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November 1998
336 pages  

6 x 9
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Bread, or Bullets!
Urban Labor and Spanish Colonialism in Cuba, 1850–1898
Casanovas, Joan
The first thoroughly documented history of organized labor in nineteenth-century Cuba, this work focuses on how urban laborers joined together in collective action during the transition from slave to free labor and in the last decades of Spanish colonial rule in Cuba.

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Joan Casanovas, born in Barcelona, Spain, is assitant professor of Latin American and Carribean history at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. He has published articles on slavery and the Cuban labor movement in the International Review of Social History and in Cuban Studies 25.
“[This] argument that urban labor was not absent in the process of colonial uncoupling between Cuba and Spain is new, tight and very well documented. The research is impressive, the data are original, and the material . . . will make this book a touchstone.”—Jeremy Adelman, Princeton University

“Bread or Bullets! is a tour de force . . . The research is extraordinary, encompassing regional and national Spanish, Cuban, and U.S. sources. It will represent a major contribution to the new literature on the history of popular sectors/classes, or ‘subalterns.’”—Harold Sims, University of Pittsburgh

“Bread, or Bullets! is one of the most important works on Cuban labor history and nineteenth century Cuban history to have been published in either English or Spanish. Joan Casanovas weaves a compelling history about the growth of urban labor as one of the leading political forces on the island during the last fifty years of Spanish rule. Casanovas argues convincingly that the urban labor movement, largely anarchist-led by the 1880s, played the central role in shaping the popular classes' drive toward independence in the 1890s after it became clear that colonial political reformism was a lost cause.”—H-Net

“Casanovas analyzes complex isues of race, ethnicity, and ideology in delineating the evolution of the urban labor movement in 19th-century Cuba. He draws his pioneering study largely from archival materials in Cuba, Spain, and the U.S., as well as from contemporary polemics and periodicals.”—Choice

"This is an insightful study that ought to become recommended reading for undergraduate courses on Latin American and Caribbean social and labor history as well as courses on colonialism." "This book takes a new approach to the study of the evolution of the Cuban labor movement after 1850. Casanovas's thoroughly researched study adds significantly to the literature on the relationship between African slaves and free urban workers before abolition, what socioeconomic and political conditions led workers to appropriate specific ideologies and strategies to improve their lives, and to what extent this sector of the popular classes assisted in transforming the colonial state. The study is most insightful when Casanovas converges the evolution of the labor movement with Spain's political developments and its colonial relationship with Cuba." —The American Historical Review

"Throughout the book are useful tables, charts, and graphs. Also of interest are numerous cartoons from contemporary newspapers and periodicals and scketches and drawings of Cubans from observers such as Samuel Hazard, a journalist from Philadelphia who visited the island during the 1860s. The book is very well organized, thoroughly researched, and clearly written. It will be useful for upper-level undergraduate courses and graduate courses dealing with Cuban society and Spanish colonialism." —Frank A. Gerome, James Madison University, History: Reviews of New Books, Spring 1999, p. 113-114.

"In order to write this convincing and enormously detailed account of Cuban urban labor. Casanovas extensively researched Cuban, Spanish, and U.S. archives and carefully reviewed nineteenth-century periodicals, books, and reports. He has addressed many of the key themes of Cuban nineteenth-century history and presented them under a new light. The history of the emigration of Cuban tobacco workers to the United States is revealingly integrated into the history of Cuban labor as the migrants are seen fluidly moving between the island and Key West or Tampa, exchanging perspectives and ideas."—Astrid Cubano, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, Colonial Latin American Historical Review (Spring 1999), pp. 234-236.

"Not only does Joan Casanovas relate a closely argued and dense history of work and class in Havana, he also provides one of the best political histories of late-nineteenth-century Cuba and Spain. . . . This work will force a major rethinking of nineteenth-century Cuban and Spanish political and social history with its close study of heretofore under-appreciated actors in the making and breaking of empire."—Christopher Schmidt-Nowara, Colonial Latin American Review, 9:1 (2000), pp. 129-131

“Casanovas successfully traces the process through which Cuban urban labor gained strength, achieved unity, and became politically radicalized beginning in the late 1880s. He ably demonstrates that the labor movement, far from blindly following the dictates of the island’s anti-Spanish elites, exhibited a profound degree of autonomy that allowed it to pursue multiple tactics and ideologies, depending on the circumstances of particular junctures. . . . A very fine book on a surprisingly understudied topic. . . . A welcome addition to the growing body of works on nineteenth-century Cuba, it integrates social, economic, and political history, providing readers with a broad picture of Cuban labor during the nineteenth century that neither reduces workers to passive victims nor idealizes their roles in the broader political struggles of their time.”––Luis Fernandez Martinez, New West Indian Guide, vol. 74, nos. 3 & 4, 2000

“This book is a solid contribution to the small but growing work on Cuban labor history. . . . Casanovas has given us an important counterpoint to the study of elites in the formation of the Cuban nation.”––Jules R. Benjamin, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, September 2000

“Bread or Bullets! is a valuable resource for further exploration of issues of race, class, and radical politics in the twilight of Spanish colonial rule in the Americas. This innovative look at the early development of the Cuban labor movement gives proper credit to internal ideological developments unique to the island and to the important role of overlooked minorities. . . . With this enjoyable work, Joan Casanovas has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the development of the modern Cuban state.”---K. Scott Kohanowski, International Law and Politics, 32 (2001)

"This study is among the most valuable works on the Cuban labor movement. It also covers Cuban social and political history and the Spanish colonial system on the island. decribing their variations and consistencies in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. . . . This is one of the few studies . . . that does not perform a linear analysis of Spanish colonialism, but explores the reasons for its actions and changes, compares its mechanisms, and examines the consequences of these changes and reforms. . . . This work's importance derives both from its presentation of a different valuation of the Cuban labor movement, and of anarchism, and from its analysis of the changes in Cuban society and the colonial regime in the last quarter of the nineteenth century."–Consuelo Naranjo Orovio, International Review of Social History, 2001

Complete Description Reviews
Pitt Latin American Series
Latin America/History

Bread or Bullets! is the first thoroughly documented history of organized labor in nineteenth-century Cuba. Based on research in libraries and archives in Cuba, Spain, the United States, and the Netherlands, it focuses on how urban laborers joined together in collective action during the transition from slave to free labor and in the last decades of Spanish colonial rule in Cuba. Nineteenth-century Cuban colonial society and the slavery system sharply divided Cuba’s inhabitants by race and origin. This deeply affected the labor movement that started in the late 1850s, as it became difficult to mobilize workers with common interests across the diverse ranks. Paradoxically, this also drove the workers to build class ties across divisions of origin, race, and degrees of freedom. This formed the basis for developing collective action. In the 1860s, the labor movement, under the leadership of white creoles and Spaniards, called peninsulares, joined the reformist movement of the creole bourgeoisie. The outbreak of the Ten Years’ War in 1868 created an extremely repressive atmosphere for labor that forced thousands of Cuban workers to flee to the United States. After the peace treaty of El Zanjon in 1878, the workers who returned and those who had remained used their experience to rebuild th Cuban labor movement at an impressive pace. This common goal led Cuban workers to fight continuously against divisions along racial and ethnic lines and to replace their moderate unionist and strongly pro-Spanish leadership with anarchists. The end of slavery accelerated the evolution of Cuban politics and the expansion of the labor movement. Spain’s shift toward reactionary colonial policies in 1890 halted this process and accentuated anticolonial sentiment among the popular classes. This helped the left wing of the separatist movement, led by Jose Marti, to launch the War of Independence in 1895 with strong working-class support. Bread of Bullets! is an important work for anyone interested in understanding Cuban society, Spanish colonialism, and labor relations in Latin America.


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