C.L.R. James's "Critical Support" of Fidel Castro's Cuba

Quest, Matthew

Publisher:  Insurgent Notes
Date Written:  17/05/2016
Year Published:  2016  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX19389

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.



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.

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 James, anti-imperialist and revolutionary socialist, saw Cuba as the uncritical embodiment of the search for a new identity for the Caribbean—though this was at times his public stance.

“Critical support” of a former colonized nation that appears to be on a non-capitalist path requires a stance of “no blank checks.” This means the offer of solidarity is not simply evaluated by what imperialists think of the peripheral government it is seeking to subordinate. Nor can it be conceived only by what those governments claiming to resist empire might ask of anti-colonialists abroad. Rather, it is crucial what those offering solidarity also believe about the content of socialism and democracy. This may more easily be expressed at a distance than when visiting a foreign land as an official guest of the aspiring peripheral capitalist or socialist government resisting empire. Nevertheless, historically, this is something radicals have had to negotiate if we wish to offer solidarity to ordinary people, not primarily the governments above them. We should wish to learn about the actual social relations in that society, so we may return to educate our own people in what has been found abroad, not simply confirming everything we may have already believed in theory.

Subject Headings

Insert T_CxShareButtonsHorizontal.html here