6882 - The International Sugar Market and the Cuban Revolution

In the 1950s, overproduction caused the world price of sugar to drop dramatically, resulting in severe problems for countries like Cuba whose economies were dependent on its export. The London Sugar Agreement of 1953 attempted to stabilise price levels by allocating quotas to participating countries and thereby reducing production. The Cuban government implemented this policy by shortening the period of sugar harvest. This helped to maintain the profit margins of the Cuban sugar oligarchy and the US-owned banks, but at the expense of the cane cutters who saw their incomes and numbers reduced as a result of the shorter harvest.

500,000 Cuban sugar workers responded to these cuts with their most important strike for 20 years. The strikers blocked roads, and occupied public buildings but, despite impressive levels of solidarity from other workers, they were defeated by violent repression from the army and police. The most militant of them drew the lesson from this defeat that they needed armed support to be able to defend their wages and conditions. This was instrumental in creating a working class base for the rebels led by Fidel Castro. This paper will examine how the effects of the London Sugar Agreement of 1953 led to a growth of popular support for the Cuban rebels. It will be argued that the apparent willingness of the Cuban elite to accommodate to the interests of foreign capital led many workers to a form of left-wing nationalism that fitted well with the politics of the rebels. This proletarian nationalism tended to reduce the potentially divisive effects of racism as, at the main issue was not seen as racial divisions between workers undermining their ability to fight for their common interests, but rather a question of discrimination by employers and businesses. Such discrimination was particularly prevalent in US owned businesses, reaction against which raised the level of working class anti-imperialism.  

Keywords: Cuba, Labour, Revolution, Sugar

Author: Cushion, Steve (Institute for the Study of the Americas, United Kingdom/Ver Königr)


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