C.L.R. James’s “Critical Support” of Fidel Castro’s Cuba

*This article is reblogged from Insurgent Notes. It is written by Matthew Quest, originally posted on 4/17/2016.


Many are the imperial crimes that can be detailed against oppressed nations’ sovereignty, and Cuba specifically. Given the recent visit of President Obama to Cuba, and the expression of his desire to end the United States embargo, these have again become common currency. And yet discussion of these impositions often paper over unresolved historical problems in the development of the anti-imperialist movement.

C.L.R. James’s “critical support” of Fidel Castro’s Cuba is little understood among scholars of his life and work. This essay explores James’s 1967–1968 visit to Cuba and reconstructs private debates and discussion on Cuba within his revolutionary organizations, based in Detroit, in the 1950s and 1960s, and among anti-imperialist movements. Many of James’s commentaries and disputes were consistent with his attempts to reconcile anti-colonialism with direct democracy and workers self-management.[1] If what it means to oppose empire appears fairly straightforward on the surface, the meaning of critical support of oppressed nations and the content of socialism, as a measure of evaluating radical developments in oppressed nations, is often obscure.

Empire is the military domination, economic exploitation, and cultural subordination of one nation by a foreign power. The search for identity of colonized people and the pursuit of self-government denied is not necessarily synonymous with rejection of the empire of capital or affirmation of labor’s self-emancipation. Support for national liberation struggles need not mean support for its aspiring leaders, in contrast to solidarity with an oppressed nation’s commoners. This only makes sense if we understand that there are conflicting tendencies within all freedom movements and to discuss them does not undermine but can enhance solidarity. James’s historical and political legacies, regarding Cuba, are dynamic measures for learning about these contours.

Critical Support and Workers’ Self-Management

How can we criticize a regime in a formerly colonized society, especially where it appears to embody a strong resistance to racism, empire, and genuine aspirations toward a socialist revolution? Still, what does Cuba solidarity mean when we find the Cuban Revolution has been at times neither socialist nor democratic, and has been repressive to Blacks’ and workers,’ gender and sexual autonomy? We cannot simply assume that…read the full article.

Jeremiah Morelock

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