Words and Things: Consensus, Dissent and Culture in the Early Socialist Transition (1959-1965)

“The political culture that started the Cuban revolutionary movement, its strategy and ideology, did not come from the Bolshevik tradition, nor from the Long March of the Chinese peasants, but mainly from the two previous Cuban revolutions…”

*Cultured War. Reflections and challenges, 60 years after the Words to the Intellectuals. Eds ICAIC, 2021.


To understand Cuban politics and culture, beyond speeches, historical dates and personal testimonies, requires a history that will broach the fundamental issues of the socialist transition in its initial stage. Among the pending issues of major research we find, for example, which political culture characterized Cuban society and the revolutionary leadership; what were the ideas then on communism and socialism; what visions did Cubans have on the existing socialisms in other countries and their problems; what differences were there on these issues among the main leaders of this Revolution during its first years. This characterization requires the identification of the specific cultural circumstances that accompanied the constitution of the revolutionary power and process.

The political culture that started the Cuban revolutionary movement, its strategy and ideology, did not come from the Bolshevik tradition, nor from the Long March of the Chinese peasants, but mainly from the two previous Cuban revolutions, one organized in New York, Tampa and Key West to fight for independence, and the second, originating in the insurrection against [president Gerardo] Machado, and fought in the streets of Havana during the thirties. Struggling with the strategic problem of the alliances and their complex network, this revolutionary political culture responded to the type of domination established by the United States and their allies on the island—very different from that of ruined empires sunk into deep and semi-feudal backwardness, as were Russia and China.

Many varied legacies converged in the leftist Cuban culture, like the Mexican and Russian revolutions, varieties of socialisms, communisms, anarchisms, European and American social movements, radical Latin-American and Caribbean nationalisms—whose complete list cannot be accommodated among the iconic images that preside over the commemorative acts. The political and ideological practices of José Martí and Antonio Guiteras—more than any other—were the main pathway of this culture.

According to the researchers who have contributed to the depiction of the Cuban left before 1959, its principal problems, differences and conflicts, it was not exactly a harmonized orchestra [1]. For example, what distinguished the Joven Cuba [Young Cuba] movement founded by Guiteras in 1935, and the Communist Party of that time, was not the adhesion to a socialist goal, which both claimed, but their concrete political activity, which determined the type of authority that led the revolution from the beginning. So that to characterize guiterismo [sic] as being “revolutionary democrat” or barely “anti-imperialist,” and not as the strategy that opened the way to the socialist revolution in Cuba through a movement that overthrew the dictatorship and began the revolution in a continuous way, blurs their difference. It is not a question of different “means” to achieve the same “goals,” but of a whole strategic conception of carrying out the Revolution. It was not in vain that the 26th of July Manifesto that Raúl Gómez García wrote at the request of Fidel and Abel Santamaría recognized the Manifesto of Montecristi and the Joven Cuba Program as its sources of political inspiration [2].

To understand the history of Cuban art, literature and thinking as a manuscript that floats above society and politics is as ineffective as trying to explain social change and political process without understanding them through their cultural nature. To decipher this manuscript requires something more than a theatrical view of politics, starting from conflictive ideological speeches, testimonies from people who tell their little story [petite histoire - sic] of what happened, the hidden vicissitudes of the contenders, or from revelations shrouded in the fogs of yesterday and recovered decades later. In order to interpret those opposing facts and ideological tendencies in the cultural field, beyond the urban mazes and legends about the actors and their motives, it is essential to understand the society, its cultural environment, as well as the political factors that went beyond everyone, below and above, and which overdetermined that moment in time.

These notes aim to outline some analyses towards a political history of the culture, but especially towards a social and cultural history of the politics of that early phase of the Revolution, whose critical readings are becoming ever more important when seen from the perspective of the transition that is in process.

The political context, 1959-1965

The Revolution was not established on top of a political culture that would privilege the proletariat or the worker-peasant alliance, but on a subject identified as “the people,” a specific combination of groups, social levels and traditions of very mixed struggles [3]; and from a practice of national liberation that started from an armed struggle to overthrow a dictatorship and, from a position of authority, moved forward a program of reforms directed towards changing an unjust and dependent social order.

In contrast to what some observers saw at that time, the Revolution did not lack an ideology inherent to its political and social content. It was just not limited to Eurocentric categories, to a hidden plan that could be explained by a conspiracy theory, not an abstract doctrinal construction that was identical to itself, titled Ideology of the Cuban Revolution, that some people formulated a posteriori in the style of the history manuals of the Soviet Communist Party.

The theory that the course taken by the Revolution had betrayed the platforms conceived by the organizations opposed to the dictatorship at the time is like judging a film just by its first script. This short-sighted view assumes that the circumstances in which the radical changes that are proper to a social revolution occurred could be included in a reform plan. And it seems to ignore that the staging of these reforms unleashed a conflict that within a few months escalated to a bloody civil war with the active antagonism of the United States, into a spiral more intense than anything foreseen in those revolutionary platforms, and which would push them into joining together into a single one, thirty months after the triumph.

Along this path, the reconfiguration of the political system happened at the same speed. Months before the downfall of the dictatorship, the parties that collaborated with the elections that were called for 1958 had already been declared illegitimate. The new government deactivated the Congress of the Republic and annulled the possibility that the other parties could compete for power through elections and exercise their basic functions in the established political system. The parties of the electoral opposition, the Auténtico and Ortodoxo included, were left at the margin, while the people went outside to do politics in the streets. They died a natural death, without anyone paying any attention, nor saying that this was about a totalitarian regime, but about a revolution. That was the revolutionary view then shared by those who published the newspaper of the 26th of July Movement, and its cultural weekly, Lunes [Monday].

The de facto suppression of the established armed forces, and their replacement by the Rebel Army [Ejército Rebelde], which had defeated them in the battlefield, gave way from the first months of 1959 to the fusion of the commands and the troops of all the political organizations that fought the dictatorship. In addition to uniting these organizations into one military structure, two and a half years before they were merged into one single political organization, this replacement of the army produced a radical change in the actual functioning of the old State. The vertebral column of the old regime, its armed forces, were—saying it in today’s words—left unplugged. Fidel Castro, without being President, nor yet Prime Minister, was the Commander-in-Chief of the forces recently put together. His Chief of Staff, Camilo Cienfuegos, would set up the first unit dedicated to produce film, civic and political education manuals [4] accessible to all—not only to the soldiers and officials of the Rebel Army.

In other words, the Revolution launched itself as a political authority even before the first important economic reforms were adopted, by being able to impose itself on to the vested interests and the institutions of the established political order. This radical transformation in the functioning of the authority preceded the Law of Agrarian Reform of May 1959, which would launch the conflict with the Cuban and North American upper class, when the Revolution enjoyed an almost unanimous approval—except by the Batista supporters who had escaped. According to some school books, the line that separates the “agrarian and anti-imperialist” period of the Revolution, from the “socialist” one is unclear on the nature of this authority and on the revolutionary process itself. How the pre-established reigning power structure and social order in the Cuba of the fifties could have allowed an “agrarian and anti-imperialist revolution” such as that one, without participating from the beginning in the radical dynamic of a real social revolution only makes sense for the canons of that Marxism-Leninism, and in the hypothetical revolutionary scenarios that the Comintern manuals indicated.

To consider the differences between the revolutionary organizations and within the bosom of each one, also allows for the appreciation of the merit of a politics of building consensus and dialogue, which contributed to uniting very divergent currents that were deeply wary of each other.

In fact, each organization carried its own political culture with it, loaded with contradictions. And there were factions in this history almost from the beginning, because they were there before the revolutionary parties decided not only to collaborate, but to unite. Although they were not limited to a single organization, those that provoked the crisis within the first united political organization, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (Organizaciones Revolucionarias Integradas – ORI), were a group of Stalinists who were suspicious of all revolutionaries that were not longstanding communists. In spite of the fact that the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP) warned in its self-critical VIII Assembly in August of 1960 that the “joint action of the organizations is the guarantee of the unity and progress of the Revolution”[5], the ORI, which had been established only two months after the Bay of Pigs, were left high and dry by the sectarianism almost from the beginning.

What contributed decisively to the union of the various organizations and their respective internal politics was not exactly a deliberate, voluntary and conscious adoption of a Leninist model or of a common Marxist ideology. Together with the wisdom that was within the revolutionary leadership and which forged a politics of negotiated unity, the provocation of a formidable counter-revolution, backed and tutored by the United States, motivated the unification into one single party more than any other factor within the revolutionary ranks, up and down.

It is therefore understandable that when the Directorio Revolucionario of March 13th, the 26th of July Movement and the PSP agreed to merge in the summer of 1961, they were not entering the paradise of perfect harmony, or the frozen world of totalitarianism, but into a process of change towards a new political system, openly divergent from the Stalinist and the Maoist, which brought with it contradictions, discrepancies and even conflicts.

The lack of a critical history of this political system and its complexities is generally filled with doctrinal packages of one kind or another, all closer to the Comintern models than to political sociology; for example, when it is stated that “it was not in January of 1959, but in April of 1961 that the construction of Cuban totalitarianism had all the necessary elements in hand”[6]. This reductionist perspective muddies the conflict between the real interests and power factors on the one hand and the ideological contents of the speeches on the other; it converts the enemy into mere illustrations, deliberately aimed at fabricating it as a type of decoy, “which should be national and foreign at the same time, a monster in which the evil of the empire and the depravity of the traitors could be fused together.”[7] It is odd to demonstrate how these anti-Castro perspectives of academic synthesis converge with Marxist-Leninist dogmatism, as if they respond to the same genetic code, reducing the logic of a social revolution to what philosophers call a teleology (of the good or the bad), and replace historical analysis with literary tropes.

The spiral of violence imposed by the dissatisfied opposition radicalized the process and polarized the whole society as of 1960. The continuity of the harassment, the blockade and the international isolation since the first years of the sixties, although they did not suppress the Revolution, did inflict high political costs to Cuban socialism, some of which are still with us, and which only a documented and impartial history could establish.

The cultural field in the early transition

In the climate of debate that was prevalent during those sixties, it was clear to many people that the Revolution was a cultural fact, that is to say that the main process of national culture was the Revolution itself. It was not, as some people argue today in an unending syllogism, that the Revolution and the nation were one and the same, or not the same; it was more like the cultural change being experienced day by day was inseparable from the Revolution, and inexplicable if not understood.

Education was at the center of the daily life for everyone. To improve oneself, an expression that arose at a time when the Literacy Campaign (1961) started, meant taking courses of general education, labor qualifications, language learning, or any other activity aimed at acquiring knowledge. But this improvement went beyond studying or learning, training or obtaining a degree. To improve oneself, as we say today, meant to grow. By this growth, the civic condition and the development of everyone as a person was judged.

To be a good revolutionary meant being fully a citizen, and achieving this required improving oneself. To mobilize in order to defend the fatherland with weapons, do volunteer work, share sacrifices, be a good worker, be recognized by others—was not enough if one did not improve oneself. Qualifying the citizenry judicially, or defining Cuban-ness by its taste for picadillo [traditional minced meat dish] and son [musical genre]—as some people do today—would have left perplexed those who felt and worked as part of that same polis [sic]. It was a question of a political citizenry that called for the transformation of society, as well as its own transformation—culturally speaking.

When [Che Guevara’s] Socialism and Man in Cuba [El socialism y el hombre en Cuba] (1965)—possibly the most influential political essay in the cultural politics of the time—proposes the theme of the new man [el hombre nuevo], so bandied about even today—he is only referring to this cultural transformation. And this involved the way of thinking, the beliefs and values, as well as the real behavior, meaning what Gramsci—who had appeared in Cuban bookstores since 1964 in the Argentinian edition of Lautaro—had called praxis [sic].

At the core of Che’s text is the relationship between the individual and the revolutionary process, between the social subject and the political power—meaning that the question of democracy and consensus are essential in the socialism one intends to build. “The State occasionally errs. When one of these mistakes happens, a quantitative decrease in each of the elements that form it is noted, and labor becomes paralyzed until it is reduced to insignificant quantities; and that is the moment to rectify.” Because leadership requires “the interpretation of the desires and interests of the people” because, as Che specifies, “their possibility to express themselves and make themselves felt in the social apparatus is infinitely greater.” However, none of this is spontaneously generated. Fidel speaks with the people in large gatherings, but a new institutional order is required, which provides systematic ways to exercise the control and the participation of the people: “It is still necessary to emphasize their conscious, individual and collective participation in all the mechanisms of management and production.”[8]

Che—who was not a romantic idealist or an errant knight with his head in a utopic kingdom, but rather a political leader—devoted much time to how to build the cadre of the new State. As early as 1962 he characterized [the cadre] as being “a creator, a director of high stature, a technician of a good political level…. an individual who has reached sufficient political development so as to interpret the great directives that come from the central power, make them his own, and diffuse them,” capable of understanding “the most intimate desires and motivations” of the people, “always willing to face any debate… with the capacity for self-analysis, which allows him to take the necessary decisions and practice a creative initiative so as not to clash with the established discipline.”[9] In other words, this was about a politician able to build consensus and face dissent in a normal manner, well-behaved, but capable of thinking with this head in order to creatively apply the policies according to the specific circumstances that surrounded him, and with the necessary sensitivity before the desires and interests of the people, even when their full satisfaction was not within his reach. Nothing like a bureaucrat, who is always right, because he supposedly personifies the vanguard.

One of the most quoted paragraphs of Socialism…, although less practiced, taught in schools or even evoked in our own current debates on cultural policies, characterizes the tendency to confuse these policies with the taste of the bureaucrats. It comes to mind every time that power and artistic creation is mentioned:

[socialist realism is born of the search for] simplification, for that which everyone understands, which is what functionaries understand. True artistic research is erased and the problem of general culture is reduced to an appropriation of the socialist present and of the dead (and therefore, not dangerous) past. […] The possibilities for exceptional artists to emerge will be greater according to the expansion of the field of culture and the possibilities for expression.[10]

The fear among writers and artists facing a perspective of socialist realism, against which Che continued to guard four years later, of the eventual imposition of a taste embodied by certain leaders of Culture, of the rejection of artistic experimentation and the favoring of didacticism, of the closedown of aesthetics—for example abstract art or sentimental art, like religious feelings—of the advancement of sectarian tendencies that extolled a certain type of art and promoted groups of artists among old communists and militants of the 26th of July Movement in positions of power, together with other factors—like the threat to national security, the progressive isolation and the new alliances with socialist countries—had created a breaking point in the field of culture as the year 1961 proceeded.

What specific elements formed part of this field, on the eve of the meetings at the National Library in June of 1961? What was the scene of cultural consumption in that so special historical situation? To what extent is this essential in order to understand the dynamics of the cultural policies that were really practiced, beyond the institutions, their governing documents and their missions, in the midst of a transition that was in progress?

Perhaps more than other areas of cultural consumption, reading books and going to the movies were the social events that encapsulated personal improvement. And also, of course, access to museums and art galleries, theaters and concert halls, libraries, the new system of mass artistic education, the recently nationalized private schools, as well as places of entertainment, dancing halls, societies, private clubs, and the encouragement of popular festivities in the whole country.

Given the space available and the goal of these notes, I will concentrate on examining the films that were shown and the books that were available to the majority of Cubans during this time.

Going to the movies

The creation of ICAIC [Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos] was a great step forward in encouraging national filmmaking, although control over what was seen in the theaters was not automatic. Law 169, enacted on March 2, 1959, said that it was an art, and also an “instrument for opinion and the formation of conscience” that could contribute to “make the revolutionary spirit more profound and transparent.”[11] It established the need to re-educate “the average taste, which had been greatly harmed by the showing of films created by commercial criteria, which were dramatically and ethically offensive, and technically and artistically insipid.” It added that “in its condition as art, and freed from the small-minded ties and useless servitude,” it should contribute to the “enrichment of the new humanism that inspires our Revolution,” and therefore it should “constitute a call to conscience and contribute to shutting down ignorance, to clarify problems, to formulate solutions, and to present […] the profound conflicts of mankind.”[12]

Assigning film, and the state institution created to be responsible for it above any other, this specific contribution to the formation of conscience and the deepening of the revolutionary spirit, has a clear ideological connotation. Not to appreciate this because of the fact that it occurred at a time in which neither socialism nor communism was proclaimed, in the middle of a process characterized by the radicalism of its origin, would be the same as reducing ideology to the terms of the Cold War. This view does not include, for example, the movements of national liberation in the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, which precede and accompany the Cuban Revolution, its ideological substances and the original nature of its political thought. Finally, to put this institution in the hands of a group of revolutionaries with a cultural baggage and a Marxist education, but whose lineage was very different to the ideology of Stalinism, would be inexplicable, or a product of chance, unless its deep association with the ideas and the culture of the Revolution were appreciated. ICAIC, like INRA [Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria], MINFAR [Ministerio de las Fuerzas Armadas], MINED {Ministerio de Educación], MINSAP [Ministerio de Salud Pública]—all supposedly created during the “agrarian and anti-imperialist” phase—were conceived to radicalize and defend the socialist Revolution in all areas.

Although it was not in charge of the distribution of the films that were seen in Cuba, the new Institute had to organize and develop the industry, addressing the “artistic criteria framed in the cultural tradition of Cuba and the aims of the Revolution that makes it possible,” as well as “organizing […] the distribution of those Cuban films […] that fulfill the conditions set by the current Law […] and the agreements and provisions of ICAIC.”[13] Finally in its Article 11 the Law—signed by Manuel Urrutia who was still President, and well received among the artists and various political organizations and tendencies of the time—established that ICAIC had the responsibility to “promote the distribution of Cuban films in the national market,” of interest to “centers specialized in this format of cinematographic business or, if necessary, substituting them for a business subsidiary to the Institute.”[14]

In the Cuba of 1959, there were 519 movie theaters of 35mm, 134 of them (25%) concentrated in the capital.[15] They were administered by a group of 21 distribution companies,[16] almost all North American: Columbia, United Artists, Rank, MGM, Paramount, RKO, Universal, and Warner, among others.

It is not surprising that the majority of the films shown in1958 (56%) were North-American. Very much behind were those of Mexico (15%) and Great Britain, Italy, and France (23%). The total of these five countries added up to 94% of all films that could be seen in that year.[17]


Cuba – Films shown, by country 1959-1964 (Selection)

This chart was prepared by the author, with calculations done from data obtained in: the Catholic Center of Cinematographic training: ob. cit. María Eulalia Douglas: La tienda negra. El cine en Cuba, 1897-1990. [The Black Store. Film in Cuba, 1897-1990]. Cinemateca de Cuba, Havana, 1996. Archivo ICAIC Estrenos [ICAIC Premieres Archives] 1961-1983 (unpubl.).


The diversification of the exhibitions that is shown in this graph based on 1960-61 data was made possible because of the extent to which the distributing enterprises were nationalized and standards set that banned anticommunism and triviality and all that which would enter into conflict with the “artistic criteria delineated by the Cuban cultural tradition and by the aims of the Revolution which makes this possible.”

During the increasing nationalizations that took place from June to October of 1960 as part of the escalation of the conflict with the upper class in Cuba and the government of the United States, the most important cinematographic circuits passed to the control of ICAIC. Although this process of seizure of the distributors did not become complete until May of 1961[18], even just one month after the nationalization wave of October. the Board of Directors of ICAIC set a ban on the showing of 87 foreign films that were being presented in the theaters of the country, on November 16th of that year.[19] This resolution was based on the films’ “very low technical and artistic quality, and whose content and reactionary tendency are due to the defense of colonialism and imperialism and the deformation of history and reality….. They promote discrimination, prejudice and ignorance, [and] to the mediocrity and perversion of cinematographic technique and art they add a complete downgrading of the expressive media… “[20]

These films told stories of racist Indians or assassins (The clash of races and The Indian Axe  - Westerns, 1959), African or Arabic savages (Watusi and Timbuktu - adventures, 1959), ruthless Korean, Chinese and Japanese soldiers (Operation Korea, 1959; The 38th Parallel, 1960), anti-communist propaganda thrillers (The prisoner of the Kremlin, The FBI in Action, The doctor from Stalingrad, The Beast from Budapest, I was a communist for the FBI, 1960), and a long list of war movies in which the heroes were North-Americans, remakes of vampires, Frankensteins, wolf-men and all kinds of monsters. To cite just one example of these banned films, Santiago (Gordon Douglas, 1956), distributed by Warner Bros, told the story of an arms smuggler (Alan Ladd), converted into a supplier of some mambisa [CUban independence fighters] troops, who communicated with each other by drums and saved the life of a José Martí who lived in a mansion like the one in Gone with the Wind, in the middle of the Cuban forest.

This banning of racist films or films propagandistic of the Cold War, or just horror films, according to the artistic evaluation of the Cinematographic Guide 1959-1960 of the Catholic Center of Cinematographic Guidance (Centro Católico de Orientación Cinematográfica – CCOC) did not set a restrictive limit to the showing of foreign films in Cuba—on the contrary. The column for 1961 (see graph) reflects this new diversity. In spite of the decrease in absolute terms, as a result of the decline of cinema from the United States—which went from 210 films (in 1960) to 10 (in 1961)—during that Year of Literacy not only were many films from the USSR presented, but also from the DDR, FRG, Yugoslavia and the best films from Eastern Europe (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary) and Western Europe (Italy, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Spain), and from China and Japan. There was a large quantity of films from Mexico, and also some from Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela.

For the first time, Cuban spectators could watch films by Grigori Chujrái (The Soldier’s Ballad), Mijail Kalatozov (When the storks fly and The letter that was not sent), Andrzej Munk (Heroica), Otakar Vavra (The silent barricade), Jerzy Kawalerowicz (The Night Train), Jiri Weiss (Romeo and Juliet in the Dark), Jindrich Polak (The Fifth Section), Frank Beyer (Five Bullet Casings), Jiri Trnka (The Summer Night’s Dream).  I remember that was the year of Hiroshima mon amour (Alain Resnais), At the Threshold of Life and The night of the Puppeteers (Ingrid Bergman), Rootless (Gilberto Gazcón), The Lovers of Montparnasse (Jacques Becker), I will spit on your graves (Michel Gast), The Adventure (Michelangelo Antonioni), Moderato Cantabile (Peter Brook), The Red and the Black (Claude Autant-Lara), The Great War (Mario Monicelli), Honorable Delinquents (Basil Dearden), and The General of la Rovere (Roberto Rosselini). All of these were shown in neighborhood theaters, not in the cinematheque. It was also the year of some of the first ICAIC films, like Cuba Dances (Julio García Espinosa) and Stories of the Revolution (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea). The proof that this diversity was not a closed model in which the films of socialist countries were prioritized for ideological reasons became clear immediately. The films that were presented in 1963 and 1964 resulted in the first debate in the cultural field, in which diametrically opposed political ideas came face to face.

So in that context, what meaning does the banning of a documentary that shows the nightlife in Regla and the Marianao beach have, where a group of people get drunk and dance into the early hours of the morning? Was this work an expression of opposition to the Revolution? Did their producers come from an opposing or censured trend of cultural politics? Or from politically marginalized groups, outside of the revolutionary family? What today we call dissidents? Was this a film that shook the conscience of those who saw it on TV? What divided the majority of film makers? Artists and writers?

Among publishers, printers and libraries

In comparison with the production and distribution of films, the Cuban publishing world of the early transition was infinitely broader, more diverse, more complex and of greater scope. The detailed Bibliography published by the National Library about this period starts with an eloquent introductory note on the situation, as well as on the spirit of these early sixties.

There were hundreds of works published each year specifically about Cuba, in as many languages as are spoken on earth […]. But there is more; there is the criminal and inept imperialist embargo that aims to keep us intellectually ostracized. So let the reader not be surprised if in the following pages friendly voices are the majority; we would not have minded to also present others if they had reached us here. We are comforted, though, in thinking that that literature—quite frequently hostile—was sufficiently well reviewed in the catalogues from the North.[21]

To deal with this publishing production and the availability of books and other publications in Cuba in these notes, even for the years 1959 to 1962, would be endless. If we examine only the list of titles on literature, thinking and politics that were available in the Cuban bookstores during that period, it is clear that it was monumental. I will concentrate on some of these thematic fields, those of the greatest interest for the objectives of these notes, as well as for the characterization of those circumstances.

The comparison between the structure of the following graph and the one we saw when we examined the film exhibitions is revealing.

[Printed material (books and pamphlets) published in 1959-1962, by genre and national origin]

In contrast with Cuban films, readers of literature could access more than double the number of titles by Cuban authors than the total number of those from the rest of the world. At the same time, the presence in the libraries of works from Western Europe (60), Latin America and the Caribbean (58) and the Socialist camp (52), was very similar. If we add the United Sates (13), those from the West were more than all the others combined, although not overwhelmingly so.

An analogous arrangement is visible in the predominance of books about the Cuban Revolution (344) and the history of Cuba (97). On the other hand, with respect to critical and political thought, the number of titles about imperialism and the national liberation movements (38) and Marxism (53) was much higher than those about philosophy and political science (33), even at such an early date as 1962. This pattern would be coherent with the continuing radicalization of the process from the beginning, as was pointed out in the first part of this paper.

This pattern is even more revealing when we take into account that the book production and commercialization agencies were incomparably more numerous and diverse than the film distributors, which had practically been nationalized by 1961, as we have seen.

The institutional centralization was therefore still very far off, taking place in 1967, with the establishment of the Instituto del Libro. In the early transitional panorama there were State publishers, partially state-owned ones, commercial or private ones, and ones of Cuban organizations and institutions as well as foreign ones.

The main publishing institution that was created by the Revolution to produce books was the National Printing House [Imprenta Nacional] directed by Alejo Carpentier, the name of which would become the National Publishing House of Cuba [Editorial Nacional de Cuba] during that period. The list of its titles is very broad and, as we shall see, it included not only literature and revolutionary politics, nor was it limited to Cuban and Latin American authors. North-American works as important as The Banana Empire (Charles Kepner, 1961), and Man’s Worldly Goods (Leo Huberman, 1961) left a mark on the cultural formation of many young—and not so young—people of the times.

On the other hand, the importance of other institutions of the new State should not be forgotten; they also edited and published in considerable quantities, sometimes in combination with the National Printing House, but also on their own, like MINED, INRA, MINFAR, the Office of the Historian of Havana, the Ministry of Industry, MINSAP, and the provincial governments of Havana, Matanzas, and Oriente.

For example, INRA published Che’s Guerrilla Warfare (1960) for the first time; also the Training Manual of MINFAR (by the National Printing House, 1960), totalling almost 400 pages and with an engraving by Carmelo on the cover, which would become a reference book for the political education in the whole country, as would be its Course on Revolutionary Instruction in seven volumes (1961); as well as conferences by experts on economy, on revolutionary industry (García-Valls) or on money in the contemporary world (Le Riverend).

With respect to the universities which still operated in a decentralized structure and with a certain degree of autonomy as related to publishing, the most outstanding was the Universidad Central de Las Villas (UCLV), which published not only anthropology and humanities journals—like Islas—but also a notable production of books on philosophy, psychology, folklore, literature and other fields, more even than the Universidad de La Habana (UH) and that of Oriente (UO), which also published numerous texts. UCLV, for example, published renowned works by Federico de Onís, Juan Marinello, Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Samuel Feijoo, Onelio Jorge Cardoso, Fernando Ortiz, Antonio Núñez Jiménez, Manuel Pedro González, Carlos Felipe and Marcelo Pogolotti.

Among the private printing houses and publishers whose works of cultural importance were available in bookstores, there were some very prominent ones during those years. La Tertulia published Cuba does not owe its independence to the United States (Emilio Roig, 1961), and The Lost Steps (Alejo Carpentier, 1961); Nuevo Mundo published Black stories of Cuba (Lydia Cabrera, 1960) and almost the complete works of Pablo de la Torriente Brau; Lex published Sugar and the People in the Antilles and the Historical Manual of Cuba (Ramiro Guerra, 1961), a biography of Fidel (Luis Conte Agüero, 1959), and numerous laws of the Revolutionary Government as well as anthologies of the works of José María Heredia, Domingo del Monte, José Martí and other classic Cuban authors, and Political, Economic and Social Thought of Fidel Castro (1959). Faro, Antena, Cenit, Luz-Hilo, Minerva, Orbe, Prensa Libre, P. Fernández, Torres Aguirre, and Úcar García publishers left marks that can still be seen on the shelves of the main libraries in the country.

Some newspapers, especially Revolución, and Hoy, taking advantage of their printing facilities  and the freedom to use their media, also launched publishing houses named Ediciones R, Vanguardia Obrera, and Doctrina. In this way, books by Blas Roca were also published, like The Communists do not Hide anything (1959), The Functions and Role of Unions in the Presence of the Revolution (1960), and collections of his articles in the newspaper of the PSP [Partido Socialista Popular]. The 26th of July Movement also produced some titles and pamphlets, although at a smaller scale.

If we take as an example the production by two publishing houses like Ediciones R and El Puente [The Bridge]—so very different in terms of literary and political affiliations, resource management and even generational representation—we get some idea of the complexity of the publishing environment of Cuba at that time.

Ediciones R, backed by the Revolución newspaper, published writers that were already known, including in journalism and, in many cases, with years of residence and training outside of Cuba. That is the case of short story authors like Guillermo Cabrera Infante (In Peace as in War, 1960), and Calvert Casey (The Return, 1962), of novelists like Edmundo Desnoes (There is no Problem, 1961), Jaime Saruski (The Search, 1961), Noel Navarro (The Days of our Anguish, 1962), and established fiction writers like Onelio Jorge Cardoso (Complete Short Stories, 1962). Also of already recognized poets whose work continued to appear in all anthologies, like Pablo Armando Fernández (Complete Poetry, 1961), Fayad Jamis (The Bridges, 1962), José A. Baragaño (Poetry, the Revolution of Being, 1960), Rolando Escardó (Rolando’s Book, 1961), the Haitian René Depestre (The Black General, 1962), Oscar Hurtado (The Ceiba [tree], 1961). And also writers for theater like Virgilio Piñera (Complete Theater Works, 1960).

The sophistication and cosmopolitanism of the authors of Ediciones R, as well as their alignment with the politics of the Revolution were in contrast with the young writers of El Puente. These were representative of a much more diverse group, almost united in their interest in poetry. The Most Recent Cuban Poetry, compiled in 1962 by Reinaldo Felipe and Ana María Sima—one of the main directors of the publishing company, together with José Mario Rodríguez—brought together very young writers like Georgina Herrera, Joaquín G. Santana, Miguel Barnet, Nancy Morejón, Belkis Cuza Malé, Isel Rivero and José Mario Rodríguez himself. Among these names—some became later very well-known—there were very different literary preferences, as well as personal positions related to the Revolution.

Although the resources available for the El Puente books were far lower than those of Ediciones R, their presence in the poetry and fiction sections of the bookstores became very visible during those years. The stories of Guillermo Cuevas (Neither yes nor no, 1962), Ana María Simo (The Fables) and the poetry of those who published their first poetry works there, like Mercedes Cortázar, José Mario, Silvia Barros, Gerardo Fulleda León, Manuel Granados, Nancy Morejón, Joaquín G. Santana, and Miguel Barnet could be found there. Before closing in 1964, the catalogue of El Puente also included recognized dramatists like José Ramón Brene and Nicolás Dorr, whose works were already being presented in theaters in 1961 and 1962.

Some researchers have studied the question of how a political conflict could have been created around this group of young poets and their publishing house. I will limit myself to the reminder that when it happened, this debate was more intense and resonant than the documentary P.M. produced by the group of Ediciones R.

Before the National Printing Press—or the National Publishing House—published the texts by Marx and Engels in 1961-62, the Cuban bookstores had begun to sell works published by the Argentine publishing company Lex, like Capital (1960) and The Communist Manifesto (1960), and by the Orbe Publishing company, like Anti-Dühring and Dialectic of Nature. Just The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (Friedrich Engels) came out in three different editions, all in 1961, by Editorial Luz-Hilo, Orbe and Prensa Libre.

Also, already in 1961, the National Printing Press published some of Lenin’s main works: State and Revolution; Imperialism, the Highest State of Capitalism; The revolutionary army and government; Materialism and Empirio-criticism; On Religion; Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder, and others.

Soviet Marxism was also available very early on, with the Dictionary of Marxist Philosophy and Sociology by Iudin and Rosenthal (Orbe, 1961). In that same year, the most renowned manuals of the moment were made available to Cuban readers by the National Printing Press: The Fundamentals of Marxist philosophy by F.V. Konstantinov; The Marxist-Leninist Manual, by Otto V. Kuusinen; The Marxist-Leninist Dialectic as a Philosophical Science, by V.P. Rozhin; On Dialectic Materialism and Historic Materialism, by Stalin—almost all taken from Mexican translations of the Russian, published by the Academy of the Sciences of the USSR.

In 1960, the PSP had printed a version of the famous speech by Nikita Khrushchev at the XX Congress of the PCUS in 1956, from the publication that was done in English by the Communist Party of the United States. Strangely, this also contributed to making Chinese Marxism more visible. The PSP and the ORI published Liu Shao-Chi in Cuba (How to be a Good Communist and On the Mass Party Line), as well as Mao Tse-Tung (On contradiction and Against liberalism), in 1961.

Because of its pulsation, unusual character, originality, radiant energy and openness, its dynamism and creativity, as well as because of its astounding density and velocity, this cultural context could be described as being Baroque. It was then that an event happened that was as special for the culture and the politics of the Cuban Revolution as the meetings at the National Library, where artists and writers talked with the leaders of the Revolution.

In order to reach this point and be able to appreciate its importance, it is necessary to take into account everything we have examined up to now, both for those singular circumstances and for the process that we are now experiencing.

Words: the building of consensus and dialogue with dissent

The meetings in the José Martí National Library [BNJM] in June 1961 are not the very beginnings of the cultural policies of the Revolution. As was seen in the previous paragraphs, these policies began with the Revolution itself, they were in process during the Literacy Year, and had been developed through the bountiful years of 1959 and 1960 in very specific fields, as mentioned before. These and other radical changes had transformed social relations and mind-sets, the ways of life, the representations and views regarding the present the future. When I say radical I am not referring to Marxist ideology, which was still beginning to be learned, but to the models of policies and public communications, citizen participation and the way to be in the present, in-person and directly, and to form part of that. 

These meetings were just a chapter in the building of consensus and the dialogue with dissent, which constituted this new model that the Revolution had brought and that was literally in full development. The focal point of these policies was undoubtedly “Fidel’s angel”—as Jorge Mañach had called it. But not even this “angel,” or call it charisma, can explain the complexity of a process at a very large scale such as the one that was happening, in which consensus—as it usually happens in politics—played a key role.

To reduce politics to cultural politics, and to encapsulate this cultural politics in one sentence, as one extracts one verse from a biblical psalm, would be historically meaningless. In the dialogue with the artists and writers, Fidel was drawing on a specific dialogue—with a community that was essentially sensitive and difficult, and whose representation in the leadership was sparse—in order to update the policies of building consensus and dialogue that he had practiced during the process, since the years of the war.

The previous phase, that of the strike of April of 1958, had passed when the consensus within the 26th of July Movement required a struggle with alternative currents and with the key weight of simple language in the strategic global conception. In that phase a policy of alliances had become essential, also with political forces that were talking of revolution only as an opposition to the dictatorship, away from true agrarian reforms and the recuperation of the country’s basic resources, and finally dedicated to conspire against the new powers from the first months of the triumph.

In order to assure the continuity of the Revolution, it had been necessary to convert the strategic differences with the PSP into a dialogue which would facilitate its incorporation into the final stages of the war, not really because of its military contributions, but rather because of its accumulated political experience, its readiness to mediate alliances, organization, discipline, ideological cohesion, recognition of the revolutionary leadership and capacity to contribute to the construction of a new institutional order. In these components, and in the management of the communication media, newspapers and radio stations, as well as in the systematic organizing of propaganda, the PSP was very prominent on the map of the revolutionary organizations.

When it came to governing, it was impossible not to be impressed by a large group within the communist leadership, not only those with political experience, like Lázaro Peña and Blas Roca, but also those with considerable intellectual training and cultural knowledge, like Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Juan Marinello, Lionel Soto, Joaquín Ordoqui, Edith García Buchaca, and Mirta Aguirre.

The 26th of July Movement had integrated the hard core of a Rebel Army whose troops of Cuban peasants lacked schooling, whose very young leaders—the majority without a university education—directed the defense and the security of this Revolution, and became more and more like political cadres at the same time. The task of governing demanded a cultural level both as loyalty and as trust; and the first was scarcer than the others. Because it was no longer a question of fighting under the flag of the 26th, but of carrying forward the Revolution—with a capital letter. So that Camilo Cienfuegos established the Department of Revolutionary Education, and the cinematography section of this Army, which would make films and publish books even before ICAIC and the National Press were created, and they would continue to produce these without pause, also during the following years, as I noted before.

In this process of building consensus in the defense of the Revolution, the dialogue within the revolutionary family became key in order to articulate a difficult and heterogeneous unity, based on compromise and not on imposition. So, Fidel Castro directed the militants of his organization to support the candidate of the 13th of March Revolutionary Directory in the elections of the FEU of 1959, instead of voting for the leader of the student sector of the 26th of July Movement.

What has been presented so far doesn’t even come close to explaining the antecedents of the process that would end with the meeting at the National Library.

So to extract from this context the sentence “With the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing,” does not let us appreciate its political importance, then and after, because it can be interpreted in many ways—as is shown, in fact, by subsequent history.

If it is a question of political significance, the first thing to do is to consider these words as part of a speech that took place almost two months after the Bay of Pigs. This event is often remembered as a military operation, in spite of the fact that its importance cannot be conceived without the escalation of the political conflict that followed. As a matter of fact, the threat to national security reinforced the political importance of consensus. The most important thing in that threat to security was not the formidable war of ideas, which today we call a cultural war, imposed by the counter-revolution within and outside of Cuba, but the split within the space of the Revolution, the product of a blundered handling of dissent at a time whose volatility had a direct impact on the consensus.

In its connotation for cultural politics, Fidel’s words are inseparable from the major political rationale that inspired them and give them meaning. He did not address the writers and artists, but the civil society of those times. So that, once again, it is necessary to explain the revolution, and to particularly insist on the fact that it is not only a process for revolutionaries, but also for the non-revolutionaries. What today we might call a rationale of inclusion.

Here are the main threads of his speech: “It is possible that the men and women who have a really revolutionary attitude towards reality, do not constitute the majority sector of the population: the revolutionaries are the people’s vanguard.”[23] In other words, consensus is not founded on the automatic support of a numerical majority. The revolutionaries can be a minority, but their role in social change is still legitimate and genuine.


… the revolutionaries should aim for the entire population to march with them. The Revolution cannot refuse for all the honest men and women—be they writers or artists, or not—to march along with it; the Revolution should aim to convert to revolutionaries all those who have doubts; the Revolution should try to win over to its ideas the greater part of the population; the Revolution should never refuse to count on the majority of the population, to count not only on the revolutionaries, but on all honest citizens who, although they may not be revolutionaries—that is, that they may not have a revolutionary attitude toward life—they may agree with it.[24]

This means that the consensus is built, not only by persuasion but by achieving their active – even passive – participation ; so that those who feel included, will be ever more, , and they will feel included consciously.

Who, then, are the enemies? Those beyond redemption? Those who must be confronted and excluded? “The Revolution should only renounce those who are incorrigibly reactionary, who are incorrigibly counter-revolutionary.”[25] So that those counter-revolutionaries can also be dealt with, because among them there may be some, and perhaps many, who are “corrigible,” as subsequent history will show.

Is it a question of a condition that is specifically directed towards building consensus in the cultural field? Among writers, artists, intellectuals? No. “And this will not be any emergency law for artists and writers. This is a general principle for all citizens; it is a fundamental principle of the Revolution.”[26]

Fidel’s speech to the writers and artists is much more than a keystone of a policy for the “cultural sector,” as it is usually interpreted; it is more a milepost in a vital strategy for the survival of the Revolution as a social process, and of a truly national scope, which includes its malcontents, and uses dialogue not to hide or ignore the differences, but to build on them.

To what extent was the building of consensus and the dialogue with divergence and their role as an ingredient of a socialist political culture limited to those circumstances? Which was its specific impact and the way of approaching it years later, when the process had been consolidated and institutionalized? What does it teach us?

The building of consensus and dialogue: the future

In 1979, before a group of militants and directors of the Party, Fidel committed six hours to the defense of his arguments to change politics established twenty years before with those who had left Cuba.[27] He was surely conscious of the fact that the majority of those assembled in the Karl Marx [theater] did not think the way he did, but rather were convinced that those who had emigrated were part of the counter-revolution. Since 1960, he himself had been taking note of those who were leaving to become part of the United States, and had qualified them as enemies of the fatherland.

When the call came for Military Service in November of 1965, those who wanted to leave were classified as not trustworthy, together with gays and religious people, and they were recruited for the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP - [Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción]). Not only because at the time it was necessary to increase the agricultural production and because the work could change their way of thinking and behaving, but also because it was not advisable for national security that those who wanted to go to the United States—in the middle of the Vietnam war—would be trained by the new military techniques that had recently arrived from the USSR that year.

At that same time, the first noticeable confrontation around the migratory relations with the United States led to the opening of the Camarioca harbor to all who wanted to come, to look for their families, and thus, to the first bilateral migration agreement. From that moment and until 1973 the so-called aerial bridge Varadero-Miami would be operational and through it would leave more than 250,000 Cubans who had not been able to emigrate since flights had been suspended during the October Crisis of 1962.

This antecedent is essential in order to understand Fidel’s words and the context in which they were spoken, in February of 1979. Just five years after the closure of the aerial bridge by the Nixon government, a new connection with those who were outside [of Cuba]—many of whom were also interested in a dialogue of return—appeared for the first time as an issue of national concern. Although the détente [sic] between the United States and the USSR, the new tenor of President Carter towards Latin America and Cuba, and the progress in the bilateral diplomacy encouraged these new relations, it was still a question of Cuban politics rather than of external relations.

In Fidel’s words at the Karl Marx [theater], he justified the dialogue initiated in 1978 with representatives of the emigration starting from an analysis of the structure of political consensus and its strengthening.

The link of this community, of the great mass of this community with our country, is a link that is national. And I would say that in this case we should begin to use this national spirit with a positive feeling and a revolutionary feeling, and that one day we, Cuba, the country, will count on the support—listen carefully!—of the majority of this emigration. If not, we are not what we are, our country is not what it is, and our revolution is not worth what it is.[28]

According to his explanation, that dialogue was celebrated by many outside of Cuba, including some who were not our friends but rather allies of the United States, while it worried others, over there and here: “The yankees are those who are most worried; and in second place, the extremists from over there […], and I won’t say the extremists from here, so as not to confuse the confused people with extremists.”[29]

As was the case with his Words to the Intellectuals eighteen years before, his speech was aimed to strategically distinguish between enemies and those who did not sympathize with the Revolution. “Who are we interested in fighting? The Cubans who emigrated? […] Our enemy is the imperialist system, the capitalist system. Our enemies are […] the counter-revolutionary organizations, […] the terrorists.”[30]

According to him, in the context of 1979, it was necessary to emphasize a politics of peace, more complex than one of war.

A politics of war always rouses more emotions, war, heroics, invocations to battle, to death; it always rouses enthusiasm, especially in those heated and passionate temperaments; many times a politics of peace is much more difficult to prepare, to understand; politics of negotiations; politics of peaceful coexistence […] because it is the only politics that can be done, negotiating with the capitalists, coming to agreements with capitalists.[31]

In order to base this spin on the relations with the emigrants as a necessity of that new moment, Fidel again went back to the history of the Revolution: “With the politics of convincing adversaries, the Revolution has a long experience. How did we work the war? Executing soldiers? No.”[32]

Once again, it goes back to the idea that the Revolution cannot repudiate those who are not in its ranks. But this time the words would go back beyond 1961:

Many of Batista’s soldiers are today militants in our Party […]. Workers of the vanguard, honored workers […]; in the Revolution, man shows what he can do, the virtues he has and the potential moral capacities he possesses, so that he can transform himself into a revolutionary! […] What would have happened to the Revolution if it had not won over the adversaries to its cause when we were only a few, and everything was this party, or that one, and another, of all classes, and we did not have anything, and we were just a handful? We could say that they were all our adversaries […] So there is a long tradition of the Revolution in its struggle to convert the adversaries, […] to win them over so that in some way or another they could support the Revolution. That is a tradition.[33]

His last argument questioned the premise of ideological purity and rejected the resistance to dialogue with the enemy as a political weakness for the national defense.

We cannot speak of an ideological struggle without having contact, without an argument, without a defense. Who is morally, politically, ideologically stronger?  Of course, we cannot live in pure sterility. Total purity! I do not see the revolutionary in a state of pure sterility, I do not see that! Because like that it is possible to be a revolutionary. Man is pure because he does not have the smallest temptation, the smallest risk, the least contact […] as if a true revolutionary could fear any ideological contact, confrontation and contact. […] And would we think that we could all get dirtied by this…[34]

Final Considerations

Although I have no intention to summarize everything said so far, I do want to underline a political and cultural legacy that values consensus and dialogue, and challenges sectarianism and extremism (“the confused people,” as Fidel called the extremists in 1979), as ways to build a culture of unity, which has needed to be continually reiterated and updated.

With this legacy, the cultural dynamics of politics, the ideas and decisions adopted after 1961 could become very dissimilar if the geopolitical facts, the conflict of interest with the United States and the Cuban upper class—which from the beginning imposed a defensive attitude towards the Revolution—are not understood. This rationale, as time passed, and like the result of childhood illnesses, allowed for the reiteration of dogmatic and sectarian tendencies from which the mentalities of organized dissidence do not escape, for sure.

Cuba never received guidance from Moscow. Its heterodox Marxism was centered in the anticolonial and national liberation alliances from the years of its rising leadership in the Non-Aligned movement and the Tricontinental. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were emblems of a radical thought process, able also to do a critical review of themselves, as is shown by the long good-bye letter by Che to Fidel on the workings of the system that was being put into place from 1962 to 1965.[35] The historical (and the non-historical) leadership could drive and direct the self-reforms of the system again and again, in successive stages. However, the effect of a superpower that was dangerously close to this Revolution, and the geopolitical snare of the Cold War forced it to create a defense and security apparatus, and the mental training of a fortress under siege, which has left an indelible trace on the political culture that was inherited, through successive generations, until now.

The historical narrative about this process tends to ignore that we have gone through very different types of politics during every stage. In addition to ideological changes, as those exemplified in the adhesion to a Marxism of national liberation or to a Marxism-Leninism in manuals that were published very early on, there were also changes in economic policies, ideas on democracy and criteria on its workings, strategies of national security and, of course, the application of cultural policies.

Just during the first decade of the Revolution (1959-1968), the aim to apply an economic model that was different to the Soviet or the Chinese one—though never fully implemented—did allow however for almost 60,000 small and medium and still private enterprises to be well adapted to the dominant government sector. To consider that their nationalization during that year responded to a Stalinist influence omits the ostensible tensions and differences with the two great socialist powers, provoked by the pressures of the USSR and China. If Cuba resisted being aligned with either, according to the model laid out among communist parties and non-communist governments in Asia and Africa in the frame of the Cold War, this resistance, like the United States embargo, had very high costs.

The international isolation of the second half of the sixties, when the Revolution was a kind of aircraft that travelled alone towards a constellation called communism, had unforeseen consequences for this diverse and heterodox political culture. The nationalization of the small businesses, called the Revolutionary Offensive (1968), the creation and closure of the Military Units of Aid to Production (UMAP) (1965-1968), the mammoth plans, like the Ten Million [Ton] Harvest [la Zafra de los Diez millones], the mega-plantations of coffee in the area of Havana, the experimental towns in which monetary-mercantile relations were abolished, and everything else that can be likened to the Great Leap Forward, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution, lacked a real political link with the ideology of Mao or with the tightening of relations with that country. It was really just the opposite, given the unequivocal cooling between Cuba and the Popular Republic of China as of March 13th of 1966, and the disagreements in international arena at which both attended, starting from the Tricontinental movement (1965-1966), the Chinese invasion of Vietnam (1979), the Angolan war (1975-88)—these were all unconnected to the relations of each of the countries with the USSR.

The political events related to “the Padilla case” and the Cuban reaction to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, which produced the cooling of relations with the European and North-American intellectual groups, did not respond to a Soviet influence in Cuba either, nor was it an omen of the “gray five years” to come. Fidel’s speech at the invasion discredited the USSR in such terms as to leave no doubt. According to his speech, televised to the entire country, the invasion was justified only for political reasons, that is, to preserve “the integrity of the socialist camp,” but “it does not have any judicial foundation in international rights.” The relations between the USSR and the parties of the European socialist countries were categorized by their “unconditionality, satelitism, and lackeyism;” these regions were characterized by their “dogmatism,” “bureaucratism,” by “not being really revolutionary,” by their “ignorance about the problems of the underdeveloped world;” “the youth of Eastern Europe is not educated on the ideals of communism and internationalism.” Finally, he positions the USSR directly by its inconsistency towards other socialist countries:

Will the divisions of the Warsaw Pact also be sent to Vietnam if the yankee imperialists increase their aggression against that country, if the people of Vietnam request that support? Will the divisions of the Warsaw Pact be sent to Cuba if the yankee imperialists attack our country, or even, facing the threat of an attack by the yankee imperialists to our country, if our country requests this?[36]

The view that makes the politics of the Revolution a mirror of its relations with the USSR allows for the continuation today of attributing the bad things of Cuban socialism to the Soviet influence, thirty years after it disappeared. This perspective refuses to recognize a combination of negative elements in Cuban political culture, which are reproduced beyond particular ideological positions. So, like racial and gender prejudice, the undervaluing of the poorest, the less educated, the marginal, those from other regions—among other attitudes dragged along until today, also authoritarianism and the label of “traitors” given to those who do not think the same way as us—constitute the dark side of this inherited political culture. To attribute to a certain “Soviet model” the intransigence and the “habits of power” (as Martí called them) that were extant in the national political history from the time of the struggles for independence, and have them derive from an imported political model with a label of origin in the Soviet Union would make them equivalent to a power plant, a Kamaz truck or a MiG 23.

Of course, the familiarity with the socialist countries, before and especially after 1959, was felt in the culture, society and political thought of Cuba. But if in its later stages the Revolution adopted and made its own concepts created by this soviet socialism—like hyper-centralized planning or a generalized education of Soviet Marxism-Leninism—this was a conscious decision, not an “influence.” Becoming reconciled to this exchange with the USSR and with all these decisions and assessments of conscience—“correct” or “mistaken”—requires an appreciation of them in their moment and political circumstances, in order to be able to explain them and learn their lessons.

After all this, reading the cultural traces of the USSR and Eastern Europe in negative terms, or minimizing them because of the absence of borscht in the Cuban kitchen or balalaikas in the congas of Santiago does not do justice to their contributions to the cultural development of the revolutionary period. As we showed before, learning to see good films included Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and Soviet films. Like artistic education in music, the plastic arts and even the training of some notable theater artists are indebted to the valuable contributions of the cooperation with the socialist countries.

Paradoxically, the effect of sectarianism in the ranks of the Revolution, as well as in the counter-revolutionary opposition, called dissidence, reveals negative characteristics of the same political culture, on the edge of ideological differences. Both trends had their main common antecedents in the ORI (1961-62) and the Microfraction (1968). It is not just a coincidence that among the first generations of the anti-Castro dissidents there were militants of the old Popular Socialist Party, with a Stalinist affiliation.

However, sectarianism, as a behavior and attitude linked to the use and abuse of power, will also show itself in episodes that followed, an exhaustive list of which would need a separate study. Some of them seem to anticipate what Fidel Castro himself would recognize much later as the type of behaviors that can “bury the Revolution” in a more threatening way than “imperialism.”

What importance does this evolution of consensus and dissent have within the political culture of the revolution? How can the political management of culture in its broad sense contribute to an intellectual production of film, literature, the arts and also of political thought, history and the social sciences? How can all this knowledge, both in the arts and in the social sciences, nourish a political education and communication media—which are not too efficient up to now—towards the building of consensus and the dialogue with dissent? To what extent is the capacity to discuss with the non-revolutionaries, as well as with the adversaries, with the opposition, the almost “irredeemables,” decisive for the consensus within the ranks of the Revolution?

Many other events were stages in the building of consensus that produced more commotion in Cuban society than the conversations in the National Library in June of 1961. Films like You have the Floor, Alice in Wondertown, Strawberries and Chocolate, had more impact in their times than P.M. and its ban. However, a rereading of Words to the intellectuals can revive its fundamental meaning in the crafting of the political unity of the revolution, beyond one sentence that can have been interpreted and reinterpreted in order to found policies—some very far away from their original meaning—and manipulated in order to promote the opposite of dialogue and consent.

To recuperate it as part of a continued policy of unity—whose limits are not traced by predetermined ideological lines but by a cultured view of national interest, inclusive, democratic, realistic, politically effective, not only for artists and intellectuals, but for all citizens—becomes essential in order to preserve its legacy.


[1] José Tabares del Real. Guiteras. Ed. Ciencias Sociales, Havana, 1973. Olga Cabrera, Guiteras, la época, el hombre. [Guiteras, the Times, the Man.] Ed. Arte y Literatura, Havana, 1974. Lionel Soto. La Revolución del 33. [The Revolution of ‘33] Ed. Política, Havana, 1971. Angelina Rojas Blaquier. El primer Partido Comunista de Cuba: sus tácticas y estrategias. [The First Communist Party of Cuba, its Tactics and Strategies]. Ed. Oriente, Santiago de Cuba, 2005.

[2] Manifiesto del 26 de Julio [The 26th of July Manifesto]


[3] Fidel Castro: La historia me absolverá [History Will Absolve me]


[4] Departamento de Instrucción: Manual de capacitación cívica. [Civic Training Manual]  MINFAR, Havana, Sept.-Oct. 1959.

[5] Blas Roca Calderío: «Informe sobre el 2do. punto del Orden del día de la VIII Asamblea Nacional del Partido Socialista Popular» [Report on the 2nd point of the Agenda of the VIII National Assembly of the Popular Socialist Party] (Havana, August 16 to 21, 1960). Partido Socialista Popular: VIII Asamblea Nacional. Informes, Resoluciones, Programas, Estatutos, Ediciones Populares, La Habana, 1960.

[6] Rafael Rojas: «Cuba, la estructura biológica del comunismo», [“Cuba, the biological structure of communism”] El País, España, 21 abril de 2011.


[7] Ibid.

[8] Ernesto Guevara: El socialismo y el hombre en Cuba: [Socialism and Man in Cuba]. Semanario Marcha, Montevideo, Uruguay, 12 de marzo de 1965.


[9] Ernesto Che Guevara: «El cuadro, columna vertebral de la Revolución», [“The Cadre, the Vertebral Column of the Revolution”] Cuba socialista, La Habana, sept. de 1962. http://archivo.juventudes.org/textos/Ernesto%20Che%20Guevara/El%20cuadro%20columna%20vertebral%20de%20la%20Revolucion.pdf

[10] Op. cit. note 8.

[11] «Ley de Creación del ICAIC», [“The Law of the Creation of ICAIC”] in Arturo Agramonte and Luciano Castillo: Cronología del cine cubano (1953-1959), tomo IV, Ediciones ICAIC, 2016, p. 583.

[12] Ibid, p. 584.

[13] Ibid, p. 585.

[14] Ibid, p. 587.

[15] Ibid, p. 456.

[16] According to Arturo Agramonte and Luciano Castillo: ob. cit. Another source indicates that there were 27 distributing businesses; see María Eulalia Douglas: La tienda negra. El cine en Cuba 1897-1990 [The Black Store: Film in Cuba, 1897-1990], Cinemateca de Cuba, La Habana, 1996.

[17] Centro Católico de Orientación Cinematográfica (CCOC): Guía cinematográfica 1959-1960, Imprenta Nacional de Cuba, La Habana, 30 de junio de 1961.

[18] According to the numbers given in María Eulalia Douglas: ob. cit. Allied Artists and Paramount are not nationalized until 1965.

[19] «Acuerda el ICAIC suprimir películas de tendencias reaccionarias», [“ICAIC agrees to suppress films of reactionary tendendencies”] Anexo 4, Iván Giroud: La historia en un sobre amarillo. El cine en Cuba (1948-1964) [History in a Yellow Envelope. Film in Cuba (1948-1964)], Ediciones Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano y Ediciones ICAIC, La Habana, 2021, p. 346-348.

[20] Ibid, p. 346.

[21] Departamento Colección Cubana: Bibliografía cubana 1959-1962, Biblioteca Nacional José Martí, La Habana, 1968.

[22] Norma Molina Prendes: «Todos los caminos conducen a El Puente» [“All Roads Lead to the Bridge”], Islas, Ediciones Capiro, Santa Clara, enero-abril de 2011; Isabel Alfonso: «Cruzando El Puente en las encrucijadas de la historia» [“Crossing the Bridge at the Intersections of History”], La Gaceta de Cuba, La Habana, julio-agosto de 2005.

[23] Fidel Castro: Palabras a los intelectuales, Casa Editora Abril, La Habana, 2007, p. 16 (emphasis mine).

[24] Ibid (emphasis mine).

[25] Ibid. (emphasis mine).

[26] Ibid, p. 17. (emphasis mine).

[27] «Discurso del Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro: Reunión de información a cuadros y militantes del Partido, Teatro Karl Marx, 8 de febrero de 1979» [“Speech by Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro: Information Meeting with the cadres and militants of the Party, Karl Marx Theater, February 8, 1979”], Cuba y su emigración. 1978: Memorias del primer diálogo [Cuba and its Emigration, 1978. Notes on the first Dialogue], comp. Elier Ramírez, Ocean Sur, La Habana, 2020.

[28] Ibid, p. 33.

[29] Ibid, pp. 32-33.

[30] Ibid, p. 33.

[31] Ibid, p. 34.

[32] Ibid, p. 35.

[33] Ibid, p. 38. (emphasis mine).

[34] Ibid, p. 39.

[35] «Carta a Fidel», 26 de marzo de 1965, publicada por primera vez el 14 de junio de 2019 [“Letter to Fidel”, … published for the first time on June 14, 2019]; Che Guevara: Epistolario de un tiempo. Cartas 1947-1967 [Correspondence of an era. Letters, 1947-1967] compiled by María del Carmen Ariet and Disamis Arcia, Ocean Sur, La Habana, 2019.


[36] Fidel Castro: «Análisis de los acontecimientos de Checoslovaquia» [“Analysis of the events in Czechoslovakia”], Ediciones COR, no. 16, La Habana, 23 de agosto de 1968.

Traductor: Catharina Vallejo (Caridad Asencio)

CCE: 76,485

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