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Castro and the Police State Left

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Castro & the Police State Left

Fidel Castro has died. His enemies and his sympathizers are framing their predictable responses. I am addressing the latter. I have read many glowing eulogies from the Left in the last few days, some hagiographic, some more carefully worded, but all quite problematic in what they say, imply, and more especially, in what they do not say about ‘Fidel’ and the Cuban system.

I come not to demonise nor to idolize. He was not my friend or comrade, and just as I do not talk about Barack or Hilary or Donald, so I will not call him ‘Fidel’.

I come not to deny the violence and many atrocities of US imperialism, including those perpetrated against Cuba. I come not to deny that such external violence and pressure always exacerbates all internal tensions, problems and conflicts in any social system.

I come not to deny that the terror, suffering and obscene levels of inequality and poverty in most US client-states in Latin America were much worse than in Cuba.

I come not to equate Castro with Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Pinochet. Cuba knows no killing fields, death squads or outright gulag system. Castro was the son of a wealthy landowner, taught by Jesuits, a lawyer, an avowed Jacobin fan of Robespierre and Napoleon who let himself be called The Maximum Leader and did not sing and dance like other Cubans but loved to harangue and preach to them for five to seven hours at a stretch. Despite all this Cuban ‘communism’ was of course culturally tempered by heat, cigars, guitars and a certain erotic sultriness. 

I come not to ask about good subjective intentions but about objective social facts.

In fact, I come to ask ‘the Left’ what it really stands for.

I ask whether the Left wishes to be an authoritarian Police State Left or a radically democratic and libertarian one that eschews all double standards when it comes to evaluating oppression and suffering, no matter where.  

I ask the Left whether it is always on the side of the victims, the common people, the workers, the suffering people, the dissenters from authority or whether it is as often on the side of the new ‘revolutionary’ oppressors and ruling classes who are responsible for the massive suffering of those common people, those victims and dissenters.

I come to stand by those thousands executed without due process after the Cuban revolution. I stand by the persecuted anarchists, liberals and non-political dissenters. I stand by the thousands sent to forced labour camps and prisons where conditions are so abysmal that both Amnesty International and the International Red Cross are denied access. I stand by the dissidents, homosexuals, Jehova’s Witnesses, conscientious objectors who were sent to do their compulsory military service and to be ‘re-educated’ for their ‘deviations’ at such forced labour camps during the 1960s under appalling conditions, malnourishment and maltreatment.

I stand by the workers who have no right to strike or form their own unions but must, as in all Communist ‘worker-oriented’ states, join state-controlled unions and sign pledges of loyalty to the Communist Party. I stand by labour activists harassed and imprisoned for trying to form independent worker-controlled unions.

I stand by the victims of the state terror that puts informers on every block and sends Rapid Response Brigade mobs to engage in public ‘acts of repudiation’ (verbal and physical abuse, stone-throwing) against the homes of alleged dissenters and ‘counter-revolutionaries’. Even when I may not share their ‘politics’, I stand by the more than a million Cubans who have, often at risk of their lives, voted with their feet and fled the country in disgust (there was no freedom of travel until 2013).

I stand by the citizens, dissenters and human rights activists who are harassed, intimidated, sometimes beaten and prevented from free association, free assembly and free speech. I stand by all Cuban citizens who wish to have free access to information of their own choosing instead of living under total state and Communist Party control of the media (TV, press, books, internet). Cuba has found itself at the bottom of the global press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders and is one of the ten most censored countries in the world.

But is this fair? What of the other side of the ledger, what of Castro’s achievements? What about Cuban education, health care, Third World medical aid?

Yes, education is universal and free. It is also a state propaganda and conformity machine demanding devotion and loyalty to Castro and the state without the teaching of critical thinking. It once strongly encouraged students to ‘denounce to the militia anyone who threatened the Revolution, including friends in the neighbourhood with long hair, cousins who listened secretly to the Beatles, and boys who were said to kiss other boys’ (Luis M. Garcia, ‘How the Maximum Leader made my family leave home’, SMH 28//11/2016, p, 17).  A file is kept on children's ‘revolutionary integration’ and this file accompanies the child for life. University options depend on how well the person conforms to Marxist ideology. The Code for Children, Youth and Family states that a parent who teaches ideas contrary to communism can be sentenced to three years in prison.

Yes, health care is universal and free. Cuban Third World medical aid has been spectacular. However, there is no right to privacy or a patient’s informed consent or the right to protest, refuse treatment or sue for malpractice. Doctors are expected to keep records of patients’ ‘political integration’. There are many complaints about empty pharmacy shelves and ‘politics’ in medical treatment and health care decision-making. Like Mao’s food exports during Chinese famines and shortages, it may not be too far-fetched to speculate that Castro’s generous medical help to Third World countries may to some extent also have been a form of ‘soft power’ geopolitical influence-seeking bought at the expense of Cubans’ health care.  

If ‘socialism’ is to be simply equated with decent education, health care, adequate food and housing for all, then a social democratic welfare state as in Germany or Sweden, the US New Deal and even Hitler’s Third Reich also come fairly close to being ‘socialism’.

If ‘socialism’, in contrast, means a radically participatory society and economy in which the people democratically decide all major political and economic issues, then Castro’s Cuba, like all ‘Communist’ systems, is much further from ‘socialism’ than are social democratic capitalist systems. Socialism, if it is still to mean anything at all, is not the abolition of democracy but its deepening by extending democracy to economic decision-making, both in workplaces and regionally/nationally.

To conclude. Instead of hagiography or ‘balanced’ praise, a Left worthy of the name would be applying critical analysis to a Cuba in transition. Central to this might be Cuba’s ruling class of apparatchiki and its various factions after Fidel Castro. For example, 40% of the Cuban economy belongs to the holding company Gaesa that controls the Cuban military’s business interests. Its president Lopez-Callejas is thus one of Cuban ‘socialism’s’ most powerful men; another is Castro Espin, Raul Castro’s son and coordinator of the military’s and Interior Ministry’s intelligence services. Old Communist hardliners like Ventura seem pitted against younger liberals like Mariela Castro Espin and Bermudez.

As in Russia and China, one can from a rigorously Marxist perspective fairly comfortably predict that the opening of Cuban state capitalism to the power of market capitalism will most likely be accompanied by the usual in-fighting, jockeying and shifts within the ruling elites from being communist apparatchiki to being the new capitalist oligarchs. Their wealth and privileges will increase, as will inequality, and a rising middle class will finally get cable TV, flash cars, Chinese consumer goods and holidays in Miami and Las Vegas.

Discussion 35 Comments

  • Bat Chainpuller 30th Nov 2016

    One gets a slightly different viewpoint about the rev and Castro reading Frank Fernandez's Cuban Anarchism. And all those "good" things that Cuba has achieved, are just obvious things. The sorts of things that you bloody well hope any good society would get right. Health, education and stuff. And it should be about the people, not about the leaders and what "they" have done or the party and what "it" has done. Screw the pedestal. But Cuba was never a participatory society in the IOPS sense. Like with unions, it should be the workers telling them what to do, not the other way around. Workers are the union as with independent unions. The people are the government.

    I agree with Peter. He says it better. Hagiographies can be fun to read, if they're about Buddhist masters, super heroes and the like, and one keeps one's feet on the ground, but when they are about the Castros of the world, they can make you a little sick. But I'm sure there are some good articles going around, I'm just not interested.

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 30th Nov 2016

      Thanks, Bat. Yep, Fernandez is useful, Sam Dolgoff too (at libcom). Yep, 'screw the pedestal' (bit hard on the groin perhaps). Pretty sure Albert wouldn't publish the above at ZNet, given the 'Fidel' hagiography there. (So much for his 'anarchist' side BTW). Wonder what the ZNet house anarchists (N. Chomsky, Graeber, Grubacic...) are going to say, if anything? Silence is golden...

    • Bat Chainpuller 1st Dec 2016

      I wrote a reply to this yesterday but it seems to have disappeared. Perhaps I didn't hit the post button. Yeah, noted the Z thing. I've got the Dolgoff. Have you read his son's bio? It's terrific. I do think however that Michael has his own views on Cuba that would be pretty consistant with his position on coordinator rule and the rest. As a publisher you put multiple views out there I guess. Stir the pot. But it's too much for me and I get sick of the "personalising" of things, or reducing them down to figureheads. You get similar to and froing re Chavez. You see the good and then an ex pat tells you what an arse "he" is rather than looking at the policies, what and who they are directed towards changing/helping, and what could be done better with all the powers outside aligned against him, not the least US Aid and NED. Instead, you see pictures of Chavez holding a Chomsky book at the UN or something. Or you watch a Four Corners bucket of shit on the "leftwing" ABC, that clearly paints Chavez as a dictator ruining the lives of the privileged! I wanted to smash my TV that night! But ultimately I don't care about Chavez. It wasn't ever about him nor should it have been.

      But I guess this can be a problem when "revolution" revolves around charismatic leaders, particularly Marxist Leninist ones it seems, rather than libertarian socialist ideas or institutional change that leads to furthering and eventual implementation of a participatory society.

      I still think that the libertarian socialist side doesn't do big well. The Wobblies and anarchists between about 18880 and up to the Spanish Rev got kind of close. Marxists don't have that problem due to not having a problem with hierarchical structures it seems. It's a real problem in my book (a very little book by the way) that needs to be rectified or everyone seems to go down the same path of bullshit again and again. That's partly why I get shitty when the "left" gets all fixated on personalities and historical sentiment. It's a kind of distraction.

      I mean if the Sydney Swans are to bloody win the premiership in 2017, talking about 1933 or even 2005 ain't going to do nothing. Come on boys!

  • Michael Pelaez 30th Nov 2016

    In any analysis of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution one MUST take into account that Cuba was for all practical intents and purposes, a country at war, attempting to defend itself against an economic, psychological, propaganda, and covert terrorist war waged by the world's greatest super-power. It's easy to criticize one party rule, censorship, jailing of dissidents (many of whom by the way, had links to US intelligence agencies and/or ultra-right wing Cuban exile groups), and lack of civil liberties, when your homeland is at peace. Additionally, Cuba had the misfortune of having to ally itself with the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc in order to have a guarantee that the US would not wage an overt war against the country and in order to be able to conduct some semblance of international trade, which was made extremely difficult by the US economic blockade, and in order to gain access to oil. Such an alliance distorted the revolution as Cuba was forced to adopt Soviet style policies. But it was either that, or lose it's independence. Lastly, one cannot underestimate the positive psychological and political effects Castro and the Revolution had on all of Latin America. While Castro was indeed authoritarian, one needs to understand him and his rule in the context of Cuban and Latin American history and the long history of American aggression towards ANY moves towards real independence, social reforms, and curtailment of US corporate power by Latin America. I can't emphasize it enough - Cuba was under constant attack by the USA and a country at war has very little room for fully participatory politics and freedoms. Ask the average Cuban what they think and they'll likely respond that while not a perfect example of socialism in action, the Revolution improved the lives of the masses and they supported Fidel.I write this as the son of Cuban exiles, as one who actually visited Cuba in the early 90s, and as one who wrote his master's thesis on Cuban development.

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 30th Nov 2016

      Just did a long response that disappeared after I submitted...
      Cut it short. Thanks, Michael, appreciate the considered response, and your personal background.

      Still differ in readings, as per blog.

      Admit external US imperial factors in blog (BTW after Kennedy's and Cuban middle classes' strong support for getting rid of Batista and supporting Castro in the hills, while Communist Party supported Batista and rejected Castro as putschist adventurist)..

      Don't think they 'distorted' anything or 'forced' Castro (not 'Cuba' BTW, not identical) to side with the Soviet imperialist bloc. Other third world countries managed to stay non-aligned with either imperial blocs. Castro an authoritarian and Marxist-Leninist from the word go. All Marxist-Leninist 'revolutions' or coups produce Marxist-Leninist oppressor states by intent. Since Bakunin anarchists have pointed out that socialism without freedom produces worse tyrannies than capitalist ones.

      Sieges, ex- and internal designated enemies have been used by tyrants to justify and cement their tyrannies throughout history. The 'war on terror' is used to much the same effect in the west today. A critical left should be hip to such tricks, not justify them.

      I note you vilify many of Castro's victims as the proverbial enemies of the people. I note there is not a single word of empathy for Castro's thousands of victims. I wonder why that is.

      So I have to ask again, what does the left really stand for? Police States or the people?

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 30th Nov 2016

      Michael, leaving aside those dastardly dissidents for the moment, just wondering also what you think of a 'socialism' that bans strikes and independent unions?

      Justifiable because of US imperialist sanctions? 'Distortion', or pointer to reality of new class oppression?

  • Lambert Meertens 30th Nov 2016

    As long as we see and acknowledge both sides of the story, the good and the bad. We shouldn’t downplay either of the two.

    In the Cuban context, and certainly in the early years, aiming at a participatory model for Cuban society would, in my assessment, not have made much sense. It would not have stood a reasonable chance of success. And there was a much more urgent task, that of improving the lives of the severely exploited population.

    While there were people working to sabotage the revolution, whether with CIA ties or not, I believe that many of the jailed dissidents were not counterrevolutionaries. More than a few had supported the revolution enthusiastically. But each protest against malpractice by the regime was indiscriminately labeled as such. They were essentially political prisoners, including prisoners of conscience. And as if jailing them was not enough, they were mostly treated very badly in prison.

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 30th Nov 2016

      "In the Cuban context, and certainly in the early years, aiming at a participatory model for Cuban society would, in my assessment, not have made much sense."

      Aiming for whom, make sense for whom? (Certainly not Marxist-Leninists Castro or Guevara. Cuban libertarians might have had a different opinion, no matter what the realistic prospects, just as we do despite zero prospects... ).

      "As long as we see and acknowledge both sides of the story, the good and the bad. We shouldn’t downplay either of the two."

      The blog at least mentions education, health and medical aid to third world. How much good would you concede Hitler I wonder, Lambert? Keynes for example greatly admired his elimination of unemployment within three years in a Great Depression, his great worker social welfare measures and some general egalitarian policies? Stalin? After all, the great industrialisation of Russia at cost of slave labour camps, total state terror and famines, many millions of dead, whole populations displaced. 'Good' from the top', pretty 'bad' from below?

    • Bat Chainpuller 1st Dec 2016

      I have to say it's hard to take a stand when one's own knowledge is minimal. I've read stuff over the years, Chomsky and others. Memory's bad. But I side with Peter. I think he's correct here. Sure there are things that were changed for the better, gains and stuff. Expected from a socialist revolution. But Castro was/is not Cuba, and he was, as Peter says, of a class that I will call coordinator, to conjure again the name of Michael Albert, a main protagonist in the creation of this joint, who, after noting Cuban gains, which he has also done in work regarding Russia and China, would I hope, proceed to point out this fact and further, point out the sort of things Peter has and the dire need for more significant change, one of which would be to remove the coordinators.

      And talk to Cuban anarchists and see what they think. Pretty different.

    • Bat Chainpuller 1st Dec 2016

      Sorry, posted the above before reading what was below.

    • Lambert Meertens 1st Dec 2016

      Keynes, who was an outspoken pacifist, made the observation that it was easier to adapt his theory to the conditions of a totalitarian state than to those of a laissez-faire economy. I think this was a fair assessment that should not be interpreted as praise of Hitler.

      Apart from that, I’m not sure if we disagree. What I’m opposing is a bookkeeping approach to morality in which one computes a kind of balance between the bad and the good. If Hitler did something good, we should not “subtract” it from the bad he did. But we should also not make it look less good because of the terrible things he did.

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 2nd Dec 2016

      I'm glad we both reject simple good/bad moral bookkeeping re the facts and horrors of history. My vain attempt here is to approach some of the facts re Cuban Marxism-Lenism versus leftist wishful thinking and denial (can always expect the shit to hit the fan when that happens).

      Re Hitler's 'good', sorry, my mistake, Lambert, it wasn't Keynes at all 'praising', it was another liberal-Keynesian economist John Kenneth Galbraith (in 'Money' and 'The Age of Uncertainty' in the 1970s):

      "… The elimination of unemployment in Germany during the Great Depression without inflation -- and with initial reliance on essential civilian activities -- was a signal accomplishment. It has rarely been praised and not much remarked. The notion that Hitler could do no good extends to his economics as it does, more plausibly, to all else.”

      [The Hitler regime’s economic policy involved] “large scale borrowing for public expenditures, and at first this was principally for civilian work -- railroads, canals and the Autobahnen [highway network]. The result was a far more effective attack on unemployment than in any other industrial country.”

      “By late 1935, unemployment was at an end in Germany. By 1936 high income was pulling up prices or making it possible to raise them … Germany, by the late thirties, had full employment at stable prices. It was, in the industrial world, an absolutely unique achievement.” “Hitler also anticipated modern economic policy,by recognizing that a rapid approach to full employment was only possible if it was combined with wage and price controls. That a nation oppressed by economic fears would respond to Hitler as Americans did to F.D.R. is not surprising.”

      “The German example was instructive but not persuasive. British and American conservatives looked at the Nazi financial heresies -- the borrowing and spending -- and uniformly predicted a breakdown … And American liberals and British socialists looked at the repression, the destruction of the unions, the Brownshirts, the Blackshirts, the concentration camps, and screaming oratory, and ignored the economics. Nothing good [they believed], not even full employment, could come from Hitler.”

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 30th Nov 2016

    Bat, Michael, Lambert, here's just another text on the Cuban Revolution and Castro from a Cuban libertarian perspective, 'instead of Byzantine discussions' if you like:


    [This account of the Cuban Revolution was written by the
    veteran anarchist, Abelardo Iglesias, who lived through the
    events he describes. While still a young man Iglesias
    dedicated his whole life to the struggle for freedom and
    social justice. He was particularly active in the labor
    movement of his native Cuba, and much later, for many
    years in Spain, where he fought against Franco fascism and
    for the Social Revolution from the beginning to the final
    catastrophic defeat.- Sam Dolgoff]

    Fidel Castro has established a typical totalitarian oligarchy.
    In the name of liberty, he has shamelessly betrayed a
    politically naive people who have allowed themselves to be
    taken-in by the legendary 'hero of the Sierra Maestra'.
    This is no mere supposition. It is a crude, brutal, monstrous
    fact which libertarians will have to face in all its magnitude,
    if they really want to comprehend the immense tragedy now
    being enacted in Cuba.

    Apart from byzantine discussions, there are these objective
    facts which no one can deny. We list briefly the main points.

    1. The so-called revolutionary regime is essentially an
    oligarchy dominated by a handful of men accountable to no
    one for their actions.

    2. In line with their sectarianism they have abolished all
    individual rights.

    3. Centralized political and economic power to an extent
    never known before.

    4. Constructed an apparatus of terror immensely more
    efficient than Batista's repressive agencies.

    5. The land has not been distributed to the peasants, for
    individual, family, collective or cooperative cultivation, but
    has become the 'de facto' property of the state agency, the
    Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA).

    6. The nationalization of private enterprises has not
    benefited the workers. The industries are administered not
    by the workers' unions, but have been taken over to
    reinforce the power of the state, converting the former wage
    slaves into slaves of the state machine.

    7. Public education has become a state monopoly. The state
    arrogates to itself the right to impose its kind of education
    upon the young, regardless of the opinion of the parents.

    8. The legitimate necessity to prepare against counter-revolutionary
    aggression has been the pretext for the unnecessary militarization of children and adolescents as in Russia and other totalitarian states.

    9. The right to strike has been abolished and the workers
    must, without complaint, obey the decrees imposed upon them in their work places. The unions have lost their independence and are actually state agencies whose sole
    function it is to cajole or force the workers to obey the
    commands of the state functionaries without protest.

    10. There are no genuine judicial tribunals. Oppositionists
    are punished not for alleged offences, but for their
    convictions and revolutionary ideas.

    11. Fidel Castro's government is conducted in accordance
    with Mussolini's notorious dictum:
    Nothing outside of the State!!
    Nothing against the State!!
    Everything for the State!!

  • Kristi Doyne-Bailey 1st Dec 2016

    damn...really good info you guys...if we're striving for social justice and better ways to organize ourselves, then imo, sounds like Castro was just the flip side of the capitalist coin with a corrupted socialist spin...and nothing to emulate...
    Very ironic note...I work at Jorge mas canosa middle school here in Miami where they are dancing in the streets...and think that capitalism is the answer to all their problems!
    It's a crazy frickin world....

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 3rd Dec 2016

      Thanks Kristi. And an interesting workplace you're at indeed. Such a complex, differentiated world of people and their souls we live in, a world that all our abstract political theories (such as mine here) can never really do justice to...

  • Antonio Carty 2nd Dec 2016

    Fidel did acknowledge the wrongness of imprisoning gay people. You even try to suggest Cuba's doctors giving their practical life saving human aid to other poor countries is a sinister form of soft power and a crime against the Cuban people. You say you are aware of their besieged state under attack from USA superpower but yet this adversity doesn't figure in your understanding of the way they have had to have security mixed with democratic freedom. Perhaps the USA's war of terror and subversion against Cuba's people is just romanticism & hagiography of a left that doesn't believe in the simplicity of having a democracy in the free world?! You ignore the colossal adverse obstacle and danger they've lived, endured & created exemplary human achievements to overcome with little or nothing but human effort and lecture a country that has had to live in a real world of violent back yard capitalism while trying to enact a peoples revolution. The Castro family is not wealthy, they don't have foreign bank accounts. Some generals where corrupt & stealing from people and they where exposed and executed.

    I was vaguely aware of Cuba having a form of participatory people led democracy but happily I decided to read today what type of constitution and government Cuba has actually developed since 1959. Instead of taking those who have waged, promoted and supported the siege, murder and sabotage campaigns against it since 1959 for their word. The President is unelected. But besides this un democratic part seen as a safeguard for security from attack. In a country as we both understand, has faced all the vindictive bad will of its unfriendly superpower neighbour, as documented above, since 1959.

    Besides this the country has a Peoples Democracy instead of a Liberal Democracy. Here is a short explanation of how that works, the source is Ireland Cuba Solidarity & I did check the explanation with Wikipedia & it matches fairly, I think you will be surprised and perhaps happy to read its qualities. I was.
    Cuban Politics & Democracy

    Cuban elections are an authentic way for people to participate in the life of the nation, far from the glorified advertising campaigns that pass for elections in many countries.

    The Cuban electoral processes take place from the grassroots up in the selection of those who will represent the people at all the levels of government.

    Local elections are organized to select the municipal delegates (city council members), and general elections take place to choose provincial assembly delegates and the members of the national Parliament.

    According to Cuban law, these elections are called by the Council of State with no less than 120 days notice.

    A successful electoral experience that took place thirty years ago in Matanzas province led to a green light for setting up what are called the People’s Power government institutions. These are considered the highest form of truly representative and genuinely democratic government and provide the people with real institutional participation.

    An element that makes the Cuban electoral system unique is the way candidates are nominated, a process in which individuals nominate those who they think should be candidates.

    The process is not done in the name of Communist Party of Cuba or of any other political, mass or social organization, and takes place at urban and rural community meetings where residents select the nominees by raising their hands.

    During these meetings, participants propose candidates for the city councils based on their merits as citizens of the community, and their capacity to act as government representatives.
In each electoral district the maximum number of candidates is eight with a minimum of two. From these, people elect by secret ballot the city council representative from their neighborhood or community.

    The correct functioning of the electoral system resides precisely in the high participation at local meetings. This an essential element of the Cuban democracy, sustained by a government of the people, by the people and for the people, as national hero, Jose Marti, and US President Abraham Lincoln proposed.

    Voting is not mandatory in Cuba, but it is a right of all eligible citizens, who when going to the polls have only to show their national identity card. According to Cuban law, only the mentally disabled and persons serving time in prisons are not allowed to vote.

    Among other aspects of interest to foreign observers is the fact that 16 year olds have the right to elect and be elected and that members of the armed institutions are also able to vote. In the case of the military the right to vote is unique in Latin America, with the exception of Venezuela in 2004.

    The absence of military patrols in the streets on election days is something that captures the attention of visiting members of parliaments and other public figures invited to observe elections taking place in Cuba.

    Military personnel are not on duty at the polling stations, because school children are the ones that guard the ballot boxes.

    At the very moment that elections are called, electoral commissions are created at the national, provincial and municipal levels, formed by citizens known for their praiseworthy work records.

    The only pre-condition to be a member of the electoral commissions is to have the right to vote.

    Electoral commissions are in charge of determining the electoral districts, they direct the nomination process and the choosing of candidates, and create the proper conditions for the electoral process to take place.

    Once the elections are completed they must organize the swearing in of the assemblies and their executive committees at the municipal, provincial and national levels.

    Voting is voluntary, secret and direct, and vote counting is done in public. Foreign diplomats and observers can also witness the process.
In order to be elected, a candidate must win more than 50 percent of the votes.

    Today’s Cuban electoral system is very different from the one that operated here prior to 1959, when the system of voter registration allowed for “miracles” such as deceased persons voting and for others to cast more than one ballot.

    Elderly Cubans recall the dirty tricks used by politicians who withheld voter registration documents, where you could read a statement saying that voting was mandatory for all citizens.

    The elector that didn’t vote could be fined and even banned from assuming government jobs or holding office.

    The ethical standards that are part of the Cuban electoral process today explicitly prohibit political campaigns to convince voters to choose a specific candidate or to attack the prestige of an opponent.

    The delegates, who form part of the municipal People’s Power Assemblies, have to provide voters with a yearly report of their activities and receive absolutely no payment for their work as council persons.

    In the elections of 2003 for example, voter turnout was 95.75 percent to elect the municipal and provincial delegates, and a 97.61 percent turnout when the elections for the national Parliament took place.

    The above figures contrast with the situation prevailing before 1959, when, for example, in 1944 Ramon Grau San Martin was elected President of Cuba with only a 44.71 voter’s turnout, and in 1954, a similar situation occurred when Fulgencio Batista was elected with only a 45.61 percent participation at the ballot boxes, this despite all the fraud that took place.

    The low abstention in Cuban elections compares very favorably with what happens in many so called First World elections. A shining example is the United States of America, where in order to elect George W. Bush as President in the year 2000, only thirty seven percent of voting age citizens went to the polls, in one of the lowest voter turnouts of recent years.

    Here is a link to the site I took this from:

    Trumpeting the line that Cuba doesn’t have the right type of Democracy & that it has a brutal dictator is not supporting the Cuban People as you wish, it is supporting the strategy of the superpower who as we know from the facts has been murdering, blockading, sabotaging & trying to punish the Cuban People into giving up and submitting for 57 cowardly & criminal years, despite every other nation except Israel been against the blockade ect.

    I am glad I finally just read what type of Democracy Cuba has.

    I hope others will to as Cuba becomes more dangerously vulnerable than ever to that malice and murderous danger of its Superpower neigbours new fascist leader & his facilitation of all violent and anti democratic organisations and lobbies in the USA.

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 2nd Dec 2016

      I'm 67, Antonio. At the moment I'm afraid this is the Soviet Union/China-is-maybe-not perfect-but-better-than-here crap all over again among much of the left, who don't seem to have learnt much from history....

      IMO even today much of the left displays selective indignation, double standards, total wilful ignorance towards Marxist-Leninist oppression as one of the most brutal, irksome, terrorist social-political systems yet devised, total ignoring of its victims, total 'understanding' for the 'difficulties' their 'great leaders' and oppressors face, total admiration for the elementary social welfare achievements even fascist regimes have also provided etc etc. ...Please pardon a little weariness that tends to accumulate over the years.

      In contrast to pro-Marxist Leninist 'People's Democracy' bullshit from Ireland Cuba Solidarity, and without rebutting in detail Antonio, here, just to perhaps (are you really open to hearing this? )give you a different sense of things in general in Cuba, is a 2003 declaration by the old-school anarchist Cuban Libertarian Movement (I've left out the more general trad-anarcho parts not relating to Cuba, indicated by [...] ).

      Whereas I would certainly make elementary distinctions among authoritarian and totalitarian and Marxist-Leninist oppressive systems (Castro is OF COURSE no Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot genocidalist), these Cuban Libertarians don't even seem to have a problem with using the word 'fascist'. Then again, they and their comrades, in contrast to a couple if probably well-meaning Irish folks taken in by the usual M-L propaganda, having themselves experienced Castro's Marxist-Leninist oppression that controls all daily life in Cuba, might be forgiven for some of their rage and disgust:

      Declaration of Principles Cuban Libertarian Movement

      Mexico, Fall 2003.- Since it has always been an inescapable duty, consistant with our principles and agreements, the Cuban anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists have been, and are in a struggle for liberty, social justice and libertarian socialism. Since the moment in the 19th century when we pioneered the worker’s movement in Cuba, we continue the social struggle started by those generations against colonial oppression, imperialist North American intervention, international capitalism, bourgeois republics, the dictatorships of Machado, Batista and the totalitarian government of the last forty four years; we remain committed to a series of social concepts and ideas which we will not renounce for any reason.

      As Cuba lives through one of the most painful periods of her history, we Cuban anarchists present this document, continuing the tradition of denouncing and fighting state power, be it colonialist, capitalist, dictatorial or today’s totalitarian system. We have fought and denounced these wrongs before the founding of the Asociacion Libertaria de Cuba and later, in the First Congress of 1944, the Second Congress of 1948, the Third Congress of 1950, the International Libertarian Conference of 1955, the Declaration of Principles of 1960 and those from the exile since 1965, the Declaration of the Libertarian Movement of 1975, the editorials in the Libertarian Information Bulletin until 1979, the Guangara Libertaria until 1994, and in many declarations and speeches in diverse fora in 1979, 1988, 1993 and 1995, denouncing as well the Castro regime at international encounters in Italy, France, Mexico, Spain and the United States.


      1 – Since 1959 until today the Cuban government, self-proclaimed “socialist” and represented only by the personality of its “Maximum Leader” in a fascist fashion, oppresses and assassinates our class brothers and sisters, assuming the functions of Sole Tyrant in the name of the Cuban people.

      2 – After over forty four years of despotism without equal in this hemisphere, the Cuban people find themselves mired in poverty, corruption and forced obedience, without rights of any kind, brutally and inhumanely threatened and terrorized by the regime’s political police, with a judicial and correctional system comparable to that of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Gulags.

      3 – The long-suffering Cuban proletariat (industrial and agricultural workers), falsely represented by vertical and fossilized unions of fascist ideology, finds itself trapped inside a social system that persecutes and imprisons for such acts as trying to organize freely; a system that exploits and discriminates, racially and politically, without the right to strike, protest and boycott. Against so much abuse, it needs to free itself of the infamous chains that oppress it.

      4 – As men and women committed to freedom, we have decided to make public this document and to struggle from our barricades with all our strength to obtain freedom, to the last of our comrades and to the end of our lives.


      13 – We will fight on all fronts to reestablish in the proletariat the anarcho-syndicalist ideals that were trampled by authoritarian “socialism” and torn away by the Castro’s regime. Socialism must always go hand in hand with liberty.


      1 – We object to the political repression established by the Castro fascist state. 2 – The political police must be disbanded. 3 – The death penalty must be abolished immediately. 4 – All political and social prisoners must be set free immediately. 5 – The military service must be abolished and the military institution disbanded. In its place there will be organized, free and spontaneously, self-defense collectives, empowering links with those antimilitarist sectors that inform their actions from a libertarian point of view. 6 – The abolition of the state is an immediate and realizable necessity. We acknowledge the people’s ability to organize their lives and their communities without the need for political, economic, and military parasites.


      The Cuban Libertarian Movement, consistent and coherent with its ideals of libertarian socialism, social justice, self-management, class organization, autonomous municipality, individual and collective freedom for the Cuban people, is once again confronting Castro’s fascist totalitarianism. We live in times of resurgence of the libertarian ideal, where the growth of the international protest movement is evident; today, more than ever, we glimpse the dawn of freedom and we deem it necessary to fight against Cuba’s totalitarian despotism, with our comrades in the island as well as with anarchists throughout the world.

    • Bat Chainpuller 3rd Dec 2016

      "...we continue the social struggle started by those generations against colonial oppression, imperialist North American intervention, international capitalism, bourgeois republics, the dictatorships of Machado, Batista and the totalitarian government of the last forty four years; we remain committed to a series of social concepts and ideas which we will not renounce for any reason."

      Social concepts and ideas that are not dissimilar to the ones this joint espouses.

  • Antonio Carty 2nd Dec 2016

    Fidel did acknowledge the wrongness of imprisoning gay people. I have heard and read interviews where he acknowledged things that where wrong and where learnt from. Cuban people are critical of many problems in their system. Much is still far from right in their besieged tiny nation. But Peter's blog paints a dark dictatorial un democratic oppressive and corrupt picture. He even tries to suggest Cuba's doctors giving their practical life saving human aid to other poor countries is a sinister form of soft power and a crime against the Cuban people. He says he is aware of their besieged state under attack from USA superpower but yet this adversity doesn't figure in his understanding of the way they have had to have security mixed with democratic freedom. Perhaps the USA's war of terror and subversion against Cuba's people is just 'romanticism & hagiography' of a left that doesn't believe in the simplicity of having a democracy in the free world?! He ignores the colossal adverse obstacle and danger they've lived, endured & created exemplary human achievements to overcome with little or nothing but human effort and lectures this country that has had to live in a real world of violent back yard capitalism while trying to enact a peoples revolution. The Castro family is not wealthy, they don't have foreign bank accounts. Some generals where corrupt & stealing from people and they where exposed and executed.

    Here is a quote from Richard Gott's recent article in Guardian & on Znet. "Castro’s revolution was a remarkably peaceful process, apart from a number of Batista’s henchmen shot in the first weeks. Some revolutionary enthusiasts of the first generation could not stomach the government’s leftward drift, and swaths of the professional middle class left for Miami, but the revolution did not “eat its children”. Much of the inner group around Castro survived into old age."


    also I found Aviva Chomsky's interview to give a good perspective on Cuba's history in this world.


    I was vaguely aware of Cuba having a form of participatory people led democracy but happily I decided to read today what type of constitution and government Cuba has actually developed since 1959. The rest is written in my comment above.

    I am glad I to have read what type of Democracy Cuba actually has.

    I will add for emphasis that I hope others will to, as Cuba becomes more dangerously vulnerable than ever to the malice and murderous danger of its Superpower neigbour's new fascist leader & his facilitation of all violent and anti democratic organisations and lobbies in the USA.

    • Bat Chainpuller 2nd Dec 2016

      Something from 2003, same year Hegemony or Survival was published.

      "But what about “liberation?” Have the positive goals that
      a revolution against capitalism, sexism, and racism should strive
      for changed? What does Cuba’s experience teach us in these
      respects? Despite decades of CIA-supported terror and U.S.-imposed
      economic boycott, Cuba exceeds most of its Latin American neighbors
      in intellectual, cultural, health, educational, and political accomplishments.
      This deserves praise and support.

      At the same time, no matter how you look at it, one-person-rule through
      a bureaucratic hierarchical party is dictatorship, even when, as
      in Cuba, the leader is in many respects benevolent. Castro is the
      hub; the Cuban Communist Party radiates the spokes. Parallel grassroots
      institutions, including what is called Poder Popular, represent
      a participatory political trend that has, however, failed to transcend
      party manipulation. To inaugurate the 1970s, Castro proclaimed:
      “The formulas of revolutionary process can never be administrative
      formulas…. Sending a man down from the top to solve a problem
      involving 15 or 20 thousand people is not the same thing as the
      problems of these 15 or 20 thousand people—problems having
      to do with their community—being solved by virtue of the decisions
      of the people, of the community, who are close to the source of
      the problems…. We must do away with all administrative methods
      and use mass methods everywhere.”

      Cuba had the Leninist, hierarchical Party and also the popular democratic
      Poder Popular. But, Castro’s words notwithstanding, the former
      consistently dominated the latter. Oversimplifying a complex and
      variegated political history, it follows that three main impediments
      continue to obstruct Castro’s stated hope to substitute political
      participation for political administration:

      The Cuban Communist Party monopolizes all legitimate means of wielding political power
      and thereby ensures that there is only one Cuban political line,
      that of the Party and its leadership. The first problem is political

      The omnipresence of Fidel Castro leaves little room for any popular vehicles to
      attain true decentralized grassroots power. The second problem
      is Fidelismo.

      The willingness of the U.S. to manipulate political differences to destroy Third
      World revolutions provokes and is used to justify regimentation.
      The third problem facing Cuba is the not-so-benevolent U.S.

      As Cuba faces the problem of succession, as the U.S. boycott and aggression
      diminish the life options of Cubans, and as the corruption of the
      Cuban political bureaucracy increasingly alienates the Cuban populace,
      two political paths are possible.

      Cuba can return to its early aspirations and move from Leninism and dictatorship
      to participatory democracy premised on mass participation.

      Or, instead, Cuba can defend authoritarianism and preserve elite privileges
      under the guise of defending the revolution. In the political realm,
      in practice, it follows that choices moving toward greater regimentation
      are choices for a repressive path and not a liberatory one.

      When the Cuban government decides to utilize the death penalty, to speed
      prosecutions, and to engage in other repressive acts ostensibly
      to protect its survival—but having the opposite implication,
      at least regarding opinions abroad—it is bad enough. But when
      the Cuban government speaks as though doing these things is some
      kind of positive and worthy pursuit, it communicates that regimentation
      and centralization are seen as virtues and not as deviations from
      preferred aspirations.

      What about the economy? For all its worthy accomplishments, the Cuban
      economy is far from liberated. Planners, state bureaucrats, local
      managers, and technocrats monopolize decisions while workers carry
      out orders. In the resulting economy, a ruling coordinator class
      plans the efforts of workers and appropriates inflated pay, perks,
      and status. Cuba’s coordinator economy has given the Cuban
      people pride in national accomplishments and major material gains
      in health care, housing, literacy, security, and overall standards
      of living. But however admirable these achievements are when compared
      to conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, Watts, and the South Bronx,
      this does not justify applying the label “liberated.”
      For that, there would have to be no ruling class, and workers would
      have to collectively administer their own efforts....

      ......Over the years the economic debate in Cuba has vacillated between two
      poles: competition versus solidarity, profit-maximizing versus meeting
      human needs, markets versus central planning, and individual incentives
      and inequality versus collective incentives and equality, with many
      swings back and forth. Consider the following comments from Castro
      when the left pole was in ascendancy: “A financier, a pure
      economist, a metaphysician of revolutions would have said, ‘Careful,
      rents shouldn’t be lowered one cent. Think of it from a financial
      standpoint, from an economic standpoint, think of the pesos involved!’
      Such persons have ‘dollar signs’ in their heads and they
      want the people, also, to have ‘dollar signs’ in their
      hearts and heads! Such people would not have made even one revolutionary
      law. In the name of those principles they would have continued to
      charge the farmers interest on loans; they would have charged for
      medical and hospital care; they would have charged school fees;
      they would have charged for the boarding schools that are completely
      free, all in the name of a metaphysical approach to life. They would
      never have had the people’s enthusiasm, the masses’ enthusiasm
      which is the prime factor, the basic factor, for a people to advance,
      for a people to build, for a people to be able to develop. And that
      enthusiasm on the part of the people that support for the revolution
      is something that can be measured in terms incomparably superior
      to the adding and subtracting of the metaphysicians.”

      The problem has been that the left pole, which has argued for egalitarianism,
      solidarity, meeting needs, and collective incentives, has also wrongly
      argued for extreme central planning rather than decentralized, participatory
      planning with direct workplace democracy. The difficulty here is
      not only that something valuable wasn’t included on the left
      side of the debate, but that the positive goals the left championed—solidarity,
      equity, collectivity—were subverted by coordinator decision-making
      and central planning, plus absence of free speech, etc. When the
      left policy pole gained ascendancy, the continuing lack of real
      institutional participation and power on the part of workers meant
      that their enthusiasm and talent were not unleashed in the hoped
      for manner. Thus, after a few years of left influence over economic
      policy, the economy would eventually falter, and the turn back to
      the right—always urged by the Soviet advisers, empowered by
      virtue of Cuba’s dependence on Russian aid—would be legitimated.

      In the face of the fall of the Soviet model, Cuba has not jumped on
      the free-market bandwagon preferring any alternative to resurgent
      commodity economics and a sellout to the West. But, as the years
      push on, what can they do instead? One depressing and the most likely
      possibility is that they will stay the current course, as they have
      over the past decade, defending coordinatorism while trying to rectify
      its worst abuses.

      When the grassroots movement Solidarity began to succeed in Poland, it
      had the option of retaining its working-class composition and its
      emphasis on elevating workers to decision-making power via new economic
      institutions or of jettisoning all that in favor of elevating intellectuals
      and adopting markets, competition, and profit-seeking despite their
      obvious inadequacies. The liberating choice lost because the young
      movement put no structural, institutional supports in place. When
      Jesse Jackson galvanized new energies across the United States,
      he and the Rainbow Coalition had the opportunity to develop lasting
      grassroots organization and democratic movement, or to subordinate
      everything to narrow electoral priorities. The liberating choice
      lost because the young movement put no structural, institutional
      supports in place. Later, when Ralph Nader ran a powerful
      and popular presidential campaign, again there was the possibility
      to solidify the gains, create perhaps a shadow government or some
      massive continuing democratic and participatory institutional opposition,
      but the liberating choice was again lost.

      The recent unprecedented international upsurge of anti-globalization
      and anti-war activism around the world has created a potential for
      establishing new levels of lasting organizational presence. We have
      to see what the results will be, whether new structures will solidify
      the gains or not.

      Likewise, Cuba can either persist with its siege mentality and defend not
      only its virtuous accomplishments, but also bureaucracy, dictatorship,
      central planning, and workplace hierarchy, or it can develop participatory
      democracy and truly liberated economics consistent with revolutionary
      Cuba’s past aspirations. With their Eastern bloc bridges burned,
      facing continued and perhaps even escalated U.S. opposition, we
      can only hope that Cuba will once again opt for “a revolution
      within the revolution,” and there is no compromise in saying

      Others will see the situation differently. But those who think that having
      the audacity to criticize dictatorship, the death penalty, and violations
      of political liberty more broadly is somehow casting aside radical
      commitment and aligning with imperialism, ought to think twice."

      Micael Albert ZMag June 2003

    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 3rd Dec 2016

      Double post Antonio, opportunity for another short comment. Lots argue for the education/literacy and health systems in Cuba, but this is the first time I've actually seen an attempt to argue for 'democracy' in Cuba. Pretty unusual, to say the least.

      One-Party Marxist-Leninist states tend to have great-sounding constitutions that aren't worth the paper they are written on. There is NO freedom of speech, assembly or association in Cuba, Antonio. Government informers and spies are everywhere to make sure no one talks out of the Party- line, including at those local political assemblies you quote. There are no independent candidates or parties, all have be vetted and conform to the Communist Party. People are routinely obliged to attend meetings and express loyalty to the Great Leader and the communist state. If your loyalty is 'suspect' at school or in the workplace, you will experience great difficulties, including not getting the jobs you want. If you publicly dissent you will be mercilessly hounded as 'counter-revolutionary', possibly publicly threatened and beaten and imprisoned.

      You mention Wikipedia. Would you like to perhaps check out 'Human Rights in Cuba' at Wikipedia and make up your own mind about Cuban 'democracy'? Here's the link:


    • Peter Lach-Newinsky 3rd Dec 2016

      The above comment of mine was supposed to go as a response under Antonio's above about 'democracy' in Cuba. Don't know how it landed here under Bat's.

  • Bat Chainpuller 2nd Dec 2016

    Some light enjoyable relief from all this heavy stuff (might not work, iPad not reliable in this regard!)


  • Bat Chainpuller 6th Dec 2016

    Just thought I'd add this for the sake of it after reading Marjorie Cole this morning and this particular bit,

    "“Fidel Castro was an authoritarian. He ruled with an iron fist. There was repression and is repression in Cuba. In Fidel’s kind of argument, he did it in the name of a different kind of democracy, a different kind of freedom—the freedom from illness, the freedom from racism, the freedom from social inequality,” Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project, told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! “And Cuba has a lot of very positives that all the other countries that we don’t talk about don’t have. There isn’t gang violence in Cuba. People aren’t being slaughtered around the streets by guns every day. They defeated the Zika virus right away. There is universal health care and universal education.”

    In a 1998 NBC interview with Maria Shriver, Castro wryly noted, “For a small country such as Cuba to have such a gigantic country as the United States live so obsessed with this island, it is an honor for us.”

    History has absolved, and promises to continue to absolve, “El Comandante” Fidel Castro."



    Between reactionary "pro-Batistianos" and "revolutionary Castroites," an adequate assessment of the Cuban Revolution must take into account another, largely ignored dimension, i.e., the history of Cuban Anarchism and its influence on the development of the Cuban labor and socialist movements, the position of the Cuban anarchist movement with respect to the problems of the Cuban Revolution, and libertarian alternatives to Castroism.

    Today's Cuban "socialism" differs from the humanistic and libertarian values of true socialism as does tyranny from freedom. There is not the remotest affinity between authoritarian socialism or its Castro variety and the libertarian traditions of the Cuban labor and socialist movements.

    The character of the Latin American labor movement -- like the Spanish revolutionary movement from which it derived its orientation -- was originally shaped, not by Marxism, but by the principles of anarcho-syndicalism worked out by Bakunin and the libertarian wing of the International Workingmen's Association -- the "First International" -- founded in 1864.

    The Latin American labor movement was, from its inception, greatly influenced by the ideology and revolutionary tactics of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist movement. Even before 1870, there were organized anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist groups in Buenos Aires,

    Argentina; Mexico, Santiago, Chile; Montevideo, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

    In 1891, a congress of trade unions in Buenos Aires organized the Federacion Obrera Argentina which was in 1901 succeeded by the Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA-Regional Labor Federation of Argentina) with 40,000 members, which in 1938 reached 300,000. The anarcho-syndicalist La Protesta, one of the best anarchist periodicals in the world, founded as a daily in 1897, often forced to publish clandestinely, is still being published as a monthly.

    In Paraguay, anarcho-syndicalist groups formed in 1892 were in 1906 organized into the Federacion Obrera Regional Paraguaya. The anarcho-syndicalist unions of Chile in 1893 published the paper El Oprimido (The Oppressed). In the late 1920s the Chilean Administration of the IWW numbered 20,000 workers. Before then, many periodicals were published and the labor movement flourished. The journal Alba, organ of the Santiago Federation of Labor, was founded in 1905. The anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist groups and their publications were very popular with the workers in San Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (where the anarchist paper Renovacion first appeared in 1911).

    To illustrate the scope of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Latin America, attention is called to the organizations participating in the syndicalist groupings, convened by the FORA of Argentina in Buenos Aires. Besides the FORA, there were represented Paraguay, by the Centro Obrera Paraguaya; Bolivia, by the Federacion Local de La Paz and the groups La Antorcha and Luz y Libertad; Mexico, by the Pro-Accion Sindical; Brazil, by the trade unions from seven


    constituent provinces; Costa Rica, by the organization, Hacia la Libertad; and the Chilean administration of the IWW. These examples give only a sketchy idea of the extent of the movement. (sources: The Anarchist historian Max Nettlau's series of articles reprinted in Reconstruir, Rocker's Anarcho-Syndicalism, India edition, pgs. 183-184; no date)

    Insofar as the history of anarcho-syndicalist movements in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and other Latin American lands are concerned, there is a voluminous literature in Spanish, and some, though by no means enough, works in English. Unfortunately there is scarcely anything, in any language, about the history of Cuban Anarcho-Syndicalism.

    The anarcho-syndicalist origins of the Cuban labor movement and its influence is substantiated by the Report on Cuba, issued by the conservative International Bank for Reconstruction and Development:

    ... in the colonial days, labor leadership in Cuba came largely from anarcho-syndicalists of the Bakunin school. A strong thread of their ideology with its emphasis on 'direct action', its contempt for legality, its denial that there can be common interests for workers and employers, persists in the Cuban labor movement in modern times ... it must be remembered that nearly all popular education of working people on how an economic system works and what might be done to improve it, came first from the anarcho-syndicalists ... (quoted in Background to Revolution: Development of Modern Cuba; New York, 1966, p. 31, 32)


    Even the communist historian Boris Nikirov concedes that

    ... the labor movement of Cuba has had a long tradition of radical orientation.
    Anarcho- Syndicalist influence was important from the late 1890's to the 1920's (quoted ibid. p. 135) [Anarcho-Syndicalist influence certainly spans a longer period.]
    Even less is known about the anarcho-syndicalist roots of the Puerto Rican labor movement, which as in Cuba, traces back to the latter half of the 19th century. The editor of the excellent anthology of labor struggles and socialist ideology in Puerto Rico, A.G. Quintero Rivera asks:

    ... who even in Puerto Rico knows about readers in tobacco workrooms? [as in Cuba and Florida, workers paid readers to read works of social and general interest to them while they made cigars] Who knows that Puerto Rican study groups in the first decade of this century studied the works of the [anarchists] Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus and the history of the First International Workingmen's Association ... that as early as 1890, Bakunin's Federalism and Socialism was published by anarchist groups in Puerto Rico and widely read by the workers? ...

    Quintero informs the reader that in 1897, the anarchist, Romero Rosa, a typographer, was one of the "principal founders of the first nationwide union in Puerto Rico -- the Federacion Regional Obrera." Together with Fernando Gomez Acosta, a carpenter, and Jose Ferrer y Ferrer, also a typographer, Romero Rosa founded the weekly Ensayo


    Obrera to spread anarcho-syndicalist ideas among the workers.

    Louisa Capetillo, the Emma Goldman of Puerto Rico, whom Quintero calls a "legendary figure in the history of the Puerto Rican labor movement," was a gifted speaker and organizer who addressed countless meetings all over Puerto Rico in the late 1890s and early 1900s. She championed women's rights and preached free love (further defying convention by wearing pantaloons).

    A prolific writer, Louisa Caprtillo wrote -- in Spanish -- such libertarian essays as: Humanity in the Future; My View of Freedom; Rights and Duties of Woman as Comrade, Mother and Free Human Being. She also wrote and spoke extensively on art and the theater and carried on an extensive correspondence with foreign anarchists.

    Between the years 1910 and 1920, anarchist and syndicalist periodicals were published in Puerto Rico and syndicalists carried on an intense agitation and militant action in labor struggles. (source: Lucha Obrera en Puerto Rico; 2nd edition, 1974, pgs. 1, 14, 34, 153, 156, 161.)

    The example of Puerto Rico illustrates how little is known about the anarcho-syndicalist origins of the labor and socialist movements in the Caribbean area. This work tries to trace the remarkable influence of anarchism in the development of the Cuban revolutionary movement and to present the anarchist view of the Cuban Revolution.



    The repercussions of the Cuban Revolution are still being felt in Latin America and throughout the world. The character of the Revolution is being passionately debated. Many of Castro's original leftist and liberal supporters who have witnessed the gradual degeneration of the Revolution into a totalitarian dictatorship have been forced, much against their inclinations, to accept this disappointing reality. In the process of accounting for the degeneration, these friendly critics clarify certain crucial facts about the Cuban Revolution which confirm the libertarian position, although most of them vehemently deny that this is indeed the case.

    Still others, the more fanatical pro-Castroites, in trying to explain the dictatorial measures of the regime, fall into the most glaring contradictions -- which serve only to emphasize the unpleasant facts they try to camouflage. A few typical examples are arranged chronologically to illustrate the progression of events.

    Waldo Frank's Cuba: A Prophetic Island (New York, 1961) is particularly disappointing because he had always been a consistent anti-state communist, strongly influenced by libertarian ideas, which he amply demonstrated by his sympathetic attitude towards the CNT (anarcho-syndicalist union confederation of Spain). That Frank with 40 years study of Spanish and Latin American history should have allowed his pro-Castro euphoria to becloud his judgement to the point where he could not recognize the obvious earmarks of a dictatorship in the making is unpardonable.


    Although Frank was granted a two year subsidy by the Cuban government to write his book, he insists that his "only obligation was to seek the truth as I found it" (Preface). Nevertheless Frank's

    "unbiased" evaluation of Castro's personality and achievements rivals the tributes heaped upon Stalin by his sycophants. Thus:

    ... the Chevrolet rolled into the first streets of Matanzas ... the crowd blocking Castro's way had, somehow, the shape of Casto ... and what was the shape of Castro? Was it not Cuba itself? (p. 79) ... in his exquisite sensibilities ... Castro is less the poet and the LOVER ... to call Castro a dictator is dishonest semantics ... (p. 141, Frank's emphasis)

    In the very next paragraph Frank unwittingly marshalls crushing arguments against himself. Castro will not tolerate criticism:

    ... he likes to have intellectuals around him, not so much to discuss ideas as to fortify his actions and ideas ... (p. 141) [in other words, Castro must, like Stalin, surround himself with fawning flatterers] Castro is not a dictator, [but] ... there always comes a time, when leaders must dare, for the people's sake, to oppose the people ... (p. 62) ... there are times of nation ferver when an opposition press becomes a nuisance ... [just because there are no elections in Cuba] ... the opposition slanders Castro. [How dare they call him] "'totalitarian' 'communist'!?" (p. 16)


    ... [In spite of Frank's pro-Castro obsession, traces of anarcho-syndicalist influence come through] ... the Cubans do not know that mere natiuonalization of their industries is no goal, that it may enthrone a bureaucracy even more rigid than capitalist posession. Nationalization is not necessarily true socialization, an end which demands [that there be workers in each industry to run these industries in coordination with the other sectors of the economy]. (p. 134)

    Does Frank indict Castro for instituting nationalization? By no means! On the contrary, he considers that Castro summary

    ... act of nationalization was an intelligent, courageous deed ... to defend the Cuban Republic against those hostile forces that would destroy it ... (p. 134) [Frank is even afraid] that ... technicians from the Soviet Union will bring with them the communist ideology ... equally alien, equally unwelcom ... (p. 136) [But Frank hastens to dispel such fears] ... the leaders are GOOD and what they are attempting to do is GOOD ... they will tell you in plain words that they have not overthrown the overlordship of the United States in order to submit to a new master ... the Soviet Union or anyone else ... (p. 136) (Frank's emphasis)

    Unfortunately, it turns out that the "good" men destined to save Cuba from totalitarian domination are themselves authoritarian communists: Armando Hart, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, and irony of ironies! Castro himself, a few days after the American publication of Frank's book, confessed


    that "I am a Marxist-Leninist and will remain one until the last day of my life."
    In spite of Castro's own statement that the so-called peasant cooperative farms (granjas del pueblo) are modeled after the Russian style "Kolkhozes," Frank still nurtures the forlorn hope that the:

    ... cooperative farms and industries of Cuba could well become the nuclei of a radical syndicalism, developed from the tradition of anarcho- syndicalism, which has long appealed to Spanish and Hispanic workers ... far more than the crude kolkhoz within communism, libertarianism might flourish within a revived syndicalism ... (p. 186)

    In early 1963, members of the Cuban Libertarian Movement in Exile (CLME) addressed a letter to Pablo Casals, a co-sponsor of the Spanish Refuge Aid Committee, informing him that Waldo Frank, also a co-sponsor, had been commissioned by the Cuban Government to write a book in which he eulogized Castro. In its Bulletin for April 1963, the CLME published Casals' reply:

    ... like you, I too believe that all lovers of freedom ... must condemn all dictatorship, "right," "left" or whatever the name ... I feel strongly the anguish of the unfortunate people of Cuba, who, having suffered under the dictatorship of Batista, are now, anew, being subjected to the dictatorship of his successor, Fidel Castro ... as to the attitude of Waldo Frank and his support of the Castro regime, I will immediately request the Spanish Refugee Aid Committee to order a thorough investigation of your charges, and if -- as it seems -- Waldo


    Frank violates the ideals of the organization, he be removed as member and co-sponsor ... With best wishes, Pablo Casals.

    In 1964 Monthly Review, a Marxist-Leninist journal, published a special 96 page essay, Inside the Cuban Revolution, written by Adolfo Gilly, a fanatical "left wing" pro-Castro Argentine journalist who lived among the Cuban people for more than ayear. Although Gilly acknowledges the deformation of the Cuban revolution, he is

    "... still unconditionally on the side of the Revolution." (preface, p. vii) Gilly was nevertheless bitterly denounced by Castro. The following excerpts from his essay best illustrate the kind of muddled thinking which leads to the most glaring contradictions by "leftist" Castroite critics:

    Statement: "the State defends the position ... and concrete economic interests of the functionaries, the State itself, the Party and the union bureaucracy ... the people have no direct power ... the State creates and defends positions of privilege." (p. 42) Contradiction: "The State is the workers' very own" (p.46)

    Statement: "Just as there has not appeared in the Cuban leadership any tendency that proposes self-management, neither has there appeared any which looks to the development of those bodies which in a socialist democracy express the will of the people; soviets, workers' councils, unions independent of the State, etc. ..." (p. 40-41) Contradiction: "... in Cuba the masses feel that they have begun to govern their own lives ..." (p. 78)

    Statement: "When it comes to decisions of the government, it never allows dissent or criticism or proposals for change ... nothing can be published without permission ..." (p.28)


    Contradiction: "There is no country today where there is greater freedom and democracy than in Cuba." (ibid.)

    Like Gilly, the editors of the Monthly Review, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, also combine extravagant praise with what adds up to a devastating indictment of the Castro regime:

    ... the success achieved by the Cuban Revolution ... the upsurge of mass living standard to create a quantity and quality of popular support for the Revolutionary Government ... and its supreme leader Fidel Castro ... has few, if any, parallels (Socialism in Cuba; N.Y., New York, 1970, p. 203, 204) ... there have been remarkable achievements in the economic field and there will be even more remarkable ones in the future ... (p. 65)

    Huberman and Sweezy then inadvertantly deny their own statements:
    nearly everything is scarce in Cuba today (p. 129) ... there is the continuing difficult economic situation. Daily life is hard, and after ten years many people are tired ... tending to lose confidence in the leadership's ability to keep its optimistic promises ... the ties that bind the masses to their paternalistic government are beginning to erode ... (p. 217-218)

    While the examples of the alleged economic "achievementes" are indeed rare, the catastrophic collapse of the economy and the mass discontent for which the "Revolutionary Government" is directly responsible are


    overwhelmingly documented. (see pgs. 74, 81, 82, 86, 103, 107, 200, 205-207, 217-220)

    To create material incentives and reduce absenteeism the Revolutionary leadership, to its everlasting credit ... has at no time committed the folly of restoring the capitalist wage system in which ... whoever works harder gets more ... Castro is quoted: "to offer a man more for doing his duty is to buy his conscience with money." (p. 145)

    A few pages later, Huberman and Sweezy again refute themselves. The Revolution can be saved only if the capitalist wage system is restored. Now, the "... Revolution cannot afford to rely exclusively on political and moral incentives"; it will even have to resort to semi-militarization of work!" (p. 153)

    The assertion that the "... Cuban Revolution has resorted to very little regimentation is refuted in the same paragraph:

    ... there are doubtless evidences of this in the large-scale mobilizations of voluntary labor ... indeed, there are already signs of this regimentation in the growing role of the army in the economy bringing with it military concepts of organization and discipline ... an example of this is the Che Guevara Trail Blazers Brigade, organized along strictly military lines [which] has been clearing huge amounts of land ... (p. 146) Cuba's system is clearly one of bureaucratic rule ... [nor has the government worked out] an alternative ... (p. 219-220)


    For Huberman and Sweezy, the realization of socialism is, in effect, based upon the omnipotence of the State. The people are not the masters but the servants of the
    "revolutionary" leadership who graciously grant them the privilege of sharing "in the great decisions which shape their lives..." (p. 204)

    To ignore the lessons of history and expect rulers to voluntarily
    surrender or even share power with their subjects is -- to say the least --- incredibly naive.

    Herbert Matthews -- foreign correspondent and later a senior editor of the New York Times, now retired -- was granted his sensational interview with Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra on February 17, 1957. Matthews has since then been welcomed to Cuba and granted interviews with Castro and other leaders. His attitude towards the
    Castro dictatorship resembles that of the doting parent who inflates the virtues of his offspring and invents excuses for the child's transgressions.

    ... Fidel's personality is overwhelming. He has done many things that enraged me. He has made colossal mistakes ... but we must forgive him, he has to deal with difficult problems which no man could have tried to solve without making errors and causing harm to large sectors of Cuban society... (p. 4)

    Not the least of the privileges accorded to despots is the right to make mistakes at the expense of ordinary mortals.

    How Castro, who is "... a great orator ... the greatest of his times," is "not able to express his emotions" (p. 44) is a


    peculiar failing that Matthews does not deem it necessary to explain."

    Although his latest work (a big 486 page volume, Revolution in Cuba; New York, 1975) contains a great deal of valuable information about the situation in Cuba, it suffers from his clumsy efforts to reconcile his unabashed admiration for Castro with the brutal, bitter facts. Out of the chaotic mass of contradictions, absurdities and distortions, startling facts about the degeneration of the Cuban Revolution emerge. A few examples:

    Castro is a dictator. His revolution is "autocratic," but it is still -- strangely enough -- "... a government by consensus, based upon popular support ..." The support comes from the members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) comprising "almost every able bodied adult in Cuba ... everyone PARTICIPATES in the Cuban Revolution..." But this grass-roots consensus which is not "a democracy ... has nothing to do with civil liberties ..." (p. 15, Matthews' emphasis)

    It should be obvious that a regime that has "nothing to do with civil rights" is by definition a dictatorship."

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 6th Dec 2016

    Onya Batman. Did you happen to post the Dolgoff as a comment at ZNet too? The authoritarian sycophancy, adulation and denialism at ZNet re Castro (lately from Cohn, Kahn and Clarty) makes me puke, frankly.

    So does Albert's Castro photo plus 'revolution' quote he features prominently at ZNet and seems to think a great idea. Again, I also note the continuing deafening silence of the ZNet celebrity anarchists on Castro and Cuba...

    BTW I'm sure Albert would never publish my Castro blog above. His great 'understanding' of Leninism and well-intentioned Leninists who happen to assert the 'unfortunate necessity' of rigorous top-down authoritarian repression against pesky proles and other scum, a purely temporary measure, you understand, on the glorious road of gradual 'wins' to Communist La La Land as proclaimed in Marx Vol X pp. 1205-1206 and the Collected Works Of Lenin Vol 25, pp. 1205-1206, that kinda victim- and history-oblivious shit was elucidated by Albert in his 'Lenny and Ana' blog here at IOPS back in 2013 I think. For me that was probably the final nail in the Albert respect coffin.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 6th Dec 2016

    While we're posting too long (TLDR) posts, Bat, might as well add my two responses to Simpler Wayers Ted Trainer and Jonathan Rutherford who took me to task for the Castro piece:

    1. Ted: “In my not very well informed opinion [about whether] what Peter says is more or less true, although I would expect Kamran to debate the more nasty claims commonly made re repression. But you try getting a colony back off the imperialists while remaining noble and pure. My impression is that Fidel and co were more heavy handed than was necessary, but that's easy for me to say in hindsight. You would have to know how they saw their situation and what they thought was necessary to deal with the internal opposition. I would have thought it obvious that repression was needed to keep the revolution intact, given the many comprador Cubans happy with the old regime, and the many who understandably didn't like the austerity. […]it does seem to me that the onus is on critics to show that the revolution could have been secured with less or no ‘human rights’ violations.”

    [Peter]I’m intrigued that you put ‘human rights’ in inverted commas, Ted. Are we ignoring or even denying them too on our path towards a Simpler Way? Re Cuba, it wouldn’t take that long googling ‘human rights in Cuba’, and trying Wikipedia, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, etc., if you really wanted to. If you also wanted critical analyses of Cuban anarchism, the Cuban revolution and Castroism from an anarchist perspective, you could try the works by Sam Dolgoff (The Cuban Revolution: A Critical Perspective) and Frank Fernandez (Cuban Anarchism: History of a Movement), easily available online at libcom and the Anarchist Library.

    Your choice of words in the sentences quoted above makes me wonder about two things, Ted:

    1. what, if anything, you would actually consider ‘repression’, and

    2. how your avowed anarchism fits in with an apparent ‘understanding’, indeed support, for a Marxist-Leninist state, its ‘revolution’ and its ruling apparatchiki as THEY consider THEIR situation and how ‘heavy-handed’ or not their repressions should be, repressions they think ‘necessary to deal with THEIR internal opposition’ (one part of which was of course anarchist)? You say you find it ‘obvious’ that ‘repression is needed’ to ‘keep [THEIR] revolution intact’ and to deal with all those classic ‘enemies of the people’ (to use the Jacobin terms since Robespierre, Lenin, Stalin), those dastardly ‘comprador Cubans’ and ‘the many who understandably didn’t like the austerity’ imposed by the new ruling cliques’ ? Wow.

    Completely IDENTIFYING as you do here with a repressive new ‘revolutionary’ ruling class and ITS perspectives and problems and ‘necessary’ repressions and ‘austerities’ is precisely my point about the Police State Left. The language of ‘necessary repression’ indeed smacks more of outright Leninism-Stalinism than of anarchism, Ted. (BTW So does the disdain I sometimes think I detect for the masses stupid enough to be attracted to glitz, comfort, consumer goods, affluence. Often seems more Calvin than Gandhi).

    Maybe this is just part of the history of some anarchists’ strange romantic delusions repeating themselves. This is from the intro to Frank Fernandez’ work at the Anarchist Library:

    “Despite growing evidence of the brutal, totalitarian nature of the Communist regime, many anarchists continued to support it until well into the 1920s, when two well-known and respected anarchists, Alexander Berkman (in The Russian Tragedy and The Bolshevik Myth) and Emma Goldman (in My Disillusionment in Russia and My Further Disillusionment in Russia) revealed the truth. Even then, some anarchists refused to surrender their illusions about the nature of the “workers’ state.”

    This situation repeated itself with Castro’s rise to power in 1959. A great many anarchists, especially in Europe, were so desperate to see positive social change that they saw it where there was none — in Cuba, thanks in part to a skilled disinformation campaign by Castro’s propaganda apparatus. Despite suppression of civil liberties, the prohibition of independent political activity, the government takeover of the unions, the militarization of the economy, the gradual impoverishment of the country (despite massive Soviet economic aid), the re-emergence of a class system, the institution of a network of political spies in every neighborhood (the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), and the government-fostered personality cults which grew up around Fidel Castro and Ernesto (“Che”) Guevara, large and important sections of the world’s anarchist movement supported Castro until well into the 1970s.

    That situation began to change in 1976 with publication of the respected American anarchist Sam Dolgoff’s The Cuban Revolution: A Critical Perspective. But even today some anarchists continue to be hoodwinked by the Castro regime’s “revolutionary” rhetoric and the veneer of social welfare measures with which it covers its ruthless determination to cling to power at any price.

    The Cuban experience provides us with valuable lessons. Two of the most important are that anarchists should never support Marxist regimes, and that they should be extremely wary about supporting, let alone participating in, so-called wars of national liberation. These are the negative lessons to be learned from the history of Cuba’s anarchists.”

    All the best,


    2. Ted, thanks for your clarifications. I agree as you say that it is ‘important that we make sure there are not misunderstandings between us all.’

    Unfortunately I think your response, and that of Jonathan, in fact demonstrate my point about the common left mind-set I am questioning.

    Let me try to again explain that notion by referring to your own words of clarification. First, you now concede that Castro and Co. did commit ‘violations’ (of human rights) and ‘on a significant scale’. Great, I’m glad that’s something we can agree on then.

    However, now comes the divergence between us again, the way of framing these ‘violations’. Having conceded the violations, you at once say:

    ‘but what I am most interested in is whether they could have been avoided in the circumstances.’

    This explicitly states that what you are interested in is whether Castro and Co. could have avoided perpetrating these human rights ‘violations’ while taking over state power. Thus I think you’ll agree that your immediate focus is on the power takers, the order-givers, and NOT on the nature and extent of these violations themselves and NOT on the violated victims.

    This is all I meant when I said I thought you were ‘identifying’ with the perspective of the new ruling class.

    A further example. I wonder whether you can perhaps see the contradiction when, on the one hand, you say: ‘I was not "completely identifying" with a repressive new ruling class’, and then, on the other hand, the rest of your paragraph is doing exactly that by wondering exclusively about what that repressive ruling class’ possible perspective might be, on what ‘they’, i.e. that class could or could not have done? Thus you are trying to speculate on their perspective, to see it from their perspective, and that’s what I meant by ‘identifying with’ their perspective.

    Here are your own words (my highlighting):

    "I was not endorsing or objecting to the oppression my limited understanding leads me to believe they carried out. I was simply suggesting that it would have been extremely difficult if not impossible to avoid repression, given the powerful forces opposing them in the situation they found themselves in. As I said I would be interested in a case explaining that they could have avoided it. I am not interested in arriving at a moral conclusion about Fidel and co. I would like to understand what they did and why."

    Ted, you are, again explicitly, saying here that you are only interested in ‘them’, in ‘Fidel and co’ (I again note the friendly first name term you feel is appropriate), the Marxist-Leninist State ruling class, the brutal perpetrators of crimes against their people. You are exclusively interested in their perceptions and motivations, but nowhere do you show yourself in the slightest interested in the lives of their thousands upon thousands of victims.

    I find that very curious. Not a single word of empathy, disgust, not to mention solidarity.

    The latter would of course entail an implicit moral position, a judgement, a condemnation, which you in fact explicitly reject, preferring, I think it’s fair to say, to sit on the moral fence:

    Ted: ‘I am not interested in arriving at a moral conclusion about Fidel and co.[…] I am not predisposed to be an apologist, nor to condemn. I think that over time they clearly achieved very desirable outcomes for Cuba, but if history ends up establishing that they were too heavy handed, so be it; not my problem.’

    I would argue that you are in fact not sitting on the moral fence, because it is logically impossible to do so in such questions. This is because your exclusive interest in the oppressors and your total ignoring of their victims is in fact also a moral position, namely one that, whether it wants to or not, exculpates the oppressors by finding some sort of ‘mitigating circumstances’ (in- and external opposition etc.).

    Admitting their repressions but ignoring their victims, you then tend to euphemise these crimes or human rights abuses with words like ‘heavy handed’ or ‘nasty’. I wonder if you would use those adjectives in front of the actual victims, the dead, the people screaming and rotting in filthy prisons, the terrorised and beaten for not toeing the Party line, the workers trying to organize independent unions.

    Ted: ‘It's not so important to me to argue it out but I do think you are being too black and white about refusing to support Marxist regimes.’

    Most things in life are, I most heartily agree, not ‘black and white’, but infinitely complex, ambiguous, paradoxical. However, the question of powerful oppressors and powerless victims, order-givers and order-takers, perpetrators and victims, is not one of them.

    Of course many common people also participate in the denunciations and oppressions, become lower-tier oppressors themselves. Nevertheless, to choose not to condemn the state oppressors is to choose to ignore, and thus, implicitly, to condone.

    If we – as I assume you and I do ‒ condemn the many brutal thugs, oppressors and client-state dictators of the west in past and present from Suharto and Marcos to Videla and Pinochet, then why are so many of the left ready to start musing on justifying ‘situations’ and ‘conditions’ when the oppressors happen to call themselves ‘socialists’ and ‘communists’ and ‘anti-imperialists’? This question seems central to me to any discussion of what general moral credibility any form of ‘eco-socialism’ or ‘eco-anarchism’ might have today.

    As for my conscious use of the word ‘moral’ (‘ethical’ if you prefer), let’s take another example. I imagine your decade-long drawing attention to global capitalism being an unsustainable system where we affluent 20% hog 80% of global resources due to capitalist market mechanisms is either just a bland statistic which we can choose to ignore, or shrug our shoulders about, or else it is an engaged drawing attention to a deeply unethical condition that causes immense human and ecological suffering and that thus needs to be changed. No position of ‘neither endorsing nor condemning’ possible here, of ‘not my problem’. Quite black and white.

    One last note on ‘nasty regimes’ and historical moral accounting. You say:

    'Cuba was infinitely better under Castro than it was as a Batista run US colony (was it 40% of the land owned by foreign corporations). (I know he was not a (declared) "communist" at the time of the revolution.) There must be many nasty regimes that have improved things, so shouldn't we be thankful for that; which is not to excuse the nasty behaviour or to be content with the situation.’

    As for ‘nasty regimes’ having ‘improved things’. Well, yes, perhaps sometimes, but I guess one can ask: so what from a human, humanist, ethical, libertarian perspective (one I would have imagined a large part of the ‘left’ might share)? I think the more productive question is: WHO is doing the moral accounting on the improvements, their definitions, their weightings? WHO is to be the judge of the endless pyramids of sacrifice, corpses, victims throughout history? The perpetrators or the victims? Top-down or bottom-up? Again, the perspective could be quite ‘white’ from the top, and quite ‘black’ from the bottom of the pyramid.

    Re nasty regimes, social welfare and the poor. Ancient Roman dictator-emperors ran imperial plunder and slave economies and provided bread and circuses to the urban poor. In the middle of a global Great Depression Hitler achieved the economic miracle of full employment and a generous worker welfare system within three years by public borrowing and building freeways, a move that had economist Galbraith enthusiastic by the way. Mussolini, like Peron and a few dictators before Castro, had housing built for the poor and for their own benefactor-of-the-poor image. Stalin’s state capitalist terror system achieved the industrialising of Russia by turning it into one great slave labour camp, i.e. in a few decades of militarised and forced labour, induced famines, whole population displacements, purges and secret police terror that caused the death and suffering of tens of millions (just a bit ‘heavy handed’ and ‘nasty’perhaps).

    Should ‘we’ all ‘be thankful’ for those ‘achievements’ as you ask? Who is ‘we’, and for which ‘achievements’? Is this even the right question? All sorts of alternative routes to modernization and industrialisation are, in theory, conceivable. Who is to say, for example, that some form of liberal or social democratic capitalist (‘Menshevik’), not to mention libertarian and participatory, version of industrialisation and modernisation could not have been much less costly in terms of human death, cruelty and suffering, in Russia, in China, in Cuba? Perhaps unlikely, but not utterly impossible.

    None of this has of course anything to do with a liberated society, a participatory socialism or anarchism.

    Jonathan asks about the relevance of the national liberation movements. Similar story. Am I denying their necessity? Of course not. Inevitable, progress. Main result for most of the masses (please note the bottom-up perspective): the right to be exploited by fellow nationals, the new, often quite brutal, ruling class oppression, also no doubt a form of 'progress'. However, the connection to any concept of free, participatory socialism: zero.

    To sum up more generally then (and this is probably pitched more towards what I’ve read of Saral, Craig and Jonathan, although your comments above Ted seem to lean their way too). In my view the Police State Left type of mindset has a double standard as bad as that on the right. In fact it is a mirror image of the hypocrisies and denials of many liberals and of all of the right: the game is to point the finger at the other side’s thugs and human rights abuses, and ignore the crimes of what one perceives as one’s ‘own’ (or somehow close to one’s own because ‘socialist’ or ‘anti-imperialist’). Like a bad flash-back to the Cold War, it is a form of groupthink, a thinking of, and in, closed, mirror-image camps: right or wrong, my camp!

    For this kind of groupthink, truth then becomes ‘flexible’, a mere matter of opinion and an ignoring or rejection of any sources of information that contradict one’s own prejudices.

    Soviet Union/China a totalitarian system, Cuba an authoritarian dictatorship? Must be counter-revolutionary propaganda, so don’t believe it. Amnesty International? International Red Cross? Human Rights Watch? Wikipedia? Doctors Without Borders? How many are covertly run by the CIA? Human Rights Watch probably has connections to the US state department? Does that mean we don’t look at liberal sources of information anymore? (There goes most of Chomsky’s anti-imperialist scholarship). For most scholarship the primary question is not where information comes from but whether it is factual or not.

    For this kind of left this mind-set means that when tyranny and oppression are capitalist and US- imperialist they are rightly decried, but when they are perpetrated by soi-disant ‘national liberation revolutionaries’, ‘socialists’, ‘communists’ or ‘anti-imperialists’, this mind-set is suddenly, and strangely, no longer interested in crimes or victims. They are wilfully ignored, because, as with all the orthodox and fundamentalist, to not ignore them might make one’s ideologies a little uncomfortable (cf. climate change deniers ignoring scientific research that makes them uncomfortable). This authoritarian, top-down mindset is simply not interested in the life of the people, the order-takers, and their suffering. Never a word of interest or empathy, not to mention actual solidarity.

    Instead, this mind-set thinks in abstract nouns which, instead of actual ruling class members, become the personified and active agents (‘the revolution demanded’, ‘Cuba had to…’). It prefers to think ideologically, geopolitically, strategically, militarily.

    Its other main focus is on the order-givers, the ‘great leaders’, revolutionary despots, Police State oppressors and on various theories about their possible perceptions, motivations and choices, often within the context of possible geopolitical chess games between the various ruling powers and elites that this left chooses to support or oppose.

    Screaming, mangled child under the hospital rubble from an Assad or Putin bomb in Aleppo? Ignore and focus instead on whether Obama is out for regime change in Syria, a much more interesting question. If Cuba, maybe North Korea should also be lauded for its ‘socialism’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ because it is ‘standing up to western imperialism’? Even got nukes too, cool.

    In my view these odious double standards regarding human rights abuses, war crimes, suffering and their various state perpetrators are a large part of what makes that kind of left (probably the majority) quite bereft of any moral credibility and thus also of more general persuasiveness among the general population outside the sects and trendies.

    Most of the time this left cannot even recognise the dissonance in this cognitive dissonance and the moral double standard for what it is. Apparently insecure in its own values, its own moral core, its own notion of ‘socialism’, it has a paranoid, siege-mentality fear of truth about authoritarian or totalitarian ‘socialist’ systems that might burst its ideological bubble and somehow ‘aid the enemy’. A pox on both your houses.

    When the (quite brilliant) English historian and Communist Eric Hobsbawm was asked whether he and his party comrades knew of Stalin’s crimes in the 1940s and 50s and why they didn’t speak up, he answered something like ‘we wanted to look away, and we did’.

    The left, including the eco-socialist left, apparently has again to grapple with the old truism that to again look away and to not learn from history is to repeat it in new forms.

    All the best,


    • Bat Chainpuller 7th Dec 2016

      I'm out watching my daughter dance tonight Peter. Still reading your comment and thinking. This thing is really stirring my emotions somewhat. Before this blog and Antonio's "fawning" commentary I commented to Jason Chap, about the Z site and that pic you mentioned and the Castro adulation going on. And here I am a Pareconista, not really a declared anarchist but shit, I am a member of this org which seems far closer to Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, and others, Dolgoff too, and I am finding it all too much. The Cohn article did me in. I made a comment, then I went and sent a direct email to her. Of course not expecting a reply.

      I also must say, I think you are right in your position re Ted. The tendency in many of these articles is to talk about the US aggression towards Cuba seemingly as justification for the actions of Papa Castro and his regime, a leader and regime that infantilises the people of Cuba. All Marxist Leninist regimes seem to take this paternalistic poistion. The Zapatista movement started out Marxist and has shifted and moved towards a much more anarchist position. Proving it can be done. All these essays possess very little indeed as to the negative side of Castro and the kind of repression he and his regime was carrying out.

      The quote from the Cohn article above was enough for me. How an authoritarian , iron fisted leader repressing the people of Cuba can be "absovled" I have no idea. It is what prompted me to post the Dolgoff. I might just post it under my other comment now.

      Albert's concern with the coordinator class is what makes having Castro's picture up with the quote a little disturbing. I don't mind a good argument and diversity of opinion can be good, but given his declared position re the coordinator class and Castro's declared Marxist Leninist position, I cannot understand why it would be placed so prominantly, or at all. It puts me off. Don't like it.

      I may write some more later but gotta go for now.

  • Bat Chainpuller 7th Dec 2016

    One of the things that really gets me regarding all this is the language. Cuba is it seems the exception to the rule re Marxist Leninist state run revolutions. Marjorie Cohn absolving Castro after a rather paradoxical quote. It's similar in parts of Aviva Chomsky's book. A kind of reticence to go hard. A reluctant to criticise too much. Go easy.

    To me it is even there in Albert's piece above, from 2003, four and a half decades on since 59. Castro is seen as a somewhat benevolent dictator and the "siege mentality" is used by all to go easy on the authoritarian rule, the iron fist and repression. Apparently.

    I find it disconcerting to say the least. And it makes it really hard for those of us, not intellectuals, not academics, to really know who to believe. That's what is getting to me more than anything. Dolgoff, a man who remained true to his anarchist beliefs to the end, whose life seemed to mirror the state of anarchism itself over the course of the twentieth century, strong in the early decades, weaker and "lifestyle" like, post world war two, and somewhat old and infirm, yet still getting around towards the latter decades, held fast in his critique of Castro and the Cuban revolution. No bullshit and not this use of Castro's first name, as if he were a friend of everyone,or their Daddy, their Big Daddy, which Peter is right to point out.

    But then, what would I know? Is Dolgoff a better historian than Noam's daughter? Whose name is more well known? Who's more respected? Shouldn't matter but I think these things do sometimes play a part. Marjorie Cohn is a human rights expert so how on earth could she end up on the wrong side of the fence? Any critique of her article on Castro must be, ipso facto, flawed, wrong, just bullshit, and even a sign that the critic may be an apologist for US imperialism.

    Cuba has always been the place where many far to the left side of the fence tread lightly. Something really weird to me and very disconcerting.

    For any post Castro analysis I would much prefer a factual account of the good shit, looked at carefully and put into context, and then a good hard look at the bad shit, also in context, but not somehow smudged and fudged in a way that says, "hey all you anarchists, libertarian socialists, pareconistas, members of IOPS, it's Ok, sometimes you can have Marxist Leninist light.

    Marxist Leninist Lite. A new revolutionary craft beer, manufactured for the people but not by the people. Made for the intelligent and discerning taste bud, in new, normalised Cuba. Ah, the refreshing taste of AK 47s, revolution, siege mentality, market creep and representative democracy. History's good. Marxist Leninist Lite. Go easy.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 7th Dec 2016

    Agree with everything you say, mate. (Watch out, spiritual harmony bells and choirs of angels singing, om mani padme hum!!). Maybe we should just keep our sense of humour a la Zappa and Carlin etc. and do our crit bit of the authoritarian left and then leave it for more pleasant things?

    Re the who-to-believe info prob without becoming a book expert on everything, reckon when various good liberal orgs like Amnesty International plus liberal newspapers tally with Wikipedia (check 'Human Rights in Cuba', 'Mass killings under Communism', and follow the hyperlinks, the list is endless etc) and these also tally with old anarchists like Dolgoff and Fernandez and current anarchists like the Cubans quoted (also El Libertario in Venezuela at libcom), that should be more than enough to cut through the disinformation and propaganda coming from the authoritarian left.

    Hope you enjoyed your daughter's dancing! (Lucky you, mate).

    Just for the helluvit, I'll paste in here a conversation I had with Alex at LS a while back re my own activism and its 'use'...:

    "Thanks for the comment, Alex, and good to see/read you around again after your online break (can sure understand that...). Yeah, i think all your ideas good ones in terms of dis-identifying with the order-givers, different education systems/styles, learning in cooperative groups...

    In similar vein, i used to be a big fan of something called 'social learning' in Germany, i.e. most people learning about the system and widening consciousness through actual participation in social struggles which first almost always started by focussing on immediate interests or defence of something immediate, then gradually widening to wider concerns in the process of struggle itself...with 'action-embedded' intellectuals like yours truly providing the odd prod and intellectual stimulus towards connecting various struggles and dots...

    was a nice theory, and I worked with it in local eco-activism in Germany and here in Oz for about 30 years, from maybe 1976 to about 2007. Gave it a shot, but nothing, i think, really changed...Meanwhile, back in the cosmos...


    insomnialex's picture


    Sat, 2016-10-22 22:02

    whatcha think Peter? did any of that aid your own life? do you think any of that helped lay foundations for something that did change for the better? or did any of it lay foundations that simply weren't strong enough in number or in isolation to have deeper impact?

    while recognizing the possibility of a 'good society', are we narrowing the gap to tackle some of the larger issues or otherwise sitting on a potential shift?


    Peter's picture


    Sun, 2016-10-23 14:57

    'Aid own life'?: not aid, felt more like really having no other option than to act in the ways i did...in order to stay true to self, feelings, values, ideas...to feel in sync with a certain direction/energy in history/evolution as i read it even...part of a social movement and outside it at the same time, like inside and outside the world at the same time, a part engaged and another part disengaged, watching myself acting...

    many years ago a dream i had reckoned that all the activism was in order to demonstrate 'courage' for some personal reason, maybe having to do with early birth and hospitalisation traumas, so that might be another layer to the activism onion in my case...

    'lay foundations for something that did change for the better'/: dunno at all. Probably not. Know i did influence the odd students, who told me so. But, based on the above personal context, doesn't really matter. i was influenced by one or two teachers just by them being what they were, i.e. authentic, not interested in material trivia. figure that's how it works, really, (influence) not just by words, rational stuff, arguments to and fro...

    Here's a nice quote i chanced upon today that fits in here, both re my activism, 'blind activity', and historical activism in general that emphasizes plans and policies and strategies [might be good one to put to the Alberts etc.]:

    "There is the fact that to a very great extent people do not know what they are doing until they have done it, if then. The extent to which people act with a clear idea of their ends, knowing what effects they are aiming at, is easily exaggerated. Most human action is tentative, experimental, directed not by knowledge of what it will lead to but rather by a desire to know what will come of it.

    Looking back over our actions, or over any stretch of past history, we see something has taken shape as the actions went on which certainly was not present to our minds, or to the mind of any one, when the actions which brought it into existence began.

    The ethical thought of the Greco-Roman world attributed far too much to the deliberate plan or policy of the agent, far too little to the force of a blind activity embarking on a course of action without foreseeing its end and being led to that end only through the necessary development of that course itself." (R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, 1946)

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 7th Dec 2016

    Another detail, James, that fits in nicely here when puzzling about Albert's Lenny-Ana 'doubleness'. Have always thought his phrase 'coordinator class' a bit strange, suggesting as it does just a bit of euphemising and even tacit JUSTIFICATION, after all just a bit of 'coordinating' is nice and useful and functional within a system, ain't it? 'Coordinating' gives no suggestion of outright repression, hierarchy and social privilege really, as in the more usual libertarian term 'new ruling class' to describe the Communist nomenklatura.

    Don't think that's a coincidence. Here's a wild hypothesis: maybe ole Albert's something more like a left 'anti-coordinator coordinator', a 'double Lenny-Ana' who likes (like Chomsky sometimes) advising 'coordinators' like Chavez or reminding 'coordinator' Castro of his non-existent libertarian roots. Whatever. Seems like he feels he's gotta keep both Leninists and anarchists happy at ZNet, all one big happy family. Like at Kronstadt 1921 or Barcelona 1936.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 7th Dec 2016

    The above 'anti-coordinator-coordinator' hypothesis might then help explain what you wrote:

    "Albert's concern with the coordinator class is what makes having Castro's picture up with the quote a little disturbing."

  • Michael Pelaez 26th Dec 2016

    You know it's really easy to make sweeping generalizations, throw out the usual anarchist slogans, and disregard actual historical context and the very real war America waged for over forty years on Cuba, but it just speaks of a totaal lack of knowledge regharding the US and it's history in Latin America, the FACT that in order to defend itself Cuba had very little choice but to fall into the Soviet orbit, and to exaggerate the number of victims of Castro's regime in order to easily dismiss the very real revolutionary progress made by Cuba. It's much more difficult and unpopular with anti-authoritarians to admit that despite being authoritarian, Cuba was better off and the lives of the majority of Cubans improved after the revolution, which by the way was in comparison to other revolutions, minimally violent, and supported by the masses. Black and white thinking, a lack of taking into account and a lack of understanding historical context, and falling back on ready made (often dogmatic) labels and slogans, all make it near impossible to further develop a radical theory and practice. Comparing the USA's use of the "terrorist threat" with the ACTUAL terrorism that Cuba had to defend itself against is a perfect exaample of what I'm talking aboutt. BTW, Castro was NOT a Marxist-Leninist from the start and nothing in the hisorical record backs up that belief (held by the extremist right wing Cuban exile community). Castro was a nationalist and an opportunist, and yes, dictatorial. But to lump him in with people like Stalin or Mao is just ridiculous. If he HAD held elections (assuming the USA wouldnt have rigged them by hook or by crook...) he would have won by a landslide every time. To just simply throw labels on him, ignore historical context which limited the possibility for the revolution to have developed truly radically democratic institutions and practice, and dismiss any of the positive achievements of the revolution, simply because they happened under an authoritarian leader and a leninist party, is to lose out on valuable lessons that are necessary to the development of real radical practice and are an example of how anti-authoritarians can be just as rigidly dogmatic and unwilling to learn from history as those on the right. Additionally, to ignore the fact that the majority of Cubans supported Castro and the revolution for the majority of his rule smacks of racism and implies that the Cuban people were just sheepishly following the party line, again - easier to have that attitude rather than find out WHY the people would support a "dictator" who if we believe US propaganda, committed atrocious human rights violations on a daily basis (the US's human rights record is far worse btw), and who ruled with an iron fist. Cuba made great advances IN SPITE of the US war of AGGRESSION, IN SPITE of aliging with the USSR in order to have a gaurantee that the USA wouldnt just outright invade the island, IN SPITE of one party marxist-leninist rule, very much BECAUSE of Castro's committment to provide his countrymen with health care, educations, housing, employment, literacy, development in rural areas, reducing the harmful power of tne catholic church, actual independence, renewed pride, and freedom from the rule of US corporations and organized crime families.

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 27th Dec 2016

    Michael, you seem a little angry. No doubt you have your personal reasons. Not easy to respond to, but I’ll give it a relatively dispassionate (?) go.

    First of all, let’s get rid of the straw men. You seem to simply ignore that I repeatedly made the point that Castro is not in the same league as Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot. So that’s a straw man. I repeatedly made the point that Castro’s regime achieved some remarkable basic social welfare programs. So that’s another straw man. I completely acknowledged US imperial aggression against Cuba over the decades. Another straw man. That the US imperialist superpower system has been the perpetrator and supporter of massive human rights violations, military aggressions, war crimes and crimes against humanity is a simple given (BTW I’ve compiled a Black Dossier of about 110 pages documenting the massive direct crimes of liberal ‘democracies’ since 1945, the total number of victims of this ‘invisible holocaust’ may be around 8-11 million people; can send it to you if you like). Another straw man.

    Next your contradiction or at least wobbliness re Castro’s ‘dictatorship’.

    You say: “Castro was a nationalist and an opportunist, and yes, dictatorial.” And you also say “…IN SPITE of one party marxist-leninist rule…” Then, however, you put the word dictator within quote marks: “…WHY the people would support a "dictator"…

    So was Castro or wasn’t he a ‘dictator’, Michael? I assume you’d have to say yes he was, but that it doesn’t matter because of all the modernisation and welfare programs he instigated. Is that a fair reading? If so, that’s one point where we disagree, as I’ve tried to outline above at length and won’t repeat. (Hitler’s national-socialist ‘revolution’ also modernized, great social welfare system, gave many Germans a sense of ‘pride’, was surrounded by enemies etc, and all bought at just a little cost…and I’m talking about the costs, whereas you do not. (And NO, I’m not saying Castro is in the Hitler league for godsake). Surely we (‘the left’) can do better than comparing the relative merits of various dictatorships and police states?

    Next, unproven hypothesis presented as fact.

    You say: “If he HAD held elections (assuming the USA wouldn’t have rigged them by hook or by crook...) he would have won by a landslide every time.” And “…the fact that the majority of Cubans supported Castro and the revolution for the majority of his rule…”

    So let me try and understand this. Firstly, you say that the majority of Cubans only supported him ‘for the majority of his rule’? If that was the case, when in your opinion did they start to withdraw their support, and why? And if they did withdraw their support, were they mistaken in doing so?

    Secondly, how do we know that the majority supported him at all if there was never any freedom of assembly or free speech or free press and never any free elections (I assume you must admit the latter as you have conceded the term ‘one party Marxist-Leninist rule’)? If in such elections he would have ‘won by a landslide every time’, then why, one could logically ask, didn’t he hold any at all? Surely such elections ‘by a landslide’ would have given him enormous and welcome legitimacy? (The counter-hypothesis is obviously that, after a short honeymoon period, he would have lost any free election).

    (Just as an aside, I’d also add that ‘popular’ and ‘right’ or ‘good’ are obviously by no means the same thing. Otherwise Hitler, Trump, capital punishment and Kim Kardashian would all be right and good.)

    Michael, re elections, basic freedoms and ‘sheepishly following the party line’, I do wonder whether you have ever studied some of the ‘historical context’ of other Marxist-Leninist regimes who also achieved quite a lot in terms of basic social welfare and modernisation (literacy, health etc.)?

    Have you ever, I wonder, heard of the KGB or Stasi, some of whom actually helped set up Castro’s secret police system? Are you saying there were no similar systems of spying, repression and fear operating in Cuba? No neighbourhood spies, no forced expressions of loyalty to state and Party at school and work, no rent-a-mob to intimidate opponents? No denial of access to the wretched Cuban prisons to the Red Cross and Amnesty? No freedom to self-organize and form independent unions? No constant state and Party propaganda and indoctrination?

    Are you really saying people could freely express their opinions on Castro and the Communist system as it closely regulated their private lives? As a radical (your term), do you give a damn about such matters at all?

    I guess I’d also have to ask you Michael if you are also accusing all those other radicals, namely the Cuban anarchists copiously quoted elsewhere in these comments by Bat and myself, of sheer stupidity and ‘ignoring of the historical context’? Perhaps even of ‘treason’ or ‘racism’ as ‘enemies of the people’? I wonder whether you have actually read and thought about what they are saying? If so, does it really leave you cold or are you perhaps defending against feeling something or against repressed doubts or some throwing-out-babies-with-bathwaters Cuban émigré contexts I can know nothing about? Have you read Wikipedia on Human Rights in Cuba and in other Marxist-Leninist regimes? Amnesty, Reporters without Borders? All just CIA propaganda?

    Of course you are free to filter all that stuff through a justifying Leninist lens of ‘historical context’ that ignores actual human suffering for social democratic theories of social welfare and various ‘slogans’ (as you put it) about ‘socialism’. Communists have been doing that since 1917, and now they are thankfully in the dustbin of history.

    I guess I’m just trying to get through the Leninist head trip to your anarcho-syndicalist heart and mind perhaps…one that knows a repressive new ruling class when it sees one, whatever it calls itself, and thinks and acts accordingly… I simply challenge you to read all the mentioned texts with an open heart and mind.

    Have a good New Year.