Reply to Rafael Rojas: More on “Fighting over Fidel”

by Samuel Farber    

Fidel Castro. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — I am glad that Rafael Rojas responded to my review of his book Fighting Over Fidel. Unfortunately, however, his reply practically ignored my main arguments and almost exclusively concerned itself with the least important points of my review.

My principal objection to Fighting Over Fidel is that it leaves the very clear impression that the American left’s support for the government of Fidel Castro practically disappeared at the beginning of the seventies. This is not only my opinion of Rojas’ argument – which he himself does not challenge in his reply – but also the opinion of Princeton University Press, the institution that published Rojas’ book. In the book jacket of Fighting Over Fidel, it asserts that the book shows “how the Left’s enthusiastic embrace of Castro’s revolution ended in bitter disappointment by the close of the explosive decade of the 1960s.”

The main argument of my review is that this is not true and that most of the American left continues to support the Cuban regime to a greater or lesser degree, be it uncritically and enthusiastically or benevolently giving the Cuban government the benefit of the doubt. In my review I tried to explain the why, how and when of that political posture. I also proposed an alternative, unfortunately shared by only a minority of the American left, combining an intransigent opposition to the intervention of U.S. imperialism in Cuban affairs, whether through economic or political methods, with a clear criticism an even opposition to the political, economic and social system ruling the island.

Having reaffirmed the principal theses of my original review, I will now proceed to examine what Rojas contends are its “errors”:

I) Regarding the Partisan Review and Dissent It is true that Partisan Review was close to Trotskyism in the late thirties, the same period when the commission presided by the well-known American philosopher and educator John Dewey exonerated Trotsky from the vile slanders thrown at him at the Moscow trials that took place at that time. But the magazine gradually began to move to the right, which led to, for example, the resignation of the well-known writer and cultural critic Dwight McDonald from its editorial board in 1943. Partisan Review moved even farther to the right after the war. And by the end of the forties, it had already adopted a lukewarm and moderate liberalism in defense of the American political system while occasionally criticizing it for its “mistakes” and “errors.”

By this time, Partisan Review had already left far behind any “trotskysant” attitude, even though some of its readers and editors may have shared a Troskyist past. With respect to Dissent, it is true that it was founded by Irving Howe, a distinguished intellectual that had abandoned, not the Fourth International, but the unorthodox trotskyism of the Independent Socialist League led by Max Shachtman, to embark in a new political route with a clear social democratic orientation. In its initial years, Dissent published articles by independent radicals such as C. Wright Mills and Paul Goodman. But by the first years of the Cuban Revolution it had already embarked in a much less leftist political direction that culminated, towards the end of the sixties, in a bitter opposition to the New Left by Irving Howe and other Dissent collaborators. It is for these reasons that I argued that, by the early years of the Cuban Revolution, neither one of these journals had anything to do with Trotskyism, and that to attribute to these liberal, social democratic and moderately leftist journals a trotskyist character was to create a veritable “conceptual mishmash.”

II) Regarding the Black Panthers. Both Black leaders Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown were members and “ministers” of the Black Panther Party for only a brief time, and Black leader Robert F. Williams was never a member of that organization, even though Rojas affirms the opposite in Fighting Over Fidel (page 200.) Today, no scholar of the Black movement in the United States would associate these leaders with that organization.

The fundamental problem is that Rojas seems to confuse the personalities and organizations that supported the “Black Power” movement that covered a very broad political spectrum, including the supporters and defenders of “Black Capitalism,” with the program and specific politics of the Black Panthers. It is easy to understand why the supporters of the Cuban government, including the most unorthodox, such as Pensamiento Crítico – which Rojas cites as a source of his information on this topic – intent in finding supporters and allies of the Cuban government in the United States, disregarded the differences among those groups concerning the strategies they were proposing to defeat and eliminate racism inside the United States.

The Black Panther Party was the most radical and revolutionary wing of the Black Power movement in the United States. Aside from advocating Black armed self-defense against police abuse, the BPP was explicitly anti-capitalist, and unlike all the other Black Power groups, it advocated an active collaboration with groups of white leftists, as in the case of the California Peace and Freedom Party (of which this author was a member in the late sixties.) To ignore those important differences would be like ignoring the differences among the Directorio Revolucionario, the 26th of July Movement, and the Cuban Communists of the PSP (after 1957) because they all supported the armed struggle against Batista.

III) Regarding the “New York intellectuals.” This is a term that scholars on this topic, such as Alan Wald, have used to refer to a group of intellectuals, generally of Jewish descent, who forged an intellectual community based on discussions among them about topics of common interest. Many of the intellectuals discussed by Rojas, not only did not participate in those types of discussions, but did not even live in New York. In a similar manner, many British intellectuals may have lived in the Bloomsbury neighborhood in London, but that does not mean they were part of the “Bloomsbury Group,” a term that is applied to a specific group around Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and their friends.

A brief final commentary: I did not say anything in my review about Rojas’ education in the higher spheres of Cuban society. I did say that he has roots in the Cuban cultural “establishment” as I have in the Jewish Polish immigrant petty-bourgeoisie. Neither he nor I owe explanations to anybody about our respective origins.

*Samuel Farber was born and grew up in Cuba and has written many articles and books about that country. His most recent book is The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice recently published by Haymarket Books.

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