Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left, 1930–1975

Academic journal article Cuban Studies

Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left, 1930–1975

Article excerpt

The past few years seem to have inaugurated a transnational turn in the growing scholarship on Cuba's 1959 revolution.1 John Gronbeck-Tedesco's Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left is a welcome addition to this trend. In this sweeping exploration of US-Cuban cultural and political relations, Gronbeck-Tedesco describes a shared long-term dialogue, "a larger transnational space of Left culture," constructed between Cuban and US activists (45). Yet this is not necessarily a story of unity. Gronbeck-Tedesco is sensitive to aspects of disagreement or mutual incomprehension—what he calls "gaps in the transnation" (68)—that make this a story of conflict as well as solidarity. Eschewing a teleological tendency to see 1933 as "prelude" to the 1959 revolution, Gronbeck-Tedesco argues instead for conceptualizing the "Cuban revolutions as a historical period—bridging what is usually historicized separately as the 'thirties' and the 'sixties'" (4). This broader historical scale captures intriguing continuities and parallels.

Organized chronologically and thematically, the book moves from the internationalism of the old left and popular front to the rise of the new left and "tricontinentalism." Along the way we meet activists, writers, and intellectuals representative of the Generación del 30, afrocubanismo, the Harlem Renaissance, the black power movement, first- and second-wave feminism, and the US "third world left." Throughout, the book pays significant attention to race and gender, two areas where we find perhaps the greatest "gaps" between island and mainland activists. Some of the material covered here may feel familiar, as Gronbeck-Tedesco is building on work by Van Gosse, Frank Guridy, Mark O. Sawyer, and others. But the book's ambitious scope, long historical period, and careful research provide new insights.

The chapters on the 1930s are particularly enlightening, adding significantly to the perennially underdeveloped historiography on the 1933 revolution. Here Gronbeck-Tedesco usefully reconstructs the enormous impact that 1933 made on progressives in the United States and beyond. Cuba's 1933 revolution, he shows, became a touchstone in left-wing literature alongside other global conflagrations such as the Spanish Civil War, the Scottsboro case, and the peasant rebellion in China. Carlton Beals's widely read work The Crime of Cuba (1933) was particularly influential in this regard. In a thoughtful analysis of the book's text and photos, Gronbeck-Tedesco shows how Beals launched a powerful denunciation of Machado while also mobilizing certain condescending constructions of Cuban exoticism and racial difference that echoed tropes from tourist literature and social science. Thus the US left reproduced neocolonial language while professing authentically felt solidarity—an observation equally applicable to the 1960s and beyond.

In other ways, too, it is striking how trends we often associate with the 1960s were anticipated in the 1930s. The author shows that, already in the 1930s, Cuba provided an idealized trope of agrarian revolution and mass uprising. …

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