Between Revolutions: Reformist Nationalism in Cuba, 1930s-
This study will address the nature of the Cuban upper
and middle classes between the revolutionary struggles of the
early 1930s and the late 1950s. It will focus on the non-
socialist options available to Cuban society as responses to the
island's stagnant sugar monoculture and corrupt political system.
Cuba entered the twentieth century without a strong
upper class. The independence wars and the expansion of foreign
capital divested the planter class of wealth and independence.
World War I afforded a nascent industrial class opportunities for
import-substitution industrialization for consumer goods. By the
mid-1920s, about 1,000 manufacturing enterprises were owned by
Cubans across the island.
With the collapse of the international sugar market
during the 1920s, winds of change stirred Cuban society from all
quarters. Under the slogan, "For the Regeneration of Cuba," new
groups united in the Veterans and Patriots Movement and unfurled
a reform agenda which included a call for honesty in government,
abolition of presidential reelection, and protection for national
industry and commerce. In 1924, with the election of Gerardo
Machado, an independence war general and wealthy businessman with
interests in diverse economic sectors, the industrial sectors had
reason to believe that their agenda would be addressed.
And, indeed, it was--at least in part and briefly.
Machado's program prudently called for a renegotiation of the
Reciprocity Treaty (under which the United States granted Cuba
preferential sugar quotas in exchange for reduced tariffs for
U.S. goods) and the elimination of the Platt Amendment to the
Cuban Constitution (under which the United States had the right
to intervene in Cuba to preserve order). Although his adminis-
tration's efforts to revise Cuba's economic and political rela-
tionship with the United States was not enthusiastically received
in Washington, Machado enacted a protective tariif in 1927.
While maintaining U.S. goods preferential treatment in the Cuban
market, the new tariff promoted modest import-substitution indus-
trialization. However, its eLffecyeness was seriously undercut
by the Great Depressin andU.S.-_opposition. The renegotiated
ReciprcityE Treaty in 1934 in effect overrode the tariff's mild
protectionism. U.S. opposition to "moderate nationalism" was
I: thus a significant factor in preventing industrial sectors from
diversifying the Cuban economy and consolidating as a class.
P~rez-Stable, Marifeli 2
Machado, nonetheless, failed the reformist agenda by
seeking a second term in office and mounting a policy of repres-
sion against his opponents. In so doing, he provided the
catalyst for an opposition movement from all social sectors
which, while far from united, eventually toppled his government
Between 1933 and 1935, Cuba was engulfed by a social
revolution. A five-month nationalist government (1933-1934)
enacted legislation and adopted measures to buttress the rights
of labor and the middle class. Successive governments in the
1930s--Fulgencio Batista represented the real power in Cuba--
flexed a strong stick against social upheavals and consolidated
many of the 1933-1934 legal gains. A new constitution in 1940
crowned the compromise which concluded the 1930s revolutionary
mobilizations and governments of questionable legitimacy. Elec-
tions ushered in three presidents before Batista's coup d'etat in
1952. Labor's right to organize and pursue its interests were
alsm sanctioned. During the 1940s, unions secured the imple-
mentation of progressive labor legislation and the arbitration of
labor-management disputes--more often than not--in favor of
labor. Social peace conceded job security and generous benefits
to organized labor. It exacted a heavy toll on Cuban capitalism.
The economy, however, failed to receive a new charter.
After 1937, sugar production was locked into restrictive regula-
tions and a permanent land-tenancy system which rendered the
industry increasingly irrational and inefficient. The failure of
"moderate nationalism" resulted in a highly protected sugar
industry. During the 1950s, Cuba produced an average of five
million tons of sugar annually--the same as during the 1920s,
except by then, the population had doubled. Nonsugar industrial
production, however, did experience growth during the 1940s and
1950s--an average of nearly 6 percent a year. World War II, the
Korean War, and joint ventures of foreign and domestic capital
spurred further import-substitution industrialization.
Nonetheless, during the 1950s, Cuba continued to derive
25 percent of its GNP and 80 percent of its exports from a stag-
nant monoculture. The sugar sector employed about 25 percent of
the labor force. Non-sugar industry and agriculture were not
significantly redressing unemployment and underemployment. The
prosperity of the 1940s and early 1950s was deceptive. In 1950,
the World Bank observed:
Pdrez-Stable, Marifeli 3
it helped to conceal the relative stagnation of
the Cuban economy and the need to adopt a more
dynamic approach...to a large extent, Cuba was
living in--and on--the past...
Shortly after the 1959 revolution, a debate on the
existence of a "national bourgeoisie" in Cuba developed among
scholars. The ease with which the revolutionaries defeated the
old order led several authors to conclude that the Cuban upper
classes were weak, divided, without direction (Blackburn, 1963;
Wood, 1970; Padula, 1974). Others focused on the growing upper
class strengths during the 1940s and 1950s: the sugar cane
growers (Mart nez-Alier, 1972), the indus-rianli-st (DomJnquez,
19_2&, and the sugar mill owners (Winocour, 1979). The revolu-
tion portrayed its defeated adversaries as incapable of address-
ing Cuba's problems (L6pez- Segrera, 1972; Rodrrguez, 1979).
To date, however, the literature on the subject is
scant. Post-W.rld WA II Cuban social structure has notbeen
sufficientlyresearched and analyzed. Understanding the
processes of social change in Cuba requires that the non-
socialist options available to Cuban society during the 1940s and
1950s be identified, explored, and elaborated. The "character-
istic uniqueness of the reality," as Max Weber contended, is a
largely unexplored terrain for Cuba between revolutions.
It is the purpose of this study to examine the strength
of reformist nationalism in Cuba during the 1940s and 1950s. The
stagnant but still vital sugar industry had significantly (about
60 percent) passed into Cuban hands. At times, sugar mill owners
took rather uncharacteristic nationalist stands against possible
reductions of Cuba's sugar quota in the U.S. market. New markets
were sought. During the late 1950s, for example, Cuba sold over
500,000 tons of sugar to the Soviet Union. Since the 1930s,
sugar cane growers defended their interests within the sugar
industry (against those of sugar mill owners and agricultural
workers) and pondered strategies of diversification and pro-
tectionism. The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association
of Cuban Industrialists strongly and prominently advocated a
program of modernization and multilateral trade relations. Ten-
sions and collusions--both potential and actual--existed among
Cuba's upper classes.
What to do about sugar was the central question. Some
Cubans had already answered it: modernize the industry, industri-
alize on the basis of sugar and other agricultural by-products,
diversify agriculture, and expand the domestic market for light
consumer durables. A new compact was being forged with labor.
By the 1950s, a collaborationist union leadership began to tone
down its opposition to mechanization, was disposed to listen to
P~rez-Stable, Marifeli 4
modifications in job security legislation, and demanded more mod-
erate wage and fringe benefits. Banks were "cubanized" and a
National Bank was established in 1948. For the first time, both
the government and the private sector were forging research and
development policies that could have complemented a modernization
and diversification program. The Cuban upper and middle classes,
moreover, had an array of organizations--150 employer associa-
tions and 203 professional organizations.
After World War II, U.S. investments expanded into pub-
lic utilities, oil refining, communications, tourism, and mining.
A 1956 U.S. Commerce Department report urged a close cooperation
between foreign and domestic capital in breaking the "sugar
spell" and engaging Cuba's "reasonably industrious, abstemious
and intelligent, self-respecting, healthy, friendly, and alert"
people in economic diversification. Important sectors of Cuban
society were indeed receptive to such a cooperation.
Elucidating the class configuration of social change is
a fundamental endeavor of social and historical inquiry. The
literature on Cuba has often eschewed an analysis of social
structure. Social change in revolutionary Cuba has more often
than not been studied as a function of elite struggles and
external dependency. Social change in the two decades before
1959 has been barely studied.
This project will continue the work I started in my
doctoral dissertation and am continuing in its revision. Its
premise is that Cuban society allowed the revolutionary break.
Yet, socialism was neither an inescapable nor an exclusive
option. The strength of the popular sectors which created its
conditions and couched its subsequent development is the subject
of Class and Gender in Revolutionary Cuba. A reformist nation-
alism which did not ultimately muster the resources--social,
political, economic, cultural--to revise the old order is the
subject of Between Revolutions. Its failure in 1959 has obscured
its strengths. This study aims to begin uncovering them as a
contribution to an understanding of the origins of the revolution
and its alternatives. An historically based analysis of
reformism in Cuba between the 1930s and the 1950s will lend com-
parative perspective to the literature on reformism in Latin
P6rez-Stable, Marifeli 5
This study will be based on substantial research in
primary sources. Newspapers, magazines, journals, and other
1940s and 1950s publications will be reviewed. The modest liter-
ature on Cuban society in the two decades before the revolution
does not generally and systematically draw upon primary sources.
The Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and the
University fE Florda Libhray-are among the primary repositories
for these materials in the United States. I would spend the
grant year in New York, working with the Public Library resources
and interlibrary loans. I would also work at the Library of Con-
gress at different intervals in the year. I will apply to the
Center for Latin American Studies' travel grant program for
library research at the University of Florida to use its
The Biblioteca Nacional "Jos6 Martf" and the National
Archives in Havana hold important and largely unstudied collec-
tions for the period to be studied. I conducted research in Cuba
in 1975 and 1977 for my doctoral dissertation. I have asked the
Ministry of Culture to grant me a two-month stay in spring 1989
to work in the Biblioteca Nacional and the Archives. The
preliminary response has been favorable. I will apply to the
American Philosphical Society and the Ford Foundation for funds
to cover my travel to Cuba. Although the U.S. government
presently restricts travel to Cuba, travel for research purposes
The present study is in its incipient stages. I have
completed readings in the scant secondary literature. My work in
Class and Gender in Revolutionary Cuba has included reviewing
selected months of El Mundo, Bohemia, Carteles, Hoy, Diario de la
Marina in the 1940s and 1950s for information concerning labor
unions and women. Chapter I of Class and Gender overviews devel-
opment strategies in Cuba between the 1930s and the 1980s. In
the process, I have obtained some preliminary data on reformism
between revolutions which strongly support the premise that, its
failure notwithstanding, its strengths have yet to be fully
uncovered and analyzed. I will finish the revision of Class and
Gender in Fall 1988. The proposed project will be a full-time
research commitment in January 1989. A tentative timetable is:
1989-1990 for research and 1991-1992 for writing.
Perez-Stable, Marifeli 6
Blackburn, Robin. "Prologue to the Cuban Revolution." New Left
Review. 21 (October 1963), 52-91.
Camara de Comercio y Asociaci6n Nacional de Industriales de Cuba.
Conferencia para el progreso de la economFa national. La
Carvajal, Juan F. "Observaciones sobre la clase media en Cuba."
In Theo R. Crevenna (ed.) Materiales para el studio de la
clase media en la America Latina II Washington, D. C.: Pan
American Union, 1950-1951. 30-44.
Consejo Nacional de Economia. El program econ6mico de Cuba. La
Dom nguez, Jorge I. Cuba: Order and Revolution. Cambridge: Har-.
vard University Press. 1978.
"Seeking Permission to Build a Nation: Cuban
Nationalism and U.S. Response Under the First Machado Presi-
dency." Cuban Studies/Estudios Cubanos 16 (1986), 33-48.
Farber, Samuel. Revolution & Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960. Mid-
dietown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1976.
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Report on
Cuba. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1951.
Leal, Juan Felipe. "Las classes sociales en Cuba en visperas de la
revoluci6n." Revista Mexicana de Ciencia Pol tica 19
(octubre-diciembre 1973) 99-109.
L6pez-Segrera, Francisco. Cuba: capitalism dependiente y sub-
desarrollo (1510-1959). La Habana: Casa de las Americas,
Marti, Jorge L. "Class Attitudes in Cuban Society on the Eve of
the Revolution, 1952-1958." Specialia 3 (August 1971) 28-35.
Martrnez-Alier, Juan and Verena. Cuba: economra y sociedad.
Paris: Ruedo Iberico, 1972.
P6rez-Stable, Marifeli 7
Mateo, Maricela. "El ABC como opci6n reformist burguesa en la
pol tica neocolonial cubana." In La repdblica neocolonial.
II. La Habana: Editorial Ciencias Sociales, 1979. 329-432.
O'Connor, James. The Origins of Socialism in Cuba. Ithaca, N.Y.
Cornell University Press, 1970.
Padula, Alfred L., Jr. The Fall of the Bourgeoisie: Cuba, 1959-
1961. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. University of New
Pdrez, Louis A., Jr. Cuba Under the Platt Amendment, 1902-1934.
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986.
Cuba Between Empires, 1878-1902.
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Pdrez-Lopez, Jorge F. "An Index of Cuban Industrial Output, 1930-
1958." In James W. Wilkie and Kenneth Riddle (eds.)
Quantitative Latin American Stduies: Methods and Findings.
Los Angeles: University of California Latin American Center
Publications, 1977. 37-72.
Raggi Ageo, Carlos Manuel. "Contribuci6n al studio de las classes
medias en Cuba." In Theo R. Crevenna (ed.) Materiales para
el studio de la clase media en la America Latina II
Washington, D.C.: Pan American Union, 1950-1951. 73-89.
Rodriguez, Carlos Rafael. Cuba en el trAnsito al socialismo. La
Habana: Editora Polrtica, 1979.
Thomas, Hugh. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. New York: Hartper &
Row, Publishers, 1971.
"Middle-Class Politics and the Cuban Revolution."
In Claudio Veliz (ed.) The Politics of Conformity in Latin
America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967. 249-277.
U.S. Department of Commerce. Investment in Cuba. Washington,
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Barcelona: Editorial Critica, 1979.
Wood, Dennis. "The Long Revolution: Class Relations and Political
Conflict in Cuba, 1868-1968." Science and Society 34 (1970)