After the cessation of hostilities with Spain, the United States found itself as the undisputed dominant power in the Americas. Having concluded its expansion to the Pacific at the beginning of the 1890s, the eyes of the eagle, with its political and economic ambitions, turned to the Caribbean. Cuba represented, from the days of Columbus, the strategic keystone of the region, not only in North-South communications, but also as the doorway to the planned Panama Canal. The idea of possessing Cuba, be it through violent takeover or through purchase from Spain, had been contemplated for decades by the rulers on the Potomac. So, it wasn't strange that any excuse would do as justification for intervening in Cuba, and the inept Spanish government conveniently provided one.
There was, however, sympathy for Cuban independence among the American people. The segment of public opinion that opposed annexation of Cuba first caused vacillation, and later reflection, in the imperialist sector controlling U.S. foreign policy. This sector sought a solution that would be palatable to all parties involved in the Spanish-American War, and they managed to find one that appeared satisfactory.
The U.S. occupation of Cuba began on January 1, 1899. The military governor, John Brooke, complying with orders from President McKinley, and in line with the Treaty of Paris, pacified those who wanted integration with Spain-Weyler's former fanatics -with promises of an iron fist. He also offered posts in the new civil administration to both those who sought autonomy from Spain, but not formal independence, and those who had sought formal independence. He disarmed the army of MÃ¡ximo Gomez in the same manner as the U.S. disarmed the Apaches-by paying for rifles. And he promised Cuba's businessmen and industrialists economic growth and "social peace."
The pro-independence patriots, who appeared to have lost the political battle-be it through political ineptitude or rapacity for power-had to content themselves with the promise of future independence. This promised independence was conditional upon their talent for governing, good conduct, and honest intentions during this period when they were put to the test. Of course, given that the government in Washington was ceding them the right to independence, it expected these domesticated separatists to play by its rules of the game.
Thus was the stage set during the first U.S. occupation of Cuba; and several things happened during it worthy of mention. The first symptom of social unrest occurred with the exhumation of the remains of Enrique Creci from an unmarked grave in Matanzas. Upon the transport of his body to Havana, a group of war-of-independence officers and veterans in the funeral cortege clashed with the newly created Cuban police after the police prohibited a worker armed with a red banner from marching in the procession. A melee broke out between the anarchists and veterans on one side, and the police on the other. As Antonio Penichet put it, "And so the blood flowed." The separatist leaders in the funeral procession included Salvador Cisneros Betancourt and Juan Gualberto GÃ³mez. Dr. Francisco Federico Falco was stopped by police before he could speak, thus preventing the anarchist orator from presenting his eulogy to Creci.
Dr. Falco had arrived in Cuba from Italy at the end of the war. He followed in the steps of his compatriot, Orestes Ferrara, who, despite his initial affiliation with anarchism, had allied himself to the Cuban independence movement. Ferrara, who reached the rank of colonel, had been named interim civil governor of the province of Las Villas. He relates in his memoirs that a strike broke out against merchants, Spanish industrialists and the British-owned railroad company in Sagua la Grande. Ferrara sided with the workers. He states, "It was necessary to rescue Cuba through raising wages [because] the income of the capitalists had increased by 200%." Siding with the workers created problems for him with the occupying authorities, and he was forced to resign his post and leave Cuba temporarily. Dr. Falco followed him.
During this same year, 1899, a new stage of social struggle began in Cuba. Its first manifestation was the "Masons' Strike," which began on August 20. It later extended to the entire construction trade, and was organized and backed by Cuba's anarchists, who had regrouped into a new organization under the name Alianza de Trabajadores. In September, after a public meeting and publication of a manifesto in which the anarchists alluded to the "international struggle for the eight-hour day, the red flag of the workers, the Chicago martyrs," the police arrested the Alianza's principal organizers, Francisco de Armas, Serafin Busto, Juan Aller, Francisco Carballeda and Evaristo Estenoz (who was murdered in 1912 during the race war that broke out in Oriente province). The governor of Havana, William Lodlow, promised an adequate punishment for "the enemies of society who wave the red flag of anarchy." These "enemies" apparently included two new anarchist publications which backed the strike, ¡Tierra!, under the direction of Abelardo Saavedra, and the short-lived El Nuevo Ideal (1899-1901), under the direction of AdriÃ¡n del Valle, who had returned from New York along with Luis Barcia and other compa-eros with the idea of founding this new publication.
The strike ended with an apparent proletarian failure. The workers had never received the full backing of the public who, intimidated and coerced, had turned pessimistic. Strikes, they were assured by the authorities, endangered the future republic. Despite this reverse, two weeks after having ended the strike, the bricklayers received a raise and a promise to "study" their demand for an eight-hour day-a demand that was finally realized 34 years later.
In September 1899, a new, more moderate-but under notable libertarian influence-labor organization appeared, the Liga General de Trabajadores. Its organizers were Enrique Messonier, RamÃ³n Rivero y Rivero, Ambrosio Borges and José Rivas. The League backed a new periodical directed by Messonier, ¡Alerta! This group of anarchists had returned from Tampa and Key West under the independence banner, and still had reservations about their old compa-eros in Havana. It was for this reason that they decided to set up shop separately from the Alianza de Trabajadores.
Despite failures over the previous decades, the annexationist temptation reared its head again with the U.S. intervention in and occupation of Cuba. McKinley's idea of buying Cuba from Spain in 1898, before the Spanish-American War, as well as the outcome of that war and the attitude of some separatist leaders, gave the annexationists reason to return to Cuba, and gave the anarchists reason to worry. The occupation of Cuba by foreign troops, especially U.S. troops, would not facilitate the libertarians' plans for social change.
According to the American historian Kirwin R. Shaffer, El Nuevo Ideal published an article signed by Luis Barcia in which "Barcia attacked what appeared to be U.S. designs for annexing the island, urging readers to fight against such designs." Later, Barcia reminded the U.S. authorities of the crisis they had provoked in the Philippines by forgetting their promises of independence for that land, and by not recognizing the republic led by Emilio Aguinaldo. Barcia also reminded the Cuban separatists of their duty to struggle for total independence, and, according to Shaffer, "led the anarchist critique of the meaning of independence, challenging the elite's abandonment of the popular sentiment for broad social change."
In the same publication, Barcia insisted on concrete aid to the campesinos who still suffered in the cities as a result of the Reconcentration Decree. Shaffer notes: "Barcia claimed that 400,000 reconcentrados were slowly dying in the cities from starvation . . . Families should have been able to return to their lands . . . but the rich and the government appeared unconcerned." This demonstrated not only humanitarian concerns, but that Cuba's anarchists desired to build solidarity between urban workers and their rural cousins.
Meanwhile, Adrian del Valle opposed the creation of a workers party as proposed by Messonier, Rivero y Rivero, and even the MemorÃ¡ndum TipogrÃ¡fico (organ of the typographical workers), reminding them of the agreements at the workers' congress of 1887 and the lessons learned from the independence struggle against Spain, in which neither the anarchists nor the separatists had taken part in colonial electoral politics.
In December, McKinley replaced John Brooke as military governor with Leonard Wood-who was hardline and more authoritarian. And at the beginning of Wood's rule, Errico Malatesta arrived in Havana.
The Italian anarchist writer and thinker was one of the most advanced anarchist theoreticians of his time. As a resident of Paterson, New Jersey, Malatesta was also well known to the occupying authorities. His numerous talks in the CÃrculo de Trabajadores and also in the neighboring (to Havana) town of Regla were received by a wide audience that filled the halls. He was interviewed in several periodicals, where he advanced "the Idea," but he also suffered delays and temporary prohibitions of various speeches until the provincial government decided to suspend his right to address meetings, even though he had already been prohibited from mentioning the word "anarchy" in his discourses.
There was a final, definitive prohibition of Malatesta's talks and, on Malatesta's initiative, AdriÃ¡n del Valle requested a meeting including Malatesta with the civil governor, Emilio Nu-ez, who had mounted pro-independence military expeditions from the United States. Nu-ez was well known to Cuban anarchists living in the U.S. He was also responsible for denying Malatesta the right to speak in public. In their meeting, Nu-ez declared that, "a law exists from the time of Spanish rule that prohibits anarchist propaganda." According to del Valle, Malatesta responded, "With all due respect, one observes that when General Nu-ez fought the Spanish government, it didn't bother him to disobey the Spanish laws that he's now so committed to upholding."
Even though Nu-ez perceived the irony, he didn't appreciate it, and Malatesta left Cuba, still barred from speaking in public. Manuel M. Miranda, who, according to del Valle, had been "deported to Chafarinas [during the war], not for being an insurrectionist, but for being an anarchist," wrote several articles in the liberal periodical La DiscusiÃ³n "attacking the governor and those nationalist political elements" who had pressured Nu-ez to make the arbitrary decision banning Malatesta's speeches. This was despite Malatesta's having favored Cuban independence. During the war of independence, del Valle recalls that Malatesta had maintained a constant, pro-independence attitude, and that he had stated, an "individual who struggles against tyranny of any type cannot help but struggle for the independence of Cuba." (This put Malatesta more in the camp of Messonier, Creci, and Miranda than that of Roig San MartÃn.)
Before returning to the United States, Malatesta wrote an article for La DiscusiÃ³n. In it, he expressed a "potent sympathy" for "these valiant Cuban workers, both black and white . . . who have welcomed me so cordially." He went on to say that he was sure that Cuba's anarchists would "take their place among the most advanced elements . . . struggling for the total emancipation of all humanity." Malatesta lamented the imposition "upon the Cuban people of the same Spanish laws" against which they had struggled, and that in that struggle "thousands of Cubans had died, including MartÃ, Maceo and Creci." Malatesta stated that the class struggle would not cease because of the declaration of a republic, and he reminded his compa-eros that the social question continued to be as pertinent in the present as in Spanish colonial times, because the laws had not changed. The future republic, Malatesta hoped, would give the anarchists more room in which to act, but at the same time he predicted that the social panorama would continue to deteriorate.
As could be seen, the situation of Cuba's anarchists under the Yankee occupation government was the same that existed when Spain ruled the island, with the aggravating factors that the remnants of the pro-independence movement still appeared not to understand libertarian ideas and that the progressive ideology of the PRC had died with MartÃ. Cuba's anarchists faced a difficult task.
At the turn of the century, Cuba was still divided into a deeply polarized class system. On the one hand, there was a powerful minority that represented capital and foreign interests. This class was legitimized by the Constitution of 1901, and was supported by the government of the day; it was comprised of Cubans as much as Spaniards, and it included entrepreneurs, merchants, and industrialists. On the other hand, there was the great majority of the population-workers and campesinos submerged in poverty, attempting to escape hunger and to recover from the misery left in the wake of the war of extermination between Spain and the pro-independence movement.
The island was in a state of total prostration, and therefore it was very difficult-given their almost total lack of resources-for Cuba's anarchists to mount a social struggle under such deplorable conditions. But even under these conditions, the anarchists helped to organize many strikes, some of which were won, some of which were lost.
Before the inauguration of the dreamed-of republic, nascent U.S. imperialism imposed the Platt Amendment to the Cuban Constitution. Under it, as a complement to the Treaty of Paris, the U.S. government abrogated to itself the right to intervene in Cuba and the other former Spanish colonies any time its political or economic interests were threatened. The Platt Amendment was not only insulting but also onerous to the people of Cuba, because under it they would have to pay not only for U.S. military expeditions, but also for occupations and their concomitant bureaucracy.
The reason for the imposition of the Platt Amendment was, of course, to protect the already huge U.S. economic interests in the island; and if the Cuban republic failed or went in a direction not to the liking of U.S. interests, the Amendment would provide a convenient pretext for intervention in or annexation of the island. But despite the odious nature of the Platt Amendment, opposition to it was weak in the early years of the 20th century.
The anarchists were among the few to attack this abuse. Both ¡Tierra! and El Nuevo Ideal published energetic protests against the Amendment. The reasons for this were clear. According to Shaffer, "From an anarchist perspective, it was obvious that Platt negated Cuba's independence." Later, del Valle would remind the Cubans of their spirit of rebellion by invoking the memory of Antonio Maceo, the most famous black general in Cuban history, who was one of the heroes of the war of independence and who, like MartÃ, died in battle. Del Valle declared that if Maceo could rise from the dead and see what was happening in Cuba, shame and indignation would kill him. It's rather ironic that this appeal came from an anarchist, who was by nature anti-nationalist. Yet this anarchist appealed to the memory of a Cuban hero to make this political point-a point which in reality should have been made by the former separatist leaders and their followers. But they were intent on "independence," whatever the price and however illusionary.
The people of Cuba received the advent of the First Republic, on May 20, 1902, with genuine jubilation-despite the insertion of the Platt Amendment into their constitution the previous year. The new president, TomÃ¡s Estrada Palma, had served as the PRC representative in New York, and was now an old man of 70. He felt little sympathy for the anarchists, despite the support they had given to the independence cause. The second man of importance in Cuban politics at this time was General MÃ¡ximo GÃ³mez, an elderly authoritarian who resisted any and all types of social reforms, and who, like Estrada, had little understanding of anarchist ideas.
On November 4, 1902, a work stoppage, which became known as the "Apprentice Strike," occurred in the tobacco industry. This strike resulted from discrimination in hiring in favor of Spaniards over Cubans, and was backed by the anarchists in the unions and in their periodicals. The strike extended to towns neighboring Havana, and involved clashes with police. The strike then spread to other industries and the violence escalated. Despite the sympathies of many patriots with ties to the anarchists, the government of Estrada Palma refused to negotiate, which resulted in violent clashes with the new repressive government force, the Rural Guard. Finally, when the hoped-for popular backing didn't materialize, the strike's leaders ended it. The Cuban spirit of liberty had converted itself into pessimism and conformity, into a fear that any type of social disturbance would cause the failure of the first attempt of the Cubans to govern themselves.
The failure of the Apprentice Strike was more a blow to the Liga General de Trabajadores, than to the more radical anarchists of the CÃrculo de Trabajadores. The Liga was more involved in the strike, and its leaders had tried to come to an accommodation with Estrada, expecting some backing from their old pro-independence allies. As we've seen, no accommodation was reached.
The fiasco of the Apprentice Strike forced the Liga's two principal leaders, Messonier and Rivero y Rivero, to retire from the field of labor struggles. Rivero y Rivero ended his days in the shadow of poverty, and Messonier threw himself into the political camp, in the Partido Nacional Cubano first, and later in the Partido Liberal, without ever renouncing the ideas of his youth, even though he had put aside the proletarian cause.
In the campesino sector, the anarchists commenced at about this time to organize in the sugar industry. This was the first time in Cuba that such an effort had been made in the island's largest and richest industry. The response of the owners, in the Cruces area in the center of Cuba, was violent. Two leading workers, Casa-as and Montero, were murdered, which provoked, of course, protests by ¡Tierra! and ¡Alerta! The crime remained unpunished. In 1903, there was an unsuccessful strike on May Day protesting these murders.
In the same year El Nuevo Ideal disappeared; but ¡Tierra!-founded and directed in 1899 by Abelardo Saavedra, with Francisco GonzÃ¡lez Sola as principal collaborator-remained. Of all the anarchist papers, magazines, bulletins, etc. that appeared in Cuba, ¡Tierra! was outstanding for two reasons: it was a weekly paper which survived the ups and downs of Cuban anarchism at the beginning of the century, and it published an extraordinary number of issues; between 1899 and 1915 over 600 issues appeared. This happened despite severe repression. Saavedra was fined, jailed, and was finally deported to Spain in 1911. But despite all this, ¡Tierra! continued to appear regularly, under the direction of Francisco GonzÃ¡lez Sola and Antonio Ojeda, until 1915.
(¡Tierra! entered its second stage in 1924 under the direction of JesÃºs Iglesias, and published 42 issues in that year. It published the same number the following year, until it was shut down by the government. It appeared yet again under difficult circumstances and under the direction of Manuel Ferro in the summer of 1933, and over the next few months eight issues appeared. This notable newspaper focused on agrarian problems such as the establishment of agricultural cooperatives, the living conditions of the campesinos, and the organization of workers in the sugar industry.)
The second U.S. intervention in Cuba took place in 1906, owing to a political crisis sparked by Estrada Palma's desire to be reelected, and the consequent near outbreak of civil war between the government and the Partido Liberal. At the end of Estrada Palma's time in office, strikes broke out in Havana, Ciego de Ãvila, and Santiago de Cuba involving railroad workers, tobacco workers, brick layers, and urban transport workers. The government found a solution favorable to the workers, who had demanded-in the "Money Strike"-pay in U.S. rather than Spanish currency in the absence of Cuban currency. Still, the social situation continued to deteriorate.
As was reported many years later, in 1956, by the anarchist periodical Solidaridad GastronÃ³mica, "In 1907, the first national speaking tour [of anarchist orators] took place; it included the fiery speakers GonzÃ¡lez SolÃ¡, Abelardo Saavedra, Vicente LÃ³pez, and Domingo Germinal. Marcelo Salinas recalls that the orators included Pedro Irazozqui and Isidoro Ruiz. He also recalls that, "When [the libertarian educator and founder of the 'free school'] Francisco Ferrer Guardia was tried and executed [on trumped-up charges] in Barcelona in 1909, the crime had repercussions in Cuba, and resulted in numerous public acts," which, as one would expect, were violently suppressed. These "public acts" consisted of street protests carried out by the anarchists involved in the non-religious schools in Cuba, which were operated along the principles outlined by Ferrer.
All in all, the social panorama in Cuba in the first decade of the 20th century couldn't have been more frustrating. The new president, José Miguel GÃ³mez of the Partido Liberal, who had succeeded Estrada Palma, had been a general during the war with Spain. Under GÃ³mez' rule, the situation of the workers and campesinos didn't change much despite the improving economic condition of the island and its sugar industry.
Politically, Cuba was divided into two camps at this time, liberals and conservatives, as Spain had been under CÃ¡novas. Not that it made much difference who was in power. As in other countries, whichever side gained power-the "generals and doctors," as it was put during that epoch-lacked even the most minimal social conscience. The problems of the workers and campesinos were as remote from these politicians as was Siberia. They simply divided their countrymen into two groups: those who supported them and those who opposed them. Both considered the anarchists-anti-statists by principle-to be their sworn enemies. The only difference between the liberals and the conservatives was that when the liberals were in the opposition, their more progressive elements attempted to attract the support of the anarchists through small favors, such as help with legal defense or through the reduction of prison time, more with the aim of manipulating them and creating social problems for the government than through any genuine sympathy. For their part, the conservatives dedicated themselves to the simple persecution of anarchists.
The outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910 had a serious impact on Cuba's workers and campesinos. The words of Ricardo Flores MagÃ³n and PrÃ¡xedis Guerrero in the pages of the revolutionary newspaper, RegeneraciÃ³n, and the guns of Emiliano Zapata served as spurs to the consciences of Cuba's sugar workers. This was in part because Flores MagÃ³n had a standing relationship with the Cuban paper ¡Tierra!, which had attacked the Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz ceaselessly; this had won ¡Tierra's editor, Abelardo Saavedra, criminal charges and a fine from the Cuban government.
On July 14, 1911, the liberal government of GÃ³mez was faced with strikes by tobacco workers, teamsters, and bakers, with the open backing of ¡Tierra! All of these strikes, despite having just demands, roundly failed. The new Governmental Secretary, Gerardo Machado, instituted repressive policies and deported many Spanish anarchists (including ¡Tierra's longtime editor, Abelardo Saavedra, and strike organizers Antonio F. Vieytes and Francisco Peréz) as "undesirable foreigners," and at the same time jailed many Cuban anarchists. This government policy of deportation, consecrated in the "Decree Laws," would continue for more than 20 years. This was protested to little avail by the working public and its organizations. The government's accompanying propaganda campaign consisted of calumny for the anarchists and an attempt to divide Cuba's workers into two groups: "pernicious foreign workers" and "submissive native workers."
In this same year, there was unrest in the sugar cane cultivation are centered around Manzanillo, in Oriente province. In February 1911, ¡Tierra! denounced the abuses, including shootings, that the sugar workers were suffering, and a sugar workers strike broke out that continued into 1912.
In that year, the Cruces Congress, the first conference of Cuban rural workers and campesinos, took place. Kirwin Shaffer relates, "Since before the anarchist-led 1912 Cruces Congress, the central town of Cruces had been a center of anarchist activity." He continues, citing the marxist historian Olga Cabrera:
By 1912 Cruces had become a center for sugar production. From 1910 until his expulsion in 1911, Abelardo Saavedra had been publishing his anarchist ¡RebeliÃ³n! from Cruces. Saavedra organized a Workers' Center in Cruces in July 1911 in an attempt to disseminate propaganda and to strengthen the coalition between rural and urban areas. To this end the Cruces Congress opened in February 1912, seeking to create an island-wide labor federation, establish rationalist [non-religious] schools, push for a workplace accident law, push for an eight-hour day, abolish piecework and establish a minimum wage. [These were] clearly more than just "anarchist" goals, but broader working class concerns. While Saavedra was expelled in 1911, other anarchists, including Enriqueta Saavedra de FernÃ¡ndez and the well known female anarchist Emilia Rodriguez de Lipiz, helped with the conference's organization.
In 1913, General Mario GarcÃa Menocal, who was even more authoritarian than GÃ³mez, assumed the presidency and became Cuba's first dictator. In that same year, the organizing campaign among the campesinos in Cruces was renewed with the backing of the FederaciÃ³n Local de Villaclara, which covered the campesinos in that part of the island, including Sagua la Grande, Cienfuegos, and Caibarién. The AsociaciÃ³n de TipÃ³grafos (Typographers Association) also reinvigorated itself that year and continued publishing the organ of that old anarchist trade, MemorÃ¡ndum TipogrÃ¡fico. This was not surprising. From the middle of the 19th century, Cuba's publication workers had had one of the most combative unions on the island. The typographers had given Cuba Enrique Creci and J.C. Campos. In this new epoch, some of the most outstanding figures from this trade were Alfredo LÃ³pez, Antonio Penichet, and Pablo Guerra. They led strikes in Santa Clara, and participated in violent acts in Camagüey (in which the government accused the editors of ¡Tierra! of complicity). There's no doubt that the anarchists responded in kind to the violence visited upon them by the government. Their response included street disorders and armed attacks upon the police in urban areas and upon the Guardia Rural in the countryside, in addition to some bombings.
At the beginning of 1915, the government deported to Spain, in accord with the new, anti-anarchist laws, Juan Tenorio, Vicente LÃpiz, and RomÃ¡n Delgado, all of whom were accused of promoting sugar worker strikes in Camagüey and GuantÃ¡namo, and of supporting demonstrations in Havana. ¡Tierra! was seized and its publication suspended. The government seized its last issue, went through its offices, and suspended its publication indefinitely. This left the anarchists without a publication of their own, but their views continued to be published in like-minded periodicals, with the anarchists themselves doing the typography and printing.
For their part, the anarchists involved in the campesino campaign in Cruces published a document known as the Manifiesto de Cruces, which for its literary quality had considerable impact and served as an ode to anarchist combativity. It stated, "We sustain our cry with the force of our arms," and "to remain silent is to accept."
Fernando Iglesias signed the Manifiesto, which circulated widely among Cuba's sugar workers, and which outlined the right to rebel against the exploitation and abuse of landowners and capitalists- including the norteamericanos and Spaniards who controlled the greater part of Cuba's sugar industry. Iglesias was arrested a few days after the Manifiesto was issued. Other signers of this document included Laureano Otero, Manuel LÃ³pez, José Lage, BenjamÃn Janeiros, Luis Meneses, Santos GarÃ³s, Miguel Ripoll, Francisco Baragoitia, Andrés Fuentes, TomÃ¡s RayÃ³n and Francisco Ramos. Concretely, the Manifiesto demanded the eight-hour work day and a 25% wage increase.
The sugar industry could have easily afforded this, given that sugar prices on the world market rose during World War I above the level of the previous century. Instead, it chose repression. The government of GarcÃa Menocal violently repressed all protests, using the Ejército Pretoriano (Pretorian Army) and the Guardia Rural to persecute, deport and murder anarchists. In Santiago de Cuba, the young anarchist Adolfo Pérez Rizo was murdered for simply challenging GarcÃa Menocal verbally in the pages of ¡Tierra!
In April 1917, one day after the United States, Cuba declared war on the Central Powers, a move which-given its domination by the U.S.-favorably affected sugar prices and the Cuban economy. The following period came to be known as the "Time of the Fat Cows." Having perhaps learned from Cuba's independence debacle, the Cuban anarchists decided to remain neutral, despite the urging of the influential anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, from London, to take the side of the allies. (This was in contrast to the "neutrality" he had urged upon Cuba's anarchists in 1897.) As a consequence of refusing to take sides, the Cuban anarchists were accused of being "Germanophiles."
In 1917, GarcÃa Menocal, the conservative candidate, decided to take the presidential election through force of arms, and the liberals rose in armed revolt, initiating a dictatorial period in Cuba, with GarcÃa at the helm the first few years. In this same year, the Centro Obrero (Workers' Center) was established in Havana at 2 Egido Street. It consisted of a meeting hall and offices in a poor barrio near the center of the city. The Centro Obrero quickly became the most notable anarchist center of its time, and strikes, boycotts, and many other activities throughout the country were planned within its walls. The anarchists did all this under the watchful eyes of the Cuban government and U.S. and Spanish economic interests, which considered protests of any type forerunners of civil war.
In 1918 and 1919 four general strikes broke out in Havana alone, and the repressive state was the target of several bombings. In response, the state jailed and condemned to death the leading anarchist organizers of the time, Marcelo Salinas, Antonio Penichet, Alfredo LÃ³pez, Alejandro Barreiro, and Pablo Guerra. The first death in the dispute was that of the anarchist tailor, Robustiano FernÃ¡ndez, who died in a confrontation with the police in front of the Centro Obrero. Later, the police killed another anarchist, Luis DÃaz Blanco, on the street. Blanco's killing detonated a series of violent acts that culminated at his funeral in a massive demonstration against the government.
The U.S.A., now involved in World War I, couldn't permit this type of disorder so near to its coasts. At the request of the U.S. embassy, Washington sent a flotilla including three cruisers to Havana in a show of force. According to the Cuban historian José Duarte Oropesa, the Cuban Secret Service also supplied Washington with a list of all of the unions on the island, as well as a list of their leaders.
Finally, the government suspended constitutional guarantees with the object of creating a climate of terror; it deported to Spain approximately 77 workers it characterized as an "anarchosyndicalist mob"; it prohibited anarchist publications; and it closed the Centro Obrero. In this regard, little had changed since the times of CÃ¡novas and Weyler.
A temporary calm settled over the country in 1920 owing to the stabilization of the price of sugar; this became known as the "Time of the Skinny Cows," because of the low price of sugar. Cuba's anarchists took advantage of this lull to stage a workers' congress that attacked the high cost of living and proposed a series of "immediate and transitory" economic measures to resolve the situation. The delegates agreed to the formation of the ConfederaciÃ³n Nacional del Trabajo. They also proposed to form an organizing committee which would "study the opinions of all collectives." Finally, they sent a "fraternal salute to the brothers who in Russia have established the USSR."
Cuba's anarchists appeared to have no doubts that the October Revolution-in which Russia's anarchists had played a very visible part-was good news for Cuba's workers. With the taking of power by the Soviets, it appeared that the dream of three generations of struggles against the injustices of capitalism and the state had reached its conclusion. The Cuban anarchists showed jubilation in their own actions during this period, in which a few social-democratic and marxist elements participated, following the anarchist banners. But in this early period, little news had arrived from Barcelona or New York about the persecution of Russia's anarchists under Lenin. So, it wasn't strange that the Cuban anarchist congress of 1920 in Havana responded favorably to the Bolshevik government of Lenin and Trotsky-a response that was echoed throughout almost the entire proletarian world. This attitude would change very shortly.
After the congress of 1920, Cuba's workers pressed their demands with renewed force; this provoked the inevitable repressive response from the government. Bombings shook Havana, and May Day saw another general strike. Penichet and Salinas were again jailed, and in protest a bomb was set off in the Teatro Nacional during Enrico Caruso's performance of Aida. For this single appearance, the Italian tenor received $10,000-a huge sum equivalent to the annual wages of 15 or 20 Cuban workers. Penichet and Salinas were condemned to death, but were pardoned and released at the beginning of 1921 with the fall from power of the GarcÃa Menocal government.
With the new "moderate" government of Alfredo Zayas in 1921, the most constructive phase of Cuban anarchism began. The seed planted by the anarchists at the end of the 1880s had blossomed into Roig San MartÃn's "tree of liberty" and began to bear fruit.
Anarchist periodicals proliferated. ¡Tierra! entered a new phase and its editors began publishing books and pamphlets. Other periodicals began to appear regularly: La Batalla ("The Battle"), Nuevos Rumbos ("New Paths"), VÃa Libre ("The Free Way"), El MemorÃ¡ndum TipogrÃ¡fico, EspÃ¡rtaco ("Spartacus") and Nuevo Luz ("New Light"). Almost all of these periodicals were published in Havana, although there were also sporadic anarchist publications in Matanzas, Cienfuegos, Camagüey, and Santiago de Cuba. They were distributed by individuals in workplaces, shops, tobacco factories, etc. They were also distributed by mail, when their issues weren't seized by the government. There's no data on the press runs of these periodicals, though it seems likely that Nueva Luz and El MemorÃ¡ndum TipogrÃ¡fico had circulations of several thousand.
Clearly a proletarian cultural renaissance was taking place, in which even the most humble trades had information sheets. Libertarian literary and scientific associations were founded, as were workers' centers and naturalists' clubs. Anarchist literature circulated throughout the entire island, and the work of anarchist organizers, writers, orators, unionists, and cultural workers was characterized by exuberance. The anarchists-with few economic means and without any outside aid-organized Cuba's workers, both in town and country, into a force without parallel in Cuban history, a force numbering 80,000 to 100,000 workers (out of a total population of about 2.9 million at this time).
A new generation of Cubans emerged in these years, in the midst of a society filled with colonial baggage, class and racial separations, authoritarian governments, and U.S. interference. This new generation promoted radical changes in the social and political structure, and commenced a struggle against both native and foreign injustices. In their work for social justice for the most downtrodden, they succeeded in making anarchosyndicalist ideals those of most Cuban workers.
The man who carried upon his shoulders great responsibility for this achievement was Alfredo LÃ³pez. He was an anarchist-despite the marxist rewriting of Cuba's history-and was introduced to libertarian ideas by Pablo Guerra, a black worker in the same typographic trade as LÃ³pez and Antonio Penichet. An outstanding militant in his trade, LÃ³pez emerged as a prominent figure in the congress of 1920, and his unifying work within Cuba's workers' movement didn't end until his assassination in 1926. Like a great many other Cuban workers of his generation, LÃ³pez was profoundly anarchosyndicalist. Through his writings, his concise oratory, his union actions, his pragmatic attitude, and the accords for which he was responsible, it's very difficult to situate him in any camp other than the anarchist. Lacking in sectarianism, his acts were intensely unifying, and he knew how to win over the marxist elements in Cuba's workers' struggle. He also integrated reformist elements into the proletarian struggle, a positive action for which he has received little credit.
The founding of the FederaciÃ³n Obrera de La Habana (FOH-Workers' Federation of Havana) in 1921, in which LÃ³pez was the glue that held it together, initiated an anarchosyndicalist campaign in the workers' movement. The FOH was not formed exclusively of anarchist unions, even though they were the most numerous and libertarian ideas were the most popular in the organization. Pragmatism was the order of the day, with the idea being to unite all worker and campesino factions in a single organization, although this was opposed by some anarchists who wanted a purely anarchosyndicalist organization modeled on the ConfederaciÃ³n Nacional del Trabajo in Spain. But in the end, the unifying approach of Alfredo LÃ³pez was accepted. (This dispute has been seized upon by marxist commentators, who have fallaciously used it to claim that LÃ³pez wasn't an anarchist.)
In 1923, a reformist movement gained influence in the University of Havana. One of its leaders was Julio Antonio Mella. Alfredo LÃ³pez offered his aid, and managed to persuade Mella to work with other students in the recently founded Escuela Racionalista Nocturna (Rationalist Night School), which served Cuba's workers in the tradition of the murdered Spanish libertarian educator, Francisco Ferrer. And at the end of this same year, the Universidad Popular José MartÃ was founded, with the aim of teaching current political and social ideas. The direct relation between the future founder of the Partido Comunista Cubano-Mella-and Alfredo LÃ³pez has given rise to a number of hypotheses about the influence of Mella upon LÃ³pez, when the influence was actually the opposite, as Mella would declare years later, when he called LÃ³pez "my teacher."
In 1924, and with the undeniable tolerance of President Alfredo Zayas, a number of strike movements appeared among railway workers and sugar workers. At this time, another anarchosyndicalist of the first order began to distinguish himself-Enrique Varona, of Camagüey, who was active in the railway and sugar trades.
In February 1925, the second Congreso Nacional Obrero was celebrated in Cienfuegos, with over 100 delegates, representing 75 workers' organizations, in attendance. The principal agreement reached was to hold a third congress in the city of Camagüey for the purpose of founding a national workers' confederation modeled on the FOH.
That third congress was held in August in that city, with 160 delegates in attendance. It created the ConfederaciÃ³n Nacional Obrera de Cuba (CNOC), which united all of the unions, brotherhoods, guilds, and proletarian associations in Cuba-in all, 128 organizations with a membership of more than 200,000 workers. This congress, in its structure, its accords, and its principles, was strongly influenced by anarchosyndicalist ideas-ideas which predominated among its delegates.
In the Acts of the Congress creating the CNOC, the most important accords were "the total and collective refusal of electoral politics," the demand for the eight-hour day, the demand for the right to strike, and the unanimous desire not to bureaucratize the newly created organization. Juana MarÃa Acosta, of the UniÃ³n de Obreros de la Industria de CigarrerÃa ("Cigar Industry Workers Union"), was elected provisional president of the CNOC-the first time in Cuban history that a woman was named to such a position- and she made the demand, "equal pay for equal work."
A few days after the conclusion of the congress, the Partido Comunista Cubano (PCC) was founded in Havana by militant marxists such as Julio Antonio Mella and ex-anarchists such as Carlos Bali-o and Alejandro Barreiro, with the aid of the Third International, represented by Enrique Flores MagÃ³n-brother of the well known anarchist, Ricardo Flores MagÃ³n-who had come to Cuba from Mexico.
The PCC's members became a disciplined, selfless minority who, even if they had originally followed anarchist banners, would in the future-obeying orders from the Comintern relayed through Mexico -undertake to first supplant and later to liquidate all vestiges of anarchosyndicalism in Cuba, the ideology that for decades had been the driving force of the Cuban working class.
The electoral triumph in August 1925 of the Partido Liberal, whose lÃder mÃ¡ximo was Gerardo Machado, provoked a sudden crisis in the ranks of Cuban anarchosyndicalism. The new president, Machado, quickly realized that the recently organized CNOC could either be a political collaborator or a political enemy. He had reason to hope for collaboration. Inside the CNOC, a reformist element existed, which acted in accord with the American Federation of Labor, the reactionary American labor federation presided over by Samuel Gompers. Machado managed to attract this reformist element within the CNOC with government posts, while the allies that the anarchists counted upon within the Partido Liberal made themselves invisible. For their part, the marxists-after a period of blatant political activity, in direct contradiction of the CNOC accords-laid low waiting for better times.
Commencing with repressive precepts, Machado's government arbitrarily closed the Sindicato de la Industria Fabril Industrial (Manufacturing Union), because it had struck, arrested its black anarchist leader, Margarito Iglesias, and deported several striking workers. In September there was another strike among sugar workers in Camagüey, and anarchosyndicalist leader Enrique Varona was first jailed and later murdered. (Varona represented the UniÃ³n de Ferrocarriles del Norte [Northern Railway Union], which at the time represented sugar workers.) These repressive acts provoked strong protests, which, however, came to nothing.
Because of the persecution, the political situation had become more difficult for the anarchists. The government unleashed even more repression, focusing on the anarchosyndicalists, because they were the best organized sector of the working class, and because they had leaders of the stature of LÃ³pez, Iglesias, et al. Under Machado, protests which other governments had tolerated or had repressed to some extent, became the pretext for murderous repression. After the murder of Varona, LÃ³pez publicly denounced the act as a government crime, and these denunciations were sent abroad. But there was no violence on the part of the unions. Strikes were prohibited under pain of jail or "disappearance," and a time of state terrorism began in Cuba.
In October 1925, Alfredo LÃ³pez was taken prisoner after a series of bombings in Havana undertaken by government agents provocateur. By December, the most active anarchists in Cuba were either in prison or had fled to Florida or the Yucatan. In sum, intimidation, provocation, and murder were the political weapons of Machado at the end of the year.
LÃ³pez and some other anarchists were released from prison in January 1926 and were "counseled" to put themselves at the service of the government. At a meeting, Machado's messenger boy, his Government Secretary, Rogerio Zayas BazÃ¡n, offered LÃ³pez a paid post in exchange for his cooperation. LÃ³pez refused, and continued his anarchist activities. He was detained again by the police, and this time threatened with death. He again refused to back down.
On May Day, a secret commemoration was held in the Centro Obrero in Havana, at which LÃ³pez denounced Machado's repressive acts, and urged Cuba's workers to resist. Finally, on July 20, 1926, LÃ³pez was kidnapped and "disappeared." (His remains were found seven years later, a few days after the fall of Machado.) With the deaths of Varona and LÃ³pez, Cuba's anarchosyndicalists and workers had lost, at a crucial moment, their two most valiant leaders.
The repressive politics of Machado against the unions had no parallel in the history of the island. Never in colonial times, nor under the republic-including the reign of GarcÃa Menocal-had Cuba's anarchists suffered such violent blows. While Machado was celebrated by the privileged classes as a "nationalist" in a society suffering considerable U.S. interference, his persecution of Cuba's anarchists was unremitting. In 1927, the CNOC suffered another crisis with the "disappearance" of Margarito Iglesias, the anarchosyndicalist grandson of black slaves, and a leading member of the Sindicato Fabril. The marxists within the CNOC took advantage of this situation, and began to appropriate, on orders of the PCC, the positions formerly held by the deported, exiled, and murdered anarchists.
The response of radical anarchist elements to this violent repression was quick in coming. They founded militant groups such as EspÃ¡rtaco (Spartacus) and Los Solidarios (Those in Solidarity), and later the FederaciÃ³n de Grupos Anarquistas de Cuba (FGAC), and began, in alliance with university students and some politicians, a violent campaign against Machado, who had been "constitutionally" reelected to another six-year term. They engaged in street fighting against the government and also in several failed assassination attempts against Machado. Of course, they weren't the only ones doing such things. There were other armed opposition groups, such as the Directorio Estudiantil Revolucionario (Revolutionary Student Directorate) and the secret organization, ABC.
In 1930, a streetcar strike broke out that was backed by almost all of the unions. This strike became a general strike within 24 hours, and was the first of its kind in Cuba under a dictatorial regime. The anarchists actively backed this strike, while the anti-Machado capitalist press heaped praise on the PCC and interviewed its leaders. This may seem strange, but during the Great Depression not only the working class but also the bourgeois class opposed the dictatorship, given that they were being ruined economically. The price of sugar had fallen to practically nothing, and social and political ruin was coupled with economic disaster.
But the strike itself was a complete failure due to its poor planning by the CNOC, now in the hands of the PCC. The oral testimony of Casto MoscÃº, Manuel GonzÃ¡lez, and AgustÃn Castro, who participated in the FGAC's clandestine struggle against Machado, and that of Eusebio Mujal, whose father was an anarchist baker in Guantanamo, are in agreement. Hugh Thomas quotes Mujal:
The Communists were . . .preoccupied with the anarchists as much as with Machado. . . . Party policy was to destroy all members of CNOC who were not Communist, even by betraying them to Machado's police. Several Spanish anarchist leaders were murdered by Machado.
Despite the persecution by Machado's regime and the backstabbing by the PCC, the anarchists, even though underground, did not give up. Contrary to what has been stated by both the PCC and by right-wing reactionary historians, the surviving anarchists didn't flee to Spain; they didn't abandon their positions in the unions; they didn't go over to the Machado government; and they didn't betray the working class.
On July 28, 1933, another transportation strike broke out in Havana, and the city was paralyzed when the streetcar workers joined the strike. The crisis deepened when the anarchists in the FOH rallied to the transit workers' strike, and it became a general strike. The U.S. embassy sought a political solution to the crisis, but Machado clung desperately to power.
His dictatorship ended in August, when a number of political factions-including, prominently, the PCC, following orders from the Comintern-conspired with the U.S. embassy (the primary source of power in Cuba) to liquidate their old ally. On August 7, a rumor ran through Havana that Machado had resigned, and the people took to the streets to celebrate-where they were machine-gunned by Machado's thugs.
In a political maneuver that can only be categorized as insolent, the PCC, in the name of the remains of the CNOC, made a deal with Machado to end the general strike (as if they were the ones who had called it). The PCC thus fell into the trap of believing its own lies. The payoff for its perfidious act would be the recognition of the PCC and the CNOC by Machado's government. The ambition for power had totally blinded the PCC. (It had also participated in the electoral farce in 1932, which seated the representatives of the coalition that backed Machado.) Present day marxist writers attempt to excuse these acts as "the August error." In reality, it was more than an "error"; it was a betrayal of the working class and the people of Cuba.
The PCC then gave the order that the striking workers return to their jobs, and tried to enforce this decree with the help of Machado's secret police, the sinister "porra" ("bludgeon" or "club"), which was guilty of the murder of a number of workers. The PCC's maneuver didn't work, however, owing to the enraged response of the FOH anarchists and the rest of the opposition to the "strikebreakers." The situation remained fluid and volatile for several more days, and finally reached into the ranks of the armed forces, who had no desire to intervene in this revolutionary situation. Finally, on August 12, Machado was forced to flee because of a military coup backed by the U.S. embassy.
On August 28, the remains of LÃ³pez and Iglesias were exhumed from a shallow grave and reburied after being rendered homage by a vast throng. On that same day, the FGAC published a manifesto to the Cuban people denouncing the traitorous actions of the PCC and the armed attack the PCC had launched against the anarchists' offices on the previous day. The only remaining offices of the Cuban anarchists in 1933 were those of the FOH, from which the Spartacus group had operated clandestinely. The FGAC's actions became known to the Communists following the triumph of the strike they had tried to break. In the confusion of the first moments following the revolutionary triumph over Machado, the Communists had decided to deal with the most militant anarchist elements, and, accusing them of being "collaborators," attacked the anarchosyndicalists at the FOH with gunfire. A battle ensued between the Communists and anarchosyndicalists, in which one anarchist was killed, and several people were wounded on both sides. Finally, the army intervened to stop the bloodshed.
The manifesto denouncing this traitorous, murderous act, signed by the FGAC Comité de Relaciones, gave detailed information about the anti-worker activities of the PCC and how it had tried to cover itself legally in the shadow of the CNOC in its zeal for power. The precarious cooperative relationship between Cuba's anarchists and Communists, which had deteriorated with the disquieting news of the persecution of anarchists in the USSR, first under Lenin and then under Stalin, came to an end in the bloody summer of 1933.