The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

October 1962:
The Missile Crisis in Cuba

Nov 7, 2022

This article is translated from the November 4 issue #2831 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

Sixty years ago, on October 14, 1962, American rulers discovered that the USSR had installed a nuclear missile base in Cuba, setting off a crisis between the two superpowers.

The anniversary of this crisis has been used to make Russia appear to be responsible for the threat of nuclear war. But in reality, the United States, which today condemns Russia’s reactions to NATO’s encroachment on its borders, was ready to start a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the USSR put missiles near the U.S. border.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Soviet nuclear missiles were installed less than 129 miles from the American coast. For the American leaders, this was an opportunity to say that the USSR was creating a crisis that threatened to spiral toward a third world war. Yet, at this time, the United States possessed eight times more bombs and nuclear warheads than the USSR. A few months earlier, in November 1961, the U.S. had installed fifteen missiles in Izmir, Turkey, very close to the USSR, and thirty other missiles in Italy, some of which could hit Moscow in just sixteen minutes.

Four years earlier, Fidel Castro had come to power at the head of a popular revolt that overthrew the U.S.-sponsored dictator, Batista. Right after that, the White House’s National Security Council had decided to study strategies to “establish a new government in Cuba.” A year later, on May 17, 1960, Castro went even farther in defying the U.S. by implementing his agrarian reform, and expropriated American companies, starting with the United Fruit Company, that owned vast plantations in Cuba.

So, in April 1961, the U.S. government responded to this defiance by sponsoring an invasion of Cuba by 1,500 armed Cuban exiles, who landed near the Bay of Pigs. But the U.S.-sponsored invasion was a fiasco, and it was quickly defeated thanks to the immediate mobilization of soldiers, militiamen, and the entire Cuban population. This clearly showed that the Castro regime had broad support from the Cuban population.

So, the United States government set out to strangle the Cuban economy by imposing an economic embargo, an embargo that is still in force today, 60 years later. At the same time, the U.S. government secretly considered new operations to overthrow Castro.

In order to resist U.S. military and economic pressure, Castro turned to the USSR for support. As the threats of American intervention grew, these links steadily became stronger. It was in that context that on April 16, 1961, Castro proclaimed that the Cuban Revolution was socialist. Economic aid from the USSR consisted of buying Cuban sugar at a high price and selling Cuba oil at a very low price. This enabled Cuba to hold on, despite an ever-tighter embargo put in place by the U.S. government.

However, in 1962 the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, decided to launch the operation dubbed Anadyr in which 50,000 Russian soldiers and 36 nuclear missiles were sent by ship to Cuba. Khrushchev did this without seeking Castro’s agreement first. Thus, the Russian bureaucracy used Castro as its pawn in the confrontation between the two great powers, the United States and the USSR.

For the leaders of the Russian bureaucracy, this operation was an attempt to take advantage of the influence that it had won in Cuba in order to demonstrate Russia’s own military strength.

After the U.S. military discovered the missiles in Cuba, the first option that President Kennedy considered, on the advice of some of the generals, was outright military intervention. In the end, Kennedy decided on a partial blockade of the island, accompanied by the threat of the U.S. Navy intercepting, controlling, or even sinking the Russian ships going to Cuba, if the Soviet leaders did not dismantle the missile bases. U.S. naval ships, with 40,000 Marines on board, surrounded Cuba. Meanwhile, a military force of 100,000 soldiers was deployed to Florida.

The USSR finally retreated, trying not to lose face. Russian ships were not ordered to break through the blockade. On October 28, Khrushchev finally agreed to a deal in which the Russians demolished the missile base, in exchange for the United States promise not to invade Cuba. Kennedy also made a promise to withdraw the U.S. missiles from Turkey. But this promise remained secret.

Of course, after the crisis, Kennedy was made to look like the leader who avoided the outbreak of a third world war. But these U.S. leaders were far from peace-loving doves. In fact, they were in the process of escalating the Vietnam War in order to demonstrate, through barbaric napalm fire bombings, razed villages and millions of deaths, that the mighty U.S. superpower was not about to let any country escape from its sphere of influence.