In this interesting work, first published in Spanish in 1964, the author shows that he knows what is useful by outlining a program of research (p. 10) that aims to present numerous objective data concerning costs and productivity in the Cuban sugar industry from 1760 to 1895, and to “reconstruct” production and other statistics for the entire Cuban industry, as well as sugar prices in major markets for two centuries. He will do properly this and more, by studying many accounts of mills and other documents, by applying his knowledge of raspadura manufacture in modern Cuba to an analysis of eighteenth-century techniques, and by drawing on the memories of old-timers, including his own father, for many years mill administrator and technician. Newly available sources will be tapped: “As a result of the revolutionary process, many private bibliographical collections of rare value [are now] at the disposal of investigators,” including many accounts of mills. We are offered a panorama of exemplary scope, illuminated by sources of outstanding value; the program is wholly laudable, not least because its data should provide a firm basis for comparison with mills in other places.
Unfortunately, that program does not describe this book. Examination of its 418 footnotes reveals quite different tendencies: there are 348 citations of printed works by 140 authors (and 23 others, such as newspapers), but only 187 citations of 132 documents, and these overwhelmingly from the papers of the Real Consulado, which yields 144 citations of 95 documents. These are mostly informes and discussions of projects and general trends, and doubtless very informative; but in light of Moreno’s vigorous effort to discredit the Consulado and its members by “exposing” their bourgeois biases, as well as those of many of the authors of the printed works cited, one wonders about the suitability of most of his sources for all of his purposes. Only five manuscripts (footnotes 101, 248, 252, 323, 366) are cited of the kind that might fulfill the aims of the preface, but no important conclusions are drawn from them.
We have a work of three unconnected parts: (1) the first three chapters describe the rise of the industry in ad hoc fashion (flat, land, soil, ports, etc.), without unifying theory; (2) the fourth chapter is a long (one-third of the text) digression about nineteenth-century technology, with many good illustrations and much fascinating detail; (3) the last chapter describes conditions of agricultural labor in nineteenth-century Cuba, as appalling and wretched there as anywhere, but says little useful about its costs or productivity, much less anything persuasive about the causes of such conditions. The bibliographic citations are incomplete, there is no bibliography, no list of documents consulted, no map (indispensable for chapter 3), and neither conclusion nor closure. Many important questions are left unasked, others unanswered, perhaps because rational examination of them is foreclosed by Marxist doctrine, so pitiably inadequate to analysis of past or present; and, yet, when all of this is said, the book remains worth reading because so much of it derives from its author’s optimistic eclecticism.