He invented Fidel Castro and made a revolution in Cuba. For more than half a century, it was Abraham Simkhovich who was the secret “communist boss No. 1 in the country.”
By Alexey Alekseev/Jewish.ru
July 21, 2022 Anno Domini
Translated from Russian
A communist of the old school, Abraham Simkhovich fascinated Fidel Castro with socialism in 1948. At that time, the future leader of Cuba was 22 years old. And until 1994, the year of Simkhovich’s death, Castro turned to him only for advice. It was Simkhovich, and not Fidel, that the world media called “the main ideologist of the revolution” and “communist boss No. 1 in the country.”
“It was necessary to prepare society for the fact that the Communist Party should rule, that communism is not so dangerous, not so terrible, not so bad. That’s what I was doing,” recalled Simkhovich many years later.
Abraham Simkhovich arrived in Cuba in 1922. He was born in the village of Tshtsyany, Suwalki province, now it is the territory of Poland. At home, he managed to go through prison – he got there as a member of the youth department of the banned Communist Workers’ Party of Poland (KPPP). When he was released, he decided to emigrate.
After the First World War and the revolution in Russia, Jews left by the thousands. They fled from anti-Semitism and conscription into the army – a large part of the emigrants ended up in Latin America. In 1925, about 8,000 Jews lived in Cuba, including 5,200 from Eastern Europe. The locals called them “Polyakos” – later they began to call emigrants from Eastern Europe of any nationality that way. “Polyakos” were mainly engaged in two types of work – sewing clothes and shoes in workshops owned by fellow tribesmen, or peddling. Native Cubans parodied itinerant traders with an exaggerated Jewish accent saying “Wendo korbatos baratos” – “I sell cheap ties.”
Simkhovich did not sell ties. Instead, he took a job at a tailor’s shop and joined a tailor’s union. This is the official version of the communists. In the American press, on the contrary, they convinced readers that Simkhovich was an agent of the Moscow Kremlin, who arrived on the island in order to “destabilize” the situation. “No one has ever seen Abraham at a sewing machine, in all questionnaires he wrote the word “unemployed”. But for his apartment in Havana he paid more than the best tailor earned in a month. Where does the money come from? asked the bourgeois press.
In August 1925, the Cuban Communist Party was founded in Havana. At that moment, the communists had nine circles on the island. They consisted of 80 people. In the largest, Havana, there were as many as 20 participants. Ten participants arrived at the congress on the occasion of the founding of the party, at least three were Jews, and one of them was Abraham Simkhovich. The congress elected the general secretary and his assistants, and also adopted several resolutions. Resolution No. 1 read: to honor the memory of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin with a minute of silence. Resolution No. 2: send greetings to the Soviet merchant ship “Vorovsky”, which the Cuban authorities did not allow to the island. Simkhovich himself remained on the sidelines during the division of party posts. In party documents, only one word was written against his last name – “coordinator”.
The Communist Party of Cuba was banned the very next year. Cuban President Gerardo Machado, who was nicknamed the “tropical Mussolini”, began the persecution of the communists. Some of the participants were expelled from the country, the other part was killed – according to some reports, they were simply thrown off a cliff into the sea, with heavy loads chained to their feet. Several people were “accidentally” shot dead on the streets of Havana and other cities. Probably fearing reprisals, Simkhovich resigned from the Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1929. From that moment on, he did not hold official positions for many years, but it was he who continued to be considered the main ideologist and specialist in recruiting new members.
In 1929 Simkhovich visited Moscow, where he became a member of the Latin American section of the Communist International. In Russia, he met German communists. They helped the Cuban comrades with money – for the publication of the magazines Bandera Roja, Red Banner, and Centinela, Sentry. The frequent change of pseudonyms helped Simkhovich escape from the persecution of the authorities in Cuba. But even despite this, he was arrested twice, and in 1932 he was expelled from the island, accused of espionage. Through Germany, Simkhovich again returned to the Soviet Union. But then two things happened at once. In August of the same year, President Machado was overthrown and fled to the United States. And a faithful comrade in the Communist Party – and, according to rumors, Simkhovich’s mistress – Dora Stern Weinstock slept with the son of a high-ranking official, and he, as a token of gratitude, made several passports for the deported communists.
In 1934, Simkhovich was again seen in Havana. In 1936, he received Cuban citizenship, and two years later, the ban on the activities of the Communist Party was lifted on the island. At the same time, the number of communists grew slowly, and then Simkhovich came up with the idea of using readers in tobacco factories. Making cigars is monotonous manual work. To stimulate workers, a special person sits in the shop, who reads poems and stories aloud to them. Simchovich, then known as Fabio Grobart, began supplying readers with communist literature. Things went well: in 1933, the Communist Party had 500 members, in 1936 – 3,000, in 1938 – already 10,000. After the Simchovich-Grobart innovation, another 30 thousand people joined the party in cigar factories. In the 1944 elections, 122,000 voters voted for communist candidates, in the 1946 midterm elections, 195,000. The population of Cuba was then about six million people.
The existence of a “grey eminence” in Cuba, who leads the communists to power, was learned in America in 1946. Journalist brothers Joseph and Stuart Alsop wrote: “In Havana, the Soviet government maintains an active center of political penetration into Central and South America … But the lion’s share of the work is done by an unofficial Soviet headquarters, led by a certain Fabio Grobart. It’s a figure from a Hitchcock movie. He may be a Pole, but he has half a dozen passports… In addition to Mexico and Cuba, he directs the main activities of the communists in Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica.
In 1947, American journalists called him “the most mysterious figure in Cuban politics” and complained that he refused not only to give interviews, but also to answer any questions – even about the weather in Havana. He was considered the No. 1 communist boss not only of Cuba, but of the entire Caribbean region. When the Communist Party of Venezuela split into three factions, the leader of the Cuban communists, Blas Roca, came to the country and conveyed Grobart’s order to unite again. The order was carried out.
And here is another report from American newspapers, 1948: “The connections of Soviet Russia with the Latin American communists are carefully hidden. Important news was the recent report that Fabio Grobart was seen entering the Soviet embassy in Havana in the early morning. There are no high-ranking diplomats in this embassy who openly guide the Communists, as Konstantin Umansky from Mexico City did for several years before the war. Russian funding is not obvious.”
The name Fabio Simchovich chose for himself – in honor of the ancient Roman consul Quintus Fabius Maximus, nicknamed Cunktator. This was the name of a person who slowly and stubbornly goes towards his goal, avoiding decisive fights, wears down his opponent and wins. From this name came the term “Fabian socialism”, the idea of which was the slow transformation of a capitalist society into a communist one.
In 1948, Fabio Grobart was again expelled from Cuba. According to another version, he himself went to Europe to be treated for tuberculosis. Anti-communists in Cuba claimed that Grobart had a series of meetings with Fidel Castro, a 22-year-old law student, before leaving. After that, the world received in the person of Fidel an uncompromising revolutionary and socialist. When Castro succeeded in carrying out a coup on the island in 1959, one of the first steps taken by his government was the return of the “political strategist” Grobart to Cuba. By that time, he lived in Prague under the name Antonio Blanco. Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro’s brother Raul came to persuade him to return.
Interestingly, in the first time after coming to power, Fidel Castro did not call himself a communist. The revolution was carried out by his “July 26 Movement” and associates from the student organization “Revolutionary Directorate of March 13”. At the same time, most of Castro’s supporters could not stand the communists, whose party in Cuba then bore the name Popular Socialist – NSPK. Grobart rejoined the case. He organized the first consultations of the new Cuban leadership with the representative of the Soviet Union, TASS correspondent in Havana Alexander Alekseev. The meetings were secret, because after Nikita Khrushchev’s trip to the United States in September 1959, the Soviet leadership did not want to spoil relations with the Americans. However, after these consultations, Fidel cast aside doubts and took a sharp course towards communism along the lines of the USSR.
Grobart taught him: there should be only one Communist Party on the island, and for this it was necessary to agree with the NSPK. Plus, ideology needs to be instilled from youth – for this, theory courses are needed for young activists of the July 26 Movement.
To negotiate with the “old Communist Party”, Grobart organized secret meetings in a fisherman’s house in the village of Cojimar, 15 km from Havana – this village was made famous by Ernest Hemingway, choosing it as the setting for the story “The Old Man and the Sea.” Fidel and Raul Castro, Che Guevara with his deputy Ramiro Valdez and the commander of the armed forces of the revolution Camilo Cienfuegos were present at the meetings on behalf of the authorities. Then the number of initiates decreased. Cienfuegos died in a plane crash in late 1959. Fidel and Che Guevara blamed the enemies of the revolution for his death, Cuban emigrants blamed Fidel. From the NSPK, negotiations were conducted by its general secretary, Blas Roca, whom Grobart had known for over 30 years, and two members of the Politburo. The meaning of the negotiations was to merge the parties. Roca and his entourage had to convince the rank and file communists
Then, in 1959, according to the project of Grobart, a network of special party schools was created, in which the “old” communists taught Fidel’s supporters Marxism-Leninism – this is how they trained the country’s new elite. In two years, about 30,000 Cubans were trained in such schools. Based on the model of the Higher Party School in Moscow, its Cuban counterpart was created – the Central School of the Communist Party of Cuba named after Nico Lopez. The diploma of this institution was a prerequisite for appointment to a high party or government post.
As Grobart predicted, it took years for the communists to unite. In April 1961, Cuba survived the landings at the Bay of Pigs: a landing force of Cuban emigrants tried to overthrow Castro. At a May Day demonstration, Fidel Castro announced that there would be no more multi-party elections in Cuba, that the country would build socialism and adopt a socialist constitution. In December of the same year, he declared: “I am a communist, and I will be one until the end of my days.”
Until the end of his days, Fabio Grobart remained his shadow. In the 60s, he took over as editor of the Socialist Cuba magazine. It was quite in his spirit – to lead from the “gray” zone, remaining the heart and guiding center of ideology. It was his words and speeches delivered by Fidel and Raul Castro from high stands. Grobart himself appeared at party congresses only to submit another standard proposal for the re-election of Comrade Fidel for another term as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.
It is believed that it was Grobart who prevented an attempted conspiracy in 1967. Then the “old” communists from the NSPK, with the support of the USSR, tried to remove Castro from power. At the insistence of Grobart, they were followed in time. As a result, Cuban security chief Manuel Pinheiro, nicknamed Redbeard, personally recorded the negotiations of members of the NSPK with Rudolf Shlyapnikov, a KGB representative at the Cuban Ministry of Internal Affairs – at that meeting they discussed the details of the coup.
On October 1, 1967, all the conspirators were arrested. Three committed suicide in custody. 35 people were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. The most severe sentence was handed down to the ideologist of the NSPK, Anibal Escalante – 15 years in prison. However, three years later he was released and sent to Prague. Rudolf Shlyapnikov had to return to Moscow.
The man who “invented” Fidel and the Cuban revolution died on October 22, 1994. He was 89 years old. Back in 1975 he was awarded the Soviet Order of the October Revolution. Although, neither in Cuba itself, nor in the USSR, many did not understand: who is Fabio Grobart, he is Abraham Simkhovich, and why exactly he was given this award.