Class and gender in revolutionary Cuba

Material Information

Class and gender in revolutionary Cuba
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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Full Text

Perez-Stable, Marifeli -1Class and Gender in Revolutionary Cuba


This study examines the relationship between political power, development, social class, and gender in Cuba. It focuses on the Central Organization of Cuban Trade Unions (CTC) and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) in view of development strategies, state and party institutions, and social structure between 1959 and 1986. It also addresses these issues in Cuban society during the two decades before the revolution.

From the 1930s to the 1950s, Cuba underwent rapid change.
In 1933-1934, a five-month nationalist government enacted legislation to secure the rights of labor, women, and the middle class. Successive governments in the 1930s flexed a strong stick against social upheavals and consolidated many of the 1933-1934 gains. In 1938, Fulgencio Batista achieved an alliance with--the Communist Party and allowed the reorganization of the labor movement. Under Batisaf's auspicesand-cojmundst control, the CTC was founded in 1939. In 1940, a new constitution emb6~dThid a compromise among classes. Its enactment symbolized the conclusion of the 1930s social unrest and subsequent governments of dubious. legitimacy. Elections ushered in three governments before Batista's coup d'etat in 1952. The unionized working class, (about 50 percent of the labor-forcce. was a central factor in that compromise. In the 1940s, unions succeeded in pressuring the government to implement progressive legislation and to decide labor-management disputes--more often than not--in favor of labor. Social peace in Cuba conceded job security and generous benefits to organized labor. The labor movement forged a close relationship with the state to defend its gains.

The Cuban economy, however, could not sustain labor's gains
in the 1940s without compromising its future growth. Cuban capitalists clamored the state to formulate policies more attentive to new investments and higher profit rates. World War II had secured prosperity as markets for sugar expanded and prices rose. After the war, Cuba was confronted by the stagnation of the sugar industry (production levels were the same as in the 1920s, but the population had doubled) and the prospects of contracted markets at lower prices. In the 1940s and 1950s, economic development programs were chartered in several quarters: the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Industrialists, the World Bank, the CTC, the National Economic Council. All agreed that the modernization of the sugar industry and the promotion of light, processing industries were the mainstay of Cuba's future progress. All--except the CTC--likewise agreed that a militant labor movement and an interventionist state would deter progress.

By the 1950s, inroads had been made towards the fulfillment
of these strategies. One of the more significant was a more collaborationist labor movement. In 1947, the communists had been

Perez-Stable, Marifeli -2ousted from the CTC leadership. While initially more militant in its demands than the communists, the new leadership soon moderated its position on wage increases, working conditions, and labor-saving technologies. It indeed appeared that Cuba was on the right track.

In 1959, the revolution upstaged its direction. It established a new social logic to development strategies. Improving the standards of living of los humildes (the poor) constituted the revolution's foremost objective. Its initial program of agrarian and urban reforms, wage increases, tax reforms, utility and telephone rate reductions, among others, raised popular expectations and mobilized the opposition of the Cuban upper classes and the United States. A popular momentum was enfranchised. Development strategies did not, however, depart radically from the visions of the 1940s and 1950s. An ill-conceived, poorly implemented program of import-substitution industrialization and agricultural diversification which neglected the sugar industry quickly gave way to a sugar-centered strategy of modern-ization, industrialization, and diversification. The sociopolitical context in which these strategies were implemented was fundamentally altered by the revolution.

The consolidation of the revolution brought the centralization of power and the curtailment of political autonomy. A militant and independent CTC (without precedent in prerevolutionary Cuba) was preempted by the revolutionary government. The labor movement was reorganized to attend to economic development, national defense, and all workers (not just the unionized sector). Founded in 1-95. the FMC did not build-upon-a-prerevolutionary women's organization. It sought the mobilization of women in support of the new government and their incorporation to the labor force. Charismatic leadership and the vanguard party formulated programs and policies intended to secure the revolution's survival and development. The organizational roles of the CTC and the FMC and the scope of the "legitimate" demands of workers and women in Cuban society were subordinated to national goals.

Between 1959 and 1986. two-yisions of socialism guided the revolutinn- Th-firf.tpredominated inthe_1960. It promoted highly centralized economic planning, moral incentives, and limited institutionalization. It did not accept the Soviet Union as the model for socialism. Trade unions virtually disappeared as vanguard workers (10 percent of the labor force) occupied center stage. The FMC grew slowly during the decade. By 1970, women had barely surpassed their prerevolutionary levels in the labor force (from approximate~14 percent to 18 percent). The second predominated in the 1970s and early 1980s. It promoted less centralized economic planning, material incentives, and a process of institutionalization. It turned to the Soviet Union for a blueprint to adapt to Cuban conditions. The labor movement

Perez-Stable, Marifeli -3broadened its base. Ordinary workers became its focus. The FMC lso expanded its membership and its presence in society as omen's mass organization. The party-led institutionalization partly allowed the CTC and the FMC to address the specific intereats of workers and women. During 1986, the revolution underwent
reconsideration of the second model and partially rejected its remises. There was a resurgence of more centralized planning end moral incentives. However, the institutions of the 1970s and early 1980s were not challenged.

This study develops a historical perspective on social change in Cuba. Its premise is that Cuban society provides the context which allowed the revolutionary break. It analyzes the CTC and the FMC in relation to party and state and in view of development strategies and socialist models. It seeks to identify structural determinants of social change in Cuba. The present study relates to the literature on Cuba which identifies pre and postrevolutionary society as the primary level of analysis and. research. It departs from a dominant theme in the literature which focuses on elite struggles and Cuba's external dependency.


Class and Gender in Revolutionary Cuba will be a substantial revision of my dissertation. I have started new research on development strategies in the'1940s and 1950s and expanded upon previous work on the CTC before the revolution. The gender question before 1959 has yet to be investigated. Additional research on the 1959-1961 period will also be undertaken. The book-length manuscript will consist of six chapters: development in Cuba before and after 1959; class and gender between the 1930s and the 1950s; three chapters examining party and state institutions in relation to the CTC and the FMC and in view of alternate socialist models in the periods 1959-1961, 1961-1970, and 19701986; a conclusion.

Primary sources and the secondary literature have been
extensively examined. Newspapers, periodicals, magazines, and other primary sources for further research are available in the New York Public Library or can be obtained through interlibrary loan. An ACLS Fellowship for Recent Recipients of the Ph.D. would allow me to complete this research and enter the final stage of writing.

In writing the dissertation and thinking about its revision, I developed a related and equally important research interest. In order to understand the origins and the development of the revolution, it is crucial to learn about the strength of reformist nationalism and the non-socialist options in Cuba between the 1930s and 1950s. I plan to start research on this topic in 1989.