Letter to Black Dwarf, published in the issue of 26 November 1969.
Dear Comrade Editor,
As one who broke his first police cordon in the “Hands Off Cuba” demonstrations of 1962, I feel obliged to comment on the feature dealing with the film Che in the 1 October Black Dwarf. This – unsigned – feature contains a reference to “those who maintain that Cuba is a petit-bourgeois country”. (The actual term is not a familiar one, but the reference is clearly to those of us who apply the “state capitalism” analysis to Cuba, as to China and Russia.) We are exhorted to “shit on them, but first shit on Twentieth Century Fox”. I hope the editors do not regard this as editorial policy; if they do, they will of course refuse to print this letter, but I hope we have not come to that stage yet.
I have not seen the film Che. I don’t know if it includes Che’s speech of 6 January 1961, when he said “Trujillo is now our friend”. Or his speech at Punta del Este on 8 August 1961 when he said “We cannot stop exporting our example, as the United States wants, because an example is something spiritual that pierces all borders. What we do guarantee is not to export revolution, we guarantee that not one rifle will leave Cuba, that not one weapon will go to another country.”
Probably not. The film doubtless presents a crude stereotype, not a serious analysis of a complex political career. The trouble is that most of the Left, when dealing with Che and Cuba, are scarcely more analytic.
Why has the Cuban leadership changed its international strategy several times? To what extent can Cuba be politically independent of the Soviet Union while economically dependent on it? What are the causes and consequences of Cuba’s continuing failure to industrialise? What grass-roots organs of popular democracy and control exist in Cuba? Do the Cuban trade unions have anything approaching the independence from the State for which Lenin fought so vigorously in the early years of the Soviet Union?
These are serious questions which one might hope would be seriously debated in Black Dwarf, a paper which is uniquely placed to confront the various analyses put forward by different tendencies in the Left, and help raise the discussion to a higher level.
This is not sectarian sniping. A number of very serious issues are raised for the future of the Left.
First of all, if we are serious in campaigning for socialist ideas among workers and youth, we have to be serious in stating what we mean by socialism. We have to have criteria, not just a sense of emotional uplift.
Secondly, let’s get rid of the smear that those who don’t accept a certain (uncritical) approach to certain regimes are in some way siding with the imperialists against them. Quite the opposite. Those of us who see the anti-imperialist but non-socialist nature of states like Cuba or North Vietnam will continue to defend them despite any political turns or lapses by their leaders. Those who have no scientific standpoint will easily be disorientated by some latter-day repetition of the Hitler-Stalin pact.
Thirdly, many of us hoped that Black Dwarf was going to make a contribution to the building of a Left united in action, and serious and fraternal in debating its disagreements. If Black Dwarf becomes just another sect, it will be a severe setback for all of us.
Ian H Birchall