Cuba, a True Social Revolution

By: Peter G., Elizabeth L., Christina C., Joey K.

Question 4: "Cuba, unlike other Latin American countries, has created a true social revolution." How valid is this assessment of the impact of Castro's regime upon Cuba?
Che Guevara (left) and Fidel Castro (right)
Che Guevara (left) and Fidel Castro (right)


A true Social Revolution is one in which the people are united under a single front, fighting together for profound change. We can see evidence of Cuba being a true social revolution through reform in the economy and the healthcare and education systems. One major part of the revolution was the people involved, which included students, women, and Afro-Cubans. Other Latin American countries also underwent revolutions of deep change and can be classified as Social Revolutions, but not quite to the extent of Cuba. We can find many similarities between the revolutions in Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua and Chile, but only the Cuban Revolution can be characterized as a true Social Revolution, due to the nature of its reform and its long-lasting impact.

The Revolution in Cuba

The People-
The Cuban Revolution began as a response to the political and economic problems that lead to devastating results on Cuba's people. In order to understand the origins of the characterization of the Cuban Revolution, it is important to recognize that Cuba's people already had a very revolutionary spirit, as a result of pushing the Spanish crown of the island and the influence of José Martí. (Perez-Stable, 15)
Fidel Castro, who at the time was the head of the July 26th Movement, clearly and constantly defined these eminent problems that Cuba faced in an article of a U.S. magazine, called The Nation, in 1957, he said, "Cuba's land situation, the problems of industrialization, living standards, unemployment, education and public health: these are the problems—along with the attainment of civil liberty and political democracy" (Castro). These problems that Castro had defined are all problems that the people of Cuba suffered from.

Creation of Workers' Unions
One of the first problems that the poorer people, such as the small independent farm owners, faced was that they were being kept impoverished by the expansion of the latifundio (an amalgam of the small mills under the larger mills) in 1927 (Blakewell, 428). The latifundios were created by political actions which the rich elite made along with the U.S. This resulted in an unequal distribution of the land and the income of rural, small, independent growers, who made up a much larger percent of the population of Cuba. Constant hits of injustice at the Cuban lower class caused them to organize. More specifically, we see the formation of trade unions or workers' unions. One of the more recognizable one's was the Independent Party of Color (PIC), which was organized under Evaristo Estenoz in 1908 for the Afro-Cubans. The PIC set out to protect the black Cubans, encourage "integration and racial democracy", and most importantly "protest against monopolization of the material rewards of independence by white elites and foreigners" (by foreigners, the U.S. Citizens) (Blakewell, 429). They along with many other trade unions of the time organized, protested, and demanded their rights to the Cuban economy, establishing that "Cuba [is] for the Cubans" (Blakewell, 430).

Nationalism, Student Involvement, and the Women
With an insufferable crash in the economy of Cuba, and with what seemed like a constant road of failure, the Cubans found a nationalistic, unifying spirit because all of the people who weren't at the upper end of the society suffered greatly.
Student-led protests began with the theory that if society is to change it must start with the youth in the universities. These protestors called out for all types of reform ranging from ousting corrupt professors and administrators to demanding of government officials. These protests help to kindle the fire of revolution and defended and spoke for all those who were suffering. Not only did the youth help spread the revolutionary spirit, but they had every hand in the revolutionary actions (such as fighting) as well. It was a group of students that first attempted to kidnap Cuba's dictator, Batista in 1953 (The Economist). It was also a group of young revolutionaries that Castro took with him to the jungles of the Sierra Maestra with plans to overthrow the Batista regime.
The women played a powerful role as well. They were involved in many to the protests and formed organizations to spread demands for reform. Organization such as the Women's Club in 1917 advocated that all social policies and relations should correspond to the common society. Therefore they supported "women's suffrage, equal pay for equal work, greater acces to education, and civil equality" (Blakewell, 432).
These three outlets of the people help strengthen and keep the revolution alive.

Leaders of the Revolution
The Cuban Revolution was fueled by such Revolutionaries as President Fidel Castro and Commadante Che Guevara. These men full of charisma and understanding of the needs of the people, solidified the revolution. These men were (and are still) praised by the Cuban people because htey were able to fight for what the Cuban people wanted. In the speech on the left, Che Guevara identifies an enemy and explains the horrors of oppression and the need to fight back. Fidel Castro became the leader of Cuba, after the revolutionaires' victory in the Bay of Pigs ( Perez-Stable, 147). As a leader, he made decisions that would instill nationalism (keeping the Communist Party the only political faction) and fulfill the promise of reform in land distribution, economy, healthcare, and education.

In examining the social structure and the reasons for such protest in Cuba, we can see that there is really only two classes: the very small group of wealthy elite, who are usually dominant political figures or foreigners (from the U.S. most likely), and the rest of the Cuban people who suffer from the bad and unjust economy, terrible health care, and no education to rely. These unbearable conditions were the ingredients to a start of a true social revolution of, for, and by the people that is unfortunately, still, very much alive today.

The Economy and Castro-

Before Fidel Castro and the July 26th Movement, Cuba was in an economic rut. Batista was making no moves to steer Cuba away from its dependency on the United States and sugar, and was in fact encouraging it in order to curry favor with the United States. Castro saw the dire situation Cuba was falling into, and knew that a “broad transformation of the economy- from production and consumption to the relationship between the individual and society” was necessary to prevent it (Pettavino).
In Castro’s eyes, there were five major problems in Cuba’s economy. These problems were slow economic growth, dependency on the sugar monoculture, dependency on the United States, unemployment, and inequality in distribution. Because Batista was not trying to solve these issues, Castro felt that it was his duty, and the duty of the proletariat, to remove Batista from power. In the early 50’s, Castro started gathering followers to oppose Batista.

Once Castro came to power in 1959, he began making drastic changes to improve the economy. The two biggest problems with Cuba’s economy were the dependency on the United States and the sugar monoculture. The other problems stemmed from these main two, and could be changed throughout the course of solving the two larger ones. In order to solve the first issue, Castro sought to “vary trade and capital markets,” a process which ended in deteriorated relations between Cuba and the United States, and a growth in relations with the communist Soviet Union(Benjamins, Collins, Scott). Although Castro succeeded in reducing dependency on the United States, Cuba became dependent on the U.S.S.R. for trade. IN 1960, Cuba began making arrangements to purchase manufacturing equipment from the Soviet Union. The United States suspended its quota for buying Cuban sugar. These were the first steps on the path away from capitalist American and towards communist Soviet Union.

In diversifying the agriculture in Cuba, Casto’s socialist tendencies came into play. With the First Law of Agrarian Reform in 1959, “collectivization of the means of production gradually increased.” (Pettavino). Castro’s government took control of about 85% of land in Cuba, including previously foreign-owned oil refineries, sugar mills, banks, and electric companies. To manage and organize this “state domination over the economy,” Castro formed JUCEPLAN and INRA. At first, the economice growth started to decrease, but in 1963, it leapt up. Large plots of land were cleared of sugar cane and used for things like fruits, vegetables, and rice. The government used these new fields in agriculture to alleviate unemployment, thereby moving towards solving three of the five problems.
Along with agricultural diversification, Castro attempted to begin industrialization in Cuba. Castro based his efforts on the model for industrialization in Russia. His plans failed for the most part, because Cuba did not have the internal structure for such a fast movement towards industrialization. During the period of rectification, Castro reversed the diversification of agriculture, planning a 10,000,000 ton sugar harvest, after most sources had been
"channeled to achieve the accelerated industrialization of the country" from 1960-1963 (Fraginals and Moreno).

Castro had a very socialist approach to solving the issue of unequal distribution of wealth. Prices and wages were at a fixed rate, and property was expropriated. Equalizing the distribution tied in heavily with government collectivization, in a Robin Hood kind of way- take from the rich and give to the poor. Farms exceeding 400 hectares were expropriated. Alongside the new jobs that were being created, this helped “level the playing field” in Cuba.

Reformed Healthcare-
Healthcare in Cuba is the best of anywhere in Latin America. Prior to the revolution, Cuban healthcare was adequate, but was isolated to the area surrounding Havana (Perez-Stable 92). The revolutionary government, however, made medical service available all over the country and by 1989, there were 263 hospitals around Cuba (Vidal 163). Healthcare became nationalized in 1961 and many doctors fled in fear of no payment opportunities. Nevertheless, the Cuban healthcare system has flourished and continues to be of superior quality (Uriate) The free healthcare in Cuba shows that medical attention is a right that all citizens deserve to have.

Education Reform in Cuba-

Before Fidel Castro's rise to power Cuba's education system was completely ineffective. In 1959 during Batista's rule over Cuba, 23% of the population over 10 years old were illiterate. Also 45% of children did not attend primary school. When the National Literacy Campaign was enacted in 1961 the illiteracy rate dropped to a mere 4% compared to a few years earlier. In the 1960's and 1970's a large amount of new schools were constructed to support the greatly increased amount of attending schoolchildren throughout Cuba. A system of scholarships was also established to ensure that the most amount of children possible would be able to attend school.

By the 1980's 98.8% of all children ages 6 to 11 were enrolled in schools. Castro's upheaval of the Cuban education system proved to be highly effective, and today a full education up to the university level is free and is a right of every citizen (Uriarte, pg. 6-12).

Revolution in Nicaragua, Chile and Mexico

The Nicaraguan Revolution:

Current Nicaraguan President, Daniel Ortega (right) and Fidel Castro
The Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua was a social revolution, but not to the extent of that in Cuba. There were certain elements that were wholeheartedly social, but it was not as successful a revolution as that in Cuba. The Sandinista rebels had good intentions, but did not follow through with all of their promises. Prior to the revolution, the Somoza dictatorship existed, which had ruled for three generations. The Somozas were characterized by wealth and corruption, and resentment ran high among al l 324px-FSLN.svg.pngNicaraguan social classes (Hoyt 10). The opposition of many different social classes to the Samoza regime brought Nicaragua together under a united front. This united front, which included women, students, teachers and other professionals, help define the movement of the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) as a national and partly social revolution.
One aspect of the revolution that demonstrated the social qualities was the national literacy campaign. Students and teachers went out into the countryside to teach reading, writing, and history to a population that was nearly 95% illiterate. Although the campaign did not inflict deep social change, it was still an important step in improving education in rural areas (Brentlinger 146). Is succeeded in reducing the illiteracy rate to 12% and instilling an interest in learning in the Nicaraguan people. Improvement in health care was another mark of a social revolution. Before the revolution in 1979, health care was limited to the affluent urban areas. Reform was made so that care was available in rural areas and government-run clinics were free to the public (Garfield).
Social reform may also be evidenced by the attempted changes in the economy after Somoza’s downfall. The Sandinistas wanted to improve conditions of peasants and workers, and believed that equality could be brought about by regulation of goods, prices and wages (Miranda 177). However, their good intentions fell short when the reform brought about disastrous economic results. During 1986 and 1987, prices increased fifteen times as fast as wages and unemployment was approximately at forty percent. The value of exports decreased and inflation grew at an alarming rate, causing unrest and disagreement among Nicarguans(Miranda 183). Faith in the new government was lost.
Overall, the intention of the Sandinistas was wholeheartedly social, but the results were not. They succeeded in improving healthcare and education, but their attempts at economic reform in the 1980s were failures. The failure in this aspect of the revolution turned many Nicaraguans away from the Sandinistas and fragmented the nation.

Chile and Allende

President Allende of Chile with Castro
President Allende of Chile with Castro
Salvador Allende was president of Chile from 1970 until he was overthrown in a U.S. backed military coup in 1973, ending his presidency before he could even complete a full term in office. He was the first Marxist to be elected to the national presidency of a democracy. His government was removed after the coup and replaced with a military dictatorship led by General Augusto Pinochet.

Although he led Chile for a mere three years, his plans for social change were not unlike that of Fidel Castro's social revolution in Cuba. In 1971 Castro made a four week visit to Chile meeting extensively with Allende. During his office Allende created a policy called "La via Chilena a socialismo" or "The Chilean way to socialism." His plan included many similarities to Castro's ideas. One major initiative was to nationalize the copper industry. Allende's predecessor Eduardo Frei Montalva had already begun to nationalize the large scale copper industry by acquiring a 51% share in the mines owned by foreign companies including the U.S. During Allende's term the remainder was expropriated and the companies that owned the mines weren't compensated. Allende also made new polices concerning the health care system, the educational system, land redistribution and agrarian reform, and a program providing free milk for infants.

The 1910 Mexican Revolution
Pancho Villa

The 1910 Revolution in Mexico has many aspects that qualify it as a social revolution, and in fact, this revolution shares many
of the characteristics of the Cuban Revolution. The situation before the revolution included an overpowering president/dictator, inequal distribution of wealth, and an upset nation, with youth and adults alike willing to fight the government in place.Although this revolution did not cure Mexico of "estates, landless peasants, low wages, inequality of wealth, foreign ownership,and other concerns of the revolutionaries," the leaders of the revolution ended the three-decade long rule of Porfrio Diaz and made great headway on these issues(Bakewell). There were several different leaders of this revolution over the ten years that it lasted: Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata, and Pancho Villa, who worked to overthrow first Porfrio Diaz, then Victoriano Huerta, and finally Venustiano Carranza. The revolution originally started because "the people had no power to express their opinions or select their public officials," and the land and wealth was heavily concentrated in the upper class(Consular), but it continued because many Mexicans saw Huerta and Carranza as illigitimate leaders, and refused to support them.
Fransisco Madero

Porfrio Diaz

The results of the Mexican Revolution were:
-A new Constitution, which supported the use of property to benefit society and land distribution, a social security system, restriction of the Church, and nationalism
-An improved educational system
-Free health-care for workers
-government housing
-The Institutionalized Revolutionary Party
-No president stayed in office longer than 6 years.

Despite all of these major improvements during, and after, the revolution, around 1940, the Mexican government started to show favor towards industrialization and capitalism, and inevitably, the goals of the 1910 Revolution were de-emphasized, making this socialist revolution mere history, instead of a present reality.


Most revolutions can be considered to be a social revolution, because most revolutions result in a "profound change" that the people of the country have worked for. However, compared with the myriad of revolutions in Latin America, particularly the ones examined above, Cuba is set apart as having staged a "true social revolution." Fidel Castro and his followers put in place several reforms that greatly improved the quality of life for Cuba's people, and enacted policies that made better use of the resources in Cuba. In both Nicaragua and Mexico, the revolution led to similar changes, but these changes did not last long after the revolutionaries left positions of power. In the case of Chile, the change in government could not really be called a revolution, as it was not supported by the people, but rather the military staged a coup.

The three other Latin American revolutions we chose were ones that were most well-known as and succesfully considered social revolutions, but as we have argued in the ranks with the Cuban revolution, there is no comparison. However, there is one revolution that followed the Cuban Revolution, proclaimed the "Bolivarian" Revolution in Venezuela under Hugo Chàvez. We chose not to argue this revolution in depth because the statement that we are arguing for (presented in the Question at the top of the page) was presented in 2001, when this revolution hadn't quite taken its roots yet. This revolution was inspired by a revolutionary spirit of Simon Bolivar, who freed Venezuela in the past from the reigns of the Spanish crown, and Chavez is now aiming to do the same, except this against the foreign power of the U.S. Much of the spirit and the involvement of the people resembles that of the Cuban Revolution, and seems to follow a real social model.

However, if Venezuela is disregarded, the Cuban Revolution does stand alone as the truest social revolution.


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Picture Citations (In the order they are presented):