Author Matthew Quest

C.L.R. James’s “Critical Support” of Fidel Castro’s Cuba


Many are the imperial crimes that can be detailed against oppressed nations’ sovereignty, and Cuba specifically. Given the recent visit of President Obama to Cuba, and the expression of his desire to end the United States embargo, these have again become common currency. And yet discussion of these impositions often paper over unresolved historical problems in the development of the anti-imperialist movement.

C.L.R. James’s “critical support” of Fidel Castro’s Cuba is little understood among scholars of his life and work. This essay explores James’s 1967–1968 visit to Cuba and reconstructs private debates and discussion on Cuba within his revolutionary organizations, based in Detroit, in the 1950s and 1960s, and among anti-imperialist movements. Many of James’s commentaries and disputes were consistent with his attempts to reconcile anti-colonialism with direct democracy and workers self-management.[1] If what it means to oppose empire appears fairly straightforward on the surface, the meaning of critical support of oppressed nations and the content of socialism, as a measure of evaluating radical developments in oppressed nations, is often obscure.

Empire is the military domination, economic exploitation, and cultural subordination of one nation by a foreign power. The search for identity of colonized people and the pursuit of self-government denied is not necessarily synonymous with rejection of the empire of capital or affirmation of labor’s self-emancipation. Support for national liberation struggles need not mean support for its aspiring leaders, in contrast to solidarity with an oppressed nation’s commoners. This only makes sense if we understand that there are conflicting tendencies within all freedom movements and to discuss them does not undermine but can enhance solidarity. James’s historical and political legacies, regarding Cuba, are dynamic measures for learning about these contours.

Critical Support and Workers’ Self-Management

How can we criticize a regime in a formerly colonized society, especially where it appears to embody a strong resistance to racism, empire, and genuine aspirations toward a socialist revolution? Still, what does Cuba solidarity mean when we find the Cuban Revolution has been at times neither socialist nor democratic, and has been repressive to Blacks’ and workers,’ gender and sexual autonomy? We cannot simply assume that James, anti-imperialist and revolutionary socialist, saw Cuba as the uncritical embodiment of the search for a new identity for the Caribbean—though this was at times his public stance.

“Critical support” of a former colonized nation that appears to be on a non-capitalist path requires a stance of “no blank checks.” This means the offer of solidarity is not simply evaluated by what imperialists think of the peripheral government it is seeking to subordinate. Nor can it be conceived only by what those governments claiming to resist empire might ask of anti-colonialists abroad. Rather, it is crucial what those offering solidarity also believe about the content of socialism and democracy. This may more easily be expressed at a distance than when visiting a foreign land as an official guest of the aspiring peripheral capitalist or socialist government resisting empire. Nevertheless, historically, this is something radicals have had to negotiate if we wish to offer solidarity to ordinary people, not primarily the governments above them. We should wish to learn about the actual social relations in that society, so we may return to educate our own people in what has been found abroad, not simply confirming everything we may have already believed in theory.

When we speak of direct democracy and workers’ self-management as measures of a future socialist society, there are some anti-capitalist thinkers of differing schools of thought who inquire if this emphasis obscures important tasks of the future or evolving socialist economy? For those who believe socialism is primarily a state plan above society not labor’s self-emancipation, that the market will be constrained by the state for the better, but not the wage-system or labor laws that discipline the working class in the name of national unity, their objection to direct self-government or popular self-management reveals “thin” conceptions of socialism and democracy. There may even be present autocratic tendencies in the name of national unity against the external imperialist enemy.

Still, there are others who speak of labor’s self-emancipation and workers’ self-management but who have more genuine concerns. For example, a self-managing socialist economy may find workers without bosses in water and sewage plants, steel mills, and farming bananas. But it might also find autoworkers in factories voting to abolish their jobs, deciding, for example, that luxury cars are no longer needed. With a commitment to social ecology and the expansion of public transportation, even modest cars may no longer be desired. Self-managing workers and farmers may wish to create cooperatives, as they directly plan a socialist economy. Cooperative relations can appear to overturn the thin idea of “jobs and justice.” Yet wage labor and capital relations may or may not be sustained. Self-managing farmers may reject the cash-crop culture of state-run marketing boards, even as the state claims to be concerned about the ravages of the market only to have an aspiring monopoly on foreign trade. How can statesmen from above society, or more decentralized cooperatives, claim to be eliminating market activities, if they accept in fact, that the market is essential to their own conception of political economy? Socialist transitions may be complex economically but this should not be an argument for less self-directed liberating activity.

Toilers may wish to abolish national boundaries, forging new federations, and eliminating job categories, like police. Some of these decisions authentically exist in tension, at least as conversations unfold, with decisions about national defense for a country such as Cuba, that has been subject to imperialist invasion and subversion. However, successful national defense need not mean a professional army with all the hierarchy and privileges this implies, centralization of spying and show trials, or neighborhood committees that only snitch but don’t actually govern.

Popular assemblies, workplace councils, or neighborhood committees, if they exist side by side with a nation-state for a time, should be able to maintain a record of policy disagreement (and independent initiative) with politicians above society, without finding themselves in prison or the subject of abuse. A self-directed decentralized government in embryo need not revel in proof of “reforms”—the taking off of restrictions the state had placed on their activities—for this type of surveillance should not be happening at all.

Working people who actually govern directly will be more confident in making decisions knowing that the necessities of life are not simply guaranteed to them as the subjects of welfare (or protected by the voice of a politician above society), but that these are the priorities of economic and social reproduction they make and fulfill themselves. But some can speak of labor’s self-emancipation and still have a very restricted sense of the content of socialism. This has something to do with a limited notion of democracy.

In view of the fact that American imperialists call their project of empire “spreading democracy,” many socialists mistakenly discard the idea altogether. Or some see it as defense of civil liberties under the state, which makes freedom of speech and assembly subordinate to the state, legitimizing the state as a permissive guardian of “rights.” Certainly, we cannot take seriously a “democratic socialism” that complains about “totalitarianism” where such advocates are “State Department socialists.” And yet, many supporters of Cuba have, in fact, been State Department socialists, for they have been concerned to mobilize the State Department for Cuba solidarity equally (if not more so) to mobilizing the American working people. Anti-imperialism should not be falsified as diplomatic history, or quibbling over comparative human rights and development standards—solidarity must be expressed by direct workers’ sanctions. To laugh at the latter as absurd is to accept that “socialism” and “democracy” are activities of professional administrators.

A direct democracy of popular assemblies, in addition to workplace councils, must mean pursuit of not simply self-managed economic planning, but also judicial affairs, foreign relations, education, and cultural matters. Direct democracy is not simply a process or an idea (“let the people decide”). Beyond a process or an idea about a form of government, it should also be a political program. There must be a striving for the abolition of professional intellectuals as the embodiment of culture and government. Those with specialized knowledge (military experience, technological know-how, ability in a foreign language, knowledge of history or political philosophy) can be delegated to facilitate a discussion or project but this should not make them a condescending savior. But even this proposition is not as precise as it could be. Should a vanguard be humble in the pursuit of the redemption of others otherwise seen as damaged or underdeveloped? The content of socialism, not simply its democratic substance but its equality, must be advanced in the future as well. Socialism is not affirmative action or equal opportunity to enter the rules of hierarchy, diversifying who gets to manage our lives from above (among the conqueror and the colonized). It should be the project of the abolition of hierarchy and domination.

We must pay closer attention to the elements and complexity of socialism in world politics, state power, political economy, and popular self-management as guided by C.L.R. James’s legacies, some of which are still obscure without primary and archival research. With these sources in play, James’s viewpoints on Castro’s Cuba, and that of his movement associates pursuing labor’s self-emancipation and colonial freedom, begin to have many more nuances than only surface readings of James’s books and essays in print may have led us to believe. James’s approach is not perfect or even consistent, though he cultivates illuminating moments and exhibits heroic acts at times in his own fashion. Rather, what James’s engagement with Cuba offers us, its strengths and limitations, is a series of questions we should be asking.

Direct Democracy and the Colonized Nation’s Search for Identity

C.L.R. James saw Fidel Castro’s Cuba primarily through the prism of a search for national identity and purpose for Caribbean people. But he also was part of conversations that insisted that socialist revolution, that Castro’s Cuba claimed to embody, must be distinguished by workers’ self-management. James is vaguely remembered for a critical discourse on Cuba begun as a report back from the Havana Cultural Congress of 1967–1968. Even as we record James’s attempt to retain an anti-Stalinist outlook that was his hallmark, we must keep in mind his ambiguities on Black autonomy and workers’ control in Cuba. We must also inquire what contributed to the muted aspects of James’s “critical support” of Cuba? While James was a very original political thinker and contributed to a sense of national purpose for Caribbean people against racial and colonial degradation, he always understood that popular self-government and radical democracy (majority rule) had to be the taking of power away from the minority, regardless of their racial or national identity, who ruled above society. Power to “the people” meant nothing if it was not an empowerment of the common people, not the professionals and elites who oversaw the Caribbean.

Cuba and the Double Value of State Capitalism

In Caribbean politics one must engage, oppose, or embrace C.L.R. James’s ideas when choosing one’s loyalties. An assessment of the Cuban Revolution as part of the Caribbean search for national identity, but also socialism, must overcome preoccupation with ideas originating from Moscow or Washington and London. Grappling with James’s analysis of state capitalism, developed within and later independently of the American Trotskyist movement, is part of making such an evaluation.[2] Given the dual character of James’s analysis of state capitalism, however, it is difficult to assert what that meant for his approach to Cuba. In contrast to his opposition to Stalinist Russia, James had “a less strident” and at times subtle opposition to Castro’s Cuba.[3] In a Cold War environment, critiques of state capitalism, as opposed to simplistic binaries of free market democracies and totalitarian one party states, could have many meanings. Castro’s Cuba has been condemned as a one party state dictatorship but also commended as a radical democratic experiment—could it be both these things? Many post-colonial moderates in the Caribbean Fabian tradition (as embodied by Grantley Adams, Eric Williams and Norman Manley) saw “socialism” as a welfare state that could be accomplished without blood, wearisome struggles, and disturbing empire. Clearly, Cuba had disturbed empire and the United States had attempted to topple Castro’s government many times during the Cold War—including trying to kill Castro by a poisoned milkshake, bacteria laced scuba gear, and exploding cigars.

Most, who have visited Cuba after the Cold War in the last three decades from the United States and expressed solidarity, speak of its education and healthcare programs, and return to the United States to vote for the Democratic Party. Is it not a peculiar disposition toward “a socialist revolution” to visit it, as a vacation abroad, while supporting bodyguards of capital at home? Did this contradiction in solidarity only emerge after the Cold War came to an end or was it rooted in how many people understood socialism? And what of these education and healthcare programs in Cuba? Is this the content of a social revolution? Does public housing, social security, and food stamps/debit cards make the United States “socialist?”

By the historical moment of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, James had developed an original body of political theory. Books like The Invading Socialist Society and State Capitalism & World Revolution explained how state capitalism (whether the one party state or welfare state) was an obstruction to direct democracy and workers self-management on a global scale.[4] Yet, he also began in the late 1950s and 1960s to also see state capitalist regimes in the Third World as the project of a progressive statesman who was aspiring to break up the former plantation economy and colonial order toward an economics of national sovereignty within the capitalist world system. This outlook could be found in his speeches about Caribbean federation and his address to Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party in Ghana.[5] “Self-determination,” in the latter conception, was the push for the relative independence of local politicians and aspiring capitalists in Third World societies (in dialogue with the former and perennial colonizer as an aspiring peer). Negotiations with the IMF, World Bank, the terms of trade, loans, and debt were really negotiations about who would be the sovereign administrators of degraded toilers’ lives. Once state power was accomplished, the Third World statesmen, regardless of their relatively moderate or radical ideas, did not wish to encourage insurgency against themselves. We cannot forget this commonality between socialist and nationalist paradigms.

Simplistic discussions that compare the merits of “race first” and “class first” frameworks never capture the full contours of James, the Pan African and independent socialist. The peculiarity of seeking a genuine autonomy by negotiation and compromise, and not social revolution, for the colonized under empire is rarely challenged in Caribbean studies. Often insurrectionary tendencies and corporatist welfare state visions are conflated under one discussion of Caribbean Marxism.[6] Any discussion of James’s Cuba cannot submit to the notion that there is a singular “Marxist” paradigm. While it is true that a historical outlook on James can see his politics either retreating from previously stated political ideals or being strategic in different contexts as he moved between the Caribbean Diaspora and his native land and region, this awareness can still obscure much. Certain interpretations of Marxism do support the search for national identity among the colonized. But these same interpretations, especially by those affiliated with Moscow during the Cold War, could peculiarly divide the world between “fascist” and “democratic” imperialists—something James ridiculed in his first sojourns in Britain and the United States in a most entertaining fashion.

Neglected in most scholarly analyses thus far is how bewildering it is to promote a discourse of how capitalism undermined the development of peripheral or formerly colonized sectors of the globe while having no interest in pushing for the abolition of wage labor and capital relations. Capital, Karl Marx asserted without secrecy, actually is not produced by “nations” but by “labor.” All businessmen and statesmen, no matter their propaganda seeking to deceive their own people, in fact know this, and understand profits are something extracted from subordinate toilers. This is not to reduce a Caribbean anti-imperialist outlook to a “class first” position or deny the racial side of capitalism. But African, Indian, Amerindian, or Chinese autonomy in the Caribbean will not be a product of the world turned upside down if the content of independence, self-government, and socialism is perennially mystified.

Where James desired to cultivate the popular will in his politics, we must be alert when he is doing this essentially to advise and defend politicians to retain state power versus educating and agitating for ordinary people to topple hierarchy and domination. James’s viewpoints on Cuba emerged not merely from visiting that island nation. His debates and discussions within solidarity movements and his small revolutionary organizations helped shape his perspectives and critically inform his public stances. The 1959 Cuban Revolution allowed him to confidently break away from more compromised commitments, such as editing The Nation for Eric Williams’s People’s National Movement in Trinidad. His Correspondence group in the United States heralded the Cuban Revolution as “a turning point.” But James Boggs’s and Grace Lee’s emphasis on national liberation struggles in the Third World as increasingly beyond public criticism, exemplified by how they saw Cuba and their loss of faith in the self-managing capacities of the working class in the United States under the burden of what they saw as imperial and consumer privilege, compelled C.L.R. James and Marty Glaberman to break with them. The latter formed the Facing Reality group in 1962.

Organizational Debates during the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 immediately provoked contentious debate among the membership of the new Facing Reality group. Cold War media portrayals of Cuba’s subordination to, and dependence on, the Soviet Union, left Frank Monico, an actor by profession who had been visiting Cuba, unconvinced. Monico preferred to believe that Cuba was in control of the Russian missile bases on their soil. In contrast, Seymour Faber, a labor activist from Windsor, Canada, felt that Cuba is too corrupted by Stalinist influences to be worthy of the group’s support.[7]

The FBI, at the same time, harassed group members such as Constance Webb, James’s second wife, at her workplace. In a letter of November 11 1962, she revealed security concerns for the group as a result of Frank Monico’s travels in Latin America and the group’s public support of Fidel Castro. Webb’s letter also communicated the fact that the James circle had previously played a crucial role in arranging Castro’s reception and stay at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where he had the now-famous meeting with Malcolm X.[8] The owner of that hotel, at the time of the encounter between Fidel and Malcolm, was Love B. Woods, who ended that building’s practice of racial segregation around 1940. Woods, while recorded elsewhere as an African-American, may have also been a Caribbean sojourner.[9]

From the very beginning, James was very invested in the fortunes of the Cuban Revolution. He advised the group what their approach must be: each member would be permitted different positions on Cuba. We have previously delineated the contours of what these may have been. But similar to his past “blind eye” toward some members “burning up” to have a dispute about Israel, he advised Glaberman to make sure the debate did not rip the group apart.[10] James confessed, at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, that he was unclear about the actual penetration of Stalinist Russia over Cuba. Nevertheless, “as Marxists” he asserted, “we have to be the last to abandon Cuba either practically or theoretically.”[11]

From 1961 to 1963, associates of C.L.R. James, including James Boggs, Grace Lee, Constance Webb, Kathleen Gough, and Selma James were in constant correspondence with Robert Williams, who was in exile in Cuba, and Conrad Lynn his attorney. Conrad Lynn was coordinating a defense campaign for Williams, a North Carolina NAACP leader who had organized a militia to repel the Ku Klux Klan. Williams, who had visited Cuba in 1960 with the first African American delegation to travel there, was granted asylum to avoid an FBI frame up at the end of 1961. Nonetheless, Williams ultimately came into conflict with the Cuban authorities and by 1963 he left Cuba for Mao Tse Tung’s China. His perception was, that, after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Castro regime, if not Castro as a singular personality, was becoming conservative.[12]

The James circles of influence had been involved with Robert Williams and Monroe, North Carolina since the famous “kissing case” (October 1958), where two little African American boys were jailed and placed on trial under Jim Crow laws, accused of kissing a white girl on the cheek. Lynn, earlier a friend but not a member of the Johnson-Forest Tendency, when he was a participant in the Leon Trotsky movement, received vital assistance from all his former comrades despite their factional disputes.

Selma James re-routed some of the Williams-Lynn correspondence past the American feds through her residence with C.L.R. in London. Constance Webb, a white woman born in California but who was raised in the southern United States, in daring and understated fashion, helped Williams and Lynn by taking a trip to Monroe to gather intelligence for the defense case. She flirted with the Monroe police chief, who had direct ties to the KKK. And, while in London, Webb sent Lynn contacts for a potential speaking tour and fund raising.

James Boggs and Grace Lee helped produce a major Correspondence pamphlet called “Turning Point in American History,” which contained two of Lynn’s speeches. Kathleen Gough, among the most personally friendly with Lynn, discussed and mailed her pamphlet “The Decline of the State and the Coming of World Society” to Williams in Cuba. These are all major reasons why the Correspondence and Facing Reality groups in this period were under surveillance in relation to the Cuban Revolution.[13]

Kathleen Gough’s Cuba Speech at Brandeis University

David M. Price’s Threatening Anthropology locates Kathleen Gough as among radical scholars in her field in the twentieth century who was under government surveillance from the time she visited with C.L.R. James in Trinidad in 1960 to after her rupture with him in 1961–1962, staying with the Correspondence group and taking the side of the circle led by the Boggses. The FBI obtained a copy of a speech Gough gave at Brandeis University to a student protest in 1962 leading to her repression in her workplace. Price offers the transcription in full. This speech tells us something about the perspective developed among James, his comrades and rupturing former comrades. Gough explained she was “not a liberal” but more radical than that, an “internationalist.” She agreed with the sentiment “Viva Fidel, Kennedy to Hell” expressed by protesters during the period of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Herbert Marcuse, who taught at Brandeis, and was later Angela Davis’s graduate school advisor, complimented Gough for having more courage than him to say difficult things.

Gough argued she was against war and nuclear war in particular. But in the event that extensive war emerged between Castro’s government and the United States, she hoped the Cubans would win. Gough explained that she admired Castro for putting down the Batista government, implementing agrarian reform, taking up attempts at literacy, building schools and hospitals, while ending corruption and prostitution. She was proud that Castro “sent the rich away empty to Miami” and that he supported the African American freedom fighter, Robert F. Williams. Yet Gough in characteristic Jamesian fashion also argued that she was disturbed by the summary executions during the Cuban Revolution, and those that followed with no justification. While she acknowledged that the United States threatened the safety of the Cuban regime, Gough was not sure that mass killings were necessary to establish its security. She argued that the mass killings that accompanied the Cuban Revolution were unfortunate and had been seen in every historical revolution, but it still disturbed her. She also found Cuba’s growing affiliation with Moscow, especially given her organization’s memory and concern with Stalinism, troubling. But this alliance with the Soviet Union had become inevitable with the Bay of Pigs invasion. Gough made it clear that she “does not support any nation” equipping themselves with nuclear weapons even as she supported the national sovereignty of Cuba.[14] What is remarkable are the similarities and differences of approach with that which James would take in his Cuba Report of 1967–1968.

The C.L.R. James and James Boggs Dispute

Stephen M. Ward raises some interesting issues for the conflicting tendencies we have been surveying in C.L.R.’s politics on Cuba. He explains that in 1956–1957, James Boggs debated C.L.R. about the merits of the spontaneous revolt of workers councils in the Hungarian Revolution in contrast to the emerging Bandung nation-states and what he saw as their aspiring progressive rulers such as Ghana’s Nkrumah, China’s Mao Tse Tung, and Egypt’s Gamal Nasser—especially because the Suez crisis happened at the same historical moment as Hungary. This was two years before the Cuban Revolution but foreshadowed the diverging conceptual frameworks that would soon emerge around socialism and national liberation. While Boggs professed to be equally excited about rebellions in all parts of the world, he began to make a distinction between labor revolts in Europe and the United States among white workers, and colonial revolts. He believed the latter should be more central in the Correspondence group’s approach. Boggs believed the colonial revolts disturbed the Western world whereas Hungary was used by Cold War logic in imperial foreign policy to create a false democratic discourse. These same white supremacists and imperialists who cried false tears for Hungary showed deeper fear of colonial revolt. Boggs also saw the movement up to colonial dependence for Nkrumah’s Ghana being strangely neglected by C.L.R., which was also occurring at the same historical time as the Hungarian revolt of 1956 and its aftermath. James was seeking to sustain labor’s self-emancipation as part of his conception of the Ghana anti-colonial revolution, and while going further than James Boggs, ultimately failed.[15]

However, Ward could have clarified better, in his overwhelmingly insightful approach to Boggs, C.L.R.’s emphasis on Hungary at this historical moment. He favors Boggs’s view as mirroring an unfolding historical consensus while mystifying whether Boggs, in contrast to C.L.R., had the sharper political analysis for both the colonized, and modern industrial nations’ toilers.

This mystification is part of a simplification. C.L.R. in 1961–1962, and in the earlier conflict with Boggs, did underscore that “the real issue” was the American working class’s capacities for self-emancipation—for this was the location where they were collaborating to build an American revolutionary organization. For many at this juncture, inside and outside their organization, the real issue was racism and opposition to empire in an increasingly vulgar materialist analysis of modes of production, not the struggle of social classes. The latter of course had to be propagated not just observed, as did opposition to racism, sexism, and empire. When combined with his valuing of worker’s self-management in Hungary, C.L.R. could appear to be flat footed, when contrasted with Boggs, in the transition from the Age of the CIO to the Third World national liberation epoch. But Boggs, as many anti-colonial thinkers before and since despite their Marxist analysis, was not prepared to see labor revolt within post-colonial societies as crucial to socialist revolution. Ward’s Boggs fails to inquire why and instead saw the American working class as increasingly a signifier for the white racist working class (this had not been so in their earlier collective work of 1957–1958). C.L.R. and Boggs agreed the Age of the CIO was declining and coming to an end. But C.L.R. did not see the American working class—which was not only white and racist—declining because of racism’s relationship to undermining the class struggle. He certainly was militantly opposed to racism and colonialism and was not forgetting himself. Instead, C.L.R. was challenging Boggs and the Correspondence group that their special brand of Marxism was not a fusion of a flat historical materialism and a critique of racism and empire. A paramount thread was the direct self-government and autonomy of all oppressed sectors of American, Western and the colonized spheres. Further, one does not simply observe social movement realities at each historical moment but speculates about their meanings for the future.

In Facing Reality (1958), initially a book by the Correspondence group that emerged a year before the Cuban Revolution, Boggs and C.L.R.’s dispute was reconciled in an ambiguous tension. On the first page Facing Reality declared, “the whole world lives in the shadow of state power.” This was a thread that declared the content of socialism as direct democracy and workers self-management. In contrast, it argued in another chapter “the new society” and “new people” could be ushered in by nationalist politicians of the Third World where labor did not especially hold the reins of those movements.[16] This is obscured by Ward and many observers before him. Boggs could not understand why behind the scenes in private organizational correspondence, and despite being associated with Kwame Nkrumah, why C.L.R. was not excited about the emerging “independence” of Ghana in 1956–1957. Instead of dividing the world into “the white world” (which was how the Bandung conference was speaking) and the global victims of the colonizer, C.L.R. was seeking to reconcile together the search for national identity of the colonized and workers’ self-management one year before the Cuban Revolution emerged.[17]

Ward recognizes this tension between workers’ self-management and national liberation in the second major dispute between James Boggs and C.L.R. James in 1961–1962. But Ward’s Boggs sees the Correspondence group’s analysis of bureaucratic state planners as not equally applicable to the American working class and the colonized toilers abroad. This is why a careful approach to the contours of C.L.R. James’s shifting approaches to state capitalism is crucial. Boggs at this historical moment did not have a nuanced valuing of state capitalist analysis and instead abruptly discarded it for peripheral nations—at least where it was seen as repression of workers self-management.

How should the Correspondence newspaper have responded to the early Cuban revolution? Boggs wished to defend the Cuban revolution in an array of propaganda primarily centered on struggles for civil rights and anti-colonialism. C.L.R. James’s and Marty Glaberman’s approach in this dispute was that the Cuban Revolution had to be explained to “the American workers” (not the American “white racist” workers in any permanently damaged and psychotic sense) from the perspective of workers self-management. Ward is correct that while C.L.R., Glaberman, and Boggs agreed that that the Cuban revolution deserved “unqualified support,” nationalist autonomy meant for Boggs that Cuba, seeing their identity as equivalent to the Castro regime only, could “arrange their revolution as they wished.” C.L.R. and Glaberman, in contrast wished for a strategy for agitation and propaganda to the multi-racial American working class that searched for in Cuba radical “non-party” political forms and the efforts at labor’s self-emancipation through workers “self-organization” in Cuba.[18] As we shall discuss subsequently, these forms and efforts existed before and after the early Cuban Revolution of 1959.

Toussaint L’Ouverture, Fidel Castro’s Cuba, and Hungary

In 1963, the second edition of The Black Jacobins was printed with a new appendix that linked Toussaint and Castro as part of the Caribbean search for national identity. Perhaps more scholars of James’s life and work are familiar with this treatment of Cuba by him more than any other. The essay by C.L.R. elides class conflicts within the Haitian Revolution and raises no critical perspective on the Cuban Revolution. “The Gathering Forces” manuscript of 1967, written for the Facing Reality group but unpublished, presented the Third World as completing the Russian Revolution. On one level, it suggested that Russia had completed the struggle for socialist revolution. But James’s Lenin, based on the latter’s last writings on literacy education, peasant cooperatives, and the workers’ and peasants’ inspection, that insisted that there could never be a complete socialism in a preliterate culture distinguished by fragmented productivity, appeared. There is a tension between the Hungarian Revolution, which embodied direct democracy and revolution in modern industrial nations, and Cuba, an underdeveloped country which is also depicted as partially distinguished by direct democracy. While the Cuban Revolution is said to be a product of a series of general strikes, “The Gathering Forces” argued that it completed the Russian Revolution not so much by independent labor action, but rather, by seeking to humanely abolish value production in economic planning in contrast to harsher and insensitive Stalinist visions.[19] Some of the tensions in James’s comrades’ interpretation of Cuban political economy are a product of the tensions between direct democracy and national liberation in his own politics. Yet we must also be alert to shifts in James’s analysis and inquire what are the merits of looking at labor and colonial revolts as distinct movements on separate terms—for many historically view these separately from a vulgar historical materialist lens. The revolt against surplus value production (wage labor and capital relations) initially a self-emancipating rebellion of labor, could subtly be recast as an act of certain state capitalist planners in peripheral nations, where labor did not hold the reins of society. This would be consistent with Boggs’s earlier dispute with C.L.R. James.

The Hector-Roberts Debate and Ken Lawrence’s Critique

The influence of Alfie Roberts’s Caribbean International Service Bureau (CISB), based in Montreal, was at its height within the Facing Reality Group in 1967–1968, as is clear in the Cuba section of “The Gathering Forces.” The CISB also included Tim Hector, who later led the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement, and Franklyn Harvey, later a major leader of the Trinidad based New Beginning Movement and mentor of the Movement for Assemblies of the People, a forerunner of Maurice Bishop’s New Jewel Movement in his native Grenada. James’s study circles with these Caribbean youth illuminate his take on Cuba at this historical moment and aspects of what he taught the Caribbean New Left generation.

C.L.R. James had initial disagreements with Alfie Roberts on the proper interpretation of Cuba. The Cuban Revolution, as a part of the search for Caribbean autonomy, while certainly an influential framework for the Montreal circle, cannot easily be said to overshadow a sympathy for direct democracy among certain members. In 1967, among activists like Harvey and Hector, the affirmation of direct democracy was sometimes greater than James’s own emphasis at that juncture. This is especially so when compared to James’s comparatively lesser faith that such ideas could be applied to peripheral nations five years after the heated debate with Boggs and shortly after his only electoral campaign, with the Workers and Farmers Party, in Trinidad one year before.

David Austin, the major scholar of this Caribbean Black Power circle in Canada influenced by James, reminds us of a little known “Hector-Roberts debate” that lends light to contextualizing the conversations James was having about Cuba with Caribbean activists in Canada. Both argued within two evolving frameworks. Hector argued the Cuban Revolution was not distinguished by mass participation; it was a nationalist revolution not a socialist one. The Cuban state was vanguardist and did not meet the criteria for a socialist future as outlined by James in his original political theory. Roberts, in contrast, always more sympathetic to the Soviet Union, argued that Castro’s pronouncements on state power suggested that the society would soon go in a socialist direction, as led by Castro from above.[20]

In a February 18, 1967, letter, in response to internal debate about “The Gathering Forces” manuscript, Ken Lawrence shared with his comrades his dissatisfaction with the section on Cuba. Because Lawrence was reading the work in an earlier draft, we cannot be sure how the Cuba section appeared at that time. Nevertheless, Lawrence’s discussion revealed other questions in James’s circle.

Lawrence’s contentions about the diverse forces that overthrew Batista show that before James visited Cuba, he had access to critiques of Castro that could not lead easily to the conclusion that Castro was the most radical or democratic force in the Cuban Revolution. Batista, in Lawrence’s view, was overthrown primarily through sabotage and armed conflict in Havana not the rural campaign of Castro’s July 26th Movement (J26M). The urban movement led by workers in the Labor Unity (LU) group and the Revolutionary Directorate (RD) took the major brunt of the casualties in the conflict. J26M had ten times fewer casualties and probably lost comparatively few leading cadres. It was significant to Lawrence that LU and RD were disarmed and their leadership replaced by choices handpicked by Castro. The circle around the journal Vos Proletario was also smashed. Many left wing critics of Castro, not merely counter revolutionaries, were known to be “rotting in his prisons.”

Lawrence argued that while all of this may not be enough to indict the Cuban regime “in full,” the James group should not speak so vibrantly of the personalities of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara as making immortal contributions to civilization, “particularly, when they say things which we are so eager to believe.” Lawrence here is influenced by C.L.R. and Glaberman’s position in contrast to Boggs’s approach. Lawrence argued, “I will be a lot more interested in them when they tell us something we didn’t already know” about socialism, “or better still when they have proved us wrong about something.”[21]

Marty Glaberman: From “Critical Support” to “Genuine Exchange?”

Thus the discussion in James’s group exposed him to critical outlooks on Castro’s Cuba before he actually had a chance to visit. We must keep this in mind, even as James, in published remarks on Ernesto “Che” Guevara from a 1967 memorial meeting in London, perceived him as the embodiment of world revolution, the heroic guerilla, and the Cuban Revolution.[22] Rarely, save for the defense of the Mau Mau of Kenya, did James place guerilla warfare as central to his radical vistas. Marty Glaberman’s statement on the Cuban Revolution in May 1968 tells us something about the outlook James was bringing to his visit to Cuba and what he would have shared with his comrades upon his return:

A genuine exchange exists between those who are leading Cuban society and those who make up the basis for the society, and within that framework, it is not a matter of saying Cuba is a socialist society, or is not a socialist society. It is possible to say Cuba is developing in a direction, to the extent that it can, of building a socialist society, but the building of that society is only possible in the framework of the industrialized world.[23]

Glaberman’s perspective on Cuba is very informative for how James’s organization was thinking about socialism for peripheral nations after the split with James Boggs and Grace Lee. First, what is “a genuine exchange” between leaders and led in a socialist society? Second, what does it mean that those who do not lead are “the basis” of that society which aspires to approximate socialism? Third, a capitalist society must be rooted in the framework of an industrial economy but why also in a “socialist” society? Glaberman, like C.L.R., who wished to avoid assessing whether Cuba was a socialist society or not in public, did not seem to have a valid criteria for distinguishing between national liberation (resistance against empire) and a socialist future as equal to workers’ self-management.

This was remarkable because Marty Glaberman often tried to sustain the state capitalist analysis he shared with C.L.R. from the late 1940s through the late1950s that used one vision of a critique of political economy to measure labor’s self-emancipation for the whole world. In the initial argument with James Boggs in 1961, Glaberman agreed with C.L.R., that critical support of Cuba should be framed with an emphasis on the self-organization of Cuban labor. Yet by 1968, Glaberman was recasting Castro as cultivating the popular will with muted public criticism.

Anton Allahar and Nelson P. Valdes see in Glaberman’s and James’s perspective that social revolution is about “contradiction, change, advances, and reversals, and even periodic stagnation.” But is it the Cuban state or the Cuban people who are advancing, retreating, or stagnating? There is a critical tension in how Allahar and Valdes marshal Marx’s Capital and Lenin’s political economy while being alert to James’s critique of bureaucracy.

In certain respects Castro was aware that without the masses increasingly solving problems themselves the revolution would become bureaucratized. From another vantage point though, Castro’s state can critique problems of bureaucracy while obscuring that it was the Castro regime which was the force of hierarchy and domination. It is not merely that Cuba needs external allies to facilitate a different type of economy in a hostile world.[24] Direct democracy is something which can be organized even under scarcity in peripheral nations. If this is not plausible than equally a peripheral nation-state’s claim to critique bureaucracy should also be seen as inauthentic. For the critique of bureaucracy than becomes a challenge of one sector of state or party hierarchy against another.

James’s Cuba Report

James visited Cuba for more than four months from late 1967 until the early spring of 1968. His “Cuba Report,” a transcript of a public lecture given in London, suggested problems in evaluating the revolutionary content of societies after a short visit as a guest of the state. “You know, I have listened to a lot of people who went to Russia in 1936, and they came back and said all they had seen, the number of people…getting on well and doing well…backward, but in reality full of hope and prospects.” After the visitor’s return, however, within a few months, Stalin created show trials and shot many of the people the visitors had met.

Carrying the burden of anti-Stalinists in the 1930s and perhaps more subtly in his 1968 analysis of Cuba, C.L.R. James made a public challenge to those aligned with Moscow and perhaps their influence on and interpretation of Cuba. James reminded his colleagues that he questioned past assessments by those who visited Stalinist Russia and thought what they saw was a progressive society. James’s opponents dismissed his criticisms as that of a treacherous Trotskyite traitor. “So,” he explained, “they went back in 1937 and said ‘Well this time, the folks we have met, I mean these are the real people.’ They were scarcely back when Stalin shot more than he shot the time before.”

James introduced his “Cuba Report” with a cautionary tale perhaps hinting at his own concerns about: “How wrong you can be, on an estimate it is difficult to say.” He appeared to allude to evidence of show trials, political prisoners, and summary executions under the Castro regime but never clarified the nature of what he may have been aware or made this central to any public statements on Cuba.[25] A historical approach to James’s “critical support” of Fidel Castro’s Cuba must make a clear distinction between the production of agitation and propaganda for public exchanges and private internal organizational discussions where more complex nuances may be expressed in internal debate.[26] James insisted that the achievements of Russia could not be reported by discussing the supposed economic and welfare achievements of the Five Year Plans. Here is a reference to his state capitalist analysis not merely of Russia but of all nation-states on a world scale. Though he wished Nkrumah in Ghana well, he knew that discussion of all the factories and roads Nkrumah had built, and his Volta River project (the Akomsombo Dam) didn’t explain properly his society either. Just because an ex-Trotskyist (Michel “Pablo” Raptis) had advised Ben Bella on economic planning in Algeria, James asserted, his view on the problems of state planning there had not changed.

James’s perspective desired not to get lost as a witness to a society based on a few days or months. His “Cuba Report” purposely did not emphasize how many roads had been built or how many children had been sent to school. His vision of socialist revolution was not one that was concerned with increasing material welfare alone, but rather as a revolt against value production itself. Further, James contended, the great number of professional people trained in Cuba—a surprisingly large number of doctors, engineers, and economists—were in fact a liability, and not the much promoted advance. These newly formed elites would only create a bureaucracy who would imagine themselves, at best, as society’s guardians.[27]

After examining the historical legacies of Jose Marti, Maximo Gomez, and Antonio Maceo and the anti-colonial struggle of 1898, and Fidel Castro’s initial defeat at the Moncada Garrison in 1953 after which he gave his famous speech while on trial, “History Will Absolve Me,” James explained that Castro’s call for a greater democracy and justice for the peasantry captured the spirit of national purpose making inevitable his success in 1959.[28] But James explained, that unlike in the Russian Revolution where the appearance of soviets (workers’ councils) preceded Bolshevik seizure of state power, and unlike the great Putney Debates in Cromwell’s Puritan Revolution about the validity of a standing army, the Cuban Revolution, if not a mere coup, did not follow upon mass direct action initiating a challenge to bureaucratic conceptions. Without overstating the forces on the ground in Cuba fighting for a libertarian or romantic socialist revolution in 1959 distinguished by a self-managing autonomy, one could get the mistaken idea from James’s analysis in this transcript that such forces were not present at all.[29]

James asks in his “Cuba Report”: “Is it a one party state? Is Castro’s party the one party and other parties prohibited, prevented or sat upon in the same way as we have seen in Eastern Europe and which the world today is beginning to understand is the surest way to tyranny of the worst kind?” James suggests, rather, that Fidel Castro’s Cuba was faced with the challenge of initiating a democratic revolution after seizing state power with an army.[30] The necessary socialist content, he asserts, only became clear to Castro after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by John F. Kennedy’s United States.

James, inspired by the writings of Lenin, who he insisted: “absolutely refused to be a dictator,” argued that coercion applied to the middle strata of the peasantry does “great harm.” Facilitators of socialism needed to avoid trying to control this class and must become masterful communicators in their cultural idioms winning them to their side. James argued that Castro’s revolution had not only put an end to sharecropping and granted the peasantry ownership of the land but had also allowed small family owned businesses not to be nationalized so long as they didn’t employ new wage earners.

Castro had ended the control of landlords, who lived by collecting rent, over many houses, but had generously, in James’s view, not seized the homes of old Creole nobility. Castro’s state capitalism, in James’s eyes, had the tendency of sensitive compromise—unlike Stalin’s approach. Shortly after the purging of Anibal Escalante, C.L.R. saw the Cuban Communist Party members he had met as, from “head to toe, superior people in morality and general behavior.”

On the Isle of the Pines, Cuba experimented with a program educating young leaders to become “the new men,” by seeking to stamp out consumerist and capitalist instincts, in exchange for financial arrangements taking care of their families’ needs. James suggested that the Cubans were hoping to develop skills, make these youth “heroes in production,” and internationalists like Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who had been killed in Bolivia shortly before James’s visit.[31]

James also saw in Cuba an effort at the reconciliation of mental and manual labor. Encouragement of quality and quantity in production, and participation in economic planning were happening, but still elusive was self-government at the point of production. However, as James also explained in his “Cuba Report,” just because the Cubans had the goal of socialism, one could not assume that they, themselves, were clear on how they would get there. But, they were attempting to innovate as an underdeveloped peripheral nation in the world economy, which, James attests, is very difficult.

At the Cultural Congress at Casa de Las Americas, James had found Cuba’s conception of the role of intellectuals in the Third World and the proletariat in advanced nations to be entirely wrong. Guests were taken to see Cuban popular art, music, dance, and theater, but James wondered why there were no ordinary Cuban workers and farmers participating in this cultural congress? They should, he says, have been part of the discussion and debate as to how to prepare this conference, not excluded and reported to in the newspapers after the fact. James goes even a step further: Why was there so much concern over shortages of food and oil in Cuba, yet the visitors were treated like royalty, driven around in cars, put up in a hotel with a cornucopia to eat?

Race and Cuba

James contested Stokley Carmichael (later Kwame Ture), who had told Cubans about how the American white working class was racist and privileged following the evolving analysis of Boggs. Instead, C.L.R. maintained the white workers of imperialist countries had revolutionary potential. To say they do not, he protests, is not Marxist, since, as Marx himself says in Capital (Volume One), the proletariat is united and disciplined, be their payment high or low, by the very contradictions of capitalist production itself. Whether this was an accurate approach to Karl Marx’s theory by C.L.R., the French workers shortly appeared to prove him right, despite being from an imperial nation, in their rebellion of 1968.[32]

C.L.R. has some interesting anecdotes to share about what has by now become a perennial debate: the extent to which the Cuban Revolution has eradicated racism. James, after a few weeks visiting, shares what he observed about where that struggle had developed after nine years of the Cuban Revolution. To great laughter, he claimed, “Number one, the African influence, the African religion, the African art, have an enormous influence on Cuba and are still powerful to the present day. You know that is not so in Barbados.”[33]

Second, James did not see many dark-skinned people around the hotels in Havana where they stayed, but he saw a disproportionate amount at a public demonstration celebrating independence. While there weren’t many Black people among the teaching fraternity and professional intellectual classes, they seemed to be fairly represented in every other profession. “But elsewhere they couldn’t move a yard without the support of Black people. If Black people were dissatisfied the thing would fall apart especially around Havana.”[34] James observed in the Cuban newspapers that Black people were doing well in track and field, in tennis, and in other sports. He inquired to Cubans of fairer skin what they thought the meaning was of these disproportionate achievements in sports, in contrast to their comparative absence in government jobs and limited pursuit of formal education? He was impressed that their responses “didn’t fool around.” Appearing to be sincere, those whom C.L.R. was in dialogue with made clear they felt there was no problem that could not be overcome.

James’s counterparts weren’t anxious when faced with the proposition that Blacks appeared to achieve so much in sports and not in some other sectors of Cuban society. James recalled their reply, but was perhaps partially embellishing his presentation with his own style. Blacks had lived “a hard life.” They disproportionately had come from the peasantry and ex-slave populations. If Blacks were given the same educational opportunities, they would be better represented in the upper echelons of Cuban society. James said, in contrast: “in America,” distinguished by white supremacist doctrine, “they fool around and pretend” the problem “doesn’t exist.” “But the people I spoke to in Cuba, some intellectual, were very firm about it and that is something rather unusual.”[35]

In another discussion on race and public housing, James explains the Cuban state had resettled many Black slum dwellers into brand new apartments. But in a year or two, those dwellings were “in a tremendous mess.” James suggests to his audience that they may have heard a similar story before from other societies in response to this perennial social dilemma. “You see you can’t do anything for them, you give them the house and look at what they do to it,” James suggested, sarcastically, but also addressing a controversial matter. This is often what is heard in response to urban problems of public housing. But the Cubans “didn’t tell you that. They said what is to be done.” “Facing the problem squarely,” the Cubans mixed different races and social classes and folks with different living experiences in the new development without preaching to anyone.

The Cubans were aware that marginal Black toilers and the unemployed “were not what they should be” as a result of racism and colonialism, and the Cuban state planners still haven’t been “able to get it quite right up to now, but…have it in mind.”[36] James effectively offered support for the Cuban bureaucracy, not the self-organization of ordinary Black people. James attested that he had never heard any middle class people or intellectuals, especially from the Caribbean, speak about poor people in that fashion. In a common formulation in James’s writings and speeches, there is a tension between critically observing the quality of what the middle classes or intellectuals are saying, and subtly retaining a false weighting of what they believe and do. If housing administrators don’t behave like condescending saviors it does not mean that a stance of being humble around people assessed as damaged or underdeveloped negates indirect processes of government or elitism. Further, James, in this anecdote does not suggest, as he does elsewhere in his Caribbean literature (Beyond A Boundary and Minty Alley), what the purported underdeveloped have to teach those who aspire to be Caribbean or Cuban leaders about their own self-government. Planning the lives of others, however apparently successfully, may be subsumed under the Cuban nation’s self-determination but not credibly as popular self-emancipation. Listen again: “They have a lot of problems to get fixed, they will still have problems, [and] that is understood by everybody.” But James felt that the Cuban leadership was seeing “with clear eyes” “and that to me is so profoundly important.” There is a conflation by James of ordinary people’s pathologies (it is not a blemish to acknowledge these) that appear relatively permanent, and will be around for many years, and the matter that this is a public policy challenge for elites to deal with, and the aspiring elite’s own pathologies don’t appear to obstruct good government. James’s formulations would be more distinguished elsewhere in this sojourn.

There is another aspect to James’s discourse that needs clarification. James’s approach to the cultivation of the popular will need not be carried out only by workers (whether from colonized or imperial countries). Here he appears to be primarily testing the overwhelmingly white Cuban elites in authority as to their approach to race matters. Without a desire to emphasize elevation of more people of color into hierarchical positions in Cuba such as Juan Almeida (and that is a good instinct about the limits of certain types of empowerment), James does not seem to register in the public record many conversations with those few Black people in such positions on his trip, or Black thinkers otherwise left obscure by official history.

James’s Secret Meeting in Cuba with Afro-Cuban Artists Placed Under Surveillance

In fact, James, who referenced his concerns about Black people and the African heritage’s presence in his “Cuba Report,” left a crucial experience out of his public presentation. Pedro Perez Sarduy, a Cuban poet and journalist and partisan of Afro-Cuban culture, recalls that the Cultural Congress that James attended was controversial for the climate of exclusion of many significant Afro-Cuban intellectuals. Those Afro-Cuban writers, filmmakers, and sociologists who looked to the broader Afro-Caribbean heritage were not invited. Some were sought out in a special forum to give their opinions to the state before the Congress took place. John La Rose and Andrew Salkey, both of whom accompanied James, sought out this circle of thinkers, and that was why they rightly felt their visiting delegation was placed under surveillance. This was so even though C.L.R. was feted on his birthday by the Cuban cultural apparatus as a great man of the Caribbean and the Third World.

La Rose had organized an informal session in a downtown Havana theater and this disturbed the Cuban authorities. James and Aime Cesaire, the famous Negritude poet of Martinique, were part of this initiative and met with young Cubans such as Rogelio Martinez Fure and Nancy Morejon.[37] There is no record that the globally revered Afro-Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen, who was also a communist, attended the informal and subversive gathering. Guillen was the only prominent Afro-Cuban in attendance at the Havana Cultural Congress. What are we to make of this? Again, we will make a false start if we imagine a unitary “Marxist” paradigm.

Clement White in a comparative treatment of Nicolas Guillen and C.L.R. James notes that Guillen embraced the Yoruba heritage for the Caribbean where James in his Pan-African outlooks kept a subtle distance. Yet White, fond of James’s anti-Stalinism, underscores that while both Guillen and James were animated by Ethiopia Solidarity and the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, Guillen didn’t understand the importance of anti-Stalinism. White recognizes that James’s rejection of Stalin’s politics meant that he could see in Spain that the impulse to revolutionary socialism repressed in the name of “anti-fascism” and “democracy” was a betrayal by a certain type of bourgeois nationalism which claimed to be radical. However, this was not irrelevant for the silences and subtleties around Guillen’s and James’s engagement with Castro’s state which White doesn’t directly explore.[38]

Clearly there are conflicting tendencies among Afro-Cuban cultural thought in regard to Castro’s Cuba. There may be many (and these may have shifted over time), just as James’s, and the perspectives of some of his circles of influence, have transformed. The matter of Stalinism and how one views social revolution and state power is not irrelevant for the search for national identity even where the aesthetics of race and the African heritage are at issue. Guillen’s Stalinism kept his Afro-Cuban poetics within the bounds of Castro’s regime.[39] Carlos Moore’s interest in Afro-Cuban culture he has used to damn the Castro regime in a manner that many find in alliance with American empire. Moore was also an early activist critic of Marx’s and Engels’ blind spots on India and Algeria. Nancy Morejon over time has evolved as an Afro-Cuban poet who previously in tension with the Cuban state in 1967–1968 now has become an approved cultural figure by the regime despite having an ambiguous relation to the meaning of Marxism in her public statements. James’s triangulation on Cuba’s role in the Caribbean’s search for national identity can partially be explained by this antagonism in radical traditions, not just in Cuban or Caribbean, but world politics.

Nelson P. Valdes, by asking, “Who is Obatala?,” has highlighted how both Fidel and Raul Castro were embraced by some through the popular religiosity of Santeria.[40] Castro’s state is aware of this and has tried to cultivate this linkage to some extent, first with the assistance of figures like Guillen, and later with Morejon. While right wing Cubans in Miami condemn this flirting with Santeria as un-Christian and reveal their racism, there is opportunism and manipulation on both sides. For regardless of Carlos Moore’s motivations, there has truly been an intermittent repression of Black autonomy by the Cuban state. In the Caribbean and African Diaspora, Cuba solidarity activists often deny this.

Mark Q. Sawyer and Samuel Farber have documented these attacks on the Afro-Cuban movement, especially during the period when C.L.R. James was visiting Cuba in 1967–1968. The Cuban state explained it did not want race to be permitted to divide Cuban society. However, ultimately the state and the Cuban Communist Party, had the sole authority to publicly theorize on matters of “culture.” So long as cultural discussions were subordinated to their state power, the Cuban government would be the patron of conversations. In 1968, this was a damning reality for what Glaberman termed “a quality of exchange” between the Cuban leaders and masses.

In particular the Cuban minister Jose Llanusa Gobels was instrumental in criminalizing the Afro-Cuban movement as seditious. It appears that Llanusa was the figure who ominously met with banned members of the Afro-Caribbean movement before the Havana Cultural Congress, such as Walterio Carbonell, leading to their arrest, physical, and mental abuse. The only Afro-Cuban allowed to attend the Cultural Congress was Nicolas Guillen. Shortly afterward, in 1968–1969, a “Movement of National Liberation” was organized by Blacks who were not members of the intellectual elite and who were willing to resort to violent action. It was later broken up and members were given long prison sentences. Remarkable among this movement was their ties to Black dockworkers, their organization of a one-day strike at the port of Havana, and their linkages to the secret society of Abakua, an association of Cuban men whose music, dance, and spirituality harken back to southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon.[41]

Affirming and Undermining the Cuban State? James’s Discourse On Workers and Intellectuals

C.L.R. James was treated with great respect in Cuba. The regime’s publishing house eventually came out with a Spanish language edition of his The Black Jacobins, encouraging the widespread reading in the Caribbean region of his classic history of the Haitian Revolution for the first time. But James explained, for those who would listen, that there had been a misunderstanding if he was to report back properly to Europe and the United States on the great achievements Cuba represented. The Cubans misapprehended his own historical and cultural achievements in these metropolitan centers, and what that said about the potential of the working class in imperial nations.

Highlighting E.P. Thompson’s famous quote of 1967 that James was among the most far-sighted revolutionary critics of the morass that Marxist political thought had fallen during the twentieth century, C.L.R. did not mean to arrogantly blow his own horn. Rather, he told the Cubans that they falsely imagined he was merely a cultured man of the Third World. In fact his ideas, C.L.R. attested, receive a “tremendous response” in the centers of empire, not merely among people of color. James meant not that he was simply a revered Pan African or anti-colonial activist in the United States and Britain, but that he was recognized for his original vision of a socialist future as distinguished by direct democracy and workers’ self-management. This suggested that James did not have a thin conception of anti-colonial nationalism and self-determination where the democratic content of national liberation struggles claiming to be socialist didn’t matter.

In a discussion with Armando Hart about the Cuban Communist Party, James was confronted with the matter that it might be wrong for visitors from imperialist nations to question whether Cuba was democratic. James heard protests that the question of democracy had not been solved worldwide, thus it was not fair to place that burden on Cuba alone. One curious aspect of James’s discourse, at least its public iterations, on his visit to Cuba was obviously that he did not appear to speak about direct democracy with anyone but somehow compelled Hart to talk about the content of radical democracy in an aspiring socialist society to the latter’s chagrin. Clearly aspects of James’s discourse on direct democracy were in fact raised.

Cuba’s concept of mass democracy might be conceptualized in James’s eyes as not unlike that of the classical Athenian assemblies with Fidel as orator and cultivator of the popular will. James saw the popular assemblies in Athens in varying interpretations as both a condemnation of representative government and the substance of a society where an elite cultivates the popular will toward self-government—suggesting an exceptional national character.[42]

What is to be done about fuel shortages, about fighting bureaucracy in the political party or trade union, even naming the theme that should distinguish the year? Those conversations, in a certain respect, were begun by Fidel’s charismatic lectures to the masses. Similar to Pericles’s Funeral Oration, Castro implied that there was self-reliance in the national character of Cuba—even if the avenues where all citizens might express it were overstated.

Andrew Salkey, a Jamaican creative writer based in London, who traveled with James to Cuba, criticized Cuba’s treatment of homosexuals and the large number of political prisoners in that society.[43] James does not mention these problems in public, though we can be sure, given our awareness of his archive, that he is concerned about them. Salkey viewed Fidel’s “tribune style” as no different than Eric Williams’s style of mass rallies in Trinidad. From his perspective, in both cases it was an illusion that ordinary people directly govern.[44] This may have informed C.L.R. James’s quip to John La Rose, a native of Trinidad based in London who also traveled with James, that their sojourn was something of a “homecoming.” James, however, on the surface was not so critical of Castro’s model of mass meetings, but was largely taken in by them. Evaluating Castro as among the greatest orators of all time, James did not make clear the merit of this accomplishment for national liberation or socialism.

James Discusses with Cuban Philosophy Students and Critiques Fidel Castro

In discussions with philosophy students at the University of Havana, James came to believe that Cubans had a model of propaganda rooted in Marxism, but no contemporary tradition of studying philosophy as a discipline. Many who perhaps once taught these subjects left the country after Castro’s revolution. James’s capacity to discuss Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Locke impressed the young students who confided in him their dissatisfaction with their education.[45]

At the grassroots level, James perceived an over-reliance on Fidel Castro as a progressive guardian. Arguing with students about the journal Pensamiento Critical, after confirming that its content and outlook were approved by the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, James quarreled with them about the nature of freedom. The students believed that the perspectives in the journal, and its editorial freedom, were revolutionary but strictly within the same project and terms of the Cuban state. The students insisted that Fidel wanted them to have freedom. C.L.R. contested their arguments:

The thing that I must say I deeply regret is Fidel’s insistence on telling the people, over and over again, that the democratic freedom of the vacillating Cubans will not be taken away from them. This insistence of constantly reassuring these people and the vast majority of the others of their democratic rights is unnecessary and, I would think symptomatic of the Revolution’s uncertainty about its own position of strength in the people’s estimation of the Government.[46]

James showed awareness that a statesman who postures like Pericles might well be obscuring limitations on freedom that citizens and subjects below him experience. When one Cuban student argued that Fidel hadn’t spoken about student’s freedom of speech since 1966, James said “I didn’t say the point is still being stressed. That it should have been stressed any at all is something I regret a great deal.”[47]

Fidel Castro as Cultivator of the Popular Will

However, at the Cultural Congress, a state sponsored event, James presented a paper that suggested a different critical maneuver. Castro’s personality is re-cast as the cultivator of the Caribbean popular will through James’s optics. James could not denounce the Cuban state explicitly as he was their guest. Still, he argued that this Congress, sponsored by Cuba, mistakenly saw professional intellectuals as the embodiment of national culture. While complimenting Castro as part of a pantheon of national purpose for the Caribbean, James in a curious and cryptic argument with the global delegations in attendance, appeared on some level to condemn the Cuban state as well.

“The world ushered in by Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther no longer exists. Lenin, Gandhi, Nehru, Mao Tse Tung, Nkrumah, and Fidel Castro have shattered its foundations,” James proclaimed. The Caribbean, which had produced so many of the delegates at this congress, has produced historical actors who played “a highly significant role in the destruction” of imperial control of Africa.

“The history of Western civilization,” James insisted, “cannot be written without Bellay, Dumas…Leconte de Lisle, Jose de Heredia, St. John Perse, Aime Cesaire, and the present group of West Indian novelists [including] Alejo Carpentier and Wilson Harris, and the American revolutionary leader Stokely Carmichael, who was born in Trinidad.” The colonial situation, slavery, and underdevelopment in the Caribbean had produced, “using highly developed modern languages,” a great number of formidable intellectuals and political thinkers culminating in the Cuban Revolution and “the work and personality of Fidel Castro.” One of James’s blind spots, besides occasionally making too much of heroic personalities above society, was the fact that he cannot easily imagine a dynamic cultural literacy for people of color except through modern print culture in European languages. This reveals partial limitations in how he receives Cuba’s embrace of African cultural retentions in art, music, dance, and religion.

“You have not invited the socialist workers of Cuba to take part.”

James underscores his belief that the Cuban Revolution should remind Caribbean and Third World intellectuals that their contributions abroad, or on the broader world stage, had not come to an end. Yet, these efforts must now be “secondary” to finding the substance of self-government in their own homelands and populations. James insisted that everyday people in Cuba are not thought of as “intellectuals” who must take a central role in any cultural congress, where they are in fact absent (except perhaps as servants of hospitality), is a grave mistake. The origins of Caribbean and world development, James underlined is not merely the potential of the masses. Rather, the self-organization and political thought of industrial workers and farmers, not merely professional teachers and writers, must be central to a radical analysis of society. This was not an abstract criticism at a cultural gathering. Though it may have been veiled, James fingered the role (or lack of place) of the working class in political and cultural discussions in this supposed revolutionary society. This 1968 tactic by C.L.R., as protean as his politics of direct democracy and national liberation could be, was not the type of criticism James Boggs and Grace Lee would ever offer a Third World regime in public. We know C.L.R. also broke with Nkrumah’s Ghana as a result of that regime’s evolving authoritarian tendencies.

All historical achievement, James told the Cuban Congress, literally grows out of everyday people’s peculiarly advanced insights and abilities. Ordinary people should not be thought of as symbols of socialism or democracy but as the direct source of all intellectual and political capacity. Thus, James said, the function of such a Cultural Congress in a revolutionary society is to “prepare the way for the abolition of intellectuals” as a social class above society and “as an embodiment of culture.”[48] This statement by James should make it abundantly clear that, at his best, “critical support” of Cuba meant the attempt to fuse direct democracy and workers self-management with colonial freedom movements. That he was inconsistent in this effort is a contradiction worth highlighting in our studies of the Caribbean radical tradition.

Further research makes clear James couldn’t make his point as explicit as he wished at the Cuban Cultural Congress. A few years later, in an address to the Caribbean Unity Conference, an anti-imperialist solidarity circle of Caribbean students in Washington, D.C., he retold the tale of his experience in Cuba:

I complained bitterly. I said this is a socialist society. We are having a body of intellectuals talking about culture. You have not invited here the socialist workers of Cuba to take part. [James’s emphasis][49]

In reply, Lajpat Rai, the famous delegate from India present at the Congress, looked doubtful. Recalling critically the memory of his two countrymen, Nehru and Gandhi, Rai asked, “could it really be true that the Third World intellectuals and statesmen really shattered the foundations of the imperialist world?” James told Rai it was necessary to “overstate his case,” to proclaim “a warning to the dying enemy,” in the hope that his declarations might shape his audience’s mind toward the immediate future where such realities may emerge as true.[50] This was exemplary of how James could ask questions about the colonial freedom struggle in a manner revealing many have a false idea of which social class leads these movements at their best.

It was very difficult for James to project serious and consistent public criticisms of Cuba. For as his appendix to The Black Jacobins, “From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro,” suggested, he hoped that Cuba would be a model of national purpose for Caribbean peoples in the present and future. Under attack by the forces of empire, James felt it was his duty to give Cuba critical support, and at times to even mute his public criticisms.

Cuba’s material and military aid to African and Caribbean nations was crucial. James was of course aware of Cuban assistance, at times in underground fashion, to heroic individuals, such as the African American Robert F Williams.[51] James was certainly aware of and impressed with Cuba solidarity with Angola in the 1970s and 1980s.[52] Still James, at his best, never placed the symbolic or practical value of solidarity by an aspiring socialist or post-colonial regime in the international arena above the reality of whether the everyday people of that nation directly governed.

Hiding in Plain Sight: James’s Warning to the Cubans in The Black Jacobins

How wrong C.L.R. James was in his varying tactical estimates of Cuba it is difficult to say. Yet it must not be forgotten that his “From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro” was also a reminder that not only the promise but also the historical obstacles to the pursuit of direct Caribbean self-government had also reappeared over the centuries. Despite the Cuban state’s decision to publish James’s The Black Jacobins in Spanish, the coupling of Toussaint with Castro may be read not merely as a panoramic celebration but a warning hiding in plain sight.

While James’s critical commentary on the repression of direct democratic expressions within the Haitian Revolution was present in The Black Jacobins, in the second 1963 edition a sharper critique is to be found in the footnotes. Especially the one discussing the historian of the French Revolution Georges Lefebvre’s condemnation of Robespierre’s Jacobins as basically authoritarian in outlook where James asserts Toussaint was not much different in his attitude toward Black labor.[53] How many have placed Toussaint L’Ouverture and Fidel Castro in conversation for their repressive attitude toward Black labor? Perhaps James’s criticism of Castro’s Cuba also was heard, if not stated as boldly as was necessary. In James’s final analysis, “whatever its ultimate fate the Cuban Revolution marks the ultimate stage of a Caribbean quest for national identity.”[54] However, if Castro’s Cuba’s achievement is Caribbean national sovereignty, and must be defended as such, the Cuban revolution’s ultimate fate is something else entirely. Implying an ambiguous socialist quality, this cannot be synonymous with Caribbean anti-colonial nationalism alone.

In an interview for Socialist Challenge, with Tarqi Ali, when James was 80 years old, he was remarkably lucid. James argued that though he left the Trostkyist movement in 1951, he had remained an independent socialist—“I do not subordinate myself to any state whatsoever.” James did imply however that he has much more sympathy for Chinese and Cuban developments, than for Russia, but could not explain quite why this was so. When challenged by Ali with the fact of Mao’s sympathy with Stalin, James replied, “These are details” and admitted he didn’t know how to characterize China. But at 80 years old James’s brief assessment of Cuba was more nuanced:

There are two things about the Cuban Revolution. They made the revolution first and the Russians helped them. They were not for the revolution before it was an accomplished fact. But secondly there are things about Fidel which I read that I am not too happy about.[55]

By now we have explored some of the lower frequencies of what James was aware. James also revealed that the Spanish translation of The Black Jacobins sponsored by the Cuban state would have come out sooner. The translation was far along. When the translators came to “sharp attacks” they deemed critical of Russia, the translation stopped. James said “before those pages were reached” the book was to come out in two months.”[56] It was published years later.

As we have suggested, James and his comrades’ engagement with Cuba, placed peripheral nations’ search for national identity among a gathering of forces which also included direct democracy and workers’ self-management among industrial workers in nations distinguished by a comparably greater modernity. Kathleen Gough in the Correspondence Group, Seymour Faber and Ken Lawrence in The Facing Reality Group, and Tim Hector in the Caribbean International Service Bureau, raised concerns about Cuba as a Stalinist society, a state capitalist society, and one which was a nationalist but not a socialist revolution distinguished by popular self-management. These were interpretations influenced by James’s own politics.

This meant, as well, that Fidel Castro had to be defended by James as facilitating a conversation about self-government, even if his cultivation of the popular will could in fact suppress toilers’ self-emancipation, Black autonomy, and queer liberation as a threat to national security. A wooden, and even a critical, Marxism, could justify these historical problems under the premise that “Cuba may not be socialist or democratic but…” For many, this explains what socialism and national liberation had become under a fatalistic and defeatist approach to fighting empire.

Can “Critical Support” of National Liberation Struggles Justify Repression?

Samuel Farber, wielding the premise “Cuba may not be socialist or democratic but.,” has taken up this ambiguity of Cuba solidarity in order to push toward its discarding. Farber argues that Cuban socialism could morally chide Cuba workers to “take responsibility” for their own lives without permitting them social and economic power for direct workers’ control. This created a bifurcated assessment of Cuba where the working class appeared to be a ruling class but was also an exploited class.

Further, Farber, who has recorded many repressed independent labor actions by Castro’s state, has suggested that the Marxist discourse of “critical support” of national liberation struggles was rooted in the premise that there could be progressive aspects of military dictatorships which challenged feudal relations, and enabled the growth and expansion of the working class, through a certain type of capitalist economic development. Yet where labor’s autonomy was threatened by such an authoritarian regime this should be denounced as part of an outlook of “critical support.”[57] Farber’s approach suggests some of the contours in Karl Marx’s thought, which inconsistently defends workers’ democracy, implying that a dictatorship, which is not the proletariat’s own direct expression, can be the authentic friend of popular forces.[58] This illuminates the contours of C.L.R. James’s approach to Cuba but also those outlooks more shortsighted.

Finally, James’s outlook on the Cuban Revolution, like most historical and political observers, was largely synonymous with the Castro government. Despite mistakes that the government made, that James chose publicly to speak about, and some he did not but which he was aware, he believed the Cuban Revolution was doing the best it could to meaningfully cultivate the popular will. Castro’s Cuba was developing in a certain direction, to the extent that it could, to build a socialist society. This disturbed empire. However, to suggest that socialist revolution was only possible to build within frameworks of bureaucratic planning in peripheral nations was absurd. This made a state capitalist regime, not the working class or everyday people, an engine of a future socialist society. This method led James, at times, to be publicly silent on the suppression of Black autonomy and workers’ autonomy, whose expressions proved that independent of the Castro regime, a self-managing society despite the challenges of economic scarcity and external coercion, was possible. James would also have been aware of the Cuban state’s repression of their gay and lesbian community.[59] That James at the 1967–1968 Havana Cultural Congress reminded that the Cubans had not invited the socialist workers to take part in the conversations, and that professional intellectuals should be abolished as the embodiment of culture were profound yet subtle challenges for the historical context he was laboring under. This should not be allowed to obscure the fact that participatory and direct democracy are not the same, and that we cannot finally be sure of all that James kept silent on, and of what he would have been satisfied with.

Toward A Contemporary Conclusion

Is Fidel (and Raul) Castro’s Cuban Revolution still relevant today? Does C.L.R. James’s discourse of “critical support” (as uncovered here using archival and neglected historical sources) still resonate after all these years, as a guide to solidarity with aspiring socialist societies and national liberation struggles? What does it mean when Samuel Farber explains an outlook of “critical support” historically has meant insisting on workers self-management as a measure of socialism, while also finding aspects of dictatorship that break up feudal relations trending toward national capitalist development as progressive?

We cannot say the Cuban Revolution is any more or less relevant today than it was before the Cold War and Third World national liberation epoch largely ended circa 1989–1993. Cuba will always be relevant historically, and in the present, as a case study by the measures of how we see socialism and national liberation. When we speak of Cuba’s evolution as a society, as a nation, undoubtedly it has improved on many past mistakes legally and constitutionally. We can take note of how it has improved on fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, and permitted greater autonomy for labor. Nevertheless, by that measure, what we observe is the reform of a republic. It is remarkable how in both Cuba and the United States observers are preoccupied with equal opportunity to enter the rules of hierarchy and affirmative action without any regard for whether the working people (toiling women and people of color), the democratic majority, actually hold the reins of a society. How many view national liberation struggles abroad is not irrelevant for how they view “black power,” “gender equality,” and “socialist” prospects in the United States

Before the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, Castro’s Cuba tried to avoid the question of whether it was aspiring to be a socialist society or not. In June 1975, a Declaration of Havana at the Conference of Communist and Workers Parties of Latin America and the Caribbean, held in Cuba, promoted the idea of “a non-capitalist path.” As Clive Y. Thomas has argued, this path suggested that one could transcend the need for capitalist development with the construction of socialism while at the same time this theory saw the national bourgeoisie as underdeveloped and a partner with the workers and farmers. In short, the national bourgeoisie could have progressive sectors and this class would have to take the lead. The theory of “the non-capitalist path” overdetermined the significance of a progressive foreign policy of a formerly colonized nation claiming to be “socialist.” It was part of a de-linking outlook that saw state capitalism as falsely rupturing with the global market and did not identify with labor’s self-directed liberating activities. This obscured the lack of workers’ democracy domestically.[60] Along with the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s Chile, and the United States destabilization of Michael Manley’s Jamaica, this influential perspective promoted by Cuba, of a non-capitalist path that was in fact pursuing a certain type of state capitalist modernity, began to undermine the direct democratic tendency of the Caribbean New Left in 1973–1975. This faction could also be unclear about the relationship between socialism and national security and thus the demand for and organization of direct democracy could retreat. A close look at Cuba’s development in any historical period will have difficulty finding a socialist experiment based on direct democracy and workers’ self-management. This suggests then that most anti-imperialist perspectives have been enamored with a certain type of Cuban nationalism as equivalent to socialism.

In March 2016, following President Obama’s visit to Cuba, the progressive press reiterated some of the most ridiculous themes of Cuba solidarity recycled over many years. Let us take inventory of a few, for how they illustrate, in contrast to C.L.R. James’s relatively bolder approach, the need for a deeper critical support of peoples who suffer under empire which distinguishes ordinary people from the nation-state and ruling elite. We are told time and again, the vitality of the Cuba revolution is personified by how ordinary people dance in Havana—this is a racial gaze or a projection by people who are uncomfortable (or alternatively too delighted) with dancing. The Cuban state’s innovation’s in science and technology is presented similarly to how the Zionist community press in the United States speaks falsely of “good news from Israel”—there is rarely any bad news, self-created obstacles by the state against the people, for those who support Cuba.[61] Whether within contemporary Cuba there is some ecological innovation in agriculture or performances of gender reassignment surgery (that could not be possible in the past without reformed outlooks) it does not tell us something different about Cuba’s national character, from the point of view of a self-directed social revolution, in contrast to any other nation. Opposition to capitalism cannot be a comparative discussion of human rights and development indicators among nations (where one country’s government ministers to the poor better than others)—that is in fact one means by how empire is justified.

When ordinary Cuban people innovate by fixing old cars, for which they have no parts, and make them efficiently run, this is admirable. But this also can be found in Kenya, which nobody assumes is a socialist society but is a purported underdeveloped society that historically has embraced capitalism. We hear Cuba manages its economy, its healthcare, education, and pension schemes, more efficiently than the neo-liberal United States—if this be so, what does this have to do with a popular self-directed revolution? This is the projection of the welfare state of mind.

We are told strangely and with delight of Cuba’s remarkable low rates of crime—it is rare that one finds among internationalist socialist discourse a priority concern with efficiently policing crime among commoners. The fact that Cuba has less prisoners proportionately than the United States and the proposition that there are no legitimate political prisoners of a leftist variety in Cuba is an absurd propaganda point by supporters of the Cuban Revolution that is over the top anti-revolution. Is the measure of Cuban “socialism” that it polices its people more efficiently than the United States? Besides, why is it so difficult to fathom that there could be socialist and democratic minded people, who do not like empire and desire a social revolution, after living under a one party state that has held power for nearly sixty years? Why do we deny the Cuban working people, not the Miami Cubans who found freedom only in the racist and imperial United States, solidarity for their next revolution?

Cuba solidarity has always been burdened by being torn between racist anti-Castro Cubans in Miami and supporters of Assata Shakur, the Black Panther political prisoner and Cuban exile, and the Congressional Black Carcass in New York City. For too long we have had discussions about a socialist revolution led by people who for years have been allied with half the ruling elite (and the Democratic Party) in the United States. This is made clear in numerous Cuba solidarity newsletters. That the latter doesn’t share the same sector of the State Department with the anti-Castro Cubans doesn’t make this less of a problem. Imagine how this has impacted the quality of the anti-imperialist movement? If Cuba’s foreign policy is so significant, why is there little socialist criticism of Cuba’s diplomatic reconciliation with the United States? Unofficial back-channel communications between Cuba and the United States has existed for decades now (whether the United States has a consulate or embassy), and Obama’s approach is not much different from recent presidents—his visit notwithstanding. This communication has existed side by side with propaganda oriented exchanges by both sides on “human rights” that will continue, just as similar exchanges between China and the United States have continued since President Nixon’s visit to China (that occurred shortly after Huey Newton’s visit).

And, we cannot forget, a more contemporary classic floated out there. How is it remarkable, all of a sudden, that the Cuba state permits or gives incentives to the Cuban people to initiate self-managing cooperatives now? This reveals both the admission (and denial) of historical repression of Cuban labor, a misunderstanding that direct self-government is not allowed without permissions granted under surveillance, and cooperatives need not be ruptures with oppressive market forces.

The Cuban state has not been combating market forces but has been disciplining the Cuban working class to market forces—societies distinguished by nationalized property and a welfare state do this as well, not just those distinguished by neo-liberalism. To the extent new cooperatives are more self-managing and self-directed we should find this encouraging. But it should be peculiar that supporters of a one party state or welfare state should all of a sudden be impressed with expressions of a greater proletarian political autonomy (especially a non-insurgent expression). Most Cuba solidarity activists don’t advocate this for Cubans or those who live in the United States. If we have no records to share of self-managing workers coming in conflict with a one party state, we should reconsider what we know of socialism and democracy—we should be looking for those records, for that would be evidence of a new society striving to be born within the shell of an old. We should desire to identify with ordinary Cubans who are not simply “heroes in production” but also in autonomous politics. But this will not lend itself to revolutionary vacations as guests of the Cuban state.

For many years, Cuba solidarity activists have visited Cuba and found their best questions unanswered and avoided both by the Cuban state and those facilitating Cuba solidarity. Their critical support has been disavowed. Historians would advance the record of anti-imperialism if a selection of those stories were collected. This is not to deny that visits to Cuba have overall enhanced the prospects of identification with a socialist future in the United States. Nevertheless, flashes of the distorted anti-imperialist spirit reveal that the Cuban Revolution is celebrated by people who often have a capitalist mentality, who confuse socialism with nationalism, who are nationalists of both Cuba and the United States, and who do not know the difference between a people’s history and a state history. Most Cuba solidarity activists have been uncritical supporters of President Obama who now inform us that, even as Obama visits the Cuban state, we should watch for his administration’s desire to destabilize the Cuban Revolution. Is “the Cuban Revolution” a national security discourse? Why is anti-imperialism not a conversation about labor’s self-emancipation?[62]

Many might conclude that the Cuba Revolution is a victory, whether socialist, democratic or not, as a project of national liberation, exactly because it has not been sponsored as a frontline of empire by the United States (as Israel has). It has survived despite being 90 miles from the United States. Further, Fidel Castro is the living personification of resistance. Besides the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, declassified government documents reveal the United States tried to kill Castro in a myriad of ways—that he has had more lives than a cat and has lived deep into old age cannot but be admired. Still we have to resist becoming enchanted followers. Both Castro’s very body has been placed in the shadow of imperial state power, even as he has been the personification of Cuban one-party state power.

We cannot fail to reassess where charisma often comes from, and how this affects what we term nationalism and socialism. Charisma is a product of enchanted representative government where ordinary people are not permitted or discouraged from direct self-government—and sometimes symbols can contribute to such mystification. If we can grasp it in one country, we can do so in any country.

Arnold August argues that Fidel and Obama represent two living symbols. For many Fidel is perhaps the greatest personality of the twentieth century, the symbol of resisting empire, the pursuit of social justice and equality. In contrast, President Obama represents, despite great mystification, the most efficient face of American empire for the twenty first century.[63] Taken together, whether the United States embargo of Cuba is finally dismantled or not, this makes Obama’s visit to Castro’s Cuba a historic event, for it was an encounter of two very different worldviews. But is this really believed by all who express it? The fact is, despite radical individuals and small groups, President Obama represents great historical change to many just as much as Fidel Castro does—and this is filtered through a mesmerizing cult of personality. Among the most prominent Cuba solidarity activists, Alice Walker sees Obama as both like John F Kennedy and Fidel Castro. Apparently both the man responsible for invading Cuba and the man who led resistance to it can have a progressive shine. Walker explains she always wished for the United States to have a leader like Fidel Castro and believes Obama was the United States’ best chance. Obama is assessed by Walker as “not perfect but humanly stunning” and “rare and necessary to our planetary survival.”[64] How could a longtime advocate of socialism and opponent of racism and empire come to such a conclusion about President Obama? In the Age of Obama, many who appeared to have such a social activist pedigree gave critical support to the emperor of the world and called him “brother.” There was difficulty distinguishing between President Obama’s electoral campaigns funded by Wall Street, a social revolution, and Black self-determination. Alice Walker, like so many cultural luminaries, revealed what happens when one cannot distinguish between socialism, national liberation, and a loyal opposition to a sector of the ruling class in the United States—especially when an individual of a historically oppressed group ascends to power. Walker, like so many progressives, gave critical support to a statesman, as if he personified popular self-management.

Fidel Castro’s criticism of “Brother Obama” shortly after the President’s March 2016 visit also reveals much is wrong with what people term social justice, self-determination, and equality in the world.[65] Despite criticizing Obama for his false human rights talk, and offers of aid in imperial tones, Fidel Castro felt the need to capitulate to the most disgusting political evaluation of the new century and call him “brother.” This ghastly assessment is in strong competition with another political dilemma for most people—Obama as emperor of the world is subjected to racist insults by sectors of his own nation—and the latter one has the upper hand, but not among the more consistent radical thinkers (regardless of racial or gender identity) in the United States.

In a more militant period the Cuban state may have exposed Obama as not their brother for how he contributed to the repression of the Ferguson or Baltimore rebellions or his drone wars in Africa in the Middle East that have killed thousands without trial. But the Castro state’s approach was muted. More militant rhetoric would not have redefined wage labor/capital relations in Cuba, but the absence of this reveals what nationalism and self-determination can mean. It can be a privilege discourse that places one’s own interests—that of one’s own nation—over consistent solidarity with the most oppressed. This is not a development only found among imperial nations (though supporters of President Obama did this). Cuba’s solidarity foreign policy, from Robert Williams to the Grenada Revolution, has holes in it—if one knows where to look.

Castro’s “Brother Obama” discourse could be read as an offer of solidarity to African Americans but it really reveals something else as well. A failure of anti-imperialist and anti-racist political thought. Fidel Castro, as undoubtedly crafty as he is, should not be following behind Alice Walker, Cornel West, and Louis Farrakhan in the “brother” triangulation.

Historical race vindication has been permitted to trump anti-imperialism in the Age of Obama. But it also undermined socialism in the Third World national liberation epoch. Undoubtedly anti-colonial middle class intellectuals and politicians who aspired to state power in Africa, Asia, Latin America and among the Arab and Muslim world contributed to how we understand ourselves in the world in which we live. They deepened anti-racist and anti-imperialist understanding and taught the working people even in imperial centers something about how even they might better pursue self-government.

However, most socialists still believe the content of socialism is the one party state or welfare state. That democracy is only necessary as a thin participatory discourse subordinate to the state that will purportedly redistribute wealth but not who actually governs. Most socialists are burdened with the psychology of improvers of humanity, who believe the masses are damaged or underdeveloped under hegemony, and argue for a democratic content to economic justice that simply does not exist (degrading both).

The discourse of “critical support” can be valuable when it asks tough questions animated by direct democracy and workers’ self-management. It may not be enough when it allows for a statesmen or philosopher-king to cultivate the popular will toward a society where there will be no socialism and no democracy, while calling them “brother” (or “sister”). Statesmen are not, in the old Wobbly sense, our “fellow workers.” Whatever the differences may be between Fidel and Obama as historical symbols, the substance of how we should evaluate politics should be based on one standard on a world scale. Just as supporters of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela have argued, “we [the ordinary people] created Chavez,” it is undoubtedly true that everyday people have created and sustained the legitimacy of Fidel Castro and President Obama far beyond any credible justification for doing so. Individual heroism can be necessary and historical symbols may have their place for a time. But the multitudes have sustained these leaders above society, on their own, beyond the crimes of imperial and autocratic statesmen, and that should not be ignored. Nevertheless, to say “we created” Castro, Chavez or Obama is only significant, when as part of discourses of “critical support” and “solidarity” we acknowledge not just institutionalized oppression, but obstacles the working people and democratic forces place in their own path toward liberation. The point in “letting the people decide” and recognizing popular self-governing creativity is not to justify away our own direct self-government, while enraptured with charismatic personalities, but to bring it closer.

  1. [1] See Matthew Quest. “ ‘Every Cook Can Govern’: Direct Democracy, Workers Self-Management and the Creative Foundations of C.L.R. James’ Political Thought.” The C.L.R. James Journal. 19.1&2 (2013) 374–391.
  2. [2] Ken Lawrence. “Interview [with Darcus Howe].” Urgent Tasks. Special Issue on “C.L.R. James: His Life and Work.” No. 12. Chicago: Sojourner Truth, 1981. 68.
  3. [3] James Millette. “C.L.R. James and the Politics of Trinidad and Tobago, 1938–1970.” In C.L.R. James: His Intellectual Legacies. Selwyn Cudjoe and William E. Cain eds. Amhert, MA: University of Massachusetts, 1995. 337.
  4. [4] See C.L.R. James. (1947) With Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee. The Invading Socialist Society. Detroit: Bewick, 1972; C.L.R. James (1950) With Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee. State Capitalism & World Revolution. Chicago: Charles H Kerr, 1986.
  5. [5] See C.L.R. James. Party Politics in the West Indies. San Juan, Trinidad: Vedic, 1962; C.L.R. James. Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution. Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1977.
  6. [6] In Caribbean studies of political economy there is an acceptance that even after the post-independence moment there are “people’s planners” who seek to challenge the empire of capital. In the Anglophone Caribbean these professional economists were known as the New World Group (ex. Lloyd Best, George Beckford, James Milette, Norman Girvan) and could also express important currents of anti-colonial cultural nationalism. Most often these were a loyal opposition to what were essentially capitalist politicians (ex. Eric Williams, Michael Manley). Scholars are aware that while many accept these figures as “socialist” thinkers they were not a part of the insurrectionist or direct democratic tendency of the Caribbean New Left (1968–1983). These groups included Trinidad’s New Beginning Movement (NBM) and National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), Guyana’s Working People’s Alliance (WPA), the Antigua Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM), and the New Jewel Movement of Grenada. It can be said that economist Clive Thomas existed on the border as he was a member of both New World and the WPA. St. Lucia’s FORUM group, and later the St. Lucia Labor Party, led by George Odlum and Peter Josie, was for a time populist and insurrectionary without necessarily advocating direct democracy. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that most often the insurrectionist tendency while having political quarrels with some New World members, often relied on their economic studies as authoritative. For a discussion that accepts New World Group as challenging the empire of capital but others as “insurrectionary” see Paget Henry. Caliban’s Reason: An Introduction to Afro-Caribbean Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 2000. 223–224.
  7. [7] Martin Glaberman. Letter to C.L.R. James (Dear “J”). November 4, 1962. Martin Glaberman Collection, Walter Reuther Archives, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.
  8. [8] Constance Webb. Letter to Martin Glaberman. November 11, 1962. Martin Glaberman Collection, Walter Reuther Archives, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.
  9. [9] We know for sure that an array of political meetings was held at what was for many years the tallest building in Harlem. The home office of A. Phillip Randolph’s first March on Washington movement could be found there for at least two decades before the meeting with Malcolm and Fidel. James and his New York based comrades, would have encountered many political activists at the Hotel Theresa and on this basis would have known to a greater or lesser degree Woods.
  10. [10] Constance Webb. Letter to Martin Glaberman. November 11, 1962. Martin Glaberman Collection, Walter Reuther Archives, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.
  11. [11] C.L.R. James. Letter To Martin Glaberman. November 8, 1962. . Martin Glaberman Collection, Walter Reuther Archives, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.
  12. [12] See Robert F. Williams. Negroes With Guns. New York: Marzani & Munzell, 1962; Tim Tyson. Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1999; Robert Carl Cohen. Black Crusader. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart, 1972.
  13. [13] Conrad Lynn, an African American and one of the first freedom riders who fought to desegregate interstate travel, earlier became a Trotskyist and a friend of C.L.R. James partially because his support of the Trinidad Oil Strike of 1936 compelled him to break with the American Communist Party who did not support it. In Lynn’s correspondence at the dawn of the Nikita Khruschev era in the Soviet Union, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Russia encourages its satellite party in the United States to work with the American state to label Robert Williams a renegade. The Communist International puts pressure on Cuba to extradite him back to the United States. This is a major reason Williams leaves to continue his exile in China and Tanzania. Robert F Williams. Letter to Constance Webb. December 19, 1961; Constance Webb. Letter to Robert and Mabel Williams. March 28, 1962; Kathleen Gough Aberle. Letter to Robert F. Williams. June 10, 1962; The Black Power Movement Part 2: Papers of Robert F Williams; Lexis-Nexis Microfilm. Conrad Lynn. Letters to C.L.R. James. May 20, 1960, June 14, 1960; Constance Webb. Letters to Conrad Lynn. October 30, 1961, November 16 1961; Grace Lee Boggs. Letters to Constance Webb. December 9, 1961, December 11, 1961; Grace Lee Boggs. Letters to Conrad Lynn. April 6, 1962, May 1 1962; Kathleen Gough. Letter to Robert Williams (Fwd by Conrad Lynn). Aporil 19, 1962; Conrad Lynn. Letter to James Boggs. October 20, 1962; Kathleen Gough. Letter to Conrad Lynn. April 7, 1963; Conrad Lynn. Letter to James Boggs. April 28, 1963; Grace Lee Boggs. Letter to Conrad Lynn. May 15, 1963; Conrad Lynn. Letter to Kathleen Gough. Dec 14, 1963. Conrad Lynn Papers. Howard Gottlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University, Boston, MA.See Conrad Lynn. Monroe, North Carolina… Turning Point in American History: Two Speeches By Conrad Lynn. Foreword by James Boggs. Detroit: Correspondence, 1962 and Kathleen Gough. The Decline of the State and the Coming of World Society. Detroit: Correspondence, 1962.
  14. [14] David Price. Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists, Durham: Duke UP, 2004, pp. 307–315.
  15. [15] C.L.R. James’s silences about independent labor’s general strike of 1961, and Pobee Biney’s leadership in particular of principled protest against Nkrumah’s regime, undermined Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977) becoming an equal classic history to The Black Jacobins.Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution as a manuscript was substantially written by 1964. Biney was the missing “Moise” in the Ghana narrative. This will be the subject of one of my forthcoming articles.
  16. [16] C.L.R. James. (1958) With Grace Lee and Cornelius Castoriadis. Facing Reality. Detroit: Bewick, 1974.
  17. [17] Stephen M. Ward. “An Ending and a Beginning: James Boggs, C.L.R. James, and The American Revolution.” Souls. (July-September 2011) 286–296. Ward, a scholar of the life and work of James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs, is alert to evolving political differences between James Boggs and C.L.R. James, both before and after the Cuban Revolution of 1959. While I disagree with aspects of his historical interpretation, he has made an original contribution to historical research we must respect.
  18. [18] Ibid, 296–298.
  19. [19] C.L.R. James. With Martin Glaberman, Willie Gorman, and George Rawick. “The Gathering Forces.” Detroit: Facing Reality, 1967. 1–2, 9, 57–62. Unpublished Manuscript in George Rawick Papers, Western Manuscripts Archive, University of Missouri at St. Louis.
  20. [20] C.L.R. James. You Don’t Play With Revolution: The Montreal Lectures of C.L.R. James. David Austin ed. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2009. 185, 281–282. fn 51; David Austin: Correspondence with Author, Winter 2010; For mention of this debate on Cuba see David Austin. “An Embarrassment of Omissions, or Re-Writing the Sixties: The Case of the Caribbean Conference Committee.” In New World Coming. Karen Dubinsky et al. eds. Montreal, Canada: Between The Lines, 2009. 368–370.
  21. [21] Ken Burg. Letter to “Dear Comrades.” February 18, 1967. George P. Rawick Papers. Western Manuscript Archive, University of Missouri at St. Louis. Ken Burg had not yet adopted the pseudonym “Ken Lawrence” under which he was a perennial political journalist for many years. Ken became more sympathetic to the progressive character of the Cuban state as years passed. For an old pamphlet and two books that ask similar questions to Ken Lawrence and document the more urban based labor movement in the Cuban Revolution see the following: Sergio Junco and Nicolas Howard. Yanqui No! Castro No! Cuba S i! New York: YPSL, 1962; Samuel Farber. The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2006; Steve Cushion. A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerilla’s Victory. New York: Monthly Review, 2016.
  22. [22] C.L.R. James. “Che Guevara.” Speak Out. June 1967. 17–18.
  23. [23] Martin Glaberman. “Theory and Practice.” Appendix to Marxism for Our Times: C.L.R. James on Revolutionary Organization. By C.L.R. James. M. Glaberman ed. Jackson, MS: University of Mississippi Press, 1999. 190.
  24. [24] Anton L. Allahar and Nelson P. Valdes. “The Bureaucratic Imperative: Economic and Political Challenges to Cuban Socialism in the Early 21st Century.” The C.L.R. James Journal. 19.1&2 (Fall 2013) 393–395.
  25. [25] C.L.R. James. “Cuba Report” March 1968. Unpublished Transcript. Martin Glaberman Collection, Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI.
  26. [26] One must transcend the simple minded approach which assumes in Castro’s Cuba the only political prisoners have been advocates of capitalism or agents of the CIA. There have been many genuine socialist, anarchist, and democratic minded thinkers and activists who have been political prisoners and victims of political executions under that regime.
  27. [27] Ibid, 1–2.
  28. [28] Ibid, 3–11
  29. [29] For a record of anarchists and libertarian leftists participation in the Cuban Revolution see Frank Fernandez. Cuban Anarchism: The History of A Movement. Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2000; Sam Dolgoff. The Cuban Revolution: A Critical Perspective. Montreal: Black Rose, 1976.
  30. [30] C.L.R. James. “First Symposium on Cultural Congress in Havana.” London, April 5, 1968. 14.
  31. [31] C.L.R. James. “Cuba Report.” Unpublished Transcript. Track One, Tape Two. Martin Glaberman Collection. Walter Reuther Archive. Wayne State University, Detroit, MI. 4–7.
  32. [32] Ibid, 12.
  33. [33] C.L.R. James. “First Symposium on Cultural Congress in Havana.” London, April 5, 1968. 31. CAM 5/6/4. Caribbean Artist Movement Papers, George Padmore Institute, London, UK.
  34. [34] Ibid, 31–32.
  35. [35] Ibid, 32.
  36. [36] Ibid, 32–33.
  37. [37] Anne Walmsley. The Caribbean Artists Movement, 1966–1972. London: New Beacon, 1992. 138. See Pedro Perez Sarduy and Jean Stubbs eds. AfroCuba. Australia: Ocean Press, 2002.
  38. [38] Clement White. “Silencing Prospero: Social and Political Conscience Raising and Anti-Imperial Initiatives in C.L.R. James and Nicolas Guillen.” The CLR James Journal. 19.1&2 (Fall 2013) 61–101. See especially footnotes 33 and 34.
  39. [39] For an example of an essay by Nicholas Guillen which subordinated the Cuban artistic sensibility to national liberation against American empire and is silent about, and justifies the repression of, insurgent Black workers in Cuba, who had risen up at the time of his writing of this essay See Nicholas Guillen. (1969) “Art, Revolution, and Cuba.” Free Press. February 18, 1971. This was the “Black Spark Edition” of Montreal’s McGill University student newspaper. It was especially edited by the Caribbean International Service Bureau and gave pride of place to C.L.R. James’s writings on Black autonomy, labor’s self-emancipation, with Athenian, Eastern European, Caribbean, and Marxist themes mixed in with Black Power political thought. The inclusion of Guillen’s essay along with the Haitian Negritude intellectual Rene Depestre’s essay on “Fidel and the Cuban Race Question” framed the issue of racism in Cuba as synonymous with what the Cuban statesman’s pronouncements on the problem of racism had been not how the Cuban state actually treated expressions of Black cultural and political autonomy.
  40. [40] Nelson P. Valdes. “Cuba’s Fidel Castro: Charisma and Santeria—Max Weber Revisited.” In Caribbean Charisma. Anton Allahar ed. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2001. 212–241.
  41. [41] Mark Q. Sawyer. Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 66–69; Samuel Farber. Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959. Chicago: Haymarket, 2011. 180–183. See also Carlos Moore. Castro, the Blacks, and Africa. Los Angeles: CAAS, UCLA, 1988. 304–316.
  42. [42] See C.L.R. James. (1956) Every Cook Can Govern. Detroit: Bewick, 1992.
  43. [43] Andrew Salkey. Havana Journal. London: Penguin, 1971. 135–137. For those interested in Salkey’s other political discourses relevant to the Caribbean New Left generation see his Georgetown Journal, that illustrates Guyana role for a time as an internationalist mecca, and Joey Tyson, a thinly veiled story of Walter Rodney (Joey Tyson) in the Jamaica of 1968 suitable for children and adults.
  44. [44] Andrew Salkey, Havana Journal, 72–74.
  45. [45] C.L.R. James. “Cuba Report.” Unpublished Transcript. Track Two, Tape Two. 9.
  46. [46] Andrew Salkey, Havana Journal, 58.
  47. [47] Ibid, 59.
  48. [48] Ibid, 115–116
  49. [49] C.L.R. James. “The Revolutionary…” In The Commonwealth Caribbean Into the 1970s. A.W. Singham ed. Montreal: McGill, 1975. 184.
  50. [50] Andrew Salkey, Havana Journal, 117.
  51. [51] For discussions of Cuba’s foreign policy of solidarity see Carlos Moore. Castro, the Blacks, and Africa. Los Angeles: UCLA (CAAS), 1988; Ruth Reitan. The Rise and Decline of An Alliance: Cuba and African American Leaders in the 1960s. Lansing, MI: Michigan State, 1999; Piero Gleijeses. Conflicting Missions: Havana, Washington, and Africa,1959–1976. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2002.
  52. [52] Tariq Ali. “A Conversation with C.L.R. James.” Socialist Challenge. July 30, 1980. Pp 8–9.
  53. [53] C.L.R. James. (1938) The Black Jacobins. New York: Vintage, 1963. 276. Fn. 6.
  54. [54] C.L.R. James. “Appendix: From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro.” In The Black Jacobins. Second Edition. New York: Vintage, 1963. 321.
  55. [55] Tariq Ali. “A Conversation with C.L.R. James.” Socialist Challenge. July 30, 1980. Pp 8–9.
  56. [56] Ibid. See C.L.R. James. Los Jacobinos Negros. Havana: Casa de Las Americas, 2010.
  57. [57] Samuel Farber. Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959. Chicago: Haymarket, 2011. 131–157 and 268–276
  58. [58] One of the difficulties in making a political or historical assessment of Karl Marx and “Marxism,” in short form and in relation to a broader discussion, is that the criteria for debate are always shifting, often with a desire to preserve either Marx’s good or evolving intentions, the limitations of the historical epoch he lived (what epoch has not had its limitations?), or the consistency of something called the “Marxist method” for the present and future. We can accept that the struggle for a new society or a socialist future was contributed to by many with good intentions. But this doesn’t create the need to preserve a coherent system or theory, beyond criticism and challenges, out of the thoughts of any one human’s life. Therefore discussions of “the truth” of either Marx or Marxism may include Marx’s unpublished writings and letters, or emphasize his earlier or later writings to suit any purpose. It appears that Marx’s focus on Bismarck, Bolivar, Bonaparte, and Lincoln was pretty straight forward, as was his approach to India. There was a transparent desire to see the one party state or welfare state or a progressive ruling class (not workers,’ peasants,’ and slaves’ self-organization) as central in many instances. This reality undermines the view that Marx always placed as central workers’ self-emancipation or self-organization. A major blind spot of Marx’s that is still with us is the dangerous idea that progressive aspects of capitalism, or aspiring capitalist rulers, can challenge feudal relations and thus advance the lives of working people. This generalized inclination is why many “progressives” give “critical support” to the terror war in the Middle East today. Ordinary people, the ebbs and flows (but really the repression of their struggles) push aspiring rulers from behind toward at times meaningful reform. But to recognize that is not to legitimate those aspiring rulers above society. This is often the view of people who forget that feudal (and pastoral relations) are still the actual cultural life (as is the striving for autonomy through their self-emancipation and self-organization within these modes of production) of millions of people. Further, many “scientific socialists” are still transparently working to establish a capitalist modernity at the expense of labor. What is often being attacked, with contempt and lack of grace, is not simply a feudal aristocracy but the autonomous expressions of toilers’ themselves. So long as someone is not trafficking in Cold War anti-communism or Stalinism, there is no need to preserve the life and work of Karl Marx from these concerns being raised. Further we might reconsider that sometimes the politics of “autonomous Marxism” may be admirable but the historical roots may be tediously and unnecessarily manufactured. Or in contrast, the historical insight can be penetrating and the actual contemporary political practice can be less than precise or admirable. It would be odd if there was a historical justification from 150 years ago for every necessary and contemporary contribution to radical democratic breakthroughs. Some of these conclusions must come from establishing our own legacies and not just combing through those of others.
  59. [59] James may have been aware of other contradictions and oppressive aspects of the Cuban Revolution. His emphasis given his own public and private archive reflects issues of socialism and democracy that impacted Blacks and workers. His travels to Cuba with Andrew Salkey, and his Havana Cultural Congress speech, being partially recorded in Salkey’s Havana Journal (1971) makes clear, through Salkey’s commentary, James was aware of discrimination in Cuba against gay and lesbian people.
  60. [60] Clive Y Thomas. “ ‘The Non-Capitalist Path’ As Theory and Practice of Decolonization and Socialist Transformation.” Latin American Perspectives. 5.2 (Spring 1978) 10–28.
  61. [61] Many lamented Cuba’s economic dependence on the Soviet Union only after the latter retreated before its collapse. Much was made of Cuba’s independent initiative until it became dependent on Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. Cuba is now behaving independently again—but what observers are speaking about is not Cuban workers but the planners of the Cuban state.
  62. [62] Some critics would say the AFL-CIO has worked with the State Department and CIA in various countries to destabilize progressive nation-states by promoting false insurgent labor movements. This should not lead us to accept uncritically the peripheral nation-state’s claim that all strike activity that is not loyal to the government must be encouraged by the CIA. If more anti-imperialist solidarity movements were organizing solidarity for ordinary people instead of the governments above them, they would be in a better position to make such an evaluation.
  63. [63] Arnold August. “Fidel and Obama in Cuba—Now That’s Historic!” Counterpunch. April 4, 2016. Online:–04/04/fidel-and-obama-in-cuba-now-thats-historic/.
  64. [64] See my discussion of Alice Walker’s approach to Cuba, Kennedy, and Obama in “Not the Dilemma of Alice Walker, but Palestine Solidarity.” In Lenni Brenner and Matthew Quest. Black Liberation and Palestine Solidarity. Atlanta: OOOA, 2013. 149–160; Walker expresses these views in The Cushion in the Road (2013).
  65. [65] Fidel Castro Ruz. “Fidel’s Letter to ‘Brother Obama.’ ” Black Agenda Report. March 29, 2016. Online: