May they not bury me in darkness
to die like a traitor
I am good, and as a good man
I will die facing the sun.
-Part of Versos sencillos by José Martí
José Martí, the famous Cuban revolutionary and prolific writer whose published works fill 28 whole volumes, including - children stories, letters, poems, journalism, theater, translations, notes, and essays on a variety of subjects ranging from anarchists to white roses. Martí is often credited as the "father of modernism", especially in regards to Spanish-American literature. He was born in Old Habana, Cuba in 1853 and died in 1895 fighting against the Spanish there. Martí was and continues to be the haunting spectacle of Cuba. What follows, are some thoughts and minor research about Martí, specifically - his ten years spent living in New York City, his views on capitalism and work, and his thoughts about anarchists.
At the age of 16, Martí was sent to prison for treason against the Spanish government, then in control of Cuba. He was soon exiled to Spain where he studied law and philosophy, but in the coming years he returned to Cuba, where he was again exiled to Spain. Eventually, in 1880 Martí found himself in New York City (NYC) writing journalism, translating articles, and working as joint consul for Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. His time in NYC proved to be critical- as he helped launch Cuba's third war of independence while there, by fund raising and organizing against the Spanish. Soon afterwards, as history has come to tell - Martí was killed near Palma Soriano, Cuba in the very first battle of independence. The legend goes that he charged into battle on a white horse, while wearing a black overcoat, making him a prime target, and soon after dying. In comparison to the sword, the pen was the mightiest for Martí, as the 30+ volumes of his collected works attest to.
Being clever is a good way to start being free, rough translation
For me, this exploration of Martí began when I visited Habana, Cuba and ventured into some of the many used book shops there. Book shops are interesting in Cuba, because there is often a somewhat limited selection amongst public sellers due to state censorship, but at the same time there is a plethora of old inexpensive books floating around, both above and underground - the most unusual, often dust covered little bookshops one can imagine with discounts on already inexpensive books. Of course, it is mostly all Spanish, but there is also old Russian language books and some English language books.
A lot of time was spent browsing these shelves, and most all of them had one thing in common - José Martí; the man continues to be a controversial character even in death. The Castro's use Martí in their five hour speeches and dialogues, even including him in their Constitution. While, at the same time their enemies, have also claimed him as one of their own; setting up media broadcasts from Miami, Florida and elsewhere to beam into the island. It's a cat and mouse game on the radio, as one group radio broadcasts messages and the other side eventually jams the frequency. New and different technologies, plus less restriction on the availability of cell phones and other computer technology on the island has increased the chances of these types of messages not only getting in, but out as well. In the USA there has been some focus on well-known Cuban bloggers.
The million dollar question, is that if Martí were alive today - what would he do? In reality, Martí would have more than likely disagreed with the current situation in Cuba – that being the 1959 revolution of Fidel Castro and it's continuation. In the most basic sense, Martí spent his time struggling towards a free and independent Cuba. Martí is one of the most flowery and ubiquitous writers of the modern century, and while it is never certain as the dead remain silent, one may be able to distinguish ideas by looking at his writings on the anarchists of New York City
For fourteen years (1880-1894) Martí lived in the "gran manzana" (big apple) of New York City (NYC). During this time, Martí experienced first hand the desolation of American capitalism, in regards to race, poverty, and the workering class. The worker - who, according to Martí, each day struggled for eight hours, fair wages, and an overall better world. We will examine two of his articles more closely: Grandes motines de obreros, alzamiento unanime a favor de ocho horas de trabajo…, published in NYC on the 16th of May, 1886 and Un drama terrible: Anarquia y represion… published on the 1st of January, 1888. These articles by Martí about the NYC anarchists appeared in the newspaper and should be thought of as paid propaganda, as his view is often unfavorable and can be seen as a product of the times.
In these two articles and some others he explores the events leading up to and of the Haymarket Massacre. With these articles Martí helped inform and radicalize readers, not only in the USA, but throughout Latin America, and the world. In the texts, he presents us with a look inside the events that helped spawn Mayday and the International Day of Anarchy, while also helping to understand why these were inspiring events at the time. Part of his appeal to anarchists can also be found in his his homage to Albert Parsons written in NY on the 17th of October, 1886.
When the trapdoors of the gallows were released on November 12, 1887, Albert Parsons had begun to say “Shall I be allowed to speak? O, men of America…” before his voice was cut short by the noose. Deeply moved by the injustice of Haymarket, José Martí continued to speak, in the name of the executed anarchists, for the poor and the hopeless, and for the Latin American republics threatened by U.S. foreign policy. Thus, the Haymarket affair underlines how Martí’s familiarity with, and critique of North American current events during the Gilded Age did in fact play a substantive role in maturing his views on labor and enabling his later critiques of colonialism.
In the first article “Grandes Motines de obreros…” He thought that since the American Civil War there had not been a more crucial moment in USA history. He wrote flowery that, the blood stained flowers of May signaled that there was not a more serious problem in the USA, than the problem of heartless capitalists and work. In response to the Haymarket massacre, Martí observed that the situation seemed to suddenly appear; as an uprising, spontaneously, even though the problems were already deeply ingrained within society and revolutionaries had been struggling against them since even before. Everything, just kind of took off.
The workers in the USA were uprising – demanding better working rights, and undermining the capitalists oppression. In the glorified eyes of Martí, the streets seemed to always be filled with workers, fighting against the police and capital. In the first article, he wrote that, the anarchists were reading books about insurrection and then target practicing with guns in the streets of NYC almost every Sunday, while everyone else was at church. With this, he compares and contrasts anarchists and workers into differences he presumes - such as "peaceful" vs. "violent". The naiveté is curious and is more likely the result of a profound dislike of anarchist idea, although in another text he is intrigued by Lucy Parsons.
Martí states that he believes non-violence and actions within the law were most just. Interestingly enough, soon afterwards Martí picked up a gun to help fight against the Spanish in Cuba. While I'm not exactly certain what changed his mind, it is clear his opinions had changed or he is the ultimate hypocritic. On this note, I think Martí was in line with the demonstrations - but stopped at the point of NYC's gun slinging anarchists and others around the USA. More so, he was part of the press and the time was ripe for yellow journalism.
Martí’s first articles on the Chicago anarchists are in step with the North American press and the xenophobia it promoted: anarchist terror is the work of monstrous Eastern European immigrants who have brought the violent ways of the Old World to the New. The notion of “America” as a democratic alternative to barbarous “Europe” stands. After the execution of the anarchists, however, Martí does an about-face and re-writes his earlier account of events. He turns his rage on the political and justice system and softens his earlier critique of the anarchists. The U.S. is now as unjust and violent as despotic Europe.
It goes on to say that:
In his initial reactions to Haymarket, Martí had celebrated the heroism of the police and demonized the European anarchists in terms similar to those found in the mainstream U.S. press. In “Un drama terrible,” however, he retells the story of what happened on May fourth in a way that was much more sympathetic to workers and anarchists. He indicts the police, the national media and the justice system for their lies and corruption. If before he had referred to the anarchists as beasts, now it was the Republic as a whole that has become savage like a wolf (795). Martí’s newfound solidarity with the working class, and his sympathetic representation of the anarchists he had previously rejected, results in a powerful identification with the working class, where a new community emerges out of the ruins of the Haymarket Affair.
José Martí and his on-again, off-again relationship with the anarchists never made it to see the “new community” emerge from the ruins of the old, but then again neither has any revolutionary of the past or present. His writings, full of illusion and splendor, are a somewhat enjoyable introspective into one aspect of the late 19th century revolutionary thinkers. For many, Martí has withstood the test of time and his influence on contemporary thought is evident today in Cuba, but outside as well – even if with different interpretations.
Other articles by Martí about New York:
La ciudad, el viaje y el circo - La vida neoyorkina - Los indios de Norteamerica - La diversion norteamericana - El problema industrial en los Estados Unidos - La escuela en Nueva York - El puente de Brooklyn - The Dedication of the Statue of Liberty
 The Limits of Analogy: José Martí and the Haymarket Martyrs by Christopher Conway - University of Texas—Arlington
*Author's note: Originally, some years ago, there was another article about José Martí, Cuba, and the Anarchists; that was, looking back - pretty bad. This version is an attempt to fix that and never look back again.