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Chapter 6 - The Batista Era

On August 12, 1933, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, former Ambassador to Washington became President of Cuba (he bore the same name as his father who the was the first President of the Provisional Republic of Cuba in 1869--see above) In spite of the all out support of the U.S., his regime collapsed after being in office only 21 days. Cespedes was overthrown by the famous "sergeants revolt" (Sept. 4, 1933) led by the then unknown Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar.

Fulgencio Batista was born in 1902 in Oriente Province. His father was a peasant laborer on a sugar plantation. In 1921, he enlisted as a private in the Cuban army, where he learned typing and stenography. In 1932 Batista became a military court stenographer with the rank of sergeant .

Batista's Revolutionary Junta took power on the basis of a democratic program summed up in the following extract:

  1. Economic reconstruction of the national government and political process on the basis of a Constitutional Convention to be held immediately.
  2. Immediate elimination from public life of parasites and full punishment for the atrocities and corruption of the previous Machado regime.
  3. Strict recognition of the debts and obligations contracted by the Republic.
  4. Immediate creation of adequate courts to enforce the measures above mentioned.
  5. Undertake all measures necessary...towards the creation of a new, modern, democratic Cuba.

Batista promoted himself to the rank of Colonel and Commander in Chief of the Armed forces. Batista was the de facto dictator of Cuba and ruled through a succession of puppet presidents (seven in all). The civilian, Dr. Ramon San Martin (a professor of medicine), was appointed Provisional President of Cuba by Batista's junta. His administration in line with Batista's democratic program, enacted a number of reforms (eight hour day, women's suffrage, repeal of the notorious Platt Amendment, legalizing U.S. intervention in Cuban affairs, etc.)

Batista lost the 1944 presidential election to Grau San Martin's Autentico Party and with the millions stolen from the Cuban treasury retreated to his Florida Estate in 1950. Presidential elections in Cuba were scheduled for June 1952. The favorite candidate to win was Roberto Agramonte, Professor of Sociology in the University of Havana. Agramonte belonged to the Ortodox Party (Partido del Pueblo Ortodoxo). The Ortodoxos wanted a return to the original principles of the Autentico Party whose leaders were Presidents Grau San Martin (1944-1948) and Carlos Prio Socarras (1948-1952). [Fidel Castro was an active member of the Ortodoxo Party, whose leader Eduardo Chibas, in despair over the failure of the reform program and the corruption of Cuban institutions--in the midst of a radio program -- committed suicide, August 1951]

In the meantime Batista prepared the ground for his return to Cuba and seizure of power; he spent huge sums to get himself elected Senator from Las Villas Province; he planted his men in the mass organizations (some of them were communists who worked with him previously). He organized support in the army, the governmental bureaucracy among the landlords, industrialists, and the bankers. He cleverly took advantage of the widespread venality and colossal corruption of former administrations and promised democratic reforms. (For example, just before President Grau San Martin was about to be tried for misappropriation of $174,000,000 in public funds during his administration, thieves broke into the Havana Court House and stole the records.) The presidential elections scheduled for June 1952 were never held. On March 10 1952, Batista staged his coup d'etat and seized power.

The Communists and Batista

In January 1940, the Comintcrn sent representatives to purge and Stalinize the Cuban Communist Party. Francisco Caldero, (a self-educated cobbler, who rose to prominence in the Cuban Party and in the Castro regime, under the name of Blas Roca) became the new secretary of the Party. After the Seventh Congress of the Comintern (Third International) decreed the "popular united front" alliance with bourgeois organizations, the Cuban Communist Party established close relations with Batista.

In November 1940, the communists supported Batista's candidates in the elections to the Constituent Assembly. In return for their support, Batista allowed the communists to organize and control the government sponsored union, Cuban Confederation of Labor (CTC Confederacion de Trabajadores de Cuba) The first Secretary General of the CTC was Lazaro Pena--who, ironically, enough, held the same post in the Castro regime. In exchange for these favors the communists guaranteed Batista labor peace. In line with the Communist Party's "Popular Front Against Fascism" policy, the alliance of the Communist Party with the Batista was officially consumated when the Party joined the Batista government. The Communist Party leaders Carlos Rafael Rodriguez and Juan Marinello (who now hold high posts in the Castro government) became Ministers Without Portfolio in Batista's Cabinet. To illustrate the intimate connections between the communists and Batista, we quote from a letter of Batista to Blas Roca, Secretary of the Communist Party:

June 13,1944

Dear Blas,

With respect to your letter which our mutual friend, Dr. Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, Minister Without Portfolio, passed to me, I am happy to again express my firm unshakeable confidence in the loyal cooperation the People's Socialist Party [the then official name of the Communist Party of Cuba] its leaders and members have given and continue to give myself and my government. . . Believe me, as always,

Your very affectionate and cordial friend,

Fulgencio Batista

In the electoral campaign the Communist candidates won ten seats in the Cuban parliament and more than a hundred posts in the Municipal councils.

In line with their pro-Batista policy the communists joined Batista in condemning Fidel Castro's attack on the Moncada Barracks (July 1953 -- the anniversary of the attack is a national holiday in Castro Cuba)

. . . the life of the People's Socialist Party (communist). . . has been to combat . . . and unmask the putschists and adventurous activities of the bourgeois opposition as being against the interests of the people. . . (reported in Daily Worker, U.S organ of the Communist Party, August 10, 1953)

Throughout the Batista period the communists pursued two parallel policies: overtly they criticized Batista and covertly they cooperated with him.

The Crisis of the Labor Movement and the Anarchists: 1944-1952

The anarcho-syndicalist militant Ernesto Barbieto outlined the problems of the Cuban Labor Movement and the position of the anarchists in an article, Los Libertarios Vuelvan (The Libertarians Return: Estudios--anarchist monthly--Havana, March, 1950)

After the bloody repression of the Machado dictatorship, the libertarian militants most active in the labor movement were severely persecuted or forced into exile, and the anarchist influence was consequently considerably weakened. Another major reason for the decline was state intervention, de facto control of the labor movement.

The exclusion of the anarchists left the field open for Stalinists, reformists and professional politicians to widen and tighten their grip on the unions. The democratic phraseology of the politicians gave the proletariat the illusion that they were actually masters of their destiny. This illusion was further fostered by granting certain immediate demands, obtained without struggle or sacrifices. The workers did not realize that a coalition of employers, the state and the labor politicians made these concessions only to stave off militant action by the workers and above all, to strengthen their own positions and influence in the unlons.

For these concessions the proletariat paid a very high price; direct interferencc and de facto state control of their unions, the virtual destruction of legitimate, independent labor organizations like the General Confederation of Workers [CGT]. And the vehicle for this monopoly was the state sponsored Cuban Confederation of Labor [CTC] [controlled by the Communist-Batista coalition]. It was this threat that galvanized the militants of the Libertarian Association of Cuba [ALC] and other independent labor organizations to rally the workers in defense of the autonomy and independence of the labor movement, to expel the labor politicians and arouse the revolutionary consciousness of the working class.

The Third National Libertarian Congress was called (March 11-22, 1950) to reorganize the libertarian labor movement and adopt concrete radical measures enabling its militants to again orientate and play a decisive part in the regeneration of thc Cuban labor movement. The Congress approved the follovving resolutions:

A) fight against the control of the labor movement by bureaucrats, political parties, religious sects, and class-collaborationists

B) extend the influence of the libertarians by actively articipating in the daily struggles of the urban and rural workers for better wages and working conditions.

C) encourage workers to prepare themselves culturally and professionally not only to better their present working conditions, but also to take over the technical operation and administration of the whole economy in the new libertarian society.

D) educate the workers to understand the true meaning of syndicalism, which must be apolitical, revolutionary and federalist, which will help prevent authoritarian elements to institute a tyrannical type of unionism, actually becoming an agency of the state.

On tactical problems the Congress resolves to work actively with the workers of the CGT, the only legitimate national labor orgallization with syndicalist tendencies, and which is most responsive to the real needs of the workers.

To warn the workers that the CTC is a state-sponsored union, supported by the Stalinite faction and allied labor fakers; that the CTC is a pseudo-proletarian organdization without a trace of revolutionary ideas, spirit or practice; that the CTC is entirely dominated by dictatorial political parties and a corrupt leadership.

(signed) Ernesto Barbieto

Partial Listing of Libertarian Activities in Cuba in the 1950s (Article in Views and Comments, organ of Libertarian League, New York, Spring 1965)

In the mid and later 50s, the Libertarian Association of Cuba (ALC) had functioning local groups (delegations in Havana. Pinar del Rio, San Cristobal, Artemisea, Ciego de Avila, and Manzanillo, as well as a heavy scattering of members elsewhere). Their sympathizers and influence were in complete disproportion to their actual membership. Anarcho-syndicalist groups consisted usually of a few members and a larger number of sympathizers existed in many local and regional unions as well as in other organizations. The following is s partial listing (from one exiled comrade's memory) of the libertarian activities and influence in the six provinces of Cuba. The listing is by provinces and municipalities from west to east.

Province of Pinar Del Rio

City of Pinar del Rio--There was a delegation of the ALC that coordinated the activities in the province and which on occasion ran local radio programs. In addition, our comrades influenced and participated in the leadership of the following unions: tobacco workers, food workers, electricians, construction workers, carpenters, transport workers, bank employees and medical workers. The magazines of the tobacco, bank workers and electricians unions were edited by libertarians.

San Juan y Martibez--Libertarians influenced and led the tenant farmers union which covered a large agricultural zone.

Vinales--A comrade pharmacist personally influenced various activities of local civic institutions.

San Cristobal--There was a delegation of the ALC whose members influenced and led the Municipal Agrarian Association, the Sugar Workers Union and the Association of Tobacco Harvesters, exerting also some influence among metal workers and commercial employees.

Artemisa--There was a delegation of the ALC. The libertarians influenced and led the Tobacco Workers Union (one of the strongest in Cuba) having also some influence in Transport, sugar and food industries as well as among high school students. The group also had occasional radio programs.

Province of La Habana

City of La Habana--Seat of the National Council of the ALC, which also functioned as the Local Delegation. Edited the newspaper El Libertorio (formerly Solidaridad) which had been able to appear with but few interruptions since 1944. There were occasional radio programs and some books and pamphlets were published.

There were weekly forums at the headquarters and public mass meetings were occasionally held in La Habana and other points throughout the country. Our comrades influenced and participated in the leadership of the following unions: Electricians, food workers, transport, shoemakers, fishermen, woodworkers, medicine, metal and construction. To a lesser degree their influence was felt amoing the dockers, slaughterhouse workers, movie industry, graphic arts, and journalists, as well as in the Naturist Association and the Spanish Republican Circle. In the food workers sector, the libertarian group published a monthly periodical Solidaridad Gastronomica for over eight years without interruption. Libertarians wrote regularly for the publications of the unions of other industries imparting what doctrinal orientation they could. Sporadically, it was possible to influence various professional and student organizations.

Arroyo Naranjo--In this town our comrades influenced and led the Parents, Neighbors and Teachers Association, the Progressive Cultural Association and the Consumers Cooperative.

Santiago de las Vegas--Here our members sparked the "Mas Luz" Library, and the Cultural Lyceum.

San Antonio de los Banos--Influence in the Workers Circle and among the tobacconists.

Province of Matanzas

City of Matanzas--Some influence in the textile, graphic arts and bank employees unions as well as in the Spanish Republican Circle.

Limonar--Strong influence in the Sugar Workers Union.

Cardenas--Some influence among commercial employees and in the Sccondary School.

Colon--Influence in the tobacco workers union.

Itato--Intluence and leadership in salt workers union.

Province of Las Villas

Santa Clara--Some influence in the electricians union.

Camajuani--Influence in the tobacco selectors union.

Zaza del Medio--Some influence in the Association of Tobacco Harvesters.

Isabela de Sagua--Some influence in the dockers union.

Sancti Spiritus--Influence in the unions of construction workers and medicine, and also in the Association of Secondury School Students.

Province of Camaguey

Camaguey--Strong influence in the Agrarian Federation and some in the railway workers union and journalists.

Jatibonico--Strong influence in the Sugar Workers Union and in the peasants" association.

Ciego de Avila--There was a delegation of the ALC which for a time maintained a daily radio hour. Influence in the peasants association, medical workers union and among the sugar workers of the Steward and Estrella Centrals.

Santa Cruz del Sur--Influence in peasant organizations and in the Santa Marta sugar central.

Moron--Influence in the sugar central Violeta. Active among the tobacco harvesters of Tamarindo and in the Agricultural Union of Florencia.

Nuevitas--Traditionally this zone has always had strong libertarian tendencies. Together with Moron it can be considered the cradle of the strong anarcho-syndicalist movement of the 20s. For decades there was no other socio-political movement in the region. In the 40s there was an active ALC delegation in Nuevitas that took the initiative in the formation of various unions and of the local peasants association which was the best known peasants' organization of the island. It seized a large extension of uncultivated farmland establishing the Cooperative of Santa Lucia. In the ensuing struggle with the landlords and the Government, there were killed and wounded on both sides including one ALC member. The peasants won and retained possession of the land.

Province of Oriente

Santiago de Cuba--Strong influence in the food workers union and some in textiles and transport.

Victoria de las Tunas--Some influence in the sugar workers union.

Holguin--At one time there had been a delegation of the ALC--some influence remaining in local unions.

Bayamo--Some influence among electricians and in the Peasants Association.

Palma Soriano--Influence in the Union of Commercial Employees.

Manzanillo--Delegation of the ALC with influence among food workers and carpenters.

Contramaestre--The Miners union here had been organized and was still influenced by the libertarians.

San Luis--Some influence among bakers, commercial employees and sugar workers.

Guantanamo--Many years ago the Coffee Producers Cooperative of Monte-Rus was organized by libertarians and since then the anarchist influence has remained strong in the area, especially among the sugar workers and peasants.

During the struggle against Batista those of our comrades not then in prison or who had not been forced into exile by being too well known as enemies of the tyranny, were in the forefront of the struggle in many localities.

When Batista collapsed, there were in the Province of Pinar del Rio attempts by several peasant groups under libertarian influence to establish agricultural collectives. These were set up by the local people who seized the land they had been working. However the Government of Fidel Castro promptly saw the danger to itself of such action and crushed the collectives by force. State farms have been established in their place. Big Brother felt he knew best!

The Role of the Libertarian Movement in the Anti-Batista Struggle

This is the title of an article published in El Libertario (organ of the anarcho-syndicalist Libertarian Association of Cuba [ALC] July 19, 1960 Scarcely a year later, the anarchist press and groups were suppressed by the Castro "revolutionary government."

. . .The ALC was from the very beginning in the midst of the battle against The Batista regime. On March 10, 1952, when Batistats hordes staged their 'coup d'etat' to seize Cuba, the ALC proposed the full fighting solidarity of all revolutionary organizations to reorganize armed resistance and repulse the Batista troops. But the cowardice and demoralization of the Socorras government--"It is too late. We must avoid bloodshed"--gave Batista an easy victory. Later the blood flowed in torrents! Not for an instant did the ALC relax in the struggle to topple Batista.

In 1956, the ALC published a pamphlet Projecciones Libertarias denouncing the disastrous policies of the Batista government and stating our position. In a speech delivered to the CTC Cuban Confederation of Labor National Council (1957) our comrade Moscu on behalf of the ALC openly attacked the top-heavy leaders who controlled the CTC, accusing them and their lieutenants of outrageous corruption. His speech was widely reported in the Cuban press. Later that year (1957) the ALC published a manifesto--50,000 copies--publicly exposing the filthy maneuvers and corruption of the labor movement, clearly explaining the position of the ALC.

The ALC at all times welcomed and made its premises available to the underground militants and rebel organizations. Thus, on December 31, 1958, we hid in our hall--in spite of the risks--a young man hunted by the police for allegedly violent acts committed in Marionao against the Batista regime.

Most of our comrades were active in the insurrectionary movement: The Directorio, Obrera Revolucionario, The Federation of University Students, etc., etc. Our hall was often the gathering place for many rebels belonging to other organizations. It was even used by the Castro 26th of July Movement to train men in the proper use of firearms. And our hall became a distribution center for mountains of anti-Batista literature.

Literally hundreds of our comrades were persecuted, tortured, driven into exile, murdered. Here are a few:

Boris Santa Coloma; killed July 26, 1953 in the celebrated Castro-led attack on the Moncada Barracks. Aquila Iglesias; exiled. Alvarez y Barbieto, exiled. Miguel Rivas; disappeared. Roberto Bretau; prison. Manuel Gerona; prison. Rafael Serra; tortured. Modesto Barbieta, Maria Pinar Gonzalez, Dr. Pablo Madan, Placido Mendez, Eulegio Reloba and his sons, Abelardo Iglesias, Mario Garcia and his son: all of them in prison, tortured and in some cases barely escaping assassination. Isidro Moscu; imprisoned and left for dead after brutal tortures. With Moscu, a numerous group of comrades were also imprisoned and tortured for preparing an armed insurrection in the province of Pinar del Rio.

Our hall was raided many times by the Batista police. Shootings took place. Comrades were arrested and brutally beaten. Books and organization records were confiscated. But in spite of all these atrocities, our movement, after truly heroic sacrifices, survived to carry on the struggle with undiminished dedication...

As Batista became more and more tyrannical, more and more people joined the opposition, until by far the bulk of all classes (each for reasons of their own) rose against him and his corrupt regime. When Batista could no longer depend even on the armed forces which had always sustained him, his regime collapsed. On January 1st, 1959, he and his entourage fled Cuba.

The Cuban anarchists were jailed, tortured, driven into exile by successive governments. The "communists" and the corrupt politicians powerfully backed by Machado and Batista, took advantage of the persecutton of the anarchists to seize control of the labor movement. Now, again hounded and outlawed by the Castro dictatorship, the ranks of the anarcho-syndicalists have been reduced to a mere handful of dedicated militants. The Cuban anarcho-syndicalist movement has in a century of struggle written a glorious, indelible page in the history of the revolutionary movement, from which new generations of fighters will continue to draw inspiration.

(Note on sources--Aside from references noted in the text, information for this chapter was derived from a series of powerful articles by the Cuban anarchist, Justo Muriel, printed in an the organ of the Libertarian Federation of Argentina, Reconstruir; Buenos Aires, numbers 39-41 Dec.-April 1966; articles in various issues of Solidaridad Gastonomica--organ of the anarcho-syndicalist food and cafe workers union, El Libertario, organ of the Libertarian Association of Cuba, Havana, the anarchist papers Ahora and Combat, published in Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s; conversations with Cuban anarchists; files in the Centre International de Recherches sur l'Anarchisme, Geneva, and some data from the International Institute for Social Research, Amsterdam.)

Next page: Chapter 7 - The Revolution in Perspective.