Max Shachtman


Max Shachtman on Cuba

(May 1961)

From Hal Draper’s leaflet Two Views on the Cuba Invasion, May 1961.
Copied with thanks from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Marked up by A. Forse for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

How close this development has come to the finish that a totalitarian victory would represent, and how promising are the prospects of a reversal of this trend in this Cuban revolution – these are questions that may be on the verge of decision as we are sitting here. The invasion of the forces of the Revolutionary Council, as it is called, is now under way, and the two are locked in combat. What the actual development is down there militarily I do not know.

I start my road to knowledge by ignoring, by not accepting as true automatically, all the reports that are printed in the press, that are broadcast by the Revolutionary Council or that are broadcast from Havana. In war in general, we have learned, the communiques of the contending camps should be taken with barrels and barrels of salt, and in this particular form of war whole mines of salt have to be stripped. I’m not a military expert, I regret to say; I’m not always sure what end of the gun to hold, even, and it is not to me a military problem. At least, that is not my concern at the present moment. Even if it were, I’m afraid I could not throw even a smidgeon of light on it.

I am considering the problem from a different angle: not to approve, not to condemn, so much, but to try to understand how this tragic situation has unfolded. A civil war for any country is a tragic situation. The invasion is on because the dualism of the revolution that made itself evident in the Cuban revolution inevitably produced a reaction.

One was to restore the old regime of Batista. Batistaists in Cuba – those who fled or those who hid – that’s what they want. Undoubtedly some elements, many elements in the United States, or those in authority and power and influence, want the same thing. That is one reaction to the regime, naturally. The Batistaists were thrown out of power, dispossessed of all power – naturally they want it back.

The other is increasingly – as defections came here, there and everywhere, those who remained silently in Cuba and those who fled abroad, primarily to the U.S.: Restore the old program of the July 26 movement – land to the peasants, fair dos in general for the people, and against all those monstrosities that they suffered under in Cuba, against their manifestation in any form and to any degree again, with all agreed more or less on the modernisation of the economy. And this latter is represented, so far as I as able to tell from study and from discussions with Cubans – are represented by three sore or less discernible tendencies.

There are those who represent the July 26 Movement people who broke with the regime and remained July 26 people, so to speak, and whose slogan very often is Fidelism without Communism; that is, they want the restoration of the original program of Fidel without the association with the Communists, which they fear, which they resist, which they do not want.

Then there is an element which fought Castro all the time, which was not directly associated with the Fidel movement, the July 26 Movement, when it was in struggle, because of the condescending attitude (to put it very mildly) of the July 26 people towards the trade unions. These are the people who are in the Cuban trade anions, leaders of the Cuban trade unions, who fought against Castro, who were in prison under Castro, were tortured under Castro, who helped to overthrow Castro [sic! = Batista] in the last stages, and who were forced to flee when the Communists were helped to oust them from power, from official positions, from influence in the trade unions. These are men who – I can give you only my personal judgement on then, to the extent that you find that at all interesting – these are men with whom I have spoken, who showed me their literature, which I was able to read, who made a most favourable and strong impression upon me. It goes without saying that they are not Batistaists – they are people with demonstrable records, not fabricated ones, records of struggle against Batista and victimisation under Batista. They don’t want a Communist regime there or what they consider a Communist regime or the trend of the Castro movement toward a Communist regime. That’s the second group.

And because – I do not hesitate to say this, comrades and friends, because of the tremendous conviction that I have acquired in the course of the last decade after seeing what happened to the trade union movement in all sorts of countries, not just capitalist countries, where they are made a mere branch of the government, which can order them around this way and that way, which can put leaders in or take leaders out, or remove leaders altogether, I have a profound conviction that democracy is not possible in any form – bourgeois democracy, capitalist democracy, or socialist democracy – without free trade unions, trade unions free to decide for themselves, rightly or wrongly, and who can be had to change their minds only by persuasion and not by police clubs. And then there is a third element, so far as I can judge, of friends or supporters of the revolution or even the July 26 Movement who thought that even the July 26 program went a little too far, and certainly that everything that was done since, in the great reforms that Castro did introduce and the great improvements he did introduce, without question, in the early period and by which he earned so much popular support in the early period – certainly went too far, and who undoubtedly feel – it would be silly to ignore that – that private ownership in most if not all fields should be restored in Cuba. They appear to be represented, again as far as I can learn from informed people, and not from superficial or trivial journalistic articles – they are represented by Jose Cardona, the first of the presidents in Cuba put into office by the Castro government, who broke with it, I believe, after some month or two or three.

The Revolutionary Council which has been established among all of them is, by virtue of the fact that they are all [creating] these movements and many minor movements in it, is filled with compromises or deliberate unclarity. If you and I have to get together on some document, so to speak, and we cannot find agreement, we will sometimes put the position so unclearly and so deliberately ambiguously as to permit the common issuing of a document, a statement, but which you can interpret your way and I can interpret my way at a later stage, so to speak. And that is particularly the case with the statement issued by the Council with regard to the expropriations. It allows it to be interpreted this way or this way depending on subsequent developments.

On the Revolutionary Council, in command appears to be – I do not know all the ins and outs of it, and that is not really the question – Cardona. And there is no doubt in my mind, by the way, that just as the U.S., based upon the CIA – that doesn’t matter – just as the American administration, the Washington administration, has tried very much to keep clear of Batistaists, because it knows that with the Batistaists it is absolutely impossible to advance even an eighth of a millimetre in Cuba or anywhere in Latin America, so of the elements in the Revolutionary Council it is undoubtedly the case that the American authorities exerted maximum pressure, in exchange for the aid, financial and military, that was given to the Council, for the selection of Cardona as the principal spokesman for the movement. This undoubtedly does not contribute to the happiness of the other two elements in the Council of which I spoke, the dissident July 26 people and the trade-union people; but that is the situation as I understand it.

Which will assert itself? That is hard to say. Right now arms are talking, arms are talking in a very difficult, very complex situation. If Castro wins, it will undoubtedly show the depth of the hostility to the U.S., or anything associated with the U.S. or anything suspected of association with the U.S., a hostility generated at bottom by the U.S. administration itself – a fact that should never be lost to mind – and therefore a readiness for a passive, or if you will a reluctant, acceptance of the trend towards totalitarianism in Cuba. That’s in the one case.

If Castro loses, it may reveal the depth of the opposition among the masses to the recent trend, an opposition that can only be masked but not eliminated by these massive parades of which the government people speak, and throw open again the question of the road for the Cuban revolution to take in its resumption: toward a democratic expansion of the revolution, which is one road; toward a stagnation, which is a possibility, as in some Latin American countries; or for a turning-back of the wheel in one, two or three stages, to the type of regime that we knew under Batista. We here can’t decide the outcome of the present invasion, I don’t think; but we can and I feel that we must exert an influence on the thought and action of others so that they can exert an influence upon the government of the U.S. And that influence must be aimed above all – this I hold to just as firmly and steadfastly and uncompromisingly as I do to some of the other things I’ve said so dogmatically before – I feel dogmatically about them, that is, unyielding: No American intervention in Cuba! The hour has struck, whether we like it or not, where the Cuban people are deciding it for themselves, and they must be allowed in my opinion to decide it themselves and for themselves and by themselves; and that means without any American armed intervention in Cuba, in any form. Because if that should occur, in my opinion, if everything is not lost then very close to everything is lost – not just for the U.S. but for Cuba as well.

Tragedy is multiplying tragedy in Cuba. The Castro regime, by denial of democratic rights and an increasing narrowing-down of democratic rights and possibilities, is paying for it the bitter price of a revolt, which became the only way in which others besides the complete and uncritical supporters of the Castro regime and the Communists, the only way in which others could make their criticisms or offer an alternative. That’s the fact. I don’t see how I can blink it; I don’t see how anyone else can blink it. Where elections become so a natter of contempt, where a decent, real consultation of the people is excluded, no other way is left, the other ways are forced.

The policy of our government toward Cuba contributed heavily to the gloomy trend away from the democratic revolution, and if a reversal in that trend, regardless of the outcome militarily and therefore governmentally, of the present fight is to be achieved in Cuba, we must have a reversal in our own policy, not just for today but for the whole next period. First, hands off Cuba; an absolute refrainment from any attempt to dictate to the Cuban people by American force, which is an outrage against democracy and against normal decent relations between nation to nation. To negotiate as equals for the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba; this regardless of the outcome militarily. For generous and meaningful economic and financial aid to Cuba, so that it is (a) not forced to rely upon its own resources, which are too slender, and (b) not forced to seek elsewhere, which means, in the present world, to seek from the Kremlin a substitute for that aid.

And fourth, I would say – and those are simply elementary considerations, not a whole elaborate program to solve every problem of Cuba – to renegotiate the Guantanamo Bay base with Cuba; because my feeling is that the big bulk – and this is granted by opponents as well as supporters of Castro – the big bulk of the Cuban people want the complete evacuation of the Guantanamo Bay base. I am myself unquestioningly for it. The U.S. cannot continue to impose upon Cuba a base which was negotiated under circumstances and with people, with Cubans, which no longer exists, and no longer has the respect of the Cuban people, and the circumstances under which it was signed no longer exist.

I do not make this survey of Cuban developments with joy. Like so many others, my heart and my hopes are. as they always were from the beginning and before even the name of Castro was heard of in this country widely, with the Cuban revolution and with the great program of freedom, independence and democracy and progress which to me are big things and not just ceremonial phrases, which the leaders of the revolution first pronounced, espoused and fought for; and it is with no joy that I, like some others, observed the growing degree to which this program was being abandoned month by month. I can’t foretell, I have indicated, at this crucial moment the outcome of the clash which became inevitable. I have no doubt that many, perhaps most of the Castro supporters on the island are fighting for an independence and freedom under a regime which had already gone so far in destroying then, and I know too that many are fighting among the invading forces and in support of them on the island for an independence and freedom which may end in bitter disillusionment for them too. I cannot take courage. This is my unfortunate position, my unfortunate feeling – from the developments in Cuba.

In this cruel situation in which the Cuban people are the main ones to suffer, it may seem very easy for many to take sides with wholehearted and uncritical passion, and I would be the last one to deny that that is understandable and even natural, and even in a sense commendable, and I am not saying this disdainfully or condescendingly but because I know what that feeling is; and to believe that thereby the problem is solved, and that the responsibility of every individual, who is after all called upon as an individual to take a position, that his responsibility is discharged. I myself do not find it so easy.

My sympathies – I don’t even want to begin to conceal my sympathies – are primarily with these trade-union elements, the trade-union democrats, the trade-union revolutionists whom I met, whom I know, upon whom I have checked so to speak, about whose credentials I have inquired in sources and corners for which I have respect, and who represent trade-union militants like themselves, good stout working-class fighters on the island itself; and in the second place, with the July 26 people, who in their own way – not perhaps in my socialist way, not perhaps in my socialist reason – but in their own way, as revolutionary democrats, as good nationalists, lovers of their country as you love yours – were appalled by and then resisted the growth of the Communist influence there; because what that means, they know, and that I know too. My hopes for their success – and I hope for their success, and their expansion of the program of the Cuban revolution – are however heavily influenced by my fears of the degree of power that nay be exerted by conservative elements who are not few in number, and by their sponsors and guides, above all in the Washington administration, just as my hopes in the Castro regime itself were increasingly darkened by the growth of the Communist and anti-democratic forces that became increasingly dominant and apparent. It’s a heavy hour for the heart of everyone to whom socialism and freedom aren’t just phrases, aren’t just our substitute for July 4 phrases on July 4 celebrations in this country, but for whom they mean a new life and a new attitude toward life – a new man and a new attitude toward men. And I trust that in this hour that the forces that once proved irresistible in breaking the back of one tyranny in Cuba will not prove to be less effective in turning the helm of that revolution so that it can again sail in free and refreshing seas. For it is no exaggeration to say that nil the Americas, we too, indeed all the world are watching anxiously for the outcome on which depends so much that we too, like the people of Cuba, cherish and aspire to attain. Thank you.

[A transcription of the discussion from the floor could not be included within the compass of this pamphlet. This is rather unfair to those who took part, since not all of then would agree that the summary reply by itself can give the reader an adequate idea of what was said, and also since some of the points taken up in the summary had not been presented in this discussion period at all. In reading the summary speech which follows, therefore, no back-assumptions should be made on exactly what had been said from the floor. – H.D.]


[There are some initial sentences, unclear on the tape, in which the speaker points out he is speaking only for himself, not for any official position.] I am speaking on a subject that is exceedingly complicated. It may not be so complicated to you now. I hope it gets simpler and clearer and it moves in the right direction [...] but my own feeling now is that it will get more complicated. And it will be less easy tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow to give an easy over-all answer. Individual aspects of the problem I can answer in my sleep, because I’ve been awake for so long that now it’s automatic with me. And where they assume exceptionally complex forms, or forms that were not known before or were not experienced before in politics in general and in the socialist movement in particular, then in my old age, as I grow more senile and conservative I tend to be more prudent [...]

Now here’s why I lean to the point of view that I expressed, and do not lean to the point of view that was expressed by other comrades or friends who are here or that was implied in some of the questions.

Insofar as everyone here who took the floor abhorred the very idea of American intervention in Cuba, I’m not only with then, I not only have no difference with such persons, but I consider myself at one with them. And I’m especially happy that such a sentiment is expressed by comrades in the U.S., friends in the U.S., where it is so rare to hear such sentiments expressed. But insofar as they deal with taking sides, so to speak, in the situation in Cuba, I disagree with the entire [...] strongly and most regretfully [............] but I’m not persuaded.

The parallel, first of all – to take the questions in order; and I hope I don’t repeat myself too much, please be patient [...]

The U.S. aided in the overturn of the Guatemalan government, and isn’t there a parallel between what happened there several years ago and what is happening now? Yes, there is a parallel, of course. But that’s not what’s decisive in the two cases. The difference – that for me turns the scale in making up my mind. Naturally the U.S. didn’t want the Guatemalan regime of that time (of Arbenz, if I remember correctly); it doesn’t want the Castro regime in Cuba, obviously; and in that respect there is an exact parallel. Obviously the U.S. gave every aid that it thought was needed in the overturn of the Guatemalan regime and it’s doing that in Cuba, of course. I don’t mean the U.S. is neutral. I thought I indicated in my speech that they were aiding this movement, supporting this movement, financing this movement, and arming this movement. I may now add that it has been training this movement, in training fields that it has in the U.S. at its disposal, in Louisiana, Florida, god knows where else, and training fields that its vassal in Guatemala has at its disposal. No problem there.

But there’s a difference. In Guatemala, so far as I know – friends may have a more detailed and exact knowledge on it, but so far as I know or as I know or as I recall at the tine from reading of the events, the only forces that were at the disposal of the U.S. were arch-reactionary militarists, colonels, officers and the like; that was all, as far as I know. In Cuba there is a popular force opposed to Castro. I don’t know of any trade-unionists, of any workers, of any middle-class elements, of any democrats, of any equivalent of the July 26th’ers, that was opposed to the regime in Guatemala. I know then in the Cuban case, those that are in the U.S. and those that are in Cuba. A popular, democratic movement. It’s not a socialist movement – some socialists in it, but not a socialist movement. It is a democratic popular movement; that’s a big difference. I have supported or sympathised with such movements in the past, my sympathy was objected to in the past, but never objected to by comrades or friends whom I heard here this evening in connection with Cuba.

No; Cuba may be different from the situations in other countries where I took a similar position years ago, not just last night – but I don’t see it basically, unless you believe that the Cuban government, the Castro government, is a socialist government – I don’t believe that, never believed it, I don’t believe it now – and against this socialist government come backward, conservative, reactionary workers taking arms. That can happen; not every worker is a socialist, and even [when] a socialist government is established, you can find many reactionary workers against socialism who can be incited to try to overturn it. Since I don’t believe it was a socialist government but a totalitarian – excuse me, an authoritarian middle-class government, which is increasingly in the hands of an anti-socialist totalitarian force, the Communists, I can’t have that same feeling.

Now, did the CIA finance, or help to finance, this Revolutionary Council movement? I have no doubt; I have no evidence, but I have no doubt. I have no doubt; no one needs to convince me of that, I’m sure of that. By the State Department and the Kennedy government, no doubt. Did they give them arms? I have no doubt of that, none at all. That by itself does not determine my position, not at all. I’m a socialist, and I’m a political person. I try as such as possible – it isn’t always easy – to live in the present world, in order that I can get out of it. I cannot get out of it unless I live in it. And as I cannot get out of the misery and wretchedness and difficulties and complexities of present-day social existence unless I take part in this present existence. And more than once, revolutionaries have gladly taken arms fros capitalist governments, from reactionary capitalist governments, from imperialist capitalist governments, to carry out their revolution; and most revolutionists, most socialists, most democrats applauded that, under certain circumstances. All we have to examine, in my view, is not “Where did you get your arms?”

As one comrade already brought out, the Irish revolutionists unhesitatingly took arms from the Kaiser’s government in 1916, used the kaiser’s U-Boats, submarines, to travel to Ireland, trained their troops outside of Ireland, got their arms outside of Ireland, since the British who occupied Ireland refused to give arms to the Irish revolutionists. They made their uprising with invading forces, I know, of course; but there were very few people friendly to the revolutionary movement who opposed them because of the source of their arms or even their money.

The CIA, the American government, has its aims in Cuba – absolutely, of course; more or less the aims that it had in Guatemala. Now I happen to think – I may be wrong on this, I’m not insisting on it – I happen to think that its main aim is not the restoration of the sugar companies, of the plantations to the American sugar companies. I’m sure it wouldn’t object if that were so, but I don’t think that’s the main aim. That’s my opinion. Its main aim is to eliminate the possibility of a Russian political base right next to the U.S. Just as the Russians would like to eliminate American bases, military or political, that are close to their borders. That’s understandable. That’s not my primary interest, I assure you.

But I cannot be convinced, as yet, that the main aims of the Revolutionary Council people, or – except for some Batistaists who snuck in a little – the elements behind Cardona, are the same. I don’t believe it. I don’t see any evidence for that. I don’t believe that they’re just tools or mercenaries of the U.S.; I don’t believe it; I haven’t seen any evidence of it. If you have, I’s ready to listen to it. If you say that’s what’s in complete control of this movement, all right, that’ll change my opinion; I’m easy to convince, as a matter of fact.

These people are not Marxists, this Revolutionary Council; they’re not socialists, as I’ve indicated; not people that have my principles, or, if you don’t think I have any left, your principles; just ordinary democrats, conservative democrats, radicals, or what we call in our special private jargon: bourgeois democrats, not totalitarian, and militant trade-unionists; no angels there. Their aim is not to restore capitalism because they’re anti-socialist, and their aim is not to establish the rule of the U.S. in Cuba. I don’t believe it. Batista’s might be. But I haven’t seen any evidence of the past or present policies or conduct of this movement that would confirm it.

Now let us deal with the question of whether the arms that have been used in Cuba, being U.S. arms or having used U.S. bases, isn’t the same thing as U.S. intervention. I don’t think that that’s so simple or that it can be equated with [intervention]. I think that if we had time and you patience I could give ample examples that that is not necessarily the case. That’s not what I consider armed intervention by the U.S. Armed intervention by the U.S. – and I mean armed intervention – means a force that is not Cuban in any way, which is purely mercenary, which reaches the most extreme and obvious form so that even the biggest dunderhead in the world can see it if it sends the U.S. Marines there, let us say. And that I’m absolutely opposed to, completely opposed to, and irreconcilably opposed to.

And if that’s what this invasion degenerates into, it will add one more tragedy to the Cuban people; and I’ll be absolutely opposed to it. I don’t see that as the case now. It’s a simple thing to say, and it appeals very readily to quick thinking – and people want to think quickly, and that’s understandable: the thing is happening now and they want to do something. All right, but I can’t think that quickly or that easily.

Now, isn’t the invasion a “crossroads” for Latin America? If Castro wins, revolutions will occur everywhere in Latin America; if he loses, black reaction will follow all over in Latin America: Not necessarily; I don’t think so.

If Castro wins, more than one thing may happen. If he wins and succeeds, as I’ve tried to indicate, in convincing everybody or enough people in Cuba that the invasion is a pure-and-simple American [...], it is entirely possible – I would even say – good, I’ll leave it at possible – it’s entirely possible that the tendency in Cuba for the Communist Party to take over in effect if not in name – in effect, in complete effect – the regime in Cuba would be enormously accelerated. That may satisfy people in the U.S., some people; I’m sure it wouldn’t satisfy many people in this hall.

Why would it be accelerated? From my knowledge – I think I have some knowledge – of similar things in other countries, it is precisely in this kind of a situation that the CP., which has its organised, disciplined cadre, with thousands upon thousands of people, more or less trained, politically better trained than any other political organisation or group in Cuba, would naturally tend to, and would be anxious to organise for and plan for, to dominate every single strategical position, above all the military positions, and to use the situation that’s created now to dominate every other social position more and more exclusively. That is how it operates. That’s no great secret.

People have seen that at least – in detail at least since 1936 in the Spanish Civil War. In Cuba that trend and that possibility is more accentuated and more easy to realise than it was in Spain. Why? Because in Spain the CP, even though it was backed by Russia, still had to contend with massive political popular organisations which had apparatuses, men, training, and which even had forces far greater than the CP. had towards the end. They had a mountainous anarchist movement, not the kind you read about in sweet books, but disciplined, tight, tough, armed, trained. They had a socialist movement, and with trade unions at its base – a socialist movement, the [rest of the] trade unions at its base – armed, more disciplined, tough. There was the small POUM movement, the Workers Party of Marxian Unification, also armed, organised, trained, smart, shrewd, intelligent, and knowledgeable about Stalinism, with its own militias and its own sections in the army. And there nevertheless the CP pushed constantly, and with its agents, including its police agents, to occupy one after another of the strategical positions in Cuba – er, in Spain; and they slit the throat of the Spanish Revolution and the Spanish Republic. This is the problem, I think, and I say in Cuba it is easier.

What other organisations are there now? The Castroites have no organisation. They have popular support in one or another sense, I don’t know. Is there a socialist movement there, is there a trade-union movement there? Is there an anarchist movement there? The anarchist movement in Cuba has been absolutely destroyed. A few of their leaders are now in New York where they escaped with their lives – people who suffered directly under Batista, who fought him bitterly – the anarchists. I’m not an anarchist; I’m not pro-anarchist; these are absolutely respectable comrades of mine; I respect them, they have my respect, they’re fighters: they’re anti-Castro. And they report that the Communists have taken over more and more, here, there and the other, in their devilishly quiet and efficient way. I have nothing against them; that’s their job and they are doing it. I can’t complain if they are doing their job. All I’ve got to do is do mine. And I say in this critical situation I can just picture in my mind’s eye – it’s not too hard – what the atmosphere must be in Cuba: a trained, disciplined force which has no other to contest with, instantly and immediately and rapidly occupies the important positions, military, political, cultural, trade-union, everything you want. That does not inspire me with enthusiasm.

So if Castro wins, let us say, who will win? Now if you can guarantee it, all right, then I’ll modify my whole view. But I don’t think you can guarantee it. There is a possibility – I repeat, a possibility – that if Castro wins – he may; this revolution may turn out to be the flop of the decade, the invasion; I don’t know; I don’t know what the actual relation of forces is; I don’t know; if you know, you’re a smarter man than I am. If Castro wins, it may be the victory, the definitive victory, or lead directly to the definitive victory in Cuba of the Communist Party. I’m not for that victory. I may be hanged for that – I mean politically, I don’t mean figuratively [sic] – that is, people may not agree with me; that’s how I am.

If he loses, if Castro loses, and this Revolutionary Council group came to power, that means black reaction all over America: I don’t believe that; I don’t believe that. That may be the trend if the elements in the Revolutionary Council develop the war, or permit the development, or stand in the way of the development of, at a subsequent stage, not the [...] – that I think is excluded if they win, because there’ll be an enormous loosening up, naturally, of the extreme Batista people. Then, of course, black reaction will tend to spread in Latin America; that is an enormous risk and I’m not at all oblivious to it, nor do I consider it a trifle. It ain’t.

A contrary development is quite possible, unless we conclude that the only revolutions that are possible in the Latin American countries are, at the best, authoritarian bourgeois revolutions or somewhat totalitarian revolutions, and that a democratic bourgeois revolution or middle-class revolution is excluded. An authoritarian bourgeois revolution, or – excuse me, I forgot – a Batista-type revolution, a Batista regime, one of the two; but that a middle-class democratic revolution is absolutely excluded: I don’t think so, and that’s why differ with some comrades. I think a bourgeois democratic revolution – more or less democratic revolution – in some of the Latin American countries is possible. If it is not, I would have to say: I can do nothing and you can do nothing, and the Latin American people can do nothing , because there isn’t a hell of a lot of choice between a Batista-type revolution and a Communist Party despotism, not a hell of a lot – one is a little more [...], the other is a little less [...] – not a hell of a lot. If there is however a choice, I want to orient myself to what constitutes the most likely, most preferable basis for what I would choose. I’d choose socialism, and I do; that’s my ideal and I haven’t changed from that ideal. But I’d take a bourgeois democratic revolution as my preference in Latin America because under it I can develop more or less freely a labour movement, a socialist movement. But under the Stalinists, as under the Batistaists, I cannot develop or even think of developing a labour movement or a socialist movement. Now if there is a Stalinist country where that was possible, where that has proved possible, I would like to hear the name of it.

[Here follows a passage replying to a gentleman who had demanded to know if Shachtman was for the Cuban workers or for U.S. big business. Than Shachtman replies to another critic:]

... He’s sorry to see a socialist, and particularly an American socialist, and one he knows, attack the Castro regime on the very eve or in the very midst of an attack from the U.S. [...] I’m conscious of the fact that while I’m a socialist, I’m a U.S. socialist, and I’m speaking of a regime, namely that of Castro, of a country that is trying to rise out of imposed backwardness – backwardness imposed by the heads of my country, and I have an obligation to speak with the greatest possible restraint. [...] My attack was not directed essentially at Castro but at the U.S. and its policy. My criticism was not directed at the July 26 Movement or at the movement which I called Castro the hero and leader of, for which I think he’ll be primarily favourably remembered, but, not to be harsh, I think I made it clear that in my opinion, strongly held, I do not believe that Castro is a Communist or a tool of the Communists or anything like that; I think he’s an idealist; that I supported the revolution, [the old group], the July 26 revolution; that Castro and the revolution achieved great things for the Cuban people in an impossibly short period of time, [... ...] which I covered by that phrase. I’m against that revolution being throttled, and throttled inevitably by a Communist Party regime. [Heckler: “Then you’re in favour of supporting the invasion, aren’t you?”] I listened patiently while I was being differed with ...

Now, Castro got a “plebiscite,” it was pointed out, because he was there. The invaders, however, were trained here and armed here, financed here. Yes, of course, there’s a difference. Before the Castro invaders invaded, they trained outside the country. Batista didn’t permit them to train in the country. The present invaders – The U.S. government didn’t finance Castro; that’s a big difference, no question about it. They weren’t interested in overturning the Batista government; I told you what I think they are interested in, primarily. The invaders were trained here, and took advantage of the interest of the U.S. in their invasion. I repeat that I don’t think that they’re in personal [...] of the U.S. or that they intend sorely to carry out the orders of the U.S. They were armed here because I don’t know of anywhere else they could get arms; I doubt if they know anywhere else they could get arms. I discussed it, I must say jokingly – not that I consider it funny – discussed it with some of the trade-union people involved, and they could only get arms in the U.S. and not in Paraguay or [Ghana], not in Costa Rica or really anywhere else. To hold then off, to hold the Americans off, Castro obtained arms too, didn’t he? Those arms are Russian; they’re not manufactured in a Cuban factory so far as I know: Czechoslovakian arms, or Chinese arms, Polish arms, Albanian arms. I don’t find anything wrong with that. In a revolution the tendency is to take arms where they are, not to take arms where they are not.

Secondly, the invaders, in my information – I can only go by information that I consider, insofar as I as able to check up on then, as sound – the invaders were supplemented by anti-Castroites on the island, who have been fighting there for some time, who have been fighting there for some time. Castro fought there for some time, with 200 men, that’s all, 200 men, no more and sometimes less – and sometimes less. He didn’t have the masses of the people grab arms and come to his side from the beginning, not at all [...] I could easily have said at that time, Where are the Cubans who support him?

Now, how important are the trade unions in the coalition? Why, I remember something else out of my chequered past. l had no objection, nor did my friends, during the war, the Second World War, which many people said was an imperialist war on both sides, the Allies’ side and the other side: we won’t support any side in the war; but when the Resistance movement started, in France or other places, we not only had no objections to their taking arms from the imperialists, we advised them to take arms from the imperialists, for the Resistance movement. It wasn’t a socialist movement, at least by our standards, politically confused, a little bit unpleasant elements, so to speak, and so on; but we said, Go ahead, get arms where you can. That’s the best place to get them because, I repeat, you cannot get arms where there aren’t any.

And when there was a disturbance, so to speak, in Poland, I didn’t hesitate to support Mikolajczyk in Poland. He wasn’t a socialist; he may have wanted restoration. I thought the forces, the social forces who could not themselves articulate anything – but there was the beginning of a totalitarian regime in Poland [....................... ] and I was never a Mikolajczyk man, and as not now, and I wasn’t then and I was not before. I’m a socialist; I was then, I as now. I didn’t choose this world; I’d have chosen a different one, but in order to fight it I have to live in this one.

How important are the trade-unionists in this coalition? I don’t know, but then again no one else knows. Yet, no one else can know. We can only find that out in the development of the fight in Cuba. How important are the July 26 dissidents who are in this coalition? I don’t know; you don’t know. I can also ask, How important is Cardona in this whole business? Because he has the pleasing of the State Department? You can’t buy such beer with that in Cuba* And if and when the coalition triumphs – I don’t know if it will; I don’t know; not the point – but if and when it triumphs, what happens instantly, precisely because it’s a coalition, essentially it’s a military front? [The individual forces in it will go separately]; and when [they go separately] I might take a chance and bet a nickel that the trade-union elements, or those people whom it represents, will have more inherent power in Cuba than, say, Cardona and the social forces that he represents in Cuba. That I’m willing to bet on.

As for which one will win over the other, I don’t know. I’m not the seventh son of a seventh son, and I haven’t any crystal ball. I don’t know. But I’m inclined to put my stakes on the trade unions and on those intellectuals and middle-class elements, professionals, democratic bourgeois professionals who were (so to speak) represented to one extent or another by the dissident July 26 elements who are in this coalition. As for the elements represented – social elements represented by Cardona, how much they weigh I don’t know, but I don’t think I need a very big scale to weigh them in Cuba. So while I can’t guarantee anything, I’m not certain by any means, I don’t think it’s quite so at all that if Cardona and the coalition of elements he represents [wins] that we are doomed to – what? to restorationism? Now if we’re doomed to restorationism there, and if the coalition wins, the door is opens to Batistaism, Batista restorationism, then I might just as simply indicate [that], and I think what is more present fact – not just projection – more present facts are: that if Batista wins, not only the door but all the windows and plenty of chinks in the walls are open to the triumph of the Stalinists.

Now that makes my choice very difficult; it doesn’t make my choice easy and clearly indicated. I know where sentiment is, because I feel that sentiment myself, consequently I can easily understand it in others; but I want, in addition to sentiment, something sore substantial.

Now does a country – the question was raised – have the right to its own Stalinist regime if it wants one? Not that we’re for it, but does a country have a right? or does someone from another country hare the right to wipe out that Stalinist regime? I think a country has the right to that misery, absolutely. And I wouldn’t assign to the U.S. the role of cleaner-up of all countries by force of arms; absolutely not. First I want to know if those arms are clean; if they’re clean, all right, I’d look at it a little differently. I don’t think they are clean enough, I am sorry to say. I wouldn’t assign to the U.S. the imposition of an anti-Stalinist regime, just as I do not assign to Russia the right to impose a Stalinist regime in another country that has a capitalist regime.

But I don’t see that in the present case. Cuba did not choose the Stalinist regime. If it could be shown that the Cuban revolution by Castro was made in the name: “we want a regime which will do the following things”, namely, the things that were done finally, and the sympathy of the people clearly expressed – not necessarily by elections in this case but clearly expressed by clear popular support – all right, I’d regret it deeply, they will regret it tomorrow – they have chosen the Stalinist regime: keep your hands off them. But I don’t know whom the Cuban people chose the Stalinist regime; I don’t know when they chose cooperation with the Communist Party – even cooperation with the Communist Party. When did they choose that? In the announcement that Castro made when he called on the people to support the July 26 Movement – “bring us to power, take us to Havana, drive out Batista”? He never said that, never. So they didn’t choose it, as far as I can see. So many were opposed to the possibility even of a Stalinist regime that they defected – all kinds of defections, from all kinds of organisations and groups, defector is not Batistaist. Batistaists did not defect from the Castro revolution; they were smashed by the Castro revolution. I am talking about defectors who were supporters of the Castro regime. They wanted an overturn, and they have extraordinary difficulties and complexities. I am not their creator, nor as I the creator of the Castro regime; it’s a very difficult matter.

Now two last words. The first is that I understand absolutely the reaction that has been taken to the Castro regime, and I might be wrong; it wouldn’t be the first time, you know. I am not one of those lucky few whose analyses has always been correct; whose political positions have always been correct; I may be wrong. But I fear this: the taking over, quickly or slowly, of Cuba by the CP. As they say, if you don’t hare eyes to see with, you won’t have eyes to cry with either. I don’t want that to happen. Nor do I say that it’s absolutely going to happen, but I can demand of every friend, not to agree with me in that apprehension, but that he consider that possibility.

Think about it. If you feel that it is just a hophead dream, or if it’s just something in the Hearst press I repeat – Many things in the Hearst press I repeat; all my life I have done that. Not everything; if they said Hitler was a monster I repeated that. Many things in the Communist press that I repeat: America is an imperialist country, I repeat that. [More on the point on repeating things from the Hearst press ...]

The other thing is: I know how hard it is for a socialist who takes his politics seriously to face a conflict of such importance, such exciting and demanding importance, and be forced to feel: how can I be neutral in a fight like this? The American government, the American capitalist class, the American imperialists, and all the rest of them, are attacking Cuba; I have got to take sides. I understand that; I even sympathise with it. But I don’t follow it necessarily.

There have unfortunately in our times been more than one situation where a socialist, with tears in his heart – I don’t want to sound sentimental – unhappy, grinding his teeth, when there was a fight on, and it was a big fight, could not take a position for one side or the other. That was the case with me and many of my friends in the past in the fight between Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Communists, in China. How could we take a position for either side? I couldn’t. I was called upon to. I wanted to, because I like to fight and I like to take sides. But I couldn’t. That’s the wretched world we live in.

Once again also we are encountering a very complicated situation. My answer to it is not full – (a) – and to the extent that it tries to be an answer it is not categorical and absolute and I’m not fighting tooth and nail to impose it on you. But I doubt the wisdom of some of the answers that I have heard this evening – very easy, simple, in a situation that won’t allow either for a very easy or simple answer.

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Last updated on 23 December 2014