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International Socialism, Winter 1962


Notes of the Quarter

3. Cuban Lessons


From International Socialism, No.11, Winter 1962, pp.4-5.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Cuban crisis of October last has been enveloped in so much interpretative hindsights there is a danger we might forget some of the major lessons it holds for us.

There is one need that need scarcely be repeated in these columns – for cynicism and utter disregard for the lives and values each side professes to defend, the rulers of East and West have nothing whatever to learn from each other. Kennedy’s class was quite willing to sink Cuba as a warning to all trespassers in ‘their’ hemisphere; Khrushchev’s bureaucracy was equally willing to ditch Cuba when expansion through ‘competitive coexistence’ became too dangerous to sustain. The terrible fact was that the Cuban people and the rest of us were held to ransom from both sides of the Iron Curtain. If that has not laid the myth that rocketry on one side of the Curtain is somehow more human and defensible that it is on the other, nothing short of war will.

Another myth that should have been laid by the crisis, is that rocketry can be of use in a national struggle for independence. True enough, playing the ‘bloc game’ has become standard for backward countries struggling towards independence and the pre-requisites of growth. It is natural in a world riven between two super-powers willing and able to subsidize ruling classes the world over. Didn’t Tito hold off the Russians with US aid? Nasser the British with Russian aid? the FLN France with Russo-Egyptian and Chinese aid? And so the round goes on, with the ‘bloc game’ paying off in terms of national independence.

Or so it had until Cuba. Then, for the first time in practice, the game was played with nuclear stakes. And with what result? The contrast with any other national movement since the war is too glaring to need comment – where weapons of mass annihilation replace mass mobilization, power and independence – even the chance of obtaining a hearing – are irretrievably lost.

This, in a different form, is what we have been saying in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament from the beginning, namely, there are two aspects to nuclear rocketry: in a power-political context they are a deterrent; on the other hand, precisely because they deter, they constitute a terrible provocation. For the overwhelming majority of mankind the consequences of provocation are so much more frightening than those of conquest, that we are willing to forego deterrence. If the Cuban crisis did nothing else, it lent CND’s basic theme almost too practical an illustration.

Cuba has also underlined the weaknesses of the movement. Nobody demonstrating in the streets last October could have failed to notice the number and youth of his companions, and the failure of CND to bring out ordinary workers. Even moderately sophisticated socialists couldn’t help wondering at the political level of a movement, some of whose acknowledged spokesmen adjudged the situation to be past repair and rushed off to a possible haven in Western Eire.

These are not distinct phenomena. By concentrating propaganda on the weapons rather than the societies that spawn them, CND tends to isolate itself from the forces of social change in the working class. In consequence, its propaganda tends to be of the ‘all or none’ variety, strong in descriptions of horror, weak in the politics of prevention, denuded of the small currency of everyday action. This again discourages working class participation. And without such participation, the tendency on the part of CND’s leaders to see the Bomb as a thing apart from, and against society; their tendency to fetishism, to transference of society’s ills on to its product, becomes overwhelming – with results in a sense of powerlessness that have been mentioned.

Let us put it crudely, very crudely: as long as the vast majority of workers see no alternative to the present system on either side of the Iron Curtain, its rulers will ensure its continuance. Rather than perfect its descriptions of horror, CND would do well to concentrate on kindling the desire for an alternative system. In this way it might strike deeper roots and, at the same time, focus its attention to matters this side of Armageddon.

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