Nationalism and Communism in Cuba

THIS background article outlines the development of the principal features of the Cuban political economy and the form in which nationalist and Socialist aspirations were expressed from the independence struggles of the nineteenth century until the 1959 Revolution. The central argument is that alongside Cuba’s continued semi-colonial status, the major defining feature of the Cuban political economy after independence was the weakness of class-based institutions. This peculiar characteristic not only sowed the seeds for the formation of Bonapartist-type regimes, both pre- and post-1959, but promoted the growth of a powerful official Communist Party which was willing to conclude opportunist agreements with various authoritarian political leaders in order to advance its own interests against those of both the national bourgeoisie and the working class.

The Foundations of the Cuban Political Economy

The Cuban Republic was born as a virtual appendage of the economy of the United States of America. Its native bourgeoisie, weakened by Spain’s rule-or-ruin policy at the end of the 1895-98 War of Independence, was left open to be bought out by US finance. Whilst US investments increasingly dominated Cuba’s economy, particularly the sugar sector, and produced a working class on a large scale, development was uneven. No native capitalist class crystallised, and, consequently, no national bourgeoisie was able to establish durable institutions to promote its own class rule. Instead, excluded in large part from the productive sources of wealth, formal control of the Cuban Republic during the first two decades of the twentieth century passed between competing factions of a ruling Cuban oligarchy which had no distinct programme to promote the growth of a strong national bourgeoisie. Whilst one faction enjoyed the benefits of office, the other in an attempt to win a share of power and graft combined its calls for honest elections and government with promoting a degree of rebellion to provoke the intervention of the US military.1

The first crack in this pattern of development came in the mid-1920s, after the dramatic drop in sugar prices and consequent bankruptcies stimulated the still deeper penetration by US finance capital of all sectors of the economy. President Machado, representing the small native capitalist class, came to power advocating a mild nationalist programme to regenerate Cuba without threatening the interests of the USA. However, the worldwide depression following the Stock Exchange Crash of 1929 had severe effects on the course of developments. Cuba’s economy, so heavily geared to the export of sugar to a single buyer, was very vulnerable to the imposition of protectionist measures by the USA. Whilst Machado faithfully serviced the foreign debt, drastic cuts in wages, jobs and government expenditure threw urban professionals and workers alike into the ranks of a myriad of national-reformist and revolutionary groups.

The Formative Years of the Cuban Labour Movement

The working class in Cuba emerged as a result of capitalist development and production for export in the two main industries — tobacco and sugar. In the tobacco industry, cigar workers first formed mutual benefit and education associations during the 1850s. Under the leadership of Saturnino Martínez, the influence of cooperativism and reformism on the Cuban labour movement went unchallenged until the 1880s, when younger leaders began advocating the new ideology of Anarcho-Syndicalism. Anarcho-Syndicalism dominated Cuban working-class politics for the next 40 years.

The Cuban Anarcho-Syndicalist movement was not hostile to the sentiment of national liberation during the 1895-98 War after the 1892 Workers Congress had agreed on a formula which allowed workers to join the separatist movement on an individual basis.2 However, although Spanish and Cuban workers appear to have adopted a broadly non-chauvinistic attitude during the struggle for national independence, the labour movement did retain a peculiar narrow nationalistic hue in the first decades of the Cuban Republic. Whilst the end of the four years of US military occupation left the Cuban working class with no organisational framework, a sense of ‘chauvinistic anarchism’ also overtook the remaining prewar internationalist Anarcho-Syndicalist spirit. The main cause of this was the conflict between Spanish and Cuban workers over the issue of reserving the better-paid jobs in certain trades for Spanish workers. Spanish workers dominated the commercial sector and the skilled jobs in the tobacco industry. With an influx of foreign labour in the first two decades of the republic, mostly from Spain, labour militancy and strikes were often dominated by the struggle against Spanish control of the labour market, rather than constituting any direct protest against capitalist interests.

Whilst Anarchists were the more militant promoters of the strike weapon, particularly over demands for the payment of wages in US dollars rather than the devalued French or Spanish currencies, reformist leaders led attempts to found nation-wide Socialist parties in the first two decades of independence. However, with continued large-scale immigration from Spain tending to bolster the spirit of Anarcho-Syndica­lism, reformism had no social base. The initiatives to build an opposition to the influence of Anarchism in the working class which did get off the ground were thus generally short-lived affairs concentrated in the periods leading up to elections, when presidential and congressional pretenders opportunistically sought to organise support from sections of the labour movement.

Although the repercussions of the Russian October Revolution for twentieth century development were profound, as much in Cuba as elsewhere, initially its impact on the Cuban political scene was minimal. The disparate political currents within the labour movement interpreted the events in Russia according to their own ideology, and their ties to the Bolsheviks were based more on emotion than politics. Various Anarchist leaders, for example, proclaimed themselves the Cuban section of the Comintern, without any concrete knowledge or understanding of the course of developments in Russia. Indeed, bearing witness to the weakness of an independent class-based Socialist tradition at the time, the Bolshevik revolution did not result in any split within the Cuban labour movement, nor in the immediate formation of a Communist Party. The Russian Revolution’s impact was instead limited to implanting revolutionary Marxism as a potentially successful guide to action in the consciousness of the Anarcho-Syndicalist milieu.

Working-class organisation in all major sectors across the island gathered pace through the early 1920s. A First National Labour Congress was convened in Havana, which moved to organise the Federación Obrera de La Habana (FOH) under the leadership of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Alfredo López in 1920-21. Although this trade union centre only united and coordinated the activity of the trade unions in the capital, in practice its influence stretched beyond the province of Havana. The radicalised student sector, under the leadership of Julio Antonio Mella, having initiated a campaign for university reform as a first step towards national regeneration, also began to establish links with the organisations of the working class.

In the wake of the collapse in sugar prices in the 1920s, sugar workers suffered cuts in their wages and periods of employment. The discontent which this stimulated engendered a new wave of labour militancy, and resulted in the working-class movement gaining a greater degree of unity, with trade union bodies in the urban areas establishing links with rural centres of work. In 1923-24, strikes initiated by the sugar workers spread across the country. However, whilst this series of strikes brought together wider layers of workers than any previous movement, and, because the mills were largely US-owned, immediately gave the struggle an anti-imperialist content, it also brought to the fore again a narrower nationalist aspect. One central demand of the sugar workers, the call to end the annual import of Jamaican and Haitian field workers, ensured that nationalism continued to exert its influence. The strike movement, however, inspired the formation of the Confederación Nacional Obrera de Cuba (CNOC), a permanent national trade union body, at a congress in Aug­ust 1925. At this historic meeting delegates representing an estimated 200 000 workers expressed a diverse range of reformist, Anarcho-Syndi­calist and Communist views. Whilst the Anarcho-Syndicalists were still dominant, within weeks of the founding of the CNOC various small Communist circles met to constitute the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC).

As the Machado regime responded to a further fall in world sugar prices in the late 1920s by cutting production, the already under-employed sugar workers had to suffer an even shorter harvest season. It was during this period of deepening social conflict and apparent arbitrary acts of repression and assassination against labour organisations that the PCC’s influence in the working class substantially increased. In part, the PCC’s rise was facilitated by the work of Rubén Martínez Villena, a leading member of the party, in his capacity as a lawyer for the CNOC. His position allowed the PCC access to and influence in the offices of a variety of trade unions. Official Communist influence was also aided by the destruction of the labour movement’s experienced Anarcho-Syn­dicalist leadership, who, already well known to the regime, bore the brunt of the severe repression meted out by the Machado government’s security forces. However, apart from simply filling the vacuum left, the PCC also won Anarcho-Syndicalists who were attracted to the Communists’ tighter organisation and apparent revolutionary preparedness.

The Revolution of the 1930s and Radical Cuban Nationalism

In the wake of the Stock Exchange Crash of 1929 and the subsequent worldwide economic depression, Cuba’s narrowly-based export economy was hit hard. As prices slumped, production was cut back, businesses closed and wage reductions were enforced at the same time as unemployment soared. As business failures reached record proportions, and as government subsidies and expenditure were cut to help service the foreign debt, a hard-pressed section of the small national bourgeoisie, as well as government officials and professionals who had been laid off, transferred their political hopes to the constitutional opposition. Machado, however, met this challenge to his regime with increased repression and the murder of political rivals of all shades.

With the removal of the more moderate nationalist elements, whose threat was more based on provoking the support of the USA than stimulating any mass popular movement within Cuba, more militant groups emerged. In 1931, the PCC formed an aggressively anti-imperialist organisation, the Ala Izquierda Estudiantil (AIE — Left-Wing Students), to challenge the limited democratic nationalism of the Directorio Estudiantil Universitario in the student milieu. In conditions characterised by the proscription of the Cuban Communist Party, the formation of the AIE was one more front organisation through which the PCC conducted much of its activity. Other front organisations which had been formed during the Comintern’s Second Period of building broad anti-imperialist blocs included Cuban sections of the Defensa Obrera Internacional, affiliated to International Red Aid, the Liga Anti-Imperialista de las Américas, the Liga Anti-Clerical, and a youth organisation, the Liga Juvenil Comunista.3

After the failure of an armed insurrection in August 1931, planned and initiated by the socially conservative Partido Unión Nacionalista headed by Colonel Carlos Mendieta and General Miguel Mariano Gómez,4 the urban middle class also perpetuated the tradition of turning to arms by forming the ABC.5 Primarily a terrorist body, from mid-1932 it organised amongst the ranks of urban professionals on a secretive cellular basis with the immediate aim of punishing those in the Machado regime who were responsible for the arbitrary acts of violence against the various opposition groups. Whilst the ABC’s programme identified the negative rôle of US imperialism in displacing Cubans from control over the national economy, politically it was a heterogeneous organisation. Its links with the working class were minimal, which, apart from reinforcing its tendency towards individual terrorism, instilled in it a fear of any revolutions with social consequences. This eventually led it to side with US mediation and the counter-revolution.6

During 1932 and early 1933, opposition to Machado’s rule came from all social classes. The student and middle-class opposition movement was increasingly supplemented by the intervention of the working class, which was also demanding widespread economic and political reforms. As labour militancy again rose in June and July 1933 at the end of the sugar-cane harvest, so in July the US Ambassador to Cuba, Benjamin Sumner Welles, began mediation talks between the Machado administration and the non-Communist opposition groups. However, whilst these were under way a general strike called for 5 August paralysed Havana, and quickly spread across the island. According to a report by a New Deal advocate in the USA, under the leadership of the FOH and the CNOC the strike ‘had been transformed from a limited economic movement into a political crusade, openly anti-governmental in character’.7 Machado undertook one final manoeuvre to prevent his political demise by denouncing the US mediation and offering limited concessions in negotiations with labour leaders. As the same pro-New Dealer described:

‘Throughout the strike the government had maintained contact with labor leaders, and on 8 August the Communist-led National Confederation of Labor [the CNOC], in return for a promise from Machado to recognize the legality of that organization, release all imprisoned workers and grant other demands, ordered the workers back to their jobs. The command, however, was opposed by the Havana Federation of Labor [the FOH] and was not heeded by the strikers.’8

Amidst the mounting chaos and after losing US backing, Machado eventually fled the country on 12 August 1933. As news of his regime’s collapse came through, the USA, underestimating the extent of the popular clamour for profound reform, ushered in a government led by Carlos Miguel de Céspedes. Whilst the general strike initially folded, with the collapse of Machadista local councils and temporary paralysis of local military units a power vacuum was created in the countryside. Workers sensed the exhaustion of the old Cuban oligarchy tied to the Platt Amendment, and launched a further series of strikes and occupations in the sugar industry in the interior in mid- to late August 1933. With the army in a state of paralysis, if not of indiscipline and rebelliousness, a spontaneous insurrectionary tide led by the older local trade union leaders, and catching the PCC somewhat by surprise, temporarily took control of production centres in the interior. Armed groups of workers pressed home their demands as they secured and extended workers’ control over a large number of sugar centrales across Cuba. In a few exceptional cases these occupations were transformed into what have become known in Cuban literature as Soviets.9

However, although no overtly pro-capitalist group was able to call on a centralised armed body of men, the strikers themselves had no long-term perspective. Just as this turn of events demonstrated that in the initial stage of a spontaneous mass movement, workers reinforce their traditional organisations and methods of struggle — in this case, those of apolitical Syndicalism — so this manifestation of working-class militancy served to demonstrate the ultimate failing of Anarcho-Syndicalism. Unwilling to pose the political question of which class will hold state power, after Batista had consolidated control of the army in early October 1933 and promised renewed army intervention in the centrales, the strike committees increasingly sought compromise agreements as the control of the mills was ceded to the owners. The demands of the strikers did not impinge on the political questions of power, but were rather limited to economism.10

With state power temporarily paralysed and the political situation still undecided in August-September 1933, the end of the Céspedes government came in the form of the Sergeants’ Revolt of 4 September 1933 led by Sergeant Fulgencio Batista.11 In the short term, the intervention of the influential Directorio Estudiantil Universitario advocating radical reform turned an act of insubordination into a de facto military coup. Under the political leadership of the students, a five-man directorate formed a new government, which in turn gave way to Ramón Grau San Martín, the choice of the radical students for the presidency.

Seeking to chart a course between demands for radical social reform emanating from the labour and student movement, whose left wing claimed to be anti-imperialist, and the more cautious social conservatism of the old institutions, the unstable, Bonapartist bourgeois nationalist Grau San Martín government combined a policy of paternalistic intervention in labour-capital relations with frank chauvinistic appeals to popular nationalist sentiments. As the pro-New Deal writers in the USA wrote, ‘Cuba for the Cubans’ became its motto.12 Whilst the Platt Amendment was unilaterally abrogated and social reforms in terms of minimum wage legislation, a statutory eight-hour working day and the drastic reduction of electricity prices were introduced, the Grau San Martín government attempted to challenge the dominant influence of Communism in the organised labour movement by seeking to ‘Cubanise’ the labour force and the labour leadership. In the first place, Grau San Martín continued Machado’s policy of deporting unemployed foreigners. Another decree, which popularly became known as the ‘Fifty Per Cent Law’, required all companies to ensure that at least 50 per cent of employees on their payrolls were native Cubans, and that all new vacancies be filled by Cubans. A second decree on labour organisation attempted to ‘Cubanise’ the trade union movement and restrict Communist influence by making it illegal for foreign-born trade unionists to hold office in a labour organisation. This decree also included the setting up of a government register of all labour organisations, and the establishment of a compulsory conciliation and arbitration board to settle all industrial disputes. Driving a wedge between native and foreign labour, nationalism was mobilised within the ranks of labour in a struggle to weaken Communism.

Whilst much of the legislation of the Grau San Martín government was motivated by the Directorio Estudiantil Universitario’s programme, the primary conduit for forcing apace the social reform legislation and pressing home the concerns of the radical nationalist forces was Antonio Guiteras, the young Minister of War and the Interior. However, also within the unstable government, Batista’s authority was increasing as he rallied the army in resisting a counter-coup by the deposed officer caste, and repressing the mounting wave of strikes and social unrest. Apart from violently confronting striking workers in the centrales, the army crushed a demonstration organised by the PCC in Havana to honour the return of the ashes of the murdered Communist Julio Antonio Mella on 29 September 1933.13 By also ransacking the offices of the CNOC, Batista began to win the confidence of the more moderate nationalist sectors who were hostile to the anti-imperialist content of the Grau San Martín-Guiteras social reform programme.

Caught between a radical insurrectional tide and pressure from conservative sectors for social peace, the fall of the so-called ‘100 day’ government of Grau San Martín came in mid-January 1934, the day after the US-owned Cuban Electric Company had refused to comply with a government order to reduce its prices and the government had ordered a seizure of its plants.14 At the beginning of the 1934 sugar-cane harvest, sugar interests in Cuba and the USA required an immediate political solution which would guarantee social stability during the harvest. Batista transferred army support from Grau San Martín, first of all, to Carlos Hevia, the moderate Secretary of Agriculture, and then three days later to Carlos Mendieta. Within five days, the USA had recognised the new government. Whilst political power had been torn from the old oligarchy, the anti-imperialist content of the struggle had received a severe blow. The right of capital over labour once again rested on the unequivocal support of an army committed to halting the mobilisation of labour. Whilst Batista had a narrow base of popular support, his immediate task was one of naked repression, something which the small and weak national bourgeoisie had proved incapable of carrying out alone. As Batista increasingly took on the features of a repressive Bonapartist figure above the local class formations, during the course of 1934 the Batista-Mendieta regime also attempted to legitimise many of the labour reforms which the Grau San Martín government had introduced.

In January and February 1934, following the fall of the Grau San Martín government, strikes almost swamped the government, whilst a myriad of political groups also sprang into being to challenge Batista’s authority. Grau San Martín fled to Mexico and founded the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (Auténtico) (PRC(A)) in February 1934, a party modelled on an Aprista nationalist opposition to the new government. The most uncompromising political action group, however, was Joven Cuba, founded by Guiteras. In essence a politico-military apparatus for the overthrow of Batista and the imposition of Socialism from above, Joven Cuba embodied an amalgam of political ideas. In the first place, Guiteras’ strategy incorporated the ideas of revolutionary violence and a Socialist dictatorship as advocated in the early twentieth century in Europe by Georges Sorel.15 Guiteras also embodied the voluntarist traditions of Cuban revolutionary struggle, which highlighted the subjective factor in the revolutionary process. More significantly, however, in many respects Guiteras’ approach to revolutionary struggle ran Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution backwards. That is, whereas Trotsky saw the revolution as the culmination of a process of consistent united front work to win and pass beyond democratic demands, Guiteras’ schema in effect drew no distinction between imperialism and the national bourgeoisie, ignored the democratic political tasks of the revolutionary struggle, and sought to impose emancipation on the oppressed classes.

Reducing the revolution to a largely technical military operation, Joven Cuba commenced a campaign of bombings and individualistic terrorist actions. As a largely uneven and spontaneous strike movement through 1934 contributed to the widespread disorder, President Mendieta suspended constitutional guarantees, placing Batista and the army in formal as well as effective control of the island. The available Cuban military resources were deployed to crush a further round of labour unrest. Labour leaders across the political spectrum were shot or imprisoned, trade unions were dissolved, and the leaders of the Auténticos and Joven Cuba were hunted down.

The confrontation between Batista and the forces of radical nationalism and Socialism culminated in February-March 1935, when another general strike was organised for the introduction of minimum democratic rights. Initiated by the University Strike Committee, preparatory work was hastily carried out amongst student and workers’ organisations with the aim of building a united front committee. However, political divisions amongst the organisations of the proletariat persisted, and unity in action was not obtained. Without centralised control, the strike began spontaneously at different times in different places, only gradually becoming as complete as the August 1933 general strike. This, in turn, provoked the imposition of a state of martial law and the use of the most extreme measures in the history of the republic against the strikers. Unable to withstand the onslaught of the state forces, the strike collapsed and repression again intensified. The forces of Batista destroyed union headquarters, declared all union funds to be state property, and outlawed all political parties. Guiteras was eventually hunted down and shot, thereby signalling the decline of the Joven Cuba organisation and the drift of its members into the PRC(A) in 1935-36. The strike’s failure and the repression which followed brought to a close the Revolution of the 1930s, although the repercussions of these years were to extend into the next decades.

The Cuban Communist Party and the Revolution of the 1930s

The Cuban Communist Party, founded by such figures as Carlos Baliño and Julio Antonio Mella, who had emerged from the popular national revolutionary movement,16 not only had a great opportunity to win the leadership of the mass revolutionary movement, but, unlike its counterparts in other Latin American countries, from 1928 controlled the national trade union centre. Despite these advantages, however, the PCC managed to isolate itself from the national revolutionary sector during the Revolution of the 1930s and acquire the continuing distrust of all other left-wing groups in Cuba for the next three decades. This outcome was largely determined by the overriding influence of the Comintern and the PCC’s adoption of its tactical zigzags, particularly from the early 1930s.

Constituted relatively late, in 1925, the PCC was initially a small party made up of students, intellectuals and experienced worker-militants, many of whom were foreign-born. In terms of its initial importance within the Comintern, the PCC was a ‘backwater organisation’.17 Furthermore, though shaped by the Comintern’s organisational principles and political perspectives, given its relative remoteness the PCC was not initially a simple appendage of the Kremlin loyally implementing directives emanating from Moscow. Its subordination to Comintern directives was only broadly confirmed when it belatedly began to employ the Third Period tactical line, after the intervention of the Caribbean Bureau of the Comintern and the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA), in November 1930.

In terms of strategy, the PCC initially adopted an opportunist position with regard to revolutionary bourgeois nationalism during the 1920s, going so far as to explore the possibilities for insurrection alongside the Partido Unión Nacionalista. This perspective, though developed locally, placed the PCC within the broad scope of the Comintern’s Second Period tactical line of seeking broadly uncritical alliances with other ‘progressive’ sectors of the population. The PCC, however, abruptly labelled its Second Period policy an error from late 1930, and replaced it with the Comintern’s Third Period line of ultra-left hostility towards the non-Communist nationalist-reformist sector. The PCC considered that the opposition movement to Machado represented the struggle of one faction of the bourgeois-latifundist alliance, with essentially the same programme and as dependent on imperialism as Machado, against the pro-Machado section. The PCC also adopted the Comintern’s assessment of the process of historical development in Latin America. During the Third Period, underpinning the PCC’s activity was the understanding that in Cuba a feudal landlord class was in alliance with imperialism. The perceived coming revolution was thereby considered to be anti-feudal and anti-imperialist in nature. They also resurrected the slogan of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ which Lenin had abandoned in April 1917.

When the August 1931 revolt initiated by the Partido Unión Nacionalista broke out, the official Communists formally maintained a position of passive neutrality. The PCC argued that its involvement in joint preparatory work for an armed expedition from Mexico with the Partido Unión Nacionalista in the late 1920s and its support for an attempted coup d’état led by bourgeois nationalists in October 1930 had made it appear as a simple shock brigade of the Partido Unión Nacionalista. Instead, the official Communists advocated a struggle against what they termed the petit-bourgeois ideological pressure of putschism and conspiratorial romanticism by directing Communist activity towards developing and deepening the daily struggles of the working masses. Whilst this turn included supporting the PCC’s participation in elections organised by Machado on the basis of strengthening the struggle for immediate demands, it also led the official Communists to insist on the validity of the dual or ‘red’ trade union tactic. The PCC rejected the perspective of working in existing non-Communist trade unions in order to win the workers away from their reformist and Anarcho-Syndicalist leaders. Instead, it sought to confront and eliminate trade unions with a non-Communist political affiliation by creating ‘red’ trade unions amongst the working masses. The most notable example of this was the drive to cut across local associations by unionising the workers in the sugar industry, Cuba’s most proletarianised sector, in one national union, the Sindicato Nacional de Obreros de la Industria Azucarera (SNOIA). However, as in other industries, this PCC-dominated union insisted on the united front only from below with rank-and-file non-Communist workers. Whilst there was still a variety of political positions represented within the CNOC until 1930-31, with the National Labour Confederation’s adoption of the Comintern’s Third Period tactics, signs that an opposition was developing within the CNOC to the PCC’s line appeared with the resignation of José Pilar Herrera, the CNOC’s General Secretary, at the end of 1930.18

In the political field, the PCC did not distinguish between the national revolutionary sphere around the student movement and the Grau San Martín-Guiteras axis, on the one hand, and the socially conservative camp organised around Menocal and Mendieta on the other. For the PCC, all these groups and their supporters constituted ‘the forces, of counter-revolution, supported by [North] American finance capital.’19 One further contentious slogan which the PCC took from the international Communist movement was that of calling for ‘Black Belts’. From late 1930, the PCC argued that in those regions in which blacks were a majority, they constituted an oppressed nation. On this basis, the PCC agitated for black self-determination up to and including the setting up of an independent state.

As noted, at the time of the August 1933 general strike, the PCC-controlled CNOC conducted negotiations with Machado which resulted in the PCC issuing a call to end the strike. This back-to-work call, however, was ignored by the workers, and Machado was forced to flee the country shortly afterwards. The PCC quickly reviewed its call for a cessation of the strike, which had exposed it to charges of imposing its priorities on those of the popular movement, eventually considering it to be an act of political myopia and a gross error. Whilst the official Communist movement at the time explained the ‘error’ in terms of the ‘right opportunism’ of the PCC’s Central Committee, at the root of the PCC’s accommodation with Machado was ultra-left hostility to a strike movement which it did not control. As Fabio Grobart stated in his explanation of the ‘error of August’, the ‘party leaders concluded that, since it was impossible to replace Machado immediately by a revolutionary workers’ government, the struggle of the working class would only have the objective effect of aiding the bourgeois opposition to power’.20 This ‘lesser evil’ thesis, which embodied the understanding that a weakened Machado was preferable to another stronger bourgeois substitute or direct US intervention, also gave rise to some internal argument within the PCC. Reflecting the degree of autonomy which the Cuban party still retained with respect to the Comintern, the international envoys in Cuba seem to have been against the decision to order a return to work, but were overruled by the Central Committee of the PCC, which stood behind the position of Martínez Villena. The disagreement led to the immediate removal from office of Jorge Vivó, the PCC’s General Secretary, who had supported the foreign envoys.

As a result of this ‘error of August’, the PCC suffered an immediate loss of prestige and a dislocation of its trade union and party activity. According to an internal report of the PCC’s regional conference in Oriente held in late November and early December 1933, ‘Juan’, a long-standing international envoy who had arrived from Mexico in 1930, noted that the ‘error of August’ had put a brake on the development of the party, and that a state of virtual anarchy reigned in the ranks of the PCC in Oriente. The underlying reason was the rank and file’s unwillingness to accept those aspects of PCC policy which so flagrantly violated the deep-rooted traditions of revolutionary Syndicalism and the national liberation struggle in the easternmost province. Apart from taking a stand against the decision of the PCC leadership to call for a return to work during the August 1933 strike, the PCC delegates at the Oriente conference also questioned other directives passed down from above, such as self-determination for blacks in Oriente and the call against putting the anti-imperialist struggle in the front line of the struggle. The obvious complaint raised by the delegates to the Oriente conference of the party was that such a watering down of the tactical line would strip all struggles of their content, since most of the land and property in Cuba was owned by an imperialist power.21

During the first half of 1934, even after the collapse of the Grau San Martín government, the PCC maintained the strategy and tactics of the Comintern’s Third Period. At the CNOC’s Fourth Congress in January 1934, the official Communists reiterated their commitment to struggle for the self-determination of the black population in Cuba, up to and including separation. The Second Congress of the PCC held in April 1934 restated that the immediate task was the struggle against what they termed the ‘Fascist decrees’ of the Batista-Mendieta government, and for the installation of a workers’ and peasants’ government through Soviet power. Another resolution also reiterated that: ‘Of all the groups and parties in Cuba, the most dangerous for the revolution are the parties of the “Left”, chiefly the Cuban Revolutionary Party of Grau.’22 The PCC repeated that the Auténticos and Joven Cuba remained the principal danger, even after their partial defeat. In the spirit of the ultra-left hostility of the period, the PCC continued to state that these petit-bourgeois nationalist groups were in fact amongst the reactionary parties who were ‘diverting the masses from the road of revolution in order to safeguard the bourgeois-landlord-imperialist domination’.23 The official Communists not only accused the Auténticos and Joven Cuba of being in the camp of counter-revolution, but, reflecting the broad Third Period line, also labelled them as Fascist.

However, after the Fourth Plenum of the PCC’s Central Committee in October 1934, the official Communists began to revise their acutely insensitive ultra-left line as the Comintern prepared its turn towards the tactic of the Popular Front. From depicting nationalist-reformist and anti-imperialist groups during the Grau San Martín government as the biggest enemy, in late 1934 and 1935, when these nationalist groups were much weaker, the PCC decided to support the formation of a broad ‘progressive’ alliance with them. This reversal of policy eventually led the PCC to seek convenient, opportunist alliances, not only with those left nationalist forces which it had previously denounced, but with Batista himself.

Although the Cuban Communists’ turn towards forging broad alliances had been started late in 1934, at the time of the March 1935 general strike it was far from complete. In fact, by early 1935, the PCC had still not completely shed its ultra-left approach, nor fully assimilated the Comintern’s new thinking. During the events of February-March 1935, the PCC primarily concerned itself with political unity with the groups of petit-bourgeois nationalism around an immediate maximum programme for revolution, rather than unity in action with anti-imperialist groups over concrete issues. However, in the aftermath of the defeat of the March general strike, instead of criticising the remnants of its own ultra-leftist ultimatism, the PCC junked all references to a ‘class against class’ approach. The official Communists thereafter argued that their error had been to fail to recognise that the slogan of ‘soviet power’ was an obstacle to national unity, and did not take into account the national revolutionary stage.24 By unreservedly adhering to the two-stage theory in the new Popular Front era, the PCC made an abrupt turn in calling for a Popular Front of all anti-Batista democratic forces. At the Comintern’s Seventh World Congress, the Cuban party confessed the errors of the Third Period, recognising:

‘[The]... “neutral” position taken by the party with regard to the struggle between the Grau government and the reactionary ABC party... and the Commander-in-Chief of the Army Batista... objectively facilitated the coming to power of the present reactionary government. The same attitude explains the fact that the party incorrectly characterised the so-called Cuban Revolutionary Party — a national reformist organisation headed by Grau — as a “Fascist” party and classified as such even the national revolutionary organisation “Young Cuba”, headed by Guiteras.’25

Instead of labelling them as the principal danger, the PCC now sought to establish close and fraternal collaboration with the PRC(A) and the Guiteristas. Instead of crudely counterposing the struggle for a workers’ and peasants’ insurrection against a supposedly counter-revolutionary nationalist struggle, the PCC now began limiting the working-class movement to precisely the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution.

Although in attempting to employ the new line the PCC appealed to all popular anti-imperialist parties and organisations to form a united front against Batista, because of its previous subservience to the Comintern’s hostile Third Period tactical line the Cuban party’s prestige remained severely damaged within the democratic anti-imperialist camp. Unable to influence the revolutionary groups which took up arms, the PCC’s initial attempts at forging a united front in action as the international climate changed were rebutted. However, within the PCC the violent suppression of the March 1935 general strike accelerated and deepened the process of reversing the Third Period tactical line. Interpreting the directives of the Comintern in a peculiar fashion, the isolated Cuban Communist Party was to open itself to the idea of constructing a popular alliance with Batista.

Official Communism and Consensual Nationalism in Cuba, 1935-52

During 1935-58, US hegemony in Cuba, along with the weakness of the national bourgeoisie, continued to shape the development of the Cuban political economy. Significantly, in the aftermath of the Revolution of the 1930s, the Cuban regime continued to display the Bonapartist characteristics which the emergence of Batista as an authoritarian national figure had first demonstrated in 1934. Sam Farber has characterised the post-1935 era as a period of conservative Bonapartism in which Batista, whilst not representing the Cuban bourgeoisie, dictated policies which the latter accepted because of its historic weakness, its fear of revolution if Batista were to be opposed, and because in general terms the reforms and policy initiatives were compatible with its general interests.26

Whilst Batista’s narrow base of support had not hindered his rule during the revolutionary crisis of 1934-35, he sought to broaden his base of popular support when the need for naked repression was no longer the immediate concern in the post-1935 period. This meant that the Cuban state increasingly assumed the character of a governing entente. The two historically dynamic classes displayed profound internal divisions and fractures, so hindering the development of any cohesive class consciousness, and the ruling entente, though acting above local classes as an instrument of US capitalists, was made up from fragments of various classes. Most significantly, in sounding out the opposition, Batista sought to extend the process initiated by Grau San Martín of bringing the leaders of a ‘national unity’ sector of organised labour into a new consensual, national political order.

The construction of a post-Platt Amendment political order in the period of 1935-39 was largely determined by the weakness of the old Cuban political oligarchy and the PCC’s uncritical application of the policy of the Comintern. Initially, all opposition groups that had supported the March 1935 strike maintained a position of outright hostility towards the Batista regime, though outbursts of individual acts of revolutionary violence against the ruling order did not occur to any significant extent. By 1937-38, however, the Auténticos adopted a more conciliatory tone as Batista advanced a social reform programme which to some extent strengthened the labour reforms initiated by the Grau San Martín government. Whilst steps were also taken to regroup various non-Communist, opposition organisations within the PRC(A), including the remnants of Joven Cuba, thereafter the Auténticos were not so much a party of the broad left as one which stood for the civilian, democratic implementation of Batista’s reform programme, rather than the militaristic, authoritarian one which Batista himself advocated.

Whilst the parties and groups of left nationalism moved towards a moderate programme of national reform, the official Communist policy underwent a metamorphosis. During 1935 and 1936, the PCC maintained a position of outright opposition towards the government. The International Press Correspondence of 18 July 1936 referred to it as ‘the terrorist dictatorship of Batista’.27 In an article published as late as April 1937, failing to recognise the extent to which US policy determined political developments in Cuba, a spokesperson for the Comintern claimed: ‘The aim of Batista... is to imitate the example of Hitler and Mussolini and eliminate all opposition by creating a single Fascist party completely under his control.’28 Therefore, in line with Comintern policy, during the early period of the Batista-led regime, the PCC proposed the realisation of an anti-imperialist People’s Front and electoral alliance of all the democratic organisations in Cuba against the regime.

However, by mid- to late 1937, the PCC’s policy changed as Batista increasingly tried to build a broad popular base of support. Batista, himself of mixed race origin, who had relatively recently emerged from the lowly ranks of NCOs in the army, and who was viewed with some distrust by the old political oligarchy, turned to the official Communists for popular support from their natural constituency, the working class. Though facilitated by the Comintern’s policy which not only promoted broad anti-Fascist alliances but did not preclude the entry of Communist parties into bourgeois governments, the dramatic rapprochement which took place did not constitute the formation of a genuine Popular Front. It was instead a unique alliance between the official Communists and Batista which excluded the popular parties of democratic nationalism.

The formation of the Batista-PCC joint front was begun late in 1937, and was completed early in 1939. The first step, in late 1937, was the recognition of a legal Communist-front organisation known as the Partido Unión Revolucionaria. This was followed by the proclamation of a general political amnesty, with the official Communists also being permitted to launch their daily newspaper, Hoy. In June 1938, the party’s Central Committee openly held its Tenth Plenum, which adopted its first, rather restrained pro-Batista resolutions. Finally, in September 1938, the party was fully legalised, eventually merging with the Partido Unión Revolucionaria to form the Unión Revolucionaria Comunista in January 1939.29 In return, the Cuban Communist Party maintained a general attitude of support towards Batista, eventually becoming his most vociferous apologist. In short, for the official Communists, Batista had become the principal defender of democracy, rather than being the focal point of reaction.

In late January 1939, the Cuban Communist Party also dissolved the CNOC and founded the Confederación de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC). With the support of the Ministry of Labour, government paternalism towards labour deepened. The CTC, with Batista’s encouragement, immediately became ‘the favourite son of the Ministry of Labour. The CTC became, in effect, the state trade union. From the beginning, the new leaders, instead of bargaining with the employers, went direct to the ministry.’30 This consensual approach also resulted in the formulation of the 1940 Constitution which, in recognising a whole host of democratic and social rights alongside respect for private property, served as the compromise which temporarily settled the revolutionary struggles of the 1930s, and secured Batista’s popular base. Whilst this modus vivendi compromised the political independence of the working class and blunted its ability to engage in political struggle, the national bourgeoisie was given neither the opportunity to forge an ideology nor the institutions to prosecute an uncompromising struggle.

The reform alliance between Batista and the official Communists in the newly-organised Unión Revolucionaria Comunista (URC) was for the time being mutually beneficial, as both remained isolated from democratic nationalist and Auténtico support. For Batista, the apparently socially-conscious military leader, the rich reward came in 1940 when he presented himself as a candidate in the May presidential elections. The URC was the first of six pro-Batista parties to group together in the Coalición Socialista Democrática to support his candidacy. During his subsequent term in office, Batista was able to use the official Communists to offset opposition in government and labour relations, particularly from the Auténticos. As for the official Communists, they were able to take advantage of the conditions of weak bourgeois democracy and the favour of Batista to take quick control of the most important sectors of the trade union movement, and become an influential mass organisation almost overnight. However, having attained this position through closed-door discussions with Batista rather than through participation in the class struggle, the renamed PCC could not legitimately claim to lead or express the interests of an active, independent labour movement. Instead, the Cuban Communist Party had effectively removed itself and the working class from active intervention in the class struggle in exchange for state-sponsored dominance in the labour movement, and limited economic benefits.

Whilst the official Communists initially viewed the Second World War as imperialist on all sides, after the entry of the USSR into the war the URC and URC-led CTC revised their line so as to insist that all efforts had to be focused on promoting the Allied war effort. Confirming that the official Communists had squarely subordinated revolutionary strategy to the Kremlin’s foreign policy, the URC supported the concept of national unity, and, declaring it to be its patriotic duty to avoid strike action and create a war spirit to increase war production, transformed the trade union apparatus into an auxiliary police force of the government. The USA changed from an imperialist centre of oppression to a trusted ally, and two leading Communists, Juan Marinello and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, served as Ministers-without-Portfolio in Batista’s cabinet.31 In 1941, the URC also became a firm supporter of compulsory military service and the dispatch of Cuban troops to Europe.

During the war, moderate opposition to the Batista-Communist alliance was centred in the PRC(A) led by Grau San Martín. In the labour movement, opposition to the official Communists’ control of the CTC was challenged by the Comisión Obrera Nacional (National Labour Commission). The leader of this Auténtico National Labour Commission was the former member of the PCC and then Oposición Comunista, Eusebio Mujal, who had joined the PRC(A) of Grau San Martín in the mid-1930s.

In accord with the pronouncements of possible coexistence between the USSR and the bourgeois-democratic capitalist world following the Tehran Conference, which led directly to the dissolution of the Comintern, the URC became the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP) in January 1944. Publicly embracing the ideas of Browderism, which proclaimed the end of the imperialist epoch, and even the need to dissolve the Communist parties, the PSP gave its support to Batista’s candidate, Carlos Saladrigas (one of the founders of the ABC in the early 1930s), in the forthcoming presidential elections, and launched a programme to regenerate the national economy. Reporting on these proposals prior to the elections, the US security services classified them as moderate measures which had already been taken by other non-Socialist countries to defend and develop national interests. Furthermore, the US officials also privately commended the Cuban Communists for their alertness in giving form to uncoordinated nationalist aspirations, in sharp contrast to other political parties.32

Given the impending military defeat of the Axis powers and the general international repudiation of military dictatorships, the largely honest elections in 1944 resulted in a defeat for the Batista-PSP-sponsored project of continuismo, and a victory for Grau San Martín and the Auténticos. Although the Auténticos were basically anti-PSP, the PSP’s control of the CTC and its influence with the government was not immediately broken. Despite the Auténticos’ victory in the presidential elections, Grau San Martín lacked a majority in congress and did not control the armed forces. Continued Communist cooperation in government was further conditioned by the PSP’s interpretation of the line of peaceful coexistence as laid down by the Soviet Union.

However, as the era of the Cold War arrived in 1947, and the USA initiated a drive against Communism throughout the world, so the PSP was rather humiliatingly forced to renounce Browderism for the less conciliatory line within the international Communist movement, and to return to the Moscow fold.33 Along with the Auténticos winning control of parliament in the 1946 Congressional elections, the increasingly bipolar international political alignment undermined the basis for the continuation of the PSP-Grau San Martín alliance.

The Auténticos were now better able to move against the dominant influence of the PSP in the labour movement. The contest went on through 1947, culminating after some violence and much bureaucratic manoeuvring with official government recognition of the Auténtico-dominated CTC(A) as against the breakaway Communist CTC(C). The Communists were forcibly evicted from CTC premises in July 1947. Despite their undeniable dedication and personal integrity in rejecting the temptations of personal enrichment which political office had offered them, without official government favour, the official Communists’ broad base of support melted away. As Farber has argued, ‘the working class did not have the desire, training or endurance to insist in following their former leaders... Most workers were either cynical about this whole new operation at the top where once again one set of leaders was being replaced by another set of leaders more favorable to the current administration in office or else shared the new wave of Cold War anti-Communism.’34

Beginning at this time, the Grau San Martín administration increasingly succumbed to the old pattern of widespread corruption in public office. This was accompanied by the toleration of open gangsterism in the streets of the major cities. Numerous terrorist groups, of which the Movimiento Socialista Revolucionario (MSR), the Unión Insurrecional Revolucionaria (UIR) and Acción Revolucionaria Guiteras (ARG) were the most important, targeted anyone for reasons of money, personal rivalry or political leverage. Whilst armed actions in the mid- to late 1930s had been carried out on a political basis to further the cause of revolution against the perceived usurpers of the ‘genuine’ Revolution of the 1930s, the violence and gang warfare of the 1940s was less ideologically inspired. Although the gangs maintained a political façade through their names, and vaguely subscribed to some ideology, they quickly came to be used in the struggle for control over patronage and sources of extortion and enrichment. In a political atmosphere which tolerated them, not least because they used violence to help remove official Communists from positions of leadership in the labour movement, Grau San Martín himself appointed Emilio Tró, the head of the UIR, as a chief of police.

Disillusionment amongst the more radical and idealist elements in the auténtico coalition led to the centre of opposition to the government shifting to the fiery popular orator and founder of the Ortodoxo party, Eduardo Chibás, who originally broke away from the Auténticos over the issue of corruption. As some authors have argued, rather than representing a return to the tradition of radical nationalism within the context of constitutional democracy, Chibás and ortodoxia stood out on the single issue of anti-corruption in government circles. The slogan of ‘honour against money’ was largely the extent of their programme. At the end of a decade in which the official Communist Party had led organised labour into a consensual national political order and stripped the working class of an independent class voice, a radical social programme emanating from the organisations of either the working class or the petit-bourgeois nationalist groups which embodied an element of anti-imperialism had all but vanished.

The Batista Regime and the Insurrectionary War

When Batista seized state power in a coup d’état on 10 March 1952 with the support of young army officers, the Auténtico and Ortodoxo opposition to it was wholly ineffectual. Furthermore, despite the traditions of Syndicalism and the size of the working class,35 the now largely depoliticised working-class movement likewise offered no resistance. With the quiet passing of the discredited Auténtico government, the USA rapidly granted the Batista regime official recognition. Within three days, the CTC led by Mujal had also pledged support to the new regime, and it was agreed that the anti-PSP perspective would continue in the sphere of labour. During the years of 1952-58, in an attempt to win popular approval, the Batista regime sought to recreate the social entente of the early 1940s. In practice, however, the CTC’s accommodation with the government, which had been based on a programme of reforms in the 1940s, was replaced by an accommodationism which more openly allowed the mujalista labour bureaucracy to line its own pockets in return for its continued support and efforts to curb labour unrest.

An atmosphere of political stagnation predominated, as a working class which lacked any independent outlook and explicit long-term political goals faced a weak national bourgeoisie which had long since relinquished belief in its own dynamic destiny. Filling a void, the army, whose commitment to and ties with the typical Latin American oligarchy had been broken in the 1930s, was restored to pre-eminence in national political life. However, with little stake in the ownership of the productive forces itself, and offering no historical perspective for any class of Cubans, the army enriched itself by resuming its former rôle as the arbitrator and parasitic profiteer in social struggles.

Political agitation was once again taken up by the young, articulate urban petit-bourgeoisie. Whilst outbursts of protests emanated from the student milieu until the collapse of the Batista regime, it was the attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba on 26 July 1953 by a group led by Fidel Castro which reignited the tradition of armed political struggle. Although the initial assault was a military failure, this armed group, which became known as the Movimiento 26 de Julio (M26J), continued to support the concept of an armed rebellion. From exile in Mexico, Castro and the M26J leaders planned the guerrilla war which was to begin with the landing of the Granma on the Oriente coast on 2 December 1956.

A notable feature of the insurrection was the widespread passive support which the actions of the Rebel Army received in an atmosphere remarkably devoid of either pro-capitalist or anti-imperialist rhetoric. As the eminent Cuban historian Jorge Ibarra has argued, reflecting the heterogeneous make-up of the M26J the revolutionary leadership was not defined by any class-based project.36 Whilst the M26J embodied a distinct liberal political component committed to a popular national revolution, in essence, the vagueness of the M26J’s social programme was no more than an extension of that of the Ortodoxo party of Chibás, a party to which Fidel Castro had belonged. As Theodore Draper has argued, Castro attempted to remain faithful to the purest principles of Chibás. As such, he did not claim to represent a political tendency outside of Chibasismo, but rather a more effective ‘aparato’ to overthrow the Batista dictatorship.37

Whilst the M26J had a wing which operated in the cities, the llano, the decisive revolutionary body was the Rebel Army in the sierra. Its struggle, involving no more than 2000 relatively poorly-equipped fighters was sufficient to accelerate the social disintegration which had permitted Batista to come to power in the first place. In the absence of the typical, well-defined ideological and institutional structures of class rule in Cuba which clearly linked the army to local class formations and political parties, the Batista regime became more isolated, and increasingly had only itself to lean on. As the Rebel Army successfully opened up a second front in Oriente in the spring of 1958 and made steady advances thereafter, the largely demoralised and ill-trained armed forces under Batista’s command collapsed.38 The end of the two-year-long civil war came rapidly on 1 January 1959 as Batista fled the country, having concluded that he had lost the support of the US government. Whilst the working class had largely remained a passive observer during the guerrilla campaign, a pre-emptive general strike, which ensured that Batista was not immediately replaced in a threatened transfer of power through a military coup, sealed the bond between the Rebel Army leadership and the awakened anti-Batista sentiment of the popular masses. The Rebel Army units triumphantly progressed across the island towards Havana, taking control of strategic military camps from an army which had ceased to resist.

The Institutionalisation of the 1959 Revolutionary Government

The forces which secured the overthrow of the Batista regime and led the rapid overturn of property relations are a matter of controversy. Cuban explanations of the revolutionary process concentrate on a worker-peasant alliance sustaining the Socialist transformation of society as part of a century of struggle.39 Non-Cuban interpretations, on the other hand, disagree as to whether Fidel Castro had for some time been a closet Communist and was merely biding his time before revealing his true clothes,40 or if he and the Revolutionary Government were, instead, pushed into Communism by the combined pressures of the USA’s policy and the mass mobilisation of the working class.41

A further category of interpretations which highlights Cuba’s exceptionally weak social formations and absence of strong institutions of government, argues that Fidel Castro himself filled the structural vacuum. In essence, this convincing line of argument contends that without the restraining influence of conservative, pro-capitalist institutions with a well-founded history and a coherent perspective for the present and future, Castro as the commander of the only cohesive military force in Cuba became the only effective political institution. Taking advantage of the international climate, the Castro leadership was able to direct the revolution’s development in an unprecedented manner by a combination of managing popular support, and ensuring that the popular movement did not organise itself into representative political institutions.42

Whilst the self-titled ‘humanist’ or ‘olive-green’ revolution initially claimed to chart a third course between Socialism and capitalism, as land reform challenged the right of US property, in mid-1959 Fidel Castro opted for a broadly Stalinist solution to the social questions which were beginning to arise. This became evident in October 1959, the date of the arrest and public denunciation of Huber Matos, the fiercely anti-PSP military commander of the province of Camagüey.43 Castro’s decision was also manifest in his intervention at the November 1959 Tenth CTC Congress. Whilst the CTC had been the only institution to undergo a democratic restructuring in the weeks and months after January 1959, when debate took on political content between the anti-PSP M26J trade unionists who had won control of the CTC and the pesepistas, Castro made a personal intervention to call for the adoption of neutral ‘unity’ slates for the sake of stability, rather than to promote any overtly pro- or anti-Communist candidates. Castro’s de facto intervention against the anti-PSP constituency at the CTC congress confirmed the emergence of the PSP as a central pillar in Castro’s preferred path, and marked the first step in the process which ultimately led to the purging of a potentially autonomous leadership within the trade unions, and its replacement by experienced PSP cadres. It also demonstrated how the Bonapartist Castro was able to ensure that no alternative leaderships emerged from the overhaul or potential creation of representative institutions, by employing his own personal talents and prestige. To this extent, therefore, the revolution was not in any sense made by the working class itself.

Just as the weakness of class-based institutions had permitted the official Communist Party to conclude an agreement with the Bonapartist-type Batista regime in the late 1930s, so in the post-1959 period the absence of well-defined political institutions allowed it to win the favour of another authoritarian political leader. For Castro, the PSP not only had an organisational and ideological framework which had survived all other political parties in Cuba, but it had an experienced and committed membership which had the necessary experience and skills to effect a determined political line. So long as the pesepistas were committed to creating a ‘unity’ milieu which did not seek to challenge Castro for ultimate control and leadership, the PSP also had the advantage of possessing channels of communication to the USSR, which in the late 1950s and early 1960s had some prestige internationally.

In the continued absence of a national political party between 1959 and 1961, the charismatic authority of Fidel Castro, together with the popular mobilisation of the vast majority of the populace within the activity of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) and the militias, consolidated the revolution politically before economic difficulties surfaced. Within the revolution, activism and empiricism directed from above substituted for a political struggle of representative bodies of the working class in the formation of a revolutionary policy and consciousness. As the state annexed the representative workers’ organisations, dissent was increasingly suppressed.44 Even the short-lived Technical Advisory Councils, established in 1960 to promote links between management and workers in nationalised enterprises, ruled out any notion of collective decision-making. Administrators always had the last word. Voting at CTC congresses became unanimous, and plebiscitarian politics combined with repression ensured that no legitimate opposition to Fidel Castro’s interpretation of la patria and Socialism could emerge. Furthermore, whilst the working class had as little control over the Cuban political economy as it had in deciding the outcome of the 1956-58 guerrilla campaign, Castro opportunistically manipulated the weakness of independent class-based organisations to strengthen his own position as the unchallengeable Maximum Leader. That is, from the CTC Congress in 1959, he effectively emphasised or minimised disputes and resentments between the old pesepista and Fidelista M26J constituencies according to his own need to quash the development of organisations and factions independent of his authority, whilst maintaining the flow of Soviet military and economic aid.

New Pamphlet

Whilst debates emerged, particularly over the economic model to adopt for ‘Socialist transformation’ from above, they did so within the context of maintaining public unity around the Maximum Leader, Fidel Castro. Overwhelming popular support was mobilised, particularly around the battle against the Cuban exile invasion force at Playa Girón in April 1961 and the Missile Crisis of October 1962. However, at the same time the development of autonomous political thought and organisations was effectively stifled after the formation of the Organizaciones Revolucionarias Integradas (ORI) in mid-1961. Under the aegis of Aníbal Escalante of the old PSP, the ORI incorporated members of the M26J, the Revolutionary Student Directorate and the PSP. This, in turn, gave way to the Partido Unificado de la Revolución Socialista (PURS) in 1963, though not before Fidel Castro had intervened when Aníbal Escalante showed organisational intentions beyond the limits prescribed by the Maximum Leader. This so-called ‘Escalante affair’ illustrates the relationship between the Bonapartist Castro and the old pro-Moscow PSP members. Escalante, as the Organisational Secretary of the ORI, used his position to favour old PSP members in the building of a new party organisation. This effectively amounted to a pro-Moscow attempt, not only to displace M26J supporters, but also Fidel Castro himself from the leadership of the revolution. Castro, however, was able to mobilise popular sentiment against Escalante and the autonomous organisational intentions of the old pesepistas, before having Escalante removed from his post. Thus, although Castro needed the official Communists, he succeeded in circumscribing their power, and only conceded the formation of a new Communist Party to the pro-Moscow milieu in October 1965.

The debate over the economic model to be adopted in order to usher in the Socialist transformation, that is, the dispute between self-finance planning versus the budgetary system of centralised planning, was the one great issue which had profound political implications in the sense that it opened up more visible divisions in the leadership. Addressing the central problem of how a semi-colonial country so heavily dependent on a single agricultural product and one major market could move towards Socialism, the ‘Great Debate’ centred on the structure of planning and the rôle of incentives. On the one hand, the self-finance planning model allowed for capitalist forms of competition between state-owned companies in determining production, investment and distribution. The budgetary finance system, on the other hand, denied any notion of a market existing amongst companies. Monetary transactions between enterprises were to be banned, and all revenues transferred to the account of a central ministry for allocation according to the conscious priorities of the revolution’s decision makers. Whilst Carlos Rafael Rodríguez and the Soviet technicians in Cuba defended the former system, which allowed for material incentives amongst workers to stimulate production, Che Guevara was a staunch advocate of the budgetary system of centralised planning. It was during these debates that Guevara rather provocatively held meetings with Ernest Mandel,45 a leader of the newly constituted United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI).46 The key element in Guevara’s argument, which Mandel essentially supported,47 was that the latter system allowed an industrial sector to develop by correcting the comparative advantage market relations conferred on agriculture. Rather than resting on material incentives to promote efficiency, Guevara advocated moral incentives as a step in the creation of the New Man, the subjective, voluntarist lever which would overcome the uneven economic development.

However, just as Castro in 1963 had renewed Cuba’s commitment to the project of agricultural production, an option favoured by the Soviets, against Guevara’s proposals for developing an industrial sector, so in 1964 the debate on planning and material versus moral incentives had come to end. Guevara’s theses fell, and he himself increasingly became marginalised from economic decision making. With Guevara disappearing from public view in March 1965, the defeat of his strategy was confirmed when in mid- to late 1965 none of his protégés were included in the 100-person Central Committee of the new Cuban Communist Party.

The course which the debate took during 1962-65, apart from determining Cuba’s relations with the USSR, also shaped Guevara’s evolving political perspectives. Whilst his links with and commitment to official, broadly pro-Soviet Communism had solidified from late 1958 after the PSP dropped its hostility to guerrilla warfare, following the Missile Crisis of October 1962, Guevara’s disillusionment with the ‘Actually Existing Socialism’ in the Soviet Union became increasingly apparent. Having angrily denounced the Kremlin’s withdrawal of the missile bases in Cuba as a sell-out,48 Guevara was increasingly forced to take a position against various aspects of the revolution. In the period of 1964-66, there was a shift in Cuban policy towards the Soviet Union in the Sino-Soviet dispute, culminating in Fidel Castro’s public denunciation of the Chinese regime at the Tri-Continental Conference in January 1966. However, whilst Castro moved towards public recognition of Soviet policy options, Guevara vociferously rejected the notion of peacefully building Socialism in One Country, and insisted on the validity of his perspective of guerrilla warfare to spread the Socialist revolution in Latin America. As Jon Lee Anderson has argued:

‘To Che, the term “peaceful coexistence” was anathema, mere appeasement of the imperialist system dressed up in diplomatic language... there was no longer any doubt that his and Fidel’s path had begun to diverge. Fidel’s goal was to consolidate Cuba’s economic well-being and his own political survival, and for that he was willing to compromise. Che’s mission was to spread the Socialist revolution.’49

Thus, by upholding the vanguard rôle of the guerrilla organisation and the ability of the rural insurrectionary foco to create the conditions for revolution, Guevara challenged the hallmark of post-1935 official Communism, the strategy of ‘peaceful coexistence’. In the light of the Sino-Soviet split,50 whilst Guevara himself was the only leading Cuban Communist who was not anti-Chinese, Guevarism as an identifiable ideology also came to represent Maoism in the Latin American context. That is, both perspectives centred on the idea of an élitist ‘Socialist guerrilla force’ prepared to take up arms to install a government based on the expropriation of capitalist property. Guevarism also accepted the multi-class anti-imperialist bloc tactics of radical national liberation movements in the sense that Che effectively shared the idea that the revolution could be secured, not via the conscious struggle of independent working-class parties, councils and militias, but instead by the blunt instruments of the petit-bourgeoisie. Moreover, these views were not dissimilar from those advocated by major sections of the international Trotskyist movement at the time, such as those led by Michel Pablo and the USFI.51 Like Guevara, this sector of the Trotskyist movement did not insist on the need for a revolutionary Marxist party to lead a proletarian anti-im­perialist revolution. To the extent that Guevara advocated the rapid expropriation of imperialist property by the revolutionary leadership, both Guevara and the Trotskyist groups affiliated to the USFI also reduced the theory of Permanent Revolution to an objective process guiding a revolution led by Stalinist and petit-bourgeois nationalist leaderships, rather than a conscious proletarian strategy.52

Unambiguously breaking with the Soviet Union in a speech in February 1965 in Algiers, in which he labelled the Kremlin ‘an accomplice with imperialism’,53 Guevara disappeared from public view on 22 March 1965. Whilst his whereabouts were the subject of a wave of rumours, he had resolved to leave Cuba in order to attempt to ignite another anti-im­per­ialist revolution, first in Africa and then, fatefully, in Bolivia. As a parting salvo, Guevara left his thoughts on his now defeated economic policy, particularly the moral versus material incentives debate, in his essay Socialism and Man. However, avoiding any criticism of the revolutionary process in Cuba as a whole, Guevara failed to draw any link between the strategy and method of struggle during the insurrection and the Bonapartism of Fidel Castro and the lack of proletarian democracy in post-1959 Cuba. Whilst Guevara’s guerrilla strategy broke with Moscow’s outlook, his commitment to the Stalinist model of a one-party state and the repression of working-class democracy and control thereby remained largely intact. As Jorge Castañeda has summarised, Guevara was in the predicament of ‘in effect denouncing the errors whilst celebrating their causes’.54

Despite being accused of Maoism, and even of Trotskyism, by some pro-Moscow Stalinists, Guevara in his subsequent guerrilla campaigns in Africa and Bolivia continued to reject the strategy of the working class itself consciously fighting for and passing beyond democratic anti-im­perialist objectives to Socialist tasks, and creating in this struggle the organs of a new form of democracy. Instead, he wished to see a tempering of differences on theoretical issues amongst left-wing activists in favour of the immediate creation of a broad bloc ‘Socialist guerrilla force’ and a military campaign based in the countryside. With Guevara incapable of playing the rôle of a Trotsky as a marginalised revolutionary leader in terms of theory and strategy, the organisation of the Cuban political economy, whilst displaying a degree of cultural and stylistic distinctiveness, was left to assimilate by degrees to the Soviet model.



1. By the provisions of the Platt Amendment, the US-Cuban political accord which brought to a close the four-year US military occupation in 1902, the USA imposed restrictions on any Cuban government in terms of denial of treaty authority and restrictions on contracting debt. In serving as a substitute for annexation, the Platt Amendment also granted the USA the right to intervene militarily in order to protect life and property if political and social stability were threatened.

2. J Casanovas, Bread, or Bullets! Urban Labor and Spanish Colonialism, 1850-1898, Pittsburgh, 1998, pp230-1. Joan Casanovas does append the caveat, however, that there were frictions in the labour movement. As Carlos Estefanía Aulet has also argued, many Anarchists, particularly those of Spanish origin in Havana, did not support the insurrection when it broke out. Whilst the Cuban tobacco workers in Florida were sympathetic to the separatist cause, these habanero workers took a more neutral position on the basis that patriotism and the liberal nationalist ideology of the separatists did not address the fundamental problems of the working class (CM Estefanía Aulet, ‘Los Anarquistas Cubanos a Fines del Siglo XIX: Los Libertarios y la Guerra del 95’, Cuba Nuestra (Stockholm), no 9, 1997, pp6-8).

3. The Comintern’s Second Period tactical line during 1924-28 led Communist parties to seek alliances with other so-called ‘progressive’ sectors of the population. Whilst Trotsky shared that broad goal, his argument with the line as applied by the Comintern in the colonial and semi-colonial countries was over the supposedly ‘progressive’ nature of the national bourgeoisie.

4. This armed uprising was one in a series which deliberately set out to provoke the military intervention of the USA by destroying foreign property and threatening the lives of foreigners.

5. The name ‘ABC’ was not an acronym as such, but a reference to the secretive cellular organisation of the group whereby each ‘A’ member knew a limited number of ‘Bs’, who in turn each knew a limited number of ‘Cs’, etc.

6. The ABC pursued a zigzagging policy between that of stimulating social dislocation to that of accepting US diplomatic intervention. However, its essentially pro-capitalist, authoritarian leadership eventually prepared an alliance with the pro-US forces in order to stem revolution, only to find that the government had no use for it as state repression proved sufficient to quell social unrest in 1934-35. See S Farber, Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960, Middletown, USA, 1976, pp52-9.

7. CA Thomson, ‘The Cuban Revolution: Fall of Machado’, Foreign Policy Reports (New York), Volume 11, no 21, 18 December 1935, p254.

8. Op cit, p256.

9. Barry Carr has argued that these so-called ‘soviets’ were not organs of dual power, but instead militant pre-emptive mill occupations in the dead season aimed at forestalling the cancellation of the 1934 harvest. See B Carr, ‘Mill Occupations and Soviets: The Mobilisation of Sugar Workers in Cuba 1917-1933’, Journal of Latin American Studies, Volume 28, part 1, February 1996, pp129-58. However, they did have many features of soviets and dual power bodies in a local context.

10. For an account of the process of conciliation, see M Marconi Braga, ‘To Relieve the Misery: Sugar Mill Workers and the 1933 Cuban Revolution’, in JC Brown (ed), Workers’ Control in Latin America, Chapel Hill, 1997, pp16-44.

11. The Sergeants’ Revolt involved the rank and file of the army, led by a group of sergeants, ousting the entire layer of commissioned officers after the troops suddenly found themselves in control of the Havana army camp during negotiations over wages and conditions of service. The Directorio Estudiantil Universitario immediately rallied around the insubordinate troops, persuading the soldiers under the leadership of Batista to accept the students’ programme for a provisional government.

12. CA Thomson, ‘The Cuban Revolution: Reform and Reaction’, Foreign Policy Reports, Volume 11, no 22, 1 January 1936, p266.

13. According to a detailed report on Communist activity in Cuba by the US security services, this demonstration also marked the first appearance of the PCC’s uniformed and armed shock troops (JE Hoover to AA Berle Jr, Survey of Communist Activities in Cuba, 14 June 1943, p4).

14. Thomson traces how Grau San Martín’s middle-class constituency fragmented as one side criticised the government’s inability to establish peace and order, whilst the other withdrew its support over the ‘apparent predominance of military influence in government’ (CA Thomson, ‘The Cuban Revolution: Reform and Reaction’, op cit, p238).

15. Whilst it is difficult to establish a single, consistent Sorelian political strategy, Sorel (1847-1922) is perhaps best known for glorifying the concepts of the general strike and political violence as means of rejuvenating the revolutionary spirit. See his book Reflections on Violence (New York, 1972), originally published in 1908.

16. Alongside José Martí (1853-1895), Carlos Baliño (1848-1926) was one of the principal founders of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano in 1891-92, the organisation which gave the revolutionary independence movement a united military command against the Spanish forces. Whilst Martí’s ideas for change rested more on the traditions of nineteenth-century Freemasonry and moral concerns, Baliño was a long-time labour leader who at that time adhered to the two-stage strategy of fighting for national independence and development of the national economy within the parameters of capitalism before initiating a struggle for Socialism.

17. See B Carr, ‘From Caribbean Backwater to Revolutionary Opportunity: Cuba’s Evolving Relationship with the Comintern, 1925-34’, in T Rees and A Thorpe (eds), International Communism and the Communist International 1919-43, Manchester, 1998, pp234-53.

18. A Kochanski, ‘El Sindicalismo Latinoamericano: Materiales del Archivo Moscovita de la Internacional Sindical Roja’, Estudios Latinoamericanos (Warsaw), no 11, 1988, p284.

19. ‘The Present Situation, Perspectives and Tasks in Cuba’, The Communist (New York), September 1934, p878.

20. F Grobart, ‘The Cuban Working Class Movement from 1925 to 1933’, Science and Society, Volume 39, Spring 1975, p99. The actual rôle of Fabio Grobart (born Yunger Semjovich) in Cuban Communism is a matter of some controversy. He arrived in Cuba from Poland at the age of 19 just before the PCC was founded. Anti-Communists have insisted that thereafter he was Moscow’s man in Havana. Whilst it is doubtful that Grobart was actually sent to Cuba by the Comintern, certainly by the early 1930s he was in Moscow working in the Comintern’s Latin American Secretariat before returning to Cuba.

21. Letter from ‘Juan’ to the Caribbean Bureau of the Comintern (Report on the Conference of the PCC in Oriente), Havana, 2 December 1933.

22. ‘The Present Situation, Perspectives and Tasks in Cuba, Part II’, The Communist, November 1934, p1157.

23. Ibid.

24. ‘La Razón de Ser del Viraje del Partido Comunista’, Bandera Roja (Havana), 4 December 1936, p2.

25. ‘Comrade Marin (Cuba)’, International Press Correspondence (Vienna), 10 October 1935, p1302.

26. Farber, op cit, pp78-84.

27. ‘Signs of Bankruptcy of the Cuban Military’, International Press Correspondence (Vienna), 18 July 1936, p883.

28. ‘The Military Dictatorship in Cuba’, The Communist, April 1937, p360.

29. B Goldenberg, ‘The Rise and Fall of a Party: The Cuban CP (1925-59)’, Problems of Communism, Volume 19, no 4, July-August 1970, pp61-80.

30. H Thomas, Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom, New York, 1971, p713.

31. Juan Marinello (1898-1977), a leading academic in the 1920s and 1930s, was the President of the URC, the reorganised Communist Party, during the Second World War. Although a leader of the PSP in 1959, he never played a prominent rôle in the Castro regime. Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, having joined the PCC in 1932, became a member of the reorganised party’s Central Committee in 1939. As one of the principal leaders of the PSP, he met Fidel Castro in the Sierra during the insurrection in the late 1950s. This eventually led the PSP to drop its hostility to the guerrilla campaign. After 1959, he was Fidel Castro’s principal speech writer, and was given a major rôle in economic matters. He was the only person to serve in both Batista’s and Castro’s cabinets.

32. Letter from S Braden, to US Secretary of State, Havana, 16 March 1944, p3.

33. Whilst the Cuban Communist Party was singled out for criticism in the famous Duclos letter of April 1945 which signalled the beginning of the end of the dissolutionist Browderist tendency, the leaders of the PSP at first responded by expelling the most vociferous members of the opposition group within its own ranks who had supported the criticisms of the leading French Stalinist Jacques Duclos. It was only after additional pressure from Moscow that the PSP began to recognise the ‘errors’ of its ways in early 1946. See B Carr, Marxism and Communism in Twentieth-Century Mexico, Lincoln, 1992, pp134-5.

34. S Farber, Revolution and Social Structure in Cuba, 1933-1959, PhD Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1969, p256.

35. Cuba not only had the third highest rate of urbanisation in Latin America in the 1950s, but also the second highest rate of proletarianisation (J Ibarra, Prologue to Revolution: Cuba, 1898-1958, Boulder, 1998, pp177-8).

36. Op cit, pp189, 200.

37. T Draper, Castroism: Theory and Practice, London, 1965, p10.

38. Whilst some authors claim that the Cuban state was smashed by two years of revolutionary warfare (see, for example, M Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution, London, 1981, p143), more compelling studies suggest that the state instead collapsed. See LA Pérez Jr, Army Politics in Cuba, 1898-1958, Pittsburgh, 1976, pp153-65.

39. See, for example, CR Rodríguez, Cuba en el Tránsito al Socialismo, Havana, 1979.

40. The most coherent description of this ‘revolution betrayed’ thesis in which Castro supposedly imposed his hidden Communism on an unsuspecting liberal, middle-class rebellion is outlined in T Draper, Castro’s Revolution: Myths and Realities, New York, 1962.

41. These more pro-Castro interpretations include C Wright Mills, Listen Yankee!, New York, 1960; L Huberman and P Sweezy, Cuba: Anatomy of a Revolution, New York, 1961.

42. This interpretation, which introduces the notion of Castro having Bonapartist characteristics, is most succinctly outlined in S Farber, Revolution and Reaction in Cuba, 1933-1960, op cit. See also T Wohlforth, Teorías del Socialismo en el Siglo XX, Coyoacán, 1983, pp201-42.

43. Whilst the arrest of Matos was cited as proof of the Communist nature of Fidel Castro’s leadership by conservatives in the USA, it was only in early 1960 that the US government’s suspicions of Castro turned to outright hostility. US-Cuban relations were relatively good in the first half of 1959, with the USA displaying a degree of openness to political changes. However, in March 1960, President Eisenhower formally approved the first plan of covert action to overthrow Castro.

44. For an outline of the plight of the Cuban Anarchists under the post-1959 Cuban regime and their attempts to convince the rest of the Anarchist world that Fidel Castro headed a Stalinist dictatorship, see F Fernández, Cuba: The Anarchists and Liberty, Sydney, 1987, pp16-19. For an illuminating Anarchist account of the revolutionary process and the imposition of a totalitarian dictatorship, see A Iglesias, Revolución y Dictadura en Cuba, Buenos Aires, 1963.

45. Ernest Mandel (1923-1995) was the foremost leader of the Trotskyist movement after Trotsky’s death. Despite the crushing of working-class organisations in Eastern Europe, he represented the expansion of Stalinism in the postwar period as a stage on the road towards Socialism. Whilst he always argued that these Stalinist states had to be democratised, Mandel and his ‘orthodox’ Trotskyist organisations ‘critically’ tolerated various totalitarian regimes on the terms of their rulers, arguing only for reform politics from within. See the selection of obituaries in Revolutionary History, Volume 6, no 1, Winter 1995-96, pp152-61.

46. The Cuban Revolution was in large part responsible for a major round of theoretical and organisational realignments in the international Trotskyist movement. The most significant shift was the process of rapprochement between the SWP(US) and the European affiliates of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International which culminated in 1963 with the formation of a new international Trotskyist centre under the title of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. In terms of theory, the USFI groups essentially argued that in the absence of a revolutionary working class party in Cuba capable of leading a struggle in which the democratic organs of working-class power could be built, the M26J led by Castro had served as the ‘blunt instrument’ to create a workers’ state.

47. See P Kalfon, Che. Ernesto Guevara, una Leyenda de Nuestro Siglo, Barcelona, 1997, p406.

48. Guevara, in fact, regarded the withdrawal of the bases as a betrayal by the Soviets, and went so far as to argue that the nuclear missiles should have been used in an implacable fight against imperialism. See JG Castañeda, Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara, London, 1997, pp231-2.

49. JL Anderson, Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life, London, 1997, p587.

50. The principal point of contention in the Sino-Soviet dispute was the Soviet emphasis on peace and disarmament as against the Chinese Communist Party’s continued emphasis on the struggle against imperialism. The Chinese argued that the anti-im­perialist struggle must be conducted at all levels and with all available methods, though it should be particularly directed at the ‘weakest link’ in the imperialist chain, namely, the regimes in the under-developed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

51. Pablo (Michel Raptis, 1911-1996) has become identified with the view that after the Second World War individual Communist parties were not necessarily compliant pawns in Soviet foreign policy manoeuvres, but were instead being forced by objective conditions to take a lead in carrying forward the revolutionary tide which was sweeping the postwar world. Stalinism and war were thereby seen as agencies for revolution, and ‘Pabloism’ became associated with the new tactic of long-term entry of Trotskyist parties into petit-bourgeois parties and movements. This process of dissolution was the ostensible cause of the split between the International Secretariat and the ‘anti-Pabloite’ International Committee of the Fourth International in the period of 1951-54. See the obituary in Revolutionary History, Volume 6, no 2/3, Summer 1996, pp255-6.

52. The coincidence of views between Guevara and various Trotskyists over revolutionary strategy and the revolutionary agency explains how leading intellectuals of the USec are able to suggest that Guevara in his criticisms of pro-Moscow official Communism was in some way an ‘unconscious’ or ‘creeping’ Trotskyist. See, for example, M Löwy, The Marxism of Che Guevara, New York, 1973, particularly pp80-3.

53. Cited in Anderson, op cit, p625. Guevara had taken a more public stance against the Soviet policy of peaceful coexistence after his trip to the USSR in November 1964. See, for example, the extract and commentary on his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1964, in A Sinclair, Che Guevara, Stroud, 1998, pp90-1.

54. Castañeda, op cit, p305.