Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 11, 2009

Samuel Farber’s latest folly

Filed under: cuba — louisproyect @ 6:14 pm

Samuel Farber

The latest issue of Against the Current (http://www.solidarity-us.org/atc/current) has a colloquium on Cuba occasioned by the 50th anniversary of the revolution. As might be expected, they have an offering from Sam Farber who is on the editorial board and a self-styled Cubanologist. Farber has been a frequent contributor to ATC and to ISO journals, as well as the author of a couple of books on Cuba. In my opinion, his ideologically-loaded agenda and scholarly lapses tarnish the reputation of any journal that publishes him, but after all we are living in a free country.

His latest article titled “Political Controls from Above” (http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/2274) incorporates all his crappy tendencies and unfortunately requires me to take time from my busy schedule to rebut.

About half of the article is devoted to complaints about Cuban cultural practices, including the banning of the Beatles music in the 1960s. This is blamed on Stalinism but a more accurate analysis would base itself on trying to understand Cuban society in terms of a country trying to define itself culturally after so many years of colonialism. In the Soviet Union in the 1920s the government promoted art that reflected the revolutionary zeitgeist. Soviet art academies probably did not foster the development of figurative art that would have been considered decadent. That is what happens in revolutions. They are subject to excess, including on the cultural front.

However, in the 1930s Soviet culture was heavily controlled by Stalin who had the final word on what went into a movie. Some of the great experimental artists of the 1920s no longer were able to work after socialist realism became imposed on the country. Nothing like this happened in Cuba on the scale indicated by Farber. For a more nuanced take on Cuban excesses in this period, I can recommend Nelson Valdes’s article “Cuba, the Beatles and Historical Context“. He writes:

The escalation of the war in Vietnam (1965), the rift between the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China (1963-1966) did not leave much room for music appreciation with help from Liverpool. Moreover, American teenagers were becoming a mass market for “I Saw Her Standing There” while in Havana people discussed how to take a country out of underdevelopment. Then there was also the problem of defeating 600 guerrilla groups armed by the Central Intelligence Agency and operating in the Escambray Mountains. In New York DJs spoke of “Golden Hits” but in the Dominican Republic US Marines were landing and hitting towns with their overwhelming fire power. And the US air force had just begun bombing North Vietnam.

Cubans were baffled when the Queen of England appointed the Beatles “Members of the Order of the British Empire” circa June 1965; by then Che had begun the efforts to spark continental revolutions in Africa and Latin America began to confront a wave of military coup d’etats.

In those days, the Americans certainly could not lecture the Cubans about matters of music appreciation. When the Beatles finally began to address the necessity of giving “peace a chance” [a Plastic One Band project] and even criticized US policy in Southeast Asia, criticism of them began in the United States. When Lennon made the passing remark that they were more popular than Jesus, the Bible belt reacted. Radio stations classified the Beatles as anti-American and a boycott ensued. The Beatles had to choose between sales and political convictions. They ended up apologizing for their views on politics and religion to the American rightwing. The Cubans found the whole matter disconcerting.

Granted, by 1966, the Beatles had turned against US interventionism. The Beatles were not a phenomenon that had a popular impact on Cuba, then. Yet, Silvio Rodríguez in the late 1960s had a TV program called ‘Mientras Tanto’ where he actually defended the Beatles’ music and songs. Silvio was criticized and lost his TV spot.

The Beatles’ transcendentalism and Eastern mysticism (circa 1968) alienated Cuban radicals and revolutionaries as well. However, Cuban musicians were impressed by their freedom of composition. But in those days, Cubans had more serious concerns than imagining a yellow submarine when the real ones were just 12 miles away, and the only “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” they knew were the U-2s and Blackbirds that entered their air space in order to clock the Cuban Air command and control structures.

Whatever excesses existed 40 years ago, nobody can accuse Cuban culture of being regimented. The Beatles have been given their place in history and Cuban movies are often cutting edge critiques of government insensitivity. The problem with Farber is that this world is of little interest to him. He is much happier mining ancient Cuban history for blemishes that support his ideological agenda, which can best be described as socialist utopianism. This is not utopian socialism but a belief based on the idea that the obligation of socialists is to conceive of a kind of ideal world that by ritual incantation in the pages of magazines can somehow be realized by divine inspiration.

Farber is past master at making such allegations that later turn out to be unfounded. In 2003, he gave an interview to New Politics in which he made the startling revelation that Cuban dissidents were being put in mental hospitals, just like in the USSR. After doing some research on this question, I discovered that the sole reference to such a thing in Lexis-Nexis was to a Milagro Cruz Cano who had indeed spent some time in a psychiatric hospital.

It turns out that Cano was a guitar-playing religious zealot who hooked up with the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez after leaving Cuba. The first article that turned up in Lexis-Nexis hardly reveals her as a fighter for democracy:

Milagro Cruz Cano a blind worshipper who plays her guitar outside tourist hotels, said her instrument had been taken away by police. Last Saturday, she said, someone with an authoritative voice approached her outside a hotel and said, “Enjoy this until the pope goes, because we’ll take it out on you after he leaves.”

(USA Today, January 26, 1998)

I don’t know how quite to put this, but playing a guitar in front of tourist hotels is not quite the sort of thing that got Grigorenko tossed into a psychiatric hospital.

Another article was hardly likely to make this case either:

A few blocks from where the cameras wait and the people chant, Milagros Cruz Cano, a blind 32-year-old exile, has been living in a tent on the street, existing on Gatorade and water.

Until the moment she was finally banished from Cuba 10 months ago, she believed her daughter, who is now 9 years old, would be allowed to come with her.

“When I told my daughter that they allowed me to take my two dogs, but not her,” Milagros explained through a translator, my daughter, she say, “Mama, put me in the cage and dress me as a dog, so I can be with you. Please, Mama, do not leave me.”

(The Boston Herald April 6, 2000)

But if you go to the Amnesty International website and enter “Cuba” and “psychiatric” in their search field, you will find nothing except a reference to the unfortunate Ms. Milagros.

One of the most telling allegations was about the Cuban Stalinist Anibal Escalante who Farber describes as being victimized solely over his critique of Cuban economic policy:

Among countless repressive incidents of that period was the purge, for the second time, of the old Stalinist Aníbal Escalante who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1968 for organizing what was really a discussion group. His so-called “microfaction” had been meeting to analyze the shortcomings of the Cuban economy from an orthodox Soviet perspective and was friendly with a number of Soviet block diplomats.

Now this is ancient history but it is worth reviewing. Farber’s reference to Escalante being “friendly with a number of Soviet block diplomats” does not even scratch the surface.

Perhaps the most authoritative study of Castro’s Cuba is Tad Szulc’s “Fidel: a critical portrait”, a 685 page work with 13 pages worth of footnotes by the liberal NY Times reporter. In 1985 Szulc interviewed Fabio Grobart, the head of the Historical Institute of the Marxist-Leninist Institute in Cuba, and found his account of the Escalante affair credible.

Grobart stated that the Escalante group operated as a faction hostile to the Cuban government and sought to ingratiate himself to the Kremlin in the aftermath of the Cuban missile crisis. This was a period in which Cuba was poised to break openly with the USSR. Castro, while endorsing the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia, had offered a critique of the Soviet bureaucracy that could have been written by a Trotskyist. He had also issued a strong condemnation of pro-Soviet parties in Latin America that had opposed the rural guerrilla warfare orientation. So sharp were the differences that Cuba had refused to send a delegation to a conference in Bucharest in 1968 convened to deal with the Sino-Soviet split, something that Szulc regarded as a “slap in the face to the Soviets”. This led to strained economic relations between the two countries in which there was a substantial drop in trade. On February 2nd 1968 Granma announced that “no one can call us a satellite state and that is the reason we are respected in the world.” For its part Pravda responded by denouncing “reactionaries who follow the writings of men who call for revolutionary changes in the entire social system”, a clear rebuke to Fidel Castro.

None of this is acknowledged in Samuel Farber’s highly selective reading of Cuban history. But perhaps more to the point it demonstrates once again that Farber has a soft spot in his heart for Cuban Stalinism, something that seems to have eluded his “socialism from below” friends in Solidarity and the ISO. In the Vol. 18, No. 1 1983 edition of Latin American Research Review, Farber has an article titled “The Cuban Communists in the Early Stages of the Cuban Revolution: Revolutionaries or Reformists?” that is positively glowing over the CP, especially in comparison to the Castroites:

Last but not least, the PSP [Popular Socialist Party, the pro-Kremlin official party] was the only significant political force in Cuba that claimed to be socialist or Marxist and therefore stressed the importance of a systematic ideology and program for the development of strategy and tactics. Its ideology and program were tools used to win ideological support from radicalized Cubans seeking a systematic explanation of the country’s situation. This aspect of the PSP is even more noticeable when contrasted to the antitheoretical and antiprogrammatic stance of the Twenty-sixth-of-July movement.

While I can understand why some people can go positively weak in the knees over being in the presence of groups that “stress a systematic ideology”, I for one am more inclined to agree with Karl Marx who told Bracke that “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.” I think that is doubly true when it comes to the activity of the PSP.

During the 1930s the PSP supported Fulgencio Batista about whom secretary-general Blas Roca said “When Batista found the path to democracy, the party helped him.” Batista returned the favor and enjoyed a close relationship to the party. Two Communists became part of Batista’s cabinet in 1942. This was all part of the Popular Front strategy that we assumed people like Samuel Farber would have a dim view of. Or maybe dimwitted…

Batista left office in 1944 but returned as a dictator in 1952. While opposing the takeover, the PSP continued to operate as a reform-oriented housebroken opposition party. It reserved most of its zeal to be used against the youthful guerrillas led by Fidel Castro who were described as “putschists” after the 1953 attack on the Moncada.

Finally, just a word about Farber’s defense of the 75 “dissidents” who were found guilty of being on the American payroll:

Moreover, this situation should not be judged in isolation from the overall context of the Cuban state monopolizing the means of publication and broadcasting. In addition to lacking any legitimate avenue to express their ideas, dissidents are routinely denied educational opportunities and fired from their state jobs, which constitute the great majority of available jobs in Cuba. This situation will lead many of them to the unfortunate conclusion that the enemy of their enemy is their friend, if not to become outright supporters of the United States, and thus make them willing to receive financial aid from the U.S. government.

I find this line of reasoning to be disingenuous in the extreme. People in Cuba come to the American consulate in Cuba not because it is their last resort but because they have given up on Cuba. Try to put yourself in a Cuban’s shoes. The United States has invaded your country, forced dictators on it, likely used chemical and biological weapons, bombed movie theaters, blown up civilian airliners, and made repeated assassination attempts on your president. I would as soon go to the American consulate as voted for Bush in the last election. Samuel Farber, who was born in Cuba himself, seems to have allowed his enmity for Fidel Castro to override all objectivity. I can understand why somebody with such a background would end up this way, but it is incomprehensible to me why the people at Against the Current and the ISO would continue to treat him as an unbiased source. Very regrettable indeed.


  1. I agree with your criticisms of Farber and when he regurgitates liberal talking point about Cuba it is unfortunate, but what of the class nature of the Cuban state.

    I’ll repost what I posted in the comment box of the other article. Obviously I might be understating the significance of the fact that the Cuban revolution managed to completely expropriate its bourgeoisie and the programs against bureaucratization in the 1980s. I still have the feeling that Che would be very upset at the level of consciousness and the relations between labor and state-capital in Cuba:

    I’m fine with your stance on Cuba, also long as leftists acknowledge the Cuba is not a model nor is it a healthy workers’ state.
    Cuba even abandoned all official pretenses of being a state ruled by the working class when it amended its constitution in the early 1990s to claim that the state is a vehicle of the “Cuban people at large”. The working-class exercises no power whatsoever over the Cuban state. It’s internationalist efforts have to be commended, but what is it other than an authoritarian state that managed to provide a universal degree of health care and education to its people?
    Where’s the manifestations of worker’s power? The Committees in Defense of the Revolution aren’t it. They serve to make life and work in Cuban society even more alienating than in bourgeois democracies. Ditto for the suppression of independent trade unionship. The old Stalinist argument is of course, “what use is independent working-class organizations if the state is already run by the working class”, of course even by its own admission Cuba is not a worker’s state. The army, police and bureaucracy are privileged members of Cuban society and any reforms enacted from above within the Cuban state have been in the direction of the China.

    We shouldn’t forget that the Cuban revolution was wound up in a very hyper-masculine, chauvinistic, even psuedo-fascist, ethos. The extreme repression against homosexuals is symptomatic of this. Ground swells of discontent within the gay community in Cuba and among Cuban intellectuals/artists (”Strawberry and Chocolate”), Cuban supporters abroad and within the Cuban Communist Party has largely corrected this. I see no reason why the Cuban ruling class can’t be forced to bend by more polticization and agitation from the left.

    Since I’m just returning from a trip to Cuba, the state is on my mind. I can’t help, but think of the Cuban state and society as fundamentally conservative. It relies largely on depoliticization, on imagery that shrouds itself and earns its legitimacy from the past (revolutionary icons, Marti), and uses repressive mechanisms to prevent any struggle, polticization and evolution.

    This would make sense and I would defend these mechanisms if it was what a small workers’ state 90 miles away from the United States had to do, but Cuba unfortunately isn’t one. It is an undemocratic (I don’t mean in the bourgeois sense) state still ripe with exploitation, alienation and repression. It’s dependent on tourism for hard currency and subsidies from ALBA (not that autarkic policy is a virtue). Progress?

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — July 11, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  2. One thing about Escalante–he never was allowed either to express his political views in any public forum or to defend himself publicly. When, still in the SWP, I expressed the view that this was a violation of workers’ democracy in regard to Escalante and even more in regard to the Cuban people, the only reply from Hansen & co. was ridicule for showing sympathy to a Stalinist.

    Comment by Shane Mage — July 11, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

  3. Louis writes:

    On February 2nd 1968 Granma announced that “no one can call us a satellite state and that is the reason we are expected in the world.”

    Is there a typo?

    Is the typo Granma’s or Louis’?

    Comment by Ruthless Critic — July 12, 2009 @ 6:34 am

  4. The fact that a nation charted a course independent of the Soviet bloc is no affirmation of its socialist credentials nor is it indicative of the class nature of that particular state. I don’t see the same opining about Hoxha’s Albania…

    Comment by Bhaskar Sunkara — July 12, 2009 @ 6:52 am

  5. Cuba is a state capitalist regime.

    They never had a proletarian revolution, just a coup d’etat by some bourgeois politicians with a warlord army – they spray painted their movement red and became born-again-‘communists’ to get aid from the USSR (which itself had long since ceased to be revolutionary by that time).

    And yes, Cuba engages in wholesale repression of it’s Black community and it’s gay community and this fact is well documented.

    Yes, the Castro brothers dictatorship HAS stood up to US imperialism – but then again, so have the pro Taliban tribal chiefs of the Swat Valley!

    And, for that matter, so has President Ahmidinejad – the legitimate freely elected President of Iran.

    In all those cases, I oppose American meddling in those country’s internal affairs – while not offering any political support to those regimes.

    Comment by gangbox — July 12, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

  6. In addition to posting it here, Louis, I suggest that you send this as a letter to the editor to _Against the Current_ so that subscribers to the journal can read your critique.

    Comment by Ruthless Critic — July 12, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

  7. See my review of Samuel Farber’s most recent book. http://www.ratb.org.uk/frfi/198%20samuel%20farber.html

    This weekend I represented Rock around the Blockade (www.ratb.org.uk) in a debate with Paul Hampton from the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty on the question ‘is Cuba socialist?’. They are incredibly reactionary and largely base their arguments on Farber’s material. Thanks to Louis for having the principles and stamina to consistently combat their lies and distortions.

    Comment by Helen Yaffe — July 13, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

  8. The ISO are graduates of the Tony Cliff School of State Capitalism and remain loyal to all of the that tendency’s sacred shiboleths in spite of their being given the boot back in 2000. Since the Cuban Revolution (and the Yugoslav, the Chinese and the Vietnamese revolutions as well) did not follow the same script as did the Russian, it is therefore a plain and simple case of “deflected permanent revolution” and not worthy of the designation “workers state,” “deformed” or otherwise.

    Since their expulsion, the ISO can no longer get hand-outs from the British SWP’s Latin American “expert,” Mike Gonzalez, on south of the border subjects. So they are frequently forced to turn to Farber as a stand-in. Previously that they had someone named Tom Lewis writing on Latin American matters but I haven’t seen his name on their website in a while. Maybe he got tired of their tailing after Obama and his “mass movement.” Indeed, the ISO is far more critical of Castro than Obama.

    When I was in Solidarity in 1992, I was told that Farber was not actually a member, but his word on Cuba was, in effect, the group’s “line” on Cuba…even though there were quite a few ex-SWPers in the group who still were fervent Castroites. However, they were not willing to rock the “regroupment” boat by making too big a deal over the defense of the Cuban revolution.

    In fact, the only Solidarity branch meeting I attended that actually drew a full house, rather than the usual handful of hard-core devotees, was when Farber came to trash Fidel in the fall of 1992. The only three members (out of a crowd of around 40) who spoke against his positions were myself, Norman Resnick and Steve Bloom, two ex-SWPers. Indeed, Farber was very upset about our “still” using class criteria to access “democracy.” After all, this was in 1992, and everyone there was supposed to have read and agreed with his book on Russia, “Before Stalinism,” which “proved” how Leninism had led to Stalinism. Funny, I thought Karl Kautsky “proved” that long before Farber ever came into this world.

    It is belief in that nation, which in and of itself is a capitulation to the pressures of bourgeois ideology and environment, that routinely leads groups like Solidarity to worship the views of Farber, Joanne Landy and every other anti-communist “democracy” advocate out there. The ISO, like the British SWP, on the other hand, claims to defend the Bolshevik tradition, but the Stalinophobia that their “state capitalism” line is based upon almost always gets the upper hand. Unless it’s when someone like Che or Chavez is popular within the milleaus that they are orienting/adapting to, as during the hey-day of the “anti-globalization” movement.

    Comment by MN Roy — July 13, 2009 @ 8:37 pm

  9. What is the Schwenckfelders’ “position” on Cuba?

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — July 15, 2009 @ 10:27 pm

  10. As you mention Mike Gonzalez, I am pasting the link to an earlier review I did on his 2004 book (diatribe) Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution: http://www.ratb.org.uk/frfi/180.HTML

    These Trotskyist groups argue that the lack of ‘independent’ trade unions in Cuba is evidence that it is not socialist. Hold on a minute, there’s something wrong here. Under capitalism, trade unions are organisations which serve to defend the conditions of workers in the face of attack by capitalists/exploiters. However, socialism assumes a workers state – the working class control the state. Surely then, if there are no capitalists to protect workers from (means of production in hands of workers, plan democratically determined by the workers etc), the function of trade unions ought to change under socialism. Why would you want an ‘independent’ trade union in the context of a workers state? ‘Independent’ from whom and in whose interests? Independent from the socialist plan? Independent from the workers’ interests expressed through institutions of the state? Or do they just mean financially independent bodies funded through members voluntary contributions (as are the local trade unions branches in Cuba).

    Likewise, why would you want opposition parties? Why allow parties in opposition to the workers state (the dictatorship of the proletariat!)? Why sow the seeds for the destruction of the workers state by encouraging organised opposition/counter-revolution. After all, if there was no threat of counter-revolution from the bourgeoisie, if there were no class antagonism, if the workers were in control and everyone was a worker on equal terms, even the workers state would become redundant and ‘whither away’ as Marx and Engels envisaged.

    So Cuba is condemned for not having a workers state AND for not having ‘independent’ trade unions or ‘opposition parties’ which would be a nonsense in a workers state. Worst of all, while the bar is set so high for the Cuban Revolution – anything short of perfection at inception mean it can never be socialist (ie the revolution was not made by politically conscious/socialist trade unions, impossible in the historical conditions in 1950s Cuba), most of these Trotksyist groups apply a completely different yardstick to the Labour Party in Britain. Somehow they still see the seeds of a socialist workers movement in an organisation which has a history of racism and pro-imperialism. This is a colonialist mentality which places the western Trotskyist left at the forefront of the international socialist movement. But history is exposing the redundancy of their analysis which leaves them marginalised from real revolutionary movements emerging in Latin America and elsewhere.

    Comment by Helen Yaffe — July 16, 2009 @ 10:54 am

  11. One can be a still be a defender of the Cuban revolution without being an unconditional apologist for any and every action of the regime. Most Trotskyists, including myself, who see Cuba as some sort of “workers state,” in fact, are. The trouble with those who aren’t, like Farber and the Cliffites, is that they counterpose some idealized myth of what a workers state should be (or what they think the Paris Commune or Russia in 1917 was) with the realities of the other socialist revolutions that, for whatever reason, were forced to follow a different path. They simply cannot understand that even if Cuba supposedly does not resemble what they understand to be the better aspects of Lenin’s Russia, it certainly doesn’t resemble the grisly aspects of Stalin’s Russia either. Their Stalinophobia also makes them easier prey for the arguments of pro-imperialist “democracy” advocates.

    However, that said, I wouldn’t be so quick to excuse the lack of organs of working class (as opposed to bourgeois) democracy or the existance of other socialist (as opposed to pro-capitalist) partys or organizations in Cuba. It doesn’t help the revolution, it hinders it. As Fidel once said, freedom for those with the revolution! He didn’t say only for those who agreed with him or his brother. And as great a leader as Fidel was, he wasn’t always right any more than Lenin and Trotsky were.

    Finally the white-tripping about “colonialist mentality” doesn’t add anything constructive to the discussion. I know that “Workers Liberty” is even worse than the ISO could ever be on it’s worst day; it supports Israel, the Unionists in Northern Ireland and supported imperialist wars in Yugoslavia and the Middle east. However most British Trots were in the Labor Party because it was seen as the historic, union-based mass organization of the British working class (including by Lenin) and that if they were ever going to win over the workers, they realized that they had to be with the workers, not because they agreed with the racism and pro-imperialism of the pro-capitalist Social Democratic and trade union bureaucracy running it.

    Comment by MN Roy — July 16, 2009 @ 8:34 pm

  12. Issues of democracy, of independent trade unions and political parties can be debated abstractly, but for Cubans they take a very specific and concrete form. Listening to Cuban revolutionaries discussing these issues with British audiences last year they made the following observations:
    1) Cuba exists next door to the world’s biggest and most predatory imperialist power. That power has repeatedly demonstrated that it will use every opportunity to foster divisions within governments that in any way oppose it and that it will overtly and covertly fund political parties and politicians to bring them into its service. This has been demonstrated to Cuba for decades across the Caribbean and Latin America (Jamaica, Grenada, Venezuela, Chile …the list is formidable evidence). The Blockade of Cuba is an ever present experience in Cuban lives and US strategists impose it in order to try to make Cuba poor and weak and to foster opposition to the government within Cuba. Ninety miles from Cuba there are the descendants of Santo Trafficante and Meyer Lansky, (Mafia dons who once effectively ran the country), who have several political parties for Cuba in waiting.
    2) Cuba is not a large state like say China and its geographical position renders it particularly sensitive to military and political threats. For Cubans these facts, combined with the residue of colonial and semi-colonial status and history, necessitate that Cuba does not experiment with capitalism. If it did it would quickly succumb to imperialism. The attempt to build socialism is neccessary for Cuba’s independence; dally with capitalism and whatever independence from imperialism Cubans have will be in peril (this especially concerns their health and education systems, their culture and agriculture and so on). This is not the same for the Chinese state.

    For my own part two observations. Firstly, unlike in the Soviet Union the communist party is not identical with the state; state personnel are not all members of the party and party members are not primarily state functionaries. In the Soviet Union the party and the state effectively fused. This is not the case in Cuba and consequently the party can play a different role to that of the party in the Soviet Union, for example. Secondly, meeting Cuban people in Cuba they are noticeably politically conscious and articulate. You realise that that is why the revolution has survived and adapted; a politically educated working class, able to address problems as they arise and seek solutions to them and implement them. Cuba has not fossilised as the Soviet Union tended to do. Cuban political leaders’ ideas have not become dogma, their organisations have not become rigid and unwieldy,incapable of acting with the people and of reflecting the views of the people. What democracy Cuba has is why Cuba has survived and it exists under very real and threatening conditions imposed by imperialism.

    Comment by T Rayne — July 19, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  13. I can bear witness to one of Helen’s points. (I was a member of Solidarity myself, when I was a Shachmanite. I am still friendly with Sam. I don’t think Before Stalinism is a terrible book, but he is insensitive to the tremendous pressures the Bolsheviks were facing when they stopped the Mensheviks from winning the Soviet elections). While Shachmanites like Sam are right out there in the open with their accusations that the workers states like Cuba are “slave”-“bureaucratic collectivist” states, the ex-SWPers shut their mouths about defending Cuba. I was at the first meeting of this so-called “Socialist Project” (basically a popular front, when I was not yet developed enough to know why it’s wrong to participate in such “projects” in the first place) years ago in NYC. This happened during another period of anti-Cuba hysteria in the US. Almost the first thing that came out of the ex-SWPer’s (his initials are CP) mouth was, “well we’re not going to find agreement on Cuba, so let’s not even talk about it.” This is reprehensible. Solidarity is a centrist swamp.

    Comment by Tom Smith — August 19, 2011 @ 12:44 pm

  14. This review was helpful, especially after seeing Farber speak yesterday at the CUNY Grad Center. I just completed a horrible semester teaching an advanced composition class organized around the theme of revolutionary Cuba at West Point, where I hold a temporary appointment in the English department (the vagaries of the job market). The course is structured along predictably Cold War-era ideological lines, whereby Castro and Che are read alongside more contemporary exile and/or tourist first-person anti-Castro narratives; I strove mightily to undermine this ridiculous binary narrative. Although I came across Farber’s name in the course of educating myself on the revolution, I don’t know his work, so I was surprised to encounter the rigidly anti-Castro perspective he articulated in yesterday’s talk, which was redolent of the Miami line, although conveniently cloaked in the mantle of “socialism from below,” which inoculated him from the left-liberal audience’s criticism. For example, he reiterated the canard that while Castro was legitimately undecided as to the ideological trajectory of the revolution up until New Year’s Day, 1959, the “pro-Soviet faction” of the July 26 Movement, consisting of Raul and Che, whom Farber identified as “Stalinist,” quickly won the day. Farber’s identification of Che as a Stalinist was based on the fact that he wished to visit Stalin’s tomb during the first official Cuban state visit to the USSR; the fact that Che later condemned Stalin in a journal entry, or that he was carrying a Trotsky text when he was killed in Bolivia doesn’t mitigate Che’s Stalinism for Farber. Che’s dedication to proletarian internationalism would also complicate this sloppy characterization, or so one would think. Farber spoke alongside an economics professor at Havana University, who contested the main speaker’s characterization of the sixties as monolithic, as said professor lived through the period, which he described as tremendously experimental–but to no avail, for Farber. The idea that the Cuban revolution was complex and commanded tremendous popular support, especially during the first decade, is absolute anathema to Farber, who seems to provide a Marxist veneer for reactionary anti-Castroism. I bought his book prior to the talk, and now I’m regretting it. So much for alternative perspectives.

    Comment by Anthony Galluzzo — December 10, 2011 @ 3:12 am

  15. “The Cuban Revolution has exposed the vast inroads of revisionism upon our movement. On the pretext of defense of the Cuban Revolution, in itself an obligation for our movement, full unconditional and uncritical support has been given to the Castro government and leadership, despite its petit-bourgeois nature and bureaucratic behavior. Yet the record of the regime’s opposition to the democratic rights of the Cuban workers and peasants is clear: bureaucratic ouster of the democratically-elected leaders of the labor movement and their replacement by Stalinist hacks; suppression of the Trotskyist press; proclamation of the single-party system; and much else. This record stands side by side with enormous initial social and economic accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution. Thus, Trotskyists are at once the most militant and unconditional defenders against imperialism of both the Cuban Revolution and of the deformed workers’ state which has issued therefrom. But Trotskyists cannot give confidence and political support, however critical, to a governing regime hostile to the most elementary principles and practices of workers’ democracy, even if our tactical approach is not as toward a hardened bureaucratic caste.”

    —“Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International,” reprinted in Spartacist No. 1, February-March 1964

    Comment by Tom Smith — December 10, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

  16. I found Samuel Farber’s book on Cuba to be outstanding — far better than any book on Cuba any other American Leftist ever has produced.

    It is not the job of revolutionary socialists to defend a nation-state as “progressive” in the world because imperialists attack it or because they have welfare state measures. This is why Stalinism and most adherents of Trotskyism can’t wait to regroup! Because both believe in the myth of a progressive ruling class and think workers self-management is utopia and “anarchism” — may anarchism with such a perspective continue to grow while what is known as “Marxism” continues to defend one party states and welfare states.

    “Socialism” is not a more consistent access to food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare — if all we want is that we can stay in prison. We can EVEN defend the warden for inconsistently providing these, abusing us, but nevertheless having the right idea most of the time and for making a contribution to civilization. I mean this is what the unprincipled attacks on Farber “utopianism” are defending in Cuba in the name of “anti-capitalism.”

    Socialism must be measured by whether ordinary people are in the process of directly governing themselves — if that is a utopian standard, apparently managing capitalism at the expense of one’s own workers is “Marxism.” Any regime which explicitly says “NO” to the working class governing itself is a regime that must be overthrown.

    Arguments against cultural imperialism which tell ordinary people what music to listen to at the point of a gun is total nonsense. This is true if it is the Beatles in Cuba or in the 1970s in Tanzania where James Brown’s music was banned! They could have banned James Brown’s “black capitalist” politics but what they called Ujamaa was already Black capitalist politics — so they played around with culture. Who knew Third World one party states would be such forerunners of the worst in academic life today.

    Socialism is not a philosophy for barnyard animals with the instincts for exercise.

    Mr. Farber is not a utopian or an anarchist or an excessively libertarian socialist. Certainly Against the Current, whether he is on the editorial board or not, does not lead with his perspective generally or perspectives to his Left. In fact none of the “third camp” or libertarian socialist perspectives found within the dissident tradition of American Trotskyism get consistent play in that journal at all — except occasionally in the obituary column.

    We should be careful when discussing socialism that our highest revolutionary principles not only appear in our obituary columns but in the actual work we do in organizing and advocacy.

    Comment by Isaiah — August 21, 2012 @ 5:12 am

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