BY SETH GALINSKY
Today, in the midst of the worst capitalist economic crisis since the 1930s, workers and young people will appreciate the new book La victoria estratégica by Fidel Castro. It gives a vivid picture of how workers and farmers are capable of defeating even the most powerful oppressor with the most modern weapons of destruction at its disposal.
Through La victoria estratégica the reader gains an understanding of the history of the Cuban Revolution. It is an excellent recounting of the military tactics and strategy during key battles that broke the back of the army of one of the most repressive regimes in Latin America at the time. More importantly, through this book you get a sense of the type of organization, leadership, program, cadres, discipline, and selfless functioning that is needed (and possible) for working people to take power out of the hands of the ruling rich.
On Dec. 2, 1956, Fidel Castro and 81 other members of the July 26 Movement, traveling on the yacht Granma, landed in Cubas Oriente Province to initiate the guerrilla struggle to overthrow the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.
Rapidly discovered by Batistas forces, half were either captured and thrown in prison or assassinated. Over the next several weeks, those fighters who eluded the Batista army made their way to the Sierra Maestra mountains in the southeastern part of the island. Within a little over a year, Castro turned the Rebel Army into an experienced fighting force, recruiting peasants and workers to its ranks, and defeating numerous attempts by Batista to dislodge them.
Then in April 1958 the July 26 Movement in the cities launched an ill-conceived and ill-prepared general strike that was rapidly defeated by the dictatorship. Batista calculated that the strikes failure would demoralize workers in the cities and the guerrilla fighters in the Sierra and allow him to deal a decisive blow to the Rebel Army and the revolutionary struggle.
La victoria estratégica tells the story of how, instead, fewer than 300 guerrillas decisively defeated the offensive by 10,000 heavily equipped soldiers, in fighting that stretched almost nonstop for 74 days, marking the beginning of the end of the dictatorship.
The failure of the general strike was a blow to the revolutionaries. To draw the lessons of what had happened, Castro organized a meeting of the leadership of the July 26 Movement from the cities and the Sierra, which took place in the Sierra Maestra on May 3, 1958.
Lessons of general strike defeat
The meeting concluded that the strike did not arise out of the struggle itself and was organized in a sectarian fashion. Although key trade unions were led by the Popular Socialist Party (PSP), a party allied with Moscow, July 26 Movement leaders did not seek to involve the PSP in the strike. The main error, Castro said in an interview in the Sierra Maestra in July 1958, was that the strike committee subordinated the mobilization of the masses to a surprise action by armed militias.
The strike is the most formidable weapon the people have in a revolutionary struggle and the armed struggle should be subordinate to it. You cant lead people into battle, just like you cant lead an army, if you dont adequately mobilize, Castro said.
Out of that meeting the July 26 Movement was reorganized. Its leadership body moved to the Sierra Maestra, and Fidel Castro named the movements general secretary.
The revolutionaries began preparing for the Batista army offensive they knew was coming. Since the Granma landing, rebel fighters had consolidated their base of operations, not to prepare for an extended guerrilla war, but to speed the extension of the movement to the entire island. They set up rudimentary hospitals, a plant that produced salted beef, a radio station, a newspaper, a school for new recruits, and a jail.
Castro points out that the rebel fighters obtained most of their weapons and ammunition by taking them from Batistas soldiers. At the beginning of the regimes attempt to take the Sierra Maestra, ammunition was so tight among the rebels that Castro ordered careful rationing of bullets. It was not unusual for rebel fighters to go into battle with less than a dozen bullets each.
While the guerrillas were keeping track of almost every bullet used, Batista was bombarding rebel positions from the air, with rockets and napalm provided by the U.S. government.
Radio Rebelde stuck to the truth
In contrast to the dictatorship, which broadcast lies aimed at confusing working people about the course of the unfolding war, Castro gave precise instructions to Radio Rebelde to make sure its news broadcasts stick to the truth . We dont hide our casualties because they are glorious ones. We dont exaggerate the enemys casualties because the cause of freedom cannot be defended with lies.
The revolutionaries, while doing everything possible to stop the invading government forces in their tracks, did not revel in the killing of the soldiers. On the contrary, the Rebel Army provided medical treatment to wounded Batista troops and treated them with dignity and respect. The guerrillas took advantage of every lull in the fighting to talk to the regimes soldiers and explain what the July 26 Movement was fighting for.
Near the end of July, when the Rebel Army had defeated the bulk of the invasion force, a unit headed by Che Guevara surrounded another government column. After consulting with Castro, Guevara sent a message to the Army captain in charge, offering his troops safe passage out of rebel territory, if they turned over their arms and ammunition.
You should know that you are surrounded and that you cant expect any outside help, Guevara wrote in an attempt to convince the captain to avoid a useless bloodbath.
If the captain didnt accept the rebel offer, Guevara advised him to tell his men to get out of the houses and protect themselves in trenches, because all the high ground is ours.
The book was edited by journalist Katiuska Blanco. She noted that the book was possible because Celia Sánchez, a leader of the July 26 Movement and part of the Rebel Army who died in 1980, collated every note written in the Sierra Maestra, and after the triumph of the revolution, organized a team to research the terrain and interview many protagonists of the revolutionary war.
After defeating the Batista offensive and shattering the dictatorships army, the Rebel Army rapidly organized to extend its victory, overthrow the dictatorship, and bring Cubas workers and farmers to power, opening the door to the socialist revolution. The story of the final push is told in a second volume: De la Sierra Maestra a Santiago de Cuba: La contraofensiva estratégica. (From the Sierra Maestra to Santiago de Cuba: The Strategic Counteroffensive).
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