Long Live the July 26 Movement! Long Live the Cuban Revolution!

Statement by Red Ant

Since 1959, July 26th has been a national holiday in Cuba. Celebrations involve mass festivities and mobilisations including re-enactments commemorating the attack on the Moncada barracks by a group of rebels led by Fidel Castro. Although the attack, which took place in 1953, was a military disaster with Castro’s forces being routed, it was the spark of a deeply profound revolution – a revolution that to this day, especially in Western countries, is deeply and shamefully misunderstood.

Castro was imprisoned after the attack. Acting in his own defence he gave a two-hour speech which famously ended with the words; “History will absolve me!”. All the rebels involved in the attacks were sentenced to up to fifteen years jail, but under immense public pressure received an amnesty in 1955.

But Castro could not be free in Cuba – if he was not a target of assassination by the Cuban government, the CIA would’ve most certainly had him in their sights. In Mexico, he regrouped with other rebels from the Cuban diaspora. His speech was clandestinely printed into a pamphlet and the text spread like wildfire – becoming the program for a powerful and dynamic movement known as J26.

The Cuban revolution overcame centuries of tyranny. The legacy of the slave owning Spanish was replaced by the shackles of Wall Street that bound Cuba tightly to the fortunes of the United Fruit Company and the Cuban-American Sugar Co. (nationalised in 1960 by the Revolutionary government). Workers on the plantations lived a miserable life, working only seasonally and experiencing extreme deprivations in their daily struggle for survival.

The capital of Cuba, Havana, was the plaything of the U.S. elite who mixed ruthless exploitation with illicit pleasures. The U.S. mafia and the Cosa Nostra would often meet in the most illustrious hotels of Havana to settle deals and chart new territories for their nefarious activities. This was under the watchful eye of the corrupt and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista.

Batista received direct financial, military and logistical support from the U.S. In return, U.S companies received lucrative contracts. Most of the sugar industry was in U.S. hands and 70% of the arable land was owned by foreign companies. Batista eliminated all political liberties including the right to protest and the right to strike. He also censored the media and established a wide network of secret police with Gestapo-like powers. Wide-scale violence, torture and public executions were prevalent.

Members of Cuba’s J26 movement

This did not stop Cuba from becoming a hotbed of rebellion, with universities becoming educational centres of all kinds of radicalism. Assassinations of political figures associated with the regime and bombings of the cars and offices of government officials were not uncommon. In the sugar plantations in the East and on the docks and rail yards, illegal strikes broke out sparking open conflicts with local authorities. Although the workers possessed a high level of political consciousness, they did not have an organisation capable of overcoming the challenges posed by a military dictatorship. They faced bitter reprisals, with militants subject to forced disappearance.

The main trade union federation was wracked with corruption. The main workers party, the Cuban Communist Party (which later merged with the J26 movement under pressure from its rank-and-file) had to conduct many of its activities underground.

When student leader Frank País was assassinated on 30 July 1957, the situation in Cuba seemed very bleak for all forces on the left and workers in general. País had tried to direct an uprising in Havana that was crushed. The police reprisals were bloody. The grip of the Batista regime seemed total.

Yet the J26 movement was not crushed. Combined with persistent underground organisation in the cities and in the trade unions, a guerrilla movement in the Sierra Maestra grew from a handful of rebels to a well-disciplined combat force that marched into Havana on 1 January 1959 and took power, implementing a widespread reform program that seized land and gave power to thousands of agricultural collectives. Hostilities from the U.S to the new revolutionary order hastened the path to socialism by bringing forward the expropriations of all the major branches of industry.

The social advances of the revolution came quickly. The first and greatest of revolutionary Cuba’s achievements in education was the abolition of illiteracy, which stood at 23% in 1958. A mass literacy campaign, led by 280,000 volunteers teaching some 100,000 students, eliminated illiteracy in just one year. Further advances in health and education followed. Today Cuba is ranked as having one of the highest life expediencies and lowest infant mortality rates in the world. This is despite its impoverishment caused by its colonial and neo-colonial history as well as ongoing U.S. sanctions.

Five literacy volunteers return to Havana, Cuba at the end of the literacy campaign in December 1961

Through workers councils and centralised planning, the Cuban revolution has given social control of everything that matters to the Cuban workers. This is a society built from the bottom up on participation. It is not without its difficulties, but it is a socialist revolution in construction. Its mass-based grassroots organisations are the embodiment of socialism and it works. Despite meagre resources, this is a society that can resist and meet the needs of its people.

Sadly, the true history of the Cuban revolution is often misunderstood or mischaracterized, even by the most progressive sections of the left, including socialist organisations. They either do not understand the Cuban revolution, or deliberately obscure the role workers played in winning and maintaining revolutionary power. In misunderstanding the role workers played in their own self-emancipation, Cuba’s critics sully the true nature of the Cuban revolution. Describing it as a top-down dictatorship they adopt the same propaganda used by the capitalist class across the world to distract us from the importance of the Cuban example.

The U.S. is hell-bent on crushing Cuba. Its trade blockade against Cuba is the longest in world history. A former dean of the American University School of Public Affairs, William M. Leo Grande summarised the US blockade against Cuba as, “the oldest and most comprehensive US economic sanctions regime against any country in the world”. Yet Cuba resists, Cuba prevails. The Cuban people have not bent to the will of U.S. imperialism. Cuba stands proud of its revolutionary history and achievements – most of all its international solidarity efforts.

Where the U.S. sends missiles and drone strikes, Cuba sends doctors and health professionals. In November 2019, the United Nations estimated that there were over 30,000 Cuban doctors active in over 67 countries, a truly astonishing feat for a small, besieged island nation.

While the Cuban revolution and its leadership may not meet the orthodox standards of some socialists based inside the imperialist states, by defeating the power of their own capitalist class and replacing it with a revolutionary power, the Cubans have in fact carried out a revolution.

The J26 movement was essential to the overthrow of the Batista regime. It was more than just a military combat force. It was a highly conscious cadre force that carried out patient training of militants during its revolutionary war. The combination of guerrilla training and political education was indispensable in the formation of building a foundation for leadership – the absence of such an organisation would have meant that the anger of the Cuban working class would have been dispersed, making a revolutionary victory impossible.

The achievement of the J26 was to cohere a nucleus of revolutionary fighters that could take initiative when it mattered and strike while the iron was hot. Without such a movement of dedicated revolutionaries, its society could not have been reconstituted. The masses were not aloof from the revolutionary transformation – they actively supported it and helped spread its energy and consciousness throughout their own ranks, overthrowing one of the most rotten regimes in the history of the Americas.

Cadets carry flags during a May Day rally in Havana, Cuba May 1, 2022. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

For that we at Red Ant are inspired by the events of J26 and stand in solidarity with the Cuban revolution, its internationalism and its spirit of resistance. The Cuban revolution is the herald of a better world. In this epoch of environmental devastation and threats of global war, it serves as an example for all humanist progressive thinking people. Revolution is the only path open to the  working class to achieve real power and to resolve the pressing social and environmental questions of our time.

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