Review of Rafael Rojas, “Fighting over Fidel”


My review, titled “Words are the Weapons, the Weapons Must Go,” of Rafael Rojas’s “Fighting over Fidel: The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution,” has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books. It begins:

What was the Cuban Revolution? A series of events in Cuba, plainly: the defeat of the dictator Fulgencio Batista and the triumph of the guerrilla armies at the beginning of 1959, the agrarian reforms, the literacy campaigns, the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the missile crisis in 1962, the death of Che Guevara in Bolivia in 1967, the socialization of small business in 1968, the failed 10-million-ton sugar harvest of 1970, the Mariel boatlift, and so on. Without a doubt, the Cuban Revolution was the most important event (or perhaps process) in Cuba’s 20th-century political history.

But it was also an important event in intellectual history, and it is this aspect that Rafael Rojas’s new book asks us to consider. Artists, writers, and intellectuals in New York are Fighting over Fidel’s subjects, and they engaged with the Cuban Revolution not as a matter of lived experience but as a matter of intellectual concern. For these figures, the Cuban Revolution was, above all, an inspiration for those who were seeking some sort of left-wing “third way” between capitalism’s indignities and the drab socialism of Eastern Europe. The desire for a viable alternative was so strong that people projected their hopes onto Fidel Castro and Cuba. But by the beginning of the 1970s, no matter where they began, nearly all of them were disappointed.

Click through to learn about Allen Ginsberg getting kicked out of the country, Matt Yglesias’s grandfather’s single-issue magazine, and a picture of my fingers.

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