Samuel Farber Cuba article in the International Socialist Review


Posted to on July 19, 2006


Sam Farber is a Cuban-American professor at Brooklyn College who basically writes Sovietology and Cubanology type material in the name of socialism. For 3rd camp tendencies such as the British SWP, the American ISO and the journal New Politics, Farber is an indispensable expert--especially necessary in light of their general lack of knowledge and first-hand experience with the island.


Farber doesn't always get a free pass in this neighborhood. John Rees, a British SWP theoretician, wrote a fine little book titled "In Defense of October," which answers Farber's "Before Stalinism: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy," alongside Sovietologists like Robert Conquest, Adam Ulam et al. Rees points out that Farber's arguments and data echo those of the anti-Communists. Since the state capitalists feel defensive when it comes to attacks on the Soviet leadership before the counter-revolution (their term, not mine), Farber's assault on the Soviet "golden age" has to be answered. No such quarter is given to the Cuban socialist revolution obviously, which in their eyes never occurred.


Farber has an article in the latest ISR, the magazine of the ISO, titled "Cubas likely transition and its politics." ( It is one of those exercises you see all the time in the bourgeois press--speculating about a post-Castro Cuba. I want to take up some of his findings, but will precede that with some reflections on Farber's previous utterances on Cuba.


In 2003, Farber was interviewed by New Politics. ( He spoke about the Varela Project and Oswaldo Pay (who just received an honorary degree from my employer) but did not once mention that the US financed them. He also made the startling comment that Cuban dissidents were put in mental hospitals, just like in the USSR. After doing some research on this question, I discovered that the sole reference to such a thing in Lexis-Nexis was Milagro Cruz Cano who had indeed spent some time in a psychiatric hospital.


At the risk of coming across like a hard-line Stalinist, from what I have seen Cano does seem a bit *off*. Cano was a guitar-playing religious zealot who hooked up with the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez after leaving Cuba.


A few blocks from where the cameras wait and the people chant, Milagros Cruz Cano, a blind 32-year-old exile, has been living in a tent on the street, existing on Gatorade and water.


Until the moment she was finally banished from Cuba 10 months ago, she believed her daughter, who is now 9 years old, would be allowed to come with her.


"When I told my daughter that they allowed me to take my two dogs, but not her," Milagros explained through a translator, my daughter, she say, "Mama, put me in the cage and dress me as a dog, so I can be with you. Please, Mama, do not leave me."


(The Boston Herald April 6, 2000)


One wonders if Sam Farber ever felt the need to set up a Free Milagros Cruz Cano Committee to defend her right to play Christian hymns on the guitar and dress up her daughter like a dog. Probably not. More to the point, you will simply find *no* allegations of Cuba putting dissidents into mental hospitals from outfits like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Trust me, if there were such abuses, these groups would be all over them like white on rice.


Farber also doesn't care for Che Guevara very much. In a New Politics article from the summer of 1998, he describes Che in terms usually reserved for somebody like Enver Hoxha:


By the time he left Guatemala in 1954 in the aftermath of the overthrow of the constitutional government of Jacobo Arbenz orchestrated by U.S. imperialism, Guevara was thoroughly politicized, accepting a Stalinist view of the world. This was true in both the generic sense that he had become a staunch supporter of the political model represented by the USSR of a repressive one-party state owning and controlling the economy without any democratic popular controls, independent unions, workers' or civil liberties, as well as in the narrow literal sense of his great admiration for Joseph Stalin.


Oddly enough, despite his extreme Stalinophobia, Farber is more charitable to the Cuban Communist Party before the Cuban revolution than he is to the July 26th movement, which the Popular Socialist Party (as the Cuban CP named itself) held at arm's length. In Farber's eyes, the PSP was "more anticapitalist" than the Fidelistas in 1956-1958. ("The Cuban Communists in the Early Stages of the Cuban Revolution: Revolutionaries or Reformists?", Latin American Research Review, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1983). Since so much of state capitalist and left social democratic politics is consumed with ideology, it is not surprising that Farber deems the PSP "more anticapitalist". However, we should heed the words of Karl Marx, who advised Bracke that "Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes."


I can certainly understand why the grizzled old social democrats around New Politics would gravitate to Farber. Why young radicals in the ISO or the British SWP would not have an allergic reaction such prose does puzzle me, however. I guess that's the result of remaining steeped in ignorance about Cuba and having a steadfast objection to visiting the country.


Turning now to Farber's piece in the ISR, one should not be surprised that he relies on Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Horst Fabian's possible scenario for a post-Castro Cuba. For anybody who follows such things, Mesa-Lago and Fabian, frequent writing partners, are recognizable as top dogs in US Cubanology. One wonders if an article submitted to ISR that relied on Adam Ulam and Robert Conquest, their Sovietology counterparts, would also pass muster.


I myself would be hesitant to rely on Mesa-Lago in light of his 1998 projection that "the probability of a strong, steady recovery in Cuba appears to be very low, particularly after the poor performance of 1997-98." ( In fact, just the opposite is true. The Cuban economy has done quite nicely over the past 10 years, enough to catapult it into the top tier of the UN Human Development Indicators along with Sweden, Canada, etc.


But who am I to advise Sam Farber. He is a tenured professor, after all.


Most of the ISR article is filled with empty speculation about the Cuban army spearheading a China type transformation and similar thumb-sucking conjectures. Frankly, this sort of exercise is a dime a dozen. You can find pretty much the same sort of thing in an article written by Miguel Angel Centeno, a Princeton professor, for a 1995 conference on "Toward a New Cuba?: Legacies of Revolution." The paper also relies heavily on Mesa-Lago and includes such jewels as:


The Cuban leadership may be aware of the impossibility of maintaining the current status quo and may also be wary of the kind of chaos often associated with transitions (and described below). In that case, and in combination with some "healthy" self-interest, the so- called Chinese model may appear quite attractive.






Finally, Farber advises his readers that in the chaos following the death of Fidel Castro, it is necessary for genuine socialists as opposed to the Stalinist fakers in Cuba to take control of the situation:


"In addition to having to confront the Right, the new democratic revolutionary Left will also face major obstacles and intense competition from the neo-Fidelista forces described above. The two will clash in terms of two entirely different conceptions of the Left and socialism, in theory and in social organizational practice. For many years, the Left has been associated with a critique of and opposition to capitalism. However, this conception retains a sometimes fatal ambiguity. Anticapitalism does not necessarily mean pro-socialism if we define socialism as a movement 'from below' attempting to establish the democratic rule of the workers and the majority of the population."


Such ambitions strike me as being vain in every sense of the word. It is a form of vanity to compare oneself favorably to men and women who have shaken the world to its foundations. It is also vain in the sense of being an exercise in futility.


The comrades in the state capitalist tradition have a major challenge in front of them. Capitalism is being challenged to one degree or another throughout Latin America. The political and spiritual roots of that challenge are in the island of Cuba. As long as one holds the leadership of the revolution that took place there in sectarian contempt, the more difficult it will be to align yourself with the real movement, as Karl Marx referred to it in the letter to Bracke.


The Associated Press Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Bolivian President Pays Tribute to Guevara


LA PAZ, Bolivia -- President Evo Morales celebrated the birthday of Che Guevara Wednesday, the first time a top Bolivian leader has paid tribute to the revolutionary who was executed in the Andean nation four decades ago.


Surrounded by Cuban and Venezuelan officials, Morales observed the 78th anniversary of Guevara's birth, using the occasion to praise his close allies President Fidel Castro of Cuba and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.


Guevara, an Argentine, launched an armed revolt in 1966 to bring communism to Bolivia after helping lead the 1959 Cuban Revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista and thrust Castro into power.


He waged a guerrilla insurgency for 13 months in Bolivia but was captured and executed by the Bolivian army at age 39.


Morales flew in a helicopter loaned by Venezuela to the small town of La Higuera _ the site of Guevara's execution _ 480 miles southeast of La Paz.


Local children and nearby residents blew out a birthday cake with 78 candles representing how old Guevara would be if were alive.


He said in a speech that a decade ago he had a dream that there would be other Cubas in Latin America.


"I wasn't wrong," he said. "Now we do have another commander, colleague Chavez." He also praised Castro's Cuba, and he said both leader have shown they unafraid of "the empire," a reference to the United States.


Since taking office in January, Morales has forged close alliances with Cuba and Venezuela, which have flooded Bolivia _ South America's poorest country _ with aid.


Morales thanked Venezuela and Cuba for their aid and said he would make Castro a cake for his next birthday made of coca _ the leaf from which cocaine is derived.


The coca leaf has traditional and legal uses in Bolivia although the U.S. has long backed its eradication.