THE following articles trace the history of Trotskyism in Cuba. They focus on the theoretical, tactical and organisational development of the Oposición Comunista de Cuba (OCC) in the early 1930s, the Partido Bolchevique Leninista (PBL) and the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) in the 1930s and 1940s, and the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Trotskista) (POR(T)), the Trotskyist group which was reconstituted after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The first and, until recently, the most comprehensive study of these dissident Cuban Communist groups was that of Robert Alexander.1 He tentatively concluded that when the Cuban Trotskyists were at their peak in terms of influence in the revolutionary movement in the 1930s, they were closer to Social Democracy or Joaquín Maurín, the leader of the Bloque Obrero y Campesino (BOC) in Spain, than they were to Trotsky. This characterisation suggests that the Cuban Trotskyists were essentially Right Communists who believed in a two-stage revolutionary process in which the first stage would be a democratic revolution.2 However, although Trotsky intransigently labelled Maurín ‘the incarnation of the petit-bourgeois revolutionary’, Maurín’s political strategy had varied roots, and under the influence of Andreu Nin he moved away from this clear-cut two-stage strategy in the 1930s.3 Andy Durgan’s study of the BOC, for example, has convincingly argued that Maurín believed that petit-bourgeois nationalism would eventually disintegrate, forcing its followers to align themselves with either the proletariat or the counter-revolution.4 In the light of this understanding of the revolutionary process, which implicitly accepts Trotsky’s contention that the petit-bourgeoisie could only hold state power temporarily, and that the revolution would ultimately be proletarian or would be defeated, Durgan concludes that just as some incorrectly label the Spanish Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) as ‘Trotskyist’, so others call the BOC ‘Right Communists’.
Whilst Alexander makes no reference to the complexities of Maurín’s political evolution, his work on the history of Trotskyism in Cuba also suffers from appearing to rely on the testimony of individuals who, though participants in events in Cuba in the 1930s, were by the time of the cited interviews in the 1970s, anti-Communist exiles in Miami with their own agendas to promote. Most significantly, Charles Simeón Ramírez, a Cuban exile who at the time of his interview with Alexander was apparently trying to regroup various ex-Auténticos6 into a Social Democratic anti-Castro group in the USA, and who agrees with Alexander’s assessment of the theoretical and organisational development of the Cuban Trotskyists in the 1930s, had an evident interest in minimising the revolutionary Socialist content of organisations to which he had previously belonged. Thus, apart from highlighting the Maurinista angle, he was also rather modest about his own activities in the Trotskyist milieu. Describing his participation and rôle in the movement, Simeón claims that he left the PBL in 1934.7 However, primary source evidence demonstrates that he was active in the Cuban Trotskyist party until the late 1930s, and that after the sickness which overtook Gastón Medina Escobar, the General Secretary of the PBL in 1935-36, it was Simeón himself who took over the General Secretaryship of the party.8
Apart from Alexander, the only other researchers outside Cuba who have written about Trotskyism in that country are Pierre Broué9 and Osvaldo Coggiola.10 In the paragraphs which relate to Cuba in the article ‘Le Mouvement Trotskyste en Amérique Latine jusqu’en 1940’, Broué contends that whilst the early Cuban Trotskyists stood partly in the revolutionary Syndicalist tradition, they were also closer to Maurín than to Trotsky. On the basis of Trotsky’s analysis of Maurín, Broué develops the argument that the Cuban Trotskyists committed political suicide by placing themselves at the service of social forces outside the working class. Coggiola, on the other hand, directly challenges these Maurinista interpretations of both Alexander and Broué. He argues that far from being Right Communists, the Cuban Trotskyists in the 1930s advocated the building of an anti-imperialist united front in a way which reflected the thought of Lenin and Trotsky more closely than that of any other Trotskyist group in the semi-colonial world.
There is an extensive general historiography of the Cuban workers’ movement originating in Cuba. However, its scholarly quality is rather questionable. Most significantly, it is characterised by varying degrees of misrepresentation of Communist and non-Communist movements alike, idolatry, and an emphasis on a linear view of historical development which inevitably ends with the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 and the coming to power of Fidel Castro after over a century of struggle. A further feature of Cuban historiography is that it recognises the existence of Trotskyism at various times merely to attach some pejorative label to it. Until recently, the extent of any acknowledgement by Cubans was to refer to Trotskyists in Cuba as ‘reformists’ or ‘sectarians’ who sought to break working-class unity, or who were even anti-proletarian.11 Apparently, drawing on evidence from contemporary Communist Party documents, they also generally associate the whole history of Trotskyism with one of Cuba’s most corrupt trade union leaders, Eusebio Mujal.12 Accepting the version propagated by the Communist Party at the time, such works insist that Trotskyism, as personified by Mujal, was a pro-employer and pro-imperialist divisionist current which impeded national unity during the Second World War.13 More commonly, though, its existence is passed over in silence. For example, the only oblique mention of Trotskyism in the period up to March 1935 in one of the most comprehensive Cuban works dealing with the history of the native labour movement is a reference to ‘Eusebio Mujal and other splitters’ who attempted to direct their anti-imperialism against foreign workers.14
The only piece of recent Cuban research which, in part, corrects this is the doctoral thesis by Rafael Soler Martínez, El Trotskismo en la Revolución del 30.15 Although Soler’s study contains valuable and extensive information on the social and geographical composition of the PBL, particularly in the province of Oriente, his emphasis on the descriptive analysis is also the major limitation of his work. Soler makes little mention of the fundamental political issues at stake in the debates in the Communist milieu, and the dissertation traces no central political argument. Soler’s inventory-like account ultimately lacks the scope and incisiveness which Broué brings to the subject.
Where Soler does make reference to political issues, he rather confusingly concludes that, although the Trotskyists promoted revolutionary anti-imperialist struggle during the early to mid-1930s, they were at the same time divisionists, sectarians and dogmatists who contributed to the division and defeat of the revolutionary movement.16 Soler repeats this line in a short, summary article which also implicitly challenges Coggiola’s positive assessment of the Cuban Trotskyists’ united front tactic.17 However, in introducing this bare thread of an argument, the evidence which Soler cites to support his conclusion that the Trotskyists were sectarian is very weak. In his summary article, the only tenuous evidence he puts forward in an attempt to underpin such a claim is a quotation from the OCC which states that the question of trade union unity entailed a relentless struggle against the trade union policy of the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) and reformists alike. Soler, also confusingly, accuses the Trotskyists of being sectarian on the basis that they attempted to create a revolutionary vanguard party. Indeed, given Soler’s assertion that the PCC was sectarian during the period under investigation,18 together with the general understanding that the accusations of ‘sectarianism’ and ‘divisionism’ in Cuba encompass a variety of political crimes, Soler’s work does not leave the reader with a clear impression of what distinguished the ‘dissident’ from the ‘official’ Communists.
Unsurprisingly, Soler’s work also suffers from reflecting, consciously or unconsciously, the prejudices of its author’s milieu. Most importantly, he falls victim to a common failing of repeating many of the old Stalinist fictions about Trotskyism. In the first instance, his theoretical understanding of the theory of Permanent Revolution and the essence of Lenin’s thought relies more on the vulgar interpretations of a Soviet ‘authority’ on the subject, Mikhail Basmanov, than on the basic writings of Lenin, Trotsky and the early Comintern. Without any supporting evidence, he asserts that Trotsky’s supposedly dogmatic interpretation of Marx never understood the contributions of Lenin on an alleged need for a democratic, anti-imperialist stage in the revolution in the colonies and semi-colonies,19 and, furthermore, that Trotsky did not understand the Leninist conception of the united front and the anti-imperialist united front tactics.20 However, in failing to discuss the crucial question of the Trotskyists’ attitude to the relationship between the democratic and Socialist revolution, other than by bold unsupported statements of Stalinist ‘truth’, Soler only succeeds in demonstrating that he himself has not grasped the essence of Trotsky’s thought on the revolutionary process in the colonial and semi-colonial countries.
Soler’s work is also defective in that it perpetuates the idea that the Trotskyist movement in Cuba was insignificant after 1935, only having a presence in Guantánamo before totally disappearing at the beginning of the 1950s.21 The continued existence of a Trotskyist organisation in the 1960s has been established by Alexander, whose work is indeed cited by Soler. In the light of this, then, although Soler’s research incorporates a degree of misrepresentation of key aspects of the organisational and theoretical development of Trotskyism in Cuba, albeit generally unintentional, it also embodies elements of a more conscious attempt at falsification. In sum, Soler subordinates scientific statement to political imperatives. His conclusions are plainly not supported by the evidence, and he does not dwell on exploring the political content of the concepts of either ‘sectarian’ or ‘Trotskyism’, appearing to assume that they are simple synonyms. Most revealing of the poverty of Soler’s method is that from the primary source material he himself cites the allegation of ‘sectarianism’ is shown to be largely baseless, whilst he ignores the seemingly more apt accusation of ‘opportunism’. Put simply, Soler’s answers are seemingly decided in advance of his research project and preclude any questions. As Max Shachtman so astutely wrote of Stalinists, they ‘have the Catholics’ attitude toward their dogmas: they assume what is to be proved; their arbitrary conclusions are presented as their premises; their statement of the problem is at the same time their answer’.22
In contrast to these studies, particularly that of Soler, the central argument which I develop in the following articles is that although the Cuban Trotskyists attempted to interpret the essence of Trotsky’s thought in a way which took into account the peculiarities of the Cuban context, they never consistently and unambiguously insisted on a central tenet of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, namely, the necessary proletarian nature of the anti-imperialist revolution. That is to say, they did not unequivocally view the working class through its own democratic organisations as the leader of the revolutionary process, and consequently failed to focus their attentions on forging a conscious proletarian leadership for a revolution which was carried out, not only against feudal and imperialist interests (the democratic anti-imperialist revolution), but also against capitalist relations of production. I also contend that the Cuban Trotskyists’ failure to make a clear differentiation between proletarian and petit-bourgeois anti-imperialist forces in the 1930s and 1940s ended up with them making increasing political concessions to Stalinism in the 1960s. That is, along with major tendencies in the ‘orthodox’ international Trotskyist movement during the 1950s and 1960s, they advocated a caricature of the Comintern’s post-1924 conceptions of the revolutionary process which did not propose a politically independent course for the working class, and which viewed the radical petit-bourgeoisie or ‘deformed’ Stalinist states as the leading protagonist in the anti-imperialist revolution.23
1. RJ Alexander, Trotskyism in Latin America, Stanford, 1973, pp215-35. The short section in RJ Alexander, International Trotskyism 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement, Durham, 1991, pp228-31, is no more than a summary of the chapter in his earlier work from 1973.
2. Joaquín Maurín (1897-1973) and the BOC are perhaps best known for their advocacy of the ‘triple front’ in which proletarian, agrarian and national liberation movements would unite in a struggle for a ‘democratic Socialist’ revolution. Maurín has also been remembered for, at one point, arguing that it was necessary not only to win over the existing national liberation movement, but also to participate in its formation where it did not already exist.
3. For Andreu Nin (1892-1937) see Revolutionary History, Volume 4, nos 1/2, Winter 1991-92, p71, n37.
4. AC Durgan, BOC 1930-1936: El Bloque Obrero y Campesino, Barcelona, 1996, p334.
5. Op cit, p525.
6. The Auténtico party, founded by Ramón Grau San Martín in 1934, was initially a nationalist-reformist group shaped in an Aprista mould in opposition to the US-backed Batista dictatorship. However, during the course of the 1930s, it increasingly offered little more than a constitutional version of Batista’s programme, and in the late 1940s, when the party came to power, it succumbed to the old vices of corruption and kow-towing to US imperialism.
7. Manuscript of interview given by Charles Simeón to RJ Alexander, 12 April 1970.
8. Interview given by Idalberto Ferrera Acosta, Mario Medina Escobar and Francisco Medina Escobar to the author, 30 July 1997; Boletín Interior del Partido Obrero Revolucionario, March 1946, p5; and various letters held at the Hoover Institution, SWP Collection, Box 30, Folders 27 and 28, which are either signed by Simeón or refer to his continued PBL commitment.
9. P Broué, ‘Le Mouvement Trotskyste en Amérique Latine jusqu’en 1940’, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no 11, September 1982, pp13-30.
10. O Coggiola, El Trotskismo en América Latina, Buenos Aires, 1993, pp20-2, 46-9. Another short article, which is largely based on secondary sources, has highlighted the anti-Stalinist nature of the Cuban Trotskyists (CM Estefanía Aulet, ‘El Trotskismo: Vida y Muerte de una Alternativa Obrera No Estalinista’, Cuba Nuestra (Stockholm), no 6, October 1996, pp6-9).
11. See, for example, the work of the PCC apologist L Soto, La Revolución del 33, Volume 3, Havana, 1985, pp182-7.
12. Eusebio Mujal passed through the OCC and PBL on his way from the official Communist Party to the Auténtico trade union organisation in the early 1930s. In the first half of the 1940s, he led the Auténtico trade union opposition to the Communist Party-controlled trade union centre before leading the subservient national labour confederation during the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s. Having amassed a personal fortune estimated in the millions of dollars, Mujal fled the country after the Revolution.
13. See Instituto de Historia del Movimiento Comunista y de la Revolución Socialista de Cuba (ed), Historia del Movimiento Obrero Cubano, 1865-1958, Volume 2, Havana, 1985, pp90, 112, 129-30.
14. Instituto de Historia del Movimiento Comunista y de la Revolución Socialista de Cuba (ed), Historia del Movimiento Obrero Cubano, 1865-1958, Volume 1, Havana, 1985, p305.
15. All references to this study are to the draft of R Soler Martínez, El Trotskismo en la Revolución del 30, PhD Thesis, Universidad de Oriente, Santiago de Cuba, 1997, which Soler successfully defended in Havana on 2 July 1997.
16. Op cit, pp10-11, 138, 141.
17. R Soler Martínez, ‘Los Orígenes del Trotskismo en Cuba: Los Primeros Trotskistas Cubanos’, En Defensa del Marxismo (Buenos Aires), year 7, no 20, May 1998, pp54-70.
18. See, for example, op cit, p65.
19. This assertion, of course, is not limited to those authors living and working in societies dominated by the barbarity of Stalinism. See, for example, the work of the ‘professorial Marxist’ Richard Harris, Marxism, Socialism and Democracy in Latin America, Boulder, 1992. Amongst the points which constitute the framework of his discussion is the argument that Lenin shared Stalin’s concept of a two-stage revolutionary process in which a distinct democratic revolution preceded the Socialist revolution. Unsurprisingly, Harris also attributes the idea that it is possible to build Socialism in one country to Lenin (p47).
20. Soler Martínez, El Trotskismo en la Revolución del 30, op cit, p33.
21. Op cit, p134.
22. See M Shachtman, ‘Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg’, What Next?, no 3, 1997, p37. Soler repeats this methodological approach in his article ‘Las Luchas Internas en el Partido Comunista de la URSS después de Lenin. Surgimiento del Trotskismo’, Santiago (Santiago de Cuba), nos 81-82, 1996-97, pp59-88. Pretending to synthesise the views of everyone from Trotsky to Basmanov, Soler manages to conclude that Trotskyism through its passionate and sometimes violent methods of argument contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union by giving the enemies of Socialism arguments with which they could fight the USSR.
23. The articles which follow are based on the material and argument set out in my doctoral thesis Dissident Cuban Communism: The Case of Trotskyism, 1932-65, University of Bradford, 1999. A preliminary draft of my work on Trotskyism in Cuba based on a limited range of documents appeared as G Tennant, ‘Una Historia del Trotskismo Cubano (1ª Parte)’, En Defensa del Marxismo (Buenos Aires), year 5, no 14, September 1996, pp46-60; G Tennant, ‘Una Historia del Trotskismo Cubano (2º Parte)’, En Defensa del Marxismo (Buenos Aires), year 6, no 15, December 1996, pp65-80.