Making a New People: Education in Revolutionary Cuba


248 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-919573-46-0





Reviewed by J. Frank Harrison

J. Frank Harrison taught at St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia.


Having captured political power, those who lead revolutions seek to transform the societies over which they have gained sway. Socialist revolutions have as one of their goals a new morality and culture possessed by every citizen, who will then join in the cooperative endeavour voluntarily and with enthusiasm. Socialist revolutions also want to modernize their societies through developing industry, which demands the training of technicians. Socialist revolutions also promote equality, at least initially, which involves making people capable of and confident in organizing their own existences. Culture, productivity, and equality being the goals, it is education that becomes the means, as important as coercion for the process of the development of socialism.

Such is the subject matter of this unashamedly admiring account of the developments in Cuba’s educational system since 1959. We see education as a vehicle that politicized all of Cuba’s population during the literacy drive of the early sixties. Thereafter we see education in Cuba as linked with a socialist conciencia, drawing people into the great social experiment, a model for other countries of the Third World. It is refreshing to see a developing country putting its resources into educational self-help, harnessing human energy and creativity, giving its citizens a sense of their own self-worth and potential.

At times the more sceptical reader might be forgiven for seeing gung-ho communist educators as preparing a population for economic development. The humanities have little place in Cuban higher education. Technicians have priority, with Marxism-Leninism providing the cultural framework (if it can be called that). This may be “necessary” for development in a country without the resources of a mature industrial economy, as the author argues. On the other hand, philistinism under communist rule would appear to be as offensive as that capitalist philistinism which seeks to reduce our own educational systems to the level of technical schools supporting the needs of business and the economy.

This is a book full of detail, rich in personal anecdotes as well as quantitative information. It provides interesting reading, emphasizing as it does the political impact that education can have, and indeed always does have — whatever the systems of social and economic organization.


MacDonald, Theodore, “Making a New People: Education in Revolutionary Cuba,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024,