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


In this chapter I conclude by summarising the principal characteristics of Cuban Trotskyism during the period 1932-65. I first assess my central proposition that the Cuban Trotskyists tended to fail to distinguish between the democratic and the proletarian anti-imperialist revolutions, thereby diluting Trotsky’s insistence on the necessary proletarian character of the revolution. In the second section I summarise the features of the Cuban Trotskyists’ composition and organisational evolution, describing that although they were a prominent actor in the 1932-35 revolutionary period, thereafter they constituted a numerically small body of socialists. I furthermore argue that the Trotskyists’ apparent failure to build an influential revolutionary party was the result of the peculiar socio-politico context in which they operated as well as their own strategy and tactics. To end, I analyse the Cuban Trotskyists’ significance within the revolutionary movement in Cuba and assess the counter-arguments and alternative interpretations of the history of Trotskyism in Cuba which have been set out by other writers on the subject.

8.1 The Cuban Trotskyists’ Democratic versus Permanent Revolutionary Strategy

The origins of the Oposición Comunista de Cuba (OCC) and the Cuban Trotskyists’ underlying strategy for revolution cannot be explained without an understanding of the peculiarities of the Cuban political economy and the policy of the official communist party at the time of the OCC’s foundation. The late arrival of the Cuban republic after a nascent national bourgeoisie had been all but destroyed and the extent to which the local classes were subordinated to a new foreign power, the U.S., ensured that the democratic revolution was incomplete. As such, nationalist and anti-imperialist demands remained at the forefront of the popular struggle for reform and social justice in the early part of the twentieth century. In the period 1885-1925, even anarcho-syndicalism in Cuba, the major political influence on the working class movement, while developing a culture of revolutionary violence and working class organisation, was not a ‘pure’ anarcho-syndicalism. That is, unlike its European forebears and counterparts, the ‘Cubanised’ version promoted a commitment to participate in the cross-class movements for national liberation.

The fact that the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) was founded relatively late in 1925 indicates the weakness of Cuban Marxism and the traditions of independent working class political organisation. Furthermore, although Bolshevism and the ‘permanentist’ perspective of Lenin and Trotsky in October 1917 had insisted on the task of first winning working class political independence in order then to become the head of the oppressed nation, the PCC was founded at a time when the Second Period of the Comintern was underway. That is, although the PCC initially transcended the petty bourgeois nationalism of the Cuban revolutionaries of the 1890s in the sense that it emphasised its socialist objectives, the notion of the necessary proletarian character of the anti-imperialist revolution was increasingly subordinated to the concept of a broad anti-imperialist bloc and a democratic anti-imperialist revolution. The most striking practical manifestation of this policy was the work of the PCC exiles in the Asociación Nacional de Nuevos Emigrados Revolucionarios de Cuba (ANERC) in Mexico. In organising an expeditionary force to Cuba, the communist fraction inside the ANERC could scarcely be distinguished from the activists of the Partido Unión Nacionalista. Indeed, as late as mid-1930, the PCC as a whole was still involved in conspiratorial armed uprisings with non-proletarian forces.

The disposition of the working class, urban petty bourgeoisie and rural poor to participate in the mounting struggles for anti-imperialist goals and social reforms in the early 1930s, and the inability and/or unwillingness of the weak bourgeois nationalist camp to lead an intransigent fight against Machado contributed to the rise and consolidation of the Communist Opposition. However, the principal reason why the OCC emerged when it did was the PCC’s adoption of the sectarian Third Period tactical line which denied that the movement for national liberation had any progressive content.

The Cuban Oppositionists, initially composed of an assortment of radical rebels who were imbued with a spirit of revolutionary activism from the late 1920s, did not shirk from the prospect of rebelling against the increasing discipline of the Comintern when, in late 1930, the Caribbean Bureau directed the PCC away from working in the already constituted unions, away from non-participation in elections, and away from supporting an armed insurrection initiated by the parties and groups of petty bourgeois nationalism. These policies were features of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary nationalism which the previous Second Period policy had been able to incorporate. Crucially, then, the fact that the Opposition emerged only when the Third Period tactical turn was implemented meant that at the OCC’s inception the Oppositionists had not developed a critique of the Comintern’s former Second Period position of forming anti-imperialist blocs with bourgeois nationalist parties such as the Guomindang in China. This birth mark of tending to compromise with petty bourgeois nationalism was to shape the development of Trotskyism in Cuba in the subsequent years.

The OCC at its founding could not be meaningfully described as an organisation which defended the ideas of Trotsky. Just as the accusation of Trotskyism levelled against Julio Antonio Mella had concealed the roots of his thought in the Cuban revolutionary nationalist tradition of insurrectionary Popular Frontism, the same accusation against the initial Oppositionists disguised a heterogeneous group of dissidents who, in the main, simply filled the political void left vacant by the PCC. Rather than unambiguously insisting on the working class in alliance with the peasantry leading a proletarian anti-imperialist revolution against the weak national bourgeoisie and imperialism, the OCC rather uncritically embraced the tenets and traditions of the indigenous revolutionary struggle and defended the policy of forming broad anti-imperialist blocs with the forces of revolutionary nationalism in pursuit of an essentially democratic anti-imperialist revolution.

Although accusations of so-called Trotskyist deviations certainly preceded any actual Trotskyist conversion, in 1933 a number of leading figures in the OCC challenged the broad Second Period trajectory of the Oppositionists and orientated the OCC towards the International Left Opposition and the formal adoption of the fundamental postulates of the theory of Permanent Revolution. During the course of 1933-35, the development of the Partido Bolchevique Leninista (PBL) was then characterised by the struggle between what can be termed a ‘Trotskyist’ tendency and a looser heterogeneous ‘petty bourgeois’ tendency. On the one hand, the delegates of the cells and sections of the party accepted in theory the necessary proletarian character of the anti-imperialist revolution. However, in practice, the OCC’s and PBL’s general loose mass character and the prejudices of the Opposition’s initial heterogeneous political composition ensured the predominance of the petty bourgeois nationalist elements. As such, just as one of the PBL’s largest branches, Guantánamo, ignored the directives of the Central Committee and operated independently in pursuit of its policy of forming a broad ‘progressive’ association from the outset, so the PBL as a whole ultimately failed to distinguish between the democratic and proletarian anti-imperialist revolutions during the 1934-35 period.

The conflict between the ‘broad front’ tendency and that of the more ‘Trotskyist’ elements did not find expression in any principled internal debate, but was instead addressed empirically. The desertions which punctuated the PBL’s activity during 1934 were the first manifestation of the unresolved internal ideological disagreements. The controversy then matured in the debate over the so-called ‘external road’. Although never advanced as a coherent thesis in any internal document or at any conference of the party, the central thread of the ‘external road’ theory was that the PBL should dissolve itself into the ‘anti-imperialist’ bloc around the Left-nationalist Joven Cuba.

While the natural haven for the ‘broad front’ nationalist elements was Joven Cuba or, for those who had a history of trade union work, the National Labour Commission of the Auténticos, those sectors of the PBL which rejected actual liquidation inside radical nationalist parties and blocs also promoted an ill-defined United Front with Joven Cuba. While this tactical alliance was narrowly based and sought to sharpen the revolutionary situation rather than deepen it, the alliance also marked the PBL’s implicit acceptance in practice of the one-sided approach of forming an alliance for a democratic anti-imperialist revolution as a distinct stage on the path towards proletarian revolution.

Although the Cuban Trotskyists tended to accept in practice the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution, they nevertheless attempted to justify such an orientation with reasoning which broadly incorporated the essence of the theory of Permanent Revolution. They insisted that the working class could not take power in a country like Cuba without the support of the poor petty bourgeoisie, while similarly the peasantry could not realise the agrarian revolution without the leadership of the working class. This formulation was similar to the ‘permanentist’ strategy advocated by Lenin and Trotsky in October 1917. The PBL further accepted that the petty bourgeoisie could not wield state power for any length of time, arguing that once in power, petty bourgeois nationalism would disintegrate, forcing its followers to align themselves with either the proletariat or the counter-revolution.

However, in defending the thesis that the petty bourgeoisie could attain power, albeit temporarily, the PBL’s alliance with Joven Cuba was designed not to challenge petty bourgeois nationalism for the leadership of the urban and rural masses. Instead it became a means to pressure and influence Joven Cuba in order, first, to help the Guiteristas win power and only then make it more likely that the petty bourgeoisie would fall to the side of proletarian revolution rather than that of pro-imperialist reaction. In practice, then, the Cuban Trotskyists effectively viewed Joven Cuba as a vehicle, rather than an obstacle, to the proletarian revolution.

In many respects the original heterogeneous origins of the OCC and the traditions of revolutionary struggle in Cuba reasserted themselves over the Permanent Revolution perspective of Trotsky. This trajectory also paralleled that of other Trotskyist groups in Latin America. The Trotskyist groups in Chile and Bolivia similarly sought to dissolve themselves in the national revolutionary sector in the 1930s. Furthermore, the PBL’s one-sided approach to revolution which not only borrowed the slogans of the national liberation movement, but saw the revolutionary nationalist sector as a vehicle for the proletarian revolution, also prefaced the development of certain tendencies within international Trotskyism in the post-1940 period after Trotsky’s assassination. In the first place, the PBL’s arguments found expression in the ‘national liberation’ tendency within Latin American Trotskyism which can be said to have been initiated by Liborio Justo of the Argentinian Liga Obrera Revolucionaria. More importantly, though, the strategy of the Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario led by Guillermo Lora during the national revolution in the early 1950s had as its precedent the PBL during the Revolution of the 1930s in Cuba. Both groups effectively identified petty bourgeois nationalism as a vehicle—not a hindrance—to socialist revolution, and they essentially limped behind the perspective of supporting the petty bourgeoisie in power.

The desertions from the PBL and then the defeat of the Revolution of the 1930s during the March 1935 general strike left the PBL with a much reduced membership and in a state of organisational crisis. However, these events also served to stimulate those elements of the PBL who remained loyal to the concept of an independent working class revolutionary party to re-elaborate their strategy and tactics. During the late 1930s and 40s, although the Cuban Trotskyists repeated that the weak native bourgeoisie had not only failed to win genuine national independence, but was incapable of carrying out the tasks of the belated democratic revolution, the general weakness of all classed-based institutions and, in particular, the independent organisation of the proletariat increasingly exerted its influence on the Cuban variety of Trotskyism. While insisting that the working class was the only force which could guarantee genuine national liberation, the PBL and then Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) failed to develop a strategy and tactics which insisted that only the proletarian anti-imperialist revolution could carry out even the most basic bourgeois democratic tasks required in a semi-colony. More and more the gap widened between the Cuban Trotskyists’ formal insistence that only the proletariat could secure genuine national and social liberation and their practical work which blurred the difference between the proletarian and democratic anti-imperialist revolutions.

Through the 1940s, the Cuban Trotskyists in the POR not only borrowed the language of the revolutionary nationalists, the name of their newspaper, Cuba Obrera, being the most public expression of this, but they increasingly failed to propose a politically independent course for the working class. In essence, they did not clearly distinguish themselves from petty bourgeois nationalism and they developed an action programme for a democratic anti-imperialist revolution which incorporated the forces of radical nationalism in the leadership of an ‘intermediate’ revolution. This was exemplified in the 1944 election line-up when the POR rather loosely called for a critical vote for the Auténticos of Grau San Martín, and then in the Trotskyists’ act of dissolving inside the Movimiento Socialista Revolucionario, an organisation which professed a continuity from Joven Cuba. While these tactical orientations could be seen as rather desperate attempts to escape isolation, the Cuban Trotskyists ultimately failed to understand Trotsky’s assertion that the revolution will either be proletarian or it will be defeated, or in the light of post-World War Two developments would be some kind of national-bureaucratic hybrid revolution facilitated by Soviet aid.

The actual disappearance of the POR as an organised force in the early 1950s, though conditioned by the socio-politico context, also reflected the limited differentiation which the Trotskyists themselves had made between working class and national liberation forces. While the evolution of the PBL and POR in the period 1935 to 1950 retraced to some extent that which had occurred in hot-house fashion during the Revolution of the 1930s, the Cuban Trotskyists’ political evolution was not a case of an isolated national Trotskyist group abandoning the project of the working class leading an anti-imperialist revolution and in so doing creating its own democratic organs of power. This trajectory was a deep-seated feature of the post-Trotsky Fourth International as a whole. While the Trotskyists in Lora’s Bolivian Partido Obrero Revolucionario had not hesitated to join the nationalist Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario government, this position was supported at the time by the majority of groups which were about to make up the backbone of both the International Secretariat and International Committee of the Fourth International.

This tendency towards compromising with revolutionary nationalism culminated in the 1950s when the Cuban Trotskyists either thoroughly renounced the need for a working class revolutionary party in order to join the Movimiento 26 de Julio, or lent the insurrectionary movement unconditional and uncritical support as individuals. In the light of the 1959 Revolution, the reconstituted Cuban Trotskyist party, the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Trotskista) (POR(T)), conferred the status of ‘Workers’ State’ on the new revolutionary order in Cuba, accepting that not only could the petty bourgeoisie attain power, but that non-proletarian forces in the absence of democratic organs of working power could lead the construction of socialism. While this essentially mirrored the evolution of a major sector of the international Trotskyist movement, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, this whole tendency to compromise with the forces of radical nationalism was the defining feature of Cuban Trotskyism dating back to 1932.

Just as the manifestation of anarcho-syndicalism in the Cuban working class was not ‘pure’ anarcho-syndicalism, so the Cuban Trotskyists interpreted the fundamental postulates of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution in a ‘Cubanised’ way emphasising the question of national liberation. Though shaped by the international experience and ideas of Trotsky and the Fourth International, the Cuban Trotskyists’ interaction with the international movement was ultimately not central to their development. Cuban Trotskyism was, then, essentially a home-grown political current with roots in the reality of the Cuban political economy and the traditions of Cuban revolutionary struggle. Certainly, it was less of a ‘foreign transplant’ than the official communist party which, apart from a brief period in the mid-1940s when it moved even to the Right of Moscow in only reluctantly disentangling itself from Browderism, largely concerned itself with following the foreign policy concerns of Moscow. Indeed, if anything, the essence of the Cuban Trotskyists’ underlying political trajectory which attempted to integrate national problems with the theory of Permanent Revolution, prefigured the emergence of a one-sided approach to revolution favouring the struggle for national liberation among Latin American Trotskyists. To this extent Cuban Trotskyism in the 1930s can be figuratively characterised as post-Trotsky Trotskyism.

8.2 Composition and Organisational Characteristics of Cuban Trotskyism

While most dissident communist opposition groups across the world were relatively small in comparison with their respective official communist parties, the Cuban Opposition was a notable exception. Although it is difficult to chart the exact number of members that the OCC and then PBL had on a month by month basis, the Cuban Trotskyist group undoubtedly grew quickly in late 1932 and 1933 before declining sharply in 1934 and the first half of 1935. At their peak in the period 1932-34, the Cuban Trotskyists constituted a relatively large group by Trotskyist standards, counting on at least 800 members.(1) Certainly in Latin America no opposition movement within any of the local communist parties rivalled the size of the OCC. Outside the Soviet Union, only the Belgian Trotskyist group which emerged in the 1920s could claim a membership which approached that of the Cuban Opposition group. Furthermore, unlike other Trotskyist groups in Latin America which were largely limited to their respective capital cities, the Cuban Trotskyists had centres throughout the country, most notably in Havana and Oriente provinces.(2)

The principal reason for the relative size of the OCC was the official communists’ Third Period turn which denied that the movement for national liberation had any progressive content. Although all revolutionary groups were relatively large during the Revolution of the 1930s, the dissident Cuban communists’ relative success in attracting a sizeable section of the PCC and its front organisations to the camp of the OCC and PBL was principally the result of the Oppositionists’ attempt to combat the PCC’s ultra-leftism and integrate the struggle for national liberation with the struggle for socialism. Taking on board the fact that the PCC’s tactical turn was implemented just at the time when the forces of radical nationalism were beginning to displace older, more socially conservative elements in the leadership of the anti-Machado struggle, it is therefore reasonable to conclude that the conditions under which these dissident communists organised themselves not only explain their early political trajectory but also explain, at least in part, their exceptional numerical strength.

Having grown on the crest of a revolutionary wave during the Revolution of the 1930s, thereafter the Cuban Trotskyist group shrank in size to proportions which paralleled those of other Latin American sections of the Fourth International. Indeed, after the Revolution of the 1930s the Cuban Trotskyists experienced no substantial period of growth, proving unable to take advantage of the opportunity presented to them by the official communists’ embrace of overt class collaboration with Batista immediately before and during the Second World War. However, unlike the majority of other revolutionary groups which sprang into being during the Revolution of the 1930s, the Trotskyists’ theoretical grounding enabled them to survive to some extent the decades of defeats in the 1930s and 40s. The POR only eventually disappeared in the general atmosphere of stagnation in the early 1950s.

The Cuban Trotskyists’ ultimate lack of success in constructing a mass proletarian party, while conditioned by the strategy they themselves employed to realise their declared goals, was also determined by the peculiar features of the Cuban political economy. In the first place, the poorly defined and weak class-based institutions in Cuba, particularly after the defeat of the Revolution of the 1930s, facilitated the tendency towards strong Bonapartist governments in Cuba, both pre- and post-1959. Most significantly for the fortunes of the Cuban Trotskyists, such conditions particularly benefited the opportunist official communist party. Having abandoned the revolutionary project along with the principles of proletarian democracy and political independence, the Cuban Communist Party was granted control of the labour movement by Batista in exchange for certain economic incentives and ensuring that any attempts to organise the working class around a programme of even moderate anti-imperialism were derailed. With the official communists actually enjoying the prestige of formal association with the successful Russian October Revolution, this introduced a further, objectively counter-revolutionary, factor within the labour movement which the Bolsheviks themselves had not had to confront.

With effective official communist state-sponsored control of the workers’ movement and limited internal trade union democracy making it difficult to challenge the policies and position of Stalinism, the Cuban Trotskyists were faced with substantial physical barriers before being able to influence the mass of rural and urban workers who were under the influence of official communism. The growth of the Cuban Communist Party from the late 1930s into one of the largest and most powerful official communist parties in the Americas, not only further depoliticised a working class which had suffered a recent historic defeat, but also aided the effectiveness of their well-resourced campaign against Trotskyism. The bitter struggle which the official communists waged against the Trotskyists included verbal and written abuse in the form of slanderous accusations of being fascists and pro-imperialists, as well as physical assaults. These supplemented the prison sentences and victimisations which the Cuban Trotskyists suffered under successive Cuban regimes. This apparent division of labour between the official communists and various Cuban governments was not without effect and culminated in 1965 when the two institutions, that is the official communist party and the Cuban government, had effectively become one, and Trotskyism, the only organised Left-wing critic of the Revolution, was forcibly dissolved by a so-called communist government.

In addition to the weakness of class-based formations and the peculiar position of Stalinism in the working class movement, the lack of a Marxist tradition in Cuba also heightened the obstacles which the ‘Trotskyist’ tendency within the OCC and PBL initially had to overcome. As an example, despite benefiting from attracting a number of well-known and experienced trade unionists to the OCC’s ranks, most notably Sandalio Junco, many of these had little faith in the revolutionary capacity of the working class in the political field and as such had only a slender commitment to the building of a Trotskyist party. The nascent Trotskyist group which had essentially developed as a Second Period critique of Third Period official communism proved unable to sharpen and clarify the distinctions between revolutionary communism and these essentially reformist currents. As a result, the ‘Trotskyist’ tendency failed to prevent these elements from reasserting the influence of the old traditions of Cuban nationalism and syndicalism within the ranks of the PBL. Indeed, the Cuban Trotskyists’ own strategy of attempting to influence the petty bourgeois nationalist movement was ultimately turned on its head when the latter not only influenced the development of Cuban Trotskyism, but eventually carried the Trotskyists along organisationally with the dissolution of the remaining POR members in the 1940s and 50s into the ranks of various ‘democratic’ nationalist organisations.

The long-term project of constructing a Trotskyist party was also hindered by the fact that the revolutionary period in which the OCC and PBL were formed did not give them time to cohere as an open party. While the Labour Laws of the Grau San Martín government hit the PBL particularly hard in the sense that most members of the Trotskyist-controlled General Commercial Workers’ Union of Cuba were of Spanish origin and were thereby forced out of their jobs, the repression in the 1934-35 period led to the jailing, torture and deportation of large numbers of Cuban Trotskyists. Furthermore, rather like the Fourth International itself, in the aftermath of the Revolution of the 1930s the Cuban Trotskyists attempted to regroup and consolidate during a period which was ultimately one of defeat for the working class on an international scale.

Although the Cuban Trotskyists kept in contact with the stabilising influence of the international centres during the 1930s and 40s via correspondence, exchanges of press, foreign refugees and the occasional visits from North American Trotskyists, in the post-World War Two period a number of international factors also contributed to the POR’s organisational isolation. In the first place, although the Cuban Trotskyists were well aware that the intervention of Stalinism in Cuba had introduced a new political factor intent on deflecting the revolutionary movement, the POR’s ultimate support for the state capitalist, ‘anti-defencist’ thesis on the Soviet Union cut the Cuban group off from contact with the major Trotskyist parties in the U.S. and Latin America in the late 1940s. Furthermore, while the Shachtmanites largely evolved towards social democracy in pursuit of an elusive Labour Party in the U.S., the dispersion of the groups adhering to the Fourth International in the 1950s did not aid the Cubans in establishing any stable external influences. The International Secretariat of the Fourth International in the 1950s, perhaps the most logical home for supporters of the ‘national liberation’ tendency within international Trotskyism, was of little assistance since it had become a partisan of actual liquidation inside perceived ‘centrist’ official communist parties, as well as revolutionary nationalist groups.

Another feature of Cuban Trotskyism was its essentially proletarian base. While the OCC initially counted on the support of significant sectors of the student sector in the Ala Izquierda Estudiantil, particularly in Santiago de Cuba, its principal achievement in terms of organisation was to take control of the Federación Obrera de La Habana, the trade union centre in Havana which grouped together some twenty trade unions including that of the capital’s most important union, the General Commercial Workers’ Union of Cuba. In the post-1935 period, though, the PBL’s initial mix of worker-militants and students gave way to a composition which was predominantly working class, this being most evident in the guantanameño branch of the PBL, POR and then POR(T). Although a limited number of intellectuals, most notably Roberto Pérez Santiesteban, contributed to the elaboration of the Cuban Trotskyists’ political direction, the predominance of worker-militants was striking. Gastón Medina’s intervention in the period immediately after the March 1935 strike strengthened the PBL’s organisational and political coherence, and after his premature death, the contributions of Rogelio Benache in Oriente, Pablo Díaz González in Havana and then, in the 1960s, Idalberto Ferrera Acosta, all worker-militants, were symptomatic of the working class composition of the Cuban Trotskyist movement.

A further distinctive feature of the organisational development of Trotskyism in Cuba is that apart from a short interval in the 1940s when one branch of the PBL hesitated over a number of secondary tactical issues, at no time have there been two groups claiming the Trotskyist mantle. However, although they avoided splits on so-called points of principle as occurred in Argentina, Mexico and the United States, etc., the Cuban Trotskyists were not immune to internal disagreements. In Cuba, however, these internal discussions on the strategy to employ were instead largely resolved empirically without the need for any kind of disciplined faction fight. Dissenting voices simply abandoned the Trotskyist party and entered the most radical nationalist party or movement of the day.

Although a Trotskyist party, the POR(T), was reconstituted in the post-1959 period, its numerical weakness was such that when the popular Left-enthusiasm of the masses had receded, and Stalinism had an increasing influence on the Revolution, the bureaucratic steps initiated by some officials in the Ministry of Labour and eventually sanctioned by Fidel Castro himself, were sufficient to suppress the Cuban Trotskyist organisation by the time a new Cuban Communist Party was constituted. In the post-1965 period, a nucleus of Trotskyists has remained committed to elaborating its critique of the leadership of the Revolution and has insisted on the continuity of Trotskyism in Cuba. However, the activity of these Trotskyists has been largely conditioned by the constitution of the Cuban state which has prohibited and suppressed any form of organised dissent. With no legal public audience, and largely abandoned by international Trotskyism since the decline of Posadism in the late 1960s, the Cuban Trotskyists have also lacked the information and resources to re-appraise their heritage.

8.3 The Cuban Trotskyists’ Contribution to National Political Life

While the Cuban Trotskyists never achieved their objective of leading a socialist revolution, and were undoubtedly a small group throughout most of their history, they cannot necessarily be dismissed as irrelevant circles who had no influence.(3) On the contrary, I argue that their achievements and significance were far from negligible. They contributed in many ways to political life in Cuba and the international revolutionary movement, and in their history have left important markers for future generations of revolutionaries.

The Cuban Trotskyists’ principal merit was that they tried to create a counter-current to official communism which insisted on the validity of building a political party capable of leading the working class to power while addressing the problem of national liberation. In a country in which the official communists substituted the ultra-radicalism of the Third Period, which dismissed all concerns of the national liberation movement, for the abandonment of the whole project of working class political independence and class struggle, evidenced by their participation in the Batista regime and reluctance to jettison the conceptions of Browderism in the 1940s, the Cuban Trotskyists stand out as advocates of the necessity of attempting to integrate the struggle for the agrarian revolution and national independence with that for socialism in the colonial and semi-colonial countries.

Their principal virtue, however, was at the same time their Achilles’ heel. On the one hand, they recognised that a powerful national liberation movement cannot be dismissed in Third Period fashion as irrelevant or counter-revolutionary and that revolutionary communists have to intervene on this terrain in order to win the leadership of its most advanced sectors. However, like the official communist parties in the post-1935 period, as well as many other post-Trotsky Trotskyists, they used the relative strength of these nationalist movements to justify their strategy of allying themselves largely uncritically with various radical bourgeois nationalist groups. To this extent, the Cuban Trotskyists were not only significant in terms of being a counter-current to official communism but were illustrative of a large section of the post-Trotsky Marxist revolutionary movement.

The Cuban Trotskyists’ attempt to develop an analysis of the specific conditions of historical development in Cuba also challenged the analyses of both the old nationalist movement committed to ill-defined revolutionary violence and the official communist party with its script largely passed down from the leading bodies of the Comintern. In the first instance, challenging the heritage of the value of the isolated revolutionary deed, the Trotskyists recognised the importance of developing a sustainable theoretical base to direct practical activity. More significantly, though, their contentions that a feudal landed aristocracy had been liquidated during the independence wars of the nineteenth century, that the national bourgeoisie was exceptionally weak, and that Cuba was dominated directly by U.S. imperialist interests as part of the world capitalist economy, were all considerable theoretical acquisitions, preceding by at least thirty years the assessment of large numbers of Cuban and non-Cuban scholars alike.

The Cuban Trotskyists furthermore aimed at the creation of a Cuban workers’ republic as part of a United States of Latin America while, at the same time, understanding that the revolutions in Cuba and the U.S. are aspects of a single and unified revolutionary process. They also maintained the principle that the greatest threat to Latin American countries was imperialism whatever its mask, bourgeois democratic or fascist. During the Second World War they refused to put the principle of class struggle on the back burner and opposed the official communists’ class collaborationist policy of supporting U.S. imperialism and Batista in the name of anti-fascism. At the time this left the official communists in the role of recruiting sergeants for war abroad and as strike-breakers in the name of maintaining production at home. The Trotskyists identified U.S. imperialism, the main local oppressor, not Nazi Germany as the principal threat and broadly adopted the principles of the Proletarian Military Policy to challenge what the official communists viewed as the ‘progressive’ imperialist power of the U.S. as well as the ‘reactionary’ imperialism of the Axis powers.

The Cuban Trotskyists also advanced a critique of the Soviet Union which saw its collapse in the Stalinists’ usurpation of working class democracy. While they adhered to various ‘anti-defencist’ theses on the Soviet Union from the mid-1940s, a position without doubt influenced by the extreme Rightist policy of the official communists in Cuba which had deleted all reference to the notion of revolutionary class struggle, the Cuban Trotskyists did not accept the view that Stalinism was an inevitable product of the Bolshevik Revolution. Indeed, in joining the International Left Opposition and Fourth International they sought to defend the gains of the October 1917 Revolution by preparing the foundations for world revolution.

Accusations emanating from the official communists that the Cuban Trotskyists acted on behalf of fascist and imperialist interests or were associated with anti-democratic, corrupt elements within the labour movement are largely groundless. Those elements which had once belonged to the OCC, PBL and/or POR and who evolved towards gangsterism and corrupt state-sponsored unionism were denounced by the Cuban Trotskyists as renegades who were enemies of the working class movement. Individuals such as Emilio Tró, Rafael Soler Puig and Eusebio Mujal were no more Trotskyists at the time of their infamous activities than the ex-PCC member Rolando Masferrer was an official communist at the time of his adventures as the head of the ‘Tigers’ terror gangs during the 1950s. Furthermore, if anything it was the official communists who were more closely associated with corrupt state-sponsored unionism. The only essential difference between the official communists’ version of collaboration with the state in the field of organised labour and that of Mujal was that the Batista-PSP joint front did not lead to the personal enrichment of the communist party’s leading members. Whereas Mujal and his cohorts lined their own pockets, the official communists during their alliance with Batista saw to it that the official communist organisation and apparatus received the benefits of state sponsorship.

Similarly, the conclusion of Rafael Soler Martínez that the Cuban Trotskyists were sectarians and divisionists is without foundation. The Cuban Trotskyists consistently argued for the unity of the workers’ movement within a single trade union centre irrespective of the political affiliations of the workers or their leaders. Furthermore, it was precisely the Oppositionists’ initial concerns to develop an orientation towards the Left-wing of the nationalist movement which led them to reject the sectarian excesses of Third Period official communism. In the 1940s and 50s, this perspective of attempting to develop anti-imperialist fronts with nationalist groups largely continued to define Trotskyism in Cuba. Within the Fourth International movement, they also rejected calls from Justo to break from the formal centre in New York to form a new Latin American centre. The Cuban Trotskyists, therefore, can be labelled as ‘sectarians’ and ‘divisionists’ only by those who have reason to fear that an analysis of Trotskyist history would highlight the inadequacy of their own brand of communism. Such slanders were previously used as a device to discredit if not physically liquidate any dissenting voice. Employed today by Soler in the guise of historical narrative, they are useful only to the extent that they reveal something about his prejudices and the stifling environment in which he lives and works.

Two other substantial secondary source contributions to the study of Trotskyism in Cuba have more convincingly argued that the Cuban Trotskyists were closer to Joaquín Maurín and the Bloque Obrero y Campesino in Spain than to Trotsky in terms of their strategy for revolution.(4) Pierre Broué has furthermore developed the central argument that the Cuban Trotskyists committed political suicide by placing themselves at the service of non-proletarian social forces. In the first instance, this conceptualisation is useful in that it draws attention to the Cuban Trotskyists’ long-term tendency to build broad inclusive anti-imperialist blocs. However, because it is ultimately based on an acceptance of Trotsky’s intransigent understanding of Maurín as a ‘petty bourgeois revolutionary’, it fails to take into account either the varied roots and subtleties of Maurín’s thought and trajectory or the different socio-politico contexts of Spain and Cuba.(5)

Thus, I argue that while the roots of the Opposition lay in an essentially Second Period critique of the official communists’ Third Period tactical line, to characterise the Cuban Trotskyists as Maurinistas in the sense which Broué implies is imprecise. However, taking into account Andrew Durgan’s illuminating analysis of the subtleties of Maurín’s strategy and tactics it is evident that there were indeed some similarities. In the first place, like Maurín in Spain, the Cuban Trotskyists insisted that the working class could not take power in a country like Cuba without the support of the poor petty bourgeoisie, while the peasantry could not realise the agrarian revolution without the leadership of the working class. This strategy, furthermore, was similar to that embodied in the theory of Permanent Revolution.

Like both Maurín and Trotsky, the Cuban Trotskyists in the 1930s also believed that if the petty bourgeois attained power, it would do so only temporarily. Although their interpretation of the form and content of the Anti-Imperialist United Front led them in practice to a de facto acceptance of the independence of the democratic anti-imperialist revolution, in theory they viewed the petty bourgeoisie in power only as a phase, not a stage, in the proletarian anti-imperialist revolution. This ‘permanentist’ understanding was particularly evident during the Revolution of the 1930s. The PBL made clear its view that the petty bourgeoisie could not hold power for long and any such nationalist regime would collapse, thereby leading the followers of petty bourgeois nationalism to align themselves with either the proletariat or the counter-revolution. Indeed, it was only upon this basis that the PBL took up arms alongside Joven Cuba in late 1934 and early 1935.

However, despite these qualifications to Broué’s presentation of the Maurín-Cuban Trotskyist analogy, to attach the label ‘Maurinista’ to the Cuban Trotskyists also fails to view Maurín and the Cuban Trotskyists in motion. While Maurín was inconsistent over time, if anything moving to the Left in the mid-1930s under the influence of Andrés Nin, the Cuban Trotskyists generally moved to the Right after 1933-35. During the period 1935-58, between revolutions, the PBL and then POR increasingly viewed the democratic anti-imperialist revolution as a distinct stage as they considered the Auténticos and then various revolutionary petty bourgeois nationalist groups as vehicles, rather than obstacles to socialist revolution. While, then, it is fair to say that the Cuban Trotskyists did eventually share Maurín’s alleged early desire to participate in the formation of nationalist movements, this only became explicitly evident in the 1940s and 50s when much of the international Trotskyist movement had also accepted such a perspective.

This thesis, then, is an attempt to outline and evaluate the history of Trotskyism in Cuba. I believe that it demonstrates the honest and principled way a small, but determined group of Marxists attempted to take society forward in conditions in which independent working class organisation was weak. They viewed the Russian October Revolution as the first in a series of revolutions which would lead to the building of a communist society on a world-wide scale and they saw Trotsky as the principal surviving leader of that revolution. They embraced his ideas and although they may not have fully understood or agreed with everything he had to say, they sought to apply the essence of the theory of Permanent Revolution in a way which they considered took into account the peculiarities of the Cuban political economy.

Their virtue lay in the fact that they attempted to interpret the successful post-April 1917 Bolshevik strategy in the Cuban context, addressing the tasks of national liberation in the struggle for socialism. They demonstrated that the ‘national’ peculiarities of a revolutionary party and its prescription for revolutionary change are not necessarily a rejection of internationalism, but a recognition that the revolutionary party must be a reflection of the reality of each country. However, their fundamental weakness was also derived from this national context. While the socio-politico context ultimately conditioned their failure, at the subjective political level they also could not overcome the essentially democratic anti-imperialist bloc strategy so embodied in the Cuban revolutionary tradition. The Cuban Trotskyists’ origins in a split from the PCC during the Comintern’s Third Period, their evolution within the ‘national liberation’ camp of Latin American Trotskyism, and their final return, full-circle, in the 1960s to advocate a caricature of the Second Period position that a force other than the working class could secure genuine social and national liberation and lead a socialist revolution, can therefore be explained by the nature of the specific society in which the Cuban Trotskyists themselves were conceived and developed.


1. See Appendix E for a graph depicting this rapid and decline in the PBL’s membership during the Revolution of the 1930s.(Back to text)
2. See the list of known Trotskyists in Cuba in Appendix F for a comprehensive picture of the breadth of the Cuban Trotskyists’ geographical spread in the 1930s.(Back to text)
3. One lesson which can be drawn from the history of official communism in Cuba is that membership figures alone are meaningless in terms of providing a measure for a party’s revolutionary socialist capacity. Certainly given the depth of the official communists’ social chauvinism and Popular Frontism from the mid-1930s, no member of the official communist party could be considered anything approaching a revolutionary communist.(Back to text)
4. Alexander, RJ, (1973), op cit, pp. 215-235; and Broué, P, (1982), op cit, pp. 13-30.(Back to text)
5. See Chapter One, pages 8-9 for my review of the debate over the essence of Maurín’s political thought.(Back to text)


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