For about a decade after its triumph in 1959, the Cuban Revolution generated an avalanche of books radically marked by ideological thinking, with an accurate view of reality shunted aside by almost all the authors. Revolutionary Change in Cuba is one of the first works which actually attempts—and accomplishes—“a comprehensive, well-documented, up-to-date, and relatively objective study of the revolutionary changes that have taken place in Cuba from 1959 to 1970,” as the preface states. It is a highly valuable addition to the bibliography of the Cuban Revolution, no doubt due to become a standard reference source for the Revolutions first decade.
The work under review consists of eighteen essays, the first seventeen of which are divided into three sections on the Polity, the Economy, and the Society, followed by a chapter of conclusions. The Polity section includes chapters on the role of the Party, how the Revolution was consolidated, Stalinist tendencies in post-revolutionary politics, and the role of foreign countries as actors and targets of the Revolution, including the United States, the Soviet Union, and Latin America. The Economy section consists of essays on central planning, the economy of the firm, the role of labor, international economic relations, and economic policies for growth. The Society section discusses social stratification, the role of education and of the church, the transformation of values, and the arts, theater and cinema, as well as literature.
The papers were first delivered at a seminar on Cuba at the University of Pittsburgh, during the 1969-1970 academic year. The authors include a large number of the emerging group of “Cubanologists,” both Cuban and North American, almost all based in the United States. The authors are all quite competent in their specific areas, with many of the Cubans having participated in some political or governmental aspect of the Revolution, as well as having undergone academic training in their disciplines. Although political biases sometimes show through many of the essays, it is comforting to note that there is a great amount of consensus on the important aspects of the revolutionary process across political viewpoints.
On the political dimensions of the Revolution, the several authors agree on the central role of Castro’s charisma for the consolidation of the Revolution, and the Soviet Union’s support for its survival in the face of United States hostility. Indeed, the international aspect of the Revolution, probably much more than in most other revolutions, played a crucial role in determining its course, such as the adoption of Marxism-Leninism as the official ideology. The masses have been actively participant in the process, but in a manipulative, not self-determining fashion. Economically, the Revolution has undergone repeated radical changes in course, from an emphasis on industrialization to a return to sugar, and, after some wavering, an emphasis on moral incentives, as opposed to material ones. Indeed, the radicalization of the Revolution in the late sixties also affected the social structure by the adoption of an egalitarian model of social relations.
Because of lack of space, the three best essays in the collection will be singled out for special praise. James M. Malloy’s “Generation of Political Support and Allocation of Costs” applies the author’s model of developmental revolutions originally used to study the Bolivian Revolution. It is an extremely insightful and exciting article, which brings together many known facts of the Cuban Revolution, integrates them into a coherent whole, thus explaining them, and in the process, greatly expanding our understanding of the Revolution. Carmelo Mesa-Lago’s “Economic Policies and Growth” is virtually encyclopedic in its compilation of information on the rapidly shifting and confusing economic scene in the sixties. It is balanced, as well, in showing the great obstacles and failures the Cuban economy faced. Interestingly, he was greatly aided by the Cuban Revolution’s honest self-criticisms in this sphere. Nelson Amaro’s and Carmelo Mesa-Lago’s “Inequality and Classes” presents a comprehensive and sophisticated analysis of the changes the Revolution brought to the major socioeconomic groups of Cuba. It also sheds some light on the prerevolutionary social structure. Indeed, with the publication of this book, we know now a lot more about post-1959 Cuba than pre-1959. It is time a similar compilation be published about the Cuban ancien regime.
This reviewer has only one major criticism to make of the collection of essays, namely, that certain aspects, sometimes very important for understanding the Cuban Revolution, were left out. The greatest-felt gap is the absence of a chapter on the military. Author after author points out the crucial political, economic, and social roles of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, and yet it was not singled out for special study. Almost as important is the role of the opposition, both to the Revolution as well as within itself. There are almost no references to it, and yet we know it played a most important part in the unfolding of the Revolution, at least through the mid-sixties. Related to the opposition, it is strange that the chapter on United States-Cuban relations concludes with the break of diplomatic relations in early 1961. Are we to conclude that the United States played no role at a later time in the development of the Revolution?
Nevertheless, even with these omissions, this work is a highly welcome addition to the brief list of the genuinely essential bibliography on the Cuban Revolution.