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Farrell Dobbs

The Cuba Crisis

The Week of the Brink

(9 November 1962)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.1, Winter 1963, pp.3-8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Farrell Dobbs, National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, four times its presidential candidate, spoke before the Militant Labor Forum in New York City, November 9, on the Cuban-US Crisis and the threat of nuclear war. The transcript of the tape recording is published here substantially unchanged.

COMRADE Chairman, comrades and friends, if there are any of you here tonight who did not live with fear during the period of extreme tension following Kennedy’s nuclear war threat, then I can only say you must have been on the granddaddy of all drunks. Throughout the world, attention was focused on the Soviet ships sailing toward Kennedy’s naval blockade around the embattled revolutionary island of Cuba. Everybody was wondering, will they keep coming, will Kennedy carry out his threat to fire on them, and what will it bring for us? It was as though an announcement had come from the astronomers that a fiery object from outer space was heading toward us and the people of the world were watching with fear and horror to see if it was on a collision course with our planet, and would incinerate us all.

The threat of nuclear war, which had seemed somewhat remote, suddenly and dramatically exploded into an immediate danger. The people of the United States became vividly aware that this country won’t be exempt in a nuclear war. Never again will a general war be fought in which people in other lands will be destroyed wholesale, civilians and all, their cities leveled, their country ravished, while the United States experiences no destruction within its boundaries. That day is past. The people of America are aware that we, like the rest of the world, will be the victims of a nuclear war, and they’re aware that there is no place to hide.

A most meaningful manifestation of that realization occurred in Washington during the crisis. A Pentagon spokesman was briefing the press. At one point he came to the question of civil defense, whereupon the hardbitten, cynical reporters laughed in his face. Fallout shelters? Evacuation of cities? Everybody knows it’s a fake and a fraud. As LeRoy McRae, our candidate for Attorney General said during the election campaign, the shelter program was one of the greatest consumer frauds ever perpetrated on the people here in New York by the Rockefeller administration. Everybody realized that. So they lived with fear and they lived with hope that maybe the threat would go away.

Kennedy kept the brutal pressure on, hour by hour, and day by grueling day, until Khrushchev, acting under the pressure of Kennedy’s threats, stated that the Soviet Union would withdraw the missiles that Kennedy held to be offensive weapons. The whole world breathed a deep sigh of relief. But nobody was quite the same as they were before that grim speech of Kennedy’s on October 22. There is a new consciousness in people’s minds that nuclear war is a clear and present danger. Some new thoughts are percolating as to why there is the war danger and new and more intensive searches are going on among people to try to determine what can be done to prevent war. I won’t try tonight to deal with the tactical issues at the peak of the crisis, although they have a certain importance in probing into the full meaning of the crisis. I won’t do that because that is not the real key, in my opinion, to an analysis of the lessons of the crisis.

Let me say first that the main, immediate fact that emerges from the crisis is that nuclear war has been averted — only temporarily—but it has been averted, and that means we have gained precious time in the fight for world peace. To use that time effectively we need to analyze the fundamental lessons of the Cuban crisis. What truths about imperialism were made more evident? How have the various peace programs stood the test of this crisis? How can the peace forces better oppose the imperialist war drive? Discussion of these questions and the arriving at common conclusions by more and more people will have to develop as a process. All I propose to undertake tonight is to make a start in the discussion of some of these basic factors.

LET me pose first the question: Who was proven the aggressor in the Cuban crisis? Was it Cuba? The Cubans were defending their sovereign right to make social changes within their country that they thought would better serve the welfare of the population. Measured in terms of the history of this country, the Cubans can present strong arguments in favor of their position by quoting such figures as Sam Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Eugene V. Debs, just to mention a few. The Cubans have right on their side. The right of a people—as it’s written in our own Declaration of Independence proclaiming the American Revolution of 1776—to take affairs into their own hands and reshape things in whatever way they see fit to make a better life for themselves. Was it the Soviet Union that was the aggressor? What did the Soviet Union do? Did the Russians try to overturn the Cuban revolutionary regime? No. The Soviets gave the Cubans defensive aid, economic and military. That was a progressive act and they are to be commended for that act, because it was in keeping with the rights of the Cuban people.

It was not Castro. It was not Khrushchev. It was Kennedy, who precipitated the nuclear war crisis and used the issue of Soviet aid to Cuban self-defense as his pretext. You talk about George Orwell’s “double-speak” in the book 1984. You got it in spades from Kennedy during this crisis. Defense is aggression. That was Kennedy’s line, and he is going to stop such interferences with his imperialist aims if he has to bomb every Latin American from 90 miles off our shores to the southern tip of South America. He said in effect to the Cubans, “Disarm or we will attack you”; and to the Soviet Union, “Submit your ships to search and seizure on the high seas or we will fire upon you, and if that brings us to nuclear war, so be it.” The imperialist ruling class of the United States stands as the only governing power in the world that has ever used nuclear weapons against other human beings. It did so at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Now this same gang of imperialist mobsters, this bipartisan cabal in Washington, stands as the only governmental power that has deliberately threatened to plunge the world into nuclear war when hydrogen bombs of megaton range exist, one of which could virtually level a whole city like New York. And they call the Cubans “aggressors.”

There is no question who was and who is still the aggressor. The Soviets are removing their missiles from Cuba and Kennedy is still on the prod. He is now broadening his definition of what he calls “offensive” weapons. If defense is aggression, then so long as the Cubans have any arms with which to defend themselves against attack, they have “offensive” weapons that “threaten” the United States. Cuba will possess “offensive” weapons so long as there is a zip gun in a back alley in Havana. Kennedy’s definition just begins with missiles. Why? Because the imperialists are preparing new violations of Cuban sovereignty. They are determined to overturn the revolutionary regime in Cuba. They are determined to turn back the clock and restore exploitation of Cuba by American monopoly corporations. That is why the Cuban revolution still remains in grave peril of United States aggression.

It is our duty to defend from within this country the rights of the Cubans. Back them in their demand that the United States withdraw from Guantanamo. Kennedy wants to dictate what weapons the Cubans can have because they are “threatening” the United States from 90 miles away, and he has a military base right on Cuban soil. It is our duty to support the demands of the Cubans that Kennedy call off that naval blockade, that he call off his violations of Cuban air space, that he quit arming counter-revolutionary gangs to help overturn the Cuban revolution and that he lift the economic embargo against Cuba. These are points stressed by the Cubans as just minimum assurances it would be necessary to have before they could put an ounce of trust in any promise Kennedy might make that he would not invade Cuba. We should add our own demands to these points raised by the Cubans. We should demand that the Kennedy administration restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Lift the travel ban. Let the people of this country go down there and see for themselves what it is all about. Restore trade with Cuba. Give the Cubans economic aid and pay them reparations for the damage that has already been done to them by the United States.

NOW look at the lessons of the Cuban crisis from another point of view. Ever since people began to grasp what the horror of nuclear war would probably be, there has been a notion advanced that the imperialists would not risk nuclear war in trying to maintain their rule. It has been argued that they would hold back because they would risk their own destruction in a nuclear war. This contention has been counterposed to the Marxist analysis of the historic role of ruling classes. Marxists hold that the whole history of class struggle demonstrates that no ruling class will peacefully yield up its privileged minority rule upon demand from the majority. The ruling class will try by all available means, through force and violence, to impose its minority will on the majority in order to preserve its privileged position. Well, who has been proven right? In that intensive period beginning with his October 22 nuclear war speech, John F. Kennedy has reaffirmed Karl Marx. He left no room for speculation. If I may comment in this connection on the answer to a paragraph I read in the Worker during the heat of the crisis, let me say: The father of Caroline Kennedy is prepared to risk the death of his daughter in nuclear war in order to preserve the capitalist system and maintain imperialist exploitation over peoples in other countries. He proved it. There is no room for argument. The facts are in.

These facts, and the surrounding circumstances in the crisis, offer fresh proof that the war danger stems from the basic nature of capitalism. The roots lie in class exploitation within a capitalist country, in our case the United States. Capitalist exploitation breeds social injustice, creates class inequities within our society. Madison Avenue describes us as a society of equals, but it just happens that the capitalists are more equal than workers, and that is built into the capitalist system, and that’s the way it is going to remain under capitalism. Out of this class inequality a surplus accumulation of capital becomes amassed in the hands of our native capitalists and they have to do something with it, in order to make more money for themselves. This thirst for new riches impels the capitalist ruling class into a drive toward exploitation of peoples abroad. An intricate network of imperialist oppression develops, imposed by a combination of political trickery and military force. The consequent social injustices, in turn, provoke class struggles on a world scale that lead to colonial revolutions for independence from imperialism and to social revolution to overturn the whole capitalist system and lay a foundation through workers’ states for an advance to a socialist society. Cuba represents a new high-water mark in this rising tide of world revolution that has been gaining in momentum since World War II.

The imperialists, and before all others, the imperialist rulers of the United States, are striving desperately to stem and reverse this revolutionary tide. Their immediate aim in the case of Cuba is to proscribe social revolution from the Western Hemisphere, to keep it a private preserve of capitalism. Profits must come before people. What difference does it make if Cubans again become unemployed by the hundreds of thousands in a land of only seven million? What difference does it make if people again have to live in straw-thatched huts with dirt floors? What difference does it make if the children again have no shoes and are again put on starvation rations and subjected to debilitating diseases of malnutrition? What matter if they are again denied an education? You cannot violate the sanctity of capitalist private profit. It says right in the constitution of the United States that the Cubans can’t do that. And the imperialists intend to stop it.

They intend to restore Jim Crow in Cuba. They intend to put an end to this business in which racial discrimination and segregation are actually outlawed to unite all workers and enable them better to act in common to improve their conditions. They intend to restore discrimination and segregation in order again to split the Cuban workers and enable the imperialists to exploit them. Throughout this whole crisis it has been asserted over and over again that there is no change in the basic policy of Washington with respect to Cuba. And by that they also mean there is no change in their aim to smash all revolutionary gains made by working people throughout the world. They are girding for nuclear war precisely for the purpose of restoring imperialist supremacy over the world. Their aim is to make the world safe for the investments of the Rockefellers and the Kennedys.

IN THE view of the Socialist Workers Party the fight for peace must stem from frank recognition of these iron facts. War can be prevented only by stripping the imperialists of their ability to make war. That can be accomplished only by political class struggle to abolish capitalist rule wherever it still holds sway, including in the United States. All the workers states that have come into being since October 1917 have the same inalienable right as the Cubans to prepare the strongest possible military defense of their countries. But military defense, vital though it is to them, is not the primary key to world peace, to holding back the imperialist war drive. Not while the imperialists retain the power to make war. Reasonable though it would be to have peaceful coexistence between nations; reasonable though it would be to let the different social systems engage in orderly competition to prove which is the superior system—the imperialists won’t go for that. They won’t go for it because they are wholly aware that they would lose in peaceful competition between the rival social systems. The imperialists won’t agree to peacefully coexist a minute longer than they absolutely have to with countries having a non-capitalist social system. Kennedy just made that plain, too, in the Cuban crisis.

A serious question therefore arises as to whether one can fight for peace under a slogan of peaceful coexistence with capitalism. The policy based on that slogan was first shaped by Stalin as the head of the Soviet Union and it has been continued in all its main essentials by the Khrushchev regime. To touch briefly on some of its basic aspects, the policy assumes that Soviet military power can serve as a key deterrent against imperialist war with nuclear arms. On that key premise, the anti-capitalist, antiwar masses of the world are diverted from class struggle opposition to imperialism into pressure groups supporting Soviet diplomacy. More concretely, within capitalist countries such as ours, rebels against capitalist policies are diverted from independent working class political action into support of so-called “peace loving” capitalist politicians. This policy has been known in the terminology of the Communist Party as the popular front, or people’s front, or mainstream politics, or similar phrases which add up to the same thing. Within the framework of this basic policy the Soviet leaders have sought to assert unquestioned authority over all anti-imperialist forces in carrying out their international line. Repeatedly, they have acted unilaterally in taking important steps touching the interests of working people in other countries, in other workers’ parties. That has been part of the history of Kremlin policy, and it appears to have been repeated in Moscow’s negotiations with Washington concerning the Cuban crisis.

It also appears that the Cubans are asserting their right to be consulted and to have a voice in any negotiations, as shown by their opposition to Khrushchev’s offer to allow United Nations’ inspection of Cuban military installations. In the first place the Cubans have a sovereign right to have any kind of arms they want. What right has Kennedy to insist that he can have missiles here in the United States, or anywhere else in the world, and yet say to the Cubans that they can’t have a missile that can strike the United States? Where’s the justice in that? Who made him God? The Cubans have a right to whatever weapons they can get to defend themselves. Moreover, since the United States has made it abundantly clear that it is still preparing for attacks on Cuba, what right has Kennedy to demand that the United Nations—which in the last analysis has always functioned as a front organization for American imperialism—what right has he to demand that the UN go down and inspect the Cuban defenses? Why, it would be no less unjust if he would demand that Castro take the top Pentagon brass on a tour of the Cuban defenses so they could better prepare an invasion. It is an outrage and the Cubans are right in standing their ground on this. At the same time Castro spoke correctly when he told the Cuban people in his speech a week ago last night that the inspection issue is not a question to be discussed with the imperialists. There remains an unbreakable alliance between the Cuban and Soviet states, he said, and these are things they will discuss and work out among themselves. We can expect more to be said on the subject in due course by the Cubans, if not by Moscow. And people who are seriously interested in the question of worker’s democracy, should pay close attention to what is said. The disagreement poses the question of democracy in relations between workers’ states, as a corollary to the issue of democracy within revolutionary parties. Worker’s democracy on both counts is vital to the forces fighting against imperialism and for world peace.

I HAVE described briefly the policy of peaceful coexistence and popular frontism, as developed by Stalin and continued by Khrushchev. Now let us ask, what have been the results of this international policy? It didn’t prevent World War II. It didn’t prevent the imperialists’ intervention in Korea, nor is it preventing the present intervention in Vietnam. It hasn’t stopped Kennedy from threatening nuclear war in his attempts to overturn the Cuban revolution. It doesn’t seem to be working, does it? Of course, it’s true that the Soviet retreat on the missile issue under pressure of Kennedy’s threats warded off the immediate danger of nuclear war. It’s true that Khrushchev has stripped Kennedy—for the moment—of a phony pretext for an invasion of Cuba. These are important facts, and they are not to be taken lightly. But there are also other facts that we should keep in mind in analyzing the lessons of this latest war crisis. Popular front politics within the United States didn’t get to first base in stopping Washington from shaping its nuclear war policy. Soviet military power didn’t stop Kennedy from threatening a nuclear attack. And the Cuban revolution remains in grave danger. These are iron facts. They once again call into question the international policy of the Soviet leadership. They compel serious thought about the need for class struggle opposition to imperialism. Military self-defense by the revolutionary countries, as I said, is important to their security. But class struggle action is the key to the fight against imperialist war.

In that connection I want to call your attention to Castro’s speech on the issue of UN inspection. You will find the entire text in the Nov. 12 issue of The Militant. Right now I want you to note particularly this headline on the back page: “Our principles are powerful, long-range weapons.” That headline pinpoints the essence of what Castro has to say in his speech. It pinpoints the fact that the Cubans, learning as they struggle and learning their lessons well — because they know imperialism won’t allow them time for second guesses — are shaping a policy increasingly permeated with the concepts of class struggle defense against imperialism. You’ll find at the literature table back there a Pioneer pamphlet containing the Second Declaration of Havana. It develops the same concept. It’s worth your while to study the speeches and documents put out by the Cuban revolutionary movement. They are thinking out loud, learning the lessons of the struggle as they go forward, and we have something to learn from them.

Now let me turn to an altogether different publication, the Worker. I do so in undertaking to deal briefly with the question: What are the fruits of Communist Party policy within the United States? The Communist Party has followed the popular front line of supporting “peace loving” capitalist politicians for more than twenty-five years. They have generally supported the Democrats, usually by campaigning against the Republicans. You will recall that they supported Kennedy in 1960 by calling for the defeat of Nixon as the main danger. Well, Nixon is no prize package, and on top of everything else, he just proved he is also a sore loser. But the argument is still phony. In one instance the Communist Party did not support the Democrats. They supported Wallace in 1948. But, as the record shows, the “peace loving” Henry Wallace backed Truman in the Korean War. That should have taught the leaders of the Communist Party something. Yet they repeatedly prove that they learn nothing and they forget nothing. They simply turned from Wallace back to support of Stevenson and Kennedy by opposing Eisenhower and Nixon.

TODAY Kennedy’s party has decisively proved where it stands on the burning question of war and peace, and his nuclear war threat had bipartisan support, all the way. Well, did the Communist Party then speak out against Kennedy and his party after he made his nuclear war speech on October 22, about two weeks before the elections? No. They did not. Do you know what they did? They denounced publicly the candidates of the Socialist Workers Party instead. They accused the Socialist Workers Party of being for “peace without peaceful coexistence.” This is their clever way of emulating the cartoon figure, Senator Snort, who wrote a book entitled, How to Fog an Issue. As I said, no sane person could but welcome peaceful relations between nations. Nobody but a madman wants a nuclear war. But the question is, what kind of a policy should be followed in the fight for peace? And the whole object of the Worker’s attack on the SWP is to say that if one does not agree with the policy of Khrushchev, if one does not agree with the policy of the Communist Party—which they call “peaceful coexistence”—then you are accused of being against peace.

Then comes another gem in the Worker attack. They say that the Socialist Workers Party’s policy represents “a soft-sell on anti-Soviet slander.” Again the familiar Stalinist technique, twist and distort things so that to disagree with a certain policy of Khrushchev’s becomes anti-Soviet. In other words, Khrushchev and the Soviet Union are synonymous. Do you know what’s that like? That’s like trying to tell workers that if they criticize the policies of David Dubinsky they are scabbing on the ILGWU. You would have a hard time putting that over here in New York, particularly up in the garment district. But it is the same kind of an argument. It contributes nothing but confusion to the search for effective ways to fight against imperialist war. Such political dishonesty is impermissible among genuine communists. The CP leaders resort to this simply as a cover for continuing their same old bankrupt policy. They smear the pro-Cuba, pro-Soviet SWP, and at the same time they continue to seek political coexistence with the anti-Soviet, anti-Cuba, Social Democrats—people who could not even make a demonstration against Kennedy’s nuclear war threat without having at the top of their banners a blast against the Soviet Union and a disclaimer on Cuba where they call for a “democratic” counterrevolution.

The Worker then sets out to justify continued support to the Democratic Party by a complex exercise in verbal gymnastics. They find there are two power centers down in Washington, one in the White House, and the other in the Pentagon. The Pentagon gang, they say, are in a coalition with the ultra-right, the Republican leaders and Wall Street. They are acting independently of the White House in moving to aggravate the crisis. That’s what they say, word for word; you can read it in the Worker. Poor old peace-loving Honest John is getting diddled. We must save him from this Pentagon cabal so that he can show his better self and really be Caroline’s daddy again. What to do then? According to the Worker, on the eve of the elections, the fight for peace can at present be strengthened by giving a rebuff to the menace of Rockefeller (Mr. Imperialism). That’s what they said, word for word. Fight for peace by voting for Kennedy’s war party. I agree with Sylvia Weinstein, who in her speech at the election rally last Friday night said, “that means beat Mr. Imperialism by voting for Mr. Invasion.” I think she summed it up quite well.

The Worker has also opened a polemic against the SWP over the peace question. We welcome such a discussion. We think the more discussion between all tendencies the better. But we regret the factional distortions that have been introduced by the Worker. They attribute to the Socialist Workers Party the view that if one is not for socialism he is really anti-peace. That statement simply takes facts and turns them upside down and inside out. The purpose of it is, of course, to oppose a class struggle political policy and try to defend their class collaborationist line. Actually, the Socialist Workers Party welcomes and supports all antiwar manifestations. We recognize—we’re not entirely stupid, you know—we recognize that people cannot be expected to leap in one stride to socialist conclusions when they set out to do something to stop a nuclear war. We support all partial steps going in the direction of opposition to the imperialist war policy. We support, for example, the demand for unilateral action by the United States in ending nuclear tests. We believe all tests should be stopped, but we also think people fighting against nuclear tests from within the United States should concentrate on demands that the United States government stop them. It is supposed to represent us and carry out our wishes. So that’s where we should direct our demands. We favor demands to withdraw all American troops from abroad, to dismantle all military bases. Let the people of the rest of the world run their own affairs as they see fit, while we concentrate on clearing up the social mess created by the capitalists here in our country.

We urge all fighters for peace to break with capitalist politics. As is the duty of all socialists, we campaign day in and day out for independent working class political action. We seek constantly to explain why working class political action must lead to adoption of a socialist program. Because of the brutal truths about imperialist policy revealed in the Cuban crisis, new fighters for peace are bound to be aroused. If socialists advance a class struggle program to them, more headway can be made in the fight for peace. More can be done to defend the Cuban revolution. We can make progress in explaining to American workers the need for our country to follow the revolutionary example of the Russian, Chinese and Cuban workers.


LET us take first the missile question: “Why do I think that the Soviets put missiles in Cuba and why did Castro accept them?” Well, I’m not going to try to guess what Khrushchev had in mind, or what Castro had in mind, or what the circumstances were in their mutual relations. Did Castro ask for them? Did Khrushchev insist that he take them whether he wanted them or not? Was their a mutual agreement about it? I do not know, but I would take it for granted that the facts will slowly come to light in the next period. I am quite confident that there will be more information coming from the Cubans, because one of the things you will notice in Castro’s speech is that it sets a new and very good example in moving away from the practice of secret diplomacy between governmental powers behind the backs of the people. In reporting his discussion with U Thant, Castro gives a refreshing view of a revolutionary leadership telling the workers the truth. That’s what Khrushchev should also be doing.

Until we have more information, I think we should take it rather slowly on the missile question for two reasons: 1) This is not what is most germane to the basic meaning of the crisis and the lessons to draw from it. 2) It’s not a very wise thing to make snap judgements on tactical questions without having all the facts. There is an expression for that here in the United States—drug store quarter-backing. On Monday at the drug store lunch counter the experts decide what mistakes the quarterbacks and the coach made in the football game the previous Saturday.

Anybody who has had trade union experience will recognize that it is a chancy thing to be too categoric from too far away about a tactical move made in a given struggle. I would make only this general observation: We should study this aspect of the Cuban question, as we dig more deeply into the lesson of the crisis, in a sense similar for instance to the problem that arose over the question of Soviet resumption of nuclear tests.

The Soviet Union had the right to resume nuclear tests as it did, after the tacit ban on tests which had come about, you will recall, when the Soviets unilaterally declared a moratorium. Our party felt that, even though the Soviet Union had this right, its breaking of the moratorium on tests gave propaganda advantage to the imperialists among people who were strongly opposed to nuclear testing and who had been bringing more and more pressure to bear on the United States government over the issue. In short, you come down to a question of the strategic interrelationship between military defense and political defense of the workers states against imperialism. From that point of view, there is a real question as to whether the missile issue involved tactics which put military above political considerations in the defense of Cuba. Since so many of you are preoccupied with the question here tonight, that in itself is objective testimony to the fact that revolutionary leadership has to be sensitive about taking military defensive steps which may interfere with the mobilization of political defense.

TURNING now to another question asked tonight: Why wouldn’t class struggle against imperialism also heighten the danger of nuclear war? It is true that the more the imperialists get crowded, the more likely they are to take long chances, as they just demonstrated in the Cuban crisis. But without the strongest class struggle opposition to stay their hand, the imperialists will become bolder in their drive to overturn all past revolutionary conquests and will throw the world into war anyway. Imperialism is either going to be defeated everywhere or it’s going to make war. But the imperialists are not entirely free agents in deciding when they can make war. They have tactical problems, too.

Take the case of the Brazilian government during the Cuban crisis. It voted in the OAS to back Kennedy against Cuba. At the same time the foreign minister spoke at a street meeting of Brazilian workers and students where he admitted the right of the Cubans to establish a socialist regime within the Western Hemisphere. Now, what does that mean? It means that the pressure of class struggle was impeding the firm mobilization of a capitalist government behind the imperialist attack on Cuba. The wider the class struggle, the greater will be the mobilization of humanity on the side of revolution, and the lesser will be that portion of the human race that remains under the influence of imperialism.

Let me try to make that concrete in United States’ terms by one simple example. You all know that not a single Democrat or Republican politician in Congress said one word in opposition to Kennedy’s line in the Cuban crisis. Let’s assume that there had been just one actual representative of the working class to speak within Congress against Kennedy’s policy and tell the class truth about the Cuban crisis. It would have had a very significant effect on the minds of the American people. As it was, though, nowhere in the councils of government, nowhere in the top leadership of the unions was there a voice speaking out against Kennedy’s line. People were subjected day in and day out a drum fire of propaganda in support of Kennedy all during the crisis. They couldn’t know the class truth. It is significant to note reactions the night after Kennedy spoke, when Carl Feingold, the SWP candidate for senator from New York, got on TV and called Kennedy’s policy by its right name and denounced it from hell to breakfast. I’ll give you an example. I happened to get the call at the office from a woman who said, “I want to tell you that I listened to your Mr. Feingold last night, and my eyes remained glued to that television screen. I couldn’t turn away, my attention was riveted until he finished. I want you to know that it gave me a tremendous inspiration to hear your candidate get on that television and tell the truth and I’m going to vote for your candidate in the election.” Her example shows that insofar as we can mobilize forces to break through the curtain of lies drawn around the American people by the imperialists, it can have an effect.

A QUESTION is asked: Who won’t recognize the United States as the aggressor, especially because of the missile propaganda? For the moment a lot of people have been taken in by the way Kennedy was able to utilize the missile issue. I think that is a fact. But in time the truth will come out. Missiles or not, Kennedy did provoke quite a few protest actions in the capitalist sector of the world. You’ll find in the Militant a round-up on some of these protest actions in various countries, including a very interesting one. While the head of the ILA was announcing his refusal to load any ships at the New York docks that were headed for Cuba, the Ceylon waterfront workers union officially put a boycott on United States ships. That was the Ceylonese way of saying “Hands off Cuba!”

So let’s look at the missile issue in still another way. Suppose there were tactical errors on the military defense side involving the Soviet Union and perhaps involving the Cuban leadership. What is going to be the attitude of the anti-imperialist masses of the world? Are they going to join Honest John because a couple of leaders on the anti-imperialist side made a tactical mistake? Well, if that was the way things worked out in the class struggle, you wouldn’t have a single trade union in the United States today, because our boys at the top of the union movement don’t need to take a backseat for anybody when it comes to making blunders. In fact Kennedy will succeed for a while in doing a snow job on the American people precisely because the leaders of the mass organizations in this country are truckling to him. But he won’t fool the world, and he won’t change the relationship of forces in the world revolutionary struggle through his propaganda.

ON THE question of what independent socialists can do within the peace movement, this is a big subject in itself, and I can only briefly touch on it in passing. A big problem in the first hours after Kennedy’s speech was not what kind of protest action to mobilize but how to impel the people heading the so-called “respectable” peace organizations into calling any demonstrations at all. They wanted to take ads in the newspapers and start firing telegrams to Kennedy. That was one of the very first problems. It constitutes a good starting point to examine the peace movement in terms of the Cuban crisis. What kind of a juice was there in the various peace formations? Did they really stand up for peace? Did they really call things by their right name? These questions require study, particularly since a lot of young people turned up in the demonstrations where they occurred around the country, young militants who wanted some fighting leaders. One of the most important things that socialists can do—independent socialists about whom the question was asked, and organized socialists as well — one of the most important things they can do is to work in the peace movement to help these young people to develop a class struggle policy and to effectively employ the kind of energy, the kind of courage, the kind of determination that they bring to the fight for peace.

I come now to the last question, the problem of speaking to audiences that aren’t sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution as is the audience here tonight. I would suggest to you that things are a little different than they were before October 22, even with an unsympathetic audience. There is better than an even chance that Kennedy is going to overreach himself concerning the momentary propaganda advantage he has gained in this country on things like the missile issue. There is a whole series of questions that will arise as he presses his offensive against Cuba. For instance, I would suggest one question to put to your audience that helps introduce a new dimension into the Cuba discussion. What right has one man to push the American people to the brink of a nuclear war just because he doesn’t like what is going on in Cuba? I am speaking in the terms now of cutting through his missile propaganda which won’t stand up indefinitely. Now is the time, more than ever, to go back and explain carefully to people what they are doing in Cuba, what they are trying to accomplish. Put it in terms of the things that the working people of this country are struggling for. They are doing the same things in Cuba that the NAACP is organized to do in the United States. They are doing the same things in Cuba that organizations in this country fighting for higher old-age pensions, better medical care, more schools, adequate housing are trying to do. Those are things they are doing down there. Examine the Cuban situation from that point of view.

Of course, the imperialists still harp on the question of Cuban elections. I thought Dick Garza handled that matter well in a discussion with a radio commentator. He brought out that the United States, after it won independence from England, went quite a few years longer than the Cubans have yet gone before they had what passed for elections here. And then the elections were rigged by the ruling class. If you want a little background you can get it by reading Charles A. Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution. From another point of view concerning elections, you might put the question, what would happen in strikes in the United States, what would happen when there is police brutality in Harlem, if all the people in the United States had guns in their hands like they have in Cuba? It is entirely possible, you know, that there would be some changes made in this country.

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Last updated: 21.1.2006