The Cuban Revolution has faced immense hardship since the mid-twentieth century, with the imperialist forces of the United States and its allies constantly attacking and trying to undermine the efforts of building socialism in Cuba. This hardship has only been magnified as the crisis of Covid-19 still looms over our heads, with the difficulties of maintaining public health against a pandemic only exacerbating the shortages and similar issues created by the imperialist crusade against revolutionary Cuba. In true fashion to the capitalist establishment, solidifying his statement that “nothing will fundamentally change,” US President Joe Biden has acted in opportunistic fashion, co-opting and warping the narrative surrounding recent protests on the island as a means of trying to expand western hegemony through an illegitimate color revolution.
The Biden Administration, in contrast to claims made during Biden’s 2020 election campaign that he would reverse some of Trump’s anti-Cuba policies, has placed another selection of sanctions on the socialist country. All the while, at least based on a post on Twitter, Biden claimed to stand with the Cuban people while enacting policy that actively harms them. This contradiction highlights one of the biggest mistakes of those who support such sanctions, amplifying claims of Cuba being a dystopian nightmare as a result of socialism, while completely ignoring the proper context as to why exactly Cuba has faced such difficulty since the beginning of the revolution into the modern day. In revisiting the book Cuba for Beginners by Mexican cartoonist and intellectual Rius, this work proves to have maintained relevancy in regards to Cuba’s development and struggle against colonialist and imperialist aggressors.
As is the standard of the For Beginners series, Cuba for Beginners is presented in an easily digestible format, with simple yet effective language that displays a clear and concise timeline of the history of Cuba. Presented essentially in the style of a comic book or graphic novel, the illustrations and other visuals present in this book serve to keep a reader engaged in the reading, with these visuals being utilized primarily to further explain a concept or event. This simple presentation style ultimately works in the favor of the communist cause, allowing for those unfamiliar with Cuba’s history or caught up in the reactionary propaganda of the imperialist powers that tell constant lies about Socialist Cuba and socialism itself.
Rius spends the early portions of the book explaining how the hands of Spanish colonialism ravaged the island for a great deal of time, that is until the United States began to take a strategic interest in helping liberate Cuba from the Spanish (that interest consisting mainly of sugar, tobacco, and the like). The import of African slaves by the conquistadors, colonialist and imperialist powers fighting over control of Cuba (particularly Spain, Britain, and the US), and the systematic slaughtering of indigenous Cubans being only about a third of pre-socialist Cuban history examined in this book before covering the rise of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, the 26th of July Movement, and other aspects of the militant struggle against western imperialism and colonialism. The contributions of Cuban hero José Martí are also briefly discussed in this work.
Discussing the struggle against the various US puppet governments installed in Cuba, particularly the exploits of one Fulgencio Batista, and the aftermath of overthrowing the Batista regime allows for a wider perspective in understanding the conditions that Cuba continues to work through to this day. For instance, Rius touches upon the fact that for much of Cuba’s existence, the means of production had remained in the hands of colonial powers and/or assets of such powers. With the expelling of the Yankees and their lackeys, the liberating of Cuba in all forms from the grip of imperialist control, there were blows dealt to the structure of Cuban industry and the economy.
Between page 80 and page 92 of the second edition of Cuba for Beginners, Rius introduces three of the major factors leading to the initial struggle of the Cuban economy; the agrarian reforms, the urban reforms, and the amount of those in connection to western powers that fled the island. A fourth major factor in consideration is the combination of the Cuban Missile Crisis with John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, and the Kennedy administration’s enacting of the total blockade of Cuba. The ultimate effect of these four factors is then touched upon from page 128 to 132, particularly in regards to industry and production within Cuba. To quote the text;
“The American technicians left… and in the process took along the few Cuban technicians… The factories were without money, formulas and management… the United States quit sending raw materials and prohibited other countries from supplying them to Cuba. And this happened to all the factories the Yankees had there.”
At least in the early stages of the Cuban Revolution, the majority of industry that was at one point controlled by western powers had wound up, for a limited time, completely abandoned, with production effectively halted. Of course a great deal of the Cuban people stepped up to re-engage in factory production, displaying the power of a collective, united people dedicated to the developing of socialism and strengthening Cuba.
The second edition of this book, however, was published all the way back in 1971. One of the issues of this book that does need to be addressed and put into proper context is the fact that at least in some aspects, Cuba for Beginners is noticeably dated. This is particularly highlighted in Rius’s explanation regarding the industrial situation in the early stages of Cuban socialism. Many of Cuba’s most important trading partners came from the Soviet Bloc and adjacent countries. From the Soviet Union to the German Democratic Republic, Cuba relied on importing the fruits of heavy industry from Eastern Europe. Rius claimed that due to such connections, Cuba had no need to undergo a mass industrialization campaign, which in the context of when this book was published indeed makes sense due to Cuba’s utilizing of its rich natural and mineral resources along with the development of light industry. Historically, however, the reliance on heavy industry from the Soviet sphere proved to have disastrous results. This is by no means the fault of the Cuban government, at least not in a major way. The illegal dissolution of one of the biggest trading partners for any government would result in hardship, especially when Cuba in particular has simultaneously been bombarded with sanctions in addition to other attacks on the island’s economy.
Despite some of the more dated aspects of Cuba for Beginners, the book overall gives the reader a greater context to the issues that have been facing modern Cuba by explaining both the difficulties and positive advancements of the political, economic, and cultural structures of building socialism in Cuba on the ashes of western colonialism, not to mention the task of constructing socialism surrounded by the yoke of imperialism. Keeping the historical contexts of Cuban development in mind, along with the time at which this book was published, Cuba for Beginners by Rius allows for those unacquainted with the history of Cuba to (hopefully) garner a stronger understanding of both the historical and modern conditions of socialist Cuba. Strengthening the general understanding of Cuba’s history and advancement outside of the bourgeois sphere is vital in combating the imperialist narratives designed to demonize, destabilize, and manufacture consent for a continued offensive against Cuba.
Jymee C is an aspiring Marxist historian and teacher with a BA in history from Utica College, hoping to begin working towards his Master's degree in the near future. He's been studying Marxism-Leninism for the past five years and uses his knowledge and understanding of theory to strengthen and expand his historical analyses. His primary interests regarding Marxism-Leninism and history include the Soviet Union, China, the DPRK, and the various struggles throughout US history among other subjects. He is currently conducting research for a book on the Korean War and US-DPRK relations. In addition, he is a 3rd Degree black belt in karate and runs the YouTube channel "Jymee" where he releases videos regarding history, theory, self-defense, and the occasional jump into comedy https://www.youtube.com/c/Jymee