Joseph Hansen

Che Guevara and the Cuban Trotskyists

(April 1962)

Source: The Militant (New York), Vol. 26, No. 15, 9 April 1962, p. 3.
Transcription: 2015 Daniel Gaido.
HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2015; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

I should like to call attention to an interview with Che Guevara printed in the winter issue of Root and Branch, a new West Coast radical quarterly (Box 906, Berkeley, Calif.). The interview, which was recorded Sept. 14, 1961, by Maurice Zeitlin, a member of the sociology faculty of Princeton University, deals with such topics as Cuba’s relations with the United States and the Soviet Union, the projected formation of a new revolutionary party in Cuba and the question of Cuba’s development in a democratic socialist direction.

Among the questions and answers, the following exchange, I believe, will prove of special interest to readers of The Militant:

Zeitlin: How will other radical tendencies – organizations other than the Revolutionary Directorate, the Communist Party and the 26th of July, whose members will unite in the new party – be included? What about the Trotskyists, for example? Carleton Beals pointed out recently that their press here had been smashed and they were unable to complete printing copies of Trotsky’s The Permanent Revolution.

Guevara: That did happen. It was an error. It was an error committed by a functionary of second rank. They smashed the plates. It should not have been done.

However, we consider the Trotskyist party to be acting against the revolution. For example, they were taking the line that the revolutionary government is petty bourgeois, and were calling on the proletariat to exert pressure on the government, and even to carry out another revolution in which the proletariat would come to power. This was prejudicing the discipline necessary at this time.

Zeitlin: You might be interested in knowing that the Trotskyists in the U.S. have been almost completely behind the Cuban Revolution, and their recent official statement on the revolution is enthusiastically approving.

Guevara: I do not have any opinions about Trotskyists is general. But here in Cuba – let me give an example. They have one of their principal centers in the town of Guantanamo near the U.S. base. And they agitated there for the Cuban people to march on the base – something that cannot be permitted. Something else. Sometime ago when we had just created the workers’ technical committees, the Trotskyists characterized them as a crumb given to the workers because the workers were calling for the direction of the factories.

Several people have asked me the same question (about the Trotskyists) – but it is a problem I regard as small. They have very few members in Cuba.

Zeitlin: The reason is not be.cause we are specifically interested in the Trotskyists – I am hardly one – but because how they are treated is probably as good an index as any of how different political tendencies within the revolu.tion will be treated, especially groups who differ with the Communist Party, which has always had a particular animosity for the Trotskyists, labeling anyone who disagrees with them as Trotskyists – or worse.

Guevara: You cannot be for the revolution and be against the Cuban Communist Party. The Revolution and the Communist Party march together. The Trotskyists say that they are against “Stalinism.” But in the (1959) [1958?] general strike, for in.stance, the Trotskyists refused to cooperate with the Communist Party.

Central Point

Among Guevara’s remarks, the point of central importance, it appears to me, is his acknowledgment that the suppression of the Trotskyist press in Cuba was an error. The error – and this is of even greater significance – was not committed by top government officials but by “a functionary of second rank.”

This was the conclusion we came to when we learned the details of the incident last summer. In registering our protest at the time (see The Militant, Aug. 7, 1961), we thought that it might be due to “disruptive factionalism” ascribable to officials of the Cuban Communist Party whose attitude toward Trotskyism might still be under the influence of indoctrination in the school of Stalinism. Whatever the actual political affiliation of the guilty second-rank functionary – Guevara does not clarify this – we are gratified to learn from the interview that we were not mistaken in the essence of the matter. It is fresh confirmation of our opinion that the top leaders of the Cuban Revolution are democratic in outlook and have kept in tune, to the best of their ability, with the basically democratic and socialist trend of the revolution they have guided.

On Guevara’s other remarks I should like to offer the following comment: We have not seen any material printed by the Cuban Trotskyists calling for a “march” on Guantanamo. At a youth conference in Havana in the summer of 1960, where this charge was first made to my knowledge, a leaflet was cited. The leaflet in question, however, contained nothing on this point but a repetition of the demand that the U.S. should withdraw from Guantanamo.

The Militant has demanded this of the U.S. government since the beginning of the Cuban Revolution as have all friends and supporters of the Cuban people.

We of course agree, as we are sure the Cuban Trotskyists do, that it is entirely up to the Cuban leaders to determine how to press this question from the Cuban side. Mindful of the war danger, they have exercized admirable restraint in face of the belligerent attitude displayed by Washington under both Eisenhower and Kennedy.

General Strike

As to the general strike called by Fidel Castro in 1958, the Trotskyists could not have played a decisive role no matter what their attitude. They have been few in number since they were crushed by Batista in the middle 1930’s. From what we have been able to learn about the 1958 strike what was really in question was the response made by the officials of the Communist Party and the sectors of the labor movement under their influence to the call from the Sierra Maestra.

On the characterization of the state – we think that the Cuban people now have a workers’ state and that the Cuban Trotskyists agree on this. Yet the key leaders of the revolution – they have often admitted it – certainly began as “petty bourgeois.” Despite this background, Castro and his collaborators did not hesitate to nationalize industry, to introduce planned economy and many other proletarian measures. This is com.pletely to their credit. The government they established, whatever it was at first, most certainly represents the interests of the workers today.


Finally I should like to make clear that we do not agree with the Cuban Trotskyists on some questions. We believe they were wrong, for example, in thinking that it was in response to “pressure from below” that the government initiated workers’ technical committees. In general we have the impression that the Cuban Trotskyists have been overly critical.

Such criticism, however, does not injure a revolution. It can even play a role in strengthening it by inspiring more thorough discussion and explanation. Besides that, the fact that such opinions can be freely expressed testifies to the health of the Cuban Revolution and to the promise it holds for the expansion of workers democracy. We believe that the Cuban Revolution as it develops may yet offer the world an example of democracy in action such as has not been seen since the days of Lenin and Trotsky.


Last updated on: 21 October 2015