Farber, Plattism and the Dilemmas of Cuba’s Opposition

Erasmo Calzadilla

Map of Cuba’s dissidents. Down with Plattism! Illustration by E.C.

HAVANA TIMES — Samuel Farber’s most recent article unleashed a tsunami of comments and protest. If we were talking about a party, we’d say he got people’s blood pumping and down to the dance floor.

His analysis is yet another attempt at drawing a map of Cuba’s opposition. What’s peculiar about Farber’s approach is that he makes a specific political practice, Plattism, his main focus. Plattist is the name given to anyone who approves of US intervention in Cuba’s internal affairs.

Farber refers to the traditional Plattists, those who support the US blockade and receive money from US subversive plans in Cuba. The most controversial and entertaining part, however, is that where points to liberals and social-democrats alike. Farber uses the following selection criteria for this:

  • The arguments used to oppose the US blockade are strictly functionalist and does not question the United States’ right to impose it.
  • These organizations work with US government institutions that interfere or defend interference in Cuba’s internal affairs.

To draw attention towards the consequences of Plattism is a top priority in the struggle for democracy in Cuba. If this struggle does not embrace a clear concept of independence and set a prudent distance from US imperialism, it will never enjoy the moral or intellectual support of the majority of the people. It’s no accident that, whenever Cuban State Security infiltrates dissident groups in our country, it attempts to push them towards extreme positions, subordinate to US interests and dependent on that country’s dollars. It is the first step towards their demoralization and annihilation.

Farber’s idea is excellent, but it becomes problematic because of one small detail: the immense majority of groups that have undertaken a direct struggle against the regime receive unilateral support from the northern neighbor and maintain some form of commitment with the latter. From this perspective, anti-Plattism becomes an abstract datum, empty of any real content. It can only be applied to left-wing dissidents who do not stand out in the peaceful opposition to the regime (it is not their means of struggle).

Cuba’s opposition movements do not appear to have the political maturity suggested by the politologist’s well-developed concepts. Put differently, we could say these concepts are not entirely in touch with Cuba’s specific situation. Why?

From my modest point of view, they fail to capture the unique essence of totalitarian systems. This is isn’t a typical, repressive dictatorship, where an elite refuses to share power with others. Totalitarianism unravels the social tapestry and nips all possibility of emancipatory rebellion in the bud. The Party is no longer the main obstacle, if it ever was.

On the other hand, the Castros receive considerable international support – from the UN, Europe, world religious leaders, China, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela, France, Iran and even the international left). Under these conditions, it would be hard for the people of Cuba to successfully confront them and improve their political situation.

The United States has played the role of the good guy well in this movie. The costume looks ridiculous on it, but, the support it offers peaceful resistance is real.

Does this justify yielding to its interests? Of course not, but the concrete situation we face transforms anti-Plattism – as delineated by Farber – into a kind of unreachable Platonic Idea, as well as a valuable instrument for the repressors. I don’t blame him. Even the most lucid analysts can get lost in this mess.

Focusing on anti-Plattism has another controversial side to it: the fact it revolves around the nationalist question, overlooking other, essential socio-political and and socio-economic issues. Would it be possible to establish an anti-Plattist capitalism in Cuba?

Was the Polish trade union Solidarnosc – which received considerable support from Reagan and Thatcher, incidentally–, able to keep neo-liberalism out of the country following the collapse of the odious system? To what extent can the Church help without asking for commitment in return?

To take the debate beyond the nationalist question is key, but it would complicate the arena even more, because, in a society of New Men, political or emancipatory ideas are not popular. The handful of nut-jobs that defend such ideas run the risk of remaining dangerously isolated. What, then, is to be done? I don’t know. We’ve taken a new turn and arrived at the same cul-de-sac.

I leave you with the puzzle, to see if anyone can put it together, or think they can. I am grateful to Farber for his courageous contribution to this needed and difficult debate. In my case, it has helped me confirm an idea that had already matured in me: if struggling against the Castro regime and for democracy is a bitter, obstacle-ridden path, to do so accepting interference by the United States is incoherent and immoral.


10 thoughts on “Farber, Plattism and the Dilemmas of Cuba’s Opposition

  • Quite true.

    I am not defending the Platt Amendment or the US policy toward Cuba for the last 150 years. But I do believe that for any serious discussion about US-Cuban relations today, it is essential to understand the historical facts and context. The Platt Amendment was not just about property, it was also about projecting US military power into the Caribbean, which is why the American also wanted naval ports in Cuba. (The US had wanted 3 ports, at Guantanamo, Cienfuegos & Mariel but the Cubans refused anything more than Guantanamo.)

    Today, countries have laws, treaties, national and international court systems for adjudicating disputes and protecting the property of foreign investors. That would be a good way for Cuba & the USA to go forward.

  • Griffin says, “The Platt Amendment was a compromise intended to provide the means to protect US investments in Cuba.”
    There are any number of countries that now have investments or property n the U. S. But I don’t think the U. S. will amend its constitution to allow China, for example, to intervene in U. S. politics or to allow Iran to dictate what international treaties the US can enter into.

  • In the US at the time there were those who favoured full annexation and those who were opposed. The Platt Amendment was a compromise intended to provide the means to protect US investments in Cuba. The political debates at the time support this interpretation. I refer you to Hugh Thomas’ history of Cuba for a detailed account of the debates and context.

    As a comparison, Puerto Rico was not granted full independence but became a territory of the United States. That is an example of annexation.

    That said, the concept of “Plattism” is used to describe the policy of continued US intervention in Cuban affairs.

  • In your earlier posting you say, “In fact, Platt was the alternative to annexation.” I think this is not a fact but an opinion.

  • Erasmo poses the following puzzle:

    “if struggling against the Castro regime and for democracy is a bitter, obstacle-ridden path, to do so accepting interference by the United States is incoherent and immoral.”

    Consider the historical facts that Jose Marti, Tomás Estrada Palma, and Fidel Castro all sought and received financial support in the USA to further their political dreams for Cuba. Where they incoherent and immoral?

  • The article mentions Platt, but it’s not at all clear how current events relate to a law that became null & void in 1934.

    The last 3 paragraphs are my words. The facts cited came from the Wiki article and from Thomas Hugh’s excellent history of Cuba. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend it. His coverage of the Republican era is carefully detailed and helps clarify a confusing and complex period in Cuban history.

    The point I am trying to make is that while the Platt Amendment was resented by many Cubans, some Cubans appreciated US intervention, when it suited their political ambitions. However, the extend of US intervention during this era has been exaggerated by the Castro regime for propaganda purposes.

  • The Farber article has quite a bit on the Platt Amendment.

    Are the last three paragraphs part of the Wikipedia article or are they your own words?

  • The article above doesn’t actually discuss the Platt Amendment.


    Most Cubans resented it greatly, but the Cuban constitutional committee were compelled to agree to most of the provisions of the Platt by writing the text into their constitution in 1901. It is often referred to as a stepping stone toward US annexation of Cuba. In fact, Platt was the alternative to annexation. The political will for annexation declined afterwards.

    The US used the provisions of the PA to intervene in Cuba 3 times: in 1906, 1912 and 1917. In each of these cases there were incidents of political violence. The US troops were sent in to protect US property interests in Cuba, but they did not appoint the Cuban governments.

    The Platt Amendment was repealed by the Cuban government in 1934.

  • I read this article and the Farber article with great interest. I thought I knew lots about Cuba, but I hadn’t realized how outrageous the Platt Amendment was.

  • It’s not a moral issue. It’s a tactical question.

    After the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, they still faced attack from the invading German armies. Despite the fact that the Bolsheviks had analyzed the war as imperialist on both sides, and had opposed Russian participation in it, and indeed had been able to gain mass support because of this position .. despite this, they now faced the problem of what to do in the face of the invading German armies, with a very weakened Russian army.

    There arose the possibility of getting material support — arms and ammunition — from the Allies, despite the fact that in the long run the British and French governments were just as much enemies of the new revolutionary power as the Kaiser’s government was.

    What was Lenin’s position? He was in favor of accepting aid from ‘the Allied bandits’, should it be offered. (It wasn’t, and after the end of the war against the Germans, the Allies — including the United States — duly invaded Russia to try to overthrow the Bolsheviks. Twenty years later, they were in alliance with the Russian government against the Germans.)

    Lenin could counsel accepting such aid, because no one would have believed that the new revolutionary government would have become a pawn of the Allied imperialists against the German imperialists. (Indeed, the Bolsheviks’ opponents made the opposite claim, that Lenin was a pawn of the Germans.)

    But any opposition in Cuba which makes an “alliance” with the American government will be fatally compromised in the eyes of Cuban patriots, whether the latter are pro-regime or not, or somewhere in between. Accepting Yankee dollars would be a worse than crime, it would be a blunder.

    This begs the question, of course, of whether people who want democratic change in Cuba must consider themselves total and complete outright opponents of the regime and all its works.

    It’s a different and more fundamental discussion than the question of whom to ally with, but in my opinion the hard-line stance lacks an appreciation of the concept of contradiction, which, ironically, is a central element of the Marxist view of the world. It also ignores the fact that most democratic change takes place over a period of time, and with the support, or at least toleration, of major elements of the ruling group. Cuba will not be an exception to this rule.

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