Why hasn't there been a revolution in Cuba to topple Fidel Castro? That question is often posed in defense of the Cuban dictator as if the absence of such a revolution argued against the need for one or represented a silent — very silent — referendum on Castro's continuation in power. Of course, there have been many foiled revolutions against the Castro regime over the last 49 years, more, in fact, than we know or will know until the mass graves are excavated and the witnesses can at last break their silence.
In the early years of the regime it was more difficult to conceal popular uprisings: the anti-Castro rebels in the Escambray Mountains, who waged a real revolution as opposed to Castro's operetta revolution in the Sierra Maestra Mountains, were too numerous and successful over too protracted a time to be ignored, and were not, ultimately, defeated by Castro but abandoned by the the Americans, as the freedom fighters of the Brigade 2506 had been abandoned before them. The fact remains, however, that all these attempts to topple Castro, known and unknown, great and small, have failed. Putting aside for the moment U.S. duplicity as a factor, why has no revolution succeeded in toppling a regime which only the greatest disdain for the Cuban people could suppose is acceptable to them or worthy of them?
Perhaps if we examine the history of other revolutions the answer will become clearer.
The American Revolution was possible because Britain's colonial subjects enjoyed all the rights of Englishmen, and, therefore, were the freest people on earth, so free, in fact, that they regarded a penny tax on tea as "tyranny."
The American Republic itself, which replicated British liberties in its Constitution and Bill of Rights, nearly succumbed to a domestic revolution shortly after it was founded known as the "Whiskey Rebellion," when Americans, taught to regard taxation as tyranny, rose against their government because it levied a tax on distilled spirits. Washington himself marched at the head of the army against the "rebellers" (i.e. revolutionists). It was the Whiskey Rebellion that was the real "Second American Revolution," not the War of 1812. If this country's Founding Fathers had created a police state rather than a democracy (flawed, but still a democracy), there would have been no Whiskey Rebellion or even the Great Rebellion (i.e. Civil War), for that matter, because it is freedom not the absence of freedom that provides the necessary conditions for revolutions, rebellions and civil wars.
At the time of the French Revolution, the peasantry of France was Europe's wealthiest and could well afford to eat cake, the popular myth notwithstanding. The Bourbons, though autocratic, were not despotic. When the Bastille was stormed, no political prisoners were found inside and the revolutionaries had to content themselves with freeing a pedophile (the prison's sole inmate). The guillotine was introduced by the Revolution and thousands of political dissidents or just "people in the way" fell prey to it. Under Louis XVI, there were no executions of the opposition. The Reign of Terror began with the Revolution, not the King.
The outcomes of the American Revolution and French Revolution were quite different, but both were made possible because neither George III nor Louis XVI was a despot. Revolutions require a certain amount of freedom to succeed. There has never been a successful revolution against a police state; nor was a revolution ever waged by people with empty bellies. It is the day-to-day struggle to avoid starvation that keeps the people too busy to rebel. A man who is too hungry to rise in the morning will never be able to rise in arms in the evening.
The Cuban Revolution was no exception to this rule, and the fact that the Castro regime is still in power also conforms to it. Before 1959, Cubans enjoyed the highest standard of living in Latin America and were constrained by none of the restrictions of a police state. Most importantly, the Rule of Law prevailed and there was no capital punishment. Castro, when he surrendered in the wake of the terrorist attack on the Moncada barracks, did so because he knew his life was inviolate and that he would live to fight (or run) another day.
Cubans have no such assurances today. Castro's Cuba is a police state which uses food (rationed in Cuba for 47 years) as an instrument of social control and requires internal passports to move from province to province, or city to city. Official permission is even necessary to move to another house across the street and the authorities must be notified when guests (even family) are staying in one's home. On every street, of course, there is an official neighborhood vigilante committee charged with spying upon and denouncing all "unusual activity."
Before Fidel Castro confiscated anything else, he took all firearms from the Cuban people. There was no "gun control" in the Thirteen Colonies, Bourbon France or Batista's Cuba. Without food, without freedom of action and without guns no revolution can succeed. Or, rather, every revolution which is attempted will fail.
The fact that there has been no successful effort to overthrow Fidel Castro in the last 49 years does not argue that the Cuban people have not wanted to overthrow him but that it is impossible for them to do so under prevailing circumstances. They can, certainly, shed rivers of blood; the regime will surely oblige them in that respect and has. They can fill the prisons and the regime will build more prisons; the only "housing stock," incidentally, that has increased in Cuba over the last half century. The Cuban people can choose to die on their feet rather than live on their knees, which means, of course, that they can commit collective suicide and end up that much closer to the ground.
The path that they have taken may not be more heroic but it is certainly more practical than walking off a cliff, which is what Gandhi advised Jews to do in the face of the Holocaust to give the rest of mankind a lesson in "moral greatness." Of course, there can be no morality where there are no mortals, nor humanity without humans. The greatest resistance to tyranny is not to die but to survive. Cubans have had enough martyrs to last us 1000 years, indeed, to share with all mankind. We do not need more martyrs. We needs more survivors, or else the future will not belong to men who love liberty but to men who are content with tyranny.