In response to:
An Open Letter to Fidel Castro from the May 6, 1971 issue
To the Editors:
As you probably know, the Padilla case has served to a large extent to divide “left wing” intellectuals into those engaged with the Cuban Revolution and those trying to disengage from it.
As a group of Latin American intellectuals in disagreement with the reasons given by the group who signed the letters coming from Paris [NYR, May 6] and those who share Mr. Yglesias’s analysis [NYR, June 3], we wish to state our opinion.
First of all, we do not feel that the Padilla case merits such attention nor do we believe that the Cuban Revolution needs any defense on our part. On the contrary, we feel that the Cuban Revolution defends us, Cuba being an ex-colony that continuously challenges the empire. We think that the main issue is the situation of the intellectuals, especially the ones who, pampered as powerful individuals in capitalistic-liberal societies, fail when they have to relate to a real, non-abstract revolutionary context.
We want to point out that Mr. Yglesias’s article loses all validity when it hints at tortures, based on the sole opinion of a Cuban exile notorious for his anti-revolutionary activities. Yglesias further tries to confirm them with an indirect mistranslation of the word agotado (“exhausted”) by saying “choked” when he quotes the Le Monde report on the Prensa Latina dispatch about Padilla’s appearance at the UNEAC meeting.
But the basic issue is that Mr. Yglesias’s article, as with the letters of the Paris group, implies a decision taken before the case had been thoroughly analyzed with the proper and complete information. For our part there is no reason to even consider breaking with Cuba or Castro. We do not feel there is anything going on in Cuba that should make us choose one individual against a whole revolutionary process which is vital to our continent, particularly when this individual has not undergone the typical, brutal tactics adopted by repressive countries.
If the Padilla case would be the result of a Stalinist type of sectarian hardening process, we would be interested and concerned. But the Padilla case is the only example of alleged “hardening” in the whole Cuban context and there is certainly no proof to allow us to believe that the revolution is falling into corruption. We maintain that 8,000,000 individuals are more important than one whether he be a professional poet or a sugar cane worker.
The Padilla case can be used to analyze a state of confusion over the intellectuals’ values. Some of it due to the ambiguity of their role in the “free” world, some of it probably due to contradictions within the Cuban system. Cuba at some point may have allowed the intellectual a special position because of his influential role within the revolutionary process. This might explain why an intellectual may be held more responsible rather than more immune in the context of the revolution. If the intellectual misuses his position against the revolution he is guilty, destructive, counterrevolutionary in a situation in which the average citizen speaking to Landau’s camera is not.
Somehow the signers of the letters and Mr. Yglesias himself become little Padillas (with the difference that Padilla may have the strength to overcome his situation) when they use their accumulation of power, arrived at through individual fame, to do the same thing. Nobody analyzed the content of the confession in its meanings. It only was analyzed to find clues that could prove that it was not Padilla’s language, or to find errors which such a precise man could not commit. Nobody dealt with the implicit and explicit accusations to individual fame-seeking, as opposed to a revolutionary process. It does not matter anymore who wrote the “confessions” or how they were written, or if the accusations are true or not. What only matters is that the document describes, even taken as an abstract metaphor, what happens when any of us—intellectuals living in a class system where self-promotion is often a basic motivation—have to relate to a revolutionary situation, where our bolstered egos suddenly are equal to the egos of non-intellectuals. Needless to say, the Padilla case has stimulated an overreaction of intellectuals by threatening their position and status.
It is understandable that intellectuals who committed the error of supporting Stalinism should have developed a certain paranoia, so as not to repeat their mistake. But this fear should not suffice to break with the Cuban Revolution, which until some weeks ago was fervently cherished by the same people that now are in “shame” and “rage.” All the documents about Cuba, dating from the time of the Padilla case, especially the latest speeches by Fidel and the reports from the National Congress on Education and Culture, where 116,000 educational workers interpreted the lines of the masses on education, show Cuba as far as ever from a Stalinist process.
These intellectuals are also the ones Padilla himself describes so well in the poem published by you, “Travelers.” If the word were not in such bad standing, one would like to say that it seems that a member of the intellectual “mafia” has been attacked, therefore the “mafia” seeks revenge. Padilla managed to get accepted by this “mafia” in a process, true or not, well described in his confession. And this “mafia” is powerful with a dangerous duality. Its power stems from courtesan works, from elitist applause. Its power is used to judge and set guidelines to processes that are not of the court, that do not even accept the notion of court. This makes the setting of guidelines especially arrogant.
As to the Latin American intellectuals who signed their approval to the letter, they should, as all of us, be particularly aware and humble in criticizing prematurely and unjustly. Living in New York, London, Paris, Barcelona is a logical result of colonialism. For intellectuals to set the guidelines (imposed on them by the ruling powers’ values) for other people’s revolutions has become a way of relieving their social guilt while still within this system.
Movimiento de Independencia
Cultural Latinoamerica, New York City
Jose Yglesias replies:
I had hoped that my article on the Padilla case did not have so arrogant a tone or such a sense of self-importance that it could be said that I was “disengaging” or “breaking” with Cuba or Castro. Nor that any of my writing on Cuba was ever done in an abstract way. (I refer the writers of the MICLA statement to my books In the Fist of the Revolution and Down There.) I am glad that the point has been made that the Cuban revolution defends Latin Americans. It most certainly does. But I am a Yankee (though no imperialist, nor pampered by my ruling class) and my job is to defend the Cuban revolution, something which is made difficult by the Padilla case but which is far from impossible to do. Nor do I choose “one individual against a whole revolutionary process,” a point I tried to make in the last section of the article.
Now to some specifics. I do not know that Juan Arcocha is “a Cuban exile notorious for his anti-revolutionary activities,” and if MICLA really thinks so it should have some facts to back up this statement. The Cuban press is open about denouncing such people and it has never had anything to say about him. I said in my article that I quoted from Le Monde on the “choking”; the actual Spanish, which I read after the article was published, is as the letter says, but I fear it does not reassure me—especially since the original Prensa Latina dispatch reveals that there were only a few hours between Padilla’s release from prison and his appearance at UNEAC.
What does it take to convince MICLA that the tactics used against Padilla are “the typical, brutal tactics adopted by repressive countries”? Does Padilla have to be executed? My article tried to show that there exist quite a few precedents in the Cuban cultural sphere that clearly indicate that there are forces in Cuba working for “a Stalinist type of sectarian hardening process.” And I am floored by the statement that “it does not matter anymore who wrote the ‘confessions’ or how they were written, or if the accusations are true or not.” Talk about relating to a real, non-abstract revolutionary context!
Nor can I agree with MICLA’s statement that Fidel’s speech and the resolutions of the National Congress on Education and Culture “show Cuba as far as ever from a Stalinist process.” Having read both I think there are many things in them which show some steps are being taken in that direction. Some I cited in my article. One other comes to mind now because just ten days ago I drove up to Canada to pick up two young Americans returning from cane cutting in Cuba. One of the resolutions of the Congress was that students coming to Cuba would have to be screened carefully because of the bad influence they have on Cubans.
To me this means there may be no more Venceremos brigades. True, these young people have much more to gain from their experiences in Cuba than the Cubans from them, but this process of shutting off the people from contact with intellectuals or students, no matter how confused the latter may be about the needs and goals of the Third World, is a bad thing, call it Stalinism or Brezhnevism or what you will. And name calling won’t help: it’s funny that MICLA should talk about an intellectual mafia because unfortunately there is a literary mafia in Cuba, but neither Padilla nor the friends he called on to recant belonged to it; they had no power to say what is published, to hand out jobs, or even to invite the intellectual “travelers” from abroad for a visit.
Finally, I am sorry that MICLA thinks one should only speak after “the case had been thoroughly analyzed with proper and complete information.” They don’t sound like real enthusiasts of the Cuban revolutionary process or of Fidel. I’ll take voluntarism any day in preference to the arterio-sclerosis of thorough analyses. Maybe MICLA and I agree about one thing: that the process now begun is not irreversible and that it is the Cuban revolutionaries who can do that, not me, not MICLA, and not the intellectuals in Europe.