THIS article traces the organisational and theoretical development of the Cuban Trotskyists from the foundation of the Partido Bolchevique Leninista (PBL) in September 1933 to the end of the Revolution of the 1930s. It thereby charts the response of Cuban Trotskyism to the coming to power of the left-wing nationalist government of Grau San Martín until the crushing of the general strike of March 1935.

The central argument is that the development of the PBL during the period of 1933-35 was largely conditioned by an internal struggle between two broad political tendencies which had coalesced under the banner of the Oposición Comunista de Cuba (OCC). On the one hand, one sector, reflecting the OCC’s original heterogeneous political composition, favoured a policy of forming multi-class blocs in pursuit of a democratic anti-imperialist revolution as a distinct stage towards the Socialist revolution. In expressly linking the destiny of the working class to petit-bourgeois nationalism, this sector of the party broadly adhered to the Comintern’s Second Period strategy which Trotsky had criticised in the 1920s. The second current within the PBL was that which had initiated the turn, both organisationally and ideologically, towards the International Left Opposition in early 1933. Whilst this latter tendency continued to insist that the working class could not take power in Cuba without the support of the peasantry, just as the peasantry could not realise the agrarian revolution without the leadership of the working class, a formulation which incorporated the essence of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, it also tended to support the formation of uncritical alliances with the forces of petit-bourgeois nationalism. In the PBL’s case, in the period of 1933-35 this was primarily with the Guiteristas and Joven Cuba. In charting the struggle between these two tendencies, this article argues that the Trotskyist party’s declining membership and influence on events from 1934 were not only the result of state repression and the bitter attacks of the official Communists, but of the PBL’s own increasingly open advocacy of the theory of the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution and the consequent limited distinction which the PBL made in practice between the forces of revolutionary Socialism and those of radical nationalism.

The Formation, Organisational Growth and Crisis of the PBL, 1933-35

The OCC made the transition from an organised oppositional faction within the official Communist Party to a declared fully-fledged independent political party, the PBL, working towards the building of a new International, on 14 September 1933 at an assembly of delegates of the Cuban Communist Opposition. A footnote in Trotsky’s Oeuvres has placed the membership at this point at 1000,1 a not unrealistic figure, which made the Cuban party one of the largest in the international Trotskyist movement. Whilst the foundation of the PBL coincided with moves initiated by Trotsky in July 1933 to move the International Left Opposition towards the perspective of founding a new revolutionary international, the formation of the new party in Cuba also corresponded with the reality of the local circumstances of the OCC. In the first place, the Oppositionists had a deep implantation in the trade union and student movements across the country, controlling the Labour Federation of Havana (FOH). Furthermore, and long before the Cuban Communist Opposition published its Statutes in June 1933, the OCC had to all intents and purposes ceased to function as a faction within the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC). The Cuban Trotskyists themselves justified the transition from a Communist Opposition to a distinct party on two grounds. Firstly, they argued that as the Comintern had proved itself bankrupt for the purposes of revolution in the light of the way its German section had permitted Hitler to take power without putting up a fight, so a political resurgence within the PCC was impossible now that the Stalinist wing had entrenched itself. Secondly, the PBL contended that the conjuncture of events in Cuba, in which the left-nationalist Grau San Martín government had come to power in August-September 1933, also favoured the founding of a new revolutionary workers’ party.2

The Central Committee of the PBL ratified the statutes of the new party on 15 September 1933. Adopting the Leninist model, they confirmed the workplace cell, consisting of at least three members, as the basic unit of party organisation. The following extract from the Statutes sketches how the delegates intended to structure the party from the base upwards:

‘The Cell Committee is the highest body answerable to the members of the cell. In places where there is a high concentration of cells, they will be organised into sections. The highest body answerable to them will be the Sectional Conference made up of delegates from the cells. In the interval between the Sectional Conferences, the leading body will be the Sectional Committee. The Sections will be grouped in Districts. Within the territory of each District, the highest body is the District Conference made up of delegates from the sections. In the interval between District Conferences, the leading body is the District Committee. The supreme body of the PBL is the National Congress, formed by delegations from the cells of the PBL. The Central Committee, the supreme body of the PBL between two Congresses, is elected at the Congress. If a National Congress cannot be held, a National Conference with delegates from all sections of the PBL will instead hold elections to the Central Committee.’3

The Statutes also reiterated that the principle of democratic centralism would guide the functioning of the PBL, just as it had formally guided the OCC. Amongst other considerations, this included the stipulation that after a decision had been taken, the minority had to act on the will of the majority. The Statutes stated: ‘The resolutions taken in Congresses, Conferences or the PBL’s Cell Committees must be executed in full even if some member or group of members of the body who order or receive them do not approve of these orders.’4 Whilst reference was also made to the free and open discussion of issues, again, as in the case of the OCC, no provision was made for the formation of internal factions in which a minority within the party could express disagreement.

The PBL was at its largest and most influential on a national level around the period of its founding and shortly thereafter. It had members and contacts in each of the six provinces of Cuba and established large district committees in the provinces of Havana and Oriente, economically and politically the two most important in the country, as well as in Matanzas. Attached to these were various sectional committees in the major towns and cities of the respective regions. In the other three provinces, namely, Pinar del Río, Las Villas and Camagüey, however, it seems that the PBL only attracted a number of individuals who were not incorporated into the party structure through the hierarchy of a sectional or district committee.5

In terms of the Cuban Trotskyists’ base in the trade union movement, the PBL continued to dominate the leadership of the Federación Obrera de La Habana under the General Secretaryship of Gastón Medina, as well as the General Commercial Workers Union of Cuba, the capital’s single most important trade union. In Matanzas, through the Trotskyist-dominated Federación Obrera de Matanzas, the PBL controlled the local branches of the Bakery Workers and General Commercial Workers Unions. The matancero Trotskyists also won the support of the unions in various centrales, including España, Tinguaro and Guipúzcoa, as well as commercial, transport and bakery workers.

However, it was in the province of Oriente where the Cuban Trotskyists’ implantation in the labour and revolutionary movements was strongest. Its oriental district committee was made up of five large sections; that of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Puerto Padre, Victoria de las Tunas and Manatí, with a number of more isolated cells in some of the important sugar centrales in the province. These included the Palma, San Germán, Tacajó, Jobabo, Chaparra and Delicias centrales.

As elsewhere in the country, the PBL’s principal strength in Oriente lay in the student movement and the Sindicato General de Empleados del Comercio de Cuba. Also as elsewhere, the oriental Trotskyists began work in the trade union movement by attempting to regroup local trade unions which opposed the trade union line of the PCC-controlled Federación Obrera Local. Building on the propaganda opportunity presented to them as news filtered down to Oriente about the PCC’s attempt to organise a return to work during the August 1933 general strike, the Trotskyists founded the Unión Obrera de Oriente (Labour Union of Oriente), a province-wide workers’ federation, under the leadership of Rogelio Benache in September 1933. According to the official Communists’ themselves, the Trotskyists had penetrated the important work centres in Oriente,6 and the Labour Union of Oriente rapidly won support from a wide variety of trade unions, including those representing workers in the commercial, distillery, cement, print, tobacco, sugar, port and transport sectors.

The PBL’s strongest sectional committees in Oriente were in Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo. In Santiago de Cuba, the PBL’s membership, estimated at between 100 and 150 by one leading participant,7 was concentrated in the student milieu and the General Commercial Workers Union. On the coming to power of Grau San Martín, the santiaguero Trotskyists in the student movement formally registered themselves with the new provincial government, and at a meeting on 20 September 1933 attended by 56 activists, agreed on the composition of their provisional committee. The santiaguero branch of the PBL also made increasing gains in the regional trade union movement. As an internal report of the PCC admitted in December 1933, the Trotskyists in Santiago de Cuba were ‘winning terrain on a daily basis’, replacing official Communists in the unions which the PCC itself had organised, to the extent that the Trotskyists were at that time apparently dominating these unions.8

A striking feature of Cuban Trotskyism, however, was the PBL’s numerical strength and influence in Guantánamo, substantially exceeding that in either Santiago de Cuba or Havana. In Guantánamo, the PBL controlled most of the coffee workers’ unions and, through the Sindicato de Obreros Azucareros de la Región de Guantánamo, seven of the nine centrales. The PCC-dominated sugar workers’ union, the SNOIA, controlled only two.9 The Trotskyists also controlled the Bakery Workers Union, as well as having fractions in the local dock workers’ union and in Delegaciones 10 and 11 of the Hermandad Ferroviaria, the two branches of the Brotherhood of Railway Workers in Guantánamo. The Guantánamo section of the PBL also set about organising a Federación Obrera Local, a regional trade union centre which claimed to unite 14 000 workers in different trade unions from above as well as below. In November 1933, the small PCC branch in Guantánamo estimated that its PBL counterpart had some 400 members.10

The reasons behind the Trotskyists’ relative strength in Guantánamo are manifold. In the first place, Guantánamo was a relatively industrialised centre in Cuban terms with numerous large-scale centrales, port facilities both military and commercial, and a correspondingly developed railway network. The railways, in particular, provided relatively stable employment in comparison with that of sugar workers, and it was more difficult for the official Communists to make use of their apparatus simply to set up and dominate new ‘red’ unions when a new period of employment began as in the sugar industry. Furthermore, because of the two different railway networks servicing the city and naval base, on the one hand, and the centrales on the other, Guantánamo was the only region in which two separate branches of the Brotherhood of Railway Workers existed.

Apart from the specific relatively industrialised features of Guantánamo, the Trotskyists also benefited from the sectarian tactical approach of the PCC in the crucial period of 1931-33 which violated the deep revolutionary traditions in the region. Whilst the ultra-radicalism of the PCC in the early 1930s, which dismissed the forces of revolutionary nationalism and Anarcho-Syndicalism as counter-revolutionary, had repercussions across Cuba, such a policy had particularly profound effects in Guantánamo. Since all major insurrections dating back to the 1868-78 Ten Years War had had their heart in Oriente, the traditions of revolutionary violence and broad, inclusive alliances against perceived foreign oppressors were strongest in that region. The presence of a US naval base on Cuban territory in Guantánamo since the inauguration of the Republic could only have further exacerbated the radical nationalist desire for practical joint struggle against that visible symbol. The PCC’s tactical line, which ran counter to these sentiments of broad anti-imperialist united front work, was further deepened in 1933 with its call to refrain from attacking US property.

In addition to these external factors, however, the organisational principles which underpinned the PBL’s local structure in Guantánamo also help to explain the rapid growth of Trotskyism in the region. As I outline in more detail later in this article, the guantanameño Trotskyists largely favoured the creation of a loose workers’, students’ and peasants’ anti-imperialist bloc which was closer to the Comintern’s Second Period conception of the united front than to any vanguard party in a Trotskyist mould. As the PCC branch in the region noted, recruitment to the PBL took place on the same basis as in any bourgeois party, without discipline or any cell structure.11 According to a report in the US Trotskyist press, the first issue of Rayo, the PBL’s eight-page central organ published on 4 February 1934, also recognised that ‘sharp theoretical differences as to the character... the party should assume’ had developed between the national leadership and the Guantánamo section.12 Insisting on the validity of the founding Statutes, the Central Committee argued that since the national conference which had founded the PBL in September 1933, the Guantánamo section had argued ‘for the creation of a “broad” workers’, peasants’ and students’ association as against a “narrow” Bolshevik party’, and had in practice functioned independently of the Central Committee, ignoring the latter’s directives.13

Whilst in mid-1934, leading organisers of Latin American Trotskyism reported that the PBL had approximately 600 members,14 it is fair to say that the PBL peaked in terms of numbers and influence in the revolutionary milieu late in 1933, before suffering decline and dislocation through 1934-35. The causes of this organisational crisis included external factors, on the one hand, and internal political considerations on the other. The external factors which conditioned the atrophy in the PBL’s membership included the policies implemented by successive governments from that of Grau San Martín to the Batista-Mendieta regime. In the first place, the so-called Fifty Per Cent and Nationalisation of Union Laws introduced by the Grau San Martín government to counter Communist influence immediately attacked the employment and residence status of the PBL’s members of Spanish origin employed in the commercial sector in Havana, a sizeable segment of the PBL’s membership in the capital.

The general drive to ‘Cubanise’ and thereby divide the labour movement was then overtaken during the early months of the Batista-Mendieta government in 1934, as it made clear its resolute intention to crush the organisation of the labour movement. As the US Trotskyist newspaper The Militant reported, state action against trade union organisation was decisive. The whole of the leadership of the FOH, including Junco, was arrested after police surprised a meeting of the plenum of the federation.15 An internal document of the PBL, dated April 1934, also described how more than a dozen PBL members in Havana had been imprisoned, including one member of the Central Committee.16 Furthermore, under the more openly hostile Batista-Mendieta government, PBL members of Spanish origin were deported back to Spain.17

The PBL’s organisational dislocation was also conditioned by the lack of financial resources at the disposal of the Cuban Trotskyists. The PBL not only lacked access to the kind of subsidies official Communist parties received from Moscow, it also suffered from a collapse in the collection of subscriptions from its own members. As the General Secretary of the PBL, García Villareal, complained, the various sections proved unable to collect and transfer money to the centre in return for the press and literature which had been sent to them.18 These chronic financial problems explained, at least in part, the short-lived and intermittent nature of the Cuban Trotskyists’ publications. The PBL’s 64-page programme, and the second number of the PBL’s central organ, Rayo, for example, were delayed due to a lack of funds,19 whilst the second number of Frente, the santiaguero Trotskyists’ student journal, appears to have been the last. This, in turn, weakened the PBL members’ and contacts’ identification with the party, and promoted the tendency towards a looser organisational association.

However, although external structural forces and financial concerns contributed to the dislocation in the ranks of the PBL, these factors only served to supplement the deep-seated internal political causes of organisational disintegration. That is, the main reasons explaining the crisis in organisation were the heterogeneity of the OCC and then the PBL in 1933, and the leadership’s inability to promote a clear line which effectively separated those currents which were closest to Bolshevism from those which favoured a Syndicalist or declared democratic anti-imper­ialist strategy. Having been born as an essentially Second Period critique of official Communism’s turn towards the Third Period tactical line, the PBL continued to function as a rallying point for a variety of anti-imperialists who were principally united in their hostility towards the ultra-leftism of the PCC. Despite the PBL leadership’s formal adherence to Trotskyism, a large section of the OCC and then the PBL essentially remained Syndicalists and radical democratic nationalists who balked at the prospect of any centralised authority and discipline. As the PBL recognised with the benefit of hindsight, the formal constitution of the party in September 1933 had only put a temporary check on the process of disintegration which had already set in amongst the diverse range of dissident political currents which made up the ‘contradictory camp’ of the Opposition.20 These contradictions were evident in the approaches of the various sections to organisational matters from the beginning.

Whilst, then, the Guantánamo section of the PBL had refused to abide by the principle of democratic centralism, declaring its autonomy from the PBL’s Central Committee at the party’s founding conference, so the influence of Syndicalism promoted disaffection and desertion from the idea of a working-class vanguard party in the urban centre of Havana. As Gastón Medina later explained: ‘Traditional Syndicalism, for example, weighted down by Anarchist and “apolitical” sectarianism, having been freed of the pressure of Stalinist centrism but without really being subject to the influence of the leading group, was able to develop activities in a manner harmful for the future of the new party.’21

Reflecting this general lack of commitment to forging a revolutionary Communist vanguard, the Central Committee of the PBL also recognised that the organisational dislocation in the party’s ranks was partly the result of a general malaise which had set in with regard to the whole project of an international proletarian revolution in the light of the perceived betrayal of the Comintern. The PBL’s leadership argued that because of disillusionment, a section of its membership rejected the possibility that there could be a resurgence in the world-wide workers’ movement. García Villareal wrote that those who had contributed to the organisational disorder within the party believed that ‘the efforts of the Bolshevik Leninists to open up new routes to the proletarian revolution’ were ‘futile’: ‘These comrades believe that the death of the Comintern is an incontrovertible fact, but that our forces are not capable of building a new International.’22

According to the same internal document, the ideological defeatism which had resulted in various sectors promoting a degree of passivity in the activity of the party, as well as actual desertion from the revolutionary project, was particularly prevalent in the interior of Cuba. Whilst this contrasted sharply with the activity of the PBL in the trade union struggle in Havana, the PBL leadership expressed its frustration with what it saw as the lack of activity in the rural zones of Oriente, despite what it termed the complete discredit of the PCC in the region.23 The PBL leadership based in Havana criticised the oriental sections for abandoning tasks half-way through. The most important example it highlighted was the projected provincial conference of sugar workers, which had been due to be held before the sugar-cane harvest began. The aim had been to consolidate the workers’ gains and organisation. However, despite the fact that 26 centrales had responded to the initial invitation, the whole project was eventually limited to the distribution of a leaflet. The Central Committee understandably surmised: ‘The brightest opportunity to consolidate our influence in the rural sugar areas of Oriente was lost due to intolerable negligence.’24

Passivity with respect to the tasks of building a revolutionary proletarian vanguard party was most prevalent amongst the heterogeneous ranks of the PBL in the Guantánamo branch. Having declared their political independence from the Central Committee of the PBL in September 1933, the guantanameño Trotskyists set out on a path of opportunist manoeuvres by constructing anti-imperialist blocs with the Grau San Martín administration in the region late in 1933. Indeed, in defending the anti-imperialist measures of the Grau San Martín government against the PCC and socially conservative sectors alike, the PBL in Guantánamo appears to have given uncritical support to the local representatives of the Grau San Martín government, seeking to influence and join the administration through consultative assemblies. Such a perspective was very far from that of Trotsky, who highlighted the need to present an independent working-class position in any struggle against imperialism, and insisted on concluding blocs with forces of other classes only on the basis of clearly defined concrete issues. Internal documents of the PCC reported that members of the PBL occupied posts in the new local council and customs offices.25 Another internal PCC report stated more specifically that three leading members of the Opposition entertained hopes of obtaining government positions; Mujal as Chief Customs Officer, Gustavo Fraga Jacomino as a deputy chief of police, and Ramón Cesár as another official in the customs’ office.26 There is also evidence that the PBL did not support strikes in the region during the government of Grau San Martín.27

This failure to insist on the necessity for the political independence of the proletariat in competition with petit-bourgeois nationalism both diluted the genuine Trotskyist content of the PBL in the region, and had organisational consequences. From early 1934, the guantanameño PBL largely confirmed its rejection of building a vanguard party by initiating a process of building a bloc with the Guiteristas on the basis of a perspective of an immediate insurrection. This general orientation, as the PBL’s central leadership noted, delivered the proletariat into the hands of the ‘left’ government of Grau San Martín and the petit-bourgeoisie,28 and also led to desertion and the decline of the PBL’s largest branch through 1934-35. This drift was particularly pronounced after the defeat of the March 1935 general strike, when PBL members in the region increasingly joined Joven Cuba on an individual basis.29

By April 1934, when the General Secretary of the PBL called on the Oriente district committee to deal quickly with the problem of the autonomy and perceived passivity of the Guantánamo section by identifying the true Bolshevik-Leninists and separating them from what he termed the opportunists who embraced Guiterismo,30 the steady dislocation of the party as a disciplined national organisation reached crisis point. Accepting that opportunism, exhaustion and defeatism could be explained with respect to its newer recruits drawn from the petit-bourgeoisie, the PBL’s leadership in Havana noted that disorder also characterised its more established elements who had initiated the struggle against Stalinism. The situation was such that the first national congress of the party was called in order to discuss the direction of the revolution in Cuba, and to deal with the organisation of the PBL.

In preparation for the congress, it was intended that all sections of the PBL would discuss in advance the problems which the party faced, and the theses and resolutions which the congress would debate. The stated aim was to confront in a forthright way the errors which had been made, and to undertake a series of actions which would lead to the restructuring and reorganisation of the party’s regions and sections.31 Two central organisational questions were identified. The first was to organise PBL cells in the industrial sectors in which the party hitherto had no presence. Without a base in the factories and unions, the PBL argued, no Bolshevik party could exist. The second pressing task was to form district committees in Pinar del Rio, Las Villas and Camagüey, where the small PBL groups were in danger of disappearing if they were not given some structure.32

The proposed national congress, however, was never held. Instead, amidst continued desertions, organisational dislocation continued unabated, and an emergency national conference was convened in July 1934. At that point only two members, García Villareal and ‘R Gomez’, of the OCC’s original Central Committee, remained. Of the others, ‘Marcial’ and ‘Mario Gonzalez’ had ‘abandoned all of their responsibilities in the party’ in mid-1934, whilst ‘Maurin’ ‘requested a leave of absence from all party activities’ at the Havana district conference held a few days before the emergency national conference.33 Breá, a central figure in the founding of the OCC, returned to Europe in 1934, whilst Junco, the most prominent trade unionist in the OCC, appears to have been removed from the leadership even before the PBL was constituted in September 1933.34 He joined the pro-Grau San Martín-Guiteras Comisión Obrera Nacional early in 1934.

At the emergency national conference, elections for a new Central Committee and Political Bureau were held. However, despite this attempt to restructure the party’s leadership, the curve charting the PBL’s disintegration continued to fall. As Gastón Medina described, of the seven members of the new Havana-based Political Bureau, ‘R Gomez’ ‘withdrew from the party without giving any official explanation at all’ in October 1934, and ‘Pereda’ left in November. Whilst these two leading members were not replaced on the Political Bureau, the five remaining members of the Political Bureau lost contact with each other as a result of state repression, and the leadership of the PBL again disintegrated. ‘Brimbal’, one of the leaders of the General Commercial Workers Union, was imprisoned early in December for a period of one year; ‘Rufo’ apparently lost contact with the rest of the leadership due to living outside Havana and the difficulties caused by the need for a clandestine existence, whilst Gastón Medina himself was apparently sent to do party work in the interior. This left only García Villareal and the trade union activist ‘Soto’ actively carrying out the obligations of their posts in the PBL’s Political Bureau early in December 1934.35

In late 1934 the still functioning Havana district committee of the PBL worked almost completely independently of the Political Bureau. However, it too suffered attacks from the state which went further to undermine the PBL organisationally. As Gastón Medina explained,36 the unions under PBL control were the subject of violent attacks towards the end of 1934 after striking workers, members of the General Commercial Workers Union, apparently still influenced by their Anarcho-Syndicalist heritage, took to sabotaging their workplaces. The reaction culminated in ‘special police detachments’ assaulting the headquarters of the FOH. It was this action which led to the imprisonment of ‘Brimbal’ of the PBL’s Central Committee, along with a majority of the PBL party fraction within the General Commercial Workers Union. The police were also able to take over the secret offices of that particular union, the most important under PBL control.

With the existence of the PBL as a cohesive body in real danger, the one remaining active political leader at the end of December 1934, the General Secretary, García Villareal, neglected his party duties and responsibilities at the time of his marriage. Whilst the wedding ceremony conducted at a Catholic church caused the PCC to heap abuse on García Villareal in the organ of the PCC’s Young Communist League, the religious aspect of the marriage also provoked calls from the PBL’s own rank and file for disciplinary action to be taken against him.37 García Villareal, the General Secretary of both the OCC and PBL, and one of the leading proponents of the Opposition’s turn towards the International Left Opposition, was subsequently removed from the Central Committee after a series of meetings in January and February 1935, and replaced by Gastón Medina.38

Thus, amidst the backdrop of a revolutionary tide subsiding to a final defeat in March 1935, the PBL’s leadership largely slumped into despondency with respect to the project of building a revolutionary party. This, as Gastón Medina put it, made it easier for the non-Bolshevik currents ‘to subordinate to their interests, those elements which were closest to Bolshevism’.39 During the course of 1933-34, the influences of Syndicalism and petit-bourgeois nationalism, original components of the OCC in 1932, increasingly reasserted themselves. The old traditions of a strictly limited technical-military project of organising an ill-defined insurrection alongside Joven Cuba increasingly attracted those PBL members who did not drop out of active politics altogether.

With hindsight, Gastón Medina described this struggle between the old traditions of revolutionary struggle in Cuba and the Trotskyist project as that between the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ road for building a revolutionary party and the Fourth International. Whilst the anti-party, ‘external road’ thesis was never formally presented at any conference of the PBL, he summarised its central thread in the following illuminating terms: rather than analysing the errors and ineptitude of the PBL and its leadership, ‘the party in itself was pointed to as the cause of the mistakes and failures’. The conclusion drawn from this was that the ‘external road’ of subordinating the party to building a non-party revolutionary bloc was the only means of ‘creating’ the Fourth International in Cuba.40

In broad terms, then, the ‘external road’ to building a revolutionary organisation corresponded to the democratic anti-imperialist perspective of creating an anti-imperialist bloc, with the dissolution of the PBL into that broad front. It was essentially the perspective which the PBL’s largest branch in Guantánamo had advocated from the founding of the party in September 1933.41 By late 1934, however, a majority of PBL members nationwide gave increasing life to this theory after losing any stable direction from a leadership which itself was disoriented by a period of successive defeats and desertions. The ‘anti-imperialist bloc’ implicitly referred to was primarily that of Joven Cuba, and by early 1935, the majority of the PBL’s members, either spontaneously or in an organised fashion on a local basis, had gravitated towards it. So whilst the PBL’s numerical strength had been in decline for some time, and its formal democratic centralist party organisation had faced a series of crises, with the defeat of the general strike of March 1935, the PBL found itself in a state of disarray.

The PBL and Revolutionary Strategy: Democratic Revolution versus Permanent Revolution

This section, by analysing the PBL’s programmatic pronouncements and its proposed courses of action during 1933-35, highlights the struggle between those elements of the party who openly favoured building a loose, multi-class anti-imperialist association in pursuit a de facto two-stage democratic anti-imperialist perspective, and the more proletarian anti-imperialist-oriented sector. In particular, I emphasise that even this second sector, whilst in theory broadly applying the essence of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution to Cuban reality, also displayed a tendency to promote uncritical alliances with the forces of petit-bourgeois nationalism on the basis of ill-defined practical goals. This second sector, the one which did not desert the PBL in 1934-35, thereby also tended to link the destiny of the working class to the fate of the petit-bourgeoisie.

The Central Committee of the PBL produced two programmatic documents shortly after its foundation. At its founding conference, a decision was taken to publish a programmatic document containing ‘an initial statement of clear and definite principles’.42 A second 64-page ‘Programme of the Partido Bolchevique Leninista’ was prepared by the Political Bureau of the party, and then officially adopted at a national plenary meeting held in Havana on 27-28 October 1933. In the first place, these two early PBL documents demonstrated the Cuban Trotskyists’ anti-Stalinist character and their alignment with the international Trotskyist movement. In contrast with the OCC, which had made scant reference to the international character of its struggle, the PBL was categorical in its denunciation of what it considered was the anti-revolutionary direction of the Soviet Union and the Comintern. In addition to adhering to the international aspect of Trotsky’s criticisms of official Communism, the Central Committee of the PBL, in these two documents, also confirmed that it broadly applied Trotsky’s understanding of the revolutionary process in the colonial and semi-colonial countries to the case of Cuba. Gone was the OCC’s initial emphasis on a democratic, anti-imperialist agrarian revolution, and in its stead was the explicit emphasis on the need for an anti-capitalist revolution led by the working class with the support of the peasantry.

The PBL’s first published manifesto set out the party’s understanding of the political situation in the aftermath of the Sergeants’ Revolt and the coming to power of the Grau San Martín government. It argued that the petit-bourgeoisie in the form of the Directorio Estudiantil Universitario had broken with the mediation forces of the USA, and had come to power posing before the masses the questions of bourgeois democracy. Broadly reflecting Trotsky’s general assertion that the petit-bourgeoisie, under special circumstances, could temporarily come to power independently of the bourgeoisie,43 the PBL emphasised that it viewed this situation as only a temporary phase in the revolutionary process, which would be terminated with either the working class coming to power or US imperialist interests leading a successful counter-revolution. Confirming its rejection of the old two-stage revolutionary strategy initially advocated by the OCC, the PBL argued that whilst the USA sought to rally a counter-revolutionary front, only a ‘truly independent class position’ could save the proletariat from defeat:

‘Under the pressure of imperialism, the Grau San Martín government successively wavers, gesticulates, threatens, yields; but does not firmly conduct the direct and fundamental attack against Yankee intervention. Only the working class in alliance with the poor peasants can liberate Cuba from the iniquities and oppression of imperialism.’44

The PBL also attacked the Apristas’ ‘Second Revolution’ thesis, an argument which had found echoes in the OCC’s early thought. With reference to the interlocking character of the world economy, the PBL dismissed the contention that because the proletariat was not sufficiently developed in Latin America the revolution had to limit itself initially to the national democratic anti-imperialist stage. The Cuban Trotskyists instead argued that with the intervention of the proletariat, ‘two steps’ could be taken ‘at a time’, and the stage of gradual capitalist development could be jumped.45 In advancing a nine-point programme addressing the agrarian and national question, the PBL reiterated: ‘The national liberation of Cuba... can be obtained only through the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat which, applying the Bolshevik formula, draws the peasantry behind it.’46

Also emphasising Trotsky’s argument that the peasant question could not be underestimated, the PBL contended that victory or defeat in a semi-colonial country depended ‘upon which class the peasantry follows, the proletariat or bourgeoisie’.47 However, the PBL attacked the ambiguous ‘anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolution’ and ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ formulae of the PCC. Like Trotsky, the PBL was unequivocal in advocating what it considered to be the necessary proletarian nature of the revolution and state power. The Trotskyists advanced the slogan of ‘the agrarian and anti-imperialist revolution under the leadership of the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry’,48 and made it clear that:

‘The victory of the agrarian and anti-imperialist revolution can only be guaranteed by the proletarian dictatorship, and... this proletarian dictatorship will not appear after the revolution, but on the foundation of the revolution itself, as the only force capable of achieving the agrarian and anti-imperialist objectives.’49

The Cuban Trotskyists further stressed that all conciliation with the forces of the bourgeoisie and petit-bourgeoisie with regard to the specific purposes of the revolution would repeat the betrayals of the working class and peasantry in China and Mexico. Adhering to Trotsky’s strategy of Permanent Revolution, they argued that because the native bourgeoisie and rural and urban petit-bourgeoisie were incapable of leading even the agrarian anti-imperialist revolution, then it must be ‘carried out without the support of the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie’.50 The proletariat, the PBL contended, had to stand in competition with petit-bourgeois nationalism, and not hand the masses over to a petit-bourgeois leadership.

Again adhering to a perspective of Permanent Revolution, the PBL also deepened its analysis of the process of historical development in the second more lengthy programmatic document. Implicitly rejecting the theory, today fashionable in Cuba, that revolutionary defeat in the colonial and semi-colonial countries is the result of a lack of national unity,51 the PBL argued that the failure of the 1895-98 war to achieve complete national independence was almost inevitable given the circumstances. The Cuban Trotskyists described that whilst an embryonic native bourgeoisie had dragged along the working class and rural masses to fight for ‘national independence and the liquidation of feudal shackles’, an emerging imperialist power had intervened. In such circumstances, and in accord with the theory of Permanent Revolution, the PBL contended that the weak national bourgeoisie ‘was incapable of shaping its exclusive class domination... and had to limit itself fundamentally to serving the interests of imperialism’. The Cuban Trotskyists equally argued that the insurrection of 1895-98 had proved unsuccessful because the working class was insufficiently developed, and was unable to promote its own independent class line.52

Extending this analysis in its detailed statement of programme, the PBL reiterated Trotsky’s perspective that the task of national liberation could only be achieved via the dictatorship of the proletariat with the support of the peasant masses. In emphasising that ‘on this alliance depends the success of the revolution’,53 the PBL advanced an agrarian programme in order to forge the alliance. The programme of action demanded the nationalisation without compensation of the lands, buildings, machinery and livestock of the capitalist owners, and their distribution amongst the rural poor. The PBL also advocated support for the cooperative union of peasants in order to increase agrarian production scientifically, the carrying out of a vast building programme of hygienic housing for peasant communities, reduction in the length of the working day, free health care, and the creation of rural schools and the implementation of compulsory education.54

In presenting these immediate measures to promote the agrarian revolution and forge an alliance with the peasantry, the PBL argued that the proletarian party was the only body capable of leading these struggles. Just as Trotsky had earlier dismissed the Anti-Imperialist Leagues as a manifestation of the Second Period Guomindang policy on an international scale, the PBL dismissed the Anti-Imperialist Leagues as ‘gross caricatures of the revolutionary united front’, incapable of carrying out even the most basic democratic agrarian tasks.55 The Cuban Trotskyists, furthermore, made no fetish out of the problem of the insurrection, insisting that it was a technical question. They were unequivocal, arguing that only a proletarian vanguard party, ‘retaining above all else its inflexible class politics’,56 could ultimately secure agrarian and anti-imperialist objectives.

In theory, then, the PBL’s founding programmatic documents fleshed out the Cuban Trotskyists’ perspective of Permanent Revolution. Although they referred to the Grau San Martín government as the petit-bourgeoisie in power, they explicitly saw this as an unstable formation and a temporary phase, as opposed to a distinct stage, in the revolutionary process. As such, they rejected the OCC’s initial prescription for a democratic agrarian anti-imperialist revolution. The PBL’s leadership argued that imperialism could be defeated only via a revolution which led directly to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They furthermore drew a clear line of distinction between themselves as the proletarian vanguard, on the one hand, and the forces of petit-bourgeois nationalism on the other, insisting that the PBL’s task was to win the support of the rural masses by leading the agrarian revolution in competition with and against the national bourgeoisie.

In practice, during the period in which Grau San Martín was in power (September 1933-January 1934), although there were inconsistencies within the PBL across the island, the party’s tactics as set out by its national leadership largely reflected the perspective of Permanent Revolution outlined in the PBL’s founding theoretical documents. In remaining firm in its belief that the Grau San Martín government was an unstable petit-bourgeois formation which attempted to steer a course between the demands of the working class and imperialism, the Trotskyists largely recognised that the regime was an inherently contradictory and temporary one which opened up great possibilities for advancing the struggle for the proletarian revolution. They argued that although the intervention of the rank-and-file soldiers in September 1933 and the strike movement of the proletariat forced the Grau San Martín regime to take aggressive acts against the bourgeoisie and imperialism in the name of ‘enraged nationalism’, so, at the same time, the government carried out severe acts of repression against the masses out of fear of a working-class uprising.57 The PBL, whilst viewing imperialism and the national bourgeoisie as the principal enemy, also saw the Grau San Martín government not as an ally but as an inevitable phase in the development of the revolution. Although this questioned the idea that the petit-bourgeoisie could not attain power independently of the national bourgeoisie, echoing the essence of the theory of Permanent Revolution, the PBL contended that his government was a temporary formation whose fall was only a question a time.58

On the basis of this appreciation that the Grau San Martín government could not survive long, the Cuban Trotskyists understood that they had to do all they could to ensure that it fell under the blows of the working class, and not as the result of action from socially conservative forces inspired by US imperialism. At the national level, they argued that the correct revolutionary policy was one of strengthening the workers’ movement, driving Grau San Martín forward so as to expose to the masses all his vacillations, whilst at the same time deepening the revolutionary situation and preparing the working class for further advance on the day when the petit-bourgeoisie was forced to pass from words to ‘compromising acts’ against the masses.59 In this sense, the PBL advocated continuing ‘the work of regrouping the proletariat, to exact from the petit-bourgeois government the fulfilment of its own demagogic program (revolutionary tribunals, the distribution of land, the Constituent Assembly, etc); to fight for the constitution of Revolutionary Juntas, as a step to the organization of Soviets, and at the same time carry on intensive work among the masses to prepare the latter’s defense against the aggression of the government’.60

During the short-lived government of Grau San Martín, the Cuban Trotskyists, particularly in Havana, and in contrast with the branch in Guantánamo, adopted a critical approach towards the regime. They advocated action which developed the level of the independent struggle of the working class, whilst defending the government against what they perceived to be reaction and the ultra-radical adventurism of the PCC. Shortly after the Sergeants’ Revolt and Grau San Martín’s rise to power, when spontaneous strikes vied with lockouts as widespread social dislocation remained prevalent, the Trotskyists raised the slogan of workers’ control of industry. Displaying much political insight, the Trotskyist-dominated Labour Federation of Havana considered that the employers’ lock-out tactic was designed to paralyse national life and provoke US intervention in accord with the terms of the Platt Amendment. The FOH’s response to this threat was to call on all workers’ organisations not to abandon their independent class line and to re-establish production under their own control. The Havana trade union centre wrote:

‘In the face of Yankee intervention, the Labour Federation of Havana invites all workers to run industry themselves. Factories administered by the working class through its Control Committees will prevent the interventionist reaction and counter-revolution from imposing greater levels of hunger and misery on us. The watchword in such circumstances can be nothing other than workers’ control of industry.61

The PBL also opposed what it termed the ‘Fascist’ Fifty Per Cent and Nationalisation of the Unions Laws introduced by the Grau San Martín government. Again attempting to challenge the influence of petit-bourgeois nationalism over the working class, the Trotskyists argued that these laws represented the government’s attempt to ‘Cubanise’ the working class and destroy its organisations by pitting the native Cuban workers against the foreign ones. Such a policy, they argued, would open the way for employers’ unions to emerge at the same time as the government’s failure to attack the root cause of Cuba’s problems — US ownership of the means of production.62

During the ‘100-day’ government of Grau San Martín, the FOH in Havana called demonstrations against the labour laws. Furthermore, in the face of the deployment of forces by the government and nationalist groups to impose the laws in workplaces and union offices, the FOH sharpened its calls for the independent organisation of the working class through the creation of self-defence groups. Etching this call into the revolutionary wing of the trade union movement, the Trotskyists advocated the formation of armed self-defence squads in the unions and factories to defend the unions against what they termed ‘patriotic’ intervention.63 Putting class before nation, the PBL and FOH contended that Spanish workers should be defended with arms in hand against the anti-working-class legislation.64 They furthermore argued that armed independent working-class action must not only defend the workers’ organisations, but should also go on to the offensive to attack the divisionist, chauvinistic groups in their own strongholds before they became an insurmountable danger. In this sense, and in line with Trotsky’s conception, the formation of militias was effectively viewed as a transitional demand, or bridge, to sharpen the struggle and to lead the workers from the immediate needs of the daily struggle to posing the question of which class held state power and of the Socialist revolution.

However, as stated, the PBL’s independent class position was not applied consistently across the island, largely reflecting the still heterogeneous nature of the political composition of the Cuban Trotskyists. The PBL’s various district and sectional committees acted with a degree of autonomy from the central leadership in Havana, this being most evident in the organisation and activity of the PBL’s Guantánamo branch. In describing the numerical strength of the guantanameño section and its subsequent dislocation, I have highlighted how the guantanameños, in effect, rejected their own party’s formal insistence on presenting an independent working-class position in the struggle against imperialism. The Guantánamo branch did not emphasise the permanent nature of the proletariat’s competition with petit-bourgeois nationalism which, as Trotsky outlined, could have included practical agreements over specific issues with the local representatives of the Grau San Martín administration in order to heighten the contradictions between its progressive aspect and its leadership. The guantanameños instead largely gave the ‘100-day’ government uncritical support. Unlike the Trotskyists in Havana, the PBL members in Guantánamo sought to form a broad anti-im­perialist association, even seeking to join the local administration, in order to defend what they considered was a distinct democratic anti-imper­ialist revolution. However, underlining the PBL leadership’s commitment to a perspective of Permanent Revolution during the Grau San Martín government, García Villareal, the PBL’s General Secretary, argued that the guantanameños’ opportunist construction of anti-imperialist blocs delivered the proletariat into the hands of the ‘left’ government of Grau San Martín and petit-bourgeoisie in the region.65

The nationalist government of Grau San Martín, which had sought to chart a course between demands for radical reform and social conservatism, was ousted in mid-January 1934 when Batista transferred army support to Mendieta. The new regime was quickly recognised by the US administration, and Batista embarked on an intensive campaign of repression directed at the radical nationalist and labour movements. In contrast to the PCC, which did not differentiate between the Grau San Martín government and its Batista-led successor, considering them to be equally pro-imperialist, the PBL perceptively insisted that the Grau San Martín regime had both reactionary and progressive aspects. Referring to the vacillating Grau San Martín regime as a ‘petit-bourgeois farce’, immediately after its fall the Cuban Trotskyists argued that whilst the ‘100-day’ government had served the interests of capitalists by promoting divisions in the working class through its labour laws and attacks on workers’ centres, its displacement by a ‘rightist block’ constituted a defeat for the proletariat, and put the working class on the defensive.66

Upon the basis of this appraisal, the PBL explicitly set itself the task of drawing lessons from the experience of what it thought had been a temporary phase of petit-bourgeois rule. However, during the course of 1934 and early 1935, rather than developing a programme of action which sought to build a revolutionary Communist vanguard and regroup the working class around a clear proletarian anti-imperialist perspective, the PBL made increasing concessions to the old traditions of Anarcho-Syndicalism and petit-bourgeois nationalism. Thus, although the PBL continued to insist on the validity of Trotsky’s understanding that the working class could not take power in Cuba without the support of the peasantry, just as the peasantry could not realise the agrarian revolution without the leadership of the working class, in practice the Cuban Trotskyists increasingly developed a tactical line which had more in common with the OCC’s original Second Period critique of the PCC than with Trotsky’s appreciation. That is, they sought to form uncritical alliances with the forces of petit-bourgeois nationalism, in this case primarily Joven Cuba, thereby ignoring Trotsky’s understanding of the character of any anti-imperialist united front.

The PBL’s analysis of the post-Grau San Martín period was one in which revolutionary political action was in danger of sliding into the traditional form of conspiratorial circles using terrorist methods to heighten the general level of anarchy and disorder. Opposing these methods, which, according to the PBL, only led to the withdrawal of the frightened masses from the political arena, the Trotskyists advocated the building of a united front of the working class in a struggle against the labour laws introduced by the Grau San Martín government and in defence of such gains as the eight-hour working day.67 Warning against the dangers of repeating the errors made by the divided German proletariat prior to the triumph of Hitler, they argued that the struggles to force the repeal of the labour laws and to safeguard the economic gains of the working class had the potential to ‘check the disintegration of the workers’ ranks’, and to strengthen the workers’ trade union organisations in preparation for offensive struggles in the future.68 The PBL considered that unity ‘in the ranks, the creation of the defensive united front of the Cuban proletariat will be the impregnable wall of our class’.69

The PBL, therefore, first attempted to develop its united front perspective through calling for the creation of an Alianza Obrera (Workers’ Alliance), a tactic which it doubtlessly adapted from the material received from the Izquierda Comunista de España led by Nin. The call for a ‘Workers’ Alliance’ had first been raised by French and Spanish Trotskyists in 1933 as a synonym for the ‘united front’ after the latter slogan had, in their opinion, been discredited by the Stalinists’ ultra-left interpretation of the united front only from below during the Comintern’s Third Period. The Alianza Obrera slogan gained particular currency in Spain in 1933-34 when on the initiative of Maurín and the BOC in Catalonia a bloc of the major workers’ organisations was constituted in the face of Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the electoral victory of the right wing in Spain, and the official Communist leadership’s continued characterisation of the Socialist parties as the Communists’ worst enemies.70 In the Cuban context, although such a slogan potentially smacked of Syndicalism, prioritising the formation of an Alianza Obrera was not designed as a simple Syndicalist insurrectional front devoid of political content. Although the PBL intended to unite workers at a rank-and-file level against the attacks of the Batista-led government, the slogan was also designed to undermine the growth and influence of autonomous trade unions which were capitalising on the hostile relations between the FOH and CNOC with calls for unity against both the federation and confederation. As the PBL wrote, its Alianza Obrera perspective sought to put to the test the words of the autonomous leaders, promote a wider working-class participation in the struggles ahead, and allow the PBL to work alongside the mass of workers which were hitherto outside its sphere of influence.71

In early 1934, the Central Committee of the PBL adopted a resolution calling for the creation of an Alianza Obrera in Havana and then on a national scale through the offices of the Sindicato General de Empleados del Comercio de Cuba, which, under Trotskyist control, had created a national network through its work to establish branches in Santiago de Cuba, Matanzas, Santa Clara and Camagüey. One initial practical step designed to forge this united front in action was the two-day strike called by the General Commercial Workers Union in Havana on 10 March 1934 to protest against the decrees banning strikes, boycotts and the dissolution of collective contracts.72 The Cuban Trotskyists also proposed to convene a national conference of the General Commercial Workers Union to carry forward the creation of the Alianza Obrera project nationally. Their intention was to make use of the union’s branches across the country to call meetings of all unions in the various localities to discuss the creation of local Alianzas Obreras. The ultimate aim was that these local Workers’ Alliances would later adhere to a national united front, thereby creating a new national trade union centre committed to a perspective of class struggle.73

However, although the PBL directed all its members to work for the entry of trade unions, particularly those under the FOH umbrella and others in Oriente and Matanzas where Trotskyist influence was considerable, into local Alianzas Obreras, and to establish contact with the central Alianza in Havana, this project had limited success. In Havana in April 1934, where the work of creating a Workers’ Alliance had begun, the PBL reported that in the face of fierce opposition from the reformists and apolitical Anarchists only three autonomous unions had agreed to the Trotskyist fraction’s proposals.74 The principal reason appears to have been that after a series of defeats, and against the backdrop of government repression particularly directed at those unions already known to the regime, workers were beginning to become attracted to the apolitical Syndicalist slogan of ‘Neither Confederation or Federation’, and were organising independently of both trade unions centres. Moreover, despite the Cuban Trotskyists’ intended attempts to attract the PCC into a united front in the trade union sphere through approaches to the CNOC-controlled unions, PBL-PCC relations were at an all-time low. In an atmosphere which for nearly two years had been characterised by fierce displays of mutual hostility between the PCC, on the one hand, and the OCC and PBL on the other, and which at least in Havana showed no signs of diminishing, the PBL could not seriously attempt to approach the Stalinist leadership in a fraternal manner with a view to forming a united front in either the political or the economic field. As such, trade unionism independent of both the CNOC and FOH again gained support.

Additional reasons for the failure of the Alianza Obrera project can be found in the fact that elsewhere in the country the various sectional committees of the PBL were pursuing the policy of creating united fronts with varying interpretations of their form and content. The most notable example of this heterogeneous interpretation of the policy was that applied in Victoria de las Tunas, where the sectional committees of both the PCC and PBL did actually strike an agreement on 20 February 1934 to form a local working-class united front. Reflecting a discernible tendency towards rank-and-file cooperation between all revolutionary organisations in certain areas of Oriente, as well as more widespread discrepancies which existed between the grassroots and leaderships of both the PBL and PCC, the agreed joint resolution called for the creation of a united front from above of all the local unions controlled by the two groups. The two Las Tunas groups also agreed to the rapid formation of a central bureau operating under the principle of democratic centralism, and the suspension of all campaigns of insults and attacks directed against one another. The declared aim was to present a common front against the attacks of reaction.75

Whilst such a policy violated the PCC’s policy of forming united fronts only from below, the PBL’s district committee in Las Tunas was also at variance with the PBL’s national policy in a number of respects. Additional points in the joint resolution committed both signatories not only to suspend attacks upon each other, but also to refrain from all discussion of political and theoretical issues which were at the root of their disagreements, until the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern could be convened with a sizeable representation from the International Left Opposition.76 The PBL’s Central Committee welcomed the news that the Las Tunas section of the PCC had taken a step to rectify the Stalinist bureaucracy’s Third Period policy of the united front only from below. However, at the same time the PBL leadership criticised its own local section for rejecting a tenet of Trotskyism in agreeing to keep silent on the political differences which separated the two parties. In the words of the letter which the Central Committee sent to the Las Tunas section:

‘We consider that our Bolshevik comrades commit an error in suspending all theoretical discussion until the next world congress of the Comintern. The central questions of strategy and tactics cannot be hushed up. That would negate our whole existence... Our duty is to maintain with implacable tenacity revolutionary theory and practice, methodically explaining and clarifying the reasons behind our argument. In coordinating the united front, both organisations must undertake to resolve all discussions or differences in points of view, without insults or violence, but on the contrary through a cordial and open discussion. But to renounce in advance all theoretical discussion is to renounce our message for the benefit of Stalinism.’77

In recognising the honest intentions of the PCC comrades in Las Tunas, the PBL leadership further insisted on how it was necessary to demonstrate to them that the Comintern had been killed by the theory and practice of Stalinism, and that all possibility of reforming it had vanished. A seventh World Congress, they argued, would not solve the problem.78

Despite these inconsistencies in the PBL’s united front line across the country, in mid-1934 the FOH in Havana was still adhering to Trotsky’s formulation that the future revolution was one which only the working class was capable of leading. In July 1934, the FOH maintained that:

‘The central task of the working class in Cuba is to direct the national emancipation movement under its leadership, to demonstrate in experience that only the proletariat with its progressive policies can free the labouring masses from the yoke of Yankee imperialism. The urban petit-bourgeoisie — having come to power in the days of the San Martín government — showed all its vacillations and timidities, before finally capitulating before the adversaries of the Revolution.’79

However, in the latter half of 1934, the PBL leadership’s formal Trotskyist perspective as elaborated in its first two programmatic statements in late 1933 was increasingly displaced by the re-emergence of elements of the OCC’s original project of promoting a struggle which actively sought to put the petit-bourgeoisie back in power. This amounted to a de facto acceptance of the theory of the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution as an intermediate stage on the path towards the Socialist revolution. Those PBL members who had not deserted the party for either trade union struggle in the Comisión Obrera Nacional of the newly founded Auténtico party led by Grau San Martín, or more whole-hearted allegiance with the left-nationalist Joven Cuba in its clandestine preparations for an armed insurrection, gave expression to this implicit two-stage thesis in the document Resolution on the Present Political Situation and Our Tasks. In its essential features, this programmatic statement, drawn up on 16 October 1934 following the Central Committee’s receipt of reports from various sectional committees, revised the leadership’s previous unequivocal insistence on the primacy of the proletarian anti-imperialist revolution in the struggle to overthrow the existing order. For the first time since the formation of the PBL in September 1933, the PBL leadership resurrected the notion that the immediate objective of the struggle was some kind of anti-imperialist democratic revolution in which the petit-bourgeoisie would assume power. Schematising Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, the PBL argued that only after the petit-bourgeoisie was in power could the proletarian stage of the revolutionary process unfold.

The Trotskyists’ analysis at the end of 1934 was based on the assessment that civil unrest was again intensifying, and that an insurrectional crisis supported by the masses of workers and peasants was once again developing in an attempt to overthrow the Batista-Mendieta government. They furthermore accurately contrasted the fortunes of the two wings of radical nationalism within the opposition movement, namely, the PRC(A) led by Grau San Martín, and Joven Cuba, led by Guiteras. They characterised the Auténticos as a party restricted by its own cadres’ ties to a patriotic, electoralist approach which had gone into retreat and decline as repression and assassinations mounted in 1934. They also astutely argued that the Auténticos’ exhaustion had ‘automatically placed both the advantage and the responsibility on the shoulders of its “left wing” (Antonio Guiteras). Politically, the left wing has won, over its adversaries of the right and center.’80

Following Trotsky’s assessment of petit-bourgeois nationalism, the Trotskyists characterised Joven Cuba as a contradictory current with both progressive and reactionary features, though decidedly to the left of the Auténticos.81 They recognised that Joven Cuba, having an essentially petit-bourgeois nationalist theoretical base, had declared itself to be ‘an enemy of imperialism... completely removed from the servility characteristic of the native bourgeoisie’.82 The PBL also argued that this masked the social instability of the organisation, and accordingly reasoned that Joven Cuba would eventually have to move towards the camp of the proletariat, or else lapse into that of pro-imperialist reaction. In further adhering to Trotsky’s appraisal of radical petit-bourgeois nationalism, the Cuban Trotskyists identified Joven Cuba’s armed strength as the Guiteristas major inherent defect. This deficiency, they correctly argued, meant that Joven Cuba ‘underestimates the political conditions necessary for the revolution in order to fall into the fetishism of the technical organisation of the insurrectionary act itself. Adventurism is its organic weakness’.83

However, despite recognising Joven Cuba’s vacillating character within the camp of the democratic revolution, and its tendency to reduce the political problem to that of mounting a successful insurrection, the PBL made increasing concessions in practical work which gave de facto recognition of the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution. In so doing, the Cuban Trotskyists reincorporated elements of the Comintern’s Second Period strategy, which ultimately tied the destiny of the working class to the fate of the petit-bourgeoisie. With reports coming in from the PBL’s ‘exhilarated’ members in its various sectional committees outlining the possibilities for insurrection in their respective localities, and proposals from the Guiteristas to the PBL to form ‘the united front... for the preparation of events’, the PBL developed an increasingly positive, though one-sided, attitude towards Joven Cuba. Seemingly overjoyed at the prospect of breaking out of its own cycle of organisational dislocation and decline after a year of defeats and desertions, the PBL, whilst stating its willingness to enter into a united front upon the basis of a ‘concrete program of action’,84 set out on a path which diluted its previous unambiguous insistence on the leading rôle of the organisations of the working class in the anti-imperialist revolution.

In essence, the PBL’s newly declared orientation involved combining its continued work in constructing the Alianza Obrera at the trade union level, with distinct united front work alongside Joven Cuba. The form and content of the latter joint work, however, contrasted sharply with that in the trade unions. The Joven Cuba-PBL joint front was not founded on the basis of an immediate struggle for various economic and political demands which would deepen the struggle and lead to more advanced demands for a workers’ state, as was the intention of the Alianza Obrera in the trade union field. The joint front with Joven Cuba was instead a secretive union created for the purpose of preparing an insurrection. The only political programme which the Guiteristas offered, as the PBL itself recognised, was ‘a guarantee of their “future” honesty’ for when the Guiteristas were in power.85 In not concerning themselves with any programme of immediate, concrete action, therefore, any joint front with the Guiteristas was limited immediately and prematurely to sharpening the crisis rather than to deepening it. The practical action was chiefly that of collecting arms for an insurrection.

The PBL’s new perspective also incorporated a previously stated demand for ‘a Constituent [Assembly] out of the government’s control’.86 As Trotsky wrote in another context,87 a Constituent Assembly in a country where the problems of national liberation and the agrarian revolution were posed with immediate urgency was essentially a bourgeois democratic forum in which a proletarian vanguard could develop by demonstrating the inability of bourgeois democracy to carry out the tasks of the democratic agrarian revolution. Adhering to the proletarian anti-imperialist perspective, Trotsky also insisted that the Communist Party must agitate elsewhere for distinct soviets, a more democratic assembly facilitating the emergence of the proletarian class dictatorship. Like Trotsky, the Cuban Trotskyists viewed the assembly as a transitory forum which would provoke a determined government reaction to prevent proposals for the democratic agrarian revolution from being realised. However, reflecting their drift away from the proletarian anti-imperialist perspective, in raising the slogan for a Constituent Assembly they did not explicitly oppose petit-bourgeois nationalism with the vision of the proletariat as the historical protagonist. The PBL instead viewed the assembly as a tool with which it could prosecute an insurrection with the previously described distinctive democratic anti-imperialist objectives alongside Joven Cuba. In the Cuban Trotskyists’ schema of events, at the moment when the assembly was crushed by a government opposed to the further development of the democratic agrarian revolution, the narrow Joven Cuba-PBL united front would develop into an organ of the active struggle with the slogan of a ‘united front of struggle against the government’ being replaced by that for ‘the formation of revolutionary juntas’ by the PBL and Joven Cuba. The PBL envisaged that these ‘revolutionary juntas (councils) functioning in each village, sugar central, etc, made up of representatives of both parties (that of Guiteras, and ourselves) would have charge of the preparation of the whole struggle. It is thus that we would initiate the insurrection, and it is thus that we would influence and direct it from within.’88

The PBL thereby prioritised the project of establishing Joven Cuba-PBL parity committees above that of a broad united front based on a struggle for immediate demands in defence of workers’ rights, and agrarian and anti-imperialist demands. In so doing, the Cuban Trotskyists implicitly resurrected the notion that the immediate objective of the struggle was an anti-imperialist democratic revolution in which the petit-bourgeoisie would assume power. Introducing the idea that this democratic anti-imperialist insurrection could be a distinct stage, the PBL argued that only after the petit-bourgeoisie was in power would the proletarian stage of the revolutionary process come into being. The PBL stated:

‘If, after all of the necessary preparations, the technical insurrectionary act takes place as the culmination of the political process... [it] is almost certain that the petit-bourgeoisie will reach power... It is then that we will carry into practice the transformation of the democratic revolution into the Socialist revolution. It is then that through a transformation within the revolutionary juntas, the genuine workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils will be born of the masses. It is then that the slogan “All Power to the Juntas” will acquire its revolutionary mass content.’89

It was on the basis of this understanding that the proletarian stage of the revolution would inevitably unfold once the petit-bourgeoisie was in power, that the PBL justified its joint preparatory work on the insurrectional front with Joven Cuba. In particular, the secretive activities which the PBL had initiated in terms of collecting arms and organising and training its own militia were seen as necessary steps for enhancing party solidity and to prepare for the future rupture in the united front when the PBL would lead its independent course to power.90

This formulation of the projected revolutionary process steered the Cuban Trotskyists towards focusing on agreements with Joven Cuba which were designed to sharpen rather than deepen the revolutionary situation, and into elaborating a programme for when the petit-bourgeoisie was in power. However, as if to demonstrate the extent to which the Trotskyists had tied their destiny as a proletarian vanguard to the fate of the petit-bourgeoisie, events unfolded largely out of their control, and confirmed the PBL’s decline in influence in comparison with that which it had exercised during earlier strike movements in late 1933 and in early 1934. The unstable political situation characterised by outbursts of largely uncoordinated strike and terrorist activities during 1934 developed into another general strike movement in early 1935. Although the working class joined the students and state functionaries on strike, as the PBL itself recognised, the strike movement was largely a spontaneous affair with no effective centralised leadership. The control which did exist lay in the hands of the student movement via the so-called Committee of Proletarian Defence. Although the PBL sought to concentrate its forces in trying to strengthen this committee, the strike was quickly defeated. A state of martial law was declared, police fired on workers’ assemblies, and the offices of every proletarian organisation were raided and ransacked. Having smashed the strike movement and forced the dissolution of the trade unions, a further round of severe punishment for those arrested was meted out by the state security forces. Members of the PBL itself faced long terms of imprisonment, deportation and, in a few cases, even death at the hands of the rampant repressive forces of the state.91

The development and ultimate fate of the March 1935 strike movement was as much an indictment of the PBL’s political trajectory through the period of 1933-35 as it was a reflection of the underlying strength of apolitical Anarcho-Syndicalism in the labour movement and the balance of class forces. Although the PBL at its founding in September 1933 had set itself the task of delineating a revolutionary Communist vanguard and regrouping the working class around a clear proletarian anti-imperialist perspective, during the course of 1934 and early 1935, it made increasing concessions to the old traditions of Anarcho-Syndicalism and non-proletarian nationalism. That is, in practice the Cuban Trotskyists increasingly developed a strategy and tactical line which had more in common with Mella’s insurrectional plans and the OCC’s original Second Period critique of the PCC than with Trotsky’s assessment of political priorities. The PBL displayed a tendency to focus on the working-class united front in the trade union field, largely ignoring it in the political, and sought to form uncritical alliances with the forces of petit-bourgeois nationalism, primarily in the form of Joven Cuba. Whilst the proletarian revolution was still the declared aim, by late 1934 it was viewed as the result of some objective process which would unfold if primacy were given to the development of a distinct or independent democratic anti-imperialist revolution. This theoretical understanding ultimately left the Cuban Trotskyists isolated from the masses, as, instead of attempting to develop a united front around a concrete programme of action as Trotsky advised, the PBL increasingly focused on building narrow juntas with Joven Cuba in preparation for an insurrection which they considered would put the petit-bourgeoisie in power.

Relations between the PBL and the Official Communists

During the ‘100-day’ Grau San Martín government, the PCC attributed a variety of acts of political treachery to the Trotskyists. In general terms, the PBL was accused of committing murders, recruiting strike-breakers, creating parallel unions in those sectors controlled by the CNOC, and, with the support of the government, attempting to build a reformist trade union centre to rival that of the official Communists.92 Whilst these were largely baseless accusations typical of the anti-Trotskyist slanders which emanated from a Communist Party zealously implementing the Third Period line, the specific charge that Junco and company were attempting to fill the shoes of the reformist trade union leader Juan Arévalo, whose usefulness, the PCC argued, had been exhausted,93 did have some content. That is, whilst the PBL itself was not attempting to build a workers’ centre in the mould of Arévalo’s cravenly pro-Machado Unión Federativa Obrera Nacional, the PBL in certain localities did not support strikes against aspects of the Grau San Martín administration’s anti-working-class programme. As described earlier, there is evidence that this was so in the Guantánamo region where the guantanameño PBL, in its opportunist desire to form a broad anti-imperialist association in alliance with supporters of Grau San Martín, wholly failed to insist on the necessity of proletarian independence in competition with petit-bourgeois nationalism.

The sole truly analytical critique made by the PCC of the PBL’s political orientation appeared in the PCC’s newspaper Bandera Roja in October 1933.94 The article set out the PCC’s none-too-inaccurate understanding of the PBL’s founding programme. The official Communists argued that the Trotskyists’ basic premises included the assertions that in Cuba a struggle had begun between a reactionary wing of the bourgeois opposition and elements of the petit-bourgeoisie; that there was no radicalisation of the masses; and that the revolution in Cuba must be Socialist, though with an alliance with the peasantry. For the PCC, the fundamental error of the Trotskyists lay in what it called the arbitrary division between those in power and the reactionary opposition of Menocal, Mendieta and the ABC. In true ultra-left, sectarian style, the PCC rather foolishly claimed that both what the PBL referred to as the petit-bourgeois government and the bourgeois opposition were reactionary representatives of the bourgeoisie and latifundistas, who equally served the interests of US imperialism. The PCC thereby concluded that the PBL was driven both into servility before the government of Grau San Martín, and into playing the rôle of strike-breakers against the working class. Elsewhere, the official Communists took their Third Period critique of what they considered was a necessarily pro-imperialist petit-bourgeoisie, to accuse the so-called Junco-Villareal group in the FOH of putting a brake on the revolutionary struggle against the native bourgeoisie and imperialism.

An internal document of the official Communists, however, contained criticism of the PCC’s public response to the growth of the PBL in late 1933. In a report made to the Caribbean Bureau of the Comintern, the foreign envoy ‘Juan’ recognised that in Oriente the party’s ‘struggle against the Opposition is bad, limited to the well known operational methods using adjectives “traitors”, “thieves”, “contemptible people”, etc’.95 The same report also noted that the Oppositionists had made much of the PCC’s call for a return to work during the August 1933 general strike, and that the official party’s own militants found themselves ‘completely disarmed’, unable to reply to the criticisms of the PBL. The author of the report, ‘Juan’, who had opposed the PCC Central Committee’s decision to call for a return to work during the August 1933 strike, also revealed the tension which continued to exist between the Comintern and its Cuban section, when he expressed his personal criticism of the PCC for ‘the absolute abandonment of the ideological struggle against the Opposition’.96 In particular, he bemoaned the fact that although the PBL’s programme had been published two months previously, not one word of criticism of it had appeared from the PCC.97

In response to the PCC’s criticisms, the Cuban Trotskyists were generally forthright in displaying their anti-Stalinist credentials. Indeed, in developing a critique of the PCC’s rôle in the Revolution of the 1930s, the PBL demonstrated that from an early stage it considered that the intervention of Stalinism into Cuban affairs had introduced a new counter-revolutionary factor into the working-class movement. In an article written especially for the US Militant and published on 28 April 1934, the PBL emphasised the enormity of the blame which the Trotskyists placed at the door of the PCC for the defeat incurred in January 1934 with the fall of the Grau San Martín government and its replacement by the Batista-Mendieta regime. García Villareal wrote:

‘No workers’ party has ever had a greater historical responsibility than that which falls directly on the Stalinist bureaucracy of the Caribbean secretariat, and of the Communist Party of Cuba... Cuban Stalinism has been converted into the most negative factor within the process of the revolutionary developments. The whole blame for the proletarian defeat falls on the shoulders of Stalinism, without any limitations.’98

In arguing that the PCC had directly prepared the return to power of imperialist reaction over the state apparatus, the PBL rightly identified the root of the official Communists’ treacherous ultra-leftism in the PCC’s narrow definition of the petit-bourgeois government of Grau San Martín as a ‘bourgeois-feudal government, lackey of imperialism’. For the PBL, such a characterisation not only failed to explain to the workers why the bourgeoisie and US imperialist interests were also engaged in a struggle against Grau San Martín, but, even worse, underpinned the PCC’s strategy of directing all efforts towards the overthrow of the Grau San Martín regime. Ultimately, the PBL contended, this policy misled the workers into premature battle, confusing and exhausting them, so that ‘when the proletariat found itself forced to fight, it was already too late’.99 Indeed, the PBL’s severe criticism of Stalinism was such that by mid-1934 they considered that the ‘first task... lies in eliminating Stalinism as a factor in the workers’ movement’.100

Aware of the acute insensitivity of the wholly inappropriate Third Period tactical line pursued by the PCC in Cuba, the PBL developed a political critique of official Communism’s policy with respect to a number of theoretical and tactical issues which largely reflected the general criticisms Trotsky was making of Comintern policy. Aside from rejecting the theory of the anti-feudal and anti-imperialist revolution on the basis that it confusingly introduced a distinct branch, rather than phase, into the revolutionary process between the bourgeois and proletarian revolution revolutions,101 the Cuban Trotskyists lambasted the PCC on issues concerned with trade union tactics and strategy. Whilst the PBL’s aggressive critique of the PCC was no more evident than over the issue of the PCC’s attempt to organise a return to work during the August 1933 strike,102 the Cuban Trotskyists developed their criticisms of the official Communists’ generally sectarian trade union policy. They accused the PCC of attempting to leap stages in the development of the trade union struggle by insisting on ‘red’ trade unionism and the united front only from below. Consistent with Trotsky’s underlying understanding of the tactic of the working-class united front, for the PBL the point of unity in action around a concrete programme of struggle agreed by the trade union leadership was to expose the reformist leaders before the masses when those leaders at some point equivocated and sought to break the agreements for a struggle for specific demands.103 For the Trotskyists, the slogan of the united front only from below prevented joint working-class action, and allowed the reformist leaders to escape any responsibility.104

In the trade union field, the Cuban Trotskyists also criticised the sectarian preparation and aims of the Fourth National Labour Congress organised by the PCC-controlled CNOC in January 1934, the first national trade union congress held since 1925. For the Trotskyist-dominated General Commercial Workers Union, this congress had great potential which had been lost even before proceedings opened. The primary reasons cited, again attacking the ultra-leftism of the PCC, were the lack of broad pre-conference discussions, the narrow range of invited organisations, and the absence of any discussion over the urgent issue of ‘red’ trade unionism versus the building of a united front.105 In detailing their criticisms of the PCC’s narrow sectarian failure to address the issue of building a working-class united front from above and below, the Trotskyists wrote:

‘It was to be hoped that the Fourth National Labour Congress [of the CNOC] would be preceded by a series of actions designed to consolidate the masses’ orientation towards it, using it as a waste-pipe for all the old tactics and errors. For this to happen, it was essential that the question of the congress would be discussed widely and, then, that the vast majority of the working class would attend. Far from this, the congress, in advance, hides all possible discussion of the strategies and tactics to follow, and does not allow important sections of the working class to attend.’106

The Cuban Trotskyists also criticised other aspects of official Communist policy. First, the PCC’s support for self-determination for the majority black population in the province of Oriente up to and including the creation of Black Belts, de facto independent states, came in for sharp criticism. The PBL argued that racial discrimination was rooted in class society, and as such could only be ‘liquidated upon the basis of the class struggle’.107 In recognising that divisions of race grew out of the way in which capitalism created and reproduced labour-power, the Trotskyists justifiably stated that the PCC’s approach only further promoted divisions in the working class. Thus, whilst the PBL never saw the need to call for black caucuses in working-class organisations to fight racism within the ranks of the proletariat, in contrast to the PCC, the Trotskyists did argue that the proletariat had to make the fight against racism its own cause in the anti-imperialist struggle.

The PCC came in for further criticism from García Villareal for its seemingly un-Third Period-like tactic of directing protest away from centres of imperialist property. For the General Secretary of the PBL, to recognise US zones of business and exploitation by declaring against attacks on imperialist property was a ‘shameful capitulation’.108 However, rather than accepting the PCC’s justification that their policy was determined by technical military considerations, and developing this to reveal the truly anti-internationalist character of the PCC’s revolutionary perspective, García Villareal instead overemphasised the PCC’s servility to Moscow, and argued that the PCC’s attitude was in fact directly derived from the recently signed Litvinov-Roosevelt Treaty of ‘mutual recognition’.109

Whilst the Cuban Trotskyists were generally critical of the PCC’s ultra-radical perspective of promoting an immediate insurrection and the installation of a workers’ and peasants’ government on the grounds that it was wholly premature, because the working class and rural and urban petit-bourgeoisie were not yet under Communist leadership, the PBL specifically applied this criticism to what it referred to as the launching of the ‘criminal adventure’ of 29 September 1933 around the burial of Mella’s remains. Whilst it seems that the PCC called the demonstration, at least in part, as a show of strength to regain some of its prestige lost in the capital after the ‘error of August’,110 the PBL interpreted the open appearance of the PCC’s uniformed shock troops for the first time as a provocative show designed to signal an attempt to launch a general strike and promote the PCC’s adventurist aspirations of igniting an immediate insurrection.111 In the street-fighting which enveloped the demonstration, whilst the army asserted its unified force for the first time after the dislocation in its ranks caused by the Sergeants’ Revolt, the PBL’s own shock brigade created to defend the FOH fought alongside the supporters of Grau San Martín and Guiteras against the official Communist demonstrators.112 The PBL justified its spontaneous decision to form a de facto united front with petit-bourgeois nationalism against the PCC on the grounds that the PCC had organised a sectarian adventure at a time when the army, still in a state of chaos, had begun to fraternise with the workers.113

Whilst the allegiances which the PBL forged with the Guiteristas during the violent confrontations on 29 September laid the foundations for a deeper project of joint action from late 1934, the violence between the PCC’s and FOH’s shock troops also seems to have set a precedent with regard to the nature of relations between official and dissident Communists. During the course of the Revolution of the 1930s, relations between the two groups were largely characterised by mutual hostility expressed not only in their respective publications, but also physically. There were numerous reports of violent confrontations between supporters of the PCC and PBL, particularly in Havana. According to Jorge García Montes and Antonio Alonso Ávila, one such confrontation resulted in one death and various other casualties when a group of armed PCC members left the offices of the CNOC and attacked workers’ leaders inside the buildings of the Trotskyist-controlled FOH.114

These hostile relations, particularly after the violence of 29 September 1933, developed to the extent that over the course of 1933-34 the PBL’s negative assessment of the PCC’s strategy and tactics became increasingly characterised by an explicit understanding that official Communism represented a counter-revolutionary force in the workers’ movement. In the light of the PCC’s call for a general strike after the massacre of 29 September, which the FOH opposed on the grounds of saving the workers’ movement from ‘the most complete rout’,115 the PBL developed a united front line which had the peculiar feature of effectively excluding the possibility of approaching the PCC’s leadership. That is, the PBL itself opposed the PCC’s sectarian trade union line with one which conveyed in no uncertain terms its appraisal of Stalinism as a counter-revolutionary force. This distinct line was evident in the PBL’s proposed response to the labour laws of Grau San Martín after the chaos on the streets of Havana on 29 September 1933. The FOH argued that in order to deal with the disorder and disunity in the ranks of the working class, which could only weaken its front against the Fifty Per Cent Law, the proletariat and its organisations should adopt an independent class line against both the bourgeoisie and the sectarian line of the CNOC. Without such a united front of the working class, the FOH argued, defeats would continue and the proletariat would lose confidence in its own organisations.116

The most significant contribution of the PBL in the 1930s, then, was its commitment to creating a counter-current to official Communism which broadly insisted on the validity of building an independent proletarian organisation capable of leading the working class to power, whilst addressing the problem of national liberation. However, relations between the PCC and PBL were such that the Trotskyists, rather ironically, adopted what appeared to be an ultra-leftist attitude towards forming a united front with the official Communists. Although the PBL’s criticisms of the PCC strategy and tactics largely reflected the general criticisms Trotsky was making of Third Period Comintern policy, during 1934-35 the PBL was more prepared to ally itself uncritically with the revolutionary forces of petit-bourgeois nationalism, particularly with the Guiteristas, than to attempt to involve the PCC in any joint front work around a concrete programme of action. In this sense, the PBL’s attitude implicitly argued that Stalinism in the early 1930s was not a centrist current in the labour movement, vacillating between reform and revolution in theory and practice, but was instead an objectively counter-revolutionary force.

The PBL and its International Contacts

Whilst the contacts which the OCC established with the international Trotskyist movement were largely limited to the Spanish Left Opposition group, after the constitution of the PBL in September 1933 these international contacts included other Trotskyist groups in the Americas. The first section of the international Trotskyist movement in the region to mention and then formally to establish contact with the Cubans appears to have been the US Trotskyist group, the Communist League of America. This contact, which took place after the constitution of the PBL in September 1933, seems to have been initiated by James P Cannon, the Secretary of the US Trotskyist group,117 who, after seeing a reference to the Cuban group in the minutes of the International Secretariat, requested that the Cuban group be asked to get in touch with the US Trotskyists.118

During the course of late 1933 and 1934, both the Spanish and US Trotskyist press contained a number of articles attributed to the Cuban Trotskyists, as well as numerous others based on information received from them. It is also clear that the Cubans continued to receive Comunismo and The Militant, as well as books and pamphlets containing Trotsky’s writings. The US Trotskyist press also relayed umpteen urgent pleas for financial assistance for the Cuban section during the turbulent days of the Revolution of the 1930s. These contacts, particularly with the Communist League of America in the USA, seem to have replaced any direct contact between the PBL and the International Secretariat in Paris.

The struggles and prospects for revolution in Cuba in late 1933 were also addressed by the international Trotskyist movement. Of particular interest was the issue raised by the US Trotskyist ‘John G Wright’119 in a discussion article in The Militant about whether or not the time was right to call for the formation of soviets. Implicitly prefacing the essence of the Cuban Trotskyists’ later arguments which led them to adhere to a ‘national liberation’ tendency within Latin American Trotskyism, Wright separated democratic demands from the transitional demand for soviets, and was one-sided in terms of arguing that the slogans and struggle for national liberation should be stressed before the call for soviets was raised. Although Wright accurately recognised that talk of the immediate seizure of power would be suicidal in Cuba, he also rejected raising the slogan for the formation of soviets. Instead, he proposed the perspective of a struggle around the slogan of ‘Revolutionary National Defence’. He argued that before soviets could be formed, the struggle had first to be couched in the terms of national liberation. He wrote: ‘The vanguard must organize the united front against American imperialism; and in this united front must be included not only all workers’ organisations but any and all sections of the petit-bourgeoisie that are willing and ready to struggle against the common enemy.’120

Wright’s position in many ways ran against a previous article in The Militant which pointed to the transitional nature of the demand for soviets. Soviets, the article argued, were organs of popular struggle which could demonstrate to the Cuban workers and peasants their own strength, and the demand for their formation could generally be raised alongside democratic anti-imperialist slogans. The article also stated that to call for the formation of soviets only at the point of the proletarian insurrection ‘would only lead, as was so tragically demonstrated by the Stalinist policy in China, to the failure to organize soviets in time as the revolutionary center and instrument of workers and peasants, or else to caricature soviets after the revolutionary wave had receded’.121

In a letter dated 21 November 1933, Trotsky himself, in one of his few references to Cuba, similarly rejected Wright’s one-sided declaration against raising the slogan for the formation of soviets in Cuba. Readdressing the balance, Trotsky first reiterated his central arguments with respect to the task of revolutionaries in the colonial and semi-colonial countries; namely, that the conquest of power cannot be the immediate task if the majority of the rural and urban petit-bourgeoisie does not follow the revolutionary proletarian party, and that this can be achieved only by ‘a direct and open struggle against the “national” bourgeoisie and the opportunist leaders of the petit-bourgeoisie’.122 However, for Trotsky, soviets in general constituted the basic fighting organisation of the proletariat and those other layers of society which joined its struggle, and he argued that to reject calling for the creation of soviets for tactical reasons, as Wright suggested, was an incorrect appreciation of the rôle they played in the revolution.123

Despite addressing the debate on the immediate tasks of revolutionaries in Cuba and, indeed alluding to the tendency of some Trotskyists to overemphasise the democratic anti-imperialist tasks by relegating the explicit proletarian anti-imperialist aspect to some distant future point, this discussion involving Trotsky does not appear to have come to the attention, or at least influenced the leadership, of the PBL at the time. Indeed, by late 1934, the Cuban Trotskyists’ evident tendency to accept implicitly a two-stage revolutionary perspective in some of the ambiguous formulations contained in the document Resolution on the Present Political Situation and Our Tasks, prompted the US Trotskyists to direct a stern letter to the PBL outlining their concerns.

The letter from the National Committee of the Workers Party in the USA to the Central Committee of the PBL,124 raised three fundamental problems of strategy and tactics which the North Americans considered permeated the Cubans’ appreciation of the revolutionary process. The first point of concern was what the US Trotskyists saw as the PBL’s ‘tendency to accept, at least in part, the theory of the independence of the “anti-imperialist democratic revolution of the workers and peasants”’.125 They urged the Cubans to reject all vestige of such a theory on the grounds that it would lead to accepting, at least temporarily, the leadership of the petit-bourgeoisie, and, thereby, sharing the latter’s fate, as had been demonstrated by events in China, when the Comintern’s Second Period policy had led the workers’ movement to a tremendous defeat.

As a result of the PBL’s perceived ambiguity with respect to this first issue, the Workers Party also criticised the PBL for giving ‘too much emphasis to the issue of agreements with Joven Cuba over the preparation of a future “petit-bourgeois” insurrection and in elaborating programmes for a coalition government after the possible insurrection’.126 The North Americans instead proposed that the PBL endeavour to deepen the revolutionary ferment in ever broader layers of the masses, rather than concern itself with sharpening the political crisis by pushing for an insurrection in the near future. To this end, they suggested that the PBL develop a programme of immediate action, instead of focusing on a post-insurrection programme of action. Specifically, the US Trotskyists proposed that the PBL take the lead in agitation, demonstrations and strikes around demands for an end to government terror, a democratic Constituent Assembly, agrarian demands, workers’ rights, better working conditions, workers’ committees in the sugar centrales and other industries, liberation from US imperialism, and nationalisation under workers’ control.

A third central point of criticism related to the application of a programme of action. For the North Americans, the action programme which they had outlined had to be applied through a broad united front, including the Stalinists, and all efforts should be focused on achieving this goal. Although the feasibility of concluding a united front with the official Cuban Communists was questionable, the US Trotskyists wrote with some foresight that if the tendency to replace ‘the genuine broad united front’ with parity committees of Joven Cuba and the PBL was viewed in terms of creating embryonic soviets to which the insurrection will transfer power, then this policy would ‘bring on the isolation of the party from the masses’, and would ‘not win the masses to the revolutionary slogans’.127

Of all the documents and letters exchanged between the PBL and its US counterpart, this letter seems to have been the most significant in terms of the influence it had on the political trajectory of the PBL. Whilst it arrived in Cuba too late for the PBL to modify its perspectives before the March 1935 general strike, in the aftermath of that historic defeat, and amidst the desertion and isolation which the Workers Party predicted, the PBL in its Political Thesis, drawn up in October 1935, reflected the substance of these criticisms in all its essential features. As described in the next article, the PBL returned, at least in theory, to Trotsky’s formulation, which insisted that just as the petit-bourgeoisie was unable to lead a successful anti-imperialist revolution, so the democratic anti-imperialist revolution was only a temporary phase in the deeper proletarian revolution. In the post-March 1935 period, the PBL furthermore elaborated a programme of immediate action and demands which broadly incorporated the Workers Party’s contention that the central task was the conquest of the masses through the development of a combined struggle to liquidate the remnants of feudalism in the countryside and to overthrow imperialist domination, under the leadership of the proletariat.

Conclusion

The principal virtue of the PBL during the Revolution of the 1930s was that it attempted to integrate the struggle for the agrarian revolution and national liberation within the struggle for Socialism. This was something official Communism consummately failed to do, given its adherence to the excesses of the wholly one-sided Third Period approach, which dismissed the national liberation movement. However, in offering an alternative which addressed the issue of building an anti-imperialist united front to expose the ultimate inability of the petit-bourgeoisie to lead the revolution, the Trotskyists themselves displayed a tendency to accept the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution. They thereby tied the fate of the working class to the destiny of the petit-bourgeoisie.

From its founding in September 1933, the PBL was characterised by the evolution of two broad tendencies within its ranks, and its political trajectory was defined by the relative strength of these contending political currents. On the one hand, there was what can be loosely termed a ‘Trotskyist’ tendency around Marcos García Villareal, Gastón Medina and a number of other leaders at the core of the PBL. This tendency initially maintained that only a proletarian anti-imperialist revolution could secure even the most basic tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, a perspective which broadly corresponded with that outlined by Trotsky. The second sector within the PBL was what can be described as a ‘petit-bourgeois nationalist’ tendency. It was more openly intent on pursuing the Second Period policy of forming broad democratic anti-imperialist blocs with the forces of reformist and revolutionary nationalism. This tendency was most evident in the pronouncements and activity of the PBL’s largest Sectional Committee in Guantánamo. The greater part of the guantanameño branch favoured building a loose multi-class association in pursuit of a strategy which implicitly accepted the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution, thereby overtly tying the destiny of the working class to the fate of radical petit-bourgeois nationalism. The conflict between these two distinct prescriptions for revolutionary activity led the Guantánamo branch to operate independently of the PBL Central Committee, ignoring the latter’s directives from the founding of the party in September 1933.

These two conflicting, though initially coexisting, tendencies had fluctuating degrees of influence over the tactics of the PBL during the Revolution of the 1930s. Initially, what I have termed the ‘Trotskyist’ or ‘pro­letarian’ tendency was successful to the extent that the PBL formally adopted the fundamental postulates of the theory of Permanent Revolution at its founding conference. Furthermore, the PBL’s decisive orientation towards the International Communist League, together with the tasks of revolutionary defence of the Grau San Martín regime against imperialism, and the struggle against the excesses of Stalinism after the ‘error of August’, temporarily held in check the unravelling of the PBL’s contradictory internal political composition and the gradual disintegration of the Cuban Trotskyist party.

However, with the fall of the Grau San Martín government in January 1934, the PBL’s formal ‘Trotskyist’ perspective was increasingly challenged by the weight of the traditions of Syndicalist and national liberation struggle in the heterogeneous ranks of the PBL. During the course of 1934, although the Trotskyists’ attempt to build an Alianza Obrera was far in advance of the ultra-radical sectarianism of the PCC, it became evident that their united front tactics were not directed at sharpening the contradictions between the anti-imperialist movement and its petit-bourgeois nationalist leadership. That is, the slender roots which the tenets of the theory of Permanent Revolution had established proved too shallow to displace the traditional forms of struggle, and the PBL as a whole failed to propose a politically independent course for the working class.

During 1934, the natural haven for the ‘petit-bourgeois nationalist’ elements within the PBL was Joven Cuba or, for those who had a history of trade union work, the National Labour Commission of the Auténticos. However, those ‘Trotskyist’ sectors of the party which had initially rejected actual liquidation inside radical nationalist parties and blocs were also increasingly attracted to the one-sided promotion of a united front with Joven Cuba. This was particularly evident in the PBL’s activity towards the end of 1934 and in early 1935. Apart from the fact that the tactical alliance which they formed with the Guiteristas was narrowly based, and sought to sharpen the revolutionary situation rather than deepen it amongst broad sections of the urban and rural masses, the broad bloc perspective also revealed the Trotskyists’ tendency to stress that the immediate objective was a democratic anti-imperialist revolution. This tendency, moreover, paralleled the trajectory of other formative Trotskyist groups in Latin America. The Trotskyist groups in Chile and Bolivia, for example, similarly sought to form largely uncritical alliances with the national revolutionary sector as the radical nationalist movements became involved in conspiratorial insurrectionary projects in their respective countries in the 1930s.128

This tendency to put the struggle for social emancipation on the back burner in favour of highlighting the slogans which addressed the question of democratic anti-imperialism had little in common with Trotsky’s insistence on the necessary proletarian character of the anti-imperialist struggle. However, one redeeming feature of the Cuban Trotskyists’ position lay in the fact that they justified their trajectory in terms which loosely incorporated the essence of the theory of Permanent Revolution. That is, they insisted that in a country like Cuba, petit-bourgeois nationalism would eventually disintegrate, forcing its followers to align themselves with either the proletariat or the counter-revolution. In late 1934 and early 1935, the PBL argued that it was essential that the Trotskyists take up arms alongside Joven Cuba to strengthen the proletarian influence amongst the revolutionary nationalists, and so make it more likely that the petit-bourgeoisie would fall to the side of proletarian revolution rather than that of pro-imperialist reaction.

In terms of the Cuban Trotskyists’ organisational characteristics and development, the PBL was undoubtedly at its peak in terms of number of members around the time of its constitution in September 1933 and shortly thereafter, before declining sharply during 1934 and the first half of 1935. During 1933-34, the PBL was a big group by Trotskyist standards, if not the largest outside the Soviet Union, plausibly being able to claim 800 members. Furthermore, unlike other Trotskyist groups in Latin America, which were generally concentrated in their respective capital cities, the Cuban Trotskyists had important centres throughout the country, most notably in the Matanzas and Oriente provinces, as well as in Havana. Only after the defeat of the Revolution of the 1930s did the Cuban Trotskyist group decline sharply to a size more common in other Latin American sections of the international Trotskyist movement.

The fate of the Cuban Trotskyists was largely determined by the objectives they set themselves and the tactics they employed to realise these goals. However, other factors contributed to the Cuban Trotskyists’ lack of success in constructing a mass proletarian party by the end of the Revolution of the 1930s. First of all, despite benefiting from initially attracting a number of well-known and experienced trade unionists, the PBL’s leadership largely reflected that of its membership. Both the PBL’s membership and leadership were a heterogeneous mix of anti-Stalinist Anarcho-Syndicalists, radical petit-bourgeois nationalists, and proletarian anti-imperialists. A number of the Opposition’s nationally and/or locally acknowledged trade union leaders, such as Junco, were hesitant in committing themselves to the project of building an overtly Trotskyist party. Their slender commitment to Trotskyism was cut with the decision to join the Auténticos’ labour organisations in mid-1934.

The long-term project of constructing a Trotskyist party was also hindered by the composition of the PBL’s most important union, the General Commercial Workers Union of Cuba, a white collar union. Situated above the general manual labourer in socio-economic terms, these restaurant, hotel and retail workers represented that sector of the working class which was closest to the petit-bourgeoisie. As such, they provided the urban base for the rural petit-bourgeoisie’s radical nationalism. Hence, although the PBL attracted its most dynamic elements, the concept of a less structured and more fluid organisation was more likely to attract them than the project of building a disciplined proletarian Bolshevik party.

However, a more important element explaining the PBL’s decline in membership was the fact that the revolutionary period in which they were formed did not give them time to cohere as an open party. Whilst the labour laws of the Grau San Martín government hit the PBL particularly hard in the sense that large sections of the Trotskyist-controlled General Commercial Workers Union, who were largely of Spanish origin, were forced out of their jobs, the repression in 1934-35 led to the jailing, torture and deportation of large numbers of Cuban Trotskyists. As elsewhere in the world, the Trotskyist party in Cuba attempted to consolidate itself in a period dominated by defeats for the working class.

In sum, the OCC and PBL in the Revolution of the 1930s was a sizeable group, and its formation, at least for a short time, raised the banner of Trotskyism, and challenged the leading rôle of the Stalinist Comintern in the ranks of the Cuban working class as in no other Latin American country. However, it must be borne in mind that all revolutionary groups in Cuba were relatively large at the time. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that the conditions under which these dissident Communists organised themselves not only explain their early political trajectory of flirting with the theory of the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution, but also explain, at least in part, their exceptional strength.

Proletarian Revolution

Political-Theoretical Magazine of the League for the Revolutionary Party (USA)

No 60 includes articles on the New York transit workers’ aborted strike, the Puerto Rican struggle against the US Navy, Indonesia, and Iran. Free sample issue on request.

Proletarian Revolution, PO Box 3573, New York, NY 10008-3573, USA

 
NOTES
 

1. LD Trotsky, Oeuvres (November 1933-April 1934), Paris, 1978, p78, n5.

2. ‘To the Cuban Workers and Peasants: Manifesto of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of Cuba’, The Militant, 18 November 1933, pp3-4.

3. Estatutos del Partido Bolchevique Leninista, Havana, 15 September 1933, p6.

4. Op cit, p4.

5. A Gómez Villar, A Propósito del Primer Congreso del Partido, untitled PBL internal document, April 1934, p2.

6. Letter from ‘Juan’ to the Caribbean Bureau of the Comintern, Havana, 2 December 1933, p2.

7. Manuscript of interview given by Luis Miyares to Rafael Soler Martínez, 31 March 1995, p4.

8. Letter from ‘Juan’ to the Caribbean Bureau of the Comintern, op cit, p7.

9. Emiliano (PCC), Informe sobre la Situación del Movimiento Revolucionario en las Provincias de Oriente, y Camagüey, 18 September 1933, p1.

10. Informe del Comité Seccional de Guantánamo al Comité Central del PCC, 3 November 1933.

11. Ibid.

12. ‘The Cuban Bolshevik-Leninists’, The Militant, 10 March 1934, p2.

13. Ibid.

14. Letter from A González to Octavio Fernández, New York, 3 June 1934.

15. ‘Arrest Leaders of the Cuban Labor Movement’, The Militant, 7 April 1934, p1.

16. A Gómez Villar, Importante, untitled PBL internal document, April 1934, p7.

17. Ibid; ‘Cuban Arrests’, The Militant, 14 April 1934, p1.

18. A Gómez Villar, La Reaparición de ‘RAYO’, untitled PBL internal document, April 1934, p12.

19. Ibid, p12; CC of the PBL, Programa del Partido Bolchevique Leninista, Havana, 1934, p3.

20. Letter from the PBL to the International Secretariat of the ICL, Havana, 20 March 1935, p10.

21. Ibid.

22. Gómez Villar, ‘A Propósito del Primer Congreso del Partido’, op cit, p1.

23. Op cit, pp1-2.

24. A Gómez Villar, Los Camaradas de Oriente y el Caso de Guantánamo, untitled PBL internal document, April 1934, p6.

25. Minutes of the Meeting of the PCC’s Guantánamo Sectional Committee, 8 November 1933; Informe del Comité Seccional de Guantánamo al CC del PCC, op cit.

26. Informe sobre la Situación del Movimiento Revolucionario en las Provincias de Oriente, y Camagüey, op cit, p1.

27. Manuscript of interview given by Luis Miyares to Rafael Soler Martínez, op cit, p3; Informe sobre la Situación del Movimiento Revolucionario en las Provincias de Oriente, y Camagüey, op cit, p1.

28. Gómez Villar, Los Camaradas de Oriente y el Caso de Guantánamo, op cit, pp6-7.

29. This drift of members in Guantánamo included Mujal, whose Trotskyism, as much as official Communism, had been a passing phase in his journey to the Auténticos and eventual self-serving servility to imperialist interests in the 1950s.

30. Gómez Villar, Los Camaradas de Oriente y el Caso de Guantánamo, op cit, p7.

31. Gómez Villar, A Propósito del Primer Congreso del Partido, op cit, p1.

32. Op cit, p2.

33. Letter from the PBL to the International Secretariat of the ICL, op cit, pp2-4.

34. Op cit, p2; ‘Lazaro Peña-Junco, Blas Roca-Mujal, Hermanos Gemelos Bajo una Misma Bandera ¡Conciliación de Clases!’, Cuba Obrera (Havana), August 1941, p6; ‘En Torno a los “Trotskistas” en el PRC’, Cuba Obrera, December 1941, pp1-8.

35. Letter from the PBL to the International Secretariat of the ICL, op cit, pp4-5.

36. Op cit, p5.

37. Op cit, p6.

38. Op cit, pp16-17.

39. Op cit, p10.

40. Op cit, p11.

41. There is no evidence to indicate, as Soler suggests (Soler Martínez, ‘Los Orígenes del Trotskismo en Cuba...’, op cit, p84), that the ‘entry’ of the PBL into the ranks of Joven Cuba constituted the application of the so-called ‘French Turn’ tactic in Cuba. The ‘French turn’, or entry of Trotskyist parties into mass Social Democratic parties, was intended to increase Trotskyist influence amongst rank-and-file workers who were moving to the left in the light of the catastrophic events in Germany in 1933. Whilst the Cuban Trotskyists initiated their ‘turn’ at the time when Trotskyist groups in advanced capitalist countries were implementing the new tactic, in Latin America the entry into petit-bourgeois nationalist parties and movements was carried out on the basis of rejecting the notion that the proletariat was the historical protagonist in the revolution, and involved the dissolution of the class-based Fourth International.

42. CC of the PBL, A Todos los Obreros y Campesinos. Al Pueblo de Cuba, 25 September 1933. This was reproduced in ‘To the Cuban Workers and Peasants...’, The Militant, 18 November 1933, and appears on pages 218-25 of this issue of Revolutionary History.

43. See LD Trotsky, The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, New York, 1977, p134.

44. ‘To the Cuban Workers and Peasants...’, The Militant, 18 November 1933, p3.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid.

47. Ibid.

48. Ibid.

49. Ibid.

50. Ibid.

51. See, for example, M Duarte Hurtado, La Estrategia Unitaria de la Revolución Cubana, Havana, 1997, pp11-14.

52. Programa del Partido Bolchevique Leninista, op cit, pp24-7.

53. Op cit, p29.

54. Op cit, pp33-4.

55. Op cit, p46.

56. Op cit, p57.

57. ‘La Lucha Revolucionaria en Cuba’, Comunismo (Madrid), May-June 1934, p236; ‘The Cuban Situation after Grau’, The Militant, 14 April 1934, p3.

58. ‘Desarrollo y Luchas en la Revolución Cubana’, Comunismo, July 1934, p282.

59. ‘The Cuban Situation after Grau’, The Militant, 14 April 1934, p3; ‘Desarrollo y Luchas en la Revolución Cubana’, Comunismo, July 1934, p236.

60. ‘The Cuban Situation after Grau’, The Militant, 14 April 1934, p3.

61. Mesa Ejecutiva de la FOH, A Todos los Obreros de la Provincia, 18 September 1933.

62. Mesa Ejecutiva de la FOH, A Todas las Organizaciones Federadas y Afines, 18 November 1933; ‘¡Abajo la Demagogia!’, El Obrero Panadero (Havana), December 1933, p8.

63. PBL, A los Militantes, Células, Secciones, Organismos Locales del PCC, nd.

64. Oriente District Committee of the PBL, Manifesto del Partido Bolchevique-Leninista, December 1933.

65. Gómez Villar, Los Camaradas de Oriente y el Caso de Guantánamo, op cit, pp6-7.

66. ‘The Cuban Situation after Grau’, The Militant, 14 April 1934, p3; ‘Editorial: Del Momento’, Cultura Proletaria (Havana), January 1934, p1.

67. ‘La Lucha Revolucionaria en Cuba’, Comunismo, July 1934, p235; ‘The Cuban Situation after Grau’, The Militant, 14 April 1934, p3.

68. ‘Stalinism Kneels to American Imperialism’, The Militant, 28 April 1934, p3; ‘Editorial: Del Momento’, Cultura Proletaria, January 1934, p1.

69. SGECC, A Todos los Empleados del Comercio, Organizados y no Organizados. A los Empleados Ocupados y Desocupados. A Todos los Trabajadores en General, Havana, 1 April 1934.

70. Whilst the North American Trotskyists argued that the ‘Workers’ Alliance’ slogan was abused by Maurín on the grounds that he used it to create a two-class party, a workers’ and peasants’ bloc, in opposition to the Marxist principle of proletarian hegemony in the revolution, POUMists have argued that it was the experience of Nin and Maurín as leaders of the Alianza Obrera in Catalonia which led them to reflect on the united front and the necessity of uniting Marxist revolutionaries in a single political party. See W Solano, ‘Vidas Paralelas: Andreu Nin y Joaquín Maurín’, in V Alba (et al), Andreu Nin i el Socialisme, Barcelona, 1998, pp102-4.

71. A Gómez Villar, Las Luchas en los Sindicatos y el Porque de la Alianza Obrera, untitled PBL internal document, April 1934, pp3-4.

72. SGECC, A Todos los Empleados del Comercio, Organizados y no Organizados..., op cit.

73. A Gómez Villar, La Conferencia Nacional de los Empleados del Comercio, untitled PBL internal document, April 1934, p12.

74. Gómez Villar, Las Luchas en los Sindicatos y el Porque de la Alianza Obrera, op cit, p5.

75. A Gómez Villar, El Frente Único de los Stalinistas y de los Bolcheviques en Victoria de las Tunas, untitled PBL internal document, April 1934, p10.

76. This position in many respects paralleled that of the Brandlerites within the Comintern. During the Third Period they maintained a position of ‘neutrality’ on Russian questions, whilst continuing to hold a general attitude of ‘opposition’ in the Comintern. Their refusal to criticise the Russian party was based on the hope that Stalin would remove the ultra-leftist leadership of the Comintern and install the ‘Rightists’ at the head of the Communist parties.

77. Gómez Villar, El Frente Único de los Stalinistas y de los Bolcheviques en Victoria de las Tunas, op cit, p11.

78. Ibid.

79. FOH, ¿Cual Es La Salida?, Havana, 2 July 1934, p17.

80. PBL, Resolution on the Present Political Situation and Our Tasks, Havana, 16 October 1934, pp3-5.

81. Trotsky argued that petit-bourgeois nationalism in the colonial and semi-colonial countries was two-sided. That is, it could have a reactionary aspect insofar as it was directed against the workers, but could also have an progressive aspect insofar as it was directed against imperialism. For Trotsky, it was possible to work with these forces of petit-bourgeois nationalism so long as the nationalism of the rural and urban poor in the colonial country was directed against the foreign oppressor. However, this work was only permissible on condition that the organisations of the Fourth International did not actually participate in the Guomindang, the APRA or any other party of Latin American nationalism, and that absolute freedom of action and criticism were preserved. See LD Trotsky, ‘On the Declaration by the Indochinese Oppositionists’, Writings (1930-31), op cit, pp30-31; LD Trotsky, ‘Latin American Problems: A Transcript’, op cit, p785.

82. Resolution on the Present Political Situation and Our Tasks, op cit, p3.

83. Ibid.

84. Op cit, pp4-5.

85. Op cit, p6. According to the PBL, this programme was ‘characteristic of the petit-bourgeoisie; freedom of proletarian expression; distribution of land; cancellation of monopolies; struggle against imperialism’.

86. Op cit, p5.

87. LD Trotsky, ‘The Slogan of a National Assembly in China’, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1930), New York, 1975, pp164-7.

88. Resolution on the Present Political Situation and Our Tasks, op cit, p5. In a separate programme of action dated 16 November 1934, the PBL outlined the proposed structure of the Revolutionary Juntas. The various local juntas were to be under the control of the central leadership in Havana, although a general staff was to direct the insurrection. It was envisaged that the juntas would assume state power in every town and province after a successful insurrection and a national congress of the juntas would decide on the appointment of a central government. See the Programme of Action appended to the document Resolution on the Present Situation and Our Tasks, op cit, p9.

89. Op cit, p5.

90. Op cit, p6.

91. RS de la Torre, ‘The Situation in Cuba’, The New International, October 1935, pp204-5.

92. See, for example, Mesa Ejecutiva Confederal de la CNOC, ¡Trabajadores: En Pie de Combate por el IV Congreso Nacional Obrero de Unidad Sindical Convocado por la Confederación Nacional Obrero de Cuba!, nd, p4.

93. ‘La Federación Obrera y los Nuevos Arevalos’, Línea (Havana), 24 October 1933, p7.

94. ‘El “Partido Bolchevique-Leninista” Nueva Nombre de un Mismo Grupo de Traidores: Junco y Compañía Sabotean las Huelgas y Defienden al Gobierno de la “Auténtica Revolución”’, Bandera Roja (Havana), 20 October 1933, p2.

95. Letter from ‘Juan’ to the Caribbean Bureau of the Comintern, op cit, p7.

96. Op cit, p8.

97. This criticism, of course, ignored the article which had appeared in the PCC’s Bandera Roja on 20 October 1933.

98. ‘Stalinism Kneels to American Imperialism’, The Militant, 28 April 1934, p3.

99. Ibid.

100. ‘Desarrollo y Luchas en la Revolución Cubana’, Comunismo, July 1934, p236.

101. Programa del Partido Bolchevique Leninista, op cit, p45.

102. PBL literature made reference after reference to the PCC’s so-called ‘error of August’ for propaganda purposes long after the event. See, for example, ‘Lo Que el Trabajador Debe Conocer’, El Obrero Panadero, December 1933, p23; El SGECC Frente al IV Congreso Obrero Nacional, op cit, p12.

103. Trotsky set out this understanding of the purpose of the working-class united front in LD Trotsky, ‘The United Front for Defense: A Letter to a Social Democratic Worker’, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, New York, 1971, pp349-69.

104. El SGECC Frente al IV Congreso Obrero Nacional, op cit, pp9-10.

105. Op cit, pp3-4.

106. Op cit, p4.

107. Programa del Partido Bolchevique Leninista, op cit, pp39-40.

108. ‘Stalinism Kneels to American Imperialism’, The Militant, 28 April 1934, p3.

109. Ibid; ‘Cuba, Punto Explosivo en América’, Comunismo, September 1934, p78. A dilution of Communist anti-imperialist rhetoric in Latin America was conditioned by the Soviet bureaucracy’s professed desire to secure a US-Soviet non-aggression pact in the Pacific region to contain the threat of Japan shortly after Hitler rose to power in Germany. Between May and November 1933, a certain rapprochement developed between the USSR and the USA, which led to formal mutual recognition. See HD Phillips, Between the Revolution and the West: A Political Biography of Maxim M Litvinov, Boulder, 1992, pp130-3.

110. This was the view expressed more recently by one of the PBL’s leaders, the late Carlos Padrón, letter from CM Padrón Ferrer to Rafael Soler Martínez, Miami, 7 November 1996.

111. ‘Stalinism Kneels to American Imperialism’, The Militant, 28 April 1934, p3; FOH, A Todos los Obreros de la Provincia. Al Pueblo de Cuba, Havana, 30 September 1933.

112. Letter from CM Padrón Ferrer to Rafael Soler Martínez, op cit.

113. ‘Stalinism Kneels to American Imperialism’, The Militant, 28 April 1934, p3.

114. J García Montes and A Alonso Ávila, op cit, pp164-5.

115. ‘Stalinism Kneels to American Imperialism’, The Militant, 28 April 1934, p3.

116. FOH, A Todos los Obreros de la Provincia. Al Pueblo de Cuba, op cit.

117. James P Cannon (1890-1974) was a founder of the American Communist Party. Won to the Left Opposition at the Comintern’s Sixth World Congress in 1928, he was one of the principal founders and leaders of North American Trotskyist movement, even being recognised as its president emeritus in the 1960s and early 1970s before his death.

118. JP Cannon, Writings and Speeches, 1932-34: The Communist League of America 1932-34, New York, 1985, p270.

119. ‘John G Wright’ was the pseudonym of Joseph (Usick) Vanzler (1902-1956). He joined the Communist League of America in 1933, and quickly became one of Trotsky’s principal translators into English.

120. ‘Problems Of The Cuban Revolution’, The Militant, 28 October 1933, p3.

121. ‘Program and Perspectives for the Cuban Proletariat’, The Militant, 16 September 1933, pp1, 4.

122. LD Trotsky, ‘On Calling for Soviets in Cuba’, Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement (1929-33), New York, 1979, p333.

123. Ibid.

124. The Workers Party was the name given to the Trotskyist party in the USA after the Communist League of America fused with the American Workers Party in late 1934.

125. Letter from the Workers Party of the US to the Central Committee of the PBL, New York, 8 January 1935, p1. This letter is reproduced in full on pages 226-9 of this issue of Revolutionary History.

126. Letter from the Workers Party of the USA to the CC of the PBL, op cit, pp1-2.

127. Ibid.

128. See Alexander, Trotskyism in Latin America, op cit, pp92-105, 112-3.