Review of A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory

A permutation of the research project I’d designed for myself in hopes of getting a year-long grant to study at the University of Havana, A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory by Steve Cushion focuses on the factions within the trade union movements and their relationship to the Batista regime. Its publication came at a perfect time, as I learned of its existence shortly after the new criteria for the IB History Period and Theme focuses were released.

Cushion’s primary research documents were the union, official and underground newspapers, student and radical journals and letters of participants that could lead to arrest, assault and increasingly in murder by beating. Given the need to keep documentation of participation in these subterannean movements against the current government, there are gaps in ability to give full accounts in all regions of Cuba from this alone. In order to make up for this dearth of material he also includes the recorded speeches and published positions of the union leadership as well as government documents stemming from police documentation of the lives of those ran for office and were kept out by corruption, but no matter as they later found de facto rather than official leadership positions in factions of other ideologically oriented groups. It is the groups within these unions would come to create make connections with MR-26 and facilitate the martial overthrow of the Batista Regime through concerted community support.

Cuba’s political and economic turmoil stemmed from advances in processes of transportation, production and financial pressures wrought by secular, cyclical capitalist crisis. During this period of an employer offensive against wages, workers rights and and the work done there was a general rebellion against the conditions proffered as the new status quo. The Batista regime became an adjudicator of industrial struggles and so consistently sided with the “non-Cuban” international investors that the came to be correctly seen as the enforcer for the needs of American capital. That such a belief was held by workers, students, radicals, farmers and revolutionaries alike should be seen as no surprise given that Cuba was the primary producer of sugar on the global market by weight by far and by 1958 U.S. capital owned 42% of the production capacity of the sugar industry. As large as that sounds this says nothing else of their other investments in railroads, docks, public transportation busses manufactured from Detroit, banks, clothes, medicine, etc.

Cushion’s analysis of regional leadership pockets of the M-R- 26 showed how they were at times at odds with the political aspirations of their erstwhile supporters. A number of the subterranean leaders of organizing activity in the coastal shipping regions were Trotskyists and Communists. The fighting force of MR-26 was a distinctively nationalistic based organization. Cushion documents the change in their published positions from making populist style appeals for land redistribution and other programs to generalities that merely state that devastating effects that advances in capitalist production and transportation of raw materials had on the population must be addressed and that the current government had no legitimacy and should be ousted.

While other nationalist groups published broadsides against the government that similarly documented abuses, they differed in that they also combined jeremiad’s with political platforms to raise awareness of what members in the organization were seeking to accomplish by overthrowing the government. It’s in this, and not in the military fighting, that working class socialists played a large role – helping to get enough people to resist the brutality of a government that would force strikers to work at gunpoint and would beat to death students and organizers for their activity.

It’s because of all their work, documented here by industry, region and organizations with operational strength, that the great strike which paralyzed the entire island of Cuba came into fruition. It’s as a result of their alliance building, political development, organizational structures that the barbudos were so easily able to come in a conquer a much larger, better equipped army. It’s because of them that the romantic ideal of the revolutionaries have been so fawned upon in revolutionary circles – for if they’d have to spend multiple months fighting over key city control points than they’d seem dirtier on a moral level rather than just a jungle living level.

Master of Science in Analytics – Analytical Tools Track

Here are the two courses tracks that I could be taking:

CSE 6040 – Computing for Data Analytics
ISYE 6501 – Introduction to Analytics Modeling
MGT 8803 – Introduction to Business for Analytics
CSE 6242 – Data and Visual Analytics
MGT 6203 – Data Analytics in Business
ISYE 7406 – Data Mining and Statistical Learning
ISYE 6413 – Design of Experiments
ISYE 6669 – Deterministic Optimization
ISYE 6644 – Simulation
ISYE 6650 – Probabilistic Models

** or **

CSE 6040 – Computing for Data Analytics
ISYE 6501 – Introduction to Analytics Modeling
MGT 8803 – Introduction to Business for Analytics
CSE 6242 – Data and Visual Analytics
MGT 6203 – Data Analytics in Business
CS 7641 or CSE/ISYE 6740 – Machine Learning/Computational Data Analytics
ISYE 6413 – Design of Experiments
ISYE 6669 – Deterministic Optimization
CS 6400 – Database Systems Concepts and Design
CS 7450 – Information Visualization

Books I Read in 2016


  1. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party
  2. The Autobiography of Assata Shakur
  3. The Autobiography of Angela Davis
  4. Malcolm X Speaks
  5. The FARC: The Longest Insurgency
  6. Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson
  7. Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies
  8. Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
  9. How To Build a Girl
  10. Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877
  11. Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depressions
  12. Denial of Death
  13. The Seducer’s Diary
  14. Game of Thrones
  15. Lazarillo de Tornes and The Swindler: Two Spanish Picaresque Novels
  16. Don Quixote Part I
  17. BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Mafia Family
  18. A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida
  19. The Functional Art: An Introduction to Information Graphics
  20. How to Leave Hialeah
  21. Make Your Home Among Stangers
  22. Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow

Review of The FARC: The Longest Insurgency

Written by an investigative journalist who’s spent decades with the FARC, including some times as their captive, Gary Leech’s book The FARC: The Longest Insurgency presents the largest and oldest Marxist-Leninist insurgency movement in North America. They are, I believe, second only in size in the world to the Naxalite movement in India. FARC-EP, the group’s official name, stands for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army.

The origins of the group stemmed from the country’s gross economic inequality and lack of access campesinos had to fertile land. Since Independence, the descendants of the Spaniard ruling class used their access to capital and arms to dispossess indigenous peoples and peasants of their land. Purchasing foreign made goods and directing the state to invest more in men to protect private property than democratic institutions, uneven development transpired in a way that put the people at odds with the State. Inspired by the revolutionary movements in Latin American and abroad that followed the Second World War, the group started advocating and fighting on behalf of the agricultural workers.

The beginning of cocaine production in the Southern/Putumayo region in the 80s gave the organization a new influx of money. Such an influx of money wasn’t without additional problems – as narco-traffickers started buying large tracts of land and dispossessing others until they became the largest class of landowners in the country conflict between the two groups became inevitable. As the Medellin cartel had greater access to capital, they were dominated them though reached a modicum of peace as they needed to redirect their forces to fight the Cali Cartel, which had allied itself with the DEA and the Colombian Government. While reading I was bemused, though not surprised, that the growers in the region under the control of the FARC consistently made more money from their coca crops than did those under the control of the Cartels.

In discussing the issue of human rights as it relates to the FARC, Leech presents a view that is nuanced, yet does not get bogged down in the details. He shows how it conceives of itself, an alternative to the official state that functions as a judiciary and sponsor of economic development in the areas it controls. While he does find some faults with it, compared to the official Colombian state as well as its paramilitary apparatus it is adjudged as the superior adherent to human rights. It’s this and the long history of the organization which ought to justify the categorization of the guerillas as combatants rather than narco-terrorists or, alternately, just terrorists.




Leech addresses a number of the reasons why, despite their clearly not being as responsible for reprehensible acts of terroristic violence against civilian populations as right-wing paramilitaries, they are vilified. For one there is Colombia’s long history of violence against and assassinations of leftists. Such campaigns were not limited only to guerillas but also those journalists who brought greater clarity and context to the stakes of the violence in their writings. Operating under the dialectics of suspicion, those that were considered sympathizers were equated with the actual combatants and seen as fair game for AUC and others. Secondarily, as a covert organization it is difficult to hold press conferences and talk with reporters that are already wary of being seen as sympathetic to the FARC. As a result many reporters fail to investigate the veracity of the press conference spectacles held by the military. Third, the news largely reflects the political interests of the owners. Stories published and broadcast highlight the kidnappings by the FARC for ransom, conceived of as a just response to non-payment of taxes, and typically ignore those narratives about human displacement caused by corporately funded paramilitary operations. Thus the stories of rich people being kidnapped, an act which at it’s height peaked around the 1,200 mark and has since decreased to around the 100s, silences the between 3.2 and 4.9 million people that have been forced to relocate due to violence.

The relationship between the FARC and the Government as well as the United States role in providing assistance to the latter is another area the Leech extensively reports upon. Since the passage of Plan Colombia in 1998, which made the country the second largest recipient of U.S. aide, casualties have mounted and the FARC has lost much of it’s territory. As far as I’m aware the La Gabarra, False-Positives and other scandals that illustrate the depth of cruelty of the Uribe government haven’t made the news, though high profile scandals, such as the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt and U.S. missionaries have despite the former issues being bloodier.

In his conclusion Leech is not hopeful that there will be peace anytime soon between the AUC, the FARC and the Government as the government has consistently pursued neo-liberal policies and made these exempt from negotiations during their peace accords. Since the conditions that lead to the FARC in the first place aren’t dealt with and the Colombian and U.S. government have made liability for engagement in civilian dispossessions and massacres to protect corporate profits, any future peace is likely not to be long-lasting.

Review of Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson are selected letters written by a Black Panther’s Party member who was not involved with the group on the streets of Oakland or elsewhere but one who nevertheless contributed to the group through his articles published through the Party paper. Jackson was convicted of stealing $70 from a gas station and was given a prison sentence of one-year-to-life of which he served eleven years.

The letters cover a five-year period and are addressed to people such as his mother and father as well as radical luminaries such as Angela Davis. In them he describes the psychological effects of being imprisoned by corrections officers that openly voice racist views and encourage violence between the inmates, how he has kept his spirit alive despite almost eight years being in solitary confinement, his views on Amerikan society, education, black culture and the affairs of the third-world. Throughout these letters he displays cutting insights gleaned from reflection on his experience as well as his prodigious reading.

In these letters we Jackson states familiarity with the works of Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Franz Fanon, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and others. These thinkers helped Jackson form a critical analysis of politics, economics, history, and psychology such that he believes that the current struggles for community patrols and armed self-defense from police action will one day turn into a more intensified militant struggle by linking the plight of the poor blacks in the USA to the colonized people abroad.

Making these connections between American military involvement in Indochina with police repression domestically is, he recognizes, incredibly dangerous to the status quo political establishment. He goes so far as to presciently state that t’s likely that he will be killed for stating his views through the articles smuggled out of prison and publicized through the Black Panther Party newspaper. Ten months after the publication of these letters, Jackson was killed allegedly trying to escape.

Despite the above statements about the content of the letters, the majority of them are not short essays by any means. A number of them deal with Jackson trying to proselytize to his father to adopt a more activist, militant stance for how he carries himself in the white world. His intentions are good, Jackson states, but he still defers to white cultural values of how to act proper rather than be assertive. This is considered preferable to the “niggerism” which Jackson decries, which is the replication of white predatory behavior by blacks upon blacks but it still, according to Jackson, perpetuates white supremacist thinking and action. When addressing himself to his mother Jackson is more gentle with in his imprecations

Jackson, like his hero Malcolm X, came to a viewpoint that advocated for black power, but not out of a sense of racial superiority but from a sense of radical revolutionary solidarity with those oppressed in the world. It is perhaps not surprising that he, like so many others that advocated this position in the 60s and were considered leaders of some sort, was murdered but through these at times banal and at times beautiful letters, we get a greater insight into a great soul.

Review of Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies

I’d first picked up Judith Stein’s book Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies for my History of Capitalism course at NYU. I’d only read a few chapters, however, and only recently did I decide to review my notes on the book and then complete the unread sections as I slowly start putting together a reading list/syllabus for the history of American neo-liberalism.

Stein’s book is primarily an institutional history from Nixon, the last New Deal president, to Clinton, the New Democrat. Although she does bring up the policies of Bush the Second and Obama, it is largely just to show how they continued to transform regulations and laws to align with neoliberal policy proscriptions suggested and enacted since Carter. The economic polices chosen by the presidents are contextualized within the rapid changes in the global trade networks in the post-WWII/Cold War world, detailed through the domestic circumstances that lead to such decisions and shows how the effects it had on the country’s working people lead to industrial flight and a declining middle class.

American policy makers feared European nations coming under Soviet influence following the second World War. The numerous Communist parties, which had varied relations to the Soviet Union, were initially quite successful in obtaining support. The State Department quickly realized that in order to prevent this they would need to not only engage in political manipulation in various forms but that they also needed to make sure that they received sufficient loans to rebuild their industries, that the status quo in the Middle East was maintained so that oil deliveries would be regular and tariffs lowered so European industries would have a market for their goods while they rebuilt. The loans were easy, however the nationalist revolutions and OPEC made maintenance of such amiable relations difficult and this often made foreign policy considerations direct economic policy. As a result of OPEC’s the oil-producing nations were able to demand higher prices in the 70s, the “greatest non-violent transfer of human wealth in human history” occurred. 2% of industrialized nations GDP went to these countries. As the U.S. lowered trade restrictions and became a market of last resort, domestic industries soon saw sales going increasingly to the goods produced by the newly capitalized EU and Japanese factories.

The focus on presidential campaigns in the beginning third of the book is somewhat slow reading and seems spurious until later when, implicitly, it’s shown how these events helped limit the political options of organized labor. Though the United States has never had the sort of comprehensive industrial policies in the same way that Germany and Japan did, hence assisting capital formation their due to the decreased competition in the domestic industries, Carter and Reagan furthered the anarchy of the market through deregulation that would lead to numerous boom and bust cycles and lead to the U.S. going from a creditor to a debtor nation that consistently maintained unfavorable trade imbalances.

Trilateralists, whose “professional diagnosis” on how to manage the nation’s economy just so happened to be aligned with the interests of the bourgeoisie, dominated Carter’s administration. Carter’s presidency shows an aversion to macroeconomic policies to deal with inflation, dismantling of social safety nets in favor of voluntariast community assistance and antipathy towards organized labor beings the large-scale political movement away from the traditional Democratic base towards business interests. These combined with a tepid economy due to failed auto and steel trade regulation policies and foreign policy problems, such as the Iran Hostage Crisis, leads to a one-term presidency.

Reagan continues much of what Carter had started. His breakup of the PATCO strike was just one of many public displays of antipathy to American unions. In addition to that his private assertions to business owners couple and underfunding of the NLRB and other worker’s protection organizations meant that a full-on offensive by the business community against the New Deal state could work towards unraveling hard-fought workers protections.

Through Stein’s historiography of Carter and Reagan’s presidencies, the pivotal moments of her Pivotal Decade is on full display. With barriers to foreign investment being dropped left and right capital flees overseas and finance, which once played a marginal role in the economy soon becomes a hegemonic sector. Through these dynamics and the turn towards supply-side economic policies – magical thinking on the part of the bourgeoisie economists, the immiseration, both economically and politically, rapidly accelerates and within two generations leads to the destruction of the affluent society now appealed to by right and left.



Weasels are wily creatures
Mischievous, devious and cute –
Sleek, svelte, soft, supple and as
Sweet as passion fruit.

Though moles live in holes in the soil
Favoring light like someone who drank
Too much the night before
They are for all except for the farmer
Also impossible not to adore.

Kittens too imbue their viewers with a
Overwhelming sense of aww
Hence watching short scenes of their antics
On the internet is a routine that many do.

A corollary to the wealthy’s quest
For high ROIs are status granting possessions
Some enjoy collecting animals, those ones more unique
Than those I aforementioned.

Albino tigers, stripeless zebras, miniature giraffes
Hyenas that coo and cry like babies instead of laugh
Or some beast that goes to show the degree of power and
Control one holds, that one is patron – like Pablo’s lions and hippos.

So too are the features of another appreciated,
Though it’s a creature that’s quite common
The one that it’s impossible to escape encounter with
As it’s the one which all life is based on – yes – woman.

Abroad lusty oil sheiks and sultans operate harems
Elsewhere hourly encounters are judged as success’s true emblem –
Prized are high cheek lines, dimples on the lower back
A full but fit figure and skin that can take a hearty smack

The list goes on and on and has as many
Variations as can possibly exist
Depending on the person
And their particular fetish.

Make me rich (no really, please make me rich)
And see how this collection disease affects not me
How wholly I am pleased solely by you –
My moley, my weasel, mi tigre, mi badger
My best-friend, my lover, my wife, my forever –

Your brains and beauty, strength and duty,
All fit me just like a key and
Provide for me all that I could ever need
Like manna sent from heaven.

Review of Revolutionary Suicide

A corollary to all of the research I’ve recently undertaken on America’s political and economic development in relation to slavery is a desire to engage with post-emancipation black radical thought. This led me to purchase Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton and a few others that I will be reviewing later.

The book then opens up to a philosophical discourse on the differences between Revolutionary Suicide and Reactionary Suicide. The reactionary suicide is the person who adopts the values, attitudes and beliefs of white, American colonial culture. The form that this takes for black people is either economic predation upon other black people – what Newton calls “the worst form of niggerism” – or just apathy in the face of repression by police and others. Revolutionary suicide is the perspective held by those that are actively antagonistic to such a racist political economy and culture. Newton does not dance around the fact that this is a form of race and class-consciousness that is viewed by many as a systemic threat to institutional racism and that as a result it is very likely that one would be killed for their beliefs and actions. To be a revolutionary is to recognize that one’s life will end from something other than old age or illness. It is an awareness that police and the Klan equate with a target. The way Newton describes it, to be a revolutionary suicide one must have great heroic fortitude.

Newton does not start out a revolutionary but as a sensitive son of a preacher that enjoys poetry and self-improvement through reading. The way he conceives himself, there were two distinct fraternal influences vying for his interest. Sonny Man was a hipster and schemer that operated on the fringes of society without a job but with lots of status symbols while Huey’s other brother Melvin was well read and studying to become a professional. The different approaches to adulthood/freedom was something that for a brief period would divide his psyche.

The honesty with which Newton discloses a number of his early behaviors linked to Sonny Man provides not only a convenient narrative arc for the story – from sinner to saint – but also reflects on his changing principles and values. From a petty thief and pimp to a self-proclaimed defender of the black community is quite a leap – one also made by Eldridge Cleaver – nevertheless the Bay Area was quite a radical environment at the time and rather than continuing to engage in lumpen behavior he starts to formulate a party to help look out for the guys on the street being harassed just for their race.

The impact of Huey’s secondary schooling is at best marginal, being that he describes himself as someone who does not like being forced to learn material that he sees as uninteresting or which perpetuating a narrative of black inferiority. He is a weak reader, but commits himself to rigorous self-study with Plato and Descartes. When he feels that he finally has the capabilities to successfully complete a college course, he decides to enroll. This was a period where African-American studies were beginning to make its way onto registration sign-up sheets and leftist campus activists were plentiful. This engagement with those of a counter-cultural bent and those with Marxist sympathies further contributes to Huey’s appreciation of the intellectual life. Malcolm X, Castro, Marx, Mao, Sartre, DuBois and Fanon are the major philosophes that are referenced here as formative influences.

These people and key authors cause Huey both to question a number of his value and personal practices as well as encourage him to try novel forms of living and engaging communally. First attracted to the Afro-American Association, he later finds the organization too self-serving to those leading it and disconnected from the needs of the people to maintain active membership. Being someone that values the perspective of the normal people on the street, we come to see the emergence of the Black Panther Party as a defense against sociopolitical and economic injustices. In this Newton goes into a number of reflections on the conditions of blacks in America and relates these to the planks which the Panther’s promoted as a path to Black Liberation. The rapid spread of the organization following the Sacramento brouhaha is underdeveloped for my taste, but I’m sure other treatments of the party will be able to answer other questions I had about it.

Towards the end of the book is an extended description of the trial. While important for illustrating a number of the prosecution’s seemingly corrupt practices for getting a conviction, I found that it and the depiction of the jails dragged on. All in all, however, I thought this was great book with insight into Huey’s mind and history!


Some films about the Black Panthers




Review of Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

I’ve been wanting to read Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto for several years. I’d come across it when I first started teaching and had looked into a number of critical pedagogy books to inform my teaching practice. I picked it up now that I’m returning to teaching a public high school as a refresher to all those books by Paulo Freire and Ivan Illich. I’d not paid close enough attention and what I’d expected to be a more empirical approach to looking at different manners in which there is consciousness raising manners in which to teach in the class room instead got a collection of speeches lengthened into articles. After having read the author’s I’d previously mentioned, I wasn’t that impressed. Rather than what I didn’t like, however, I’ll start with what I did like.

As a criticism of mass schooling on the industrial model, Gatto’s is pretty typical. Students become alienated through the school institution. They don’t learn things that will often help them in real life, they aren’t able to follow paths that interest them, the bell schedule is structured so that they feel that little is worth devoting a significant amount of time to, the learn to value themselves based upon an external authority, they learn intellectual dependency, they learn no real personal or spiritual values other than submission to the state, the learn disconnection from the community.

While a lot of these criticisms are true, the age of the books printing doesn’t address the fact that many new Federal government initiatives have addressed some of these by encouraging project, problem and inquiry based learning methods related to Common Core. In this, the book is dated. The teaching of mindfulness practices and emotional intelligence methods for dealing with problems is another area the book is silent upon. Overlooking this, however, I think the book is on point. There is a great need for student’s learning to be connected to their immediate needs and community. Gatto’s focus on the all-positive family, however, rings hollow from my own experience. When previously teaching in public schools the level of involvement was low and the anecdotes that I heard between kids in the hallways was not all that encouraging as to the types of acculturation that they were receiving at home. And this is in large part the turn towards the thrust of my criticism.

What I didn’t like was Gatto’s right-libertarian, anti-school union bent of the author’s suggestions. In this regard the success of the book and the paid public speaking gigs he refers to gets cast in a different light. It’s because his critique is aligned with the assault against public school unions and the pro-charter/homeschool movement. Thus while I think that his congregational approach to teaching, wherein students act as the market demanders for the subjects that they want to learn, I also feels that it does a disservice to “professional” educators. I agree that a certain degree of professional experience or personal devotion to a subject qualifies someone with the content knowledge to teach is does not always grant them the methods for successfully conveying this information to students. This stems from the fact that typically after people have mastered a number of elementary skills they have difficulty conveying the steps that they took to learn them. Gatto’s libertarian perspective thus, also, isolates and dehistoricizes the students/parents he speak of. He claims that a number of American economic illnesses stem from industrial American education rather than the specific dictates of capitalism. This is something that is addresses in limited detail, but it underlies all of his opinions. All in all I enjoyed reading it, but if someone was interested in the same content dealt with in greater depth Illich and Freire are who to look to.