Transaction Publishers has a long history of producing first-rate scholarly works, among them a series of books under the title Cuban Communism, indispensable for the study of post-1959 Cuba.  The present one, by the editor of the series, covers a half-century of Cuban Marxism and introduces us to many of the major issues related to the implementation and functioning of what its advocates have traditionally called “real” socialism, as opposed to the watered-down, big-finance-friendly socialism of the European and now also American social democracies.

Written in an easy style befitting the partly autobiographical Preface, the book is a distillation of decades of work on its subject.  It comprises 47 relatively short chapters grouped chronologically in five sections: 1960’s: Guerilla Dictatorship; 1970’s: Consolidation of Communism; 1980’s: Regionalization and Retreat; and 2000’s: Dissolution of Political Power.  It concludes with a fascinating chapter on the “narcissism” of Fidel Castro’s latest “autobiography.”

Chapter 12 (“The Cuba Lobby: Supplying Rope to a Mortgaged Revolution”) and the related Chapters 35 (“The Cuba Lobby Upgrade: Plus ça Change, Plus C’est la Même Chose”) and 36 (“The Cuban Embargo and American Interest”) exemplify Horowitz’s expert knowledge of even the most minute details of Cuban-American relations.  Horowitz unveils the numerous instances of Cuba’s covert and overt interventions in Latin America and Africa.  He then traces the gradual weakening of the U.S. “embargo,” which now allows commerce in telecommunications, agricultural products, humanitarian pharmaceuticals, charter flights, etc.  Virginia, for example, increased agricultural exports to Cuba from less than $1 million to $40 million in five years, and Maryland sold $12.8 million worth of goods to Cuba in 2008.  Horowitz reminds us that this weakening has taken place without corresponding concessions on the part of Cuba’s regime.  These chapters also examine the strange but not illogical alliance between, on the one hand, “progressive” American academics, “compassionate” ecclesiastics, Hollywood actors, “public policy” think-tank “experts,” and even congressmen and senators, and, on the other hand, financial and business interests.  The Cuba Lobby’s motivations range from perennial academic sympathy toward Marxism, to “compassion” for the Cuban people, to presumably hard-nosed American self-interest, to plain greed, but its goal—a resumption of full commercial relations—remains unvaried.  Horowitz observes that this lobby includes such academically influential organizations as the Latin American Studies Association, which enthusiastically brings to its U.S. conferences professors from Cuba while marginalizing Cuban-American professors who oppose the regime.

Horowitz masterly analyzes the Cuba Lobby and the embargo (imposed in February 1962 in retaliation for Cuba’s seizure of the property of U.S. citizens and businesses), but, perhaps because he is not an economist, he does not discuss a possible consequence of resuming the unconditional sale of American goods: the likelihood that U.S. taxpayers will, as usual, be left holding the bag.  In effect, Marxist Cuba already owes millions of dollars to countries with which she does have commercial relations and faces great difficulties in obtaining credit; she simply lacks the wherewithal to buy abroad.  The United States would probably suffer the same fate as these countries.  U.S. loan guarantees would minimize the risk to banks and businesses of selling to Cuba, but at the expense of U.S. taxpayers—a possibility that does not trouble the many commercial and select financial groups clamoring for an end to the embargo.  As the Small Business Exporters Association cheerfully announced, since March 2009,

A select group of commercial banks now will be able to offer terms of 180 days to five years on federally-guaranteed loans to the foreign buyers of U.S. exports without having to obtain prior federal approval.  The change means that buyers of U.S. manufactured goods and other high-value exports can obtain their financing in weeks or even days, a vast improvement over the many months that federal approval had previously required. . . . Because of the foreign risks involved in export lending, most commercial banks throughout the world do not make these loans without government guarantees.  In the U.S., the guarantees are provided by the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), a federal agency.

The discussion also offered an opportunity, not taken by Horowitz, for comparing the embargo against Cuba with other embargoes, such as the successful former world embargo against apartheid South Africa, or the U.S.-led embargo against Muslim Iran that is escalating today.

Two other omissions on Horowitz’s part should be noticed.  One is an account of the Cuban healthcare system, exposed in the formidable Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 by Katherine Hirschfeld.  The other is an account of the urban revolutionary groups that operated independently of Castro, and which weakened considerably the Batista dictatorship, sustained probably larger casualties than Castro’s countryside guerillas, and made possible his eventual triumph.  (See Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground, by Julia E. Sweig.)  Conspicuous among these groups was the Directorio Estudiantil Revolucionario, led by José Antonio Echevarría and Carlos Gutiérrez Menoyo (whose surviving brother, Eloy, took up arms against Castro and suffered imprisonment and torture for 22 years before being freed through the intercession of Spain’s Felipe González in 1986).  Among other things, the Directorio organized the brave (today we would merely say “terrorist”) attack on Cuba’s Presidential Palace (“El asalto al palace”) on March 13, 1957.  (Like other events in Cuba during the 50’s and 60’s, this one has been vividly depicted in Andy García’s wonderful 2005 movie The Lost City.)  If the Directorio had succeeded in assassinating Batista on that day, the course of Cuban history might have changed.  However, by January 1959, bled by brutal urban warfare, and with a decimated leadership (Echevarría, Gutiérrez Menoyo, Frank País, and Réne Ramos Latour had all been killed in combat in the cities), these revolutionary groups were no longer a match for the countryside guerillas of Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos.  (A charismatic man, at the time more liked in Cuba than Guevara and nearly as much as Castro, Cienfuegos disappeared on October 28, 1959, officially in an airplane crash, although neither plane nor human remains were found.)  Therefore, they were easily elbowed aside during the Marxist-Leninist takeover.  This takeover became official with Castro’s public declaration, in December 1961, that he had of course been a Marxist-Leninist while in the mountains, but he had needed to hide this fact because otherwise he never would have won.

This book does not make a connection between Karl Marx’s ideas and the horrors Horowitz laments; in it, one searches in vain for a philosophical or religious premise that might have inoculated Horowitz against Marxist theory, without his having to wait for its Cuban application to erode his youthful sympathy for the Cuban Revolution.  Significantly, neither Marx nor Marxism appears in the Index, in contrast to Stalinism—a word that, unlike Marx and Marxism, is academically acceptable and indeed ubiquitous in accounts of regimes that an author does not like but which, unfortunately, can usually claim to have been inspired by Marx’s great ideas.  Horowitz seems to be neither a philosophical conservative nor a libertarian.  The fact of the matter is that, without some sound philosophical or religious moorings, costly experience alone can undeceive even the brightest people.

Nevertheless, The Long Night of Dark Intent is an enlightening book by a learned man who has probably done more to promote a scholarly understanding of post-1959 Cuba than anyone else in the United States.


[The Long Night of Dark Intent: A Half Century of Cuban Communism, by Irving Louis Horowitz (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers) 620 pp., $49.95]