First Published: Progressive Labor Special Issue, December 1964
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Student Committee for Travel to Cuba is now approaching the third year of its existence. In its first two years of activities it organized three trips to Cuba. One failed–two succeeded The two successful trips were carried out in the face of all kinds of government opposition, including the threat and actuality of federal indictments, invalidation of passports, appearances before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and personal harassment and intimidation. These trips are a credit to the determination and will of the people who did actually travel to Cuba and are indicative of a new wave of militancy, courage, and creative political thinking which is sweeping through the students in this country. A third trip is now being considered, but whether or not it becomes a fact, the spirit which would guide such a trip (and which has always governed the SCTC) is now full-blown in other areas of student political activity–at least one of which is a direct descendent of the trips to Cuba–if not the Cuban Revolution itself.
By traveling to Cuba these 142 young people witnessed what is meant by the term imperialism. Upon their return, they provided a tremendous boost to the revival of a potent weapon in the hands of American students–anti-imperialism. The concept of American imperialism as, first of all, an existent FACT; and, second of all, as a MAJOR stumbling block to world peace (and by corollary, the major target of any domestic peace movement), has been slowly and painfully making its way through the convolutions of the American student mind for the past two or three years.
Two and three years ago many students were considering the problems of “peace,” in many cases in an almost apolitical way, through such organizations as SANE, the Student Peace Student, and Turn Toward Peace. Great numbers of them received a disillusioning jolt as to their effectiveness when during the Cuban missile crisis the U.S. and Russian government, main targets of the peace movement up till that time, nearly brought on an atomic war, totally ignoring the tens of thousands of students who were active and demonstrative members of peace organizations. The final demise of the peace organizations came with the signing of the test-ban treaty, which to the remaining active [text missing in the original – EROL] peace. The fact that something was wrong with the analysis and program of this old peace movement is now coming home to thousands of young people, especially as bloody and cruel wars continue to rage in Vietnam, Laos, the Congo, and someplace periodically.
Two new concepts of war and peace have been evolving: That war means armies and killing, not stockpiles and tests; and that the present wars are connected with the attempts of the U. S. government to maintain world hegemony. With increasing frequency the word “imperialism” is making the dramatic synapse between these hitherto unrelated and oft undiscovered concepts–but until now, in an organized and scattered manner. The students who went to Cuba clearly and at close range saw the definitions and implications of imperialism and their knowledge and passion, in good part, provided the impetus for a student peace organization opposed to this modern American variety of colonialism. This organization is the May 2nd Movement.
The SCTC is in agreement with the May 2nd, Movement and many of us, in an attempt to be active politically within the U.S., now work with May 2nd. Whereas the SCTC involves executive functions such as sending the trips to Cuba and providing speakers from these trips, the May 2nd Movement is a mass movement attempting to educate and mobilize thousands of students against U.S. foreign policy. Thus we feel that an important result of the trips to Cuba has been the shot of adrenalin given to the organization of anti-imperialist protest.
The U.S. government and the system which it supports is facing a crisis on the domestic and international front The crisis presents itself in the forms of rising forces of anti-neocolonialism and national liberation in the underdeveloped world, the civil rights movement at home, the problems of automation, unemployment, and domestic poverty, and the increasing alienation of all levels, but especially the educated sectors, of society. As the crisis continually deepens, the forces of government find themselves less and less able to handle their problems in the time-honored ways of liberal democracy; i.e. diplomacy, negotiations, warning, tolerance of freedoms of speech, press, travel and assembly, etc. What Americans seem not to realize about their government is that it allows its citizens its constitutional freedoms only when these are not used in a forceful and militant way to demand redress of real grievances. That is, demands for things that people desperately need but which the structure of the system is not able to, or cannot afford to give; i.e., an end to slum housing; decent jobs and medical care for all; an end to the war economy; an end to foreign intervention and “police” wars; and, knowledge–especially knowledge of rival, alternative, and perhaps better means of constructing a society.
The Negroes of the nation’s ghettoes learned this lesson during the summer of 1964. Faced with unbearable living conditions and fearful police brutality (I’ve seen grown men crawl, beg, and cry not to be taken into Harlem’s 32 Precinct. You may walk in, but you’re always taken out on a stretcher –Bill Epton.) Many Negroes showed their dissatisfaction by truly MASS demonstrations. The city government of New York replied with what amounted to open warfare.
This summer, students led by the May 2nd Movement learned the same lesson when they attempted to hold protest meetings in Times Square against Johnson’s action in the Gulf of Tonkin and the war in Vietnam generally. They were brutally dispersed by club-wielding patrolmen and mounted police. Many were injured and more than 60 arrested. The policemenís lies and the irregular court procedures in the ensuing trials made a mockery of liberal “justice”. With the conduct of a war at stake no opposition with a ring of truth to it could challenge the government’s line.
Students are learning the meaning of liberal democracy again, at this very moment, on the campus of the University of California in Berkeley. Nationally when “liberal,” and President of the University, Clark Kerr, called in the State Police and county sheriffs to break up demonstrations by thousands of students protesting against restrictions on political activity on the California campus. So far more than 800 have been arrested and the students there are also protesting the police brutality.
These are only a few recent and dramatic examples. The process occurs again and again. As the government finds it has less and less room to maneuver, less and less surplus to give away, as it finds itself more and more directly challenged, it has no qualms about throwing the democratic ideals, the tools of protest, out the proverbial window. When the SCTC ran into the same kind of stiffening resistance from the federal government we asked ourselves what it was in the nature of our particular activity, namely trips to Cuba and the follow-up speeches and publication of what we saw there, that could be so challenging to the powers that be that they would threaten nine students with 5 to 15 years in jail, send federal marshals barreling through doors, carry out brutal attacks like the one at HUAC, cause loss of jobs, and the like; in short, why was there so little leeway for the government around the issue of travel to Cuba and freedom of travel generally? We think the answer revolves around how we, those who travel to Cuba, fit into the international crisis that the U.S. government faces, particularly vis-a-vis Latin America. In order to understand the place of such activities as those of the SCTC in this situation, one must start first with Latin America and the Cuban revolution.
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In Latin America today there is a great mass of people who live on the edge of starvation, who have improper medical care, who are illiterate and will remain so, whose children have no schools, who work long hours for little pay if they are lucky enough to work at all. It is a mass of people kept in seemingly permanent subjection by some of the most brutal dictatorships in world history, and by governments not so brutal but very much in control by other illegal means. The present governments are only the present-day manifestation of a tradition of “caudillo” or “gorilla” leaders common throughout the continent. They come and go like the seasons and nothing really changes.
Into this situation of exploitation, hopelessness, and meaningless coups was injected a new alternative. That is the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Fidel Castro did not turn out to be a caudillo. Those who are there and see it know that the Revolution has built schools and hospitals, redistributed wealth on an equitable basis, and that the people of Cuba consider themselves free. In fact the first free peoples of the Americas. Freedom is no mere word to them They are free to eat, study, work and grow, and despite what our press says, free to discuss issues, and elect their own party leaders.
There is another old tradition in Latin America These Bastista-like governments are, and have been, backed by the strongest economic and military force in the world: The government of the United States. The U. S. does not back these governments without good reason. In most cases it is American capital that is at the heart of the economy of the Latin American nations. U.S. businessmen get easy investment and tax terms, cheap labor, a still cheaper source of raw materials, and an increasingly good market for advantageous sales of machinery and other goods. It also makes a nice place to take a vacation. Tourist-service industries and prostitution are two important businesses in every major South American city.
For U. S. citizens who travel to Cuba it proves revealing. It is a revelation in two very important ways. First it shows us an alternative to the present situation in Latin America, and the role that our country has played and plays in oppressing the peoples of those countries. It shows us that the ownership of one’s own resources is a prerequisite for freedom; that the U.S. must relinquish its controlling position in the economies, politics, and cultures of South America if that continent is to be free. It bares the face of the U.S., to its own citizens, as exploiter and imperialist.
In the second place, seeing Cuba sets in relief the situation in this country. Why do we have racial discrimination, poverty, alienation? It is obvious that Cuba, a much less powerful country, is solving or has solved all these and more problems. Here is a graphic and moving example for liberals, Negroes, and all sensitive young people in this country today of what a rational and just organization of society can accomplish. And it can be done in the face of the mighty U.S. monolith. The accomplishments of the Cuban Revolution–the construction, the diversification of the economy, the liberation of human spirit and energy–all this has been done despite diplomatic isolation, trade and travel boycotts, sabotage, infiltration, and invasion by the U.S. and its allies. Surely if the Cubans can succeed in the face of such opposition, young North Americans can begin to see that the complexity and power of our society are not insurmountable. For a student who sees Cuba, it is the end of apathy!! It means more people actively working to change the government and society in this country.
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The truth is revealing. It is not to be found in the American press or in the platitudes and pleas of the American leaders. They are doing their best to cover up the truth; to bury their crimes and greed beneath mountains of meaningless talk about freedoms which don’t exist; to hide their desperate struggle to stay in power behind volumes devoted to proving it’s at least preferable to be diseased, hungry, illiterate, and spiritless, as long as you’re not a Communist, as long as you’re in the “free” world; to deceive the American people as to what is happening in Cuba, Latin America, and the world. The vast majority of people here have no way of hearing a revolutionary or anti-imperialist position. The government has done and continues to do whatever is possible to destroy the effectiveness of the organizations of the left, and thus emasculated, no one ever hears their voice American students are drowned in a flood of words, books, and intellectual argument whose purpose is to academically pick apart, over-sophisticate, and bury anything that smacks of a really radical change in the existing oppressed condition of the peoples of the underdeveloped world or the minority groups in this country. As long as the government and the society can keep us tied to the books, can keep honest, sincere, thinking, young people tied up in abstract and de-humanized moral, ethical, and pseudo-sociological problems which only obscure what are often very clear issues, then they are sure that the youth today, the leaders tomorrow, will not rock the boat!
The creation of a vast group of young Americans that believe in the necessity of the end of U. S. imperialism is a danger and a direct threat to the present American foreign policy which implements that imperialism and supports the South American or South East Asian puppet dictators. Such a group would also threaten the present American domestic policy which supports economic inequality and discrimination at home. The May 2nd Movement is such a group and we believe that the SCTC’s trips to Cuba along with other elements, leads directly the formation of such groups.
Thus the State Department travel ban and the importance they attach to it! Thus our equal determination to break it and to send and continue sending more trips to Cuba! To open the eyes of our young people in a dramatic way.
This makes twice that the travel wall of words and intimidation has been smashed. The increasingly frantic efforts of the government to stop us have served, and will serve, to expose the travel ban to be not a matter of international law, safety of our nationals et. al., but as another form of protection for North American political and economic interests which exploit the people of Latin America as they once did Cuba. Of course, the government may stop us by physical force, but this will only serve to show to what ends the government will go in its fear of the wave of economic, political, and social equality that is sweeping the former colonial world It will show that the travel ban is not meant to isolate Cuba. It is meant to isolate the people of the United States from the force and knowledge of revolution; to isolate us from the knowledge of real freedom; to isolate us from the culpability of the U.S. government in the scheme of international oppression; to isolate us from the knowledge that an empire is crumbling.
–by Michael Brown for the Executive Board of S.C.T.C.