BY MIKE TABER
The speech by Ernesto Che Guevara that begins on this page was given less than a month after the Jan. 1, 1959, victory of the revolutionary struggle that toppled the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. That struggle was led by the July 26 Movement and Rebel Army commanded by Fidel Castro.
This is the third piece in a series that will appear in the Militant each month throughout 1999 celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Cuban revolution. The series will feature speeches by central leaders of the revolution marking key turning points and major accomplishments as the revolutionary workers and farmers of Cuba pressed ahead in advancing their interests against the capitalists, landlords, and imperialist rulers in the United States. In the process, within little more than half a decade of the insurrectionary victory, a mass communist party had been formed.
Guevara was an Argentine-born revolutionary who joined the July 26 Movement in Mexico in 1955 as the Cuban revolutionaries were preparing to relaunch the insurrectionary struggle against Batista. In the course of Cuba's 1956-58 revolutionary war, Guevara became one of the central commanders of the Rebel Army. His account of these experiences, and how they transformed him and hundreds of thousands of others, is contained in Episodes of the Cuban Revolutionary War: 1956-58 (Pathfinder, 1996).
One of the revolution's central political leaders, Guevara took on a number of important assignments in the revolutionary government, including president of the National Bank and minister of industry, while continuing his duties as an officer in the armed forces. He frequently represented Cuba internationally, including at the United Nations and in other world forums. He helped bring about the political regroupment that led to the founding of the Communist Party of Cuba in October 1965.
During the revolutionary war, the Rebel Army and July 26 Movement had mobilized Cuba's toilers to bring down the bloody Batista dictatorship, throw off the yoke of Yankee economic and political domination, and initiate radical land reform. Also opposing Batista were substantial bourgeois forces, most of whom did little to bring down the regime but were energetic in seeking to block the Rebel Army's victory.
When it became clear this could not be prevented, these forces - in league with Washington - set their hopes on buying off and corrupting the revolutionary leadership. They confidently expected to engineer the sequence of events often seen elsewhere in Latin America throughout the 20th century: that the July 26 Movement's program would remain only a piece of paper, while in practice the interests of Washington and of Cuba's landlords and capitalists would be secure. Eventually, they anticipated, the situation would "stabilize" enough so that the bearded rebels could be discarded altogether and more reliable political and military forces reinstated.
They were wrong. From the beginning, Washington and its Cuban bourgeois soul mates underestimated the political caliber, class firmness, and repeated bold initiatives of the leadership forged by the Rebel Army, and the determination of Cuba's workers and farmers to defend their interests.
The first government that came to power in January 1959 was a coalition of the revolutionary forces led by the July 26 Movement and bourgeois opposition figures, among them the new president, Manuel Urrutia. Fidel Castro remained commander-in- chief of the Rebel Army. He had no position in the new government.
The July 26 Movement and Rebel Army forces under Castro's leadership, both inside and outside the government, continued to mobilize the toilers to carry out the program they had fought for. As the revolution deepened, Fidel Castro became prime minister in mid-February. Among the measures decreed by the government in early 1959 and implemented in practice by the Rebel Army at the head of the workers and farmers vanguard were the dismantling of the military and police forces of the Batista regime; the eradication of the extremely profitable U.S.-dominated gambling and prostitution operations; the outlawing of racist discrimination in hiring and social services; and the slashing of rents and prices for other basic good and services, such as telephone and utility rates, that consume most workers' income.
Most decisively, in May 1959 an agrarian reform law was implemented. Millions of acres of large landed estates held by U.S. and Cuban ruling-class families were confiscated, and hundreds of thousands of peasants received title to the land they worked. To implement the land reform, the new government established the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) and Castro was named INRA's president.
These measures provoked a sharpening class polarization inside Cuba, including within the coalition government. During the summer and fall of 1959, as the land reform advanced, Washington's economic and military hostility escalated. As Cuban workers and peasants responded, they deepened their determination to defend their gains and realize their dreams. Under popular pressure, the representatives of capitalist forces resigned one after the other. These included Urrutia, who was replaced as president by Osvaldo Dortico's, a prominent lawyer with ample credentials as an anti-imperialist and anti-Batista fighter and a member of the July 26 Movement.
The July 26 Movement as well as other groups that participated in the fight against Batista were profoundly affected as procapitalist forces split away. More than a few joined armed counterrevolutionary organizations.
By November 1959, the last of the bourgeois forces had left the government. Washington launched a full-scale political, economic, and military campaign to overthrow the workers and farmers government.
From August to October 1960, in direct response to the escalating U.S. attacks, Cuba's working people mobilized by the millions to support and implement government decrees nationalizing the factories, refineries, mills, and other holdings of U.S.- and Cuban-owned corporations. The domination of capital was broken and the foundations laid for beginning a transition to socialism. In April 1961, the day after U.S.- organized bombing assaults on Cuban airfields and on the eve of the landing of U.S.-trained and -financed mercenary troops at the Bay of Pigs, the socialist character of the revolution was proclaimed. The invaders at the Bay of Pigs were defeated in 72 hours.
The standoff between the two irreconcilable forces represented by Havana and Washington, which continues to this day, has marked much of world politics throughout the last 40 years.
About this series
Most of the speeches that will be included in this series will appear in books that Pathfinder is preparing for publication. These include two volumes of speeches by Fidel Castro from the first decade of the revolution, Che Guevara Talks to Young People, and a new edition of Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution.
The January 18 Militant began this series with the radio address given by Fidel Castro Jan. 1, 1959, denouncing Batista's attempt to turn power over to a military junta and calling for a nationwide general strike. A speech by Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuba's National Assembly, on Cuba's first war of independence in 1868-78, the intertwined struggle against slavery, and the forging of the Cuban nation, appeared in the February 1 issue.
The next installment in this series will be "On the Fight against Racism," a speech given by Prime Minister Castro in March 1959 announcing new measures against racist discrimination. Others will take up the first and second agrarian reforms carried out in May 1959 and October 1963, the nationalization of imperialist-owned property in August 1960, the U.S.-organized mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, and the October 1962 "missile crisis."
Some of the speeches planned for this series have never before appeared in English. Others have been out of print for many years. Militant readers who are interested in helping with the translation are invited to contact Pathfinder Press at (212) 741-0690. Messages can also be sent electronically to email@example.com or mailed to Pathfinder at 410 West Street, New York, NY 10014.
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