This short essay is a study of Cuba and the United States, specifically their history and their politics. The relationship between Cuba and the United States is a relationship of history and politics. It is a relationship which shows the nature of Capitalism and Imperialism. It is a relationship which shows the nature of the struggle for Socialism and Socialist Revolution. Cuba, the first revolutionary Socialist state in Latin America, has managed to survive as a revolutionary Socialist state despite that relationship — a relationship forced upon Cuba by the most powerful Capitalist state in the history of the world, the United States. Cuban Socialism might be deformed by Stalinism, but its survival is remarkable as a revolutionary example. In many ways the political relationship between Cuba and the United States defines part of the 19th century, the 20th century, and the present day — between revolution and counter-revolution. In history and politics, the old struggle and the old relationship between Cuba and the United States defines much of the history and politics of revolution today.
The history and politics between Cuba and the United States began in the 19th century. The modern relationship between Cuba and the United States is a product of the 19th century, and the 20th century — a product of Imperialism, Capitalism, revolution, rebellion, class struggle, and war. In the 19th century, the United States effectively took Cuba from the Spanish Empire and fought a war with Spain in 1898 over the issue of American power in Cuba. In the 20th century, the United States effectively controlled Cuba and Cuban politics — before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
The political relationship between Cuba and the United States has been defined by the Cuban Revolution. The modern relationship between Cuba and the United States is also the product of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 — the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959, the Cuban Revolution of 1959-1962. The Revolution changed the relationship between Cuba and the United States by making Cuba both independent of the power of the United States and in conflict with the United States. The conflict which has persisted between Cuba and the United States, since then, has been a fundamental social reality of the Cuban Revolution — as an anti-Imperialist revolution and as a revolution determined to see Cuba retain its independence from foreign domination, specifically that of the United States.
Since 1959, to the present, the United States has sought to undermine the Cuban Revolution and the Revolution in Cuba. This struggle against Cuba and the Cuban Revolution has defined Cuba since 1959. This struggle, from the American and Cuban sides, has also helped to define both states during and since the Cold War. In the United States it has shown the persistence of the US government to overcome the Cuban Revolution. In Cuba it highlights the success and strength of the Revolution of 1959, both politically and socially. For the rest of South America and Central America the Cuban Revolution still represents the possibility of social progress and social revolution. In the terms of the history of South America and Central America, the Cuban Revolution represented the ability of a state, society, and nation, in the American hemisphere, to break from the United States and to chart its own social development and economic development. That the Revolution in Cuba survived the 20th century, and still survives to this day, is a revolutionary achievement. It is a revolutionary achievement not simply for Cuba, the Cuban state, the Cuban Communist Party, or the Cuban revolutionaries of 1959, but for the Cuban people themselves.
The political and historical relationship between Cuba and the United States is part of the history of American Imperialism in the rest of South America and Central America.1 From the 19th century, through the struggles of the 20th century, the United States has acted to maintain its own power and its own Imperialism in both South America and Central America — preventing both social progress and social revolution. The history of American relations in South America and Central America is the history of US support for dictatorships, oppression, exploitation, coups, and military occupation. It is a history which continues in the politics of today — in US Imperialism and US policy.
The Spanish-American War of 1898 defined the modern relationship between Cuba and the United States — a war in which Cuba traded Spanish Imperialism and Spanish domination for American Imperialism and American domination. In 1898, the United States formally invaded Cuba as part of its war against Spain, beginning an occupation which would last until formal Cuban independence in 1902. In political terms and economic terms this merely transferred Cuba from Spain to the United States, despite American promises that Cuba would be allowed to be both free and independent as an independent republic. Much of this period of Cuban history, from 1898 to 1959, can formally be called the ‘American period’ of Cuban history — in which Cuba was both formally and informally part of the American sphere, American power, and American interests. At the same time, besides political domination by the United States, Cuba became economically dependent and economically dominated by the United States — beginning a process of economic domination which would not end until the Revolution of 1959. After 1898 Cuba was an independent state but would remain an American puppet and an American satellite, through various interventions, coups, and counter-revolutions, until the Cuban Revolution of 1959. The period of 1898 to 1959, the first period of Cuban history in modern history, was one where Cuba was prevented from achieving both political independence and economic independence — a period which lasted as part of Cuba’s history until the triumph of the Revolution of 1959.
American Imperialism in Cuba began long before 1898. Before 1898, in the 19th century, the United States had taken an interest in Spanish Cuba — as part of the emerging US doctrine of American interests in Latin America and the Monroe doctrine. As part of the process of emerging American Imperialism, in both the 19th century and the 20th century, Cuba was part of American visions and American designs for American power in Central America — of American power and American Imperialism outside of the United States.
Imperialism has dominated the history of Cuba and Latin America. This history of Imperialism in Cuba, by the United States, as with American Imperialism in South America and Central America, has defined the history and politics of Cuba. This history of Imperialism is a history and politics that has existed in Cuba from the 1500s, to the 1820s, to the 1860s and 1890s, to the 20th century, to the Revolution of 1959, to the present day.
Cuban revolutionary politics understood the nature of American Imperialism in Cuba. This need to oppose American Imperialism formed the basis of Cuban revolutionary politics in the 20th century. It also formed the basis of the Cuban Revolution of 1959, alongside the need to free Cuba from the Batista dictatorship of 1952 to 1959.
José Marti, the great hero of Cuban independence and Cuban freedom, in the 19th century, always noted the danger of American intervention and American Imperialism in Cuba. Like many in Cuba, from the 1890s to the present, from Marti to Castro, from 1898 to 1959, Marti worried about and feared the power of the United States — and its ability to distort Cuban independence and Cuban freedom. For Marti, the hope of the American Revolution of 1776 had turned quickly into the reality of American Imperialism.
Fidel Castro, as leader of the Cuban Revolution, based his revolution on opposing US Imperialism in Cuba and Latin America. Castro, as leader of the 26th of July Movement of 1953, leader of the revolt of 1953, leader of the revolutionary war of 1956-1959, leader of the Revolution of 1959, and leader of the Cuban Revolution, understood this history and this politics in the relationship between Cuba and the United States. Even in the immediate aftermath of the victory of the Revolution of 1959, when relations between Cuba and the United States might have improved, Castro and the revolutionaries of 1959 seem to have been cautious about American intentions — and most of them understood the history and politics of American Imperialism in Cuba. Castro, as a revolutionary, was a successful revolutionary because he opposed Imperialism in Cuba.
The Revolution of 1959 in Cuba is the decisive event in the modern history of Cuba — and the history of Cuban-American relations since 1898. The victory of the Cuban Revolution of 1959 changed the relationship between the United States and Cuba. Just as the War for Cuban Independence of 1895-1898 changed Cuba’s relationship with Imperial Spain, so too did the Cuban Revolution change America’s power in Cuba. In political terms and economic terms, the Revolution of 1959 destroyed America’s power in Cuba. The Revolution, effectively, ended one period and replaced it with another — with the victory of the Cuban Revolution itself. With the downfall of the Batista regime and the victory of the revolutionaries, Cuba became free from American influence and American dominance — in both political terms and economic terms. This change in the relationship between Cuba and the United States was one that the United States could not accept — given the reality of American power in South America and Central America since the 19th century. With the victory of the Cuban Revolution, the United States resolved to recapture Cuba and restore American influence in Cuba — a policy which has continued to this day. With the victory of the Revolution of 1959, Cuba became a target for further American Imperialism — as the United States attempted to overthrow the revolutionary government, for its own political interests and economic interests. In terms of the relationship between Cuba and the United States, the victory of the Revolution of 1959 was the single most important event — as it ended the old relationship and started a new relationship. Cuba gained its own political independence in the event of the Revolution of 1959.
The Cuban Revolution, due to Cuban politics and American politics, has had to face many enemies. The Cuban Revolution, due to the dynamics of having to face both national enemies and international enemies, has had to fight both national struggles and international struggles. This dynamic within the Cuban Revolution, while not unique in the history of revolutions, has certainly shaped the politics of the Cuban Revolution. Instead of simply facing a national bourgeoisie or a national dictatorship the Cuban Revolution had to face the external threat of a Capitalist superpower, while also trying to make a social revolution and a political revolution. The Cuban working class has fought many struggles since 1953. The Cuban working class has managed to keep their revolution alive since 1959. The Cuban working class should be proud of their revolutionary achievement.
The political relationship between Cuba and the United States, after 1959, was structured by the nature of the Cuban Revolution itself. In order to free Cuba from the social reality of its oppression and its exploitation, the Cuban revolutionaries had to struggle against more than simply the capitalist class of Cuba, or even the Batista dictatorship — they had to struggle against the USA itself. This fact became apparent after the events of 1960-1962 — from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
The historical relationship between Cuba and the United States was also defined by the necessities and realities of the Cold War. At the height of the Cuban struggle with the United States, the events of 1959-1963, from the Bay of Pigs in 1961 to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, it was impossible for Cuba to avoid the wider struggle of the Cold War — between the USA and the Soviet Union. This aspect of the struggle between Cuba and the United States furthered the social context and international context of the Cuban Revolution — both for the better and for the worse. The fact that the Cuban Revolution was a revolution in the American sphere — that it was a revolution in Uncle Sam’s backyard — meant that the Cuban Revolution was one of the vital revolutions of the Cold War. The Cuban Revolution showed that national liberation and Socialism was possible in the Americas — despite the Imperialism of the United States. This heightened the social potential of the Cuban Revolution, in the 1950s and the 1960s, but also left it isolated — and even more vulnerable to the reaction of the United States. Cuba, in the age of the Cold War, could not be allowed to provide a model of a successful revolution or a successful society. The result was the reality of US policy towards Cuba — one of confrontation, aggression, threats, blockade, sabotage, terrorism, and threatened invasions. This US policy, a relationship of antagonism and US threat, has survived even the Cold War itself — surviving into the 1990s, the 2000s, and the present. Despite this Cuba managed to survive and achieve its own form of social progress and social revolution.2
We need to remember that the Cuban Revolution was a major revolution of the 20th century. An important aspect of the relationship between the US and Cuba is the reality that the Cuban Revolution turned into a major revolution of the 20th century.3 That Cuba attempted to achieve its independence in 1959 was something which already upset the United States — and provoked US reaction. That Cuba declared its willingness to make a Socialist Revolution in Cuba, and a revolutionary society in Cuba, was something which the United States would not accept and could not accept. The fact that the Revolution in Cuba was both a social revolution, a political revolution, and a Socialist Revolution, was a fact that the United States could not accept. This is the reason why the United States pushed for reaction and counter-revolution in Cuba and did all it could, for decades, to undermine both Cuba and the Cuban Revolution. That the Cuban Revolution of 1959 gradually turned from a Left-Nationalist Revolution into a Socialist Revolution was part of both Cuban politics and Cold War politics, but it also reinforced the revolutionary threat that Cuba posed to the United States — that it threatened the strength of US hegemony in Latin America. If Cuba could free itself from foreign and US domination then other states in Latin America, in both South America and Central America, could do the same. Cuba and the Cuban Revolution inspired other revolutions and other struggles. The United States feared this wave of revolutions that Cuba’s experience and Cuba’s example could inspire. This reality of the Cuban Revolution, as a revolution which inspired international revolution, throughout Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Third World, was what made the Cuban Revolution a danger to the United States — and was what provoked the reaction of the United States. The Cuban Revolution, even today, still inspires with its powerful international example of social progress and social revolution — across Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America. The key fact of why the United States spent so much of the Cold War fearing a revolution which emerged from such a small island in the Caribbean was the reality that the Cuban Revolution was an inspiration — both in Cuba and for the rest of the world. The Cuban Revolution showed that American Imperialism could be confronted and defeated — a lesson which still remains today in the struggle for Socialist Revolution in Latin America.4
The Cuban Revolution is also part of a wider political history in Latin America — between Latin America and the United States. The history and the politics of the Cuban Revolution cannot be understood without understanding the wider history of Latin America — specifically the relationship between Latin America and the United States.5 In basic terms the history and politics of Cuba’s relationship with the United States is similar to the broader relationship between Latin America and the United States. The United States uses the forces of reaction and Imperialism to try to dominate Latin America. The United States tries to dominate Latin America. In terms of understanding the political and historical conflict of the peoples and states of Latin America with the United States, this reality is vital to understand. The history of the United States and Latin America is a history of Imperialism — of the United States undermining social revolution in Latin America. This is what makes the Cuban Revolution, and the history of Cuba, so important in both political and historical terms. Cuba’s history with the United States, and the trajectory of the Cuban Revolution, highlights what has occurred in Latin America across two long centuries of American Imperialism. In terms of the politics of Latin America, and Cuba, today, that relationship still shapes the politics of the region.6 Only a further social revolution, and Socialist Revolution, in the region, can hope to break that history — and with it the dominance of the United States. The victory of the Latin American Revolution is vital for the hopes for a Revolution in the United States.
The relationship between Cuba and America is a product of history and politics. The political future of the political relationship between Cuba and the United States will probably be determined by the history and past of that relationship. It will be determined by the old struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. If the Cuban Revolution is to survive the early decades of the 21st century, the present day, it must remember the reality of its previous relationship and current relationship with the United States — a relationship in which the United States sought to overthrow the Cuban Revolution. Cuban society needs to remember that the United States spent much of the 20th century trying to return Cuba to the status of being an economic colony dominated by the United States. Indeed, a better relationship between Cuba and the United States would be preferable — a softening and opening up of relations between the two states, based on equality and mutual respect, as almost happened in the 2010s — but that does not seem to be the ideal of the United States or its government. Indeed, the majority of American governments since 1959 have seen the Cuban Revolution as a threat. American governments have remained the key enemy of the Cuban Revolution and Cuba itself. In the context of the wider struggle for social change and social revolution – in South America, in Central America, in Latin America – it seems that the United States will remain an enemy of that revolutionary progress, until the day that major social and political change occurs in the United States itself. Indeed, this highlights the need for Socialist Revolution itself — across the Americas. For Latin America, the relationship between the United States and the Cuban Revolution outlines how Imperialism continues to shape the relationship between the United States and Latin America. Cuba, despite its real problems in the 20th century, has managed to survive against US Imperialism. The survival of the Cuban Revolution is a victory for the Latin American Revolution.
1. P. Sweezy and L. Huberman, Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution, (1960)
2. E. Guevara, Socialism and Man in Cuba, (1965)
3. E. Guevara, Notes for the Study of the Ideology of the Cuban Revolution, (1960)
4. E. Guevara, Notes for the Study of the Ideology of the Cuban Revolution, (1960)
5. R. Gott, Cuba: A New History, (2004)
6. H. Thomas, Cuba: A History, (2010)
(2017)Tags: Essays - R.G. Williams, Latin America
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by R.G. Williams