The Cuban Missile Crisis and its test of movements’ negative character

November 28, 2012

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

Editor’s note: On the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we present Raya Dunayevskaya’s analysis of how it tested not only the rulers’ rash folly but the anti-war movement’s short-mindedness–a lesson still urgent today. She wrote this piece as a Political Letter on Oct. 25, 1962, titled “Marxist-Humanism vs. the U.S. Blockade of Cuba, the Russian Missile Bases There, Fidel Castro’s ‘Selective’ Party, All Playing with Nuclear Holocaust.” It can be found in the Raya Dunayevskaya Collection, #3082-87. All footnotes were added by the editors.

Dear Friends:

My preliminary (Oct. 23) statement on the newly created brink-of-war situation as a result of President John F. Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba, Nikita Khrushchev’s missile bases there, and the impotence of the UN the minute the two nuclear titans decide to unleash a war holocaust, correctly stressed the following:

“In opposing war, we make it clear that we are opposed to both nuclear giants: Russia [1] and the U.S. Under no circumstances do we get ourselves maneuvered into a position where we, for a single moment, sound so much against either one of them that we appear to be for the otherAbove all we oppose war not only as ‘againsters’ but primarily because we are for a totally new society, on new, on human beginnings, free from exploitation and discrimination, where the population to a man has the destiny in his own hands, beginning with the workers at the point of production.

Here I wish to develop this position on two levels: (l) the objective situation and nearness of war; and (2) ramifications of this crisis for our existence both as an organization and as a body of ideas, both on the question of continuous activity and writings, beginning with the next issue of the paper.

I. Before the Blockade

A good deal of illumination on both these factors can be gained if we take it out of the present moment of crisis and see that which was inherent in it the day before. It happens that, on the basis of the Resident Editorial Board discussion on Cuba on Oct. 8, Inez gave a report to the Detroit local on Oct. 19, in which she said: “What is new in Cuba today is that Russia is there, not in spirit but in guns, tanks, missiles with nuclear warheads facing the U.S.” This was before Kennedy’s “discovery,” timed to election politics. Then Inez continued: “What is a year old, but has been new for the American movement ever since the fiasco of the U.S.-sponsored invasion of Cuba, is that our basic rights and freedoms have been jeopardized, and these will become more circumscribed. In opposing any invasion or war against the Cuban people, we cannot, however, let Khrushchev get away with playing ‘the champion of peace’ just because he defends Castro, who has taken away the rights and freedoms of the Cuban people as Khrushchev has of the Russian people and Kennedy of the American people. All three are ready to shed blood to preserve their power.”

At that same meeting–and it is necessary to keep in mind that this was held four days before the announcement of the blockade of Cuba–I stressed that what was wrong with people who pretend that Russia is not in Cuba is that they thereby cover up the fact that Russia is the greatest exporter of counter-revolution. It is easy to see counter-revolution when it is as direct as it is in the outright squashing of a revolution, as the Russian destruction of the Hungarian Revolution. It is not easy to see counter-revolution when it is a question of planned exploitation of the proletarian in his daily life. Yet these Russian “technicians” have been sent there, among other reasons, in order to compel the Cuban working people, who are resisting anti-labor laws, fighting the diversion of the Cuban Revolution from its announced humanism to state-capitalist channels, to compel them to produce more and more for less and less, and at the same time leave their political destiny to “the party and its leader.”

Finally, those who can’t get away from the spurious ground for argument established by Communists for the special benefit of the liberals, to the effect that if the U.S. has a “right” to bases in Europe, Russia has a “right” to one in Cuba, fail to see that the Russian arms imported into Cuba are not one-tenth of the threat to the U.S. that they are to the Cuban people. Small Cuba, even when armed by Russia, is no match for U.S. might, but it is a power against the unarmed revolutionary underground, and it is for this purpose precisely that they are intended.

II. The Blockade and the Movements Opposed to It

Out of the clear blue, a few short days after he himself argued against Republican opponents who urged a blockade, J.F. Kennedy made the shocking, unilateral, warlike pronouncement of blockade. Outside of Khrushchev’s break-up of the summit as a result of the U-2 plane spy incident, [2] when the two nuclear giants were pitted against each other with no intermediaries, the people of the world were never closer to the brink of nuclear holocaust. The present confrontation is not limited to verbal threats and busted summits. It is now clear beyond peradventure of doubt that both Kennedy and Khrushchev are mad enough to plunge the world into thermonuclear war. If a summit meeting should result and stave off the day, it clearly will be only a delaying action. It is likewise clear that Cuba has become the possible locale of the outburst, as Berlin has been and remains to this day another focal point, but that what is involved is the United States-Russian competition for domination of the world.

It is at this point that the movements opposing war show their own negative character. The falling into a trap is inevitable when one does not view positively what they are fighting for, instead of only what they are fighting against. Thus though the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (and Committee of 100) are supposed to be for banning the bomb, they had not a word to say against its spread to yet another country, in this case Cuba. Obviously, the Trotskyites, along with the Communists, are not the only ones who think of “good” bombs (Russian) and “bad” bombs (American). The professional nuclear disarmament people have now discovered that, in Cuban hands (or at least on Cuban soil for these are not really in Cuban, but in Russian, hands), the bomb inspires them to the following slogan, “Viva Fidel, Kennedy to Hell.”

OK, let’s take up Fidel. Even without a bomb, he has moved so far away from the revolution he led that it is hard to see what he is making of Cuba other than a satellite of Russia, and I don’t mean it only as a storer of missile bases, but as an outpost of single-party state-capitalism. In the misnamed speech, “Marxism-Leninism,” delivered on Dec. 2, 1961–nearly a year ago, that is–Fidel expounded his conception of why an “integrated revolutionary organization,” that is to say, a single party in which the Communists and what was left of the July 26th Movement [3] merged. From urging his comrades “to overcome (their) scorn for military academies” through his love of The Plan (“I always had a plan”) as against the “anarchism” represented by opposition to him (“I am not going to ask what Manolo Fernández [4] represented, because I believe he represented trash; he was a ‘mad anarchist'”) to his glorification of Khrushchev (“one has only to read Khrushchev’s report to the 22nd Congress….The building of socialism follows a well-beaten path by now”), this petty-bourgeois idiot sees the truly independent third road–against both U.S. and Russia and for a new humanist society–as an incursion of the “strict standard of selection” which must characterize “a party of leadership.” Now if only the workers will continue to work, only harder, and agree that “The Ideal System of Government Is the Party System,”he can continue to lead “collectively”–a la Khrushchev in Russia.

Anyone can–though it must be admitted that Fidel doesn’t do it very well–repeat generalizations of Marxism on the role of the working class. The proof, the only proof, that it is a way of life, not a mere weapon of propaganda, is its realization in life. No such thing is true in Fidel’s Cuba, where not a single organ–from the trades unions to the peasant unions, from the state to the party–is any longer controlled by the working people. Nevertheless, because so many in the nuclear disarmament movement have been forged as “againsters” rather than as proponents of a totally new society, the Communists can set so fatal a trap for them that they forget what their very reason for existence is–opposition to nuclear armament–and shout “Viva Fidel.”

On this life-and-death question, at this life-and-death moment, we can under no circumstances allow ourselves to be swallowed up by this curious movement. If nothing else can be left unsullied, let’s at least make sure that our Marxist-Humanist ideas remain the beacon for future generations as they are for ours. Therefore we must unfurl our banner, and proceed with our opposition to both poles of world capital, putting in their rightly subordinate place those who “follow the leader,” be that Khrushchev or Kennedy.

III. The Testing Point

At the same time, we cannot minimize the totality of the crisis by considering that, Kennedy having finally exposed himself as no different from the Republicans who had urged blockade before and now urge invasion, things will be in any way easier for the building of a Marxist-Humanist movement. It is not only the Birchers [5] that will take upon themselves the role of extra “enforcers.” The hysteria created by the administration is much more ominous than that created by a Sen. Joseph McCarthy who had no such power as Kennedy. Whenever a political position was proven wrong, there were those among the Marxists who tried to misuse a Marxist statement about the whip of the counter-revolution helping the revolutionary development. Its ultimate tragedy was Stalin’s idiotic statement, “After Hitler, us.” First, the statement about the whip of the counter-revolution referred to it urging the revolution on when it is already in process but has not yet reached full fruition, as, say, between February and before October 1917, when the Kornilov episode exposed Kerensky [6] and allowed the full development of the Russian Revolution. In a non-revolutionary period, the problems confronting Marxist-Humanism are made harder, not lessened, by the blockade, for the man who has the means to start a nuclear holocaust does not forget for a moment his power to press down upon the opposition to his war-provoking policy.

Take even the minor question of Kennedy’s timing his announcement of nuclear bases in Cuba to when it would be most useful to the Democrats running for election. Two percent one way or the other may win him the election of a Governor or a Congressman. Once won–or lost–however, he has to be concerned not with a 2% margin but with the fact that over 60% of the American people are opposed to invasion of Cuba. As the capitalist ruler he is, he then turns the power against his own people. Everyone who is not for his suicidal policy becomes “the enemy.”

Of course, we increase our activity, not lessen it. Of course, we know the universal opposition to war and can build on that. Of course, we build our organization along with developing our ideas comprehensively, but we can do so only by being fully conscious of all the obstacles in the way. This is why the preliminary statement emphasized that:

“We have no power other than those of ideas, even as the working people have no arms other than those of their labor power. Therefore it would be folly to act as if by opposition we mean the kind of arms that only the bourgeoisie has. They–both Kennedy and Khrushchev–have arms and ships and missiles and prisons and jet bombers. They can afford to play games as to who is the ‘aggressor’ and ‘deceiver’ and who is the violated and deceived while they jockey for best position to attack. We refuse to get into any such arguments….Our position must be as unique as it is, not either ‘popular frontist’ or pretense to power.”…

Everything we now do–whether that be a front-pager, a pamphlet, an educational, activity in a strike or picket line–must bear the positive stamp of Marxist-Humanism and the totally new foundations for a truly human society. Johnny put it succinctly enough when he said that we must learn to express our ideas clearly “in 25 words or less,” that is to say, with full consciousness that our time is not unlimited.

While we are under no illusion that times of such heightened crises are propitious for building a mass organization, we are sure that the new sense of urgency is just the impulse needed to intensify our activity in a way that the meeting of the movement from theory with that from practice will not be left to chance. It is a time of testing of individuals as well as ideas and organization.




1. Dunayevskaya refused to call the state-capitalist Russian empire “USSR” (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), because it was neither socialist nor run by actual soviets, and was dominated by Russia.

2. On May 1, 1960, a U.S. U-2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers was shot down over Russian air space, causing the breakup of a U.S.-Russia summit on disarmament.

3. The July 26th Movement was a revolutionary group organized to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Fidel Castro came to be its leader.

4. Manolo Fernández was a Cuban labor union leader who was ousted by the government shortly after Castro took power.

5. The extremist right-wing John Birch Society, still active today, claimed that labor unions and the civil rights movement were Communist conspiracies. One of its founders was the father of the billionaire Koch brothers.

6. Alexander Kerensky, a socialist opportunist, headed the Provisional government set up following the February 1917 Russian Revolution. General Lavr Kornilov led a failed counter-revolution against Kerensky in August. Lenin’s Bolsheviks helped defeat Kornilov, opening the way for the October Revolution.

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