SIR: As The former editor of Revolucion, the journal of revolutionary thought which led the independent, radical wing of ‘26 de Julio’ in opposition to pro-Soviets and conservatives, I would like to join the debate in the London Review and to record a few facts which decisively influenced the destiny of Cuba and the Cuban revolution. The journal was founded during the time of the anti-Batista underground; Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who had fought with us against the dictatorship, edited its cultural supplement, Lunes. In April of 1961, some time after the Bay of Pigs conflict, we at the newspaper saw that it was up to us to defend ourselves against a revolution that had already begun to devour its own sons.
We were not alone, nor were we a mere handful of deluded artists and writers. Thousands of union leaders, students and workers fought the same battle, as did all of those who were in the Sierra Maestra and on the plains in 1957 with Che Guevara and Raul Castro when we discussed the now historic words: ‘The solution to the problems of the world lies behind the so-called Iron Curtain.’ We replied: we want to be free from North American domination, but we do not want to fall under Soviet control. So we all had our bones broken: the unions, the university, the workers who had lost their unions, the peasants who had watched their land pass out of the control of the latifundista and into the hands of the slate, the militiamen who had lost their militia, the people who had lost their revolution. In our vast failure to invent a new revolution – not Communist (the Cuban Communists did not participate in the struggle), nor Marxist, nor under Soviet influence, but a revolution suited to the needs and aspirations of what the complacent call the ‘third world’ – more than a hundred thousand Cubans were imprisoned or shot, or merely disappeared. We invented a new form of navigation: the boat people, defying sharks (not of the Hemingway variety), the Gulf Stream, the powerful Kalashnikovs of State Security, a million exiles (15 per cent of the country’s population) from the Sovietisation and militarisation of Cuba, the ruination of the economy, food rationing and socialist bread lines. All dreams, liberty gone: the end of a new, Latin American, free-thinking culture.
One year later the Soviet Ambassador, Kudriatsev, was directing a conspiracy organised by Escalante and the old-school Communists. Frightened by the protest of the people who rebelled against fear and hunger, carrying their empty pots and demanding bread and liberty, threatened by the Russian Frankenstein he had himself created, Fidel Castro attacked the Communists, making them responsible for all the failures that had occurred, and for all the atrocities that had been committed.
Since in England there is freedom to speak of these things, I would like to propose that the London Review enable the English to read Lunes, Revolucion, PM, all the documents, and hear the voices of union leaders such as David Salvador y Aguilera, of those who underwent twenty years in the prisons of the Tropical Gulag, of the families of gunned-down revolutionaries. They should have the chance to study the statistics and compare how much a Cuban consumed then with how much he consumes today. They should get to know the miseries of the transportation system, the new unemployment, the longest prison sentences in the world, the black-out on media information, the censorship of philosophy, art and literature: liberty is a ghost. Castro, the guerrilla, has transformed Cuba into the Americas’ second military power. A hundred thousand Cuban officials and soldiers, police, technical workers, construction workers and political literacy workers are functioning under Soviet orders in several countries on three continents. Tossed by Cuban Communist airmen our of Soviet Migs, Communist bombs – made in the USSR – release their ‘liberating’ cargo on the heads of the socialist guerrillas of Eritrea.
Among the nations of Latin America, Cuba fought the longest for its independence from Spain, and won its liberation from North American domination in the least time. And it might be the first to free itself from the Soviet Union. This may seem optimistic. But if he has so much power, why is Castro afraid? Why so many jails and so much terror? He knows from experience that Communism is only useful in conquering new countries. Not in the creation of new societies.
SIR: I do not share Mr Tam Dalyell’s political outlook (Letters, 1 April) and I did not like the polemical tone of One Man’s Falklands. I thought I expressed my reactions to the book rather mildly but I did not expect him to be pleased by what I wrote: indeed I should have been disappointed if he had been. His hostility to the Government, and to the Prime Minister in particular, is unlikely to be altered by my contrary views, but he needs to be reminded that he was in a small minority in opposing the recovery of the Falklands by force following Argentina’s blatant aggression and refusal to withdraw without a definite British concession on sovereignty. It is far from clear to me that Falklanders who opted to remain under Argentinian rule ‘would have joined the privileged Anglo-Argentine community’. There was certainly no evidence of a conciliatory or even a civilised attitude during the brief period of Argentine occupation.
I cannot claim any inside information on the sinking of the General Belgrano, but the most authoritative account so far published of this episode, The Battle for the Falklands (pp. 147-150) by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins (reviewed by Mr Dalyell in LRB, Vol. 5, No 4), supports my interpretation rather than Mr Dalyell’s: i.e. the request to attack the General Belgrano originated with the Royal Navy and was approved by the Cabinet on operational grounds rather than as a deliberate ploy to sabotage negotiations.
No one would deny that the short-term costs of improving the Falklands’ defences are formidable but I do not share Mr Dalyell’s pessimism about Argentina sustaining an indefinite military threat. As for the financial future of the Department of War Studies and King’s College, London generally, I trust it will be the responsibility of politicians more truly representative of national sentiments than Mr Dalyell.
Department of War Studies, King’s College, London
SIR: In Vol. 5, No 1 you published a letter by Professor Patrice Higonnet of Harvard, in which he was quoted as saying: ‘Indeed, Richard Popkin has shown in his extremely valuable The Right-Wing Press in France 1792-1800 …’ I agree that the book is extremely valuable, but I regret that I am not the author of it. However, I am happy to report that my son, Jeremy D. Popkin, Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, is the author, and I am sure Professor Higonnet will join me in giving credit where credit is due.
Richard H. Popkin
Department of Philosophy, Washington University
Short is sweet
SIR: I was delighted to learn from Christopher Ricks’s piece (LRB, 3 February) that the proverb isn’t going out of fashion. But is it changing its style? Earlier proverbs use alliteration, repetition and/or rhyme – as part of their wit, making for the easy memorability that must have helped them become proverbs in the first place (‘time will tell’; ‘first come, first served’; ‘measure is treasure’). Some contain two or three of these devices (‘waste not, warn not’; ‘what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’; ‘fine feathers make fine birds’). This might have had something to do with the way English poetry was originally composed (though how many proverbs are there in Beowulf?) or with the style of proverbs’ Latin ancestors (praemonitus, praemunitus), and it certainly explains how the inaccuracy deplored in ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and ‘many a mickle makes a muckle’ came about. Some of the new proverbs appear to be in this tradition (‘garbage in, garbage out’; ‘the family that prays together, stays together’), but generally it seems that the wit of modern proverbs lies less in the sound than in a new visual element. One does not imagine geese and ganders side by side with bowls of sauce, but ‘the opera isn’t over till the fat lady sings’ and ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ encapsulate complete (albeit imaginary) dramas, as does Ricks’s candidate from Randall Jarrell – ‘You can’t break eggs without making an omelette. That’s what they tell the eggs’ – and one of my own from Raymond Chandler: ‘It was just too awful for words. Words didn’t think so. Words were just sitting around, waiting to be said.’ But are these ‘really’ proverbs? Time will tell.
Birkbeck College, University of London
SIR: I was charmed by A.J.P. Taylor’s conclusion (LRB, 17 March) that because the 25th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of CND failed to hail him as the hero and founder of the movement, it was now ‘feminist in spirit and composition’. Having so often read, especially in CND literature, about his role as crowd-rouser in 1958, I profess myself grateful to such feminine common sense which seems to be saying: ‘My dear boy, haven’t we heard enough about your exploit to last us 25 years?’ Boys will be boys, and they will boast …