Originally published in Verde Olivo [Olive Green] magazine, 8 October 1960. This version belongs to Escritos y discursos, vol. 4. This translation was provided by A. N. and Brian Baggins for the Marxists Internet Archive.
This is a unique revolution which some people maintain contradicts one of the most orthodox premises of the revolutionary movement, expressed by Lenin: “Without a revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement.” It would be suitable to say that revolutionary theory, as the expression of a social truth, surpasses any declaration of it; that is to say, even if the theory is not known, the revolution can succeed if historical reality is interpreted correctly and if the forces involved are utilised correctly.
Every revolution always incorporates elements of very different tendencies which, nevertheless, coincide in action and in the revolution’s most immediate objectives.
It is clear that if the leaders have an adequate theoretical knowledge prior to the action, they can avoid trial and error whenever the adopted theory corresponds to the reality.
The principal actors of this revolution had no coherent theoretical criteria; but it cannot be said that they were ignorant of the various concepts of history, society, economics, and revolution which are being discussed in the world today.
Profound knowledge of reality, a close relationship with the people, the firmness of the liberator’s objective, and the practical revolutionary experience gave to those leaders the chance to form a more complete theoretical concept.
The foregoing should be considered an introduction to the explanation of this curious phenomenon that has intrigued the entire world: the Cuban Revolution. It is a deed worthy of study in contemporary world history: the how and the why of a group of men who, shattered by an army enormously superior in technique and equipment, managed first to survive, soon became strong, later became stronger than the enemy in the battle zones, still later moved into new zones of combat, and finally defeated that enemy on the battlefield even though their troops were still very inferior in number.
Naturally we, who often do not show the requisite concern for theory, will not run the risk of expounding the truth of the Cuban Revolution as though we were its masters. We will simply try to give the bases from which one can interpret this truth. In fact, the Cuban Revolution must be separated into two absolutely distinct stages: that of the armed action up to January 1, 1959, and the political, economic and social transformations since then.
Even these two stages deserve further subdivisions; however, we will not take them from the viewpoint of historical exposition, but from the viewpoint of the evolution of the revolutionary thought of its leaders through their contact with the people. Incidentally, here one must introduce a general attitude toward one of the most controversial terms of the modern world: Marxism. When asked whether or not we are Marxists, our position is the same as that of a physicist or a biologist when asked if he is a “Newtonian,” or if he is a “Pasteurian.”
There are truths so evident, so much a part of people’s knowledge, that it is now useless to discuss them. One ought to be “Marxist” with the same naturalness with which one is “Newtonian” in physics, or “Pasteurian” in biology, considering that if facts determine new concepts, these new concepts will never divest themselves of that portion of truth possessed by the older concepts they have outdated. Such is the case, for example, of Einsteinian relativity or of Planck’s “quantum” theory with respect to the discoveries of Newton; they take nothing at all away from the greatness of the learned Englishman. Thanks to Newton, physics was able to advance until it had achieved new concepts of space. The learned Englishman provided the necessary stepping-stone for them.
The advances in social and political science, as in other fields, belong to a long historical process whose links are connecting, adding up, moulding and constantly perfecting themselves. In the origin of peoples, there exists a Chinese, Arab or Hindu mathematics; today, mathematics has no frontiers. In the course of history there was a Greek Pythagoras, an Italian Galileo, an English Newton, a German Gauss, a Russian Lobachevsky, an Einstein, etc. Thus in the field of social and political sciences, from Democritus to Marx, a long series of thinkers added their original investigations and accumulated a body of experience and of doctrines.
The merit of Marx is that he suddenly produces a qualitative change in the history of social thought. He interprets history, understands its dynamic, predicts the future, but in addition to predicting it (which would satisfy his scientific obligation), he expresses a revolutionary concept: the world must not only be interpreted, it must be transformed. Man ceases to be the slave and tool of his environment and converts himself into the architect of his own destiny. At that moment Marx puts himself in a position where he becomes the necessary target of all who have a special interest in maintaining the old — similar to Democritus before him, whose work was burned by Plato and his disciples, the ideologues of Athenian slave aristocracy. Beginning with the revolutionary Marx, a political group with concrete ideas establishes itself. Basing itself on the giants, Marx and Engels, and developing through successive steps with personalities like Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung and the new Soviet and Chinese rulers, it establishes a body of doctrine and, let us say, examples to follow.
The Cuban Revolution takes up Marx at the point where he himself left science to shoulder his revolutionary rifle. And it takes him up at that point, not in a revisionist spirit, of struggling against that which follows Marx, of reviving “pure” Marx, but simply because up to that point Marx, the scientist, placed himself outside of the history he studied and predicted. From then on Marx, the revolutionary, could fight within history. We, practical revolutionaries, initiating our own struggle, simply fulfil laws foreseen by Marx, the scientist. We are simply adjusting ourselves to the predictions of the scientific Marx as we travel this road of rebellion, struggling against the old structure of power, supporting ourselves in the people for the destruction of this structure, and having the happiness of this people as the basis of our struggle. That is to say, and it is well to emphasise this once again: The laws of Marxism are present in the events of the Cuban Revolution, independently of what its leaders profess or fully know of those laws from a theoretical point of view.
Each of those brief historical moments in the guerrilla warfare framed distinct social concepts and distinct appreciations of the Cuban reality; they outlined the thought of the military leaders of the revolution — those who in time would also take their position as political leaders.
Before the landing of the Granma, a mentality predominated that, to some degree, might be called “subjectivist”: blind confidence in a rapid popular explosion, enthusiasm and faith in the power to liquidate the Batista regime by a swift, armed uprising combined with spontaneous revolutionary strikes, and the subsequent fall of the dictator. […]
After the landing comes the defeat, the almost total destruction of the forces, and their regrouping and integration as guerrillas. Characteristic of those few survivors, imbued with the spirit of struggle, was the understanding that to count upon spontaneous outbursts throughout the island was a falsehood, an illusion. They understood also that the fight would have to be a long one and that it would need vast campesino participation. At this point, the campesinos entered the guerrilla war for the first time. Two events — hardly important in terms of the number of combatants, but of great psychological value — were unleashed. First, antagonism that the city people, who comprised the central guerrilla group, felt towards the campesinos was erased. The campesinos, in turn, distrusted the group and, above all, feared barbarous reprisals of the government. Two things demonstrated themselves at this stage, both very important for the interrelated factors: To the campesinos, the bestialities of the army and all the persecution would not be sufficient to put an end to the guerrilla war, even though the army was certainly capable of liquidating the campesinos’ homes, crops, and families. To take refuge with those in hiding was a good solution. In turn, the guerrilla fighters learned the necessity, each time more pointed, of winning the campesino masses. […]
[Following the failure of Batista’s major assault on the Rebel Army,] the war shows a new characteristic: The correlation of forces turns toward the revolution. Within a month and a half, two small columns, one of eighty and the other of a hundred forty men, constantly surrounded and harassed by an army that mobilised thousands of soldiers, crossed the plains of Camagüey, arrived at Las Villas, and began the job of cutting the island in two.
It may seem strange, incomprehensible, and even incredible that two columns of such small size — without communications, without mobility, without the most elementary arms of modern warfare — could fight against well-trained, and above all, well-armed troops. The characteristics of each group are fundamental: the fewer comforts the guerrilla fighter has, the more he is initiated into the rigors of nature, the more he feels himself at home; his morale is higher, his sense of security greater. At the same time, he has learned to risk his life in every circumstance that might arise, to trust it to luck, like a tossed coin; and in general, as a final result of this kind of combat, it matters little to the individual guerrilla whether or not he survives.
The enemy soldier in the Cuban example, which we are now considering, is the junior partner of the dictator; he is the man who gets the last crumbs left to him in a long line of profiteers that begins in Wall Street and ends with him. He is disposed to defend his privileges, but he is disposed to defend them only to the degree that they are important to him. His salary and pension are worth some suffering and some dangers, but they are never worth his life; if the price of maintaining them will cost it, he is better off giving them up, that is to say, withdrawing from the face of guerrilla danger. From these two concepts and these two morals springs the difference which would cause the crisis of 31 December 1958.
Here ends the insurrection. But the men who arrive in Havana after two years of arduous struggle in the mountains and plains of Oriente, in the plains of Camagüey, and in the mountains, plains, and cities of Las Villas, are not the same men, ideologically, who landed on the beaches of Las Coloradas, or who took part in the first phase of the struggle. Their distrust of the campesino has been converted into affection and respect for his virtues; their total ignorance of life in the country has been converted into a knowledge of the needs of our guajiros; their flirtations with statistics and with theory have been fixed by the cement which is practice.
Waving the banner of Agrarian Reform, the execution of which begins in the Sierra Maestra, these men confront imperialism. They know that the Agrarian Reform is the basis upon which the new Cuba must build itself. They know also that the Agrarian Reform will give land to all the dispossessed, but that it will dispossess its unjust possessors; and they know that the greatest of the unjust possessors are also influential men in the State Department or in the government of the United States of America. But they have learned to conquer difficulties with bravery, with audacity and, above all, with the support of the people; and they have now seen the future of liberation that awaits us on the other side of our sufferings.
In order to achieve this final formulation of our goals we walked a long way and changed a great deal. In parallel to the successive qualitative changes taking place on the battlefronts run the changes in the social composition of our guerrillas, as well as the ideological transformations of their leaders. Each of these processes — of these changes — effectively constitutes a qualitative change in the composition, the strength, and the revolutionary maturity of our army. The peasant gives his vigor, his tolerance for suffering, his knowledge of the terrain, his love of the land, his hunger for Agrarian Reform. The intellectual, of any type, contributes their small grain of sand, beginning to sketch out the theory of the revolution. The worker gives his sense of organization, his innate tendency to gather and unify. Above all we have the example set by the rebel forces, who had already demonstrated that they were much more than an “irritating thorn,” whose feats kept uplifting and igniting the masses until they lost their fear of the executioners.
The concept of interaction was never so clear to us as it is today. We were able to feel how this interaction was maturing, teaching us the effectiveness of armed insurrection, the strength man discovers within himself when, to defend himself against other men, he wields a weapon in his hand and determination in his eyes; and the campesinos, savvy to the Sierra, showed us the strength required to live and to thrive in it, the tenacity and the capacity for sacrifice necessary to be able to carry forward the destiny of a people.
Therefore when, drenched in peasant sweat, with nothing but mountains and clouds in the horizon, under the scorching sun of the island, the rebel chief and his retinue entered Havana, “through the stairway of the winter garden, with every step taken by the people, history ascended.”