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ANARCHISM IN CUBA

This text was written for Anarkistiska Studiers blogg, unfortunately the blog is down at the moment. I have instead it decide to publish it here.

Spanish and French influences

Socialist ideas arrived in Cuba around 1850 with a massive labor migration from Spain. This was organized by the Spanish state, which was concerned that Cuba was being "Africanised" as a result of the large slave trade on the island [1]. With the Spanish workers came the ideas of the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. The ideas, called mutualism, became the basis of Cuba's labor movement. [2]


Cuba's first workers' newspaper, La Aurora (1865), was inspired by mutualism but focused mainly on popular education. Reading aloud from La Aurora in the workplace quickly became a habit for Cuba's workers, a habit that came to mean much for the spread of anarchism. [3] The paper increased class consciousness and strikes for better working conditions became more common. Several workers' societies, cultural centers and schools were also founded in the spirit of Proudhon. [4] These positive developments continued undisturbed until Cuba's first war of independence against Spain, the Ten Years' War, which lasted from 1868-78.


Among those who fought for independence, the separatists, were participants from the Paris Commune who had fled to Cuba after the fall of the Commune in 1871. With them, Proudhon's influence would increase even more. It was mainly his idea of federalism and decentralisation that was embraced by the independence movement. The war was lost, but the separatists managed to crush the influence of the sugar barons and put an end to the slave trade on the island. 

Anarchist Organization

After the war, Cuban anarchists came into contact with Spanish anarchists in New York. Together they helped smuggle anarchist pamphlets from Barcelona. This resulted in Cuba's first explicitly anarchist organisation, the Alianza Revolucionaria Socialista (ARS). Anarchists in Cuba began to fight against reformism in the island's labor movement. It was mainly about class struggle before class collaboration. "No guild or other working class organisation should be tied to the feet of the capitalists" were the anarchists' slogans that resonated with Cuba's workers.


Following this principle, the Junta Central de Artesanos was founded in 1885 with the ambition of organizing and uniting Cuba's workers into federations. To get their message across, several anarchist newspapers began to be published, the most popular, El Productor (1887), appearing twice a week. In the following years, the number of strikes increased and they were organized exclusively by anarchists and their unions.


The various unions organized themselves into two main federations: the Alianza Obrera and La federacion de Trabajadores de Cuba (FTC). In October 1887, the FTC organized Cuba's first workers' congress, attended by both federations. The congress adopted a sort of six-point manifesto. [5] Among other things, it gave each group complete freedom and autonomy, and opposed "all traces of paternalism" in workers' organizations. The most controversial part was a ban within the federation on all political and religious doctrines. With the manifesto behind them, the unions fought even harder and won many strikes thanks to the solidarity that existed among the workers. [6]


The success of anarchism in Cuba was mainly due to the fact that the organizations focused exclusively on the economic struggle. They stayed out of politics and the debate about whether Cuba should remain a Spanish colony or not. Therefore, the Spanish authorities had a certain tolerance for the anarchist activities. However, this tolerance did not prevent the authorities, in order to weaken the organisations, from expelling some active anarchists who had migrated to Cuba. It also happened that the anarchists' newspapers were closed down or censored.

Nationalistic separatism and anarchism 

Although the Ten Years War was lost, the separatists did not give up their dream of an independent Cuba. In the eyes of the separatists, the anarchists were a problem. The anarchists stood for solidarity between workers across national borders and could, for example, strike in workplaces with Cuban owners who supported the separatists financially. The separatists sided with the capitalists, spreading lies that the anarchists were Spain's puppets and sending violent strikebreakers after the workers. However, the separatists quickly realized the importance of working class support and changed their strategy to charity work for Cuba's poor workers in order to spread their propaganda.


The strategy succeeded, and by 1892 the separatists' ideas were so widespread in all strata of society that the anarchists could no longer ignore the issue. At a nationwide congress held in secret the same year, the anarchists maintained their main view that the difference for the working class would not be very great in a republic, citing the United States as an example. At the same time, they could not oppose something so many Cubans now dreamed of. Congress decided that they would try to approach the separatists as far as possible without ceasing to be revolutionaries. Internally, a lively debate broke out, with some arguing that the revolution should be fought only after independence was achieved. Others felt that the whole struggle for independence was more than pointless for the working class.


The reaction of the Spanish authorities to the anarchists' rapprochement with the separatists was harsh. Workers were forbidden to hold meetings and the anarchists' newspapers were forced to close down. On top of this, almost everyone from the Congress was arrested and several were deported.

Separatists and anarchist-separatists 

The separatist movement was located largely outside Cuba, mainly along the Florida coastline. They organized themselves into various associations. There were also anarchist separatist groups. In the end, the separatists decided that it was best to work out a unified programme first and then consider the armed struggle. At the same time, a revolutionary party was founded: the Partido Revolucionario Cubano, PRC. It was made up of autonomous, decentralized revolutionary groups acting according to direct-democratic principles. The party was not an ordinary parliamentary party but a purely revolutionary one.


The two main anarchist groups were called Club Roíg San Martín after a well-liked Cuban anarchist who died after being imprisoned. [7] An ironic choice since he had been a major opponent of the separatists. The other club was called Fermín Salvochea after an Andalusian anarchist who was a supporter of Cuban independence. [8] The anarchists who supported the separatists did so in the hope that the future republic would give them more freedom to operate and propagate, for the sake of the coming revolution. The republic was only a means to an end for the separatist-anarchists, not an end in itself.

Roíg San Miguel

Fermín Salvochea

The second war of independence 

The Second War of Independence broke out in 1895 and lasted three years. The war divided Cuba's anarchists into two camps, with those in favour of the war being in the minority. The separatist anarchists became soldiers or supported the rebellion financially. One consequence of the anarchists' participation in the uprising was that repression against the movement as a whole became more severe. For example, reading aloud in tobacco factories was banned and several leading anarchists were deported.


Spain's response to the uprising was disproportionately cruel. Rural peasants were imprisoned in camp so they would not be able to help the rebels. Up to 300,000 civilians died in them, from starvation and disease. In percentage terms, the number of deaths has been compared with Russia's civilian casualties in the Second World War. Spain ended its rule in Cuba as it began it - with genocide. [9]


Anarchists in Spain protested against the government, resulting in harsh repression that culminated in hundreds of anarchists, socialists and trade unionists being imprisoned, tortured and murdered in the Montjuïc fort in Barcelona. [10] In retaliation for this and for the atrocities Spain committed in Cuba (as well as in the Philippines, which also liberated itself from Spain), the Italian anarchist Miguel Angiolillo assassinated the Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas in August 1897. The assassination made the situation in Spain so unstable that the war could not continue in Cuba.


The prime minister's successor, Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, tried to save the situation by granting Cuba autonomy. But it was too little, too late. The US saw its chance and attacked Spain in 1898, invading Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico at the same time. The invasions began in April and by December of that year Spain had lost and was forced to sign a treaty that saw them lose all their colonies to the US. The US promised economic growth and "social peace" by protecting property, industries, banks and businesses with an iron fist.


The Cuban separatist movement won the war with the help of the US, but lost the peace to the US.

Cuba and USA

The US occupation of Cuba began on January 1, 1899, with the intention of giving Cuba autonomy in the future. The anarchists reorganised into two new federations, the majority of which joined the Alianza De Trabajadores. The separatist anarchists (who had fought for the country's independence) reorganised the federation into the Liga General De Trabajadores, which was more reformist in outlook but still based on anarchist principles.


Before the proclamation of the Republic in 1902, the United States applied an agreement that gave it the right to intervene at any time if its political or economic interests were threatened. Beyond that, Cuba had to foot the bill for the US occupation and military presence on the island. [11] The agreement met with surprisingly little opposition, the anarchists being among the few who protested through their press.

Anarchism between 1900 and 1920

The first 20 years of the turn of the century were marked by class war. Anarchists who tried to organize the sugar industry, the largest and most important in Cuba, were met with violent resistance from the capitalists. Two anarchist leaders were assassinated, while the murderers went free. [12] Despite this, a congress of small farmers and farm workers was held in 1912 to discuss how they could improve their living and working conditions. The following year, newly elected President Mario García Menocal became Cuba's first dictator and class antagonisms escalated.


In Havana, anarchists organized as many as four general strikes between 1918-1919. The government responded with deadly repression, and militant anarchists retaliated with a number of bomb attacks on the government. [13] For this, five leading anarchists and organizers were sentenced to death. The verdict sparked such widespread protests that the US Navy sent over three ships to deal with the situation.


The Cuban security police gave Washington a list of all the unions on the island and which members were most active. With the navy behind them, the noose was tightened and 77 anarchists, called "an anarcho-syndicalist mob", were deported, the anarchists' newspapers were banned and the most active workers' centre - the Centro Obrero - was closed down in Havana.

Recovery and revolutionary tailwinds 


The anarchists held a nationwide workers' congress in 1920 and founded the workers' federation Confederación Nacional del Trabajadores. To celebrate the Russian revolution that had broken out in 1917, demonstrations were organized in which a few social democrats and Marxists participated behind anarchist banners. (Writer's note: It is worth pointing out, as many people seem unaware of today, that anarcho-syndicalism dominated the revolutionary left around the turn of the last century. Lenin used anarchist-sounding slogans, which led many anarchists to believe that he was more anarchist than Marxist. [14] Marxists were more social democratic and saw Lenin as a radical troublemaker, which explains why anarchists supported the revolution more openly than Marxists and social democrats. News also spread slowly, and it took time for Cuba's anarchists to find out what was really going on in Russia) [15].


The following year, the dictatorship fell in Cuba and anarchism was given a strong tailwind. Anarchist books and newspapers circulated throughout the island. Libertarian literary and scientific societies, people's houses and nudist clubs were founded. Previously unorganized professions organized themselves into anarchist trade unions, resulting in some 100,000 workers, out of a population of 2.6 million, organizing themselves along anarcho-syndicalist lines.

One single union and the Communists entry

In the same year, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation was founded in Havana, the Federacion Obrera De la Habana (FOH). FOH was determined to keep party politics and ideology out of the economic struggle. Therefore, other workers' unions that were not anarchist were also allowed to join. The strategy bore fruit in August 1925 during a national workers' congress. The 160 delegates at the congress managed to unite all the unions, fraternities, guilds and workers' societies in Cuba into a single federation, the Confederación Nacional Obrera de Cuba (CNOC). The CNOC consisted of 128 organisations and had more than 200,000 members.


The federation was imbued with anarcho-syndicalism. Among other things, the CNOC adopted a complete and collective renunciation of party politics, demanded an eight-hour working day and the right to strike. There was also an unwavering desire to prevent the new organisation from becoming mired in bureaucracy. The leading posts in the organisation were assigned to anarchist workers. The most important post in the organisation was given to the anarchist and tobacco worker Juana Maria Acosta. This was the first time in Cuban history that a woman was elected to such a position, one of Juana's main issues being "equal pay for equal work". [16]


In hindsight, Marxist historical revisionists have attempted to diminish the influence of anarcho-syndicalism by calling CNOC leaders "Marxists" based on the fact that they quoted Marx. This is not surprising, since many anarchists appreciate and use Marx's theories on capitalism. In the shadow of the 1925 congress, a minority of Marxists and former anarchists founded the Partido Comunista Cubano (PCC) in Havana. Via Mexico, the party followed orders from the Komintern. In its early years, the PCC kept a low profile and did not make much noise.


Divide and rule

Cuba's new president, Gerardo Machado, elected in 1925, recognised the strength of the CNOC and wanted the organisation with him rather than against him. Machado gave ministerial posts to partisan members of the CNOC, while subjecting the anarchists and their organisations to the harshest repression in the history of Cuban anarchism. Strikes were banned outright, the result could be imprisonment or "disappearance". The government itself carried out bombings and then blamed the anarchists.


The most active CNOC militants were imprisoned, deported or murdered. In order to defend themselves, anarchist workers and students formed defense groups. The defense groups engaged in street raids and made a couple of unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Machado. [17]


Power struggle 

Between 1930 and 1960 there was a power struggle between anarchists and communists for control of the trade unions and influence among the working class. As leading anarchists in the CNOC fell victim to Machado's repression, members of the PCC took over their places on the orders of the Komintern. The aim was to oust all members of the CNOC who were not Communists. To achieve this, the Communists did not hesitate to report anarchists to the police, which resulted in the murder of a number of Spanish anarchists. The anarchists who escaped had to continue their activities underground.


But even after the communists managed to oust the anarchists from important CNOC posts, they retained some influence thanks to their good reputation. The Communist propaganda machine therefore launched a smear campaign against the anarchists. It also happened that the Communists physically attacked anarchists who criticized the PCC. [18]


Coup d'etat from the left

In September 1933, Fulgencio Batista led a socialist coup d'état with a nationalist undertone. Batista's revolutionary government tore up the 1901 treaty with the US and implemented a series of reforms that benefited the working class. Before the government fell after just 100 days, the Fifty Percent Law was introduced, which meant that half the jobs in a workplace would be reserved for Cubans.


This was a severe blow to Cuba's anarchist movement as many Spanish comrades could no longer find work and were forced to leave Cuba to survive. At the same time, the communists' smear campaign began to take hold and support for them grew among the workers.

A new generation of anarchists

To resist state repression and communist attacks, some anarchists allied themselves with other socialist, anti-communist organisations. [19] They also conducted a nationwide propaganda campaign and succeeded in recruiting a new generation of anarchists. However, the generation gap between the older and younger generation of anarchists created internal contradictions, and the youth therefore organized themselves into their own organisation, Juventud Libertaria de Cuba, whose activities took place underground.


During the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939, Cuba's anarchists helped their Spanish comrades with both money and weapons. Several Cuban-Spanish families participated directly on the spot, having moved to Spain because of the Fifty Percent Law. After the tragic end of the revolution, many Spanish anarchists fled to Cuba, but had problems obtaining residence permits and livelihoods. Therefore, most continued their exile in the United States or South America instead. [20]

Batista and PCC

During his regime, Batista enlisted the help of the Communists in the PCC on two occasions to retain power. The first time, in 1935, Batista wanted to legitimise his dictatorship by holding a general election. Since he really only had the support of the police and military, he needed the support of the working class. The PCC promised him the votes of party members in exchange for political benefits. [21]


By the end of the 1930s, Batista was once again without support. He then turned again to the PCC. In return for the PCC's support, Batista gave the PCC control of the Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC): a newly created state union whose goal was to encompass the entire working class, to become the largest and most centralized union in Cuba. It was the first time in Cuban history that a trade union was run by the state and not the workers themselves.


These state-socialist reforms benefited the anarchists to some extent. Among other things, a law was established that gave them the legal right to organize. The law was included in the new constitution created in 1940. The Cuban anarchists who were veterans of the movement joined forces with anarchists who had fled the dictatorship in Spain. Together they united their different organisations into a new organisation: the Asociacíon Libertaria de Cuba, ALC, which had around a thousand members.


Together with the youth organisation JLC, propaganda groups were organized with the aim of regaining the ground lost to the communists. The anarcho-syndicalist minority within the CTC acted as pressure groups, challenging the organization's bureaucracy and open collaboration with Batista.

The Cold War

Even after Batista lost the 1944 presidential elections, the Communists retained many of the important posts they had been given. But when the Cold War broke out about two years later, the Cuban government of the day removed the Communists from their ministerial and trade union posts, under pressure from the US.


The anarchists were quick to seize the situation. In free trade union elections, a number of anarchists managed to get elected to important posts and soon gained control of Cuba's main trade unions in the transport, construction, electricity and restaurant sectors. This gave them enough influence to put pressure on all the unions in the CTC. In the interior, the poor small farmers organized themselves in the Asociación Campesinas. The organisation succeeded in creating a number of libertarian agricultural collectives that lived for some years to come.


In addition to the work of the trade union movement, several newspapers and radio broadcasts were published. In 1949, the anarchists tried to create a new nationwide anarcho-syndicalist organisation. The attempt failed and instead they focused on transforming the CTC from a party- and state-run union into an independent worker-run union from within.

Coup d’etat, Batista and Castro

With the development of the Cold War, repression against the Communists intensified. Eventually, the activities of the Communist united front Partido Socialista Popular were banned. The communists then turned to Batista once again. When Batista carried out a coup d'état in 1952, the civilian population was indifferent - they were disappointed with the incumbent government.


The CTC first tried to organize a general strike but failed. Instead, the CTC (which was top-down) chose to cooperate with Batista despite protests from anarchists within the CTC. Members of the Communist Party (PCC) again tried to take up important posts but failed to regain the control they had previously enjoyed.


Fidel Castro emerged as a political figure in 1953, a young Jesuit-educated politician with a bourgeois background. He led an attack on the Moncada barracks, a military garrison, in Santiago de Cuba with his group of young revolutionaries. It ended in a bloodbath with casualties on both sides. The attack not only put Castro on the political map but is also considered by many to be the start of the Cuban Revolution.


Castro was arrested and during his trial he laid out what he called his revolutionary programme. His main aim was to reinstate the 1940 socialist constitution that Batista had violated. Castro was sentenced to 15 years in prison at the end of 1953 but was released a few months later after an amnesty was granted by the government.

Guerilla resistance

The anarchists in Cuba were in opposition to Batista, but at the same time most of them did not trust Castro. The movement's most militant activists managed to carry out various guerrilla activities around the island despite repeated police raids on their headquarters. A few anarchists were even active in Castro's guerrilla M26J.


When it became clear that Batista was losing power in 1958, Cuba's capitalist elite, along with the US, needed a new ally. They turned to Castro and gave him several million dollars to buy arms. While other guerrilla groups (including anarchist ones) went on the offensive around the island, resulting in many deaths, the M26J kept a low profile and publicly opposed guerrilla activity.


Castro's struggle against the dictatorship initially had no support from the peasants or workers, but was a radical, petty-bourgeois movement. By the end of 1958, however, Castro's popularity had grown among the civilian population. The communists had approached Castro cautiously and won his confidence. But Castro's "revolutionary programme" had not changed since 1953.


After several setbacks and growing internal resistance, Batista fled the country in 1959. Fidel Castro was ready to take over; just six days later his forces marched into Havana and were greeted by the genuine support and cheers of the civilian population. But for the anarchists in Cuba, a new black period had only just begun.

1959 – Castro takes over

Anarchists who participated in the guerrilla struggle against the dictator Batista had done so in the hope that an end to the dictatorship would create a more free society for anarchists to operate in. The Castro-critical anarchists accused Castro of being untrustworthy and seeking only power. Cuba's capitalists, on the other hand, along with the US, hoped to manipulate Castro.


Among the first things Castro did was to create a "revolutionary government" and introduce the death penalty, which was widely used when the "revolutionary tribunals" sentenced "criminals". The government also took over the CTC (the state trade union created under Batista) and changed its name to the Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba Revolucionaria, CTCR. In January 1959, the CTCR was purged of people who had collaborated with the previous dictatorship. But despite the active participation of anarcho-syndicalists in the fight against Batista, they were the main victims of the purge. Fortunately, some anarcho-syndicalists managed to stay under the radar, or were saved by the protests of their trade union comrades. Despite the purges, the anarchists remained surprisingly calm. Through their press, they tried to persuade the workers to resist centralization and work instead for workers-led labour organisations. They also protested against the presence of the military in trade union elections, but did not gain much response from the working class, which was still enthusiastic about Castro.


Within a year, the state was completely under the control of Castro and his closest men. In late 1959, some of the closest men began to protest against the growing influence of the PCC and were accused of being "enemies of the revolution" or "agents of Yankee imperialism". Most were imprisoned and given long prison sentences or executed. Those who were lucky were instead exiled. The critics who managed to escape repression were experienced militants and responded with sabotage and a few bomb attacks. The action groups were initially anti-communist but later became anti-Castro. The spiral of violence culminated in the reintroduction of the "revolutionary tribunals" which handed down the death penalty to anyone accused of subversive activities. This was the beginning of years of state terrorism and counter-terrorism.

The struggle for control over the trade unions continues

During a CTCR congress in 1959, the Communists were in the minority. Of the 2,854 delegates at the congress, the Communists held sway over only 265. [22] They therefore proposed to vote delegates to a committee instead, in which all delegates would have equal influence. The proposal was voted down and the Congress stalled.


Fidel Castro appeared at the congress and spoke of "unity" and the need for revolutionary leaders who had the full support of the congress. In the end, the CTCR ended up in the hands of the state. The anarcho-syndicalists were opposed to both communist and state control but chose to remain silent because they knew what could happen to those who opposed the government. In addition, a new purge was launched, affecting ordinary workers who opposed the growing influence of the PCC.

The state takes over the means of production.

As Fidel Castro became more and more Marxist-Leninist, the pressure increased on the anarchists to try to make the Cubans realise what was happening. The regime confiscated all the large companies, ranches, tobacco and sugar industries - in other words, the entire national economy - and the means of production from both Cuban and international capitalists and banks.


So far, the anarchists were completely with the revolution. What they were concerned about and opposed was that instead of the workers and peasants gaining direct control over the means of production and the economy, the state and a government were becoming more and more totalitarian by the day.


Cuban anarchist Abelardo Iglesias summed up the anarchists' position during his exile in the mid-1960s:


”To expropriate capitalist enterprises, handing them over to the workers and technicians, THIS IS REVOLUTION. But to convert them into state monopolies in which the only right of the producer is to obey, THIS IS COUNTER-REVOLUTION.” [23]

The snare is tightened

In the summer of 1960, a petition was written signed by "A group of syndicalists". These were members of the anarchist federation ALC who, because of the harsh repression to which dissidents were subjected, chose an anonymous signature. The appeal attacked the state in all its forms and criticised the authoritarian developments of the revolution, including the centralisation of agriculture and the militarisation of the people. Instead, they stressed libertarian proposals and solutions. [24]


The reactions were not long in coming. Significantly, it was not the government that first attacked the call, but the PCC. The PCC resorted to its standard accusations that the anarchists were "Yankee agents" et cetera. For the movement's most militant activists, there was little choice. To oppose the "revolutionary" process underway was tantamount to being "counter-revolutionary" and meant either imprisonment or execution. The majority of anarchists opted for armed resistance, unsuccessfully, with many comrades killed as a result. A secret bulletin called MAS (Movimiento de Acción Sindical) was published, attacking both the PCC and Castro.


On 17 April 1961, the US CIA was behind an attempted invasion, known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. The attempt failed and gave the Castro government the excuse it needed to crush all domestic opposition and consolidate its totalitarian power. Castro went out and called himself a "socialist" and issued an ultimatum: either you were with the government or you were an enemy. Unlike previous situations, the anarchists no longer had the option of standing outside party politics and focusing on economic issues, or working with other opposition forces. Either you supported the dictatorship or you faced imprisonment, exile or execution. Unable to wage an armed struggle against the regime, most anarchists chose to go into exile and continue the struggle from there.

Those who got stuck

The anarchists caught in Cuba have suffered the same punishment as other Cubans accused of "counter-revolutionary crimes". Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have written several reports on the ill-treatment, mistreatment and torture that occur in Cuban prisons.


According to the testimonies of three former political prisoners, each serving between 15 and 20 years, the prisons are overcrowded with prisoners who are treated very brutally. If a prisoner agreed to study Marxism-Leninism, he was treated better. Those who refused were harassed so severely that they went on hunger strike until they ended up in hospital. Many even ended up in what is known as the "hole": extremely small cells, slightly larger than a coffin, where prisoners are locked up for anywhere from a few days to several weeks, without light. The abuse was so severe that it was not uncommon for prisoners to die shortly after release. [25]


By the early 1960s, there were nearly 60,000 political prisoners. This was more prisoners than there were prisons for, so Castro launched a campaign to build more prisons. By the mid-1970s, Amnesty International reported that only 20,000 prisoners had been released. The anarchists who had escaped Cuba and ended up in Miami organized the Comité Pro-Libertarios Presos (Committee for Libertarian Prisoners), which did what it could to ease the situation for their comrades who remained in Cuba.

The International Anarchist Movement and Castro

As with the Russian Revolution of 1917, large sections of the international anarchist movement were delighted that a revolution had been carried out in Cuba and were unwilling to listen to critical voices. Moreover, the news coming out of Cuba was mixed, as there were anarchists who chose to cooperate with Castro and his government (just as anarchists had cooperated with Lenin) - all in order to "protect the revolution itself".


One of the first objective analyses of the revolution came from the German anarchist and antifascist Agustín Souchy, who lived in exile in Sweden. He had an internationally recognized status for his lifelong commitment to the anarchist movement. Agustín Souchy was a trained farmer and had participated in the Spanish Revolution both in the collectives and at the front. He was invited by the Cuban government in the hope that he would write positively about Cuba, which would give the Castro regime support from the international anarchist movement. But in his pamphlet Testimonios sobre la Revolución Cubana, which managed to be printed without passing through state censorship, he instead criticized the development for approaching the Soviet model too closely. Three days after Souchy left the island, the government confiscated the entire edition and destroyed it. The pamphlet was later reprinted by an anarchist publisher in Argentina. [26]


To the Castro regime's rescue came instead the document "A Clarification and Declaration of the Cuban Libertarians". It was written by Manuel Gaona Sousa, a Cuban veteran anarchist of 70 years, who turned completely around and did not hesitate to denounce his comrades in order to save his own skin. The declaration repeated the government's accusations that the anarchists who criticized Castro were really CIA agents and that their fundraising to help their comrades and their families flee Cuba was a scam. The document also claimed that there was no persecution of anarchists in Cuba and that all anarchists were on Castro's side. [27]


The anarchists who fled Cuba organized in both Miami and New York. They were supported by Spanish anarchist groups who were also living in exile. The exile organization Movimiento Libertario Cubano en el Exilio, MLCE, was founded. They received most support and assistance from the New York-based Libertarian League, whose members were internationally known and well-liked veterans. Through their magazine Views & Comments, they succeeded in getting anarchists and their organisations around the world to help their Cuban comrades. With the help of fundraising, 66 anarchists and their families managed to escape from Cuba. The majority of the anarchists who managed to escape immediately began a campaign to expose the situation in Cuba and raise more money to try to bring over even more comrades. But as Gaona's declaration spread, support for the exiled anarchists ebbed.

Cuba as a symbol of Socialism

Over time, Cuba became a symbol of socialism and it became more difficult for Cuban exiles to get their Castro-critical articles and testimonies published in the international press, both because people suspected the authors were CIA agents but perhaps above all because they were worried that the criticism would damage the revolution itself. So in retrospect, it is possible to understand the confusion and why the lies about the anarchists in exile being agents of the US seemed plausible. The US welcomed anyone who wanted to flee Cuba with open arms - including anarchists, despite a 1921 law that banned anarchists from entering the US. [28] The reason for this was the simple rhetoric of "the enemies of my enemy are my friends."


The debate between anarchists for and against the Castro regime was most intense in South America, where the opposition was in the minority. However, during an international anarchist congress in Italy in 1965, a representative of the MLCE was invited to argue his case. As a result, seven different anarchist organisations from Italy, Argentina, Mexico, the UK, Spain, the USA and the syndicalist SAC from Sweden took a stand against the Castro regime and did what they could through their press and actions to support Cuba's anarchists in the fight against Castro both inside and outside Cuba. Despite this, support for Castro prevailed on the left in general.

Anarchism is given new life

In the context of the student revolt in France in 1968, anarchism, and other socialist but Marxist-critical currents, received a boost around the world. Between 30 August and 9 September of the same year, the largest international anarchist congress in over half a century was held in Carrara, Italy, attended by various anarchist and syndicalist federations from all over the world (including the SAC from Sweden). The Cuban exile organisation MLCE could not afford to send its own representative and therefore asked a comrade from Mexico to represent them.


The congress discussed the relationship between anarchism and Marxism in both the Russian, Spanish and Cuban revolutions. The Congress was united in its condemnation of the betrayals of Lenin and Stalin in the Russian and Spanish revolutions, but was very hesitant and cautious about the situation in Cuba. Cuba was certainly a satellite state of the Soviet Union, but without really explaining how and why, the situation was considered to be different and it was therefore hoped that the ideas of anarchism would penetrate the regime from within and change it.


Almost 50 years later, we know that this was not the case. This attitude meant that the anarchist movement's support for Castro's regime increased over time while Cuba's anarchists were left to their own devices. To this day, some anarchists cling to the romanticized image of Cuba as a model of socialism.

The fall of the Soviet Union and anarchists on Cuba today


The fall of the Soviet Union meant, among other things, that the Cuban state's control over cultural life was relaxed somewhat, allowing punk to flourish in Cuba. The anarchist symbol, a circled A, began to appear in graffiti paintings. It was understood by Cubans as a symbol of freedom and sparked a new interest in anarchism as an ideology among some. It was mainly the anti-authoritarian essence and humane character of anarchism, as well as the critique of bureaucracy, the ideas of self-governed organisation and social justice, that appealed.


The new generation of anarchists were few in number and still needed to operate in secret. Their groups studied anarchism and tried to weave anarchism into various protests and projects. The anarchists collaborated with other autonomous left groups that were also anti-authoritarian but not necessarily anarchist. Together with such leftist groups, various anti-capitalist projects were started where they could freely discuss the situation in Cuba and the future of the country.


In the early 2000s, an informal support network for libertarian trade union activists and sympathizers, GALSIC (Grupo de Apoyo a los Libertarios y Sindicalistas Independientes en Cuba), was set up. The network has been subject to repression but distributes, among other things, the bulletin CUBA libertaria.


In 2010, the anarchists felt the need to organize themselves into a separate anarchist collective and founded TLAL, Taller Libertario Alfredo López (Alfredo López Libertarian Workshop). The name comes from the anarcho-syndicalist and CNOC founder Alfredo López, who was imprisoned in 1925 on false charges of bombing (after his release in 1926, he "disappeared", his body being found seven years later).


The collective began to study Cuba's anarchist history and were strengthened and motivated by what they found. The new generation of anarchists realized that the socialism that had existed in Cuba since Castro came to power had not fostered the development of self-organized collective solidarity, but on the contrary had contributed to a hideous individualism, with no sense of collective action and exchange of knowledge. Cubans had become accustomed to representative organisation from above. To reach out with information about anarchism in general to ordinary Cubans without access to the internet, the collective started a paper magazine, ¡Tierra Nueva! (A New World).


Through contacts with anarchist groups in Spain, France and the United States, among others, the group has been influenced by critiques of industrialism and advanced technology, but has also embraced anti-sexism and LGBTQ rights. A Rainbow Activist group has been set up. Currently, the collective has plans for an activity house, an anarchist library and more.


The Taller Libertario Alfredo López collective is raising money to run its own centre. In 2015, anarchists in Cuba also helped found a new organization for anarchists in Central America and the Caribbean islands, the Federación Anarquista de Centroamérica y el Caribe. The federation hopes to strengthen the anarchist movement in the region and spread the ideas of anarchism.


In 2016, Fidel Castro died and on the occasion of the "mourning of the country", CUBA libertaria published a special issue on libertarian socialism and the future of the Cuban people. The last chapter on Cuba's anarchists does not seem to have been written yet.

Sources/Footnotes

1. Slavery in Cuba began in the 17th century and was abolished in 1867. Cuba became incredibly dependent on the slave trade and over a million Africans kidnapped during the Atlantic Slave Trade were sold as slaves to Cuba. Today, it is estimated that as much as 65% of the population of Cuba are descendants of these slaves.

2. The first Proudhonian Society was founded in 1857. Cuban Anarchism The History of A Movement, Frank Fernández, page 17, See Sharp Press, 2001, ISBN 1-884365-19-1

 3. ibid, page 17. - It was not uncommon for workers in a workplace to collect as much as they could spare in order to pay a literate worker to solve aloud for them.

4. Roughly simplified, it was about workers organizing themselves and minding their own business instead of begging and pleading with the State through political elections. The goal was that the workers' own organizations would make the State redundant and disappear on its own, it was a more reformist strategy.

5. The Congress six-point ”dictum”: 1) opposition to ”all vestiges of authority” in workers organisations; 2) unity among workers’ organizations through a ”federative pact” along the lines of the FRE; 3) complete freedom of action among all groups; and 6) the prohibition within the federation of all political and religious doctrines. 


 Ibid, page 21, See Sharp Press, 2001.

6. It was not uncommon for strikes to spread from factory to factory as workers struck with the initiators in solidarity. Strikes like these could paralyze entire cities. In response, factory owners could shut down the factory in a so-called "lock out". But the anarchist workers' organisations defied this by having those who were out of work look for work elsewhe​re instead. If the strikes were really long, the workers helped to collect money and supplies for the striking workers and their families, or the children of the striking families were sent to live with other families so that they would not have to suffer too much from the strikes.

7. Roig San Martín (1843-1889), a tobacco worker, was not only the most persuasive and dedicated anarchist of his time, but also the most influential and respected anarchist in Cuban history. A thinker and writer, he wrote for anarchist and tobacco workers' newspapers between 1883-1889. In 1887 he founded the newspaper "El Production", which was published twice a week and was popular among the working class. Roig was a trade unionist and took part in a major strike in 1888 between July and October, playing a leading role in the success of the strike.


Roig was also a strong opponent of the Cuban separatists as he was convinced that the working class had nothing to gain from the imposition of a Republic. At the same time, he was a strong opponent of Spanish colonial power and it was for his criticism of it in his newspaper that he was imprisoned. Because of the poor conditions, Roig ended up in a diabetic coma and passed away on 29 August 1889. He was mourned by workers all over Cuba and over 10,000 workers attended his funeral ceremony.


- Ibid, pp. 22-25,

8. Fermín Salvochea (1842-1907) was a revolutionary anarchist from Spain who came from a bourgeois background and was a prominent republican when he joined the Spanish section of the then newly-formed International in 1871. Unlike many others from a similar background, he did not fall away from anarchism but remained an anarchist for life. For this he suffered persecution and imprisonment, in total he was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. Fermin was more of a pacifist and he worked mainly for the poor peasants of Andulsia, for which he was called the Apostle of the Oppressed and, after his death, the Saint of Anarchism. During the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939, the village of Huelva changed its name to Salvochea. Since 1980, he has also had a street named after him in the city of Cadiz, Spain.


-The Spanish Anarchist, José Peirats, p. 383, Freedom Press 1998, ISBN 0-900384-53-0

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferm%C3%ADn_Salvochea

9. The oldest evidence of humans in Cuba dates back to 4000 BC and Cuba has since seen the rise and fall of a number of different cultures. When the Spaniard Christopher Columbus sailed astray in 1492 and ended up in America (although he thought he was in India), Christopher made his way to Cuba from the Bahamas, believing it to be a peninsula belonging to Asia. When he reached Cuba on 28 October 1492, the island was populated by three major ethnic groups. The oldest Guanajatabey had been there for several centuries already, but as other peoples discovered the island, the Guanajatebey people had been pushed more and more to the western side of the island. The other two main groups, the Taíno and the Siboney, belonged to a common cultural group called the Arawak and had immigrated from the Caribbean islands.


In 1443, the Spanish Royal Court ordered them to colonize the island. In its wake, furious violence and massacres of Cuba's indigenous people ensued, despite their peaceful attitude and hospitality. The priest Bartolomé de las Casas witnessed several massacres committed by the Spanish settlers and wrote them down. One is the massacre near Camagüey, Cuba's third largest city. According to Bartolomé de las Casas, nearly 3,000 men, women and children had travelled to Manzanillo to welcome the Spaniards with limps, fish and other food - the Spaniards thanked them by massacring them unprovoked. Those who survived the massacres and the terror of the Spaniards fled to the mountains or to one of the many surrounding islets. Eventually they were captured and put in camps where they died of the terrible conditions.


When the original population was almost completely annihilated, they needed outside labour and kidnapped indigenous people from other islands and tried to force them into slavery but those who didn't die from the hard work or all the diseases that came with the Spaniards ran away and eventually they chose to kidnap slaves from Africa instead of using them as free labour.


LINK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Cuba

10: In June 1896, two bombs were thrown at a procession in which a captain general joined. It was one of several bombings carried out by anarchists to avenge fallen comrades, killed in strikes or in the course of their own revenge actions. During this time, the capitalists hired strikebreakers and criminals to threaten, beat and murder active anarchists who were members of the CNT.


In response to the attack, hundreds of active anarchists and other revolutionary workers were randomly arrested and taken, many on foot, to Fort Montjuich and thrown into the dungeons and tortured; tongues were cut out, eyes were gouged out, instead of water they were given dried codfish so that some began to drink their own urine in desperation, they were forced to run around while being whipped until they fainted, they were prevented from sleeping, red-hot iron was shoved up under their fingernails and toenails, their testicles were twisted and tortured.


Among those imprisoned were several prominent anarchists who were important to the anarchist movement in Spain, including Teresa Claramunt, Anselmo Lorenzo, Fredrico Urales and José Lluñas.


By the end of September that year, their scapegoats had been chosen and five were executed inside the fort, while 22 others were sentenced to long prison terms, but they were pardoned in the spring of 1900 due to international protests against this crime. Instead, the 22 imprisoned anarchists were put into exile, as were the other anarchists imprisoned in June 1896.


The event is covered in many anarchist newspapers and articles from that time.


-The Spanish Anarchist, José Peirats, pp. 23-24 , Freedom Press 1998, ISBN 0-900384-53-0

11.  Cuban Anarchism The History of A Movement, Frank Fernandez, pp. 44-45, See Sharp Press, 2001, ISBN 1-884365-19-1

12. The killings of the leading workers and anarchists Casañas and Montero in Cruces, Cuba were met with protests and on May 1, 1903, anarchists tried to organize a strike to protest the killings but the strike failed. Ibid, p. 46

13. The anarchists sentenced to death were the leading organizers of their time and were called; Marcelo Salinas, Antonio Penichet, Alfredo López, Alejandro Barreiro and Pablo Guerra. Ibid, pp. 50-51.

14. Perhaps one of the most famous slogans was "Land for the peasants! Factories for the workers!". The suspicious anarchists warned that if the revolution were to take the Marxist path, the land would not belong to the peasants and the factories would not belong to the workers - everything would belong to the state! But they were a minority and were accused by their comrades of being dogmatic and sectarian. It was time to put theoretical differences aside and work together for the sake of the revolution! 


For an example of what the anarchists' defense of Lenin and the Bolsheviks at the beginning of the revolution might look like, see Emma Goldman's The Truth About the Bolsheviks." New York: Mother Earth Publishing Association, 1918

15. During the first period of the revolution at the end of 1917, there were no explicit leaders, but peasants and workers organized themselves into so-called soviets (workers' councils) after taking over land and factories from their former owners. It seemed that anarchism had a good chance of being realized. In time, the Bolsheviks managed to take control of the revolution through political manoeuvres.


Anarchists and other left-wing revolutionaries posed a threat to the Bolsheviks and were subjected to repression where they were executed without trial or sent to Siberia, just as they did during the Tsar's time. Lenin manages to keep the truth at bay by claiming to outsiders (don't forget that anarcho-syndicalism dominated - and Lenin needed the broadest possible support from the working class) that it was not "real" anarchists who suffered repression but only bandits. Once news of anarchists inside Russia managed to be smuggled out of the country, not many dared to publish it for fear that it would play into the hands of the capitalist world.


Many of the anarchists who managed to escape the country and testify about their experiences were ostracized and accused of having become counter-revolutionaries.


Reading tips:


October - The Story of the Russian Revolution, China Miéville, Verso Books, 2017, ISBN 978-1-78663-450-4


History of the Makhnovist Movement 1918-1921, Peter Arshinov, 1923/2017 Freedom Press ISBN 0-900384-40-9


The Guillotine at Work - Vol 1 The Leninist Counter-Revolution, Grigorii Petrovich Maksimov, 1940, Black Thorn Books 1979 ISBN 0-932366-06-6


The Russian Tragedy, Alexander Berkman, 1922, Phonix Press 1986


My Disillusionment in Russia, Emma Goldman, 1924, Dover Publications, 2013 ISBN 0-486-43270-X

16. Cuban Anarchism The History of A Movment, Frank Fernández, sid 54-55, See Sharp Press, 2001, ISBN 1-884365-19-1

17. Ibid, sid 57

18. On July 28, 1933, a transport strike began in Havana which developed into a general strike when the anarchists of the FOH joined the strike. It was during the dictator Machado's last months in power with enemies on all sides conspiring against him. The Communist PCC, following the Commissar's orders, joined Machado and went out in the name of the CNOC (even though they had not initiated the strike) and demanded that it be called off. They had overestimated their influence and they were not heard. The action has later been recognized as the mistake it was even by Marxist historians who call it the "August error".


When the PPC then tried to force the workers to go back to work, they did not hesitate to enlist the help of Machado's secret police. But they still could not shake the resistance offered by the anarchists along with the others in the opposition. The strikebreaking failed and they won the strike. It was largely due to the unstable situation surrounding the strike that resulted in Machado being forced to flee the country.


The hostile atmosphere between the PPC and the anarchists was not over and on 27 August the PPC attacked the only office left by the anarchist movement with machine guns. Gunfire broke out, resulting in the death of one anarchist and several injured. The following day, the anarchists condemned the PPC's actions in a manifesto criticizing the party's anti-worker activities. The relationship between communists and anarchists in Cuba that had been deteriorating slowly but surely as more testimonies of the persecution of anarchists in the Soviet Union managed to make their way to Cuba. After this incident, the two groups broke completely with each other. 


Ibid. pages 58-59

19. Ibid, sid 61.

20. Ibid, sid 62-63

21. Ibid, sid 63

22. Ibid, sid 81

23. Ibid sid 101

24. Declaracíon de Principios, attacked the state in all its forms and declared: 1) it defined, in accord with libertarian ideas, the functions of unions and federations in regard to their true economic roles, 2) it declared that the land should belong ”to those who work it”, 3) it backed ”cooperative and collective work (as opposed to the government's centralizing agricultural reforms) 4) Free and collective education for children 5) they raged against the harmful nationalism, militarism and imperialism and fully opposed the militarization of the people, 6) an attack on "centralized bureaucracy" in in favor of federalism, 7) Individual freedom to achieve collective freedom, 8) The revolution is like the sea for all, and opposed the authoritarian tendencies that nurtured the breasts of the Revolution. 


 - Ibid, pp. 85-86

25. Ibid, sid 96

26. Ibid, sid 85

27. Ibid, sid 89-91

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