by Ricardo Alarcón, President,
National Assembly of
[Editors’ Note from Labor
Standard: This is a magnificent and highly informative tribute to C.
Wright Mills, centering on his ardent support for the Cuban revolution and the
outstanding book he wrote and had published in 1960—Listen, Yankee! We
reproduce Alarcón’s tribute to Mills for the information of our readers. One
point not mentioned by Alarcón—or perhaps left out by The Nation—is that
Mills’s next major book after Listen, Yankee was The Marxists, in
which he included, among other things, an unusually fair, honest, and balanced
assessment of Trotskyism, free from the poisonous lies, distortions, and
slanders spread so widely for so many years by the school of Stalinism—the
anti-Trotsky campaign of the Stalinists being generously helped along by the
capitalist Establishment. At the time of his death Mills was collaborating with
the U.S. Trotskyist leader
Editor’s Note [from The Nation]: On the forty-fifth anniversary of C. Wright Mills’s death, the president of the National Assembly of Cuba reflects on the American sociologist’s writings and their significance in these times. This article is also available in Spanish.
“I am for the Cuban revolution. I do not worry about it, I worry for it and with it.”
—from Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba
C. Wright Mills suffered a heart
attack at the age of 45 while at home in
His life, however, would continue beating within a new generation that had found in Mills a shining example.
In the midst of McCarthyism and
the cold war, he published half a dozen books vital to understanding
Although Mills was by then an
accomplished author and widely recognized by his peers, the publication of Listen,
Yankee in 1960 brought him a surprising notoriety that served as the
driving force behind the debate that swirled around him until that fateful day
in March. It was a book about
Upon returning to
Among the first to read the book were FBI analysts, since the bureau obtained the manuscript prior to its publication. Anticipating its impact, the FBI also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince the publisher, Ian Ballantine, to publish a negative perspective of the revolution by another author.
Mills received numerous messages
of support and appreciation of his book. He was also criticized, insulted, and
threatened. According to the FBI, a few days following the appearance of
Listen, Yankee, someone sent Mills an anonymous letter warning him that “an
American agent disguised as a South American would assassinate him on his next
Mills’s friends recall that he was concerned not only for himself but for his family, and that he had indeed acquired a handgun, which he even kept next to his bed while he slept.
During those days, Mills had
been preparing for an hour-long televised debate with Adolph A. Berle Jr. on
NBC, with a viewing audience of approximately 20 million people, which was
scheduled to take place on Saturday, December 10. He had dedicated many hours
On the eve of the highly publicized program, he suffered a severe heart attack. He was in a coma for four days and hospitalized for two weeks until he decided to return home. The doctors insisted that he avoid stress. “That’s like telling me to avoid eating and breathing,” he responded. The cardiograms revealed that he had previously suffered a heart attack, possibly in 1956 or 1957.
While Mills began his long
process of recuperation, the Batista mafia in
This letter is an important document, as it reveals the depth of Mills’s admirable personality. Describing the question of his health, he said, “I’m not ever going to be a track star; probably can’t really get into any revolutionary action in anybody’s mountains, but with a little carefulness on the physical side, I shouldn’t be handicapped much at all. But of course that’s only medicine, which is about living and dying, not about how one might live, or even must live. That’s well beyond medicine and well into one’s own morality…
“What we do not know, as yet, is how much intellectual and moral tension I can stand without the silly heart blistering out again…One point that bothers me greatly: I’m afraid there is going to come about a very bad time in my country for people who think as I do...What bothers me is whether or not the damned heart will stand up to what must then be done.”
In the same letter, Mills mentions some of the financial problems brought on by his illness. “I am not teaching this Spring of course, and do not yet know if Columbia will pay my salary for the semester or not. I have no hospitalization or such insurance (which anyway is a racket) and my first week (in a local suburban hospital mind you) cost $1,100.00...that’s just the hospital, no doctors or surgery.”
C. Wright Mills paid a high
price for his passionate love of truth. Listen, Yankee was for him “a
pivotal book,” which helped him fight the “moral ambiguity” and “cowardice”
that prevailed in
Nearly half a century later, his
principal message not only retains its relevance; recent historical events
vindicate it. The world has changed a lot since 1960. The
From the time when Mills came to
Mills’s prophetic vision is becoming a reality. Indeed, now we have many things to talk about. We are waiting for him.