Alfred Padula: The Fall of the Bourgeoisie: Cuba, 1959-1961.

Por Oscar Zanetti Lecuona

In this digital edition—a format which is becoming ever more popular—some unusual circumstances have coincided of which we wish to inform our readers. First, what we are publishing is not a book but a doctoral thesis, something that—to paraphrase one of Silvio [Rodríguez]’s verses, “seems to be the same but is not equal”. For this reason, certain academic standards, usually omitted by authors when they publish their dissertations as books, are evident in this format. The conversion could not be realized in this case because its author, Alfred Padula, died more than a year ago, when work had hardly begun on the book-version of his text. Due to this second circumstance, we find it advisable to include some biographical information about the author, since his life provides explanations of certain characteristics of his work.

Alfred Padula was born in 1934, and lived a relatively extensive professional career before arriving into the academic world. He was a naval officer, an intelligence analyst and a civil servant in the US State Department, and this last activity put him in touch with Cubanreality. In 1969 he redirected his career, and began his research for a doctoral dissertation at the University of New Mexico, under the direction of Edwin Lieuwen, an eminent sociologist especially recognized for his studies on the military in Latin America. In addition to Padula’s doctorate, Lieuwen also directed two other theses about Cuban topics at this time, by doctoral candidates who today enjoy well-earned fame: Louis Pérez, Jr. and Nelson P. Valdés.

Padula devoted his thesis to the investigation of the causes of the collapse of the Cuban bourgeoisie following the triumph of the Revolution in 1959. He based his argument on a variety of sources, among which the Cuban press of the era stands out, as well as the testimony of nearly one hundred members of the prominent old bourgeoisie, which during the early 1970’s had established itself in Miami. After obtaining his doctorate, our author established a long academic career, mainly as professor at the University of Maine, where he wound up directing its History Department. Among his varied activities he continued to work on Cuban topics, and these interests were published in several articles and contributions to group volumes, as well as in a work written in collaboration with the sociologist Lois Smith and published in 1996 with the title Sex and Revolution, a volume which constitutes an extensive study on the Cuban woman and her development during the revolutionary period.

It is still surprising that as Padua continued his interests in Cuban topics, his thesis was not converted to a book and published. And this even more so as the dissertation had been granted the title of the best doctoral thesis defended at the University of New Mexico in 1974. During a conversation that I had the pleasure of having with the author more than twenty years ago, I asked him about the causes of this seeming indifference. Padula explained that, having allowed too much time to pass, when he did consider the possibility to convert the thesis into a book, he realized that beyond the revision of the text and the indispensable adjustments needed to free it from its academic baggage, such an endeavor would now imply rewriting it entirely.

The Fall of the Bourgeoisie: Cuba 1959-1961 constitutes a study of the characteristics, conflicts and behaviors of what was our dominant class in the times after the revolutionary triumph, specifically during the three-year period from 1959 to 1961, during which its disappearance was sealed. The starting point of the work is an accurate and powerful portrayal of the bourgeoisie during the final period of the old republican government. This first chapter is followed by a sectoral analysis, with subsequent chapters devoted to the sugar barons [mill owners and traders], sugarcane growers, cattle ranchers, industrialists, businessmen and bankers. In this sequence there is just one exception: a chapter devoted to the Catholic Church, which was an institution closely linked to the bourgeoisie during this time, although it did not constitute one of its branches. However, this section devoted to the Church is indicative of the considerations the author paid to the activities of the bourgeois organizations and institutions—decisive classist agents at the center of the revolutionary vortex. In his final chapter, as well as in his conclusions, Padula presents and summarizes what in his view were the causes of the fall of the bourgeois elite, highlighting both the structural weakness of this social class and the incongruities and divisions which became evident in its confrontation with the Revolution.

In order to understand the outcome of any dispute it is necessary to examine the actions of both parties, in close correlation; only in this way it is possible to understand the reasons for the success of the victorious and the failure of the defeated. Historical, sociological or politological studies on the Cuban Revolution—including those undertaken outside the Island—have paid much more attention to the first than to the second component. Hence the importance and the contributions of Padula’s work which Ediciones Temas now makes available [in Spanish], and in which we are offered precisely this kind of “vision of the defeated” in the Revolution.

The extensive study articulated in The Fall of the Bourgeoisie… deploys an impressive quantity of information about events and situations whose internal workings are barely public knowledge, or which have remained forgotten up to today. Although Padula examines them with care and reveals them coherently, his text is not without omissions and imprecisions. Sometimes the author is a victim of insufficient knowledge about certain characteristics of Cuban society, or about its specific terminology, which—for example—results in his presenting the sugar barons as an agricultural sector within the sugar economy, when in fact they were, more than anything else, owners of the industry; or sometimes confusing the roles of the industrial producers and the sugarcane growers. Several of these errors have been indicated by editor’s notes, but other cases have undoubtedly escaped—all of which therefore requires attentive reading. There are also data that did not pass carefully enough through the sieve of critical history to establish their accuracy or truthfulness—imprecisions which lead the author to express questionable interpretations. But even in those instances—which are more frequent in the handling of information offered by witnesses—the text does not lose its value, because even if the information is not exact, or deliberately falsified, the testimony itself is a reflection of the mentalities, and revealing of practices which carried indisputable weight in the fateful destiny of the Cuban bourgeoisie.

The digital format in which the book has been published determines its consultation by the use of the required devices, but it also has undisputable advantages in finding the location of items. The edition was prepared with great care, and although the translation [into Spanish] was shared by three specialists—María del Pilar Díaz Castañón, Laura Arcos and Olimpia Sigarroa—there are no perceivable differences in style. Although the status of the text as a doctoral thesis is evident, its fluidity in style makes for easy and pleasant reading.

With the publication [in Spanish] of The Fall of the Bourgeoisie: Cuba 1959-1961 Ediciones Temas is making a notable contribution towards a better understanding of a crucial phase of our history—of which much is still in need of research.


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