Between revolutions : reformist nationalism in Cuba, 1930s-1950s

Material Information

Between revolutions : reformist nationalism in Cuba, 1930s-1950s
Perez-Stable, Marifeli


Subjects / Keywords:
Caribbean ( LCSH )
Spatial Coverage:
North America -- Cuba -- Caribbean

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Between Revolutions: Reformist Nationalism in Cuba, 1930s1950s

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 nonsocialist 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
aid-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 administration's efforts to revise Cuba's economic and political relationship with the United States was not enthusiastically received
in Washington, Machado enacted a protective tariff .in 1927.
While maintaining U.S. goods preferential treatment in the Cuban market, the new tariff promoted modest import-substitution industriaIlization. However, itsuellactyesw ri lundercut
by the Great Depres ion and-U.S.oppositjon. The renegotiated Recip city Treaty in 1934 in effect overrode the tariff's mild
protectionism. U.S. opposition to "moderate nationalism" was
k Thus a significant factor in preventing industrial sectors from
diversifying the Cuban economy and consolidating as a class.

Perez-Stable, Marifeli 2

Machado, nonetheless, failed the reformist agenda by
seeking a second term in office and mounting a policy of repression 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 in 1933.

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. Elections 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 implementation 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 regulations 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 stagnant 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:

Perez-Stable, Marifeli 3

it helped to conceal the relative stagnation of the Cuban economy and the need to adopt a more dynamic 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 inez-Alier, 1972), the industrial i-st (Domrnquez, 19_2., and the sugar mill owners (Winocour, 1979). The revolution portrayed its defeated adversaries as incapable of addressing Cuba's problems (L6pez- Segrera, 1972; Rodrrguez, 1979).

To date, however, the literature on the subject is scant. Post-W.rld WAr__LCuban social structure has noteen sufficiently researched and anal yzad. Understanding the processes of social change in Cuba requires that the nonsocialist options available to Cuban society during the 1940s and 1950s be identified, explored, and elaborated. The "characteristic 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 diversfication and protectionism. The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Cuban Industrialists strongly and prominently advocated a program of modernization and multilateral trade relations. Tensions 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, industrialize 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

Perez-Stable, Marifeli 4

modifications in job security legislation, and demanded more moderate 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--15O employer associations and 203 professional organizations.

After World War II, U.S. investments expanded into public 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 studiegd.

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 nationalism 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 comparative perspective to the literature on reformism in Latin America.

Perez-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 literature 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 Uniersity cf Flrda ihrary-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 Congress 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 facilities.

The Biblioteca Nacional "Jos6 Mart" and the National Archives in Havana hold important and largely unstudied collections 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 is allowed.

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 development 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 economra nacional. La
Habana, 1949.

Carvajal, Juan F. "Observaciones sobre la clase media en Cuba."
In Theo R. Crevenna (ed.) Materiales para el estudio de la clase media en la America Latina II Washington, D. C.: Pan
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Consejo Nacional de Economia. El program econ6mico de Cuba. La
Habana, 1955.

Dom rnguez, Jorge I. Cuba: Order and Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1978.
_. "Seeking Permission to Build a Nation: Cuban
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Farber, Samuel. Revolution & Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 1976.

International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Report on
Cuba. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1951.

Leal, Juan Felipe. "Las clases sociales en Cuba en visperas de la
revoluci6n." Revista Mexicana de Ciencia Polrtica 19
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L6pez-Segrera, Francisco. Cuba: capitalismo dependiente y subdesarrollo (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.

Mart rnez-Alier, Juan and Verena. Cuba: economra Y sociedad.
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Mateo, Maricela. "El ABC como opcin reformista burguesa en la
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