Anarchism as a political and social solution has many enemies. Its fiercest opponents, however, are those authoritarian regimes who, distorting and subverting the ideas of socialism, have promoted themselves historically as embodying the values of liberty, equality and fraternity. In every situation, state capitalist governments, in line with the secularization of religious thought, have infanticised and divided the conflict between “believers”— those who support them, and “heretics” — those who oppose them.
In this alleged confrontation between the two models (in religious terms the struggle of “good” against “evil”) authoritarian states demand the committed support of all revolutionaries to jointly confront the forces of reaction.
As we know from our experience of the Russian Revolution of 1917, nationalists and authoritarian leftist who seize power develop different strategies to dismantle, co-opt and fragment revolutionary organizations which provide a leftist alternative to their project, and wwho denounce the contradictions and abuses of the ongoing process of the centralisation of power. In the case of anarchism — a body and attitude which is hostile to bureaucratic reorganization of power and authority — tragic examples abound.
In Russia, and later the Soviet Union, China, Spain and dozens of other examples, statists have systematically persecuted and exterminated anarchists. The killing, however, has been accompanied by lies, misrepresentation and the creation of non existent support, to confuse and paralyze the international anarchist movement.
Those who know the history of anarchism in Latin America know that Cuba developed, along with countries like Argentina, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, an important anarcho-syndicalist movement that impacted on the labor conflicts of the time. As is well documented in the book “Anarchism in Cuba” by Frank Fernandez, the anarchist movement in the island had a main role in different unions, produced newspapers and magazines for discussion, propaganda and agitation, as well as provide different locations that served as points of contact and exchange.
Cuban anarchism and anarchists, as anyone interested can corroborate, joined the popular struggle against the dictator Fulgencio Batista and, the overthrow of he in 1959, aroused in the militants the same expectations about the future of the island as the rest of the society. As relates Fernández, the libertarian publications of these days, Solidaridad Gastronómica and El Libertario, reflected in their editions a favorable attitude, as well as a cautious and hopeful one, regarding the new government.
Quickly, in late 1959, criticism of the government, no matter where they have come from, began to be described as “counterrevolutionary” by the new nomenclature in power. The Castro entourage began inviting to the island representative leaders of all the revolutionary tendencies of the world, to convince them of the goodness of his regime. That is why in the summer of 1960 the libertarian Augustin Souchy visited la Havana to know the experience of land reform. The result of the visit was the official publication of a lengthy article in which the German told the world what he had seen.
A booklet entitled “Testimonies on the Cuban Revolution” was published bypassing official censorship, with a different tone than the one expected by the authorities, in where Souchy warned of the authoritarian turn the new administration was taking.
The libel was soon picked up by the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), but it was made public by an edition of the publishing house Reconstruir of Buenos Aires. Anarchists were not easily impressed, it needed a new strategy.
Much of the Cuban anarchists of the time were organized in the Libertarian Association of Cuba (ALC). By 1961 its Relations Secretariat was occupied by Manuel Gaona Sousa, controlling the contacts with the international anarchist around the world. Gaona, however, showed an early enthusiasm for the July 26 Movement (M26J) and for Fidel Castro. His reputation and track record within the anarchist movement, his key role in communications with the outside world, and his desire to cooperate with a government that he supported, was used to maximum effect by the Cuban authorities.
Gaona wrote a statement, “A clarification and a statement of the Cuban libertarians” which stated that “almost all libertarian activism, is integrated in the various agencies of the Cuban Revolution”, denying at the same time the existence of activist libertarian prisoners; a situation that was denounced repeatedly by anarchist publications of the island.
Gaona’s manifesto, which was sent to all libertarian publications of the time, contained five key ideas: The first that there was no anarchist arrested for his convictions, two, there was no political or religious persecution in Cuba, three, anarchists supported Castro’s government, four, Castro’s government represented the ideals for which the libertarians fought, and the fifth part was a crude and literal copy of the regime’s propaganda about their political and economic purported benefits.
Finally, the document stated: “We want to alert fellow Libertarian Movements in Mexico, Latin America and the world, and fellow Spanish exiles in America, that they should not be surprised by the malicious and deceitful information received by the person or persons that service, conscious or unconscious, the Cuban counterrevolution.”
The text, to be representative of Cuban anarchism, was signed by just 25 names, and it later became known that some signatures were collected by deception from Gaona. Some libertarians he consulted refused to sign a text that meant abandoning the basic principles of anarchism, as the known partner Marcelo Salinas y López, were later persecuted in such a way that they were forced into exile.
Gaona’s document generated a number of dire consequences for the anarchism of the island. On the one hand it split the anarchists, in the eyes of the Cuban authorities, in “good”-the small group that supported the position of Gaona-and “bad”- the rest.
Second, it sowed confusion in the international anarchist organizations, especially in Latin America.
At the time of the U.S. offensive against Cuba, the prestige of the guerrilla fights on the continent, that has the “bearded” M26J as a reference, and the poor communication with the militants inside the island, literally paralyzed anarchist criticisms and questions about the new regime. In fact, the orphanhood of the Cuban anarchists favors their persecution and extermination.
Some names: Augusto Sánchez imprisoned and murdered, Rolando Tamargo and Ventura Suárez, shot, Sebastian Aguilar Jr., shot, Eusebio Otero, dead in his room, Raul Negrín, burned alive.
Arrested and sentenced to prison: Casto Moscú, Modesto Piñeiro, Floreal Barrera, Suria Linsuaín, Manuel González, José Aceña, Isidro Moscú, Norberto Torres, Sicinio Torres, José Mandado Marcos, Plácido Méndez and Luis Linsuaín. Some colleagues did not stand the torture in prison: Francisco Aguirre, who died in the cell; Victoriano Hernández, sick and blind by the abuse, committed suicide; and José Álvarez Micheltorena, who died a few weeks after his release.
Manuel Gaona was an active persecutor of his old comrades. Although the charges against the genuine libertarians were typical adjectives of Stalinism — being “a CIA agent” one of the most common- they proved to be effective.
According to Fernandez, “The information, or rather the international confusion in the Cuban case within the anarchist camp, is initiated by the Cuban regime’s propaganda machine with enormous resources, talent, imagination and much political skill.” Even attempts of grouping the Cuban anarchists in exile, as the case of the Cuban Libertarian Movement in Exile (MLCE), were accused by anarchists and anti-authoritarians themselves to be “counter-revolutionaries”, as was the case with Daniel Cohn Bendith, who in the International Anarchist Congress of Carrara, in 1968, accused the MLCE of “being funded by the CIA.”
The abandonment of Cuban anarchism by his peers is one of the worst mistakes in the history of the anarchist movement. It was not until 1978, with the publication of “The Cuban Revolution: A critical approach” by Sam Dolgoff, that the libertarian world began to understand what really had happened on the island. But it was too late.
Half a century later, the comedy
50 years after the “Gaona’s manifesto”, the strategy tries to repeat. At a time when in the continent various self-appointed leftist and progressive governments has come to power, the new bureaucracies are trying to spread that all revolutionaries, including anarchists, are on their side. From the hand of some converts, and inventing phantom organizations and initiatives, the Internet is spreading that the “true anarchists” support the governments of Rafael Correa, Evo Morales, Cristina Kirchner and Hugo Chavez, among others, and the ” fake anarchists” criticizes them; therefore they are “far from the popular struggles”.
One of the most extravagant attempts it is an effervescent “Revolutionary Anarchist Federation of Venezuela”, who in its first statement express their support to the Bolivarian government of Hugo Chavez and affirms the need to integrate its electoral coalition , the “Great Patriotic Pole“, facing the next presidential elections .
However, there is a difference with the times of Manuel Gaona. Information technologies nowadays make almost impossible the lack of communication that allowed ignore the real nature of the government of Fidel Castro in the past. Anyone interested and concerned can now research and know the different opinions and initiatives from the popular and revolutionary field, which shows the contradictions of these governments and their progressive coupling with globalized capitalism of today; the criminalization of social movements and the protection of new bourgeoisie for state capitalism. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as comedy.