Essays on Cuban History: Historiography and Research

By Louis A. Pérez Jr. | Go to book overview

Chapter 10
In the Service of the Revolution: Two Decades of Cuban Historiography, 1959-79

The triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959 presented the revolutionary government with the immediate task of legitimizing the new order. Over a period of twenty years, this enterprise demanded vast quantities of energy, resources, and ingenuity and ultimately required the participation the full polity--from revolutionary elites to mass organizations.1 To be sure, the early phase of this process did not differentiate the Cuban experience from the difficulties typically attending all transfers of political power, particularly insofar as such transfers occur outside the context of sanctioned institutional change. The requirements of legitimacy in these instances are ordinarily fulfilled by recourse to a variety of pragmatic short-term devices. Indeed, the act of legitimizing a new political order often is principally the function of legal fiat underwritten by force.

The process through which an initial transfer of political power evolves into the radical transformation of society raises considerably the requirements of legitimacy. Redefining the future requires reconsidering the past. The pursuit of an unknown future--whatever its utopian promise--obtains support in the present only to the extent that it is possessed of recognizable symbols of the past. Karl Marx early discerned that the past was endowed with a peculiar sanction and inviolability. Societies approached revolutionary change reluctantly, Marx noted, often under great pressure, in need of reassurances that the process of revolution was somehow consistent with traditions of the past.

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