A Review of:
[The Cuban Revolution]
Thomas, Hugh. The Cuban Revolution. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers. 1971. (755 pages).
This book is the second half of a larger work, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. The purpose of the larger work is to give a detailed history of Cuba’s struggle for freedom, beginning in 1762. This volume starts in 1952, with Batista’s rise to power, and concludes in 1970, with the Ten Million Ton Harvest.
Thomas endeavored to write an encyclopedic, complete history of the complex political struggles in Cuba. The book is organized in such a way that it can either be used as a reference book, or simply read straight through. The book is divided into five main sections: The Struggle, 1952-9; Victory: L’Illusion Lyrique, 1959; Old Cuba at Sunset; The Clash, 1959-62; and the Epilogue. The Struggle (section 1) is the longest and most detailed part, while Victory (section 2) is the shortest. This reflects many things, such as the length of each time period
, noteworthiness of events and circumstances during the period, and available information about the time period. It may also reflect not only the author’s interest in each phase of history, but the assumed interest of the reader.
The book contains mostly text, but also quite a few photographs, maps, and statistical charts. The maps are not detailed, only giving a general sense of the area, but the statistical tables are fairly detailed. Overall, though, the photographs are the most helpful device in illustrating and giving additional depth to the text.
The second chapter of the book described Fidel Castro
’s childhood and youth. It describes Castro’s father, Angel, and the influence he had on his son. One such influence was Angel’s violent hatred of "The Monster of the North" (North America). Angel, who had been part of the Spanish Army, felt that the US had cheated the Spanish out of victory over Cuban rebels. He developed a deep grudge against the US, and passed that feeling along to his children.
Fidel Castro’s childhood was one of comfort and privilege. While young, he was already heading down the path to becoming a revolutionary. At age thirteen, he organized a strike against his own father. But, everything he did in his young life was also funded by his father. I was surprised by this information. It seems ironic that someone who adopted a policy that is stringently opposed to personal wealth was also incredibly dependant upon his father’s personal wealth.
Castro had taken shape and direction while at Havana University, making the necessary connections that turned him from just another rebellious kid into the leader of a nation. After obtaining power, however, he developed a great disdain for the university system, and for students. The activities and fashions of students were targeted as a lack of loyalty to the revolution. Long hair, tight pants, miniskirts, popular music and dance were all targeted as signs of “moral degeneracy and would ultimately lead to political and economic sabotage”(pg. 657). At the same time, primary schools were given a militaristic style. “After observing in December 1966 that university students had less ‘revolutionary consciousness’ than middle-grade agronomists, Castro denounced ‘the wall of theory and abstractionism’, and two years later, in December 1968, was found looking forward to a time when all Cuban universities could be abolished, since only a few exceptional activities would then require higher studies. Normal education would always include technical education in the last years and most people would then enter agriculture or industry as trained technicians: ‘in future, practically every factory, every agricultural zone, every hospital, every school will be a university’; and, it might be added, looking at the children marching to meals in military formation, and at the proliferation of uniforms (grey shirts and green trousers for secondary school pupils – becados, pink shirts and blue trousers for girls doing domestic or technical training), every school a regiment.” (pg. 651)
The book ends with the Ten Million Ton Harvest, which occurred during the “Year of Incisive Endeavour”. This was a boastful attempt to prove to the world that the economy of Cuba was not only doing well, but doing better than the rest of the world. In May of 1970, Castro was forced to admit that the production would fall under nine million tons. This figure was still quite inflated, as the official count included sugar cane left over from the previous year, and cane that was cut too early, and would actually go to waste. Another source of the exaggeration of the figures came from allies in Russia. Russia announced it had purchased seven million tons of sugar cane from Cuba. It is impossible to know how much Russia really purchased. The strangest thing about the harvest is that had the goal been achieved, it would have still come out to less than was produced per person in 1925. The long-term costs of the Ten Million Ton Harvest are still not known.
This book is far more exhaustive and detailed on the topic of the Cuban revolution
than the textbook Latin America: Its People and Its Promise. This is understandable, however. Thomas’ book devotes 755 pages solely to the political and social history of Cuba since 1952, while the textbook examines all the nations of Latin America. In the great bulk of information presented by Thomas’ book, some of the more important details get lost. The greater detail helps when looking up a specific event or aspect.
However, because the textbook was published last year, it contains more current information. Thomas’ book was published in 1971. That leaves a thirty-four year difference between the two books.
The textbook examines Cuba from different disciplines instead of the straight historical perspective Thomas uses. The chapter in the textbook examines history, but also the political, sociological, and economic aspects. Thomas mentions these facets, but in the view of a historian.
Thomas’ book is very complete and extensive. It is well organized and easy to use for reference. The book has many photographs and maps. Thomas has a writing style which keeps the reader interested. His prose is crisp and at times sarcastic, which adds subtext to the words.
This is a large book, so it may be too long for general reading. For people greatly interested in the subject, it is a wonderful choice. For readers with a more casual interest in the history of Cuba, it may be intimidating.
In conclusion, this was a very worthwhile book. It increased my understanding of the complex history of the nation of Cuba. This book can be read for entertainment, or used as a reference.