Los Angeles Hands Off Cuba Committee: A Lesson on Settler Chauvinism

By Com. Moxie

The US Hands Off Cuba Committee is a small, Los Angeles based committee that was started in 2019 after a group, 2 students and their teacher, traveled to Cuba and decided to spread awareness about the illegal and unjust US blockade of the small island nation upon coming back. The original founding members consisted of two Latinas who are a student and a journalist, respectively, and their retired White teacher. This would point to a diverse, and ostensibly tolerant leadership, but this is misleading; the committee sucks in Black and Brown youths to use them and spit them out. Despite good intentions, the committee is corrupt, being run by opportunists and manipulators.

    I first came into contact with the committee at the September 2021 Women’s March where they had set up a table to push their agenda. Their agenda, while very important, had very little to do with the subject of women’s rights, reproductive rights, and gender equality issues in Amerika. This is a common theme with the committee: they find events where attendees are likely to be socially liberal and they show up claiming solidarity, but in reality they are just there to recruit more members, not support the main event. Despite this, I signed up for the emailing list at that event and shortly after showed up to assist with raising awareness about the Cuban embargo at a concert for Pablo Milanes, an anti-Cuban Cuban singer and songwriter. After that first event, I began to receive emails and texts asking me personally to participate in different events/actions to raise awareness on the Cuban embargo and sanctions. If I was unable to attend, my polite rejections were met with emotional manipulation tactics; I would always be made to feel guilty and my commitment to the cause would be called into question. On many occasions, I was asked to move or cancel important family events such as graduations, family trips, birthdays, etc. 

Mark, self-appointed leader of the committee, stands beside PSL member and two other Women’s march attendees.

    The leadership of the committee consists of one older cis White man and a young Latinx. However, it is important to note that the majority of decisions are made by the older man as, naturally, he has more time on his hands due to his position as an upper middle class retiree/apartment manager. This man has a history of organizing in leftist circles which dates back to the 60s when he began his membership with the Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP). The SWP indoctrinates people into Trotskyism, an ideology which is historically liberal and narcissistic, both refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing and instead choosing to manipulate the narrative (see Trotsky’s actions supporting fascism). To this day, the SWP’s newspaper (The Militant) continues to publish Zionist and anti-Socialist perspectives despite claiming to be a Marxist publication. Knowing this, leadership would regularly allow the SWP to come to our gatherings and spread their propaganda, interact with our members, and pressure newcomers to subscribe to their newspaper. Again, any concern raised to committee leadership was consistently met with dead end responses such as, “we are ‘apolitical'”, and “Cuba needs the support”, for example. Furthermore, the White leader of the committee was consistently rude to everyone, including new members and people he was attempting to work with such as event hosts and students. Any political activities or organizing that members participated in outside of the committee were met with incessant questioning and urges to reconsider what was “important” to us. When his rude and belittling behavior was brought to his attention, he would simply make claims to being polemical, refuse to apologize, and toss in an out of context or inappropriate quote to “justify” the language he used. When brought up with the other high ranking members of the committee, they would tirelessly defend him, citing “cultural differences” and being “tolerant” to others. Additionally, Neurodivergent comrades were also belittled and disrespected for being unable to complete tasks assigned to them. I’d like to state once more that this was a cis White male being rude and belittling to queer and POC youths who were never afforded the same tolerance or respect of our cultural differences.

    The committee had a policy of working with anyone who was willing to work with them, but as I grew to learn, leadership made it very difficult to do so. We lost our only Cuban-American committee member due to leadership being consistently rude to him and refusing to apologize or acknowledge his concerns whenever they were brought up. I recall an event where our venue host was corresponding nicely with another committee member and all it took was one rudely worded email from the leader of the committee and we never heard from them again. Our only Black member stated that they felt tokenized after receiving targeted emails asking them to attend events in the Black community as our representative despite having only joined less than a month prior and agreeing to work with the website exclusively, due to transportation issues.

The committee falsely presents itself as a democratically run organization. When the committee was invited to attend the National Conference for Cuban Solidarity in New York, the leader stated he needed “one more young person” to go with him. I spent 3 days in New York being introduced to people as the “newest leader” of the committee despite not having actually agreed to do that and despite all committee decisions being mostly made by just one old White male. Any new ideas I brought were quickly shut down or I was told to do it on my own. An example of this was when the idea of summations was brought up to increase our efficiency. I was told to write one up which was then used to publish on the website our “success”. My reported attendance numbers were increased dramatically and the entire section on what we could have done better was cut out. No one read my original summation since it was not emailed out (I had no access to the email account despite being “leadership” and my name and phone number being used to sign off on emails) and ultimately the committee continued to be inefficient and omit self-criticism or examine new tactics. During a group meeting when I brought up the blatant opportunism of attending events that had nothing to do with our subject (ending the Cuban embargo), I was again shut down, interrupted, and told to just not participate. When I began to distance myself from the committee I was accused of being anti-Cuban despite clearly stating my concerns of liberalism and disrespect for members in multiple emails and conversations. 

    It’s no surprise that the LAHOCC had difficulty retaining proletarian membership, because it creates a toxic space for the nationally oppressed and gender oppressed. Despite my very short time with the committee, I saw many new members come to one or two meetings and never respond again. When the issues were pressed, none of these concerns were ever heard or listened to. This is because the LAHOCC is an example of an undialectical approach to organizing. This approach refutes democratic control and trust in the peoples revolutionary potential. This leadership style is directly opposed to real Marxist organizing and only serves the individuals in power. The leadership uses Marxist terms and false claims of international solidarity to attract young leftists and then uses them as props in their private plays in their circles’ national political arena, never examining their approach, never listening to or caring for the young lives they lay claim to. The problem LAHOCC has is symptomatic of a much larger movement error: reliance on the leadership of White men. Until we reclaim our labor and autonomy from these parasitic bourgeois opportunists, we will continue to float aimlessly without Revolutionary direction.

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