Anarchism and Communism in Cuba

Interview with author Arnold August – Published on Dissident Voice - Part 1, by Kim Petersen, January 6, 2015.

Political economy is more often than not depicted as a Left-Right bifurcation. This is too simplistic. It overlooks the difference between, on the one hand, right-wingers such as the Conservatives, Labour Party, and Liberal Democrats from, on the other hand, the far Right British National Party in the United Kingdom. It also omits the differences on the Left, for example, between Communists and anarchists … //

KP: History tells me that solidarity is the sine qua non of a successful and long-lasting evolution. However, Cuban anarchist author Frank Fernández tells of a bad history between Cuban anarchists and communists.8 Anarchists are said to have never fully trusted Fidel Castro, seeing him as hungry for power.
After the revolution, Fernández says many anarchists were purged by Castro. Later, the anarchist publications El Libertario and Solidaridad Gastronómica were suppressed, and the anarchist movement was forced into exile.
How do you see this history? And can participatory democracy genuinely be construed to flourish after a revolutionary movement – likewise dedicated to liberty and social justice, albeit a competitor – has been driven from the political scene?

  • AA: I fully agree with your statement about history showing that “solidarity is the sine qua non of a successful and long-lasting evolution.” Let us try to define the term “solidarity,” seeing as the thrust of your question is the role of the anarchist tendency in the Cuban Revolution, with which it has conflicted. I guess we both agree in general with the following: Cuba’s track record is clear, and even exemplary, when the concept of solidarity is applied to Cuba’s foreign policy (given the examples of its role in the liberation of Africa from apartheid and its medical and educational assistance to hundreds of countries around the world, including, most recently, its participation in the fight against Ebola, recognized even by the U.S. Administration). However, applying “solidarity” to its domestic policy implies, in my view, that the Cuban Revolution has always striven to instill as a sine qua non among the grassroots the social consciousness of the collective good, that is, solidarity. This consists of the economic, social and cultural flourishing of the people at the base as part of the new society that they strive to build. Solidarity on the domestic front does not mean favouring a free-for-all where even political trends that disagree with this orientation should be allowed to profit from the outstretched and altruistic hands of Cuban solidarity.
  • Let us take your example of anarchism. Granted, this is complex. However, allow me to establish as a talking point a dictionary definition of anarchism: “a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups.” Anarchists are basically against the state in any form. The common denominator is opposition to “authoritarianism” in the form of a capitalist/imperialist state, such as under the U.S.-dominated Batista regime or a revolutionary state such as to be found in Cuba.
  • This is why, when you mention the “bad history between the anarchists and the communists” or that the anarchists “never really trusted Fidel Castro,” I would tend to categorize these as understatements. The readers can consult in full the pro-anarchist book that you cite above, as I did. What caught my attention was this introduction to the book, whereby the pro-U.S. dictators are put on the same footing as Fidel Castro: “power-hungry dictators as Gerardo Machado, Fulgencio Batista, and Fidel Castro.” Furthermore, the anarchist author writes, in reference to the Fidel Castro-led 1950s revolution: “His armed uprising, known as ‘the struggle against the dictatorship’ (despite later propaganda), never had a solid campesino base, let alone a proletarian base. It was, rather, in good part the work of capitalism and the Cuban bourgeoisie.” Really?
  • In the same vein, while writing against the suppression of the anarchist newspapers you mention, El Libertario and Solidaridad Gastronómica, the anarchists provide us with some excerpts of the papers before they were outlawed by the revolution. There are innumerable appeals against authoritarianism, placing the revolutionary leadership on the same footing as the old Batista regime, even going so far as to complain about scenes in 1959 of the Cuban youth in uniforms that “remind us” of the “Mussolini” and “Franco” youth. Do these anarchist documents and many such others not reveal a thinly disguised outpouring of hatred that is openly expressed by the U.S. and its allies against the Cuban revolution? In fact, in the very same document on the suppression of the papers, the authors inadvertently reveal that “in the face of the growing oppression, the libertarian movement, while constrained to modulate its criticism so as not to be confused with the counter-revolutionary reactionaries or the more liberal bourgeoisie, nevertheless succeeded in making its position unmistakably clear” (emphasis added). Readers can perhaps reach their own conclusion by asking, if they are so revolutionary, how can their publications be “confused with the counter-revolutionary reactionaries”?
  • You ask me how I see this history. The way I view it may not be how you perceive it; however, it makes for a healthy debate among people genuinely concerned about the legacy and the future of the Cuban Revolution. There is opposition to the Cuban Revolution from the openly right-wing pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist forces based in the West with their allies in Cuba. There is also opposition from the left dissidents in Cuba and the West, based mainly in the U.S. and Spain, but also in some Latin American and Caribbean countries. These leftists oppose what they call the authoritarian and dictatorial nature of the Castros. They do this, of course, in the name of the workers and democratic socialism. The anarchists fall into this latter category of opposition from the left.
  • This is a very fine line to tread, from open (right) to disguised (left) opposition. This is why I highlighted above that, in working out their position against the revolution, they unwittingly let the cat out of the bag by fearing being “confused with the counter-revolutionary reactionaries or the more liberal bourgeoisie.” I believe that this opposition from left dissidents is far more dangerous than that from those on the right. This is based on a serious study of this type of opposition, covering a period that includes U.S. policy in 1958 up to today. Unfortunately, my book is the only one, to my knowledge, both inside and outside of Cuba, whether in English or Spanish, that deals with these left dissidents. For those interested in this question of anarchism as part of the left dissidence we are now dealing with, it is worthwhile consulting my book to gain access to this theme alone. (See Cuba, 95-86, 98, 107-8, 137-44, 176-8, 207-8.)
  • The last part of your question asks, “Can participatory democracy genuinely be construed to flourish after a revolutionary movement – likewise dedicated to liberty and social justice, albeit a competitor – has been driven from the political scene?” Given my serious concern about the leftist dissidence to which anarchism currently belongs, I will state something that may startle you. Participatory democracy can be construed to flourish if, among other tasks, it also takes on opposition to these left dissidents. Why? The left dissidents include the anarchists eating away at the Cuban Revolution from within, especially among some of the youth, intellectuals and artists. When I say participatory democracy will prosper if it opposes left dissidence, I am talking about political and ideological resistance and not necessarily physical coercive action. People at the base, especially youth and intellectuals, and both the famous artists and the not-so-well-known performers, must confront the left dissidents, rather than collaborate with them. The left dissidents need credentials from the ranks of the Cuban Revolution in order to give them credibility so that they appear in a better light. Why is this so? By incorporating the collaborative efforts of revolutionaries, the dissidents, whose publications are based on eclecticism and incoherence, can more surreptitiously spread their message against the “authoritarian” nature of the Cuban Revolution. This remains the thrust of their publications. Their basic and consistent target is the authoritarianism of the Castros and the Communist Party of Cuba, by far overshadowing the occasional comment that seeps in from those in favour of the revolution.
  • With regard to the suggestion in your question that the anarchists are dedicated to liberty and social justice, I already have dealt with this. However, let us expand on the specific word “liberty.” In words, the anarchists are dedicated in the extreme to “liberty.” In fact, they are also known as “libertarians.” This is to emphasize that they are so much in favour of “liberty” that they have no qualms about calling for the downfall of the Cuban Revolution. The Cuban state – according to the left dissidents, including the anarchists – supposedly puts the brakes on liberty because of the important role that the state plays in striving to develop the socialist system. They see every state, per se, as an impediment to liberty. Their main target in Cuba has been the seed of the new socialist state as it emerged in the Sierra Maestra in the late 1950s, and then the socialist state with all its twists and turns from 1959 to date.
  • You ask whether the anarchist trend can be considered to have been a “competitor.” In the late 1950s, there were different political groups, such as the July 26 Movement founded by Fidel Castro, the communist party and other organizations, including the March 13 Revolutionary Directorate. They were, in a sense, in competition with each other because of their different views. For example, the communist party originally did not favour the path of armed revolution that had been suggested by Castro (Cuba, 111–2). Nonetheless, these three groups did not allow their competing views to get in the way of unity. Over a lengthy period in the late 1950s and early 1960s, they united to form the new Communist Party in 1965. However, the anarchists isolated themselves from these collaborative efforts, given that their main target and focus of attention was the authoritarianism of the communists and the Castro movement. Their opposition to Batista was far less evident, a goal that united all the progressive forces and left the anarchists out in the cold. Thus, the anarchists were not, as you suggest, “driven from the political scene”; rather, they steered themselves away from the mainstream political revolutionary movement that targeted the U.S.-dominated Batista regime.

(full long interview text).

(Next: In Part 2, Arnold August discusses the apparent opening in US-Cuba relations).

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