How we invaded Cuba

On Friday 12 July 1963, anarchists invaded the Cuban Embassy in London.

Members of the British Communist Party, who had been faithful to the Party Line throughout the difficult war years, obediently switching from pro-war to anti-war and back, in support of Soviet foreign policy, were shocked in 1953, when Stalin died and the line switched from kindly old Uncle Joe, to Stalin the mad tyrant. Many CP members resigned their memberships, rejected the Party line and were expelled, or went quiet. Some changed their allegiance to China, but very few changed to other “Marxist” dictatorships, which were in fact tyrannical, kleptocratic, or military dictatorships, with little left of Marxism except the slogans.

But in 1959, the new Marxist dictatorship of Cuba stood by its Marxist ideals. One of its first acts was an intense drive for literacy. From January to December 1961, literate children from city schools volunteered to stay in camps in the country, and teach rural people to read. By internationally recognised statistics, the Cuban literacy rate increased from 56% in 1951, to 96% in 1962. Later, the child teachers were invited to choose the subjects they would like to study at University, with financial support and no fees.

The dictatorship was better funded than previous regimes, because although Cuban exports were now bought by the Soviet Union for only half of what had been paid earlier, the profits now stayed in Cuba, instead of being spent abroad. Racial discrimination, still enforced by police in parts of the USA, was prohibited. Farms were collectivised, and farm workers, unlike collective farm workers in Russia, were paid regular wages. Rationing was introduced, to cope with food shortages, caused by hurricanes, but the rations were larger than rations in Britain during WW2. Ordinary Cubans, according to visiting journalists, preferred the Marxist dictatorship to all previous regimes.

Marxism, however, is not just about people being better educated and adequately fed. It is about social control. The Marxist myth is that the workers of the world will unite to overthrow the old ruling classes and pass all the institutions of government to dedicated Marxists, who rule benevolently but without dissent, until people learn to become mutually supportive, and the state withers away. Anarchists had been active in Cuba for generations, and made important contributions to the revolution. But in Marxist Cuba, anarchism was suppressed, using prisons and the threat of executions.

On 26 August 1963 at 1.30 pm, “more than a dozen” anarchists assembled outside the Cuban Embassy building in London, walked though the unlocked front door, and upstairs through the unlocked doors into the Embassy itself. A surprisingly hostile column in the next Peace News said they “marched arrogantly”. Far from it. The invasion was celebrated in Freedom as a demonstration of the movement’s ability to keep secrets, but there were no plans for further action, because everyone expected they would be locked out.

One of the invaders, Philip Sansom, was dressed in clothes resembling those worn by Fidel Castro in photographs. They were met by a frightened gentleman, casually dressed in pyjamas, who told them that he was the caretaker. Next day’s Sunday papers identified him as the Ambassador himself. He advised the invaders to make an appointment and come again another day, when the Ambassador would be present. He then left the building and called the police, leaving the invaders to demonstrate without an audience.

The local police had just seen off a State Visit by the King and Queen of Greece, attended by a hostile mob. (Some of the arrests, seen at the time as routine public order cases, initiated the famous “Challenor case”). Two police officers, one in uniform and one in plain clothes, came and politely persuaded the invaders to continue their peaceful demonstration, and distribute their leaflets, in the street.

Donald Rooum


Sources
:

  • Memories of conversations with people who were present at the time
  • Unesco records of world literacy
  • Freedom vol24 no 24, 3 August 1963, “The Day we invaded Cuba”.
  • Direct Action vol 4 no 8, 26 August 1963, “Castro No! Yanquis No!”
  • New York Times, 21 July 1963.
  • The New Republic, 13 April 1963, Barbara Smith “Life in Cuba…”

Thanks to the Sparrows’ Nest Anarchist Library, Nottingham.