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Cuban revolution collection

 Collection
Call Number: MS 650

Scope and Contents

Comprised of approximately 5,000 photographs and 60 unedited films shot in Cuba between 1957 and 1969, the Cuban Revolution Collection is primarily the product of two filmmakers, Andrew St. George and David C. Stone. Their works were purchased in 1969 and 1970 by the Antillean Research Program at Yale University. Directed by history and sociology professor Anthony Maingot, the program primarily focused on the comparative study of Cuba and Haiti. It was funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation that was overseen at Yale by anthropologist Sydney Mintz, Spanish literature professor José Juan Arrom, and others. Although not originally intended for acquisition of library or research materials, Maingot convinced members of the board overseeing the Program, including Mintz, of the unique research value of the St. George and Stone materials. The board then agreed to purchase the two collections for future researchers.

According to Maingot, St. George contacted him in early 1969 with the offer to donate his collection of photographs and provide "captions" or descriptions of the images in exchange for a fee of $5,000. His reason for doing so, as he explained to Maingot, was financial need. Having worked for most of his life as a free-lance photojournalist, St. George enjoyed the political and ideological freedom that his work gave him, but sometimes found himself without regular sources of income. Despite the insistence of Maingot and Sterling Library's Latin American Curator Lee Williams, St. George was only able to complete the descriptions for two of the nine contact books comprising his set of photographs. He did, however, visit Yale in the fall of 1969 and provide an oral narrative that explained the outtakes of films he took during three of six visits he made to Fidel Castro's guerrilla forces in the Sierra Maestra between 1957 and 1959. Included in the collection is a voice recording of St. George describing the scenes in these films and identifying many of the individuals that they feature.

In 1970, Maingot received a separate invitation from David C. Stone to visit his studio in New York City, view samples of recently shot footage of Cuba's revolutionary society and consider purchasing his films for Yale. Maingot quickly accepted the invitation. Maingot respected Stone for his many previous films, all of which were critically acclaimed. He knew, however, that Stone's recent film, "Compañeras and Compañeros" (1970) had been a failure, both financially and according to the critics, and had received only scant attention when it first premiered at a small art theatre in New York City a few months earlier. Stone was anxious to sell the collection, admitting that he needed to recover the investment that he had made in shooting the film over an eight-month period in Cuba. Stone originally asked Maingot for $13,000, a sum at which Mintz and others balked when Maingot presented the figure for consideration. All parties eventually agreed to offer Stone the same amount that St. George had received. In Stone's case, it was considered an outright "purchase" and unlike St. George, Stone was not required to provide any written materials explaining the nature of his films, their content or context.

Until 2005 when the Seaver Institute provided a grant for the digitization of the images and films and preparation of accurate descriptions of them, the vast majority of the collection's photographs remained unused and its films never seen. Aside from the difficulties that researchers encountered when attempting to use the poorly identified materials, the image contact sheets and reel-to-reel 16 mm films with separate sound recordings were fragile. With the Seaver Institute grant, the images and films were digitized and Lillian Guerra, Yale University Assistant Professor of History and Cuba specialist, and Jorge Macle Cruz, vice director of research at Cuba's National Archive, collaborated to write detailed descriptions of the materials for the inventory.

Research Value of the Collection

Archival sources in Cuba for the study of the Cuban Revolution are extremely rare and accessibility to them is almost entirely restricted to officials of the Cuban government. Archival sources in the United States are primarily government records pertaining to the Bay of Pigs invasion and various congressional hearings held on national security matters in the Caribbean. This collection, therefore, provides rare visual and textual documentation of the everyday realities of the armed struggle in Cuba during the height of the war against Batista and during the most ideal phase of the Revolution itself from 1959 to 1969. While primarily comprised of St. George and Stone's own work, the collection also includes a rich series of 1954 film outtakes from the Canadian Broadcasting Company that were purchased by Maingot. Together, the materials provide a spectrum of popular voices and reactions to the Cuban government's gradual ideological evolution toward the unique form of Communism for which it became known by the late 1960s. Eventually it was replaced by a Soviet-style model of Communism based on economic central planning and top-down forms of political control (institutionalized formally in Cuba's revolutionary Constitution of 1976). The form of Communism that the films in the collection reveal, however, was one dominated by the state's use of moral rather than material incentives in rewarding citizens' labor and an official focus on the voluntary transformation in the consciousness of citizens to collective rather than individual goals.

Because St. George was never professionally trained as a photographer and enjoyed writing much more than picture-making, the enormous quantity of photographs that make up his body of work from the period 1957-1960 reflects a desire to document the Revolution through the creation of dense and interlocking visual narratives. Thus, St. George often took hundreds of photographs of an event from every possible angle, enabling the researcher to chart the course of a mass demonstration, for instance, from the early morning hours in which massive crowds began to gather in the Plaza of the Revolution, to late in the night when the rally culminated with one of Fidel Castro's famously long speeches. Highlights of St. George's materials include hundreds of images documenting life among the guerrillas and urban underground before 1959 and the trial and execution of Batista's war criminals from January through February 1959. Also featured are hundreds of images documenting Fidel's trip to the United States in April 1959; Cuba's first May Day rally in 1959; the first formal visit of the Soviet Vice Premier to Cuba in February 1960; the visit of Indonesia's nationalist leader Sukarno in March 1960; and nationalizations of foreign oil company properties in 1960. St. George also recorded subtle transformations of the political landscape that took place as the government and the Cuban Communist Party allied with each other in early 1960 and began spreading propaganda through such means as the painting of walls and posting of public signs.

Like St. George's early revolutionary photographs and pre-1959 films, David Stone's uncut 1969 films feature scenes shot from virtually every angle of Cuba's revolutionary society. They include a literature class at a government boarding school, an indoctrination session led by once illiterate peasants-turned-political-instructors, an electoral assembly of the Communist Youth, and a celebration of volunteer cane workers in the now infamous 1970 Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest. Ranging from actual scenes to those that were staged, these visual narratives document the "utopia" of revolution, as well as its authoritarian values, contradictions and internal conflicts. These films bear witness to the events their creators and subjects meant them to depict while also serving as independent, eyewitness accounts of an historic period in Cuban history.

Andrew St. George and David Stone had entirely different political views. St. George was an avowed anti-Communist whose desire to be free of personal political compromise led him to refuse to become a citizen of the United States, despite the fact that he lived there for over fifty years of his life. Even though St. George clearly admired Fidel Castro, he remained highly suspicious of the concentration of power in Fidel's person that the revolutionaries' rise to power quickly brought. He also disdained the political culture forged in the early months of the Revolution that encouraged unconditional loyalty to the regime and seemed to automatically attack critics as counterrevolutionaries. By contrast, David Stone was a committed Marxist who admired the Cuban Revolution. He recognized that going to Cuba during the most explosive phase of international protests against the United States' role in the Vietnam War represented an opportunity to condemn United States imperialism in all its forms. Stone believed that the Revolution's uncompromising defense of Cuba's national sovereignty made any internal evidence of authoritarianism immaterial. He viewed Cuba as the one Latin American society that had successfully managed to resist United States pressures at the height of the cold war. Stone and St. George's works complement each other, therefore, because of the divergent experiences, assumptions and expectations that informed their creation.

Description of the collection written by Lillian Guerra.

Dates

  • 1955-1970

Language of Materials

The materials are in Spanish and English.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Original audiovisual materials, as well as preservation and duplicating masters, may not be played. Researchers must consult use copies, or if none exist must pay for a use copy, which is retained by the repository. Researchers wishing to obtain an additional copy for their personal use should consult Copying Services information on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright has been transferred to Yale University for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection in Series I, excluding boxes 17-19, and Series II. Copyright status for other collection materials in Series III and Accession 2011-M-004 has not been transferred to Yale University and is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Andrew St. George in 1969 and from David C. Stone in 1970. Gift of Adolfas Mekas, 2010. Transferred from the Latin American Collection Curator, 2016.

Arrangement

Arranged in three series and two additions: I. Andrew St. George Photographs, Films, and Papers, 1957-1960. II. David C. Stone Films and Photographs, 1969-1970. III. Other Films, Photographs, Postcards, and Printed Materials, 1955-[1968].

Extent

112.02 Linear Feet (307 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ms.0650

Overview

The collection consists of photographs, films, printed matter, memorabilia, and other materials documenting various periods in the Cuban Revolution, particularly the years 1957-1960, 1964, and 1969. The materials were primarily created by photographer Andrew St. George and filmmaker David C. Stone. St. George's photographs provide extensive documentation of the 26th of July Movement from 1957 to 1959, and of Fidel Castro during his first year as prime minister. The films created by David C. Stone in 1969 include footage of the Vento School, Juventud Comunista, Turcios Lima Labor Brigade, Urbano Noris sugar mill, and orientadores rurales. The footage was incorporated into Compañeras y Compañeros, a 1970 documentary produced by David C. Stone, Barbara Stone, and Adolfas Mekas, a copy of which is in the collection. There are outtakes of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation film from 1964 of scenes of Havana and Santiago and interviews with Fidel Castro, students, cabaret performers, and a female lieutenant in the revolutionary armed forces. The collection also includes a small amount of papers, some of which were compiled by Andrew St. George, including a manuscript notebook of an interview of Fidel Castro by St. George, medallions and ribbons from the 26th of July Movement, and miscellaneous printed materials.

Biographical / Historical

Born in Hungary in 1923, Andrew St. George was a highly educated man who spoke eight languages. Although he attended Columbia University in the 1950s, he never graduated, preferring to find work as a writer and photojournalist in order to support his young wife and frequent collaborator, Jean, and their growing family. A staunch anti-Communist who disdained affiliations with political organizations of any kind, St. George worked for United States military intelligence in Vienna after World War II. According to his wife, he also collaborated with Raoul Gustav Wallenberg, the Swedish businessman who used his diplomatic post as head of the Swedish Legation in Hungary to save tens of thousands of Jews targeted for extermination by the Nazis in the final years of the World War II.

St. George was inspired by Herbert Matthew's historicNew York Times report in February 1957 on Fidel Castro's guerrillas that contradicted official reports of their deaths at the hands of Cuban government forces. He immediately set about looking for a way to get to the Sierra Maestra and render a more thorough view of happenings there. Armed with an advance of only a few hundred dollars, as well as photographic and recording equipment, St. George quickly fulfilled his hopes and became the author of one of the first full-length interviews conducted with Fidel Castro and his guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra during the fall of 1957. Published in the February 1958 edition ofLook magazine, the article featured never-before-seen images that documented guerrilla life and provided evidence for the kind of authority that the 26th of July Movement commanded among peasants in Cuba's far-eastern region. Among admirers of the piece was Fidel Castro himself. He personally contacted St. George through the Civic Resistance Movement's New York City-based headquarters, directed by Mario Llerena, and invited him to make subsequent trips to the Sierra Maestra. In all, St. George made six trips to the Sierra Maestra, staying and living with the rebels for close to seven months. Additionally, St. George was one of only two journalists to accompany Fidel Castro as he and his forces descended from the mountains of Oriente to declare victory in Santiago de Cuba and proceeded by caravan on a long, seven-day victory march to Havana. For his work on behalf of the Revolution, Fidel Castro awarded St. George the same gold medal he presented to Herbert Matthews during his first trip to the United States in April 1959 as Prime Minister of Cuba. In addition to the article inLook magazine, St. George also published firsthand accounts of his time with the guerrillas before and after the fall of Fulgencio Batista in such magazines asCoronet,Cavalier, andLife. During 1959 and most of 1960, St. George lived in Cuba, eventually bringing his wife and small child to Havana. By the summer of 1960 when the Cuban government began the first nationalizations of foreign property, St. George had become increasingly disillusioned with the Revolution's authoritarianism. He was also wary of Fidel Castro's apparent disposition to forsake the many promises he had made to combat Communism in Cuba that St. George had dutifully reported from the time of the guerrillas' war in the Sierra through the first year of the Revolution in 1959. When Fidel eventually announced that the Revolution was socialist and would align itself with the Soviet Union, St. George felt personally betrayed and morally outraged, as did many of the revolutionaries with whom Fidel had fought and whom St. George had known. When some of these men began to organize armed expeditions to Cuba from bases in Florida to carry out acts of counterrevolutionary economic sabotage and terror (such as the burning of cane fields), St. George reported on their actions, especially forLife magazine. However, after nearly losing his own life during one such mission to Cuba as a journalist in the company of exiles, St. George eventually stopped reporting on Cuba. He parted company with the legacy of what his wife, Jean St. George, has described as his "passionate love affair" with the Cuban Revolution.

Although a number of writers have alleged that St. George worked for United States intelligence agencies such as the CIA, it is unlikely that he did so. Indeed, in the 1960s and 1970s, both the CIA and Fidel Castro's government used the charge of an affiliation with the United States intelligence agencies to discredit journalists whose reports on the Revolution ran counter to their respective political ends. Additionally, in the late 1950s, most journalists who interviewed Fidel Castro and other opponents of the United States-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista were routinely interviewed by United States officials with dual roles in both consular and intelligence affairs. While it is likely that St. George submitted to such interviews, both he and his family consistently pointed out that this did not make him "an agent" of any United States intelligence organization. St. George's only known contact with the CIA came when he made his first trip to the Sierra Maestra in 1957 and was subsequently arrested by Fulgencio Batista's own security agents. The CIA, which maintained close contacts with Batista's security forces and sometimes doubled as agents for them, was responsible for freeing him. At the time, Batista and the United States government were under increasing fire from the press and public for the atrocities against civilians (including the death of at least one Cuban journalist) that the Cuban government was committing. Thus, the CIA's intervention on behalf of St. George was part of a wider effort to prevent further negative publicity. There is little doubt that St. George and his family were themselves the subject of constant surveillance from United States intelligence agencies throughout the 1960s and 1970s, an experience that St. George documented in an article forEsquire magazine in June 1975.

Andrew St. George died in May of 2001.
Little is known about David C. Stone (December 30, 1932 - April 30, 2011). Characterized by Anthony Maingot as a "self-styled New York Marxist" and "a radical" with a vast network of contacts that included the Black Panthers, urban guerrillas and other antiestablishment groups, Stone's body of cinematographic works includes many independent films produced between 1963 and 1975. Almost all of the films produced before his project in Cuba received glowing reviews in theNew York Times. Largely focused on such counter-cultural themes as the day-to-day lives of a group of urban guerrillas living in New York ("Ice" 1971) or a seven-year love triangle among beatniks in Vermont ("Hallelujah the Hills" 1963), Stone's films combined political parody and cynicism with a dark wit and doomsday social analysis. For Stone, filming in Cuba over the course of an eight-month stay during the late 1960s provided the chance to record a living social experiment in political justice that he and other leftists believed had worked. The footage he created formed the raw material for a 1970 documentary on Cuban youth titled "Compañeras y Compañeros." Given Stone's ideological orientation and commitment to supporting Cuba's struggle to defend its national sovereignty against the United States, the film depicts the Cuban Revolution as socially and politically justifiable.

Made with the authorization of the Cuban government, the film stands out for being what all the rest of Stone's previous and subsequent films were not: upbeat, celebratory and positive. In this respect, the silences in "Compañeras y Compañeros" may speak more loudly and clearly than its messages. As a critic for theNew York Times noted at the time of the film's release in October 1970, "[Stone's real-life protagonists] believe so completely in the accomplishments of the revolution to date, and in its goals, that they waste no time trying to balance all the pros with even a few cons…. In fact, in addition to ideals, they seem to share a collective vocabulary that is so small and austere that it would seem to do a disservice to the grandeur of the revolutionary dream, the goal of which must be humanism." The Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográfica (ICAIC) sponsored Stone's trip in 1969, and Stone, his wife Barbara, and Ukranian co-producer Adolfas Mekas were accompanied by two state intelligence agents acting in the guise of chauffeurs. This does not, in itself, explain the glossy, triumphant tone of the finished film that was the fruit of their endeavors in Cuba. It is unlikely that the Stones ever knew of their chauffeurs' hidden agendas; given the filmmakers' trust in the Cuban revolutionary state, it is even more unlikely that they would have ever ventured a guess. Like many opponents of United States cold war policy who supported the Cuban Revolution unconditionally because of its defiance of United States power and championing of socialism, the Stones may have believed that the Cuban state did not rely on such methods for policing the movements of visitors and controlling the views that foreigners had of Cuba and Cubans. Ironically, it may have been precisely the Stones' own blindness to the Revolution's flaws and contradictions that enabled them to film so many scenes rich in the evidence of those flaws and contradictions. In their unedited form, these films do not depict Stone's edited version of a society unanimously echoing the official definition of revolution, nor do they mirror the Cuban state's contemporary media portrayals of a society free of indoctrination, militarism and authoritarian methods. Rather, the films speak in unexpected and complex ways that invite multiple interpretations of the revolutionary process

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital reproductions of the contact sheets in Series I can be found in the Manuscripts and Archives Digital Images Database (MADID). A link to MADID can be found on the Manuscripts and Archives web site.
Title
Guide to the Cuban Revolution Collection
Author
written by Lillian Guerra and Jorge Macle Cruz, in collaboration with Staff of Manuscripts and Archives
Date
December 2006
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • June 2016: finding aid revisiion description not supplied

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)