Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ask a Cuban-American

Dear Cuban-American,

I was recently presented with the question: "How is it that you Cuban-Americans can love José Martí so much when he called the United States 'the belly of the beast?" And I was caught off-guard. Not only was it the first time I'd heard it, but upon further investigation (i.e. google) the sites that appeared most frequently were socialist, communist, or fidelista (there were even links to granma). So was José Martí really a Marxist? Any insight would be greatly appreciated!

Dear Cubanita,

I answered a question about José Martí more or less a week ago. You may want to read that question and answer. The answer to whether or not Martí was a Marxist is a resounding no. He was not a capitalist either. It's like asking whether or not George Washington was a conservative or a liberal. You can't ascribe present day political labels to historical figures. Marx and Martí were simultaneously alive for 30 years. Martí died 12 years after Marx but 22 years before the first "Marxist Revolution" took place in Russia. José Martí would have no way of knowing what a Marxist government would like in practice as we do today.

José Martí lived as an exile in the United States for an astonishing 20 years of his short 42 year life. During those years Martí witnessed racial, social, and economic inequality. He was critical of those aspects of American life and wanted better for Latin America. Martí believed in the promise of the United States but found that in practice it fell short (a fair assessment looking back at the time in which he lived). He was also wary of America's power. A fierce proponent of Cuban independence, he feared an American attempt to annex Cuba. José Martí believed that Latin American countries should have their own unique political and cultural identity not dominated by Spain, The United States or any country.

The reason you find so much material about Martí on communist and socialist web sites is that communists are masters of propaganda. They have cloaked themselves in the mantle of José Martí and claim to be his ideological successors. Of course Cuban democrats (small "d") in Miami and around the world do also. In the shouting match about who the heirs of Martí are, we, the democrats, are outgunned. Here's a Cuban postage stamp with Martí next to Lenin.

I suggest you go to the library and borrow some of Marti's writings (they are available in English) and some biographies and judge for yourself.

I'm very comfortable in saying that José Martí would be shocked, saddened and angry at what has been done to his fatherland in his name. I'm sure that today Martí would be an outspoken critic of the castro regime and probably be living in exile just as he did when he was critical of Spanish rule.

If you have any questions for the resident Cubanazo drop me an email.

FYI, this feature is a complete ripoff of the wildy successful Ask a Mexican column by the gracious Gustavo Arellano.


Alex said...

The theory used to link Marti with Marx is a posthumous article he wrote after Marx's death. The most famous quote (often repeated in Cuba) is: "Karl Marx ha muerto. Como se puso del lado de los débiles merece honor." (Karl Marx has died. Because he sided with the weak, he deserves honor).

I found the complete text here: It's fron a page belonging to the Socialist party of mexico, but it does sound similar to the text as i remember it.

Of course Marti's writings critical of the US are better known but frequently quoted out of context, including the "belly of the beast" comment: "Vivi en el monstruo y le conozco las entrañas, y my honda es la de David" (I lived in the monster and I know its entrails, and my sling is that of David). Marti's main worry was annexionism, which was not only an American desire, but of many of his fellow countrymen at the time.

There is also another famous Marti writing in which he comments a treaty by Herbert Spencer "The Future Slavery" (full text of Marti's writing here, in Spanish:

Marti agrees with Spencer's criticism of socialist theory, especially when it comes to the subordination of the individual to the state. Quote:

"Esclavo es todo aquel que trabaja para otro que tiene dominio sobre él; y en ese sistema socialista dominaría la comunidad al hombre, que a la comunidad entregaría todo su trabajo."

(A slave is who works for another who has power over him, and in this socialist system the community would dominate over the individual, who would give to it all his work).

BTW, this essay appears in tome XV of Marti's complete works. I remember in Cuba many of the books in libraries, etc, had those pages ripped off, and people referred to it in hushed tones.

Alex said...

Correction: The title of Spencer's essay is "The Coming Slavery". I was translating from the Spanish "La Futura Esclavitud".