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.

 


Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

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?

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