Sunday, 15 February 2009

Book Review – Cuba: A New History by Richard Gott

With this January being the 50th anniversary of the 1959 Cuban Revolution, I thought it was about time I delved a little more into the history of the island in preparation for the very successful public meeting Bangor Socialist Party held last week.

The real strength of the book is Gott’s presentation of the pre-revolutionary history of the island. Apart from knowing the island had been invaded by the United States during its struggle for liberation from Spain, I knew relatively little about the country in this period. Gott’s presentation of this period is very illuminating.

Yet the part that most people would be interested in is his account of the 1959 revolution and the regime led by Castro afterwards. However, for me this is the weaker part of the book. I felt that Gott covered it fairly superficially, you are reading it waiting for him to go into further detail. There are some exceptions such as Castro’s relationship with the Soviet Union and the support given by Cuba to anti-imperialist conflicts in the third world.

I suppose this is somewhat clichéd, but I just get the feeling that Gott is approaching Cuba from a different direction to me. Gott seems to approach it from middle-class intellectual’s point of view and various trials, middle class opposition groupings etc. take up the focal point of his narrative and you are left wondering what the ordinary peasants and workers thought of what was going on. He also takes the view that all that Cuba had to do with socialism was just words whilst they had Soviet support, and that element of Cuba is now gone due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. He also, mistakenly, seems to believe that Cuba had returned to Capitalism with the reforms instituted in the 90’s that led to the creation of the dual dollar-peso economy.

As I said at the beginning, the early parts of Cuba’s history are really interesting reading. The latter part, although still interesting, leaves the impression on you of events that are only half-analysed. It is a book of two halves, but the latter doesn’t undermine too much the strengths of the former part.

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