Sandalio Junco Camellón (1894-1942)
SANDALIO Junco was born on 8 April 1894 in the town of Jovellanos, Matanzas. As a leader of the Sindicato de Obreros Panaderos (Bakery Workers Union), he was involved in founding the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federación Obrera de La Habana (FOH) in December 1920, the first city-wide trade union organisation in Cuba to unite workers across trades and industries. In the early 1920s, he became increasingly well known in the revolutionary movement as the leader of the bakery workers, and was one of those arrested along with Julio Antonio Mella in November 1925 on the trumped-up charges of planting a bomb in the Payret Theatre.
Though still committed to the ideas of Anarcho-Syndicalism, in his capacity as the International Secretary of the Confederación Nacional Obrera de Cuba (CNOC) he visited the Soviet Union for the first time in 1927. Only after his return from Moscow did Junco join the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), and become more deeply involved in Communist activity across Latin America. In April 1928, he travelled to Montevideo as a Cuban delegate to the meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the First Latin American Trade Union Conference. However, as a result of the publicity he received there, he was unable to make an immediate return to Cuba. Instead, he travelled to Mexico to join other Cubans in exile. Working closely with Mella within the Asociación Nacional de Nuevos Emigrados Revolucionarios de Cuba (ANERC), he was on the editorial board of ¡Cuba Libre!, the ANERC’s newspaper, and was involved in preparing the planned armed expedition alongside the Cuban bourgeois opposition groups also in exile in Mexico. Whilst Mella’s death, and then the Comintern’s whole-hearted adoption of the ultra-leftist Third Period tactics, finally put an end to this project, Junco, under the pseudonym of ‘Juárez’, continued to express his sympathies for Mella’s ideas of a broad bloc. At the First Latin American Trade Union Conference held in Buenos Aires in June 1929, Junco, representing the CNOC, brought up the issue of a possible alliance with the left wing of the Cuban bourgeois nationalist movement, and how the Communists could gain advantage from joint action in the struggle against Machado. However, although such views clashed with the in-coming spirit of ultra-leftism, the fact that the PCC did not adopt the Third Period tactics until late in 1930, together with the rigours and uncertainties of living in exile, delayed Junco’s confrontation with official Communism.
In Mexico, Junco was amongst four Cuban Communists who were deported from Vera Cruz on a steamer bound for Hamburg on 2 January 1930 as part of the drive initiated by the government of Emilio Portes Gil against the Mexican Communist Party. From Germany, Junco made his way to the USSR, where he attended the Lenin School, and worked with other prominent PCC members in the Comintern and Profintern. It seems that he even occupied the Secretaryship of the Caribbean Secretariat of the Profintern for a period. In Moscow, he also became a close colleague of Rubén Martínez Villena, the father-figure of the Cuban Communist Party, and was sufficiently trusted by the de facto leader of the Cuban party to deliver the report on the situation in Cuba at the Profintern’s Fifth Congress in 1930.
However, Junco’s disagreements with the Comintern matured whilst he was in Moscow. There are numerous rumours which suggest that he had clashes with the upper echelons of the official Communist movement, including a personal confrontation with Stalin. The version of events recounted in Leon Trotsky’s Oeuvres for March-July 1933 states that Sandalio Junco ‘had been won over to the Left Opposition during a stay in Moscow by Andreu Nin himself, then the secretary of the Red International of Labour Unions. An unconfirmed legend has it that no sooner had he been convinced than he used the occasion of an official reception violently to question Stalin regarding the persecution of Trotsky and his comrades.’ Whilst this story has been used to explain Junco’s departure from the Soviet Union, as well as his eventual expulsion from the PCC, its veracity must be doubted. More probable is that the various centrist elements who controlled the Latin American Secretariat in Moscow prevented Junco’s return to Cuba in 1930 and early 1931 when the PCC was belatedly adopting the Third Period tactical line, only allowing him to leave for Cuba late in 1931 when the new line had taken root.
Early in 1932, shortly after his return from the Soviet Union, Sandalio Junco more than anyone acted as the catalyst in giving some structure to the heterogeneous opposition current which had begun to take shape within the PCC over the party’s turn towards the excesses of the Third Period tactical line. Having initially been assigned various tasks in the PCC’s Black Section, amongst the unemployed, and for the newspaper of the CNOC, Junco apparently vanished from party circles from the end of March 1932 after having prepared a day of action in the southern port city of Cienfuegos. There are unsupported stories which suggest that at this point he travelled to Haiti, or possibly Jamaica, for a short period. Out of touch with the party, the PCC leadership only heard from Junco after he was arrested and jailed in Havana some months later. After he was released from prison in mid-July 1932, the PCC again could not locate him. This time, however, with the Oppositionists having effectively acted as an organised current in the jails, Junco and other leaders had already taken the decision to found the Oposición Comunista de Cuba (OCC) within the party. Thus it was only after the OCC had been founded in August 1932 that the Central Committee of the PCC tracked Junco down. At a meeting at the end of September, Junco eventually told the PCC leadership that the issue was not about the work he had been assigned as such, but disagreements with the line of the PCC which went back to 1930. Clearly, the decisive point had been October-November 1930, when the PCC had adopted the ultra-radical Third Period tactical line. This turn had led the official Communists formally to abandon their orientation towards that sector of the bourgeois nationalist opposition to Machado which was prepared to take up arms, and to label the Anarcho-Syndicalist trade unions as ‘Social Fascist’.
Already well known nationally as the leader of the Bakery Workers Union and a prominent member of the PCC, the official party considered Junco to be the leader of the Opposition. He was certainly one of the OCC’s most vociferous members, taking on the PCC with a series of 20 articles in the Bakery Workers journal El Obrero Panadero, and leading a series of meetings of the FOH’s Executive Committee alongside Gastón Medina and Pedro Varela, which led the OCC to gain control of the capital’s Labour Federation (FOH). He also travelled to various cities encouraging the local branches of the Bakery Workers Union to join the local Labour Federations that the Opposition was building to challenge the ultra-left line of the PCC-controlled CNOC. Furthermore, Junco was one of two leading members of the Opposition who spoke to the meeting of the Guantánamo section of the PCC which decided to break almost en masse from the discipline of the official party in order to join the OCC.
Although Junco’s criticisms of official Communism in 1932 and early 1933 referred to the theory of ‘Socialism in One Country’, the Soviet Thermidor and the triumph of the bureaucracy over the masses, his commitment to the Trotskyist project was tenuous. It appears that despite Junco’s continued links to the FOH in Havana, he was removed from the leadership of the Opposition at the time of its orientation towards the International Left Opposition, that is before the Partido Bolchevique Leninista was formally constituted in September 1933. In joining the pro-Grau San Martín-Guiteras Comisión Obrera Nacional in early 1934, Junco simply demonstrated his underlying commitment to a strategy which defended the theory of the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution. That is, Junco was the leading representative of that section of the OCC which sought to build the trade union movement, and tie it as a whole to the destiny of petit-bourgeois nationalism.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Junco was the General Secretary of the Comisión Obrera Nacional, the Auténticos’ trade union centre which opposed the official Communist-Batista joint front in the labour movement. Whilst Junco’s deep involvement with the Auténticos led the Trotskyists in the Partido Obrero Revolucionario to argue that he was a turncoat who essentially advocated a policy of class conciliation, he also came under attack from the Cuban Communist Party. The official Communists, motivated by a fear of both the threat which Trotskyism had once posed and the Auténticos’ perceived radicalism, denounced Junco as a closet Trotskyist who had taken shelter in, and taken over, the Comisión Obrera Nacional in order to fool more easily and betray honest Auténtico workers. The official Communists took the task of eliminating Junco from the workers’ movement so seriously that their provocative propaganda incited a Stalinist gun-squad to murder him in cold blood. In late April and early May 1942, the official Communists formally expelled Junco from the Bakery Workers Union of Havana, whilst denouncing him in their press as a divisionist, spy and fifth columnist agent in the workers’ movement. In the sharpened atmosphere created by such rantings, he was gunned down as he rose to speak at a meeting in the city of Sancti Spíritus to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the murder of Antonio Guiteras on 8 May 1942. Although his murder provoked a wave of fury in the Cuban labour movement, including calls for workers’ self-defence squads from groups influenced by the Trotskyists, his murderers effectively enjoyed state protection, and they escaped prosecution at the time. They continued to enjoy the protection of the Cuban state in the post-1959 period. Indeed, two members of the Communist group involved in the shooting in the hall, Isidro Pérez and Neftalí Pernas, joined the state security services after 1959, whilst a third, Armando Acosta Cordero, became a member of the Central Committee of the new Cuban Communist Party, and headed the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs).
Juan Ramón Breá (1905-1941)1
JUAN Ramón Breá y Landestoy was born in Santiago de Cuba on 5 November 1905. A non-conformist poet from an early age, he was a founding member of the H Group, a literary group which was the only surrealist circle in Cuba in the 1920s. Until the mid- to late 1920s, most of the members of the H Group, like many of Cuba’s artistic intellectuals, abstained from involvement in active politics. However, as the Machado dictatorship resorted to extreme brutality and reliance on the abuse of the most elementary political rights, they increasingly gave up their artistic endeavours for political organisation and action. Many gravitated towards terrorism in the cells of the ABC as the best means to press for change.2 However, Breá was one of those who worked with the young Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) and its front organisations.
After travelling to Havana in 1928, where he joined the anti-Machado university groups, Breá helped to build a PCC-influenced clandestine revolutionary student movement. By the early 1930s, however, he had gone into exile in Mexico to escape the spiralling repression. From Mexico, he first travelled to France, and then on to Spain, where he made contact with Andreu Nin and various other Trotskyists. These contacts changed his political outlook and allegiances once and for all. Breá became a Trotskyist, which he remained until the end of his life, though eventually very disheartened.
Whilst in Spain, Breá sent newspapers and journals from the Spanish Trotskyist group to the early Oppositionists within the PCC in Cuba. This literature, particularly the magazine Comunismo, did much to stimulate Trotskyist influence within the young and relatively isolated opposition current in the PCC. Returning to Cuba in May 1932, Breá was almost immediately arrested and imprisoned along with other political activists in the Presidio Modelo on the Isle of Pines. He was a vociferous participant in the debates amongst the jailed Communist activists, discussions which led the hitherto loose collection of oppositionists to act as an organised fraction for the first time. On leaving prison, Breá was a leading member of the Oposición Comunista de Cuba (OCC) after its formation in August-September 1932. He represented the oriental OCC at the decisive two-day meeting of the Guantánamo section of the PCC which decided to break almost en masse from the discipline of the official party. More significantly, as a member of the OCC’s Central Committee, he was one of the principal advocates of Trotskyism within the heterogeneous Opposition. Indeed, according to Roberto Pérez Santiesteban, a long-serving leading Cuban Trotskyist in the 1930s and 1940s, Breá more than anyone gave Trotskyist shape and content to the struggle against Stalinist policies in the PCC in the early 1930s.3
In 1933, President Machado was forced from office, and the unstable government led by Grau San Martín came to power. However, this short-lived government fell easily when Batista, the new army chief, shifted his support to a figure favoured by the US government. From early 1934, the balance of forces shifted in favour of the counter-revolution as Batista directed the state’s repressive forces against the labour and revolutionary movements. With the revolutionary situation subsiding, and with the Partido Bolchevique Leninista (PBL) in a state of rapid decline as its membership abandoned the Trotskyist project in large numbers, Breá contributed to the dislocation in its ranks when he took the decision to return to Europe in mid-1934. In Paris, he met Mary Low,4 his companion until his death. Amongst their closest friends back in France was Benjamin Péret,5 with whom Breá shared an involvement in the Trotskyist movement. Other colleagues and acquaintances included André Breton6 and the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam. Indeed, as they travelled around Europe in the mid-1930s, surrealism as much as Trotskyism was at the centre of their work.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Breá and Low immediately travelled to Barcelona. From late July to the end of December 1936, they both worked alongside the POUM. Whilst Low worked for the POUM radio station broadcasting in English as well as writing for their English language bulletin, Breá was a member of the Bolshevik-Leninist Group (the Trotskyist group in Spain recognised by the international movement) working as a journalist for La Batalla and the POUM, the POUM’s newspapers. He sent reports from the Aragón front, where he also fought in the POUM militia, and then from Madrid.
Late in 1936, however, two attempts were made on Breá’s life by the Stalinists in Barcelona. The POUM, however, refused to give him any protection, a decision which forced Breá and Low to leave once more for France. Rumours abound that the POUM’s Central Committee did not take kindly to Breá on the grounds of his supposed revelry and Bohemian lifestyle, but tolerated him only because they attached great value to the work which Mary Low had undertaken in the English-language broadcast and printed press of the POUM.7 However, it should be borne in mind that the antipathy Breá provoked within the POUM could have been the result of political differences. It must be remembered that at certain times during the Civil War relations between the POUMistas and the Trotskyists in the Bolshevik-Leninist Group were tense due to the criticisms the POUM suffered for their vacillations over the principle of class independence and the extent of their collaboration with the Republican bourgeois parties. Indeed, the political climate and prevalent tensions within the left milieu led to the majority of the Bolshevik-Leninists being effectively expelled from Spain in early 1937.
After leaving Spain on 28 December 1936, Breá and Low founded the Marxist Cultural Institute, under whose auspices they organised conferences for the diffusion of ideas on art, literature and the individual. They also vividly recounted their first-hand experiences in Spain in their first book, Red Spanish Notebook.8 This was first published in London in 1937 with a preface by CLR James.9 In his introduction, James wrote that the reader ‘will get here, better than in all the spate of books on Spain, some idea of the new society that is struggling so desperately to be born’.10 Much of Breá’s part of the book, dealing mainly with political and military topics, first appeared in the pages of La Batalla. However, its publication in 1937 in London was the first substantial eyewitness account in English of the Spanish Revolution.
In contrast to the rather ambiguous position of the Cuban Trotskyists who were actually resident and active in Cuba during the years of the Spanish Civil War, Breá’s critique of the various parties and groups in Spain was uncompromising. He described in no uncertain terms the ideological confusion of the Anarchists and Anarcho-Syndicalists who ‘threw away the power when it fell into their hands because their principles were against taking it’.11 He also reaffirmed the outright counter-revolutionary rôle of those who adhered to the Comintern whilst, at the same time, refusing to lay the whole blame for the failure of the revolution at their door. Breá wrote:
‘It would be childish to throw the blame there [at the Stalinists’ doorstep] when we have known so long what a counter-revolutionary part Russia and her acolytes have been playing in all countries. Forewarned is forearmed. The responsibility must lie with those revolutionary parties in Spain who know Stalinism for what it is. I mean the POUM and Anarchists, and the Anarcho-Syndicalists.’12
For Breá, the only road in Spain was to oppose Communism to Fascism, and he argued the need for what he termed ‘a Common Front — that is to say an alliance of the proletariat without an amalgamation of programme’.13
After the Stalinists defeated the Spanish Revolution in 1937, Breá and Low moved from Paris to Britain, where they married at Watford Registry Office on 24 September 1937. Ever the tireless travellers, late in 1937 they returned to Cuba, where Breá was surprised to find that many of his former comrades had first been seduced by the ideas of Antonio Guiteras before having joined the ranks of Grau San Martín’s Auténtico party. Their stay in Cuba was short, and early in 1938 they left once again for Europe. For over a year in 1938-39, Breá and Low lived in Prague, finding time to pursue their specifically surrealist inclinations, and to bring out a French collection of their poems, La Saison des flûtes.14 However, they left in a hurry after the Gestapo paid them a visit in their flat. They realised that they had had a close escape, because when examining Breá’s passport, which had a seemingly endless string of visas and stamps, the Gestapo officers had skipped over the pages where entry into Spain in 1936 had been marked. Travelling first to France and then on to Britain, Breá and Low boarded a boat bound for Havana on 2 February 1940. Breá remained in Cuba until his death, a result of tetanus, at the age of 35 on 17 April 1941.
A third book, La Verdad Contemporánea, which Breá also co-authored with Mary Low, was published in Havana in 1943. This posthumous book contained a collection of essays on art and culture which they had originally worked on for presentation at the Marxist Cultural Institute. A further tribute to his life appeared in the POR’s newspaper, Revolución Proletaria, in May 1946 to mark the fifth anniversary of his death.15
Gastón Medina Escobar (1909-1938)
GASTÓN Medina Escobar was born into a peasant family in the province of Pinar del Río on 3 March 1909. Having stood out as a talented student at school, through the offices of an interested teacher he was offered a job as a messenger boy in Havana’s library service at the age of 12. Able to read at length and to dedicate himself to self-study, the young Medina read widely, teaching himself English and French, and familiarising himself with the basic texts of Marxism. In 1925, when an economic depression began to bite, he lost his job and returned to Pinar del Río. However, with his new found knowledge and commitment to the struggle against oppression, he set up study circles, first at the family home and amongst groups of fellow workers in the countryside, and then in the late 1920s in the construction teams working on the central carretera project.
Medina continued to visit Havana to meet and discuss with some of the habanero revolutionaries he had met whilst working in the library. During one such trip in April 1930, he was shot in the right arm when the army attacked a meeting called by supporters of Carlos Mendieta and the Partido Unión Nacionalista, the principal bourgeois opposition to Machado. Undeterred, however, from August 1930 Medina based himself full-time in Havana. He immediately committed himself to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), and held various positions of responsibility in the party’s structures. In 1931, he became the National Secretary of the Defensa Obrera Internacional (DOI), the PCC’s Red Aid organisation, and was a leader of the Labour Federation of Havana (FOH).
After the formation of a loose opposition current in the PCC’s trade union fractions in 1931, Medina increasingly aligned himself with those who went on to form the heterogeneous Cuban Communist Opposition (OCC). Imprisoned under a false identity in mid-1932 along with Andrés Vargas Gómez, the grandson of Máximo Gómez (the General-in-Chief of the Liberation Army during the 1895-98 War), Medina was unwittingly freed after Vargas’ mother intervened to win the release of her son. Vargas would only leave prison if his apparently unimportant friend was also released. One of the founders of the OCC in August 1932, and a member of its Central Committee, Medina nevertheless had to take a break from Havana, where the heat was on. He returned to the capital in December 1932, and during the course of 1933 worked with Sandalio Junco, Pedro Varela and others in winning the Executive of the FOH to the position of the OCC against the ‘red trade union’ line of the PCC. He also played a prominent part in the agitation against the PCC’s call for a return to work during the general strike of August 1933.
After the fall of the Grau San Martín government in 1934, the Partido Bolchevique Leninista (PBL) was faced with a serious internal crisis which threatened its existence as an organised political party. At this crucial time, Medina was one of the few leading members who continued to carry out the tasks of the party. Indeed, in February 1935, Medina took over the General Secretaryship of the party after García Villareal was removed from the Central Committee for neglecting his party duties at the time of his marriage in December 1934. Just before the short-lived but decisive general strike of March 1935, Medina also became the General Secretary of the FOH. In the aftermath of the defeat of the historic strike, at a meeting of leaderships of the FOH and the Confederación Nacional Obrera de Cuba (CNOC) called to discuss a proposal for joint work, Medina was amongst those arrested when the police raided the meeting. During his period of incarceration he was forced to drink motor oil, a torture favoured by the Batista-Mendieta regime of the period because it allowed the security forces to release many political prisoners in full knowledge that their internal organs had been sufficiently damaged to ensure that they would be physically weakened and likely to die an early death.
In mid-1935, after the defeat of the Revolution of the 1930s, the PBL, already in a state of disarray, could have easily disappeared altogether. After a period of successive defeats and desertions, the OCC’s original broad ‘anti-imperialist’ front perspective had increasingly reasserted itself over a strict anti-imperialist proletarian outlook as the majority of the PBL’s members, either spontaneously or in an organised fashion on a local basis, gravitated towards ill-defined united front work with Antonio Guiteras’ Joven Cuba organisation in preparing for a narrowly-based insurrection. However, Medina more than anyone was responsible for rescuing the Trotskyist project and attempting to instil some order in the PBL’s ranks. In recognising that the party faced capitulation, albeit more spontaneous than organised, to what he termed the ‘petit-bourgeois chieftains’, Medina stood out as the firmest and most prominent adherent of a perspective which insisted on the immediate defence of the independence of the PBL’s organisation.
Whilst Medina sought to build a pre-party ‘bridge’ organisation to reinforce the PBL’s status as an independent party by separating the genuine Bolshevik militants from petit-bourgeois nationalists, more important for the immediate stabilisation and future fortunes of the PBL was the elaboration by Medina of an extensive Political Thesis in October 1935. Under the pseudonym of ‘G Capablanca’, Medina broke from the ambiguous path developed by the PBL during the revolutionary upheaval of 1934-35, and proposed a definite plan for revolutionary activity in Cuba which highlighted the need for the independence of the programme and organisation of the proletariat. Medina referred to the immediate insurrectionary perspective as an exhausted technique, and explicitly recognised that the central task was the conquest of the masses through the development of an action programme which combined a struggle to liquidate the remnants of feudalism in the countryside (the agrarian revolution) with a struggle to overthrow imperialist domination (national independence), under the leadership of the proletariat. This marked a decided return to the strategic and tactical approach advocated by both the PBL in its own manifestos and programmes drawn up in September-October 1933 and Trotsky. The Political Thesis was circulated widely — Trotsky himself even received a copy via the Mexican Trotskyists — and it served as the basis for the Cuban Trotskyists’ discussions on the situation in their country until the mid-1940s.
The project of building a revolutionary Socialist organisation in Cuba committed to a definite proletarian anti-imperialist action programme received a severe blow after Medina’s health broke. In early 1937, he was increasingly confined to bed, and was cared for in the houses of close comrades. After contracting tuberculosis in 1938, he was finally admitted to a sanatorium, and placed in the care of Dr Gustavo Aldereguía. Although he continued to carry out party duties from his bed, he was too weak to overcome the illness and died at the age of 29 on 17 August 1938. The following day the press announced his death, and hundreds of workers paid their final tributes to him at his burial in the Colón Cemetery in Havana. The PBL had not only lost one of its most energetic members, but also one its most important. Medina had been the principal defender of what can be characterised as the proletarian anti-imperialist tendency within Cuban Trotskyism in the 1930s. As a mark of respect to this outstanding Cuban revolutionary, the following obituary notice was published in the Boletín de Información (New York), no 3, October 1938, p13, the journal of the Pan-American and Pacific Bureau of the Fourth International’s Latin American Department.
A Death Deeply Felt16
GASTON Medina, the former General Secretary of the Partido Bolchevique Leninista of Cuba, after a long and painful period of almost two years in a sanatorium, has died of tuberculosis, which he contracted in the barbaric jails of the agents of American imperialism.
Comrade Medina was of peasant origin, though at an early age he left the land and entered the ranks of the proletariat. There he immediately committed himself to the struggles of the workers, a cause to which he gave the rest of his life. As a militant of the Communist Party he held several important posts, becoming the National Secretary of Red Aid in 1931.
When the Communist Left Opposition was formed in 1932, comrade Medina was a member of its Central Committee and was one of the leaders when it became the Partido Bolchevique Leninista. He was elected General Secretary of the party at its conference in February 1935, a post which he held until he entered the sanatorium.
With the death of comrade Medina, the proletarian movement of Cuba, and the Fourth International in particular, have lost one of their most self-sacrificing and heroic fighters.
Charles Simeón Ramírez (1914-1990)
CHARLES Simeón Ramírez was born on 6 February 1914 in Matanzas. From the age of 14 he was active in the matancero anti-Machado student movement, and was even arrested and detained for a time on suspicion of exploding a small device at his school, the Instituto de Matanzas. After being expelled shortly after this affair in November 1930, Simeón continued his revolutionary activity in Matanzas, joining the Ala Izquierda Estudiantil, the Communist-dominated left-wing student organisation. As a member of its Central Committee, he was pitched into the centre of the debates which were taking place in the revolutionary student milieu over the PCC’s implementation of the ultra-leftist Third Period tactical line from late 1930. Moving between Havana and Matanzas, he adhered to the opposition current within the left-wing students which continued to support the idea of largely uncritical participation inside an insurrectionary movement led by the parties of the liberal national bourgeoisie. Sitting on the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Opposition (OCC), and then the Partido Bolchevique Leninista (PBL), he later became one of the principal advocates in the Cuban Trotskyist movement of the one-sided approach to revolution which emphasised the struggle and demands for national liberation, a position which the PCC’s old Second Period line had broadly embraced.
It appears that Simeón was one of those who simply deserted the ranks of the PBL in mid-1934. In Simeón’s case, he allied himself with the newly formed Auténtico party of Grau San Martín and in particular its youth wing, the Juventud Auténtica. However, after the defeat of the revolutionary movement in March 1935, he was once again incorporated into the PBL. Playing a central rôle in the process of regrouping the relatively scattered Trotskyist forces in Cuba, he temporarily occupied the post of General Secretary of the party during Gastón Medina’s two-year illness, before taking over on a permanent basis after Medina’s death in 1938. However, Simeón’s original democratic anti-imperialist perspective continued to condition his activity. As the PBL showed no signs of winning fresh recruits in the aftermath of the official Communist Party’s decision to form a joint front with Batista, Simeón sought to deepen his links with the Auténticos and tie the destiny of the Trotskyist party as whole to the fate of petit-bourgeois nationalism. This effective dissolutionist strategy, based on the theory that the democratic anti-imperialist phase was a distinct stage in history rather than a temporary phase in a deeper proletarian revolution, seems to have been the catalyst which triggered a two-year round of internal disputes within the three remaining branches of the PBL. Simeón himself, the General Secretary of the party, was expelled late in 1939 or early in 1940, before the remaining Havana-based leadership took the initiative by selecting a new Provisional Executive Committee in May 1940, and charging it with the task of reorganising the party.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, Simeón was typical of those former PBL members who completely abandoned revolutionary Socialist politics for the offices of the Auténtico party, and to a commitment to the development of capitalism with a modest concern for social reforms. In the early 1940s, his open advocacy of Auténticismo led him to work alongside Sandalio Junco in the trade union wing of the Auténtico movement. As close colleagues, Simeón and Junco were sat side by side on the platform in Sancti Spíritus when Junco, the long-standing anti-Stalinist trade union leader, was gunned down in May 1942. Indeed, one of the bullets aimed at the speakers only missed Simeón because the microphone in front of him deflected it away from his head.
Whilst Simeón subsequently joined the Partido del Pueblo (Ortodoxo) when it was formed in 1947, he seems to have had some disagreements with its leader, Eddy Chibás, and soon rejoined the Auténticos. After the victory of Carlos Prío Socorrás, the Auténtico candidate in the 1948 presidential election, Simeón held various posts in the actual Auténtico governing administration. Firstly, he served as a director in the Ministry of Justice, and played a leading part in the creation of the Department of Rural Justice. He then graduated to the office of the Prime Minister before becoming an advisor to the President on agrarian affairs.
Following the coup d’état of March 1952 which brought Batista back to power, Simeón went into exile. He returned to Cuba in 1954, and joined the political struggle against Batista on various levels, though not with the Socialist perspective which he had once espoused as a leader of the PBL the mid-1930s. In broad sympathy with the ill-defined olive-green nature of the Revolution in January 1959, he was named as a Technical Consultant in the Ministry of Labour. However, in early 1961 in apparent disgust at the direction in which the Revolution was going, Simeón left the country, having won the right to asylum in the Honduran and then the Venezuelan embassy. During the 1970s, he played a part in creating the Comité de Oposición Socialista, an exile group which professed to stand in the tradition of Antonio Guiteras and Cuban Syndicalism. Simeón died on 2 October 1990, two years before the Socialist Opposition Committee became the Partido Social Revolucionario Democrático.
Gastón Medina Escobar Sandalio Junco Camellón
Juan Ramón Breá Charles Simeón Ramírez
1. See also Gérard Roche’s account of Breá’s life in M Low and J Breá, Carnets de la Guerre d’Espagne, France, 1997, pp9-32.
2. See M Low, ‘El Grupo “H”’, Orígines (Havana), year 13 (1956), no 40, pp69-75.
3. R Pérez Santiesteban, ‘Introducción’, in J Breá and M Low, La Verdad Contemporánea, Havana, 1943, p13.
4. Mary Low (born 1912). See note 35 on page 135 of this issue of Revolutionary History.
5. Benjamin Péret (1899-1959), the French surrealist poet, was a militant in the Left Opposition in Brazil in 1929-31. He fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Huesca front, and, though severely critical of the politics of the POUM, also worked for their radio station broadcasting in Portuguese. In Mexico during the Second World War, Péret collaborated under the name ‘Peralta’ in a series of Trotskyist journals edited by Munis. See Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no 1, Spring 1989, pp45-6; Volume 2, no 3, Autumn 1989, pp51-2; Volume 7, no 2, 1999, p263.
6. In France in the early and mid-1930s there were two rival Trotskyist parties. One was the Parti Ouvrier Internationaliste (POI), which was led by Jean Rous and Pierre Naville, the other being the Parti Communiste Internationaliste (PCI), led by Raymond Molinier and Pierre Frank. Which organisation Breá was more closely associated with is unclear, but as a starting point for further investigation it is worth noting that Pierre Naville of the POI had become known as a leading Marxist critic of surrealism, and he personally felt more at home in the artistic petit-bourgeois milieu of the time than amongst workers. See H Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary, London, 1994, p21.
7. See, for example, CA Orr, ‘Souvenirs sur l’Hôtel Falcón’, Cahiers Léon Trotsky, no 51, October 1993, p48.
8. Red Spanish Notebook was first published in London in 1937 by Secker and Warburg, who also published George Orwell’s Homage To Catalonia. It was reprinted in San Francisco by City Lights in 1979 with a new introduction by Eugencio Fernández Granell, a founder of the Spanish Communist Opposition along with Nin.
9. CLR James (1901-1989) was born and raised in colonial Trinidad, and spent most of his adult life in Britain and the United States. He was recruited into the Trotskyist movement in London in the mid-1930s, and joined the Marxist Group working in the Independent Labour Party. See Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no 3, Autumn 1989, pp40-2.
10. See Low and Breá, Red Spanish Notebook, London, 1937, pp vi-vii.
11. Op cit, p247.
12. Op cit, p254.
13. Op cit, p256.
14. Reprinted in 1986 in Paris by Arabie sur Seine.
15. ‘Juan Ramón Breá. V Aniversario de Su Muerte’, Revolución Proletaria (Havana), May 1946, pp1, 3.
16. Translated from Spanish by Gary Tennant and John Sullivan.