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(en) Cuban anarchism: the history of a movement by Frank Fernandez - introduction by Chaz Bufe

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(http://www.illegalvoices.org/apoc/books/cuban/front.html)
Date Thu, 19 Feb 2004 11:49:11 +0100 (CET)


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This is not a conventional history. Rather, it’s a tribute, an homage
to the thousands of Cuban anarchists who worked over the course of
more than a century to build a freer, juster world, and who, but for
this book, would remain almost entirely forgotten. That would be a
tragedy, as virtually all of them were idealistic, admirable human
beings, and many were truly heroic. All are more deserving of
historical remembrance than such power-hungry dictators as Gerardo
Machado, Fulgencio Batista, and Fidel Castro.
The author of this work, Frank Fernández, has been a member of the
Movimiento Libertario Cubano en Exilio (MLCE) for decades, and was
the editor of its long-running periodical, Guángara Libertaria, for
which he wrote easily half a million, and perhaps a million, words on
Cuban history and politics. He is also the author of the book, La
sangre de Santa Águeda, which deals with a pivotal event in Spanish
and Cuban history, the assassination of the Spanish premier Cánovas
del Castillo in 1897.

Like the other members of the MLCE and their predecessors in Cuba,
Frank has done his political work in his “spare” time - after
his day job as a mechanical engineer—and has never received a
dime for his countless hours of work on behalf of Cuban freedom. He
writes here from deep conviction and also from a deep knowledge of
the history of Cuba and its anarchist movement. That knowledge
includes personal acquaintance with most of the Cuban anarchists
mentioned in chapters 4 and 5, whose testimony and remembrances form
the backbone of those chapters.

In reading this history of Cuban anarchism, one is struck both by the
immense courage and dedication of the Cuban anarchists, and by the
lessons to be learned from their struggles. A particularly poignant
lesson is that concerning so-called wars of national liberation. In
the 1890s, Cuba’s large and powerful anarchist movement split over
the question of whether or not to participate in the national
independence struggle. A great many anarchists defected to the
independence movement, but that movement proved to be a disaster both
for the anarchists, who were seriously weakened, and for Cuba’s
people as a whole, hundreds of thousands of whom died in the
conflict. In the end, nothing worthwhile was achieved - Spanish
colonialism was replaced, but by a republic in the hands of the sugar
barons and beholden to foreign financial interests. At least some
Cuban anarchists evidently learned from this fiasco - that it’s
always a mistake for anarchists to put aside their principles and
support would-be governors, no matter how “nationalist” or “
progressive” - but a great many other anarchists evidently didn’t.

Twenty years after this Cuban disaster, large numbers of the world’s
anarchists (including many Cubans) threw their support to the
Bolshevik government after the 1917 Russian revolution. 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 non-
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 reemergence 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. The positive lesson is that it is possible to build a
large, powerful revolutionary movement, despite lack of physical
resources, through dedication and hard work.

Before going on to the body of this book, it’s necessary to consider
the ideology of Cuba’s anarchists. Because there are so many popular
misconceptions about anarchism, it’s imperative to clarify what
anarchism is and what it isn’t. First, what it isn’t:

Anarchism is not terrorism. An overwhelming majority of anarchists
have always rejected terrorism, because they’ve been intelligent
enough to realize that means determine ends, that terrorism is
inherently vanguardist, and that even when “successful” it almost
always leads to bad results. The anonymous authors of You Can’t Blow
Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism put it
like this:

The total collapse of this society would provide no guarantee about
what replaced it. Unless a majority of people had the ideas and
organization sufficient for the creation of an alternative society,
we would see the old world reassert itself because it is what people
would be used to, what they believed in, what existed unchallenged in
their own personalities.

Proponents of terrorism and guerrillaism are to be opposed because
their actions are vanguardist and authoritarian, because their ideas,
to the extent that they are substantial, are wrong or unrelated to
the results of their actions (especially when they call themselves
libertarians or anarchists), because their killing cannot be
justified, and finally because their actions produce either
repression with nothing in return, or an authoritarian regime.

Decades of government and corporate slander cannot alter this
reality: the overwhelming majority of anarchists reject terrorism for
both practical and ethical reasons. Time magazine recently called Ted
Kaczynski “the king of the anarchists,” but that doesn’t make it so;
Time’s words are just another typical, perhaps deliberately
dishonest, attempt to tar all anarchists with the terrorist brush.

This is not to say that armed resistance is never appropriate.
Clearly there are situations in which one has little choice, as when
facing a dictatorship that suppresses civil liberties and prevents
one from acting openly - which has happened repeatedly in Cuba.
Even then, armed resistance should be undertaken reluctantly and as a
last resort, because violence is inherently undesirable due to the
suffering it causes; because it provides repressive regimes excuses
for further repression; because it provides them with the opportunity
to commit atrocities against civilians and to blame those atrocities
on their “terrorist” opponents (as has happened recently in Algeria);
and because, as history has shown, the chances of even limited
success are quite low.

Even though armed resistance may sometimes be called for in
repressive situations, it’s a far different matter to succumb to the
romance of the gun and to engage in urban guerrilla warfare in
relatively open societies in which civil liberties are largely intact
and in which one does not have mass popular support at the start of
one’s violent campaign. Violence in such situations does little but
drive the public into the “protective” arms of the government; it
narrows political dialogue (tending to polarize the populace into
pro- and anti-guerrilla factions); it turn politics into a spectator
sport for the vast majority of people; it provides the government
with a handy excuse to suppress civil liberties; and it induces the
onset of repressive regimes, “better” able to handle the “terrorist”
problem than their more tolerant predecessors. It’s also worth
mentioning that the chances of success of such violent, vanguardist
campaigns are microscopic. They are simply arrogant, ill-thoughtout
roads to disaster.

Anarchism is not primitivism. In recent decades, groups of quasi-
religious mystics have begun equating the primitivism they advocate (
rejection of “technology,” whatever that might mean) with anarchism.
In reality, the two have nothing to do with each other, as we’ll see
when we consider what anarchism actually is - a set of
philosophical/ethical precepts and organizational principles designed
to maximize human freedom.

For now, suffice it to say that the elimination of technology
advocated by primitivist groups would inevitably entail the deaths of
literally billions of human beings in a world utterly dependent upon
interlocking technologies for everything from food production and
delivery to communications to medical treatment. This fervently
desired outcome, the elimination of technology, could only occur
through means which are the absolute antithesis of anarchism: the use
of coercion and violence on a mass scale.

Anarchism is not chaos; Anarchism is not rejection of organization.
This is another popular misconception, repeated ad nauseam by the media
and by anarchism’s political foes, especially marxists (who sometimes
know better). Even a brief look at the works of anarchism’s leading
theoreticians and writers confirms that this belief is in error. Over
and over in the writings of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Rocker,
Ward, Bookchin, et al., one finds not a rejection of organization,
but rather a preoccupation with how society should be organized in
accord with the anarchist principles of individual freedom and social
justice. For a century and a half now, anarchists have been arguing
that coercive, hierarchical organization (as embodied in government)
is not equivalent to organization per se (which they regard as
necessary), and that coercive organization should be replaced by
decentralized, non-hierarchical organization based on voluntary
cooperation and mutual aid. This is hardly a rejection of organization.

Anarchism is not amoral egotism. As does any avant garde social
movement, anarchism attracts more than its share of flakes,
parasites, and sociopaths, persons simply looking for a glamorous
label to cover their often-pathological selfishness, their disregard
for the rights and dignity of others, and their pathetic desire to be
the center of attention. These individuals tend to give anarchism a
bad name, because even though they have very little in common with
actual anarchists - that is, persons concerned with ethical
behavior, social justice, and the rights of both themselves and
others - they’re often quite exhibitionistic, and their
disreputable actions sometimes come into the public eye. To make
matters worse, these exhibitionists sometimes publish their self-
glorifying views and deliberately misidentify those views as “
anarchist.” To cite an example, the publisher of a pretentiously (sub)
titled American “anarchist” journal recently published a book by a
fellow egotist consisting largely of ad hominem attacks on actual
anarchists - knowing full well that the “anarchist” author of
the book was a notorious police narcotics informant. Such individuals
may (mis)use the label, but they’re anarchists only in the sense that
the now-defunct German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was
democratic and a republic.

This is what anarchism isn’t. This is what it is:
In its narrowest sense, anarchism is simply the rejection of the
state, the rejection of coercive government. Under this extremely
narrow definition, even such apparent absurdities as “anarcho-
capitalism” and religious anarchism are possible. To the best of my
knowledge, there have been no such shining examples of anarcho-
capitalists.

But most anarchists use the term “anarchism” in a much broader sense,
defining it as the rejection of coercion and domination in all forms.
So, most anarchists reject not only coercive government, but also
religion and capitalism, which they see as other forms of the twin
evils, domination and coercion. They reject religion because they see
it as the ultimate form of domination, in which a supposedly all-
powerful god hands down “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” to its “
flock.” They likewise reject capitalism because it’s designed to
produce rich and poor, because it inevitably produces a system of
domination in which some give orders and others have little choice
but to take them. For similar reasons, on a personal level almost all
anarchists reject sexism, racism, and homophobia - all of which
produce artificial inequality, and thus domination.

To put this another way, anarchists believe in freedom in both its
negative and positive senses. In this country, freedom is routinely
presented only in its negative sense, that of being free from
restraint. Hence most people equate freedom only with such things as
freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of (or from)
religion. But there’s also a positive aspect of freedom, an aspect
which anarchists almost alone insist on.

That positive aspect is what Emma Goldman called the freedom to. And
that freedom, the freedom of action, the freedom to enjoy or use, is
highly dependent upon access to the world’s resources. Because of
this the rich are, in a very real sense, free to a much greater
degree than the rest of us. To cite an example in the area of free
speech, Donald Trump could easily buy dozens of daily newspapers or
television stations to propagate his views and influence public
opinion. How many working people could do the same? How many working
people could afford to buy a single daily newspaper or a single
television station? The answer is obvious. Working people cannot do
such things; instead, they’re reduced to producing ‘zines with a
readership of a few hundred persons or putting up pages on the
Internet in their relatively few hours of free time.

Examples of the greater freedom of the rich abound in daily life. To
put this in general terms, because they do not have to work, the rich
not only have far more money (that is, more access to resources) but
also far more time to pursue their interests, pleasures, and desires
than do the rest of us. To cite a concrete example, the rich are free
to send their children to the best colleges employing the best
instructors, while the rest of us, if we can afford college at all,
make do with community and state colleges employing slave-labor “
adjunct faculty” and overworked, underpaid graduate-student teaching
assistants. Once in college, the children of the rich are entirely
free to pursue their studies, while most other students must work at
least part time to support themselves, which deprives them of many
hours which could be devoted to study. If you think about it, you can
easily find additional examples of the greater freedom of the rich in
the areas of medical care, housing, nutrition, travel, etc., etc.
in fact, in virtually every area of life.

This greater freedom of action of the rich comes at the expense of
everyone else, through the diminishment of everyone else’s freedom of
action. There is no way around this, given that freedom of action is
to a great extent determined by access to finite resources. Anatole
France well illustrated the differences between the restrictions
placed upon the rich and the poor when he wrote, “The law, in its
majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep
under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Because the primary goal of anarchism is the greatest possible amount
of freedom for all, anarchists insist on equal freedom in both its
negative and positive senses - that, in the negative
sense, individuals be free to do whatever they wish as long as they do
not harm or directly intrude on others; and, in the positive sense, that
all individuals have equal freedom to act, that they have equal
access to the world’s resources.

Anarchists recognize that absolute freedom is an impossibility. What
they argue for is that everyone have equal freedom from restraint (
limited only by respect for the rights of others) and that everyone
have as nearly as possible equal access to resources, thus ensuring
equal (or near-equal) freedom to act.

This is anarchism in its theoretical sense.

In Cuba, as in Spain and a few other countries, there have been
serious attempts to make this theory reality through the movement
known as anarchosyndicalism. The primary purpose of
anarchosyndicalism is the replacement of coercive government by
voluntary cooperation in the form of worker-controlled unions
coordinating the entire economy. This would not only eliminate the
main restraint on the negative freedoms (government), but would also
be a huge step toward achieving positive freedom (the freedom to).
The nearest this vision has ever come to fruition was in the Spanish
Revolution, 1936–1939, when large areas of Spain, including
its most heavily industrialized region, Catalonia, came under the
control of the anarchosyndicalist Confederación Nacional del Trabajo.
George Orwell describes this achievement in Homage to Catalonia:

The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the
revolution was in full swing. . . . the aspect of Barcelona was
something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I
had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle.
Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers
and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the
anarchists; . . . Every shop and café had an inscription saying it
had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized
and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shopworkers looked
you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even
ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. . . . The
revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in
clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look
like daubs of mud. . . . All this was queer and moving. There was
much in it that I did not understand, in some ways I did not even
like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth
fighting for.

This is what the Cuban anarchists were fighting for. While they did
not achieve what their Spanish comrades did, they built one of the
largest anarchosyndicalist movements the world has ever seen, which
at its height in the 1920s included 80,000 to 100,000 workers in
unions operated on anarchist principles.

This achievement did not come without cost: countless Cuban
anarchists paid for it with their lives, imprisonment, or exile.

This is their story.

- Chaz Bufe, Tucson, Arizona
A Note on Terminology

Throughout the text the author uses the term “libertarian” in its
original sense: as a synonym for “anarchist.” Indeed, it was used
almost exclusively in this sense until the 1970s when, in the United
States, it was appropriated by the grossly misnamed Libertarian
Party. This party has almost nothing to do with anarchist concepts of
liberty, especially the concepts of equal freedom and positive
freedom - the access to resources necessary to the freedom to
act. Instead, this “Libertarian” party concerns itself exclusively
with the negative freedoms, pretending that liberty exists only in
the negative sense, while it simultaneously revels in the denial of
equal positive freedom to the vast majority of the world’s people.
These “Libertarians” not only glorify capitalism, the mechanism that
denies both equal freedom and positive freedom to the vast majority,
but they also wish to retain the coercive apparatus of the state
while eliminating its social welfare functions - hence widening
the rift between rich and poor, and increasing the freedom of the
rich by diminishing that of the poor (while keeping the boot of the
state on their necks).

Thus, in the United States, the once exceedingly useful term “
libertarian” has been hijacked by egotists who are in fact enemies of
liberty in the full sense of the word. Fortunately, in the rest of
the world, especially in the Spanish-speaking countries, “
libertarian” (“libertario”) remains a synonym for “anarchist.” It is
used in that sense in this book.




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