Cuban poet, critic, and essayist Cintio Vitier writes that there were three periods of disillusionment and fatalism during the Cuban revolutionary process that began in 1868. The first followed the Pact of Zanjón of 1878, which ended the first Cuban war of independence without the attainment of independence or the abolition of slavery (see “The Cuban war of independence of 1868” 6/17/2014). The second followed the US intervention of 1898, which ended the second war of independence with US imposition of the structures of the neocolonial republic (“The US intervention in Cuba of 1898” 6/28/2014). And the third followed the fall on January 15, 1934 of the only independent government during the neocolonial republic, leading to the consolidation of power by Batista and the deepening of the core-peripheral neocolonial relation with the United States (see “Guiteras & the ‘government of 100 days’” 8/11/2014; “The US-Cuba neocolonial relation deepens” 8/19/2014). Each period of disillusionment lasted approximately twenty years, and they were characterized by a fatalistic belief that the transformation of unjust structures of domination through heroic action was impossible (2008:151).
Following the fall of the 1933 “government of 100 days,” the popular movement with its internal conflicts and lack of unity continued to struggle, and these efforts culminated in the Constitution of 1940. But with the election of Batista as president in 1940, Cuba had evolved to be a “perfect neocolonial system” (Arboleya 2008:112). The fictions of the neocolonial republic prevailed. The Reciprocity Treaty of 1934 deepened the historic core-peripheral axis of capitalist exploitation, reinforcing conditions of underdevelopment and massive poverty, yet it was presented as a progressive policy of the “Good Neighbor” to the north. Politicians elected on false promises robbed the public treasury and pretended to be public officials with legitimate authority in a system of representative democracy. The materialist consumerism of the “American way of life” pervaded the island, provoking distorted and unrealistic expectations among the people. The country was empty and hollow (Vitier 2008:152).
But the soul of the nation was alive. “It lived in the quiet suffering of the poor or middle class family, in its capacity for resistance and hope, in its irrepressible popular laugh, in its unbeatable music, in the lamp of the intellectual, in poetry” (Vitier 2008:152). The nation that Martí had envisioned lived, hidden in the quiet sufferings and hopes of the people.
Vitier maintains that intellectuals kept the soul of the nation alive during the period 1933 to 1953 with various forms of intellectual work. Many sought “to discover and show the true face of the nation” in different ways, but united in “the common faith in education and culture as the road to national salvation” (2008:153). Some, for example, sought to discover and exalt the ethical values that formed the foundation of Cuban nationality in the nineteenth century (Vitier 2008:153-57).
Considerable intellectual work during the period was dedicated to analysis of the complex work of José Martí. Various works focused on particular dimensions of Martí’s thought, including the ethical, political-social, literary, journalistic, philosophical, and educational dimensions. Juan Marinello made a presentation at the Union of Writers and the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, demonstrating the anti-imperialist character of Martí’s political thought and its opposition to the Cuban neocolonial regime. Marinello and others also placed the work of Martí in the context of Latin American thought (Vitier 2008:157-62).
The anthropologist Fernando Ortiz described the saving virtues of Cuban culture, with particular emphasis on the immense contribution of the population with African roots to the Cuban social conglomerate. His works also attacked racial discrimination. The Cuban historian Julio Le Riverend described the work of Ortiz as pointing to a de-colonization of Cuban culture (Vitier 2008:162-63).
Nicolás Guillen, a member of the Communist Party of Cuba since 1937, represents a style of militant writing. His work gave voice to the people, the concrete, exploited, and suffering people of the frustrated republic. He and other communist intellectuals believed that literary and artistic expression was a form of struggling for liberty and justice (Vitier 2008:164-67).
The frustrations of the neocolonial republic also gave rise to a form of poetic expression that affirmed the possibility of the impossible. Rejecting an interpretation of the impossible as meaning “not possible,” this poetry sustained that the impossible possesses a light that most people cannot see, and a force that the prevailing attitude does not know. But the hidden light of the impossible can be made visible, and its unknown force felt. Human hopes can experience incarnation. In the depths of the national soul is found a thirst for the historical coming, for the incarnation of poetry in reality (Virtier 2008:170-71).
Thus, during the period of disillusionment from 1933 to 1953, Cuban intellectuals kept hope and faith in a dignified Cuban nation alive. They affirmed an ethical attitude in the face of corruption and the pursuit of personal gain and particular interests. They prevented the country from falling into a corruption so pervasive that the soul of the nation was corrupted.
The ethical attitude expressed and sustained in the works of the intellectual class provided the foundation for heroic action in 1953, a year that marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Martí. We will see that heroic action in 1953 would break the prevailing popular mood of fatalism and disillusionment and would establish a new period of popular struggle.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, neocolonial republic, Martí, Marinello, Ortiz, Guillen