Recalling the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

All small private businesses were lumped in the same sack and eliminated.

HAVANA TIMES — On March 13, 1968, Fidel Castro, in one of his inexhaustible speeches, announced to the Cuban people what he called the “Revolutionary Offensive.”

In reality though, there was nothing revolutionary about it; on the contrary, it was an essentially counterrevolutionary measure intended to eliminate the urban petty bourgeoisie.

This would mean the elimination of one of the few areas of social autonomy that remained in the country after the brutal nationalization of everything that moved.

After that step, all that remained outside of the state sector was a limited sector of small farmers formed into different types of cooperatives. In this condition, they owned 30 percent the land but produced something like 70 percent of the food for the Cuban population.

The revolutionary offensive was another step forward in achieving socio-political control over the population and in the construction of a totalitarian regime with Thermidorian aspirations, which finally consolidated on the basis of Soviet subsidies.

It was also another step to repress everything that seemed strange to a new morality, though this appeared more like the plebian asceticism of a medieval peasant movement than a Marxist program.

With it they took with them everything that was different from the way the new leaders perceived dignity: homosexuals, critics, irreverent artists, longhairs, religious believers – and of course small business owners.

This was also an outburst that was particularly damaging in the sense of being anti-urban. This was in the same sense that cities were considered spawning grounds for amoral manifestations while the rural world was the ideal place to cultivate new revolutionary virtues.

If there is any doubt of this, one need only read this short paragraph from a homophobic and anti-urban speech that Fidel Castro delivered in March 1963:

“Many of these bums … have taken their licentiousness to the extreme of wanting to go public settings to hold their effeminate shows… Socialist society cannot allow that kind of degeneration. There are a number of theories, though I’m not a scientist, I’m not a technician in this area, but I have always noticed one thing: the countryside does not produce that sub-product. I’ve always seen this, and I always keep this in mind.”

From this, obviously, came practices such as the agricultural mobilizations that we were forced to participate in for decades, schools in the countryside (which terrorized families up until very recently); and the fateful “Military Units to Aid Production” (UMAPs), which were labor camps that destroyed the lives and dreams of thousands of Cubans.

All of this was an attempt to submit a Caribbean population to a stoic and monastic status that, naturally, the new political class escaped, since they reserved intimate leisure areas for themselves within and outside the country.

I recently took another look at the speech that announced that revolutionary offensive. I hadn’t returned to it since the day I heard it, when I was a teenager, amid a crowd that packed San Lazaro Street.

Reading it has helped me to reaffirm my belief in the value of democracy, public debate and an independent media.

The report presented by Fidel Castro against small urban businesses — in the middle of a several-hour tirade that included observations about the drought, the struggle against imperialism and the victory of the 10 million ton sugar harvest — was a gross manipulation of public opinion that could have only been carried off from a position of unchallenged power.

Fidel Castro’s report was based on a study made of 6,452 private businesses — friteros (churro stands) included — as well as 955 bars.

This was done by Communist Party members from each municipality with the support of the government surveillance operations of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), which obviously ensured that the findings were constructed according to the conclusions that were to be attained in order to legitimize the operation – particularly those conclusions that best nourished the political passions of the moment.

It was such that the study provided data that was frankly infantile, such as specifying that 66 percent of customers of bars and 72 percent of the owners were “antisocial and amoral” detractors from the revolution’s aims.

Though these claims were difficult to verify, they were sufficient to identify which happy boozers were the wavering enemies of the revolution.

In addition, Fidel Castro grotesquely distorted statistics in his speech.

He said, for example, when the truth was that only 28 percent of businesses had no legal records, he presented this as “almost a third.”

Similarly, when he had to explain that 51 percent businesses maintained proper sanitary conditions, 40 percent ad regular conditions and only 9 percent were poor; he presented data showing that the hygiene of almost half of these facilities was “not good.”

This he did successively, which would have made the report an invitation to laughter had it not been for the fact that behind him was an expropriation wave directed against workers, against the “people” that Fidel himself defined in his 1953 legal plea, and against the few remaining spaces of social autonomy.

I say expressly “workers,” because there’s something that neither the eagerness of the researchers nor the manipulation of the speaker could hide: Of the 6,542 small businesses analyzed in Havana, 72 percent were registered and paid their taxes on time, 88 percent of the owners worked in their own business and relied on labor family, while only 31 percent of them had other employees.

Seventy-three percent of the families that owned businesses had no other income, and the overwhelming majority had daily gross revenues of less than one hundred pesos.

Interestingly, only 6 percent of business owners had requested to leave the country – this, in a country where, even then, the only way to express discontent was with one’s feet.
—–

(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.



8 thoughts on “Recalling the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968

  • “This would mean the elimination of one of the few areas of social autonomy that remained in the country after the brutal nationalization of everything that moved.”

    I support the Havana Times for bringing critical perspectives for Cuba and a broad range of critical left wing positions. But this is a disgrace. This article tries to cover up a clearly counterrevolutionary and pro-capitalist and imperialist agenda up as being revolutionary.

    While i agree that the nationalization of all parts of the petty bourgeoisie was wrong, Trotsky often warned against “over-planing” of every little part of society in the soviet union. This article is not only against this move but against all of the nationalizations! Which means he is against the removal of capitalism and US influence on Cuba. And in effect, also against every advantage Cuba has achieved since the revolution. Free education, healthcare and reduction of poverty, hunger and homelessness has all been achieved on the background of the nationalization of the economy.

    Such a right wing, counterrevolutionary and reactionary view should not be allowed on Havana Times. It will only leave a mark of disgrace on your excellent website.

    Furthermore, the article is full of faults and scientific distortions.

    “In addition, Fidel Castro grotesquely distorted statistics in his speech.

    He said, for example, when the truth was that only 28 percent of businesses had no legal records, he presented this as “almost a third.””

    To pose this as a “grotesquely distorted statistics” is absurd. Whit only 5% from “a third” this is exactly and precisely “almost a third”. Most scientific articles would say the same. The writers statement is just directly ridiculous.

    Secondly: To state that owners of small shops are workers is both a lye and a scientific distortion. Workers does by classification not own their own means of production. That is essentially what the definition of a worker is. On the other hand, the petty bourgeoisie is defined by owning and working on their own means of production as contrary to both workers and capitalist (who owns but does not work on the means of production). Owners of small shops, small peasants and the likes, is petty bourgeoisie, not workers. This should be clear to all. Alone for this scientific distortion should the article not have been published on a serious webpage like HT.

    Reply
    • You at least got one thing right, Niklas, the Revolution not only brought “free education & free healthcare” (something which was free before) but also complete poverty, hunger and homelessness all achieved on the background of the nationalization of the economy.

      LOL! How easy it is to spot the dreamers (mental masturbators) from the ones that have lived the reality of the madness and misery that is the so called Cuban “revolution” – Sad indeed that we can’t trade you all for the Cubans that want to leave but can’t.

      Reply
  • Niklas, here is a brief biography I found for Haroldo Dilla Alonso on a university website:

    “With a doctorate in Urban Sociology, he was director of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the Centro de Estudios sobre América (Centre of American Studies) in Havana. Between 2000 and 2005 he was general coordinator of research at FLACSO (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, Mexico City) and is presently coordinator of the “Cities and Borders” Multidisciplinary Studies Group in the Dominican Republic. He has edited and published more than a dozen books, noteworthy amongst which are Participación y desarrollo en los municipios cubanos (Participation and Development in Cuban Municipalities – La Habana, 1993); Alternativas de izquierda al neoliberalismo (Left-wing Alternatives to Neoliberalism – Madrid, 1997); Frontera en Transición (Frontier in Transition – Santo Domingo, 2007); and Ciudades Fragmentadas (Fragmented Cities – Santo Domingo, 2007). He has been a teacher and researcher in different universities in Latin America, Europe, Canada and the United States, while also working as a consultant to a range of international development agencies.” Source: http://www.cccb.org/en/autor-haroldo_dilla_alfonso-31359

    Haroldo is obviously knowledgeable about Cuba’s history and politics. I find his posts in the HT informative and insightful.

    Reply
    • One’s history of research and knowledge doesn’t mean he’s exempt from errors.

      Reply
      • That’s true, though if you’re rounding 28% is closer to a quarter than a third.

        Regardless, Niklas’ overarching complaint is that Haroldo has counter-revolutionary views and his writings should therefore not be published in the HT. If “counter-revolutionary” is understood to mean that Haroldo holds views counter to those of the Castro dictatorship, this is true. Unlike Niklas, what I value about the HT is that it includes the views of both those who support and those who are critical or oppose the Castro regime and/or its policies.

        Reply
        • Mark G, you are purposely distort what i wrote. I made it very clear that I support the HT in bringing critical views from Cuba. But there is a different in bringing left wing criticism and right wing criticism. To criticize the Castro government is not to be counterrevolutionary. But to be utterly against the nationalizations that were the economic revolution is to be counterrevolutionary. As I wrote very clearly, I also disagree with the nationalization of the small shops and the like. In facts, I mentioned Trotsky in my comment and his criticism of this kind of nationalizations in the USSR. This alone should show anyone who knows anything about Cuba and communism that I do not come from the same wing of communism as the Castros.

          I do not believe in censorship, but I think that the strength of the HT is to show the leftwing criticism of the cuban system. I support them in bringing all kinds of leftwing views also those I disagree with, but this article is clearly rightwing and counterrevolutionary and should therefor have found another page to print its article.

          Also, you make no answer to my points about the scientific distortions in the article that alone should have meant that the article should have been rejected. Haroldo Dilla Alfonso may have written many books, but clearly, he does not understand the most basic science of classes. Many so called “experts” have written many books and have fancy jobs, but really know nothing of value. The rigthwing economist that believed that there would newer come a new economic world crisis is just one example. So to mention a long list of books and positions as your only argument just shows the lack of any real arguments and your own inability to criticize “authorities”.

          Reply
          • Niklas, here is what you wrote in your original response: “Such a right wing, counterrevolutionary and reactionary view should not be allowed on Havana Times.” I disagree. All perspectives should be welcome in HT.

            In your most recent response you wrote: “Haroldo Dilla Alfonso may have written many books, but clearly, he does not understand the most basic science of classes.” I presume you are referring to Haroldo describing self-employed owners of small businesses as “workers.” Only a Marxist ideologue would think of these highly motivated, energetic people as being something other than a “worker”, and hard-working ones to boot.

  • One of the Dalai Lama’s books (The Art of Happiness) changed my life in university so I always heed whatever he says. In this article, the importance of teaching social ethics at a young age is stressed. While I agree with this, I feel like the bigger problem with corruption is poverty. It’s a chicken and the egg arguement, isn’t it? People are often corrupt because they live in poverty and need money while corruption breeds more poverty by empowering a few at the cost of many.

    Reply

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