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Chapter 1 - The Cuban Revolution: an Anarchist Perspective

Between reactionary "pro-Batistianos" and "revolutionary Castroites," an adequate assessment of the Cuban Revolution must take into account another, largely ignored dimension, i.e., the history of Cuban Anarchism and its influence on the development of the Cuban labor and socialist movements, the position of the Cuban anarchist movement with respect to the problems of the Cuban Revolution, and libertarian alternatives to Castroism.

Today's Cuban "socialism" differs from the humanistic and libertarian values of true socialism as does tyranny from freedom. There is not the remotest affinity between authoritarian socialism or its Castro variety and the libertarian traditions of the Cuban labor and socialist movements.

The character of the Latin American labor movement -- like the Spanish revolutionary movement from which it derived its orientation -- was originally shaped, not by Marxism, but by the principles of anarcho-syndicalism worked out by Bakunin and the libertarian wing of the International Workingmen's Association -- the "First International" -- founded in 1864.

The Latin American labor movement was, from its inception, greatly influenced by the ideology and revolutionary tactics of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist movement. Even before 1870, there were organized anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist groups in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mexico, Santiago, Chile; Montevideo, Uruguay; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In 1891, a congress of trade unions in Buenos Aires organized the Federacion Obrera Argentina which was in 1901 succeeded by the Federacion Obrera Regional Argentina (FORA-Regional Labor Federation of Argentina) with 40,000 members, which in 1938 reached 300,000. The anarcho-syndicalist La Protesta, one of the best anarchist periodicals in the world, founded as a daily in 1897, often forced to publish clandestinely, is still being published as a monthly.

In Paraguay, anarcho-syndicalist groups formed in 1892 were in 1906 organized into the Federacion Obrera Regional Paraguaya. The anarcho-syndicalist unions of Chile in 1893 published the paper El Oprimido (The Oppressed). In the late 1920s the Chilean Administration of the IWW numbered 20,000 workers. Before then, many periodicals were published and the labor movement flourished. The journal Alba, organ of the Santiago Federation of Labor, was founded in 1905. The anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist groups and their publications were very popular with the workers in San Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica (where the anarchist paper Renovacion first appeared in 1911).

To illustrate the scope of the anarcho-syndicalist movement in Latin America, attention is called to the organizations participating in the syndicalist groupings, convened by the FORA of Argentina in Buenos Aires. Besides the FORA, there were represented Paraguay, by the Centro Obrera Paraguaya; Bolivia, by the Federacion Local de La Paz and the groups La Antorcha and Luz y Libertad; Mexico, by the Pro-Accion Sindical; Brazil, by the trade unions from seven constituent provinces; Costa Rica, by the organization, Hacia la Libertad; and the Chilean administration of the IWW. These examples give only a sketchy idea of the extent of the movement. (sources: The Anarchist historian Max Nettlau's series of articles reprinted in Reconstruir, Rocker's Anarcho-Syndicalism, India edition, pgs. 183-184; no date)

Insofar as the history of anarcho-syndicalist movements in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, and other Latin American lands are concerned, there is a voluminous literature in Spanish, and some, though by no means enough, works in English. Unfortunately there is scarcely anything, in any language, about the history of Cuban Anarcho-Syndicalism.

The anarcho-syndicalist origins of the Cuban labor movement and its influence is substantiated by the Report on Cuba, issued by the conservative International Bank for Reconstruction and Development:

... in the colonial days, labor leadership in Cuba came largely from anarcho-syndicalists of the Bakunin school. A strong thread of their ideology with its emphasis on 'direct action', its contempt for legality, its denial that there can be common interests for workers and employers, persists in the Cuban labor movement in modern times ... it must be remembered that nearly all popular education of working people on how an economic system works and what might be done to improve it, came first from the anarcho-syndicalists ... (quoted in Background to Revolution: Development of Modern Cuba; New York, 1966, p. 31, 32)

Even the communist historian Boris Nikirov concedes that

... the labor movement of Cuba has had a long tradition of radical orientation. Anarcho-Syndicalist influence was important from the late 1890's to the 1920's (quoted ibid. p. 135) [Anarcho-Syndicalist influence certainly spans a longer period.]

Even less is known about the anarcho-syndicalist roots of the Puerto Rican labor movement, which as in Cuba, traces back to the latter half of the 19th century. The editor of the excellent anthology of labor struggles and socialist ideology in Puerto Rico, A.G. Quintero Rivera asks:

... who even in Puerto Rico knows about readers in tobacco workrooms? [as in Cuba and Florida, workers paid readers to read works of social and general interest to them while they made cigars] Who knows that Puerto Rican study groups in the first decade of this century studied the works of the [anarchists] Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus and the history of the First International Workingmen's Association ... that as early as 1890, Bakunin's Federalism and Socialism was published by anarchist groups in Puerto Rico and widely read by the workers? ...

Quintero informs the reader that in 1897, the anarchist, Romero Rosa, a typographer, was one of the "principal founders of the first nationwide union in Puerto Rico -- the Federacion Regional Obrera." Together with Fernando Gomez Acosta, a carpenter, and Jose Ferrer y Ferrer, also a typographer, Romero Rosa founded the weekly Ensayo Obrera to spread anarcho-syndicalist ideas among the workers.

Louisa Capetillo, the Emma Goldman of Puerto Rico, whom Quintero calls a "legendary figure in the history of the Puerto Rican labor movement," was a gifted speaker and organizer who addressed countless meetings all over Puerto Rico in the late 1890s and early 1900s. She championed women's rights and preached free love (further defying convention by wearing pantaloons).

A prolific writer, Louisa Caprtillo wrote -- in Spanish -- such libertarian essays as: Humanity in the Future; My View of Freedom; Rights and Duties of Woman as Comrade, Mother and Free Human Being. She also wrote and spoke extensively on art and the theater and carried on an extensive correspondence with foreign anarchists.

Between the years 1910 and 1920, anarchist and syndicalist periodicals were published in Puerto Rico and syndicalists carried on an intense agitation and militant action in labor struggles. (source: Lucha Obrera en Puerto Rico; 2nd edition, 1974, pgs. 1, 14, 34, 153, 156, 161.)

The example of Puerto Rico illustrates how little is known about the anarcho-syndicalist origins of the labor and socialist movements in the Caribbean area. This work tries to trace the remarkable influence of anarchism in the development of the Cuban revolutionary movement and to present the anarchist view of the Cuban Revolution.

Next page: Chapter 2 - Castro's Friendly Critics.