Review: Cuban Anarchism - The History of a Movement

Frank Fernández first gives a detailed and well documented account of how libertarian ideas first took hold in Cuba. During the1850s, mass Spanish immigration to Cuba brought with it new revolutionary ideas. These ideas interacted with the misery of the super-exploited Cuban workers, slaves and campesinos.

As early as 1857 anarchist ideas took root with the creation of workers' mutual aid associations, regional centres and secular schools. By the 1880s there were several explicitly anarchist workers associations and publications such as El Productor , a popular anarchist newspaper, which was published twice weekly by 1888. Towards the end of the decade several anarchist-organised strikes shook the Cuban tobacco industry.

The 1890's in Cuba saw the war for independence from Spain. Fernández describes the differences that existed within the anarchist movement over involvement in the war of independence. In 1892, however, a Cuban anarchist conference voted in support of the independence movement and despite differences of opinion many Cuban anarchists actively cooperated with the separatists.

After the war of independence class struggle continued in Cuba this time under the yoke of Yankee imperialism. Despite often severe repression anarchists continued fighting to build Cuba's militant labour movement and in the 1920s in particular anarchist books, periodicals and pamphlets proliferated. Although there was no specifically anarcho-syndicalist trade union, anarcho-syndicalist ideas predominated within the large trade union federations such as the Workers' Federation of Havana (FOH) and the Confederación Nacional Obrera de Cuba (CNOC),

Anarchist influence declined after the 1930's when the PCC (the Cuban Communist Party) made deals first with the Machado government, then with Batista, which put the PCC in control of the trade union confederation, making it dependent on the government.

Fernández goes on to describe anarchist participation in the armed struggle against the Batista dictatorship and the repression of the anarchists after Fidel Castro - máximo lider - came to power. All opposition to the new state was eliminated; press, radio, television censored or suppressed. Leading anarcho-syndicalists were expelled from unions and many imprisoned, tortured, murdered. Left with few alternatives many Cuban anarchists went into exile.

The remainder of the book details the experience of the Cuban anarchists in exile, their various publications and their difficulties in relation to the international anarchist movement, which was initially often reluctant to oppose Castro's revolution.

A weakness in the book lies with it's lack of a general analysis of the Cuban revolution, with Fernandez analysis differing little to that of the US bourgeoisie. Nevertheless the book as a whole is well researched and informative and is a much needed source of information on the important role that anarchists played throughout the history of the Cuban workers movement.

Deirdre Hogan


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This edition is No72 published in September 2002