In A Dictionary of Sociology, Gordon Marshall defines rebellion/revolution as “Relatively rare but historically important events in which an entire social and political order is overturned, usually by violent means.” He continues to say that while a rebellion is only the replacement of one ruling group by another, a revolution also has the new governing elite making fundamental changes. Both the Chinese Revolution of 1949 and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 completely fit the definition of a full revolution. Of course, while revolutions often originally have the best interests of the people in mind, corruption and power madness quickly leave the hosts of the former rulers to infect the “people’s” revolutionary.
China had a Nationalist government. The government was a one party dictatorship. Opposed to the Nationalists was the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This was because the CCP was given no say in the governing of the country. In addition, because the Nationalists’ leader, Chiang Kai-Shek, had the CCP forced from membership in the ruling body. Before they were completely wiped out, the CCP took to the rural areas of the country where they rallied peasant support. The Nationalist party had severely limits to its power because of this opposition and Japanese aggression.
Chiang was constantly trying to wipe out the communists, and because of this he often submitted to Japanese demands. This did not make the people happy, and so they turned to the communists. In 1934, Chiang forced the communists to leave their bases. During what became known as the Long March, Mao Zedong became leader of the CCP. The Japanese continued to take over parts of China, but Chiang ignored them and focused on the communists. Many students and intellectuals protested Chiang’s cowardice. Dissatisfaction spread, and the army turned on Chiang. They kidnapped him and released him only when he promised to end the civil war to form a united front against the Japanese.
War broke out with the Japanese, leading to World War II. While the Nationalists’ backs were turned, the CCP had plenty of time to expand and begin social revolution in most rural areas. By the time the war ended, the Nationalists were weakened, and the CCP was quite powerful. Their now superior military turned the tide, and the CCP easily took over. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Chiang turned tail and fled to Taiwan.
The CCP promised many social reforms, and delivered on these promises. The Chinese people were happy, for a time. In the early 1960s, the economy became badly disorganized, and industrial production dropped by as much as 50 percent. As the Cold War ended, Soviet assistance also ceased. China deteriorated to the state it is in today.
Personal freedom is taboo, and personal thought is unheard of. While the country may be unified under one government, the people have very little say in that government. Ideas are met with artillery, and protests with tanks.
In March of 1952, former Cuban president Batista decided he was not quite ready to leave office. He seized power, suspended the constitution, dissolved the congress, and instituted a provisional government. A young lawyer named Fidel Castro attempted to rise against Batista by attacking the army barracks at Moncada with a rebel army. The attack was a tremendous failure, and Fidel was imprisoned. He was released two years later, and “chose” to go into exile.
Fidel went to Mexico, where he began to train an army for guerilla warfare. In 1956, Castro returned with a small army of 80 followers. The return was meticulously planned, a decoy attack on a city, a perfectly timed landing, and then into hiding. However, the more details to a plan, the more things to go wrong. The landing was delayed, the attack was early, and many of the rebels were killed shortly after landing.
Castro and 11 followers escaped to the Sierra Maestra Mountains. From there, they carried out surprise attacks against the Cuban government. Later, they attacked army units. Castro worked up much support with the peasants. Batista ruthlessly attacked Pro-Castro towns, but this only stirred up more support for Castro. Though greatly outnumbered, the rebels inflicted heavy casualties. Cubans lost confidence in Batista. Batista and his generals soon saw the situation as hopeless, and fled the country to Spain.
The military easily took over the rest of the country. Many Cubans who opposed Castro fled the country, much as Castro had earlier. Although Castro had won his support under different ideals, once he had control, he publicly announced that he was actually a Marxist-Leninist. He then allied Cuba with the Soviet Union. Cuba was now a communist country.
Castro is still in reign, and his country’s economy has gone under. Most Cubans are afraid to even mention Castro’s name. A stroke of the chin is enough. No one dares speak their mind; they know the consequences. Steep fines, decades of imprisonment, and often death await those with opinions.
These two revolutions are similar in many ways. Actually, they are similar in almost every way. Both corrupt governments oppressed the people in much the same ways. Both Batista and Chiang forced their governments on the people. They imprisoned and executed people who opposed them. They also both left their countries abandoning the fight. This is probably because they did not care much about their country, only about themselves. Both revolutionaries also followed the same path. First a failed rebellion after which they left the area, a return after building force, rallying the poor peasant population, and another attack against the government which succeeds. Unfortunately, after the revolutions both revolutionaries also became just as corrupt as the government they were rebelling against. While they may have begun with the desire to do what is best for their people, and while they may have been wonderful in changing their society, these people are not always the best leaders. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and it always does. Both Castro and Mao Zedong brought a short period of prosperity to their respective societies, but they could not keep it up. They got lazy, they became pampered, and soon they forgot about doing what was best for their country. They became accustomed to the rich life, and all they cared about was themselves. They assumed the roles of their predecessors. The people realized that their leaders no longer cared for them, but they could do nothing about it.
Although the two revolutions are incredibly similar, there are some subtle differences. All of the differences are in details and the individual actions of the revolutionaries and their foes. Mao Zedong never made any pretense about his communist intentions for China, but Fidel Castro had to go his entire revolution without revealing where his true ideals lay, only revealing them once he was in power. This is because while the CCP was an already established party before Chiang’s hostile takeover, Cuba had no communist party and Castro would not be able to rally the support he needed by saying he wanted communism for Cuba. In addition, Mao Zedong defeated Chiang with a superior military after a war that had weakened Nationalist forces. Castro used a small, guerilla force and dissatisfaction among the ranks to defeat Batista’s army while it was at full strength. Perhaps this is because of the size of the countries. China is large, and a small elite force would be useless; the CCP would not be able to occupy taken areas. Cuba is much smaller, and a large army stumbles over itself on an island of its size.
Ultimately, the Chinese and Cuban revolutions both sought to improve conditions among their people. Unfortunately, internal revolutions against government usually end with the people under the same or more oppression than when they had begun. Both of these revolutions were communist in nature, either originally, or afterwards. The problem with communism is that the dictator wants everyone to be equal, except of course for him. He should be held far above the common people. In present day Cuba, a physical therapist makes $10 a month, and his doctor wife makes $20. He drives a taxi to make money, an illegal act. If caught, he will face a $65 fine, more than half a year’s pay. Many doctors fake illness to get out of work because they can make as much money washing dishes. Says the physical therapist/taxi driver ” the heart of the Cuban people is dead. They feel like they’re in a prison.” (Surfer Magazine June ‘99 p100) Just saying those words, if anyone overheard, could get the man 20 years in a Cuban prison. Communism assumes that people have morals, which is not always the case. The dictator of a working communist government would not put himself above his people; he would receive the same wages they did. A person would become a doctor because he wanted to help the community, not for the money. This system has no rewards for work well done except for a good pat on the back. The communist government may seem to be working well for a short time. The poor are given money and food, standards of living slightly improve, and the thrill of winning is all over the place. However, running a government is much different than taking over one. First, it is much more boring. For this reason, the leader of the revolution is not always best suited to be the leader of the country. Economics, foreign policy, and matters of state all have to be dealt with. In addition, many modern revolutions are fueled by aid from other countries. When that aid is no longer there, the country becomes like a druggie without his daily fix. The dependent country suffers, and the people suffer as well. Revolutions may improve conditions and lift oppression, but not for an extended period of time. In the end, unless a new stable government is quickly established, the country will be worse off than it was before. A lot of people die, and not much changes. As G.B. Shaw wrote, “Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny; they have only shifted it to another shoulder.”