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February 19, 2008


Labour Voter

What is bizarre is the way in so many, normally rational, people on the left seem to romanticize this squalid little dictatorship.

There is a profound cultural failing on the left in that they don't understand that the workers of the world quite rationally prefer freedom, consumer goods and free elections to "equality" (actually, there is no equality under Soviet-style regimes and there never has been) enforced through the GuLag.


Ah but Cuba's exotic and 'passionate'. Rum and Salsa in the tropical sun.

If it was to swap places with Belarus it wouldn't be so attractive to a certain sort of activist: cabbages, bad vodka and faulty plumbing lose their appeal at -20C.

Paul Bogdanor

According to Khrushchev's adviser, Castro's demand for a nuclear war was not conditional on a prior American invasion. He quotes the following telegram:-

I propose the immediate launching of a nuclear strike on the United States. The Cuban people are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the cause of the destruction of imperialism and the victory of world revolution.

- Fedor Burlatsky, "Castro Wanted a Nuclear Strike," New York Times, October 23, 1992.

In other words, Castro was demanding an unprovoked massacre of tens of millions of Americans and he was prepared to sacrifice the entire population of Cuba to achieve it.

Identical views were expressed by his psychopathic comrade Guevara:-

What we affirm is that we must proceed along the path of liberation even if this costs millions of atomic victims... advancing fearlessly towards the hecatomb which signifies final redemption.

- Hugh Thomas, Cuba, or the Pursuit of Freedom (Da Capo Press, 1998), p1,417.

One wonders if these are the sentiments that endear them to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.

F.M. Zutano

Why would anyone visit this blog to learn anything about Cuba? What exactly are Mr. Kamm's credentials on this subject?


I just read your article in the aftermath of Castro's resignation and I so thoroughly enjoyed it that I immediately ran an Internet search to find this blog. The paragraph you re-record here is pure gold; your argument is unimpeachable and I have nothing to add to it. All I can say is, great job! and where I can I find a copy of your book in the United States?


Thought you were very good on Newsnight,especially in regard to the failed US embargo.

sackcloth and ashes

'What exactly are Mr. Kamm's credentials on this subject?'

More's to the point, what are yours?

Incidentally, one could also mention here another of Castro's great achievements, which was to support the genocidal regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. I find it surprising that the 'anti-imperialists' who condemn 'BushnBlair' for 'killing half a million Iraqis' have nothing to say about the fact that up to 1.5m Ethiopians between 1977 and 1992. The majority of these people were either killed by the Derg regime, were killed as a consequence of the civil wars in Eritrea and Tigray, or they died as a consequence of the 1985-1986 famine, during which Mengistu deliberately used food shortages as a counter-insurgency tool, denying hundreds of thousands the aid they desperately needed.

Despite this both the Soviets and the Cubans were avid supporters of Mengistu, and they armed and trained his security forces. So the fact remains that Castro has blood on his hands, and not all of it is Cuban. But for some reason, none of his apologists seem to want to mention this.

Louis Proyect

This is the letter that Castro wrote to Khrushchev.


There is nothing in it about a first strike on the USA. Khrushchev simply misread the letter.

Oliver Kamm

Come now, Mr Proyect; not all of us restrict our inquiries in historiographical debate to unsupported annotations on agitprop websites. If you were to refer, for example, to the standard work "One Hell of a Gamble": The Secret History of the Cuban Missile Crisis by Aleksandr Fursenko and Timothy Naftali, 1997, pp. 272-3, you would find copious archival evidence that Castro knew perfectly well what he wished to insinuate to Khrushchev. The Soviet ambassador to Havana, Aleksandr Alexseev, listened to Castro's numerous attempts to draft the letter.

"At the beginning I could not understand what he meant by his complicated phrases," Alekseev later reported to Moscow. Castro seemed to be arguing for the use of the Soviet Union's most powerful weapons.

"Do you wish to say that we should be first to launch a nuclear strike on the enemy?" Alekseev finally asked Castro.

"No," answered Castro, "I don't want to say that directly, but under certain circumstances, we must not wait to experience the perfidy of the imperialists, letting them initiate the first strike and deciding that Cuba should be wiped off the face of the earth."

The footnotes refer to Alekseev's report to the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2 November 1962.

The phrase "I don't want to say that directly" is telling, is it not?

Paul Bogdanor

Our Marxist friend has apparently missed Castro's letter to Khrushchev on October 31, 1962. It is reprinted on the very website he mentions (emphases added):-

Countless eyes of Cuban and Soviet men who were willing to die with supreme dignity shed tears upon learning about the surprising, sudden and practically unconditional decision to withdraw the weapons.

Castro was devastated that Khrushchev had deprived countless Cubans and Soviets of the opportunity to experience their supremely dignified destruction.

I realized when I wrote them that the words contained in my letter could be misinterpreted by you and that was what happened, perhaps because you didn't read them carefully, perhaps because of the translation, perhaps because I meant to say so much in too few lines. However, I didn't hesitate to do it. Do you believe, Comrade Khrushchev, that we were selfishly thinking of ourselves, of our generous people willing to sacrifice themselves, and not at all in an unconscious manner but fully assured of the risk they ran?

Castro knew that his words could be "misinterpreted" but he wrote them anyway - presumably because the Cuban people were so eager to "sacrifice themselves." Lo and behold, Castro's words were "misinterpreted," just as he had foreseen!

Recall the editorial by Guevara that I quoted above. It was written (but not published) during the missile crisis.

Louis Proyect

Do you people have any scruples about scholarship at all? Bogdanor urged me to read another letter which supposedly supports the Cuban "first strike" hypothesis but the latter states:

"I did not suggest, Comrade Khrushchev, that in the midst of this crisis the Soviet Union should attack, which is what your letter seems to say; rather, that following an imperialist attack, the USSR should act without vacillation and should never make the mistake of allowing circumstances to develop in which the enemy makes the first nuclear strike against the USSR."

You are not to be taken seriously.

Oliver Kamm

No request has been extended to you to take me seriously, Mr Proyect; but I do expect you to take seriously the scholarly literature I have cited and with which you are manifestly unacquainted. As matters stand, you are merely digging yourself into further trouble, and with an additional howler. (No one has speculated about a "Cuban first strike"; the issue was rather a Soviet first strike.)

Think about what you have just posted. I carefully said that Castro had urged a Soviet nuclear first strike on the US mainland in the event of an invasion of Cuba. It does not appear you have read any material on this bar the unsupported dogmatic assertions of a political activist, otherwise you would see that you have just confirmed my point. If you wish to dispute my point, then you need to show why Aleksandr Alexseev's account of Castro's letter is wrong rather than merely reiterate your disbelief.

Paul Bogdanor

It's a pity that our correspondent made no effort to understand my last message before exploding in a fit of Stalinist indignation.

In his letter of October 31, 1962, Castro admitted that his demand had been composed in the expectation that it would be "misinterpreted" as advocacy of nuclear war. And he stressed that his people had been willing to die. Only then did he turn to the ritual disclaimer that Khrushchev, Alexeev, Burlatsky and Guevara all disbelieved - although Proyect, blessed with greater insight, purports to take it at face value.

There were those who found the assurances that "I didn't inhale" or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" persuasive. But I doubt that Proyect was among them. After all, the dissembler in that case had been democratically elected.

Louis Proyect

Kamm: No one has speculated about a "Cuban first strike".

Including me. This is called a typo.

If you want to read a less ideologically driven account of the Cuban missile crisis, I recommend Max Frankel's "High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis". There is not even a breath of a suggestion that Castro urged a "first strike", even if Cuba had been invaded.

Most historians, including cold warriors, saw nuclear war as a possible outcome of Soviet ships refusing to back down in the face of a naval blockade not because of some letter Castro wrote.

But look, if it makes you feel good to spout such nonsense, go ahead. Who am I to get in the way of rightwing raves if it makes you feel good. It only hurts your credibility, not mine.


Paul Bogdanor

Louis Proyect:-

I recommend Max Frankel's High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis. There is not even a breath of a suggestion that Castro urged a "first strike," even if Cuba had been invaded.

Max Frankel:-

Khrushchev blanched as he heard Castro's proposal that he should not let the United States strike "the first nuclear blow." That message could only mean that Castro favored a preemptive, all-out nuclear attack on the United States, igniting a global conflagration. Whether or not he noticed Castro's qualifier - if Cuba is invaded - Khrushchev thought his client had gone mad.

[Footnote:] In a posthumous sequel to his memoirs... the Soviet leader asserts that Castro had urged him to order an immediate nuclear attack against the United States. As a denial that same year, Castro published a Spanish text of his October 28, 1962, letter to the Soviet leader, in which he conditioned his "first blow" proposal on a US invasion, calling it less likely than air attack, but possible. By way of explanation in 1990, Castro said an invasion would have been met with nuclear artillery and he had meant only to embolden Khrushchev in that event not to wait for the United States to strike the first nuclear blow against the Soviet Union - as Stalin had foolishly waited for the Nazis to invade in 1941. The Russian text of Castro's letter, as Khrushchev read it in 1962, has not been published.

- High Noon in the Cold War: Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis (Presidio Press, 2004), pp158-9.

"Not even a breath of a suggestion..."

Oliver Kamm

Mr Proyect: in another context, Richard Dawkins speaks of the "argument from personal incredulity". That argument is weak, but it's the one you've employed here. The mere fact that you are personally unfamiliar with an important primary source and what historians say about it does not mean that that source is either non-existent or irrelevant. It means that there is a lacuna in your own knowledge.

Your denunciation of my "ideologically driven" account in fact refers to my quoting, from Fursenko & Naftali's volume, the Soviet ambassador to Havana in direct conversation with Castro, as recorded in his brief to the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The most generous judgement I can make is that you are ideologically driven, with the unfortunate outcome that you've been caught out citing a book you haven't read.

sackcloth and ashes

Louis Proyect's brain is on permanent 'send'. You're wasting your time.

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