is the president of the central committee of the newly formed Parti
Socialiste du Quebec. He is known from coast to coast as a controversial
and stimulating speaker. He has long been identified as a spokesman for
organized labor and was for years a leader of the Quebec CCF. Mr.
Chartrand is a printer by profession. He visited Cuba early this year.
national chairman of the Canadian Fair Play for Cuba Committee, founded
the committee after his first visit to Cuba in December 1960. In January
of this year he visited Cuba a third time for a period of five weeks. He
has lectured widely in Canada on Cuba during the past 3-1/2 years. Mr.
Olson is an engineering technician in a research laboratory in Toronto.
John Riddell, 22
years of age, is in his fourth year of Economics and Political Science
at the University of Toronto where he is president of the Socialist Club
and has been active in the New Democrats and the CUCND. He has studied
at universities at both Freiburg and Frankfurt in Germany and travelled
extensively in the Soviet Union, Hungary, Germany, France and Mexico. He
spent the entire month of August last year in Cuba.
An Interview by R. Fidler
Among the guests on hand at the festivities in Havana
when the Cuban people were celebrating the fifth anniversary of their
revolution was Michel Chartrand, president of the Central Committee of
the Parti Socialiste du Quebec. Upon his return Chartrand kindly
consented to an interview with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
Michel began the conversation by drawing attention to
the harassment which faces everyone who wishes to visit Cuba. "At the
airport in Mexico City, I was photographed by an agent of the American
Central Intelligence Agency. When they took a picture of a reporter from
the Manchester Guardian, he pointed his camera at the official,
and said in reply to a query: `I like to photograph people who are
photographing people'. And of course they mugged us when we came back
He said he spent 25 days in Cuba, and travelled
throughout the northern and western provinces of Mantanzas, Havana, and
Pinar del Rio. Like most visitors to Cuba, he was continually being
surprised with its high degree of cultural development.
"The school of painting there is excellent," he
exclaimed, "one of the best in Latin America. It is much more modern
than the Mexican. While I was there, there was a play by Moliere showing
at the Habana Libre Hotel. Ionesco is extremely popular. And the four
Havana newspapers each have a full page of cinema advertisements every
day. Western European films are very much in vogue nowadays, for the
Cubans are fed up with the old Czech and Russian black-and-white war
"At the time I was visiting Cuba, there was a debate
raging in the newspapers bearing on the freedom of the arts. Blas Roca,
editor of Hoy, had attacked la nouvelle vague (the new wave),
exemplified by La Dolce Vita and others, as `decadent art', and demanded
their interdiction. Alfredo Guevara, head of the Cuban Institute of the
Cinemagraphic Art Industry, along with ten other leading intellectuals,
replied to Roca in Revolucion, declaring ( among other things) that `our
artists must be non-conformists or we will have no artists'. When I was
with Blas Roca a few days later, people were kidding him about his
blunder. I was particularly amused to note that La Dolce Vita is now
playing in the theater located next to Hoy's offices! And there
was an anecdote going the rounds that Fidel Castro was pointing out to
the people he met that `things are not too bad this Christmas; there are
lots of toys, food, and some very good films from Western Europe you
must go see them.'
"The Cubans have 60 trailers which travel throughout the
countryside showing movies to the rural population. And the campesinos
are brought in to the city to see the ballet, take courses in ceramics,
and so on. When they return to the country, they take their artistic
appreciation and knowledge with them. I think that the Cuban attitude to
art was typified by the reply given to me by one of the leading
architects, when I asked him how they could afford to construct such
magnificent buildings, faced as they are with the difficulties of the
embargo. He replied that `for culture, there is no problem'. And
certainly there is little danger of the Cubans becoming robots or
conformists they are more Latin than even the Quebecois."
A printer by trade, Chartrand investigated the
facilities of the Imprenta Nacional, the state publishing house.
Although equipped with some fairly advanced machinery, the shop he
visited had no folding machine; it was apparently situated in another
shop. "When I spoke to companero Charpentier, the head of Imprenta
Nacional, I asked him about this. When he took office, he said, the
situation had been chaotic. `For six months, there was no paper it had
come from the United States no plates, and even the proof-reading was
badly organized. Now it is much better; we get paper from the Soviet
Union, as well as manufacturing our own from sugar-cane fibres. There
are now 10 new books coming across my desk every day. Last year, we
printed 18 million books, which was 4 million more than our objective'."
A Montreal television interviewer recently asked Michel
to describe the difference between the PSQ and the new party presently
being organized in Cuba. His answer: "They're in power, and we aren't."
He now expanded on this subject. "To be a member of the United Party of
the Socialist Revolution the PURS you must be a vanguard worker, a
good companero, a member of the local Committee for the Defence of the
Revolution, and have a sixth grade level of education. You must not have
voted in the phoney election of Batista in 1958. And you must be a
Marxist, and a member of no other organization. As a Catholic, I asked a
leading member of the party, `What if a worker is both a good
revolutionary and a Catholic; can he belong to the party?'. The answer
was `No because then he is a member of another organization'."
And how is the party being organized? "The exemplary
workers are elected in the shop, by their fellow workers. If anyone
objects to a particular nomination for any reason, then the person
objected to must wait six months before being nominated again for party
"Actually the organization of the entire party and youth
section had to be started all over again, some time after it had already
commenced. Just after the Revolution, the majority of the 26th of July
members weren't Marxists. The government relied on the Communist Party
to a considerable degree, because it trusted them as revolutionaries.
The Communist Party took advantage of the situation, and the general
secretary of the new party which was being formed from the various
revolutionary groups a fellow by the name of Escalante, and an old
Communist tried to build up his own prestige, rather than that of the
party. Castro gave him a hell of a licking in public, and Escalante is
in Czechoslovakia now."
Considerable sympathy for Chinese
What is Cuba's position in the Sino-Soviet dispute?
Michel grinned. "Officially, they are neutral, and Castro refrains from
discussing it as much as possible. Hoy prints documents of only
one side it is openly pro-Russian. But I noticed that among the
students and the higher echelons of the government, there is
considerable sympathy for the Chinese line. And it seemed that lots of
Cubans are pro-Chinese. Many of the Latin Americans I talked to in Cuba,
who were guests like myself, openly declared themselves in support of
the Chinese position. They told me they felt that Khrushchev's `peaceful
coexistence' means pacifism when applied to the reality of Latin
"One thing you can be sure of; in China, the Russians
dismantled the machinery they had installed in retaliation to the
Chinese for disagreeing with them. But they won't do that in Cuba it
is too valuable to them. Castro went to the Soviet Union while I was in
Cuba, because Khrushchev needed him, not because he needed to go. And,
although in the joint statement issued after the Castro-Khrushchev
talks, Fidel defended the right of each country to define its own road
to socialism (a concession to Khrushchev), I noticed that he quoted in
defence of this, from the 1957 Declaration, which the Chinese support!"
Both Michel and his wife have been active in the peace
movement in Quebec, and helped organize the Quebec-Washington-Guantanamo
Peace March. (Michel himself was jailed in Trois Rivieres while on the
initial leg of the march.) He noted that the Cubans have a peace
organization, called the Movement for the Peace and Sovereignty of the
Peoples. However, it is relatively inactive, largely because, he feels,
it is little more than a government body. "When I spoke to Vilma Espin,
wife of Raul Castro and one of the leading figures in the movement
there, I criticized them for their complete agreement with the line of
the government. And I was sorry to learn that the Cubans had no plans
prepared for the reception of the Guantanamo peace marchers, when they
arrive in Cuba."
Correct on test-ban treaty
What, then, did he think of the Cuban refusal to sign
the test-ban treaty? Michel shrugged: "Castro has said that they will
not sign it until the United States stops trying to overthrow their
government. Also, I think they may have been asserting their
independence of the USSR to some extent. On the whole, I think it was
correct of the Cubans not to sign it."
The Parti Socialiste du Quebec program calls for
workers' self-management (autogestion) in nationalized industries. I
asked Chartrand if the Cubans had anything to teach us in that respect.
He replied that they did not really have autogestion in the full sense
of the word. "However," he pointed out, "the workers elect their
foremen, who are trained for five or six months in the technical side of
their particular industry, as well as how to deal with men `human
relations', we call it here and (Michel's eyes twinkled) maybe a
little Marxism. In the chemical and machinery industries, which I looked
into, I was told a pilot plan is submitted by the government ministry,
which is then discussed in full assembly of the workers. Quotas may be
adjusted, and working conditions changed. I was interested to see if
there was any evidence of Stakhanovism or Taylorism in Cuba. As far as I
could discover, there is not. The accent in Cuban industry is on
quality, rather than quantity, particularly in the export industry. In
most places, there is an effective grievance machinery in operation.
"In many plants, the workers receive up to two hours
schooling during working hours, and there are usually cafeterias in or
around the shops. Everywhere I went I was able to talk freely with the
Did any workers complain to him about their conditions?
"Yes, I heard complaints from a few. Usually, they
concerned inefficient management, or shortages of supplies and poor
planning. One Negro woman, who worked in a cannery, told me that
although she was much better off with the Revolution, `the factory
management is no good'; they had recently run out of paper boxes in
which to pack the canned fruit. Many of these difficulties can, of
course, be traced back to the economic embargo of Cuba.
"At one of the night clubs in Havana, I met a fellow a
bank clerk who said he was fed up with the Revolution. But his
criticisms struck me as being very personal and selfish. I got up from
the table, and went to the doorman, and asked him what he thought of the
Revolution. `Yes', he said, `for us, who worked in the tourist industry,
the situation is worse than before. But we look around us and see that
now all the people are eating, are clothed, and have jobs. And
that is why I support the revolution'."
Michel noticed a surprising equality of wages in Cuba.
"The higher paid workers kept the same salaries, while those in the
lower brackets have usually had theirs increased. And of course real
incomes are much higher, as a result of the urban and agrarian reforms.
Rent now costs only 10% of one's income. There are no sales taxes, just
luxury taxes. And in the Westmount of Havana, there are living 100,000
becados, or scholarship students, the sons and daughters of farmers, who
receive their clothing, books, and monthly allowance all free.
Michel leaned forward, his eyes flashing; "Compare that
with the situation in the United States, for example. President Johnson
said the other day that 20 million Negroes, as well as 20 million
whites, live in poverty. That is the difference between capitalism and
One of the most outstanding achievements of the Cuban
revolution, he continued, is the agrarian reform. "In Cuba, before the
revolution, they exploited the sugar-cane crop the same way the giant
monopolies in Quebec exploit the forest. Because of the abundance of
cheap labor, they had never mechanized the sugar industry. I remember
visiting a ship-yard where they were constructing fishing boats for
the first time, Cuba has its own fishing industry and talking to some
of the fellows working there. Many of them had formerly worked only
three or four months of every year, harvesting the sugar crop, and then
were unemployed for the remaining eight months. They had made only two
dollars per day. Now they get 80 cents or a dollar an hour, for an
eight-hour day, and are employed the year round, except for a one-month
"Well, they were typical of the majority of Cuban
agricultural workers. And this is standard throughout Latin America. In
the heart of Mexico City, for example, I saw workers carrying cement
pails up ladders, to the third and fourth floors of buildings under
construction. With so much cheap labor, it often doesn't pay the
capitalist to introduce machinery on a large scale.
"Now, in Cuba, they are introducing machines to cut the
cane. And in many other ways they're eliminating the number of
operations required to handle the cane." And he went on to describe some
of the ways in which agricultural efficiency is being increased under
the Revolutionary regime.
Michel dealt at considerable length on the status of the
small farmer. The National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) is the
result of a fusion of the rice, cattle, tobacco, and sugar farmer
organizations, formerly controlled by the big landowners. "It can be
compared with the Quebec Union des Cultivateurs Catholiques (UCC), and
it is just as militant. ANAP is a very democratic organization. 30% of
the cultivated land in Cuba is privately owned, and according to Castro,
will remain that way. 42,000 titles of ownership were delivered by the
revolution. The rest of the land is organized into state farms,
administered by farmers' cooperatives, which perform the same functions
as the unions do in industry." This form of control, Chartrand pointed
out, is analogous to the "autogestion" instituted by the Algerians in
the "biens vacants" (vacated lands) left by the French colons.
Referring to the fact that the Cuban revolution was
based from the start on the poor farmers and agricultural proletariat,
the most exploited sector of the population, Michel pointed out the
similarities between the Cuban and Quebec situations.
"The farmers in Quebec are very militant. The recent
convention of the UCC, whose paper, La Terre de Chez-Nous, has a
circulation of 80,000, demanded that if the Lesage government didn't do
something very soon to alleviate their exploitation by the giant pulp
and paper companies, for whom they contract to cut wood, they would
engage in civil disobedience. And don't think they won't."
Warming to the subject, he continued: "My intention is
that here in Quebec, socialism will start with the forests. We must go
into the rural districts and explain to the people that socialism means
ownership, by the people, of the forests. Of course, when we nationalize
the pulp and paper industry, there will be repercussions. The recent
newspaper strike in New York City demonstrated how important that
industry is to the capitalist market. And the reaction will be severe.
The only difference is that we are white people, so it will be a little
more difficult for the USA to push us around. Then it will be the turn
of the mining industry. This is the way it happened in Cuba. And then
the revolution here will extend to education and hospitals, and so on.
For why doesn't Quebec have enough money for education? Because it is
dominated by the companies which extract our natural resources, and
exploit our people. Noranda Mines makes an annual profit of 18 million
dollars, yet employs only 1,200 men. And it is like that for the others,
too. But they pay almost no taxes.
"We will pay them on a 50-year basis, with 1% interest,
similar to what Castro offered the foreign monopolies. We will hold
public hearings to investigate their activities here, and ask them; 'How
much did you invest?, How much did you get back?', etc. And on that
basis, we will estimate the indemnification."
Chartrand went on to analyse in greater detail the
multifarious ways in which Quebec is exploited by the capitalist system.
And he concluded by drawing attention to the increasing demands by
workers, farmers, students, teachers, nurses and even engineers to
obtain union recognition. All these developments reflect the changes in
the consciousness of the people of Quebec, said Chartrand. "But the
problem here, as it was in Cuba, from the socialist point of view," he
emphasized strongly, "is leadership the socialists are just sitting on
"I spoke to the students in the Faculty of Social
Sciences at the Universite de Montreal, who fancy themselves to be the
most militant element in Quebec. I said to them; `I don't know about
that!' And I told them about the feelings of the farmers and workers of
this province. In my view the biggest fault of the labor federations,
both CSN and FTQ, is that they are not politicized. As I said to my
friend Jean Marchand (president of the CSN) the other day: `You play
around with conventions, yet you do nothing about political education.
And now you are paying for it" (a reference to the reactionary labor
legislation being pushed by the provincial Liberal government).
"But", and Michel leaned forward to emphasize the point,
"things are moving now in Quebec, too. In Cuba, they already have a
government which works for the people. I look forward to the day when
we, too, will build `chez nous' a society truly `of the people, by the
people, and for the people'. And that day may come sooner than we
I, and my wife Anne, touched down at Jose Marti Airport
in Havana early one evening, less than a month before the official
celebrations commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Revolution. Our
trip from Toronto through Mexico City had been uneventful, although the
Mexicans insisted on photographing us and stamped our passports "CUBA".
I guess this was done just in case the Cubans should forget. This was
one service we weren't expected to pay for while in Mexico City.
We passed through Cuban immigration without ceremony and
on to the customs check point. All persons ahead of us, mostly foreign
diplomats, passed through without a serious baggage check. As we stepped
up to the baggage counter a worker in street clothes asked "diplomaticos?"
We answered, "No, Canadians! Fair Play for Cuba Committee". A wide smile
crossed his face and we were whisked through customs without a glance at
We were pleasantly surprised that the same casual
atmosphere that we had experienced on our previous visit was still very
much a part of the entrance point to Cuba. This casualness was very
evident in 1961 and contrasted to Mexico on our return to Canada last
January. In Mexico we were treated as if we had come from a leper
colony, and I am sure that it would have been much easier to smuggle
marijuana into Mexico than literature. There was a political sleuth at
each baggage table who perused all literature found in our baggage. A
book we had taken with us from Canada to read along the way,
Christianity and Revolution, the lesson of Cuba, by Leslie Dewart,
was confiscated by this political watch-dog and despite all our efforts,
we have not been able to reclaim this book.
Absent also at the Jose Marti Airport was the tourist
atmosphere of Mexico, the red caps, the lackeys selling cocktails, the
myriads of uniformed officials. The small staff on duty came to the car
to see us off to Havana for by now they all knew who we were.
In Havana we became the guests of the Revolutionary
Government and from the Hotel Riviera we began our investigations. At
nine o'clock the next morning we were awakened by a phone call from our
guide, Alicia, who was at our beck and call for the next five weeks. We
made the requests and our obliging guide made the arrangements for
scores of interviews and visits to projects and places in and around
Havana today is quite different from the Havana of July
1961, just three months after the aborted invasion at Playa Giron. At
that time it seemed that over half the people were in militia uniform
and armed at all times. The crisis atmosphere of 1961 has passed and the
accent is on work, rather than on defence; at least this is the surface
impression. While in Cuba we met only one person who doubted the
permanence of the Revolution. This person voiced most of his doubts
about the Revolution in front of our guide and his fellow workers.
The ordinary tourist will find Havana much different
from Mexico City in many ways. As a tourist you will be able to wander
anywhere in Havana without being accosted for a shoeshine. There are no
shoeshine boys or men in the streets of Havana. (In Mexico City there
are many mature men shining shoes on the street.) As a tourist you might
be annoyed at the absence of cheap souvenirs which are characteristic of
Mexico. You will find no hucksters or street vendors at your service at
all times of the day or night.
This fact more than any other highlights the dramatic
change in the Cuban economy since the Revolution. There is no longer an
army of unemployed labor which is forced into handicraft production for
the tourist industry. All the youth are in school up to and including
university and all able bodied men and women are constructively employed
at all levels of industry and agriculture. The miserable "wages" of the
handicraft workers have disappeared forever from Revolutionary Cuba.
There are no longer any of the typical traces of
"underdevelopment" in Cuba; no children in the streets begging or
running errands or shining windshields; no mature men and women eking
out a miserable living in soul-destroying catering to wealthy tourists
from the "developed countries". Even the taxi drivers are organized and
no longer compete with one another for customers.
But there are compensations for the tourist in Cuba
today. If you are perceptive and wish to probe a little deeper than what
meets the eye there is much that is rewarding, yes stimulating, about
the Cuban experiment. We spent five weeks trying to find the answers to
many questions and the results were most rewarding.
The Cubans are in the midst of building a new society.
We were not fully aware of the significance of this fact until our last
visit to the island. On our previous two visits to Cuba we were aware of
a great amount of enthusiasm and feeling of great change in the air, an
atmosphere I might say which was very intoxicating, but since 1961 there
has been a marked change in the Revolution, a change which we have found
hard to describe. A maturing process has changed the superficial
characteristics which the visitor observes, and it is necessary to probe
somewhat deeper in order to grasp the true significance of the process.
There is still a healthy degree of enthusiasm but it is
tempered by a high level of consciousness, a consciousness of what the
Revolution is all about, an awareness of the role of consciousness in
the revolutionary process. In the first stages of the Revolution the
people were united in the task of destroying Batista, and then
destroying the most obvious symbols of the Batista era, but this in
itself was not enough to sustain the Revolution and unite the people.
Constructing a new society
The great majority of Cubans are now consciously
participating in the construction of a new society, the general outlines
of which are a part of the individual consciousness of Cubans we talked
to. We are not speaking about a select coterie but about the average
Cuban at every level of the society.
And what is the nature of this new society the Cubans
are building? What is there about Cuba that is so different from, say,
our own country? It is not the type of architecture nor is it the nature
of industrial techniques or farming methods; and it is not that they
have better techniques in education or that health facilities are
superior. It is true that there is much pioneering in these fields but
this is not why Cuba is different.
The Cuban standard of living is still far below that of
Canada and the United States. Their educational facilities are lacking
in the most elementary materials. The quality of the teaching staff is
below requirements, and will be for some time to come. What is more, the
Cubans are painfully aware of all these things. It should be remembered
that the Revolution inherited but did not create these problems. The
economic and social development of Cuba and the rest of the Latin
American countries is far behind the potentialities offered by modern
technology, thanks to their antiquated social systems propped up by
modern military equipment supplied by the United States.
Out of these conditions the Cuban Revolution was born,
but the nature of the struggle required to destroy the old society and
begin the long overdue process of reconstruction has started the Cuban
people on a very different road. In order to guarantee full employment
for the campesino and the worker, it was necessary to break the hold of
foreign monopolies in agriculture and industry, through nationalization
of agricultural lands and industrial enterprises. The nationalizations
in turn led to state control of imports and exports and eventually to
planning of the entire economy.
These new economic relations are the skeleton upon which
the new Cuban society is being built. On our third visit to
Revolutionary Cuba we set ourselves the task of finding out something
about the effect of these new economic relations on the attitudes of the
Cuban people. After all, the Cuban Revolution is an important social and
human experiment and the results are as important for us as for the
Cubans. Since we, personally, do not have any investments which are
threatened by the Cuban experiment we did not go with any prior bias
regarding the ownership of Cuban industry and agricultural lands. We
were concerned, however, with the attitudes of the Cuban people and the
effect of the new economic relations upon the human institutions which
have the possibility of creating the conditions for a truly human
We found shortages in food, clothing and all the little
things which we in North America have grown accustomed to, such as
toothpaste and razor blades. We found a great shortage of automobiles
and buses and many other things, but we found an abundance of human
energy and a genuine zest for living. While we were in Cuba we were
aware of a powerful influence being exerted on us, an influence which we
were not accustomed to but which gave us a sense of wellbeing, of being
in harmony with our surroundings. The tremendous ambition of the
individual Cuban is not the ambition we in North America are used to;
the ambition to get ahead in a personal sense, ahead that is of our
neighbour or workmate. The ordinary Cuban who identifies himself with
the Revolution sees his own advancement, economic, cultural and
educational, as a part of the general advancement of the new society, of
We found a tremendous accent on education, for adults as
well as for children and youth. The wealthy district of Miramar we found
to be a massive school with every available house used for class rooms
or as living quarters for scholarship students. Entering Miramar from
the west on Fifth Avenue, (not "Avenida Quinta", because this is where
the Americans lived) we were confronted with a large road sign "Despacio,
zona de becados" (SLOWLY, Students Zone). Extensive travel through this
area demonstrated that this was not a propaganda sign because Miramar is
in fact a gigantic school district.
This heavy accent on education is a strain on the
economy because all educational institutions are completely
state-financed. There is no such thing as a tuition fee right up to and
including university, and this is so for cultural schools also. Besides
this, 100,000 students receive full room and board, as well as clothing
and allowances and travel expenses home for vacations.
Doctors reject fee-for-service
We also found a great effort being made in the field of
health needs. In our opinion Cuba is well on the road to establishing a
completely socialized health service for her people. In a discussion
with some medical interns in the National Hospital in Havana we learned
that the graduating classes from Medical School have added to the normal
doctor's oath a new one and challenging one. They have sworn not to
practice medicine on a fee-for-service basis.
We were fortunate indeed to have interviews with many
doctors in Havana. Surprisingly enough, we found that the professional
group most loyal to the Revolution, and proud of it, is the medical
profession. This may come as a surprise to many in North America but the
Cuban Revolution has pioneered in many fields and in this one they have
been strikingly successful. Out of an original 7,000 doctors, some 1,700
left for Florida, but these have been replaced and by the end of this
decade Cuba will have over 10,000) doctors. But numbers do not begin to
tell the most exciting part of what we found.
We spent two hours with Dr. David Alonso, Director of
National Health Services for the island. Dr. Alonso, a man completely
devoted to the Revolution, gave willingly of his time to answer a host
of questions about health services in Cuba. This is a subject worth a
book in itself so we cannot possibly deal with it here. What we would
like to deal with is the level of consciousness of the doctors of Cuba.
Dr. Alonso was a pediatrician before the Revolution and,
as he put it, "with a petit-bourgeois consciousness". Because of his
human sensitivities and the nature of his profession, however, he was
often concerned about the health of the masses. He was aware of a
barrier between the needs of the people and the services of the medical
profession, but he did not think too deeply about the nature of the
problem, he said. In any event, he had not seen any connection between
the economic and social relations existing in Cuba and the state of
medical services. He said he had considered private property to be
essential to production as well as to medical services.
Through the revolutionary process, as it unfolded in
Cuba, he developed what he calls "a social consciousness". He began to
see the possibilities of breaking down the social barriers between needs
and services in medicine. Above all he was interested in his profession
and he began to see the possibility of its development.
The shortage of doctors, caused in part by defections
but even more by the massive extension of health services to the people,
eliminated professional rivalries and economic competition between
doctors and many doctors who were reserved in their support for the
Revolution were won over as their profession began to advance through
the availability of new facilities provided by the Revolution and the
extensive increase in medical class rooms.
Before the Revolution, an extension of the medical
schools would have represented an economic threat to doctors but today
no doctor in Cuba is afraid for his livelihood. With few exceptions top
surgeons and specialists no longer withhold their knowledge from
students for fear of competition. There are no social or economic
limitations on the professional development of any doctor, and there is
a growing need for all levels of skill in the profession.
For an entire afternoon we were guests of the staff of
the National Hospital on the outskirts of Havana. Our visit there was
made possible by Francisco Lojos, the devoted Director of
Administration, who arranged several interviews with the medical staff
and also showed us around the hospital. Lojos was a former drug salesman
and is now a typical example of the wide support which the Revolution
has won among Cuba's professional groups.
In the hospital we met and talked with Dr. Porro,
anaesthetist and sub-director of the hospital, as well as Dr. Mendez and
others on the staff. All of the professional staff we talked to
completely identified themselves with the Revolution. Here are some of
the questions and answers from an interview with Drs. Porro and Mendez,
and another doctor whose name we did not record.
Q. What has been the effect of the Revolution on
the medical profession?
A. Many doctors went to Miami but fewer doctors
have left than other professionals.
Q. What is the reason for this?
A. This is because ours is a human science and
the Cuban revolution is a humane revolution. The Revolution has made
it possible for our profession to develop scientifically as well as
Q. What percentage of doctors consciously
identify themselves with the Revolution as you do?
A. The doctors are divided roughly into three
groups; thirty per cent are with the Revolution consciously, while
about sixty per cent have reservations but are working loyally and
participating fully in the health program. The remaining ten per
cent of the doctors are ideologically hostile to the Revolution.
Q. Dr. Porro, is it usual for a person in your
position of responsibility to be a revolutionary?
A. It is often the case but not necessarily so. A
doctor could hold such a position and not be a revolutionary. (In a
private conversation after, Director of Administration Lojos
disagreed with Dr. Porro on this point, saying that a person in such
a responsible post must be a trusted revolutionary).
Q. Dr. Porro, what did you do before the
A. I was a private doctor and worked on a
fee-for-service basis. When Batista fell, I was glad.
Q. Did you have any doubts as the Revolution
A. Everyone has doubts in a period of great
change but I have not had any serious doubts.
In a visit to the Ministry of Labor we called at the
health clinic set up for the staff and talked with the staff doctor
there, who is a devoted revolutionary. These and other discussions
convinced us that the Revolution has deep roots in the professional
layers of Cuban society and not just among the workers and farmers.
As the Revolution matures and the danger of
counter-revolution from within and without diminishes, the true
dimensions of the new society begin to take shape. It is a fact that the
Revolution is now solidly rooted in all layers of the population. The
mass exodus of sections of the middle-class and the upper bourgeoisie
during the early years of the Revolution was used by Cuba's enemies to
discredit the new society with the claim that the Revolution was
supported only by the poorest workers and farmers.
It is true that the mainstay of the Revolution was and
still is the most exploited layers of the old Cuban society, but it is a
gross oversimplification to suggest that Cuba's intellectuals have all
deserted to Miami, or wish to do so. On the contrary, the artists and
writers of Cuba have remained, almost to a man; indeed, many have
returned from abroad since the triumph of the Revolution. Of the more
than 30,000 Cubans who have returned, many are artists and writers, who
left Batista's Cuba because of the low level of cultural development, an
important by-product of Cuba's economic underdevelopment.
As the Revolution matures the new society is consciously
approaching the problem of what to reject from the past and what to
retain. The initial impulse during the heated first days of any
revolution is to destroy much which at the time is seen as largely
symbolic of the old enslavement. But the culture of man is the product
of a long accumulative process, the best fruits of which are handed down
from generation to generation and from one epoch to the next. This is
true even in a period of transition from one form of society to another
and the Cubans are not unaware of this.
Cherish the best of the past
In a recent speech opening the Museum of Medical
Sciences, the President of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, Captain
Antonio Nunez Jimenez said, "We are inspired by a sacred duty: to unite
the socialist present with the best of our past." This we found to be
the guiding spirit of the Cuban Revolution today. In a recent speech,
Ernesto (Che) Guevara also cautioned the youth not to reject all that
was foreign or part of the past. This attitude has been in the process
of maturing for the past five years.
We were fortunate indeed, to have a three hour interview
with Nunez Jimenez, one of the members of the Central Direction of PURS
( the United Party of the Socialist Revolution). This interview was
arranged through Fred and Phyllis Brown, a British Columbia couple
living in Cuba, Phyllis is the private English tutor of Nunez Jimenez.
We talked over a wide range of subjects from what it is like to be a
guerrilla in the mountains to the future of Cuba's fast growing Academy
of Sciences. For about an hour we listened to an interesting history of
the Academy since its formation in the second half of the 19th century.
The Academy, said Nunez Jimenez, was born in the early
days of the development of Cuba as a capitalist nation, to supply
scientific knowledge for the newly emerging industrial ruling class, but
Cuba did not for long develop as an independent nation. The
monopolization of the sugar industry under foreign domination led to the
destruction of any possibility of the development of an independent
native capitalist class. As a result, the Academy of Sciences in Cuba
went into a long and drastic decline which ended only with the 1959
Revolution. Today, the Academy is one of the fastest growing
institutions in the country tackling such projects as research in Cuban
folklore, sociological studies in peasant traditions, and cane culture.
The Academy is also conducting research in the physical sciences.
The increased activity in the field of scientific
research is a necessary part of the program of industrialization. Slowly
but surely, the enormous difficulties of reorganization are being
solved, thus clearing the way for the mechanization of agriculture,
particularly of cane production, and the industrialization of the
country on a basis commensurate with the population of the island,
skills, available materials, trade possibilities, etc.
Everywhere one sees evidence that the Cubans are
reaching out to make contact with the best in the rest of the world.
Until recently, few foreign movies, other than those from the Soviet
Union, found their way into Cuban theaters. Today, an increasing flow of
movies from Japan, France, Poland, Mexico, Sweden and elsewhere, are
showing in Cuba. Here is a small sample of what Cubans can now see at
There is Viridiana, a movie made in Spain under
the very nose of Franco's police. Franco invited the director, Luis
Bunuel, to Spain to show him that Spain was "democratic". Bunuel
accepted the invitation and shot a series of pictures for his movie.
Viridiana is a powerful commentary on the reactionary role of the church
in Spain. There is also the movie Exterminating Angel, by Luis
Bunuel, a surrealist film depicting the historical downfall of the
The Soviet film Nine Days of a Year, by Michael
Romm, one of the better Soviet films, not so stylized and not so much of
the school of socialist realism, has also been showing, along with
movies by Ingmar Bergman. Very few of Bergman's films had been shown
before because they have been attacked by the devotees of socialist
realism in Cuba as "individualistic" and "pessimistic".
During our stay in Cuba we were witness to a public
debate over the importation of the films "La Dolce Vita", "Accatone",
"The Exterminating Angel" and "Alias Gardelito", by the
Cuban Institute of Art and Film Industry, known in Cuba by its initials
ICAIC (pronounced e-ki-k). About fourteen articles were published in
which the relationship between culture and the new society was discussed
in an open way. We cannot possibly present all this material in an
article such as this but we would like to give some of the opinions of
the Director of ICAIC, Alfredo Guevara, (not to be confused with Che
Guevara, the Minister of Industries).
"The artist is a witness, but he is also a
protagonist and a combatant, and a prophet as well. He must discern
and discover, he must enter into the world through every fissure,
and he must unveil reality, not only in the more immediate, but also
the more hidden or neglected, the more mediate or distant. The
artist or craftsman who sings the praises of daily activity is not
thereby a revolutionary, or a better revolutionary: the way we see
it, he is a revolutionary artist who with his talent and
sensibility, with his knowledge and daring, with his sagacity and
imagination, discovers the thread that runs through things; or if
not a thread, he discovers a sign-post pointing to the real world,
hitherto undiscovered or insufficiently explored, and then finds the
means to express his discovery.
"This does not mean this is not what we wish to
underline that the revolutionary artist cannot or should not
attempt with all his skill and ingenuity to tackle the topics of
immediate urgency. The revolutionary artist can, and often should do
so; and the specialist in political agitation and in revolutionary
propaganda can do so as well, and under certain conditions it is
specifically his responsibility to do so. Propaganda can make use of
art, and should do so. Art can serve revolutionary propaganda, and
should do so. But art is not propaganda, and not even on behalf of
the revolution is it lawful to disguise its meaning .. .
"If socialist realism is the realism of the age of
socialism, of an age in which the artist emerges armed with a
critical method of enquiry and analysis which opens up unlimited
possibilities, an age in which the creative man is rendered into a
position where he can produce his work without reactionary
restrictions or pressures, (by reactionary I mean whatever tends to
paralyze the life which engenders what is novel and that which is,
therefore, always creative; I believe therefore, that in socialism
too reactionary trends can emerge, have emerged and continue to
emerge); if this is socialist realism, and if for socialist realism
reality is not only a segment of the world, but the real world
itself therefore, the world in its infinity then we can
subscribe to the thesis of socialist realism.
"But that is not the realism we are acquainted with,
the one that some uphold and systematically propagate as the means
and the goal of art. Far from the art which would be in keeping with
the reflections offered above, we are sometimes presented, under the
guise of being socialist and realist, with an art which is often
reactionary, an opiate art, either hypnotic or enervating, in which
the spectators and the readers are offered abstract archetypes,
truly abstract, which could compete as to falsity and unreality with
the best characters of Corin Tellado, or the usual portrayal of
Supermanlike heroes of every type. The films we are trying to bring
to our theaters are adult, complex, addressed to the whole man and,
therefore, to the intellectual...
"Cultural problems are always a part of the
ideological debate and of the research and study to which the
creative man is dedicated. We cannot accept the identification of
our judgments about a primitive and vulgar version of socialist
realism, with contemporary Soviet art and literature in general. In
the Soviet Union and in Cuba, as in all countries, works are
produced which represent, e.g., the populist current or schematism,
but also those which represent the highest level of art, as well as
experiments which we ought to appreciate by reason of their
exploratory value. These manifold and often opposed experiences,
dialectically assure the development of the cultural movement,
because these are the first conditions of life.
"It is not possible to regiment artistic creation by
binding it to an immediatist and utilitarian point of view, just as
it is impossible to reduce consciousness, man, to the fulfillment of
his daily goals. Only by looking towards the future, by grasping or
trying to grasp life as a whole, is it possible for man to find the
strength to realize himself, to improve his being and to strive that
the same phenomenon should take place in the society in which he
"What else could one mean by socialist
consciousness? Man can be whole only in knowledge, in the access to
the sources of information, and in the struggle against reactionary
ideology and practice. Whatever makes him better informed and
increases his depth, whatever makes him more earnest and coherent in
his judgments, and whatever ensures a more complex and qualified
critical attitude, makes man to be a true man. I believe that this
is the objective of socialism, of communism: to restore man to his
human condition and to unleash the forces that man, in his
plenitude, maintains and develops. I do not believe that the fate of
four films could frustrate this objective; indeed, I do not believe
anything can .. .
"On the day when `intellectual circles' shall be
more than a social stratum in development and have become, as it
logically must happen, an appreciable part of the population, the
spiritual situation of all those who, conservatively, belittle the
right and the need of men, of the masses, to information and study
of the manifestations of thought and art, shall be difficult.
"Only live thought, anti-routine, anti-dogmatic,
always innovating and creative, respectful of its own nature, is
capable of giving birth not only to true works of art but also of
ensuring the level of production and its development. Without
intellectual daring there is not, nor can there be, an efficient
technology. A new form of censorship could never be the source of
that climate of freedom in which thought finds its true dimension,
and science and art their full development...."
The above outline of the guiding policy of Cuba's
National Film Institute shows how the Cuban Revolution is attempting to
advance the tremendously progressive struggle of man for cultural
freedom and expression.
But the film industry is only one example of the efforts
the Cuban are making to come in contact with the best that man has been
able to produce in the broad field of culture. We spent two hours with
Heberto Padilla, the new director of an institution called CUBARTIMPEX,
who has recently returned from a year and a half in Europe, including a
year in the Soviet Union.
CUBARTIMPEX has the responsibility of selecting the best
of the literature of the world and importing it for the Cuban market.
We understand that this institution is also responsible
for selling Cuban literature abroad. The director has broad powers of
selection so he is a very important person for the Cuban people.
Heberto Padilla was a former newspaperman and an
intellectual in the best meaning of this term. He is fluent in English
and Russian and has a command of several other European languages as
well as Spanish, his mother tongue. We were immensely impressed with
Padilla, who in our opinion is typical of the kind of Cuban
intellectuals who have been won over to the Revolution.
Our discussion ranged over a broad field. We were
particularly interested in his experiences in the Soviet Union and in
his opinions regarding the influence of Soviet concepts upon Cuban
culture. What he had to say in this regard was an important educational
experience for us. We are going to paraphrase his remarks on this
subject realizing that there is some danger of misinterpreting his
The Cuban Revolution is very popular in the Soviet Union
and is having a profound impact upon the youth in particular. The heroic
nature of the Cuban struggle in the face of overwhelming odds, has
captured the imagination of the entire Soviet people.
The experiences of hundreds of Cuban students now in the
Soviet Union and Eastern Europe will on the whole be positive and they
will return to Cuba greatly matured. These students will convey to other
Cubans on their return the positive as well as the negative side of
Soviet life, thus helping to enrich the understanding of the Cuban
people, giving them strength in their struggle against the alien forces
of the past, helping them better to understand the nature of the many
problems they face, helping them to learn from the experiences of the
The isolation of the Russian Revolution caused the new
Soviet society to withdraw within its own borders, to set up barriers
against "outside influences". The Cuban Revolution, despite massive
United States efforts to isolate it, continues to reach out for contact
with the rest of the world. This is evidenced by the emphasis on
encouraging the foreign visitor through the method of invitations. A
considerable sum of money valuable foreign currency is spent every
year to maintain this contact with the world.
The influence resulting from the interchange of
students, professors and technicians, Padilla says, is two way. Despite
its small size, the Cuban Revolution has had a profound influence upon
the Soviet world, an influence which has been entirely healthy and
We were informed that a substantial amount of money has
been allotted to CUBARTIMPEX, and we are confident that this money will
be well spent. For the Revolution to grow and mature it will be
necessary for the Cuban people to come in contact with the best of the
literary efforts of present and past generations of all mankind. This
The spirit of innovation and experimentation is
everywhere, and the Revolution is coming to grips with a host of
problems which the old Cuba never worried about. We have given
considerable space to the question of consciousness and attitudes in the
Revolution, but it would be useful to discuss some very practical
problems upon which consciousness has been brought to bear. These
problems are many and varied but some are more vital than others.
Coming to grips with production
A wide ranging public discussion has been under way for
some time now over the problem of increased production, more efficient
methods of production and distribution and the key question of
incentives. The question of incentives bears not only upon production
but also upon the educational program as well as the problem of raising
the cultural level of the people.
The Revolution inherited not only a low level of
technical and industrial capacity but also a low cultural and
educational level. In order to solve the problem of industrialization it
will be necessary to raise the educational and cultural levels of the
whole population at a rapid pace. This is being done on an impressive
scale. At the university level the emphasis is on science and
engineering subjects. While we were there there was a futuristic display
on the University of Havana campus of the "Technological Revolution".
Every work center has technical courses for workers oriented toward the
needs of that specific industry.
The tremendous energies released by the Revolution,
especially among the youth, have provided the basis for a solution of
the problems, but only the basis. This massive energy could be
dissipated if proper leadership was not provided for the reorganization
of the whole of society along rational lines.
Under the conditions of old Cuba, the initiative of the
youth was destroyed through lack of educational facilities for the great
majority. Those who did manage to complete their education were
frustrated by the chaos and indifference at the various levels of
government. Today, the youth of Cuba are inspired by the gigantic task
before them. They are not only the privileged group in Cuba but also the
group on whose shoulders the responsibility for the future rests. This
idea is not just a cliche in Cuba because the whole society is geared to
the needs of the younger generation. Those who were most exploited
before now receive the most attention, in order to right old wrongs.
This aspect of the Revolution is a great incentive
builder for the youth and permeates the whole population. On a visit to
Ciudad Libertad (Liberty City, formerly the old Columbia Fortress in
Havana, now a massive school area) we met a young man who is typical of
the Cuban youth. Lino Abreu Gonzales, 24, is a student in industrial
engineering at the university from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and an instructor
in physics at Ciudad Libertad for the rest of the afternoon. In the
evening he studies. Abreu is a repatriado from the U.S. where he was
studying electrical engineering. On his return to Cuba he found a great
need for industrial engineers in the sugar industry so he switched
Before the Revolution his family owned two businesses.
The largest business, which his father operated, is now nationalized and
his father works for the state. His mother still operates a beauty
parlor. His parents are with the Revolution, Abreu said, because they
love him and he loves the Revolution. We were not with him long before
we became convinced of his love for the Revolution. Abreu is fortunate,
because many families were torn apart by the revolution. What is
demonstrated here is the deep effect of the attitude of the youth upon
the whole population, including the older generation.
Full participation of the people
Over the past five years the major means of production
and distribution have passed from private ownership and control into
social ownership and control. The laws governing investment under
capitalism no longer exist in Cuba. Investment of capital is made on the
basis of the overall needs of the economy as determined by economic
If this planning is to be democratic and sensitive to
the needs of the masses, it must have their full participation at every
level. The solution to this problem is complex and varied but it is
rooted in the total structure of the new society and its institutions.
The newly emerging institutions must be so constructed that maximum
democratic control can be exercised by the masses. Extensive
investigation in this area convinced us that the Cubans are aware of
these problems and are consciously seeking solutions through the process
of experimentation, discarding, modifying, etc. Here we see the role of
consciousness in the revolutionary process.
About 40 miles east of Havana is the city of Guines,
with a population of about 40,000 people. Guines is also the name of an
important pilot project encompassing five municipalities, including the
municipality of Guines and three more soon to be added. This is an
important project in many ways. Through this project the Revolution is
seeking solutions to the general problem of local government and its
relationship to economic planning and industrial and agricultural
administration. The project is also providing important information on
the organization of PURS (United Party of the Socialist Revolution) and
its relationship to the general problem of leadership and planning at
all levels of society. The history of this project demonstrates the
conscious nature of social and economic development in revolutionary
We learned about Guines before leaving for Cuba so we
requested our guide to take us there soon after our arrival. On the
morning of December 19th we arrived at the project and our hostess for
the day was Magaly Reyes, a vigorous girl of peasant origin who works
full time in the local office of PURS.
She is a small woman, in her early twenties, with a
healthy tanned complexion, vibrant and warm. She overflows with
enthusiasm for the Revolution and she is radiant with an affection for
life unequalled by anyone we met. After a general briefing on the
history of Guines and lunch she conducted us on a tour of the area.
The city of Guines, and the pilot project of the same
name, is situated in a fertile agricultural community where the land is
intensively cultivated and the division between Granjas (State Farms,
pronounced gran-has) and privately owned farms is about the same as the
national average, i.e., 70 per cent Granjas, 30 per cent private. (The
present division is the result of the second agrarian reform last
October which brought all farms in excess of 150 acres with some
exceptions under state control. The first agrarian reform, in 1959,
nationalized all farms in excess of 1,000 acres, forming either Granjas
or sugar cane co-operatives. In August 1962 the Co-operativistas voted
to end the cane co-operatives and they were incorporated into the
Prior to March 1962, Guines was governed from Havana and
was one of the worst areas for sectarianism, according to the
[The term sectarianism, as used in Cuba, refers to a
tendency widely prevalent in the period prior to March 1962 when Anibal
Escalante was secretary of ORI [Integrated Revolutionary Organizations].
ORI was the forerunner of PURS. For further information on this subject
we would refer you to the March 26, 1962 speech of Fidel Castro titled
"Fidel Castro Denounces Sectarianism", available from FPCC, Box 923,
Adelaide St. P.O., for 25’]
Because Guines had suffered most during this period, the
Revolutionary Government decided to turn the area into a model of
revolutionary democracy. It was here that the first local of PURS was
constructed. The methods developed became the norm for the whole
The large industries and former foreign monopolies are
still run by the national government but an increasing responsibility
for local industry and community development is being placed in the
hands of the local administration which rests on the local mass
organizations, such as the trade unions, Federation of Cuban Women,
Defence Committees, National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) , etc.
At the top of the local administration is JUCEI (Juna,
or Planning Board, pronounced Hoo-say). JUCEI is composed of a
president, administration secretary, economic secretary, social
relations secretary, public health secretary, etc. Most communities in
Cuba now have a local JUCEI and the results in some cases are quite
Just west of Havana, in the municipality of Marianao, is
the small town of El Cano, proclaimed by its residents as "The First
Socialist Town in Cuba", in a floral design on the edge of the highway
leading into the town. We spent an afternoon and early evening one
Saturday as guests of the local JUCEI. In El Cano everything from the
local nursery to the barbershop is run by the town folk. This situation
developed because of a small counter-revolution organized by the local
businessmen back in 1962. El Cano has an interesting history but there
is not space to go into it here.
For the first time in our lives we experienced, although
only for a few hours, a genuine community spirit. There was a local
library near completion as well as a children's nursery. A new city
square was nearly complete and new housing was being constructed by the
local government. It is to be hoped that these experiments will be
properly documented in the near future so that we may all learn from the
rich human experiences which are being accumulated daily in
In conclusion we would like to discuss, in a general
way, the future of the Cuban Revolution. To paraphrase the New York
Times on the occasion of the Fifth Anniversary of the Revolution, it
is a fact of no mean significance that the Cuban Revolution is still in
existence. But more important than this, we can say that the Cuban
revolution is not only with us but is living testimony to the tremendous
human energy which is capable of being unleashed through a genuine
social revolution of the masses.
Much is said these days about the underdeveloped
countries. Every year the governments of industrially advanced countries
speak about the increasing need to assist the "emerging nations". But
all reports indicate that this "aid" does little more than alleviate
some of the worst suffering in small corners of the world. Not even the
most optimistic report any real progress for the former colonial and
semi-colonial peoples of the world through this "aid".
For over ten years now the United States has been
"assisting" the Republic of South Korea at the per capita rate set for
the Alliance for Progress. After ten years South Korea is still an
underdeveloped country with the same problems as before.
After two years of operation the Alliance for Progress
is reported by its founders to be a failure and the country most
referred to as having a bright future along the "democratic" road of
"reforms", Brazil, has now reverted to type. A few weeks ago a military
junta turned out the constitutionally elected government and President
Johnson immediately sent "warm" greetings to the usurpers.
There is scarcely a government in Latin America with any
degree of economic and political stability, despite the open support of
the powerful United States. On the other hand, the revolutionary
government of Cuba enjoys the greatest stability of any government south
of the Rio Grande. Besides political stability, the Cuban economy has
weathered the effects of a ruthless economic blockade and is now on the
The Cuban Revolution has demonstrated the great
potentialities which await human society once the latent energies of the
people are released from the straight-jacket of antiquated social
systems. Nowhere is this problem more severe than on the continents of
South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The fact that the
United States refuses to tolerate social revolutions in this part of the
world is, we believe, an important symptom of the decadence of even the
most stable capitalist power in the world today.
Our third visit to the island on the occasion of the
Fifth Anniversary of the Revolution removed any doubt whatsoever that
the Cuban Revolution is a genuine socialist revolution. Our previous
impressions have now become convictions that we were witness to a
preview of the future society of all mankind.
At the end of my first day in Cuba I was impressed above
all with how firmly the revolution was established, and how overwhelming
was its support. Yet as I got to know my way around Havana, I could
sense that the excitement of the guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra was
still present. The revolution was still in progress. Problems were
tremendous, and I found myself drawn inexorably into dozens of excited
discussions: what to do next, how to meet the next difficulty, what
solutions to find.
Illiteracy has been almost eliminated, but the general
educational level is still tragically low. American-sponsored attacks
have been beaten off, but a huge part of the national income still is
necessary for defense. For the first time, all in Cuba have adequate
food and clothing. Yet Cuba remains an underdeveloped country, with the
tremendous tasks of economic development ahead of her. Cubans regard
themselves as a free people, free to determine their future. But Cuba
still has no constitution and her socialist party still has not had its
first convention: the outlines of her political system are still being
determined. The most exciting part of my visit to Cuba lay not just in
seeing the achievements, but in gaining some insight into the solutions
being proposed for the problems that remain.
International gathering place
One such problem has been coping with American attempts
to isolate the island. A U.S. action has cut off Cuba's traditional
economic ties. The survival of the revolution has depended on the
ability of the Cubans to develop an internationalist outlook, to create
new, more solid ties with the world. I could see that, the economic
assistance of the Soviet bloc and China has been essential to Cuba's
trade and survival. Just as significant is Cuba's new role as leader of
the colonial revolution in Latin America, and indeed around the world. A
good example of Cuba's "drawing power" were the 700 visitors from dozens
of countries who came to Cuba for the 26th of July celebrations.
Even apart from such visitors, Cuba is a cosmopolitan
island. I found it swarming with students, technicians and radical
politicians from around the world. You could meet a young Latin American
student in a hotel elevator, carrying up to his room fifty copies of Che
Guevara's textbook on guerrilla warfare. Or the American students, who
went to Cuba in '63 in violation of their government's travel ban. Among
the visitors were members of parliament from England and many other West
European countries. The Venezuelan revolutionary movement maintains an
office in Havana. The Chinese news agency has an office from which it
vigorously spreads its literature to Cubans and foreign visitors. I met
some Russian girls who described the hectic competition in the Soviet
Union for a position to work in Cuba. And you find hundreds of African
and Latin American students studying in Cuba as part of Cuba's own
"foreign aid" program. You certainly meet the most interesting people in
Cuba! In place of the American tourist and gamblers, there is a resident
community representing most of the nations of the world, and practically
all tendencies of radical thought. The Cubans certainly appreciate the
I found the close ties between Algeria and Cuba
particularly interesting. In spite of Cuba's urgent need to improve her
medical services, she had sent fifty doctors to work in Algeria. Many
Algerian students are in Cuban schools and universities. Algerian
Premier Ben Bella received an especially enthusiastic welcome from both
government and people. There is no doubt about the excitement with which
Cubans support a nation that has followed their revolutionary path.
Cuban internationalism has its economic side as well.
Che Guevara has explained that the revolution made two basic economic
mistakes in its early days. Cuba cut down her sugar acreage in order to
diversify the economy, but this tended to rob Cuba of her one valuable
export item and source of foreign exchange. At the same time the
government strove to build up diversified industry. But the cost of
importing the raw materials for the manufacturing plants that had been
built was often equal to the cost of importing the finished items. Cuba
was aiming at self-sufficiency and economic diversification a natural
reaction to half a century of economic dependence on the United States.
But this was proving prohibitively expensive.
Today a new policy being implemented aims at
coordinating Cuba's economic growth with that of the expanding
non-capitalist world. Cuba is putting the accent on agriculture, and
increasing her sugar production concentrating on what she can do best.
Trade is to be the backbone of her future industrial development.
A Cuban in the foreign ministry explained to me that
Cuba was reckoning with the new demand for sugar which would result from
new social revolutions. A socialist revolution in Brazil, for example,
would greatly increase the standard of living, and the Brazilian masses
would be able to buy sugar regularly for the first time. Cuba would then
obtain machinery and manufactured goods in return for sales to this new
market for sugar. The whole direction of Cuba's economic planning
increases her ties with the outer world.
It is this prospect which helps give the Cubans the
courage to resist American attacks. They are convinced that Cuba is only
one of a long series of socialist revolutions to come. As the first
socialist revolution in Latin America, it is playing an essential role.
It is not necessary for it to export arms; Cuba's contribution is to set
the example, proving that revolutionary victory and the construction of
socialism in America is possible. Fidel Castro explained to the seven
hundred foreign visitors, that the best way for them to help Cuba was to
go back to their own country and make a revolution as the Cubans had
Other problems have arisen in the internal development
of the revolution. The greatest general objection raised against
socialism is the fear that government bureaucracy and high-handedness
will obliterate the liberty of the individual. I felt, when I went to
Cuba, that there was a real danger that a socialist revolution, even
while greatly improving the lot of the people, and ending capitalist
exploitation might tend to create a new ruling elite of managers and
bureaucrats. Cubans I met talked a lot about just these problems. 1963
was the Year of Organization, this year is the Year of Economy, and both
are aimed at ending the kind of red tape, high handedness and government
privilege that I had been worried about.
Cuba did not look or feel much like a police state. The
only actual policemen I saw were directing traffic. The work of
maintaining order had passed over to popular bodies, the "Committees for
the Defense of the Revolution" (the CDR's) and the militia. I was
surprised to find that opponents of the Revolution are not confined to
concentration camps; I found them easily, at liberty, usually with high
salaries by Cuban standards, and they speak quite freely. Many come to
hotels where they know foreigners are staying, in order to state their
case. In one grocery store I got into a conversation with a man who
began violently attacking the government. Soon many others gathered
around, started arguing with him, and a general debate ensued.
This kind of open discussion was typical of Cuba. Cuba
has become a permanent meeting, where discussion never seems to end. As
far as I could see, as long as an opponent of the government does not
break the laws of Cuba, for example by storing arms, or entering into
contact with the CIA, he is able to speak freely, and has full civil
Many foreigners I met in Cuba were wondering how long
the present spirit of freedom will last. The Cubans would be the first
to admit that the long-run outcome of their revolution depends on
international factors; particularly on the spread of the revolution
throughout Latin America. This is what makes them such ardent
internationalists. But at the same time, I could see a tendency to
institutionalize the spirit of the revolution, and thus provide
guarantees for the future.
Defence of the Revolution
An important example is the "Committees of Defense of
the Revolution", the famous block committees. There are 108,000 CDR's
organized both on a block basis and in places of work. They do much of
the most vital organizational work for the revolution, for example the
tremendous innoculation campaign that wiped out polio long before the
United States had organized an effective immunization campaign. It was
the CDR's that recruited the 100,000 teachers used in the campaign to
end illiteracy in 1961.
But in addition the CDR's have assumed state functions.
They are responsible for the rationing system, and they see to it that
all Cubans receive an equal share of available food supplies. They have
the power of nationalization of all private shops in their jurisdiction
though they must operate what they nationalize. One of their most
important tasks is propaganda and revolutionary instruction.
Any attempt to "brainwash" the Cuban people would have
to settle accounts first of all with the CDR's. To me their
most amazing role was as a security force. As one CDR official explained
quite frankly, the members of the CDR's keep tab on all the known
counter-revolutionaries. Though they normally do not bother them, the
CDR's see to it that none actively engage in sabotage or
underground activity. They are highly effectiveat the time of the Bay
of Pigs invasion they instantly rounded up 10,000 counterrevolutionaries
in Havana for temporary internment until the danger was over.
The organization of the CDR is strictly democratic. All
citizens over 15 years of age can be members, and in fact about three
quarters of the population is enrolled. Imagine three quarters of the
population actively working for the security of the island! Perhaps that
is why the U.S. finds it so hard to organize an anti-Castro underground.
The members of a given area elect a 16 man executive, and weekly
meetings are held to review the work of the executive. At these weekly
meetings all citizens are invited to state their criticismswhether or
not they happen to be members of the CDR.
The active members of the CDRs are mainly housewives.
Workers center their activities in their place of work. For this reason,
the CDRs tend to be overshadowed by other organizations. Nonetheless
they are a valuable safeguard of democratic rights in Cuba. The Cuban
people have protected themselves against unjust acts of a security
police, or inequality of the rationing system, by taking over such
Many visitors to Cuba in the early stages of the
revolution commented on the degree of equality. I must admit I had fears
that this revolutionary equality would disappear in the hard years that
followed the victory. I certainly found no such tendency.
There is a legal minimum salary of $90.00 a month, but
the practical minimum for agricultural or unskilled workers seems to be
around $100.00. In the average office or factory I found that the worker's
salary would range from approximately $150.00 to $300.00 a month
depending on the degree of his training. A member of the ruling party of
Cuba, or a factory manager could not expect any special privileges. He
would probably earn slightly less than the skilled worker, and get a
salary in the range of $200.00 to $250.00 a month. The tendency at the
moment is towards further equalization of salaries. The salaries of the
poorly paid workers are increasing while higher salaries are frozen or
are being reduced. In addition the pricing system favors the poor.
Necessities are generally low priced and luxuries are exorbitantly
priced. The greatest equalizer is the rationing system. It applies to
everyone, and there are no high priced free stores which could be used
by those with extra cash. Every Cuban has the right to leave the
country. Many highly skilled workers, technicians or doctors are paid
high salaries to dissuade them from emigrating, but with this exception
equality in Cuba is general and is growing.
The Cuban economy today is almost completely
nationalized. The small farmers are the only significant group of
private entrepreneurs. My knowledge of the CNR or the BC Electric showed
me one danger of nationalization. Often it is a disillusioning
experience for the workers; the old factory managers and foremen remain
in their place and the worker is as powerless as before. In Cuba things
were different from the beginning. It was largely on the initiative of
the workers that nationalization took place, and the power that they won
in expelling the capitalists was never relinquished.
It is not a cinch to be a "boss" in Cuba. It means
undertaking a tremendous work load, and answering to criticism from
above and below. He must justify his actions to the ministry and the
party and also must meet the criticism of the workers in the regular
factory meetings. In return, his salary is probably less than that of
the skilled workers in the same shop.
Workers cannot depose an administrator on a whim. They
must present charges in their assembly, and prove them, and then
convince the ministry that the administrator should be removed. However
if their charges are serious and accurate the ministry usually has
little choice but to carry out their decision. In one factory I visited,
a worker told me that they had got rid of two administrators since the
revolution. He seemed to have a very critical attitude to the third as
well. I could sense who the real bosses were there!
Power such as these certainly guarantee the workers'
rights against any heavy-handed bureaucrats. But the basic intent of the
Cuban government obviously goes far deeper. It teaches the workers that
it is they who must take the responsibility for increasing production
by working harder, by arriving and leaving work punctually, by doing
volunteer labor on Sundays, and also by participation in the management
of the industries.
A complicated procedure has been developed in Cuba to
ensure the workers' rights in the selection of their administrators. The
Impresa (a level of administration midway between the ministry and the
shop) draws up a list of those it considers qualified for the vacant
position. This list goes to the party for approval. Then it is presented
to the workers of the shop for approval, rejection, or amendment in any
manner they desire. The party too must justify to the workers its
rejection of any new name it has added. The edited list is presented to
the ministry for a final selection, and the ministry's choice must be
resubmitted to the workers for final ratification.
It must be added that there is a serious shortage of
trained people in Cuba, and there would rarely be many qualified for any
one position. Usually there is general agreement on the one candidate
presented for approval. However, the procedure I have described is a
guarantee of the workers' rights to the final say in any dispute.
Workers participate actively in many of the debates
involving the planning of production. One worker told me about a
discussion raging in his plant at that moment. Two technical advisors
had been assigned to prepare plans for the future utilization of the
plant. The ministry concerned had accepted one plan and begun to retool
before the second plan had been submitted.
Now, it was apparent that the second plan was far
superior, and that the whole plant would have to be retooled a second
time. No one would lose any pay. But the worker told me that everyone in
the plant was following the discussion with great interest, and that
most of them were incensed with the behaviour of the ministry, which had
wasted so much valuable time and energy. I asked him what they could do
about it. He said he didn't know about the others but he was certainly
raising the whole matter at the next workers' assembly. He expected that
the workers would protest the ministry's procedure and demand a full
explanation of the whole affair.
A grievance procedure has been developed in Cuba which
is likely unequalled in the degree that it protects workers' rights. In
every factory the grievance committee consists of six members. Two are
appointed by the administrator, and two by the union. Two other members
are directly elected by the workers. The workers have a formal majority
in this key committee, though in practice the unions tend to play a
mediating role between workers and administration. Every grievance goes
to this committee, and its decision may be appealed to the grievance
court of the municipality. A higher appeal may be made to the ministry
itself, whose decision is final.
How housing is allocated
All over Cuba, in the cities and in the poorest parts of
the country, I saw the great housing projects built since the
revolution. I wondered how the new dwellings are distributed? Here too,
the Cubans find that the best way is to place the authority in the hands
of the workers.
New houses and apartments are not sold; they are
allotted to the unions for distribution. The unions assign a certain
number to every factory and shop. The workers in the factory elect three
from their number to serve on a housing committee and select the
recipients of the new dwellings. This committee considers the case of
all workers who apply, and selects those whose families live in the
poorest conditions. Our guide Ramiro told me that in electing the house
committee, the workers often chose the critics of the government. Give
them the responsibility and they won't complain all the time, he said.
There is no doubt that the Cubans face tremendous
problems in their drive for economic development. In very many cases I
found that these problems are being met by throwing more of the
authority onto the shoulders of the workers.
The same developments can be seen in Cuban schools.
Students have a history of their own in Cuba, a revolutionary tradition
a century old. They were among the top leaders of the struggle against
the dictator Batista. This gives them a social prestige which we
Canadian students have never known. After their victory university
students were given wide powers to reform the university along
democratic lines. Today students elect 50% of the members of the ruling
bodies of the University.
A recent demonstration of the students' power was the
case of Juan Marinello, rector of the University of Havana. He had long
been unpopular with the students. Student resolutions to the government
cannot be ignored in Cuba and Marinello was recently dismissed.
I asked an 18-year old high school student named Diaz
Bernal, who up till a year ago was attending school in the United
States, what he thought of Cuban schools. "Here the teachers are not
dictators; they are students too, and they work with us," he said. "Each
week we have two periods when we discuss how the class is going, and
we're free to criticize the teacher as well."
He explained the system of student government. Each
class elects a class captain, and prefects for sports and cultural
activities. These class captains form a school council, and are also
members of the national union of high school students, which has an
elected national leadership to represent them with the ministry of
The struggle to build the party
The biggest political news while I was in Cuba was the
construction of the revolutionary party, the "United Party of the
Socialist Revolution" (PURS) . The Cuban leadership had felt for some
time that a centralized revolutionary party was essential to lead the
development of the new society, but constructing it has been a long
process, marked by many failures, mistakes and new starts.
The first attempt was a failure. This was the ORI, the
Integrated Revolutionary Organization. It was chosen from the top down,
and its leadership fell into the hands of a clique associated with the
old Popular Socialist Party (Communist). Personal connections and
favoritism governed the selection of the ORI, and the revolutionary
fighters, the rank and file militants, were passed by.
I asked what was done after Castro denounced ORI. I was
told that every member had to win the endorsement of the workers in his
office or shop to win admission to the renewed organization, PURS. The
screening process took place across the island, and over half the ORI
members were rejected.
A new process of selection was developed on the theory
that where no Marxist party had led the revolution the workers will be
the best qualified to choose their own vanguard. The government
established general criteria for members of the party. A member must be
an exemplary worker, who sets an example to his comrades on the
production line. He or she must be a leading member of the militia,
active in the defense of the revolution, and finally he must be a strong
revolutionary, with a record of firm opposition to the Batista
dictatorship. He does not need to be a Marxist-Leninist (though we think
he will become one, a party leader explained). For instance many party
members told me they were practising Catholics. The criteria are
designed to choose the real vanguard of the revolution, whatever the
strictly personal beliefs of the individuals that comprise it.
A three-stage procedure has been developed to choose
party members. I attended a meeting of workers at the first stage.
Workers would propose candidates from the floor, and after a certain
amount of prodding (none of them had much experience with microphones)
they would explain the reasons for their choice. The case of each
individual candidate would then be frankly discussed. Occasionally the
foreman of his section would comment on his performance. Usually by the
end of the debate there would be general agreement on whether he should
be accepted or not.
All candidates were voted upon, and the list of
candidates chosen by this meeting of workers was to be passed on to a
selection board of the party itself which normally rejects about 30
percent. It seems that it usually accepts the workers' choice unless it
has obvious technical grounds for rejection usually that the
candidate, unknown to the workers, did not fulfill one of the criteria
of membership, e.g., he had not been in the militia the required length
of time. Even then, the party must return to the workers in the third
stage to justify their decisions and gain final ratification.
In the July 1963 issue of the magazine Cuba Socialista,
the theoretical magazine of the Cuban Revolution, there was a discussion
of the selection of the members of the PURS in the mountains of Oriente,
the birthplace of the Cuban Revolution. The article states that of the
members of the old ORI in that region 82 percent were rejected by the
workers and peasants. "The old ORI did not have the Marxist Leninist
approach, did not have a clear conception of class. It included many
rich peasants hostile to the Revolution, the number of the agricultural
workers was minimal."
The class composition of the PURS in the mountains of
Oriente today is as follows:
The number of rich peasants: none
of middle peasants: 2
of teachers and state employees: 30
of workers and poor peasants: 173
From these figures we can see the aim of the PURS; to
form a party composed of the revolutionary classes of society, the
workers and peasants. This party would then act as a check on any
bureaucratic developments and would be an expression of the democratic
will of the population as a whole.
As presently constituted, the new party seems to fulfill
two functions: to lead the people and to represent them. There is a
contradiction here, and many Cubans are well aware of it. I asked a
party member whether in the future, after the construction of the party
is complete, its members would continue to be chosen by the workers. He
replied that the question was being discussed, but that no decision had
been reached as yet. It does not seem clear in which direction the
present contradiction in the role of the party will be resolved.
When I was in Cuba it was clear that the party still had
a long way to go. In particular a party convention had not yet been
held. The leadership of the party, The National Directorate, has not yet
been democratically chosen. In addition the powers of the rank and file
cells of the party on the factory level or on the level of the state
farms are very limited. The party in that level is concerned with local
problems like the problems of the management of the factory. Last
summer the PURS was not yet organizing discussions throughout the whole
party on all the major questions confronting the revolution. In this
sense the party was not yet ruling Cuba. However the Cuban leaders
desire a slow and solid period of development for the party, and it is
still only in its formative stages.
There was a hectic debate going on between Che Guevara
and Carlos Rafael Rodriguez about economic policy. Guevara was generally
advocating concentration on political incentives to insure higher
production and to avoid the development of any privileged bureaucracy.
Rodriguez on the other hand was in favor of material incentives, of
higher wages to skilled workers and managers. This discussion was going
on in all layers of Cuban society, particularly among the rank and file
members of the party.
The process of democratic discussion as developed in
this case has since been repeated in the other issues. Since that time
there has been a public discussion of cultural policy. There has also
been a public debate surrounding the trial of a member of the old
Communist Party accused of betraying revolutionaries during the struggle
The essence of Cuban democracy is that responsibility is
being given to all citizens of Cuba for the welfare of their revolution.
This is the real purpose of all these democratic institutions that we
have described they are not just means for the citizens to control
their government; they are methods by which the citizens can take part
in government and share the responsibilities which government entails.
This attitude extends not only to the factories and to
the schools but to the jails as well. I visited a prison farm in Cuba.
The first thing I noticed was that there was no barbed wire, no wall
around it, and no guards. When I entered the prison I had quite a bit of
difficulty in distinguishing the prisoners from the administrators.
There were 63 prisoners and two administrators, one agronomist and no
guards at all.
Prisoners have quite a lot of privileges. Every Sunday
they can have visitors, and every six weeks they get three days off.
That works out to three and one half weeks vacation a year, and during
these vacations prisoners can travel freely anywhere in Cuba. Prisoners
worked half the day to make the farm self-sufficient. The other half
they spent in school, where many have learned to read and write.
Most amazing of all, the prisoners were armed to defend
their farm! Forty-nine were members of a regular militia group, and they
had been trained to handle a rifle. A prisoner proudly showed me the
four rifles they use in patrolling the farm each night. How was this
possible? Obviously, the military training was an essential part of the
rehabilitation process. The prisoners had to be convinced that society
really needed them. What better way, in a time when the island was under
constant danger of invasion and sabotage, than to train and arm them to
defend their country?
Shortly before leaving Cuba I visited a village which
may be setting the pattern for the future development of workers control
in Cuba. This is El Cano, the "First Socialist Village of Cuba."
El Cano, a town of 2,000 inhabitants, lies just outside
Havana. The manufacture of pottery is its only industry. Many hangovers
from the Batista days plagued the town after the revolution. The
business and professional circles strongly opposed the revolutionary
government, and continued to practice many of the old habits of graft
and corruption. It was a persistent center of gambling. Many of the
young people were the kind of rootless unemployed so unpopular in Cuba
Early in 1962 one of these was accidentally killed while
attempting to escape from soldiers patrolling outside the town. About 80
of the local right-wingers, mainly owners of small businesses, held a
protest meeting in the central park, and declared that all businesses in
the town would be shut down in mourning.
The people of El Cano regarded the lock-out as an attack
on the revolution itself. Within hours they forced the reopening of all
businesses. The lock-out had a sequel of much greater importance when
Raman Calcines was appointed by the revolutionary government to
investigate the whole affair. On the 11th of June, 1962, he made his
report. The businesses of all those who participated in the lock-out
were to be confiscated. But instead of being placed under the
administration of the centralized "Consolidated Enterprises" of the
ministries, as is usual in Cuba, they were handed over to a "Local
Economic Council" to be elected by the citizens of El Cano. That same
day the citizens elected at the general assembly the council and the
managers of all the enterprises, and, as a townsman told me with pride,
the new managers had their businesses operating before nightfall.
The experiment is now a year old and has been a great
success. The town gradually bought out all the remaining small
businessmen who did not participate in the lock-out, paying them full
compensation. Now the Economic Council operates everything from the
grocery store to the barber shop. Small concerns are notorious in Cuba
for their unprofitability. In spite of this the total output of the
town, with the same equipment and manpower, has risen 50% in the first
I asked one of the leaders of the El Cano development
how this progress had been possible. He explained that they had done a
very frank study of three of the unprofitable enterprises in the town
and found that losses were usually due to overstaffing. The Economic
Council therefore drastically cut down the number of employees in such
enterprises, and shifted them to other industries. They never permitted
the growth of a high-paid top-heavy bureaucracy. The whole staff ' of
the civic government, responsible for 'everything from the high school
to the beauty parlour, consists of only ten men, and they receive an
average skilled workers'' salary. But the basic reason for the success
of El Cano, he said, lies in the Economic Council itself, and in its
success in utilizing the initiative of the whole population for the
government of the town.
If my visit to Cuba taught me only one thing, it showed
me the tremendous potential of humanity. I found a revolution which is
not exhausting itself. Rather it goes on with continued vigor to meet
continually new problems. The enthusiasm shown in the Committees for the
Defense of the Revolution seems to becoming a wav of life. Far from
withering in American-imposed isolation, the Cuban revolution has in a
sense become a world movement, strengthening itself from the support of
revolutionary peoples and governments around the world. In such
experiments as El Cano or PURS, the new party, Cuba is making world
history this very moment. My visit gave me a feeling of warm optimism
that is still with me today: optimism regarding Cuba's future, but even
more for the prospects of the whole world.