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FERNÁNDEZ, Frank. Cuba, the Anarchists & Liberty - 2 -
2. The First Republic
Article published on 6 May 2006
last modification on 26 April 2015

by r-c.
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Presentation by Sam DOLGOFF

Introduction

1. Colonial Times and Separatism

Important strikes took place under the first independent Cuban government: cigar-makers, bakers, carpenters, masons, were fiercely repressed, just as during the worst times of colonial rule. The republic of liberals or conservatives did not address itself to "social problems" and had forgotten the promise made by Marti "with everyone and for everyone".

The Mexican revolution has a serious impact on Cuban workers and campesinos; the writings of Ricardo Flores Magon and the guns of Emiliano Zapata were a spur to the consciousness of the long forgotten sugar cane workers, employed in the country’s largest industry. In 1915 the Manifesto de Cruces was proclaimed, which, by its literary qualities, was a hymn of anarchist combatively: "We must sustain our cry with the force of our arms" and "Silence is compromise" are the best representative statements of a group of workers that asserted the right to better destinies than that of the hereditary hunger they suffered for generations, especially when they were the most productive force on the island.

In this same year the first Peasant Federation (Federacion Campesina de Cuba) on Las Villas province was founded, among its organisers being: Fernafido Iglesias, Laureano Otero, Manuel Lopez, Jose Lage, Benjamin Janeiros, Luis Meneses, Santo Garos, Miguel Ripoll, Francisco Baragoitia, Andres Fuentes, Tomas Rayon and Francisco Ramos. Due to the abuses committed by the U.S. and Spanish sugar companies which controlled the lion’s share of national production, the anarchists attempted to conduct several strikes, but failed because of the repression unleashed by the government in Havana under President Garcia Menocal, using the pretorian army and the Rural Guard to murder and persecute the strikers. This was the most active period in the entire history of the Cuban Libertarians and lasted for more than twelve years and ended with the physical liquidation of the anarchist movement’s most selfless members.

In that period there were many regular periodicals of a libertarian orientation, although many of those responsible for publishing were eventually deported: La Batalla, Nuevos Rumbos, Espartaco, Via Libre, Voz Rebelde, Solidaridad, Memorandum Tipografico, El Boletin Tabacalero, and of course !Tierra!. The most outstanding anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist figures collaborated intensely, Marcelo Salinas, Antonio Penichet, Manuel Ferro, Jesus Iglesias, Ernesto Illas, Francisco Montanes, Pauline Diez and Adrian del Valle among others. Some held to the ideas of Peter Kropotkin, Elisee Reclus, others were sympathetic to Malatesta or Pietro Gori, others maintained the tradition of Bakunin; and the rest and the majority moved toward the incipient anarcho-syndicalism that came from the Spanish National Confederation of Labour, Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo (CNT). In 1922 Alfredo Lopez, an anarcho-syndicalist from the Printers’ Union, organised the Labour Federation of Havana, Federacion Obrera de La Habana (FOH), in which the most combative workers’ unions, groups and Labour associations of the capital were incorporated. Alfredo Lopez initiated the most dynamic stage of a long social and labour process; he helped to organise unions, libertarian schools, workers’ centres, nature clubs and a workers’ college, Popular University Jose Marti, Universidad Popular Jose Marti. In those troubled and turbulent years, the anarchists, without economic resources and without any help, first organised, gathered and oriented the majority of the workers, rural and urban, throughout the island.

In 1925 and under the responsibility of Alfredo Lopez, backed by three workers’ congresses in Havana, Cienfuegos and Camaguey respectively, created the National Labour Confederation of Cuba, Confederacion Nacional Obrera de Cuba (CNOC), an umbrella organisation of all the unions, fraternal associations, guilds, brotherhoods and mutual aid associations in Cuba: 128 collectives and more than 200,000 workers were represented by 160 delegates. The most outstanding members in addition to Lopez, were Pascual Nunez, Bienvenido Rego, Nicanor Tomas, Jose A. Govin, Domingo Rosado, Florentino Pascual, Luis Trujeda, Pauline Diez, Venancio Rodriguez, Rafael Serra, Antonio Penichet, Margarito Iglesias and Enrique Verona. The most important element of the CNOC bylaws was "the total and collective rejection of electoral action". There were in addition, other labour-related accords and slogans: the classic demand for an eight-hour day, and for the right to strike, and a unanimous pledge not to bureaucratise the newly-established organisation.

The new president of Cuba, Gerardo Machado, a typical caudillo considered the political attitude of the workers "not very patriotic" and unleashed a relentless and merciless persecution against the CNOC and its leading militants. Machado ordered the cowardly murders of Enrique Varona, the organiser of the railway workers, Margarito Iglesias, Secretary of the Factory Workers’ Union and Alfredo Lopez, General Secretary of the CNOCC. Machado jailed or deported every anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist activist, member or militant, he could lay his claws on, and declared illegal any union or guild he desired. For over eight years Machado attacked the work of the anarchists, providing an opportunity for the recently founded Communist Party to set itself in a position of force, within the ranks of the CNOC. Years later, toward the end of his regime, the Communists even signed a pact with Machado.

All of this vicious harassment couldn’t prevent the anarchists from gathering within a new organisation, created in 1924, called the Federation of Cuban Anarchist Groups, Federacion de Grupos Anarquistas de Cuba (FGAC). It promulgated strikes, circulated propaganda and contributed to the violence and disorder of the most confused and bloody periods of Cuban history, 1930-33. Machado’s tyranny lasted only until August 12th, 1933, and was brought down by a general strike fermented and maintained by anarchist elements of the Transport Union, first and then by the Streetcar Worker’s Union and finally by the masses of people.

Despite this triumph, the anarchists did not fare well, they had been badly hurt by the despotic Machado government. Their most outstanding thinkers and activists had been victims of government repression or had been deported. After Machado’s downfall, the Communists manoeuvred to retain their lost influence, and began violently attacking the anarchists. Subsequently, when a coup took place against the provisional government on September 4, 1933, the Communists tried a strategy of seeking official support from one Colonel Pulgencio Batista, one of the leaders of the coup and a rising figure among the new military. This manoeuvre would later be known as "the Popular Front".

With the object of regrouping and re-organising, the anarchists tried to find allies within the revolutionary opposition to Batista and some of the more experienced militants became affiliated with a socialist organisation called Young Cuba, Jovan Cuba, led by an archenemy of the Communists, Antonio Guiteras. This time the repression came from the same Colonel Batista, who, with the aid of the Communist Party caused the failure of the general strike in March 1935. This was one of the major blows the anarchists took during this time of social recovery.

At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and Revolution in July 1936, the Cuban anarchists rallied to the defence of the Spanish people and founded in Havana for this purpose the International Anti-Fascist Solidarity, Solidaridad Internacional Anti-Fascista (SIA), which worked with dedication in the middle of a world depression to collect funds, medicines and arms to send to the Spanish comrades of the CNT-FAI (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo-Federacion Anarquista Iberica). Many Cubans died in Spain during the Civil War defending their ideals in the ranks of the anarchist columns. After the Spanish conflict, many returned to Cuba, together with a large number of Spanish comrades who fled Europe with Cuban passports. Again, on this occasion, money was collected for distressed militants.

In 1939, following orders from Moscow, the Cuban Communist Party made a pact with Batista, now a General, who totally lacked popular support, and in exchange for their services and solidarity Batista gave them the directorship of a new Labour Confederation, the Confederation of Cuban Workers, Confederacion de Trabajadores de Cuba, (CTC) the largest labour organisation in Cuba, which included all social factions, including an anarchist minority. In these years, the Cuban workers’ movement, by order of Batista, was organised and legalised under Communist control. The anarchists for their part founded an organisation called the Libertarian Association of Cuba, Associacion Libertaria de Cuba, ALC) with the purpose of regrouping together all the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists who survived the decade of the 1930s.

Continued

3. The Second Republic

4. Castroism and Exile


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