The Cuban Revolution
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0027
- LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0027
The triumph of the Cuban Revolution on 1 January 1959 immediately called attention to a country hardly thought about in the United States as anything more than a place of tropical promiscuity, frequented by tourists in pursuit of illicit pleasures and risqué amusements—a setting for honeymoons, a playground for vacations, a brothel, a casino, a cabaret, a good liberty port. With a few notable exceptions, it was impossible to argue that a “scholarship” on Cuba existed in the United States. Everything changed after 1 January 1959, and since then, a formidable body of scholarship has assumed prodigious proportions. Mainly, this literature has focused on politics, policies, and the performance of the Cuban Revolution, spanning such diverse subjects as economic development, government, foreign policy, leadership, race relations, gender, and the arts. Within these general categories, subthemes have developed. For example, no other single facet of Cuban international relations has received as much attention in both countries as Cuban relations with the United States. Similarly, the study of leadership in the Cuban Revolution has focused almost entirely on the biography of Fidel Castro. This is also a literature singularly characterized by a point of view. On the subject of the Cuban Revolution, neutrality is rare. Almost everyone who writes on Cuba has a “position” on the revolution. This is not intended to invite suspicion about the quality of the scholarship. Rather, it is meant to call attention to one of the salient, if not always apparent, qualities intrinsic to the scholarship on the Cuban Revolution. This guide seeks to provide a context for this literature. The sources cited here are informative, are representative of the field, and seek to offer a balanced perspective.
The titles in this section represent the scope of the scholarship on the Cuban Revolution, with a focus principally on the 1950s and later. They provide broad, synthetic, narrative perspectives on the revolution through its principal phases of development and address the complex interplay of the national with the international, politics, economy, and culture, developed within an approximate chronological order, from multiple disciplinary perspectives, including history, sociology, and political science. Pérez-Stable 1999, Kapcia 2008, and Chomsky 2015 offer a historically nuanced perspective from which to assess the course of the revolution. Nelson 1972 is similar in approach but with greater attention to the sociology of the revolution. The role of the Soviet Union is a salient aspect of these studies. Karol 1970 addresses specifically the circumstances that produced the Cuban alliance with the Soviet Union, while del Águila 1984 examines the consequences. The repercussions of the post-Soviet years are the subject of Bengelsdorf 1994 and Eckstein 2003. These overviews provide a broad context from which to take a measure of the achievements and shortcomings of the revolution.
Bengelsdorf, Carollee. The Problem of Democracy in Cuba: Between Vision and Reality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
A thoughtful examination of the role of ideology in shaping the principal policy approaches to economic development and political participation. The study offers a compelling critique of the inability of Cuban structures to break free from the grip of antidemocratic impulses of Marxist-Leninist precepts. It is particularly useful as a perspective on Cuba during the early years of the post-Soviet period.
Brown, Jonathan C. Cuba’s Revolutionary World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.
An examination of the far-reaching changes wrought by the Cuban Revolution within Cuba, the phases of the counterrevolutionary responses, and the reverberations of the revolution in Latin America, both in inspiring the expansion of guerrilla movement and provoking the rise of right-wing governments.
Chomsky, Aviva. A History of the Cuban Revolution. 2d ed. Hoboken: John Wiley, 2015.
An updated edition of Chomsky’s survey history of Cuba, first published in 2010, set within a larger international context. Emphasis is given to political economy, with specific attention given to the post-1959 period and updated to the early years of the government of Raúl Castro, and addressing a diverse range of subjects, including early US-Cuba relations, gender, religion, gender, sexuality, rectification, and the normalization of relations following December 2014.
del Águila, Juan M. Cuba: Dilemmas of a Revolution. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1984.
A generally critical assessment of the politics, policies, and programs of the Cuban revolutionary government. Attention is given principally to Cuban foreign policy, economic development, social programs, and the development of the new institutional structures of the Cuban government.
Eckstein, Susan E. Back from the Future: Cuba under Castro. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2003.
An examination of the scope of the revolution, principally through the end of the 20th century. Adopting a thematic approach, the book examines key facets of the process of the revolution, including rectification, internationalism, and the years of the Special Period in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Farber, Samuel. Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment. Chicago: Haymarket, 2011.
A critique of the Cuban Revolution, assessing the successes and the failures of the revolutionary project. Attention is given to themes of national sovereignty, economic development, and the expansion (and contraction) of democratic spaces within Cuba.
Gold, Marina. People and State in Socialist Cuba: Ideas and Practices of Revolution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
An examination of the meaning of the Cuban Revolution as a facet of urban life as lived, with attention to urban agriculture, private enterprises, and alternative medicine.
Kapcia, Antoni. Cuba in Revolution: A History since the Fifties. London: Reaktion, 2008.
A highly readable historical survey of fifty years of the Cuban Revolution. The principal thematic highlights include the role of ideology; Fidel Castro; Cuban relations with the United States, the Soviet Union, and China; and the crisis of the post-Soviet years.
Kapcia, Antoni. Leadership in the Cuban Revolution: The Unseen Story. London: Zed Books, 2014.
A welcome corrective to the attention that has centered on the leadership of Fidel Castro. Attention is given to the character of collective leadership in the realms of policy decision-making processes. Particularly useful is the chronological framework, in which changing political and economic environments are reflected in a corresponding change in the culture of leadership.
Karol, K. S. Guerrillas in Power: The Course of the Cuban Revolution. Translated by Arnold Pomerans. New York: Hill & Wang, 1970.
A critical study of the first ten years of the Cuban Revolution, paying particular attention to the early failure of Cuban development strategies, and specifically agriculture, industry, and manufacturing, within the context of expanding Cuba-Soviet relations.
Martínez Fernández, Luis. Revolutionary Cuba: A History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014.
A sweeping historical survey of the Cuban Revolution, spanning the 1950s through 2010s. Organized in chronological fashion, which allows for an assessment of the sequence of phases of the programs and policies—both domestic and foreign—that constitute the successes and the failures of the revolution.
Nelson, Lowry. Cuba: The Measure of a Revolution. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972.
An examination of the social conditions in prerevolutionary Cuba as the setting for the transition to socialism. The principal focus is on the impact of the revolution on a number of key aspects of Cuban life, including agriculture, economic diversification, labor, education, family, press, social class, and social services.
Pérez-Stable, Marifeli. The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
A critical overview of developments in revolutionary Cuba between 1959 and 1999. Attention is given to the role of nationalism, the vicissitudes of economic development strategies, political institutions, and Cuban relations with the Soviet Union.
Sweig, Julia. Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Presented in a question-and-answer format, this overview of early-21st-century Cuba addresses a wide variety of themes, including history, politics and government, the arts, US-Cuba relations, and Fidel Castro.
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