Below is an excerpt from Cuba and the Coming American Revolution by Jack Barnes, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for May. Barnes is the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. The selection printed here is from the postface titled “The Cuban Revolution Was Not Alone” by Mary-Alice Waters, a member of the SWP National Committee and president of Pathfinder Press. Copyright © 2001 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. Footnotes are by the Militant.
BY MARY-ALICE WATERS
In the world of the early 1960s, the deepening revolution in Cuba was not an isolated development. Other powerful anti-imperialist struggles were advancing too, from Indochina to the Congo to Panama. Mass battles to bring down Jim Crow segregation in the United States were an integral part of these international struggles and, at the same time, drew strength from them. There were new stirrings among Mexican-Americans and Chicanos as well. And in my own case it was the Algerian Revolution that had the deepest impact.
A few months after the Bay of Pigs, I headed to France on a university junior year abroad program. The Algerian independence struggle, paid for in blood by some one million Algerians, was rapidly approaching victory. The great movie depiction of this struggle, Battle of Algiers, captures much of the courage and determination of the Algerian people, as well as the immeasurable brutality of the French imperialist forces. No one should miss it.
In the fall of 1961 and spring of 1962 Paris resembled a city under siege. Following a failed coup attempt, the Secret Army Organization (OAS), a clandestine fascist group based in the officer corps of the French army, had unleashed a campaign of bombings and assassinations in the capital aimed at bringing down the French government before it conceded defeat and recognized Algerian independence. Paratroops armed with submachine guns stood guard twenty-four hours a day on every street corner, and plastic explosives went off nightly in mailboxes and other public locations throughout the city.
Student antifascist committees were active in every faculty. I joined in the regularly organized demonstrations challenging the prohibition on street actions. Facing off against the much-hated special police force, the CRS, injuries and arrests were inevitable. In February 1962 eight demonstrators were trampled and suffocated to death as those escaping a CRS attack fled into an abandoned metro station, the exit from which had been sealed. A few days later more than a million people poured into Paris streets to join the funeral cortege to the Père Lachaise cemetery, where the martyrs of the Paris Commune are also buried.1
Despite the casualties still to come, the war was over. The people of Algeria had won. A few months later the Evian Accords were signed, ceding independence to Algeria after more than 130 years of French colonial rule. A workers and farmers government soon came to power, with National Liberation Front leader Ahmed Ben Bella at its head. …
The liberation struggle in Algeria had an impact on layers of young people and fighters against oppression far beyond North Africa and France, of course. Malcolm X was one of them. At a May 1964 meeting of the Militant Labor Forum in New York City, Malcolm pointed out that while only a few years earlier Ben Bella had been in the prisons of French imperialism, “today they have to negotiate with him because he knew that the one thing he had on his side was truth and time. Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it’s against the oppressor.” During both of his trips to Africa and the Middle East in 1964, Malcolm traveled to Algeria to meet with fellow revolutionaries.
There were strong ties linking the Algerian and Cuban revolutions. The years immediately following independence from France saw close and growing collaboration between Havana and Algiers to aid anti-imperialist struggles from the Congo to Argentina and apartheid South Africa, and to defeat imperialism’s attempts to overturn the Algerian and Cuban revolutions themselves.
In the fall of 1962 Ben Bella came to New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of Algeria being admitted to that body as an independent nation. From there Ben Bella traveled to Washington for a brief state visit with President John F. Kennedy, and then, despite the open threats of his hosts, demonstratively flew straight on to Havana, where he joined his comrades-in-arms on the very eve of the Cuban “Missile” Crisis.2 In an account written thirty-five years later, Ben Bella recalled how he arrived in Havana on October 16, “amid indescribable scenes of popular enthusiasm” for the revolution and its solidarity with Algeria.
The first large-scale internationalist mission of Cuban volunteers was the dispatch of tanks and a column of troops under the command of Efigenio Ameijeiras, the head of the Revolutionary National Police battalion that had fought so tenaciously at Playa Girón.3 They went to Algeria in October 1963 to help the revolutionary government repel a U.S.-backed invasion by Moroccan troops.
With the overthrow of the Ben Bella–led workers and farmers government in June 1965, the defeat of the anti-imperialist forces in the Congo later that same year, and the withdrawal from the Congo of the Cuban internationalist volunteers headed by Che Guevara, the era of that type of close revolutionary collaboration between Havana and Algiers came to an end.
2. In Oct. 1962, the Democratic administration of President John F. Kennedy brought the world to the edge of nuclear conflict in what is commonly referred to in the U.S. as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Cuba’s workers and farmers and their revolutionary government blocked Washington’s plans for a large-scale military invasion involving some 90,000 troops, opening a way to resolve the crisis.
3. In April 1961 Cuban armed forces dealt a stunning defeat to a U.S.-organized mercenary invasion of some 1,500 at Playa Girón by the Bay of Pigs.