Among those who participated in the armed insurrection led by the Revolutionary Junta of New York was Antonio Guiteras Holmes, who had been the leader of a Student Revolutionary Directorate formed in 1927. As part of the actions of the Revolutionary Junta in August 1931 (see “The Cuban popular revolution of 1930-32” 8/4/2014), Guiteras and his followers engaged government troops in a brief combat in a plantation in the eastern province of Oriente. The rebels suffered three casualties, and they were captured and imprisoned. During his four months in prison, Guiteras worked with Felipe Fuentes in winning followers among the prisoners. Fuentes was a communist leader from Oriente who was the founder of the Student Left Wing (Instituto de Historia de Cuba 1998:292).
Following the failure of the insurrection led by the Revolutionary Junta of New York, Guiteras severed ties with the Junta and formed an independent organization, the Revolutionary Union, in order to develop his own revolutionary project. Guiteras was influenced by a number of revolutionary movements and ideas, including: Cuban revolutionary theory and practice, in which Martí and Mella were the most influential leaders/intellectuals (see “José Martí” 6/26/2014; “Julio A. Mella and the student movement” 7/8/2014); the Russian Revolution; the Mexican Revolution; the struggle of Augusto César Sandino in Nicaragua; the Irish independence movement; the ideas of Antonio Blanqui on the role of the revolutionary vanguard; the ideas of the French socialist Jean Jacques Jaurés; and the analyses of Marx and Lenin. The Revolutionary Union was organized in the last four months of 1931, and it united a number of existing small insurrectional groups in the eastern and central provinces. Its members included professionals, intellectuals, artisans, service employees, workers, farmers, veterans of the independence war, and students. It advocated a popular, democratic, agrarian, and anti-imperialist revolution of national liberation that would create conditions for the gradual construction of a socialist society in Cuba (Instituto de Historia de Cuba 1998:293-94; Arboleya 2008:99).
The strategy of the Revolutionary Union was urban and rural armed struggle, utilizing such tactics as sabotage, execution of government representatives and police officers, the taking of military barracks, and guerrilla actions in the countryside. Guiteras conceived a plan for the taking of the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, with the intention of arming the people and creating a guerrilla struggle in the eastern mountains, but the plan was frustrated by the maneuvers of the army. On April 29, 1933, the Revolutionary Union took the barracks of San Luis, but Guiteras and his followers were forced to withdraw in the face of an army counterattack, although they were able to avoid capture. In the second half of 1933, small guerrilla units, composed principally of peasants, emerged in the eastern and central provinces of the country, under the direction of Guiteras and the Revolutionary Union, and they continued to operate until the fall of Machado on August 12, 1933 (Instituto de Historia de Cuba 1998:294, 297; Arboleya 2008:99).
The Revolutionary Union was a significant development. Like the PCC, it had revolutionary goals, for it sought to develop a revolution of national and social liberation and to establish a socialist society ruled by popular sectors. But unlike the PCC, it turned to armed struggle, as had the reformist Revolutionary Junta. However, unlike the Revolutionary Junta, it was able to sustain armed struggle in rural areas for a period of months.
In spite of the similarity of goals of the Communist Party of Cuba and the Revolutionary Union, the two were moving in different directions with respect to strategy, creating a division within the revolutionary sector of the popular movement. Such divisions in revolutionary popular movements must be overcome, if the revolution is to triumph, but in this phase of the Cuban revolution, it was unable to do so. We will return in a subsequent post to this issue.
Although the Communist Party of Cuba did not support armed struggle during the Revolution of 1930-33, various organizations, both reformist and revolutionary, adopted the strategy. The use of armed force had been central to the Cuban political process, practiced historically by both the forces of domination and the forces of liberation. As a result, by the 1930s the use of armed force came to be defined as a legitimate strategy of popular struggle. The complete lack of legitimacy of the Machado government, as a result of its repressive tactics and its representation of foreign interests, also was a factor in legitimating the strategy of armed struggle in the eyes of many of the popular leaders and many of the people.
The necessity and the legitimacy of armed force in revolutionary processes is one of the lessons that we must learn as we seek to understand revolutionary processes of the past, present and future. But we must be careful to observe the particular subjective and objective conditions. We must recognize that armed struggle is legitimate in many revolutionary contexts, but not all, for it depends on particular conditions. The particular conditions for armed struggle were present in the Cuban neocolonial republic. But they were not present, for example, in the United States in 1968, and they are not present in the United States today. The errors of the Revolution of 1968 in the United States and the possibilities for revolution in the United States in the future are themes that we will discuss in future posts.
Armed struggle has been integral to celebrated revolutions that have taken power, such as the Haitian, Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban, and Sandinista Revolutions. However, we must keep clearly in mind that revolution is not synonymous with armed struggle. Revolution is the taking of power, and armed struggle is merely a strategy to this end, but other strategies can be more effective, depending on particular conditions. In the cases of Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, revolutions took power by using mechanisms of representative democracy, although their experiences have demonstrated the need for effective civilian control of the armed forces, once power is taken. In general, revolutions show that the taking of power requires creative strategies, for those who have power have many resources at their disposal. The taking of power cannot be reduced to an imitation of armed struggles that have successfully taken power in certain particular conditions.
The emergence in 1933 of armed struggle directed by the Revolutionary Union deepened the crisis of the Machado regime, which already had been in crisis as a result of the organization of popular opposition by the Communist Party of Cuba, the emergence of reformist and revolutionary opposition among students and women, and the emergence of a bourgeois reformist opposition that had launched an aborted armed struggle (see “The Cuban popular revolution of 1930-32” 8/4/2014). The United States, concerned that its interests would be compromised by the coming to power of the popular revolution, began to search for a way to end the Machado regime but to preserve a neocolonial republic in accordance with its interests, as we will see in the next post.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
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