21 The Cuban Revolution

Che Guevara & Fidel Castro.
Che Guevara & Fidel Castro by Alberto Korda is in the Public Domain.

“A revolution is not a bed of roses. A revolution is a struggle between the future and the past.”
― Fidel Castro

Cuba’s history as a Spanish territory created a lasting effect on the culture and identity of the island. After Cuba’s independence from Spanish colonialism, Cuba struggled to find a consistent form of government and leadership. Although the Cuban Revolution does not depict Cuba’s struggle for independence, it demonstrates the fight for a working government and system in Cuba, which can be dated back to their initial independence. The Cuban Revolution can be adequately explained through the use of two prominent theorists and theories: Crane Brinton’s Uniformities and Marx and Engel’s depiction of communism and dialectical materialism. Marx’s principles inspired Castro’s lead of the Cuban Revolution, and it must be considered in accordance with the principles and direction of the movement. Through the framework of Brinton and Marx, we can begin to understand the key causes for the Cuban Revolution, and the lasting impact it has had to this day.


Upon the ‘discovery’ of Cuba in 1492, Spain quickly laid claim to the island, establishing mining and agricultural communities through the forced labor of indigenous peoples and slaves (DeFranzo, 205). Spain was able to maintain control of Cuba despite multiple slave revolts until 1989, in which American and Cuban forces succeeded in winning the Spanish-American War (DeFranzo, 208). The United States lifted control over Cuba in 1902, but not before ensuring Cuba include the Platt Amendment in their constitution, effectively ensuring the United States right to intervene in such a case as “for the preservation of Cuban independence and for the maintenance of a government capable of protecting life, property, and individual liberty” (DeFranzo, 208-9). The United States’ continued entrenchment in Cuban politics, particularly surrounding the passage of the Platt Amendment, gave rise to the burgeoning independence movement within Cuba.

Before reviewing the actual revolution, it is often helpful to review the situations that caused the revolution to emerge when it did. While the Cuban Revolution did not officially start until 1953, anti-Batista sentiments began to spread long before that (Argote-Freyre, 23). Batista was formerly president of Cuba from 1940-1944, leaving office after his 4-year limit (DeFranzo, 210). However, he reclaimed the office of the Presidency again in 1952 via the execution of a military coup (DeFranzo, 210). Batista’s lack of democratic legitimacy forced him to crack down on his political opponents to maintain power, therefore limiting any other party’s’ claims to power and ability to contest Batista’s role (DeFranzo, 212). During this time, Batista also strongly became anti-communist, having not gained Communist party support in his first elected term (DeFronzo, 214).

Batista’s politics must be analyzed here, too. Due to his illegitimate rise to power, Batista did not have to answer to the whims of the people, and therefore implemented little legislation aimed at pacifying Cuban citizens (DeFronzo, 210). During Batista’s rule, there were high levels of unemployment and inflation, with little moves by the government to remedy these problems (DeFronzo, 211). Additionally, mass frustration arose due to lowering prices of sugar, which in the 1950s accounted for 80% of Cuba’s exports. Further frustrating was the fact that United States investors owned more than 40% of sugar production in Cuba, with 637 million dollars earned by the U.S. in sugar sales alone in 1955 (Cushion, 52). Sugar prices dropped shortly after, with Cuba signing on to several international sugar agreements (Cushion, 46). There were efforts by the government to grow the economy following these price reductions, but little was aimed at the diversification of economic sectors, and, therefore, was ineffective overall (Cushion, 21).

Cuban Revolution

When Batista instilled an authoritarian government before the 1952 democratic elections, it led to the rise of the M-26-7 group led by Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul (DeFronzo, 241). This revolutionary group was formed from the rebels who tried to storm Moncada military base on 26 July 1953 (DeFronzo, 215). Batista’s troops intercepted the group before they could reach the base’s center, and all of them were eventually captured and imprisoned. However, after one year and seven months, Batista pardoned these prisoners, and the Castros fled to Mexico in 1955 (DeFronzo, 216). During their exile is when the Castro brothers met Che Guevara, who eventually heavily influenced the course of the Cuban Revolution.

On 25 November 1956, Castro led a group of 82 men to sail back to Cuba on the Granma and try to overthrow Batista again (DeFronzo, 217). After a peasant exposed the group’s plan, the crew was disbanded and the Castro brothers, along with Che Guevara, fled into the Sierra Maestra mountains. The revolutionary movement gained momentum here, with people joining the cause. The revolutionary group also fought off Batista’s army well enough that the troops stopped infiltrating the mountains to try and fight them. During this time, Batista also falsely announced that Castro had died, which led to a New York Times interview with Castro (DeFronzo, 218). This interview portrayed Castro as a patriot fighting oppression, which led to more support for the movement from the American public.

On 13 March 1957, another anti-Batista unit, the Revolutionary Directorate (DR) attempted to revolt against Batista, which led to most of the unit being killed by Batista’s army. Following this event, many revolutionary groups attempted to overthrow Batista between 1957 and 1958 (DeFronzo, 219). This created mass unpopularity for the leader within the middle class. The United States also stopped providing Batista’s army with weapons in March 1958. Overall, this weakened both the political aspect of Batista’s rule as well as the military. Due to the growing Cuban unrest and the impending overthrow, Batista fled the country, leaving Castro to take power on 1 January 1959 (DeFronzo, 220).

Soon after Castro came into power, he began to enact various reforms. These included increasing wages for workers, expanding literacy, and destroying large, privately owned sugar plantations. He also announced his commitment to socialism and, soon after that, he announced that they would pledge to Marxist-Leninist ideals (DeFronzo, 220). Historians say that Castro wanted to make Cuba a one-party communist country. Furthermore, within a few years, counter-revolutionary groups were eliminated from Cuba. This led to a decline in US-Cuban relations, but stronger ties to the Soviet Union.

The decline in relations with the US can be shown by the United States sending weapons to anti-Castro forces in the Escambray mountains. The tension between the US and Cuba led to the 1960 Bay of Pigs invasion, which was led by the CIA and a misinformed President Kennedy (DeFronzo, 241). The CIA recruited anti-Castro Cubans to start an uprising against Castro. Once these anti-Castro Cubans landed in Cuba, they failed to create an uprising and subsequently surrendered within 48 hours. Similarly, the US’ fear of communism led to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in which the United States demanded that Cuba get rid of large Soviet missiles (DeFronzo, 241). The US blockaded Cuba and made a deal that they would not invade Cuba, but they secretly kept spies on the island until the 1970s.

Castro’s leadership was strong, and he retained power until he stepped down due to illness in 2006. Fidel Castro’s brother, Raul, took power, and was formally elected in 2008 (DeFronzo, 242). Even though Cuba’s revolt inspired revolutionary acts across Latin and South America, the Cuban revolution is arguably the most successful.

However, US-Cuban relations would not become relatively stable until President Obama in the late 2000s. Furthermore, Castro’s impact on education, especially the emphasis on medicine, can be seen to this day as over 30,000 Cuban medical workers help in over 60 countries (DeFronzo, 239).

Theorists: Crane Brinton and Karl Marx

When looking at the Cuban Revolution as a whole, Crane Briton’s uniformities do an exceptional job of explaining it. When applying his five conditions for a revolution, it becomes much easier to conceptualize why the Cuban Revolution began in the first place, how it took place and the result.

The first condition has to do with the economy of a state. In the 1950’s leading up to the revolution, Cuba had a booming economy (Brinton, 250). Ranking fifth in Latin American countries, the sugar industry essentially built-up Cuba’s economy (DeFronzo, 211). Many of the main sugar crop companies were owned and controlled by the United States. Due to this investment made by the U.S., it allowed for stable sugar prices, which tended to fluctuate in the past. This economic growth benefited the country as a whole, but the wealth within the state became unevenly distributed. The first class and sugar crop owners, as well as government officials, became richer, but the working class and citizens living in rural areas were not reaping any of the growing welfare in the country (DeFronzo, 212). With this inequality growing, people of the working class started to promote change, which led to Brinton’s second condition.

In condition two, all social classes feel oppressed by the government and, therefore, feel restless (Brinton, 251). In Cuba’s case, people living in rural areas or ones that did not have an education felt the uneven distribution of wealth the most. In rural areas, 42% of the population was illiterate while only 12% was illiterate in urban communities (DeFronzo, 211). With that being said, a majority of Cubans supported the revolution. The lower working class wanted reforms and wealth. The higher educated class wanted more freedom from the U.S. government which had a heavy hand in governing. Not all Cubans supported the revolution. Some of the highest government officials who were becoming richer and gaining power from the U.S. relationship, especially Batista, strongly opposed the revolution. As time went on, the Cuban economy started to decline (DeFronzo, 213). With high unemployment, declining incomes per household, the domination of the U.S. in the Cuban economy and government, and the continuation of communities getting poorer, the grounds for revolution were set in place.

When considering condition three, the acceptance of the revolution is important to think about (Brinton, 251). In this stage, scholars and thinkers give up on their societal norms and operations and begin to support the revolutionary ideas. At this point in the Cuban revolution, many people of all classes started to support change. They started to realize that government officials failed them and did not give support in the ways needed most. At this point, Leninist and Socialist ideas started to spread among Cuban intellectuals, which allowed for the revolutionary movements to continue with the support of these thinkers (DeFronzo, 220). As these ideas started to gain momentum across the country, specifically in Havana, Batista tried to shut the movements down.

Brinton’s fourth condition depicts how governments do not have the resources to respond to the changing needs of society (Brinton, 251). The Cuban government inadequately responded to the revolution. They made no effort to redistribute wealth, which would help solve the problem of inequality in rural areas. Along with this, the Cuban army failed to deal with the rebel army (DeFronzo, 219). With all of this build-up in the revolution, government leaders began to doubt themselves.

Brinton’s fifth condition describes when the leaders and the ruling class begin to doubt themselves (Brinton, 252). In the Cuban revolution, Batista tries to maintain power within the government but also by reassuring himself by claiming that Fidel Castro died when in reality he was in the mountains hiding out (DeFronzo, 218) As the rebel groups in the mountains, led by Castro, gained more and more momentum and victories, many officers began to refuse to fight against the rebel groups. Once the military started to lose faith as a whole, Batista’s main source of power became useless.

Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’ organized society in a way where it depends primarily on the means of production and is based on ideas from Engels. The means of production includes all parts of a society’s infrastructure such as human capital, natural resources, technology and communications, property, and the production and maintenance of material goods. The exchange of goods and services within society should be dependent on the fact that all segments of the population are treated equally. All of this known as the mode of production. For Marx, the key aspect that leads to a revolutionary situation, and subsequently a revolutionary outcome, is the division of classes within society. The bourgeoisie and proletariat possess the most commonly pronounced division – and, per Marx, this particular class division is what is necessary for a revolution to occur. Marx championed the idea of a worker’s revolt, in a situation where the proletariat are not being treated fairly enough by the bourgeoisie. For Marx, the bourgeoisie educates the workers, providing them with the information they need to overthrow the mechanisms of Capitalism. The following necessary step is for the ‘scholars’ and intellectuals of the bourgeoisie to defect to the working class, which gives more political weight to the working class, allowing their revolutionary goals to further succeed. Lastly, the revolution of the proletariat will lead to the working-class abolishing exploitation of the masses. Marx says that a worker’s revolt is the gateway to terminating the control that capitalism had on society.

The ruling class will eventually be overthrown if the working class garners enough mass support, and to secure a revolutionary outcome violence is almost always necessary. Marx was fascinated by Hegel and his ‘Hegelian Dialectic’. The Hegelian Dialectic is “the principle of all natural and spiritual life” (Maybee, 2020), and comprises three developmental stages: a thesis, antithesis, and a synthesis. Dialectics are a description of how change occurs, whether political, social, or economic. A thesis is just a concept, and it comes prior to the antithesis whose role is to negate and take over the thesis – essentially the antithesis is trying to disprove and subjugate the thesis. This clash of ideas forms the synthesis and is something changed and new (Maybee, 2020). The Hegelian Dialectic applied to Marxist struggle can be understood as follows. The bourgeoisie and proletariat act independently of one another, but they both have an enormous amount of dependence on one another. The bourgeoisie depends on the proletariat to work for them, manufacture, and keep the economy afloat. The proletariat depends on the bourgeoisie to organize society, provide leadership, and provide the proletariat with food, shelter, and wages. However, as the worker realizes its independence and the bourgeoisie’s reliance on the proletariat – a proletarian revolution occurs. The power of the aristocracy only exists because of the working class – as the proletariat realize this, they take over. This taking over, and the change that occurs, is the synthesis of Hegel’s Dialectics (Swan, 1982).

Applying Marxist theories to the Cuban Revolution we can see how the working class began to fester adverse feelings towards the ruling class. In a time of economic prosperity, as Cuba was in, wealth and resources were being unfairly divided. The ruling class in Cuba were exploiting the masses. When the proletariat begin to see themselves as ideologically independent from the ruling class, this turns into economic independence. Marx says, when the actions of the bourgeoisie continue to frustrate the proletariat, and the proletariat begin to believe they can fend for themselves without the support of the bourgeoisie, revolutionary sentiments begin to spread. This is exactly what occurred in Cuba. The working class began feeling oppressed and exploited and wanted change.

Following, as Fidel Castro gained more political footing and recognition, the proletariat became ideologically associated with him – his communist ideals and revolutionary rhetoric incentivized the working class to side with Castro and develop adverse feelings towards the ruling class. Castro’s revolutionary army gained forces and fought government forces in the mountains, gradually winning more territory and securing an advantageous military position against the government. This continued to the point where revolutionary forces were attempting to assassinate Batista. Applying Marxist theories to the Cuban Revolution it is clear that the working class was the motivating and inflammatory faction of the population that instigated the revolution. The working class felt oppressed and thus reacted to the oppression (Chrisman & Allen, 1973). Further extending what Marx believed is necessary for a revolution to succeed, the scholars and intellectuals (or people of the ruling class) began to defect and ally themselves with the working class. These individuals became intrigued by the writings of Leninism and Marxism and they became committed to socialism and socialist ideals. Cuba then detached itself from the United States and allied themselves more with the Soviet Union. In Cuba, the division of classes was most significant between Batista and his ruling class, and the developing influence of Castro and his followers in Cuba. Finally, consistent with what Marx says is necessary for a revolution to be successful, Castro and those associated with him began violence, continued their violence, and finally overthrew the ruling class.


Marx’s importance in the Cuban Revolution can be seen through the ideology of the movement and the impacts of the policies. This can be demonstrated through Castro’s socialist influence on Cuban society as well as Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union during the Cold War period. Furthermore, this has created lasting influence in the region’s politics and economy. Similarly, Crane Brinton’s uniformities of conditions that spur revolution can adequately explain the origins of the Cuban Revolution. These conditions heavily depict the qualms and inefficiencies in Batista’s Cuba that led to revolutionary action.

Overall, the Cuban Revolution was due to mass unrest and a lack of confidence in the government from society and even the officials themselves. Cuba’s inconsistent government throughout its history led to uprising and the suppression of opposing political parties and ideologies. In order to further study Cuba, historians and theorists should visit the area and attempt to take first-hand accounts of the revolution and the moments leading up to the revolution.

Works Cited

Brinton, Crane, The Anatomy of a Revolution. Vintage Press, 1965

DeFronzo, James. Revolutions and Revolutionary Movements. Boulder Co: Westview Press, 1991

Marx, Karl & Engels, Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto. 1888 translation by Samuel Morse. Maybee, Julie E. “Hegel’s Dialectics,” October 2, 2020

Swan, Ian Hunt and Roy. “Ian Hunt and Roy Swan: A Comparison of Marxist and Hegelian Dialectical Form / Radical Philosophy.” Radical Philosophy, 1982.

Chrisman, Robert, and Robert L. Allen. “The Cuban Revolution: Lessons for the Third World.” The Black Scholar 4, no. 5 (1973): 2–14.

Argote-Freyre, Frank. Fulgencio Batista: The Making of a Dictator. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006.

Cushion, Steve. A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press, 2016.

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Che Guevara & Fidel Castro by Alberto Korda is in the Public Domain.


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Revolutions: Theorists, Theory and Practice by Gregory Young and Mateusz Leszczynski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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