment to succeed.
Upon further consideration, however, one realizes that the two works are really quite different. In the Fist of the Revolution is an objective, penetrating, and thoroughly enjoyable micro-analysis of some of Cuba’s most outstanding and interesting problems. For example, the problem of the alienated youth in the midst of an experiment based primarily upon youth is discussed not as a sociologist would analyze it, but as a novelist would fictionalize it. Yglesias’ discussion is, however, analysis and not fiction. As a result, the reader is immediately involved in a situation, but not so much as to lose his objectivity and miss the point of Yglesias’ insight. Scores of political, economic, and social problems are treated in a similar manner. The overall result is a relatively sophisticated analysis of the successes and failures of the Cuban Revolution as it is viewed by that most important of all men, “the common man.”
The Youngest Revolution is an overly committed, basically superficial micro-analysis of primarily class, race, and sex in Cuba. According to Sutherland: “Of the many old ideas embedded in that pre-Revolutionary scene, those which in 1967 seemed hardest and most vital to solve fell into three areas of human relationships: class, race, and sex” (p. 98). Sutherland, however, outlines what seem to me the crucial and incidentally the most interesting questions—“How can ways of thinking and behaving, rooted in old economic relationships between people, become altered to harmonize with the new relationships?” or “How, in short, do you change what is commonly called ‘human nature’?” (p. 97). These are the “big questions” which must certainly be asked by every twentieth-century man and woman, whether revolutionary or not. It would be helpful indeed to have a micro-analysis of the Cuban Revolution with these questions as its central focus. Sutherland seemingly makes a stab at such an analysis, but devotes far too much space to the unique sidelights and not enough to the “central focus.” Further, she makes far too many statements which sound effective, but are actually rather meaningless. For example, when discussing Cuba’s New Man, i.e., Che’s “constantly unfinished product,” she concludes that “the name of the game was dialectics; its only unbreakable rules were Marx’s favorite maxim, ‘Doubt everything,’ and ‘Keep the faith’” (p. 190). I do not see how anyone can keep the faith while doubting everything. This one contradiction is not, of course, sufficient reason to condemn. Unfortunately, however, it illustrates too much of the thinking that went into The Youngest Revolution.
In conclusion, I recommend José Yglesias’ In the Fist of the Revolution to anyone interested in first-rate analysis and good literature, whatever his interest in Cuba. I recommend Elizabeth Sutherland’s The Youngest Revolution only to those who feel that they simply must read everything in print on Cuba.