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Dissident Cuban Communism
The Case of Trotskyism, 1932-1965
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Chapter One


1.1 Statement of Argument

This thesis traces the history of those dissident communist groups in Cuba which defined themselves as Trotskyist in the period 1932 to 1965. It focuses on the theoretical, tactical and organisational development of the Oposición Comunista de Cuba (OCC) in the early 1930s, the Partido Bolchevique Leninista (PBL) and the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) in the 1930s and 40s, and the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Trotskista) (POR(T)),(1) the Trotskyist group which was reconstituted after the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Describing the formation of the first dissident communist group in Cuba and discussing Trotskyism’s subsequent development, this thesis analyses the Cuban Trotskyists’ attempt to integrate the issue of national liberation within Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. In addressing this problem, my central argument is that throughout its history Cuban Trotskyism failed to distinguish clearly between the proletarian and democratic anti-imperialist revolutions. I contend that although the Cuban Trotskyists attempted to interpret the essence of Trotsky’s thought in a way which took into account the peculiarities of the Cuban context, they never consistently and unambiguously insisted on a central tenet of Trotsky’s thought, the primacy of the proletarian nature of the anti-imperialist revolution. I further contend that while the Cuban Trotskyists’ theoretical understanding of the nature of the revolutionary process located them in what Donald Hodges has termed the ‘national liberation’ tendency in Latin American Trotskyism in the 1930s and 40s,(2) their failure to make clear delineations between proletarian and democratic anti-imperialist forces resulted in them making increasing political concessions to Stalinism in the 1960s.(3) That is, I argue that along with major tendencies in the international Trotskyist movement, during the 1950s and 60s they returned to advocate a caricature of the Communist International’s post-1924 conceptions of the revolutionary process which did not propose a politically independent course for the working class. Given the Cuban Trotskyists’ roots in the ‘national liberation’ tendency of Latin American Trotskyism, I argue that in the 1960s the Cuban POR(T) returned to the Comintern’s so-called ‘Second Period’ notion that forces other than the democratic organisations of the working class could lead the revolutionary transformation of society.(4)

In developing these propositions this thesis also argues that the Cuban Trotskyists’ apparent failure to lead a socialist revolution or even build a stable, influential revolutionary organisation stemmed from a combination of their own policies and external socio-economic factors. That is, first, I contend that the Trotskyists’ own one-sided approach to revolution which emphasised the slogans and struggle for national liberation and the formation of undelineated blocs with the forces of petty bourgeois nationalism conditioned their failure to achieve their stated aims. Such a strategy, I argue, prevented them from proposing a politically independent course for the working class and building even a small proletarian movement which would have been potentially capable of putting itself at the head of the nation. However, I also contend that peculiar external structural obstacles also conditioned the Trotskyists’ political fortunes. I argue that these external factors, principally the weak local class formations and Bonapartist-type regimes, had the effect of debilitating further the potential for independent working class action and the construction of a powerful class-based revolutionary movement in Cuba.

Finally, I also address a number of secondary issues. Most importantly, given that so little is known about the history of Trotskyism in Cuba, one additional objective is to assess Trotskyism’s general contribution to, and significance within, the Cuban labour and revolutionary movements. That is, in seeking to describe the specific Cuban, as well as international, influences which conditioned the development of Cuban Trotskyism I specifically attempt to establish whom and what Trotskyism affected in Cuba.

My assessment of Trotskyism in Cuba is important because it adds to the diverse discussion which seeks to reassess the experience, programme and capacity of the Left in Latin America.(5) In particular, it examines one socialist current’s attitude to what Michael Pearlman has described as the ever relevant relationship between the democratic and socialist revolutions.(6) Moreover, as values and conditions associated with capitalism increasingly permeate the lives of workers uncertain about the future in countries from Cuba to China, this thesis assesses a specific communist current which professed to offer an alternative to both capitalism and Stalinised communism. To those concerned with developing a sustainable and democratic socialist future, this thesis, which both records and evaluates one of the few native Left critiques of both pre- and post-1959 regimes in Cuba, could not be more timely.

For those who seek to challenge Left counsellors who have abandoned a class-based analysis in presenting themselves as ‘hostages’ to Stalinism,(7) a further justification for this research project is that by clarifying the history of a dissident communist current it will contribute to the re-founding of a revolutionary Marxist movement in Cuba. As Guillermo Lora has observed, “[o]ne of the weaknesses of Latin American Trotskyism is that it has lost its own tradition, it does not know its history, which often leads it to repeat old mistakes.”(8)

Moreover, this study of Cuban Trotskyism is important not only because it retraces a tradition which has been ‘lost’ to socialists and Trotskyists alike, but because it does so in the context of substantial social and political upheaval, first during the defeated Revolution of the 1930s and then after the triumph of the 1959 Revolution. During these periods this dissident current’s theory and practice were tested to the full and, as such, carry more import with regard to Trotskyism’s merits and demerits in general. As Eric Hobsbawm has noted, revolutionary periods are “almost the perfect laboratory for the historian”, concentrating and magnifying the ideas and activities of groups which otherwise are expressed rather less succinctly over longer periods.(9)

1.2 A Critique of Past Work

Published material which analyses international Trotskyism in whole or part can be said to fall into two categories. There are, first, those tracts which have been described as “written by political activists in order to cancel out the past or justify the present.”(10) In this category are such primary source items as the Trotskyism Versus Revisionism collection,(11) which is selective in its choice of documents, concentrating almost entirely on British-U.S. reports and correspondence. Secondary sources which are similarly deficient include Pierre Frank’s The Fourth International: The Long March of the Trotskyists(12) and David North’s The Heritage We Defend,(13) While Frank’s account tends to be over-concerned with defending the positions of one tendency within the post-World War Two Trotskyist movement, North’s selective approach to historical investigation more overtly subordinates historiography to ideology.(14)

The second category consists of the more informative texts on Trotskyism. There are first of all the fourteen volumes of Trotsky’s Writings covering the years 1929-1940.(15) These bring together a wide range of Trotsky’s key articles and theses during the period when he first sought to reform the Comintern and then build the Fourth International. His writings on Latin America have also been brought together in the recent volume Escritos Latinoamericanos.(16) Likewise, the Documents of the Fourth International, 1933-1940(17) is an important collection of the principal programmatic documents of the Trotskyist movement in the 1930s.

The most valuable scholarly contributions to the history of Trotskyism in general include Cahiers Léon Trotsky, a quarterly journal which has appeared since 1979, and the journal Revolutionary History which, since 1988, has published many little known episodes and interpretations from the history of Trotskyism in various countries.(18) Also of importance is Robert Alexander’s attempt at an all-embracing history of international Trotskyism.(19) This extensive tome begins with a historical outline of Trotskyism before developing accounts of the groups in the many different countries as well as the various International tendencies. However, although the task of synthesising so much documentary and testimonial evidence is of great value in that it provides a starting point for further investigation, the quality of the sections vary widely. As Al Richardson has argued, the uneven quality of the sections is largely dependent on the number of correspondents in the various countries who have read the chapters prior to the book going to press. Where there were a number of readers, their views have been able to be checked one against another so adding to the richness of the narrative, whereas when Alexander has relied on one or two readers there is obvious bias.(20)

Alexander has also produced a book on the more specific subject of the history of Trotskyism in Latin America.(21) The major deficiency of this work is that it relies too much on the memories of informants and participants while not seeking to check such basic documents as newspapers, journals and leaflets, which he claims are “of an ephemeral nature".(22) It also suffers from measuring different parties and groups against some supposed Trotskyist orthodoxy. This ‘orthodoxy’ is, furthermore, only rather shallowly defined. In his work on Bolivia, for example, ‘orthodoxy’ is defined as favouring a “well indoctrinated revolutionary party”,(23) adopting the Bolshevik type of party structure,(24) and endorsing the concept of Permanent Revolution.(25)

Alexander’s work is also hindered by its limited historical contextualisation. That is, although the introductory chapters attempt to view Trotskyism in general as a political current emanating from within the Comintern, there is little discussion of the peculiarities of the specific economies or the nature of the broader mass movements, both urban and rural, in the different countries under investigation. His analysis is, therefore, one which does not really consider nor appreciate the Trotskyist movement in its rich national, as well as international context.

With reference to those non-Cuban secondary source texts dealing specifically with Trotskyism in Cuba, Alexander’s research is the most comprehensive.(26) He tentatively concludes that the Cuban Trotskyists in the 1930s were closer to social democracy or Joaquín Maurín, the leader of the Bloque Obrero y Campesino (BOC) in Spain, than they were to Trotsky.(27) This characterisation suggests that the Cuban Trotskyists were essentially Right Communists who believed in a two-stage revolutionary process in which the first stage would be a democratic revolution.(28) This analysis usefully locates the ideas of Cuban Trotskyism in a broad international context, but it also suffers from excessive and inappropriate pigeon-holing. In the first place, Maurín’s principal base was in the most industrialised region of Spain with an imperialist native bourgeoisie, a social context which was quite different to that facing the Cuban Trotskyists. There is also some disagreement over what constituted the essence of Maurín’s thought. Although Trotsky intransigently labelled Maurín “the incarnation of the petty bourgeois revolutionary”(29) and insisted on the confused, vacillating and essentially Rightist nature of the BOC, Andrew Durgan’s recent illuminating research has described the varied roots of Maurín’s thought and how he evolved towards the Left away from a clear-cut two-stage strategy in the 1930s. Durgan convincingly argues that Maurín believed that petty bourgeois nationalism would eventually disintegrate, forcing its followers to align themselves with either the proletariat or the counter-revolution.(30) In the light of this understanding which implicitly accepts Trotsky’s contention that the petty bourgeoisie could only hold state power temporarily and that the revolution would ultimately be proletarian or would be defeated, Durgan concludes that just as some incorrectly label the Spanish Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM) as Trotskyist, so others call the BOC Right Communists.(31) While Alexander makes no reference to the complexities of Maurín’s political evolution, his section on the history of Trotskyism in Cuba furthermore appears to reflect, if not rely on, the testimony of individuals who, though participants in events in Cuba in the 1930s, were by the time of the cited interviews in the 1970s, anti-socialist exiles in Miami with their own agendas to promote.(32)

Apart from Alexander, the only other researchers outside Cuba who have written about Trotskyism in Cuba are Pierre Broué(33) and Osvaldo Coggiola.(34) In the paragraphs which relate to Cuba in the article ‘Le Mouvement Trotskyste en Amérique Latine jusqu’en 1940’, Broué contends that while the early Cuban Trotskyists stood, in part, in the revolutionary syndicalist tradition they were also closer to Maurín than to Trotsky.(35) Broué, accepting Trotsky’s intransigent analysis of Maurín, develops the central political argument that the Cuban Trotskyists committed political suicide by placing themselves at the service of social forces outside the working class.(36) Although Broué’s framework of supporting documentary evidence constitutes, in large part, new sources, and his approach goes beyond the rather more descriptive account of Alexander, his work is nevertheless distorted by the limited range of sources together with the absence of any rigorous discussion of the peculiarities of Maurín’s thought and the Cuban political economy.

Coggiola’s essay makes a valuable contribution to the study of Trotskyism in Latin America by placing its emergence and development in the context of certain defining events, the arrival of Trotsky in Mexico, and then the post-World War Two Bolivian and Cuban revolutions. His work also recognises that the most important Trotskyist groups in Latin America originated in opposition groups within the various communist parties which had developed independently of the International Left Opposition (ILO).(37) With reference to Trotskyism in Cuba, Coggiola challenges the views of both Alexander and Broué. He argues that rather than being essentially Right Communists, the Cuban Trotskyists in the 1930s advocated the building of an Anti-Imperialist United Front in a way which reflected the thought of Lenin and Trotsky more closely than any other Trotskyist group in the semi-colonial world.(38)

Coggiola’s contribution is important in that it challenges the views of two prominent labour movement historians, Alexander and Broué. However, with only a brief mention of the theoretical and programmatic disputes in Cuban revolutionary movements, and only an outline of the Cuban Trotskyists’ organisational development, it is no more than an introduction to the subject of the history of Trotskyism in Cuba. An additional criticism of Coggiola’s work is that the absence of any supporting references allows various affirmations to pass as statements of fact. One notable example of this weakness is the unsourced assertion that Angel Fanjul (*Heredia), a Latin American Trotskyist active in Cuba in the 1960s, was sentenced to death by the Cuban regime and was only saved by the personal intervention of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.(39) Fanjul himself has refuted this politically loaded interpretation of events and denies having ever made such an allegation.(40)

While historiography originating in Cuba of the Cuban workers’ movement in general is extensive, its scholarly quality is rather questionable. Apart from generally advancing a very limited framework of footnotes which does little to aid verification and clarification, this literature is largely characterised by varying degrees of misrepresentation of communist and non-communist movements alike, idolatry, teleology, and an emphasis on the linearity of historical development which irons out all possible contradictions.(41) A further feature of Cuban historiography is that it largely recognises the existence of Trotskyism at various times only to the extent of attaching some pejorative label to it. Until recently, the extent of any acknowledgement by Cubans was to refer to Trotskyists in Cuba, however obliquely, as reformists or sectarians who sought to break working class unity or who were even anti-proletarian.(42) Apparently, drawing on evidence from contemporary communist party documents, they also associate the whole history of Trotskyism with one of Cuba’s most corrupt trade union leaders, Eusebio Mujal.(43) Accepting without any apparent scepticism the version propagated by the communist party at the time, these works insist that Trotskyism, as personified by Mujal, was a pro-employer and pro-imperialist divisionist current which impeded national unity during the Second World War.(44) More commonly, though, its existence has been largely passed over in silence. For example, the only oblique mention to Trotskyism in the period up to March 1935 in the most comprehensive Cuban work dealing with the history of the native labour movement is a reference to “Eusebio Mujal and other splitters” who attempted to direct their anti-imperialism against foreign workers.(45)

The sole recent Cuban research which, in part, corrects this is the doctoral thesis by Rafael Soler Martínez El Trotskismo en la Revolución del 30.(46) Soler sets himself the task of considering whether or not the Trotskyists in Cuba played a revolutionary role in the period 1932-35, and then secondly, if and how they contributed to the division of the popular revolutionary movement.(47) He rather confusingly concludes that while they promoted revolutionary anti-imperialist struggle they, at the same time, were divisionists, sectarians and dogmatists who contributed to the division and defeat of the revolutionary movement in the period under investigation.(48) Soler repeats this argument in a short, summary article which also implicitly challenges Coggiola’s positive assessment of the Cuban Trotskyists’ United Front tactic.(49) Soler argues that like the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC), the Trotskyists pursued a policy of promoting trade union unity only on the basis that their particular leadership was recognised in advance.(50)

Soler’s work contains valuable and extensive information on the social and geographic composition of the PBL, particularly in the province of Oriente.(51) However, the emphasis he attaches to this descriptive analysis is also the major limitation of his work. Soler makes little mention of the fundamental political issues at stake in the debates in the communist milieu, and no central political argument is traced and highlighted through successive chapters. Soler’s inventory-like account ultimately lacks the scope and incisiveness which Broué brings to the subject.

Apart from the methodological limitations, Soler’s work also unsurprisingly suffers from reflecting, consciously or unconsciously, the prejudices of its author’s milieu. Most importantly, he falls victim to a common failing of repeating many of the old Stalinist fictions of Trotskyism.(52) In the first instance, Soler’s theoretical understanding of the theory of Permanent Revolution and the essence of Lenin’s thought relies more on the vulgar interpretations of a Soviet ‘authority’ on the subject, Mikhail Basmanov, than on the basic writings of Lenin, Trotsky and the early Comintern. He asserts that Trotsky’s supposedly dogmatic interpretation of Marx never understood the contributions of Lenin on an alleged need for a democratic, anti-imperialist stage in the revolution in colonies and semi-colonies(53) and, further, that Trotsky did not understand the Leninist conception of the United Front and the Anti-Imperialist United Front tactics.(54) However, in failing to develop a discussion of these alleged differences and in not addressing the crucial question of the Trotskyists’ attitude to the relationship between the democratic and socialist revolution, Soler only comprehensively succeeds in demonstrating that he himself has not grasped the essence of Trotsky’s thought on the revolutionary process in the colonial and semi-colonial countries.

Soler furthermore advances tenuous evidence to support his conclusion that the Trotskyists were sectarian. In his summary article, the only evidence he cites for such a claim is a quotation from the OCC which states that the question of trade union unity entailed a relentless struggle against the trade union policy of the PCC and reformists alike. Soler, also confusingly, accuses the Trotskyists of being sectarian on the basis that they attempted to create a revolutionary vanguard party,(55) a fundamental tenet of Lenin’s thought. Indeed, given Soler’s assertion that the PCC was sectarian during the period under investigation,(56) together with the general understanding that the accusations of ‘sectarianism’ and ‘divisionism’ in Cuba encompass a variety of political crimes,(57) Soler’s work does not leave the reader with a clear impression of what distinguished the ‘dissident’ from the ‘official’ pro-Moscow communists.

Soler’s work is also deficient in that it perpetuates the idea that the Trotskyist movement in Cuba was insignificant after 1935, only having a presence in Guantánamo before totally disappearing at the beginning of the 1950s.(58) The continued existence of a Trotskyist organisation in the 1960s has been established by Alexander,(59) whose work is indeed cited by Soler.(60) While, then, Soler’s research incorporates a degree of misrepresentation of key aspects of Trotskyism’s organisational and theoretical development in Cuba, albeit generally unintentional, it also embodies elements of a more conscious attempt at falsification. In sum, Soler subordinates scientific statement to political imperatives. His answers are seemingly decided in advance of his research project and apparently preclude any questions. His conclusions are plainly not supported by the evidence and he does not dwell on exploring the political content of the concepts of either ‘sectarian’ or ‘Trotskyism’, appearing to accept that they are simple synonyms. Most revealing of the poverty of Soler’s method is that from the primary source material he himself cites the allegation of ‘sectarianism’ is shown to be largely baseless while he leaves unanswered the seemingly more astute accusation of ‘opportunism’.(61)

While my central argument challenges the analyses of Alexander, Broué and Soler, I also address some of the deficiencies in the earlier works by, first of all, studying Cuban Trotskyism in its national and international context. By placing the ideas and activities of Trotskyists in Cuba in their broad social and political context, this study allows one to consider Cuban Trotskyism as a current which was attempting to address global problems with definite Cuban peculiarities. This approach rejects Alexander’s crude method of investigation which vaguely defines an apparently healthy Trotskyist ‘orthodoxy’ so that the degree of ‘deviation’ of the ideas and programmes of a particular isolated national current could be measured.

This study also uses many new sources which have not previously been considered in either the academic or more overtly partisan debates. While the opening contextual chapters largely draw on under-utilised primary source material as well as secondary sources, the core chapters of this thesis are enriched by the quantity and quality of the hitherto unutilised primary source materials from both Cuba and further afield. These new sources include a wide range of party press and unpublished internal materials from both Trotskyist and pro-Moscow communist parties, the oral and written testimonies of participants, as well as non-Cuban documents already known on the Left.

Furthermore, I minimise the problem of constructing an argument on the basis of a limited number of unreliable, if not thoroughly biased and distorted, oral testimonies and memoirs by making much use of the range of written sources. First, by employing oral testimonies primarily to corroborate written sources, this thesis avoids relying on human memories which sometimes fade with the passing of time and/or could be coloured by events in Cuba since 1959.(62) In those passages where I rely on an unsupported oral testimony to underpin my argument, this is fundamentally the result of difficulties in tracing other actors to corroborate the information independently and/or problems in gaining access to sensitive archival sources in Cuba. This limitation is particularly evident when I address certain aspects of the history of Cuban Trotskyism in the post-1959 period. However, in general, my use of internal party documents alongside oral testimonies also recognises that unpublished material and testimonies of participants are often more revealing about the complex political issues and practical responses at the rank and file level than the documents chosen for publication. As Trotskyist and Soviet-backed communist parties have both demonstrated, political activists are not immune to selective publishing as they attempt to present their respective groups as united standard-bearers for a particular revolutionary tradition or principle.(63)

1.3 Methodology and Structure

In approaching the subject of Trotskyism in Cuba, I recognise, as Marifeli Pérez-Stable has noted, that “[i]ntellectual discourse on Cuba is rarely just about scholarship [....] Indeed, the whole subject of Cuba has become a trinchera [battle-line].”(64) Accepting that the Cuban Revolution has heightened history’s conversion into a real factor in living politics, often making ‘hostages’ out of those who are sympathetic to the Revolution while ‘revolutionising’ the counter-Revolutionary exiles in the U.S., it is my contention that it would be illusory for me to harbour expectations of writing a history as a neutral, impartial observer. As E. H. Carr has argued, the historian, like any individual, is “both the product and the conscious or unconscious spokesman of the society to which he belongs”(65) and, as such, is very much a political actor. However, distinguishing the notion of objectivity from ideological neutrality, I argue that the validity of my account of the history of Trotskyism in Cuba can be found in my conscientious method of contrasting sources on the same subject one against the other, so assessing in which direction the arrow of evidence is pointing, before presenting my final analytical judgements. As Trotsky wrote in the ‘Introduction to Volumes Two and Three’ of his The History of the Russian Revolution:

[t]he proof of scientific objectivism is not to be sought in the eyes of the historian or the tones of his voice, but in the inner logic of the narrative itself. If episodes, testimonies, figures, quotations, fall in line with the general pointing of the needle of his social analysis, then the reader has a most weighty guarantee of the scientific solidity of his conclusions.”(66)

I also accept that just as my personality and subjective viewpoint are undoubtedly reflected in the issue I have selected and questions I pose, so also are the concepts I employ in their study. In this thesis I use those terms and concepts derived from a Marxist theoretical tradition. I take this path not only because I am addressing the history of, an at least nominally, Marxist movement, but also because employed appropriately, these concepts illuminate and clarify historical realities. In using Marxist organising terms and concepts, then, I intrinsically accept that the society under analysis was divided into social classes. While the concept of ‘class’ has provoked a vast industry of sociological debate, in establishing my own understanding I refer to G.E.M. de Ste. Croix’s definition which identifies a ‘class’ as a group of people in a wider community who share a common relationship to the conditions of production.(67) In the case of the unevenly developed Cuban political economy during the period under investigation, while not all individuals belonged exclusively to one class, this being particularly true for the rural poor, membership of one class, either the peasantry or working class, can fairly be said to have predominated.

Given that the term ‘Stalinism’ is also often used casually, mostly as a term of abuse these days, it is also my concern to establish a clear and consistent definition of this political concept. For Trotsky, ‘Trotskyism’ and ‘Stalinism’ did not constitute two purely personal factions in a struggle for power, but rather two distinct political strategies. If the views advocated by Trotsky meant that a revolution in Russia could not confine itself within the limits of a democratic revolution nor the borders of a single country, so the Trotskyists argued that the Soviet Communist Party increasingly became the instrument of the bureaucracy intent on abandoning the international revolutionary socialist project. As such, Stalinists in the Soviet Union were considered by Trotskyists to be those who reflected the conservative interests of the Soviet bureaucracy and who supported the subordination of society to the Party-State. As Trotsky himself wrote, “Stalinism is above all else the automatic work of the impersonal apparatus on the decline of the revolution.”(68) Programmatic features of Stalinism include support for the Soviet social-economic model characterised by a one-party state repressively presiding over a society without any democratic workers’ organisations or independent trade unions, and a commitment to a two-stage model for revolution in colonial and semi-colonial countries. In studying the followers of Trotsky in Cuba I, too, use Trotsky’s definition, extending it so as to incorporate all those who broadly supported a political strategy which prioritised the national-centred policy demands of their local ‘official’ communist party apparatus.(69) While this definition rejects the understanding that the so-called ‘de-Stalinisation’ process in the post-1953 Soviet Union constituted a thorough-going challenge to the ideological and programmatic tenets of Stalinism,(70) I do accept that just as there was much diversity in the Trotskyist movement, various Stalinist parties also displayed a number of specific traits. I therefore argue that while the Soviet, Chinese and, indeed, Cuban variants of Stalinism displayed a number of peculiar features, particularly in the 1960s, they were all characterised by a commitment to the suppression of working class democracy and a two-stage revolutionary strategy.

Finally, I introduce definitions of the ‘democratic’ and ‘proletarian anti-imperialist’ revolutions given the importance I attach to these concepts in my thesis. First, the democratic anti-imperialist revolution has much in common with the classical bourgeois revolution in terms of objectives. Most importantly, they share two inter-related goals, the agrarian revolution—the division and distribution to the peasants of the large estates of lands—and national independence—the struggle to create a relatively autonomous area within the world market for the development of capitalist relations of production and the expansion of the national bourgeoisie. The democratic anti-imperialist and classical bourgeois revolutions can be said to differ only to the extent that the revolution in the colonial and semi-colonial countries stresses the struggle for national independence via the overthrow of imperialist domination. It is for this reason that I append the ‘anti-imperialist’ epithet.

A proletarian anti-imperialist revolution, on the other hand, is not only carried out against feudal and imperialist interests, but also against those of the national bourgeoisie in that it involves the elimination of capitalist relations of production and the building of working class bodies of power to crush bourgeois political influence. Apart from their programmes and ultimate objectives, the proletarian and democratic revolutions also differ in terms of the revolutionary agent. While democratic revolutions tend to draw into them the mass of workers and peasants alongside or behind the bourgeoisie, the principal executor of the proletarian revolution must necessarily be the working class.(71)

In addition to offering a critique of past contributions to the chosen field of study, it is also my task to outline the limitations of my efforts. Although, therefore, this thesis claims to be original, it does not, of course, claim to be wholly exhaustive in terms of the primary sources which I have gathered. While I have aimed to collect as much of the scattered primary source material as possible, and have indeed assembled a far more complete framework than anyone else on the subject to date, constraints of time and money have imposed some limitations. The most notable omissions relate to additional materials held at the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Contemporary Historical Documents (RTsKhIDNI) in Moscow.(72) As such, although this thesis is an extensive initial attempt at understanding the organisational and theoretical evolution of Trotskyism in Cuba, it is also the basis for subsequent work using sources now available in Moscow. While I have had access to a number of the documents held at the RTsKhIDNI, their thorough exploration is an intended avenue for future enquiry.(73)

This study has also been conditioned by the intellectual and social climate in Cuba. While this thesis has been enriched by the inclusion of evidence gained from consulting archival sources in Cuba, there were difficulties of access to both state and personal archives in Cuba. Although Soler generously allowed me access to primary source material he had collected in Oriente, including some of his interview transcripts, the same cannot be said for some of those whom I interviewed or some of the archives I contacted. This limitation, outside my control, means that in the future some interesting revelations may emerge from files currently held in restricted or closed Cuban archives.

This thesis is divided into two inter-related parts. Part One (Chapters Two and Three) outlines the international and national context to the development of Trotskyism in Cuba, so allowing general patterns, as well as any event, to be more fully understood with all its peculiarities illuminated. In this part, importance is attached not only to developments within the international, especially Latin American, official communist movement and the Cuban Communist Party, but also to an appreciation of the traditions and positions of anarcho-syndicalism and the national liberation movement in Cuba.

Part Two (Chapters Four to Seven) covers the evolution of Trotskyism in Cuba in terms of its ideas, organisation and activities. Beginning by analysing the origins of this dissident current in the ranks of the Cuban Communist Party, these chapters focus on the fundamental theoretical positions defended by the Cuban Trotskyists in an environment dominated by the incompleteness of the democratic revolution. Chapter Seven examines the Trotskyists’ programmatic differences with the government of the, at least nominally, communist Cuban government in the 1960s which led to the Trotskyist party’s subsequent suppression.


1. Although the Trotskyist groups which existed in the 1940s and then in the 1960s used the names the ‘POR’ and the ‘POR(T)’ interchangeably in various published materials, I use the name ‘POR’ throughout to denote the group which existed in the 1940s and ‘POR(T)’ to denote the group which existed in the 1960s. This rigidity minimises confusion and reflects the name in predominant use during each period. (Back to text)
2. Hodges draws the useful distinction between two broad tendencies, the ‘proletarian’ and the ‘national liberation’, within Latin American Trotskyism. He posits that the ‘national liberation’ tendency emphasised the semi-colonial status of Latin American countries, whereas the ‘proletarian’ tendency stressed the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution and the direct struggle for socialism. Hodges, DC, The Latin American Revolution: Politics and Strategy from Apro-Marxism to Guevarism, New York, William Morrow and Co., 1974, pp. 81-83. (Back to text)
3. See pp. 19-21 for a discussion of the concept of ‘Stalinism’. (Back to text)
4. The Communist or Third International is hereafter referred to as the Comintern. The Comintern’s Second Period (1924-28) orientation included the policy of promoting broad class fronts with perceived progressive non-proletarian parties. See Chapter Two for further explanation of this periodisation. (Back to text)
5. These assessments range from the renovated reformism presented in Castañeda, JG, Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left after the Cold War, New York, Vintage Books, 1994; and McCaughan, EJ, Reinventing Revolution: The Renovation of Left Discourse in Cuba and Mexico, Boulder: CO, Westview Press, 1997, to the attempts by the São Paulo Forum to re-structure a multi-class bloc for the socialist project. (Back to text)
6. Pearlman, M (ed.), The Heroic and Creative Meaning of Socialism: Selected Essays of José Carlos Mariátegui, New Jersey, Humanities Press, 1996, p. xxii. (Back to text)
7. See, for example, the commentary by Mary-Alice Waters in ‘Che’s Proletarian Legacy and Cuba’s Rectification Process’, New International (New York), No. 8, 1991, pp. 15-29. (Back to text)
8. ["Una de las debilidades del trotskismo latinoamericano consiste en que ha perdido su propia tradición, no conoce su historia, lo que lo obliga muchas veces, a repetir viejos errores."] (My translation, GT.) Cited in Coggiola, O, Historia del Trotskismo Argentino (1929-1960), Buenos Aires, Centro Editor de América Latina, 1985, p. 11 from Lora, G, Historia del POR, La Paz, Ediciones Isla, 1978, p. 55. (Back to text)
9. Hobsbawm, E, On History, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1997, p. 89. (Back to text)
10. Upham, MR, The History of British Trotskyism to 1949, PhD Thesis, University of Hull, 1980, p. iii. (Back to text)
11. Trotskyism Versus Revisionism: A Documented History, Vols 1-6, London, New Park Publications, 1974-75. (Back to text)
12. Frank, P, The Fourth International: The Long March of the Trotskyists, London, Ink Links, 1979. (Back to text)
13. North, D, The Heritage We Defend: A Contribution to the History of the Fourth International, Detroit: MI, Labor Publications, 1988. (Back to text)
14. North’s account takes refuge in levelling fiery attacks against so-called ‘revisionists’ while locating the continuity of Marxism, after successive splits in the Trotskyist movement, in the ever decreasing circles of activists who were members of the group to which he belonged. (Back to text)
15. Breitman, G (et al., eds), Writings of Leon Trotsky (1929-1940), New York, Pathfinder Press, 1972-80. (Back to text)
16. Trotsky, LD, Escritos Latinoamericanos, Buenos Aires, Centro de Estudios, Investigaciones y Publicaciones León Trotsky, 1999. (Back to text)
17. Reisner, W (ed.), Documents of the Fourth International: The Formative Years (1933-1940), New York, Pathfinder Press, 1973. (Back to text)
18. In terms of the study of Trotskyism in the colonial and semi-colonial world, Revolutionary History has dedicated issues to the history of Trotskyism in Sri Lanka (Vol. 6, No. 4, 1997.) and Bolivia (Vol. 4, No. 3, Summer 1992.). Other important Trotskyist movements in colonial and semi-colonial countries, namely those in Argentina, Vietnam and China, have been charted in Coggiola, O, Historia del Trotskismo Argentino, Vols 1 (1929-1960) and 2 (1960-1985), Buenos Aires, Centro Editor de América Latina, 1985-86; and Van, N, Revolutionaries They Could Not Break: The Fight for the Fourth International in Indochina, 1930-1945, London, Index Books, 1995; and Benton, G, China’s Urban Revolutionaries: Explorations in the History of Chinese Trotskyism, 1921-1952, New Jersey, Humanities Press, 1996. (Back to text)
19. Alexander, RJ, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985: A Documented Analysis of the Movement, Durham: NC, Duke University Press, 1991. (Back to text)
20. Richardson, A, Hirson, B, and Crawford, T, ‘Review of Alexander, RJ, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985’, Revolutionary History (London), Vol. 4, No. 4, Spring 1993, p. 170. (Back to text)
21. Alexander, RJ, Trotskyism in Latin America, Stanford: CA, Hoover Institution Press, 1973. (Back to text)
22. Ibid, p. ix. (Back to text)
23. Ibid, p. 113. (Back to text)
24. Ibid, p. 117. (Back to text)
25. Ibid, p. 116. (Back to text)
26. See ibid, pp. 215-235. The short section in Alexander, RJ, (1991), op cit, pp. 228-231 is no more than a summary of his earlier work from 1973. (Back to text)
27. Alexander, RJ, (1973), op cit, p. 217. (Back to text)
28. Until recently, published literature accepted that Maurín and the BOC were best known for their advocacy of the ‘triple front’ in which proletarian, agrarian and national liberation movements would unite in a struggle for a ‘democratic socialist’ revolution. Maurín has also been remembered for, at one point, arguing that it was necessary not only to win over the existing national liberation movement, but also to participate in its formation where it did not already exist. See Pagès, P, Andreu Nin: Su Evolución Política (1911-1937), Bilbao, ZERO, 1975, pp. 161-162; and Pagès, P, El Movimiento Trotskista en España (1930-1935), Barcelona, Ediciones Península, 1977, pp. 238-253. (Back to text)
29. ["la incarnación del pequeñoburgués revolucionario"](My translation, GT.) Cited in Durgan, AC, B.O.C. 1930-1936: El Bloque Obrero y Campesino, Barcelona, Laertes, 1996, p. 435. (Back to text)
30. Ibid, p. 334. (Back to text)
31. Ibid, p. 525. (Back to text)
32. Charles Simeón Ramírez, for example, had an evident interest in diminishing the revolutionary communist content of the PBL and his own role in the Cuban Trotskyist movement. At the time of giving his interview to Alexander he was a Cuban exile apparently trying to regroup various ex-Auténticos in a social democratic anti-Castro group in the United States. While Simeón largely concurs with Alexander’s ‘Maurinista’ assessment of the theoretical and organisational development of the Cuban Trotskyists in the 1930s, he is also rather modest about his own activities in the Trotskyist milieu. When describing his participation and role in the movement, he claims that he left the PBL in 1934. (Manuscript of the interview given by Charles Simeón to R.J. Alexander, Guttenberg: NJ, 12 April 1970. (RJA.)) However, primary source evidence demonstrates that he was active in the Cuban Trotskyist party until the late 1930s and that after the sickness which overtook Gastón Medina Escobar, the General Secretary of the PBL in 1935-36, it was Simeón himself who took over the General Secretaryship of the party. Interview given by Idalberto Ferrera Acosta, Mario Medina Escobar and Francisco Medina Escobar to Gary Tennant, Havana, 30 July 1997; and Boletín Interior del Partido Obrero Revolucionario, Year 1, No. 1, March 1946, p. 5. (SWP(US); and HI: SWP Collection, Box 31, Folder 12.); and various letters held at the Hoover Institution which are either signed by Simeón or refer to his continued PBL commitment. (HI: SWP Collection, Box 30, Folders 27 and 28.) (Back to text)
33. Broué, P, ‘Le Mouvement Trotskyste en Amérique Latine jusqu’en 1940’, Cahiers Léon Trotsky (Paris), No. 11, September 1982, pp. 13-30. (Back to text)
34. Coggiola, O, El Trotskismo en América Latina, Buenos Aires, Ediciones Magenta, 1993, pp. 20-22, 46-49. Another short article largely based on these an other secondary sources has highlighted the anti-Stalinist nature of the Cuban Trotskyists. Estefanía Aulet, CM, ‘El Trotskismo: Vida y Muerte de una Alternativa Obrera No Estalinista’, Cuba Nuestra (Stockholm), No. 6, October 1996, pp. 6-9. A Spanish translation of a preliminary draft of my work on Trotskyism in Cuba based on a limited range of documents and which was intended to serve as evidence that I was beginning to investigate the subject appeared as Tennant, G, ‘Una Historia del Trotskismo Cubano (1ª. Parte)’, En Defensa del Marxismo (Buenos Aires), Year 5, No. 14, September 1996, pp. 46-60; and Tennant, G, ‘Una Historia del Trotskismo Cubano (2º. Parte)’, En Defensa del Marxismo (Buenos Aires), Year 6, No. 15, December 1996, pp. 65-80. The argument of the present thesis differs from these preliminary articles in its central propositions, the structure, the length and the range of sources. (Back to text)
35. Broué, P, op cit, p. 19. (Back to text)
36. Ibid, p. 23. (Back to text)
37. Coggiola, O, (1993), op cit, p. 14. The ILO was the forerunner of the Fourth International. The ILO adopted the name the International Communist League in September 1933 and then the Movement for the Fourth International in July 1936 before its constituent sections founded the Fourth International in September 1938. See Appendix A for a flow diagram tracing the major organisational developments in the international Trotskyist movement. (Back to text)
38. Coggiola, O, (1993), op cit, p. 21. (Back to text)
39. Ibid, p. 47. (Back to text)
40. Letter from Angel Fanjul to Gary Tennant, Buenos Aires, 8 October 1997, p. 3. (Back to text)
41. Notable exceptions which do not impose a linear pattern on historical development with all social forces converging on a supposed inevitable present day reality include the work of Jorge Ibarra Cuesta, Olga Cabrera García and Carlos del Toro González. Their studies lend some credibility to Cuban historiography. (Back to text)
42. See, for example, Soto, L, La Revolución del 33, Vol. 3, Havana, Editorial Pueblo y Educación, 1985, pp. 182-187. Others repeat anecdotal appreciations lifted from the ‘official’ communist press without a critical, sceptical eye. See, for example, González Carbajal, L, El Ala Izquierda Estudiantil y Su época, Havana, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1974, pp. 79-80. (Back to text)
43. Having passed through the OCC and PBL on his way from the ‘official’ communist party to the nationalist-reformist Auténtico trade union organisations in the early 1930s, Mujal led the Auténtico trade union opposition to the communist party-controlled trade union centre in the first half of the 1940s. During the Batista dictatorship in the 1950s he was the leader of the subservient national labour confederation. Having amassed a personal fortune estimated in the millions of dollars, Mujal fled the country after the 1959 Revolution. (Back to text)
44. Instituto de Historia del Movimiento Comunista y de la Revolución Socialista de Cuba (ed.), Historia del Movimiento Obrero Cubano, 1865-1958, Vol. 2, Havana, Editora Política, 1985, pp. 90, 112, 129-130. (Back to text)
45. ["Eusebio Mujal y otros escicionistas"](My translation, GT.) Instituto de Historia del Movimiento Comunista y de la Revolución Socialista de Cuba (ed.), Historia del Movimiento Obrero Cubano, 1865-1958, Vol. 1, Havana, Editora Política, 1985, p. 305. (Back to text)
46. All references to this study, hereafter, are to the draft of Soler Martínez, RR, El Trotskismo en la Revolución del 30, PhD Thesis, Universidad de Oriente, Santiago de Cuba, 1997 which Soler kindly allowed me to read before successfully defending it in Havana on 2 July 1997. (Back to text)
47. Ibid, p. 1. (Back to text)
48. Ibid, pp. 10-11, 138, 141. (Back to text)
49. Soler Martínez, R, ‘Los Orígenes del Trotskismo en Cuba: Los Primeros Trotskistas Cubanos’, En Defensa del Marxismo (Buenos Aires), Year 7, No. 20, May 1998, pp. 54-70. (Back to text)
50. Ibid, pp. 65-66. (Back to text)
51. Given the subject of this thesis, I refer to the pre-1976 provincial divisions of the Cuban national territory. See the map of Cuba in Appendix B for a guide to the provinces and principal cities which I refer to in this thesis. (Back to text)
52. While Soler does set down in writing everything he thinks relevant, his work, as with any other, reflects to some extent its author’s own subjective prejudices as well as those of his social milieu. In this respect, it should be noted his investigation was conducted in an environment which prohibits the existence of a Trotskyist group or the public dissemination of Trotskyist ideas. (Back to text)
53. This assertion, of course, is not limited to those authors living and working in societies dominated by the restrictions of Stalinism. See, for example, the work of Harris, RL, Marxism, Socialism and Democracy in Latin America, Boulder: CO, Westview Press, 1992. Among the points which constitute the framework for his discussion is the argument that Lenin shared Stalin’s concept of a two-stage revolutionary process in which a distinct democratic revolution preceded the socialist revolution. Unsurprisingly, Richard Harris also attributes the idea that it is possible to build socialism in one country to Lenin. Ibid, p. 47. (Back to text)
54. Soler Martínez, RR, (1997), op cit, p. 33. (Back to text)
55. Soler Martínez, R, (1998), op cit, pp. 65-66. (Back to text)
56. See, for example, ibid, p. 65. (Back to text)
57. While, as Jorge Castañeda has argued, the accusation of ‘sectarianism’ in Cuba encompasses a variety of political crimes (Castañeda, JG, Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara, London, Bloomsbury, 1997, p. 211.), the label of ‘divisionism’ is largely used to describe anyone or any group who opposed the line of the supposedly well-intentioned official Cuban communist party of the time. ‘Divisionism’, for example, was used to characterise those in the labour movement who opposed the class collaborationist policy of the Moscow-orientated communists in the deep cross-class alliance the latter developed with Fulgencio Batista in the Coalición Social Democrática in the early 1940s. See Instituto de Historia...., Historia del Movimiento Obrero Cubano, 1865-1958 (ed.), Vol. 2, op cit, p. 90. (Back to text)
58. Soler Martínez, RR, (1997), op cit, p. 134. (Back to text)
59. Alexander, RJ, (1973), op cit, pp. 226-229. (Back to text)
60. See, for example, Soler Martínez, RR, (1997), op cit, p. 90. (Back to text)
61. As Max Shachtman wrote of Stalinists, they “have the Catholics’ attitude toward their dogmas: they assume what is to be proved; their arbitrary conclusions are presented as their premises; their statement of the problem is at the same time their answer". Shachtman, M, ‘Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg’, What Next? (London), No. 3, 1997, p. 37. Soler repeats this methodological approach in his article Soler Martínez, R, ‘Las Luchas Internas en el Partido Comunista de la URSS después de Lenin. Surgimiento del Trotskismo’, Santiago (Santiago de Cuba), Nos 81-82, 1996-97, pp. 59-88. Revealing his personal hostility towards Trotskyism, Soler manages to conclude without presenting a shred of evidence that Trotskyism through its passionate and sometimes violent methods of argument contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union by giving the enemies of socialism arguments with which they could fight the USSR. (Back to text)
62. As described on page 9 note 32, one failing of Alexander’s study is its apparent over-reliance on the oral testimony of Simeón. As a political actor in the 1970s when the interview was given, Simeón had an evident interest in minimising the revolutionary socialist content of the PBL as well as his own role in the development of Trotskyism in Cuba. (Back to text)
63. As Adolfo Gilly has noted, one universal problem for the historian listening to movements of the oppressed is that it is usually only the highest level, that is, the leaders of these movements, that write and speak publicly and so who can be considered. Gilly, A, ‘La Historia como Crítica o como Discurso del Poder’, In: Pereyra, C (et al.), Historia ¿Para Qué?, Mexico D.F., Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1981, p. 219. (Back to text)
64. Pérez-Stable, M, ‘The Field of Cuban Studies’, Latin American Research Review, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1991, pp. 239-240. As Trotsky wrote in another context, “[h]istory here merges directly with living politics.” Trotsky, LD, The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going?, New York, Pathfinder Press, 1972, p. 3. (Back to text)
65. Carr, EH, What Is History?, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1990, p. 35. (Back to text)
66. Trotsky, LD, The History of the Russian Revolution, Vol. 2, London, Sphere Books, 1967, p. 11. (Back to text)
67. De Ste. Croix, GEM, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, London, Gerald Duckworth, 1981, pp. 43-44. (Back to text)
68. Trotsky, LD, My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1975, p. 528. While Trotsky referred to the Stalinist Soviet state as parasitic and indeed also used the term ‘totalitarian’ in the late 1930s, he essentially viewed Stalinism as a distinct political ideology forged in the midst of social conflict as part of the development of the Soviet state. To this extent he was a pioneer, however atypical, of the ‘social historiographical’ school of Soviet studies which from the 1960s increasingly challenged the ‘totalitarian’ model. The totalitarian approach argues that Stalinism is an absolutist system formed by communist ideology which is kept in place by widespread terror. Stalin himself is central to this interpretation. In contrast, although the broad social historiographical school generally tends to diminish the underlying ideological and political characteristics of Stalinism, it does contend that Stalinism is a social phenomenon which emanates ‘from below’ as well as ‘from above’. The Terror is regarded not as an irrational, defining feature but as an expression of social antagonisms in Soviet society. See Tucker, RC (ed.), Stalinism: Essays in Historical Interpretation, New York, W.W. Norton, 1977 for a variety of social historiographical interpretations which challenge the totalitarian model. (Back to text)
69. Throughout this thesis I employ the term ‘official’ to distinguish the Stalinist parties from the ‘dissident’ Trotskyist ones. As such, the epithet ‘official’ denotes those communist parties which were affiliated to the Comintern up until 1943 and argued against the opposition around Trotsky. In the post-Comintern period, I use the term ‘official’ to refer to those parties which sought to harmonise their policy with that of the leaders of the Soviet Union. (Back to text)
70. Authors who argue that ‘Stalinism’ is not an appropriate term to describe the Soviet Union in the post-1953 period generally do so on the basis that Stalinism’s principal defining feature, Stalin himself, had passed away. See, for example, Gill, G, Stalinism, Basingstoke, Macmillan Press, 1998. In rejecting this argument, I argue that Stalinism is not primarily defined by particular aspects of Stalin’s personal heritage or the quantity of terror imposed on the working class. As stated, it is instead a political strategy defined by underlying ideological and programmatic features. See Service, R, A History of Twentieth-Century Russia, London, Penguin Books, 1997, pp. 331-355 for a description of how the process of ‘de-Stalinisation’ was essentially a reform programme which sought to “preserve and compound the Soviet order.” See also Wood, A, Stalin and Stalinism, London, Routledge, 1990, pp. 62-64. (Back to text)
71. The differences between the bourgeois and proletarian revolutions and their significance for the anti-imperialist struggle are discussed in Slaughter, C, Marx and Marxism: An Introduction, London, Longman, 1985, pp. 46-50. Karl Marx also clearly distinguished between the proletarian and democratic revolution in Marx, K, ‘On the Polish Question’, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works, Vol. 6, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1976, pp. 545-549. (Back to text)
72. Of particular interest are the following fond and opis numbers: f.495, op.79 and f.495, op.101 which cover the Latin American Commission of the Executive Committee of the Comintern (1926-35); f.503, op.1 which deals with South America (1925-35); f.500, op.1 which deals with the Caribbean Office (1931-35); f.495, op.108 which deals with the Mexican Communist Party (1919-40); and f.495, op.105 which deals with the Cuban Communist Party (1919-38). (Back to text)
73. For an introductory account of the invaluable materials held in the RTsKhIDNI for researchers in the field of communism in Latin America see Ching, E, ‘A Central Americanist in Russia’s Comintern Archive’, Latin American Labor News, No. 14, 1996, pp. 7, 10; and Spenser-Grollová, D, ‘Los Archivos de la Internacional Comunista en Moscú’, Memoria (Mexico D.F.), No. 74, 1995, pp. 80-83. (Back to text)

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