Understanding Revolution: A Guide for Critics, (in Cuba)

By Landau, Saul | Monthly Review, May 1987 | Go to article overview

Understanding Revolution: A Guide for Critics, (in Cuba)


Landau, Saul, Monthly Review


UNDERSTANDING REVOLUTION: A GUIDE FOR CRITICS

I went to hear Tad Szulc discuss his new book, Fidel, a Critical Portrait, at the Wilson Center of the Smithsonian Institution. The former New York Times reporter related his observations from his life in Cuba while he was writing the book in 1985, from long talks with President Castro and other Cuban leaders, and from archival materials. The Cuban Revolution is "at a dead end,' Szulc said; it suffers from a "decay of ideas,' and the revolutionary process is in a state of "stagnation.' The revolution had been mismanaged, according to Szulc, deprived of its capacity to move forward; it is sick with corruption and "a new generation of bureaucrats that doesn't care.'

"Cuba is a bored and fatigued nation,' Szulc told the audience. The problem is that "no decision is made unless Fidel signs on to it.' Szulc cited the third world debt issue as an example. "Cuba sat paralyzed as Fidel attended endless meetings' --referring to the Latin American Debt Conference held in Havania in 1985.

"No one man should run a nation,' Szulc concluded. "Cuba has not worked as a model for developing nations.' And Fidel himself "has ossified intellectually and politically.' "Like an aging king lost in his court,' Szulc described, "Fidel suffers from isolation from the outside world, and as a result he has lost his acuity as a governor, the flexibility that began with his attack on Fort Moncada.' The once brilliant Castro, "now rejects new thoughts.'

Although Szulc concludes that after 28 years the Cuban revolution can be judged a failure, most of the 740-page book is devoted to events that took place before 1964. Some 600 pages concern Fidel's childhood, adolescence, university years, and the political trajectory that he forged from 1953 to 1959, which placed him in the position of the revolutionary leader. Szulc spends hundreds of pages on how Fidel connived with the Cuban Communists in the months after the triumph to fashion a governance structure, while most of the world--including revolutionaries in his own 26th of July Movement--believed that he was a democratic revolutionary.

Szulc sets out in his sketch of the man and the revolution to answer a question that appears to be both beyond his capability as a journo-historian, and methodologically dubious. "The fundamental question concerning Fidel Castro, the 1959 revolution, and Cuba's transformation into a Communist state is naturally whether this whole experience was logically dictated by Cuban history or represents an extraordinary political aberration primarily instigated by his own overwhelming personality.' (p. 25)

In the pages that follow Szulc carps on supposed aberrational aspects of Fidel's character that would tend to bear out the thesis that Cuba's political orbit was itself aberrational as a result of the dominating personality of its leader.

Inspired by his discovery, Szulc sets out to show that Fidel was not just a "nationalist' but a man who both despised Yankee imperialism and believed that it was his personal destiny to remove Cuba from the U.S. orbit. Szulc recounts conversations with pro- and anti-Castro Cuban participants in the revolution--many of them former or current leaders-- and refers to archival material to which he had unusual access to prove what was already known to people like myself who spent seven months in Cuba in 1960 and 1961. Castro did work with the old Cuban Communist Party leaders (PSP) to build a socialist nation. The point is not what Castro did, which was quite plain to Szulc and everyone else at the time he did it--like banning all parties except the Communists, forcing Communist leaders on a reluctant trade union confederation, appointing Communists to critical command posts--but why he did it. It is easy to say that Castro was always a secret Communist, but Szulc does not fall into that facile excuse for not examining the man, the internal Cuban process, and the interaction between the revolutionary island and the United States. …

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