Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 10 No. 1
Celia Hart Santamaría (1963–2008)
CELIA Hart Santamaría (CHS) has attracted a great deal of attention among the Trotskyist currents for her claim to be a Trotskyist able, or at least proposing, to reconcile Trotsky’s revolutionary thought and strategy with that of the regime that emerged from the revolution led by Fidel Castro and by Che Guevara. (Those currents have not admitted the challenge of the strategic divergence/s between Fidel and Che. No more had CHS.) Immediately this raises once again the decades-long argument within Trotskyism on the nature and class character of the Cuban state; the phenomenon which she constituted cannot even be described without taking a view on this question. In those states which the majority of Trotskyists can bring themselves to agree had been Stalinist (the East European ‘buffer zone’, China, North Korea), the eventual re-emergence of interest in Trotsky was widely expected, even where the experience of presently-existing Trotskyism proved a disappointment to the new Trotskyists. The question in Cuba is less straightforward. In Cuba, Trotskyism (along with anarchism) had been suppressed as effectively as in the acknowledged Stalinist states. Years of support to the Cuban regime by the US SWP and its international allies, as well as some minor currents, had not resulted in any indication of interest in Trotskyism among workers or intellectuals – successive US Presidents had seen to it that Cubans united behind the regime. The Castro regime found nothing in Trotskyism to suppress after the POR(T) was broken in 1973. And yet, a Trotskyist comet burst out of the Cuban sky (clear pure popular blue, or starless Stalinist black, according to your analysis). Such was CHS.
CHS and her brother Abel were killed in a car accident on Sunday, 7 September 2008 while travelling through the Miramar district of Havana, Cuba. They were the children of Haydée Santamaria, a major figure in the Cuban revolution, one of the band who (with Fidel and Raúl Castro, Che Guevara and others) attacked the Moncada Barracks on 26 July 1953, and of Armando Hart, who was already imprisoned as a student leader of the Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario (MNR) at the time of the Moncada attack and for many years served the revolution as Minister of Culture.
CHS studied physics, first at the University of Havana, and from 1982 at Dresden in the (then) German Democratic Republic. She described how she was repelled by the personality cult of Honecker, and the suffocating effect of the rule of the bureaucracy, while admiring the standard of living achieved in the GDR’s planned economy. (The US paper Labor Standard has reproduced a speech of Fidel Castro in 1968, in which he reports that Cuba scholarship students in the Stalinist states were depressed and demoralised with the politics they encountered.) During a holiday in Cuba, she discussed her impressions and doubts with her father, who gave her Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed and Deutscher’s biography of Trotsky to read.  She has described her powerful response to these illuminations, how they made sense of the conflict between her love for the revolution and her loathing of the reality that had emerged from it in the GDR. It was to be some time before she had access to further Trotskyist material. In the GDR there were tiny numbers influenced by, and tinier numbers in contact with, the larger international Trotskyist tendencies, but they would have been well advised to avoid contact with distinguished overseas students. Despite this lack of political contact, she has described herself outraging friends by predicting the collapse of the GDR, on the basis of the absence of socialism from its ethos and operation.
After completing her studies in 1987, she returned to Cuba and resumed scientific work at the University of Havana, receiving a PhD in physics. Consistent with her energy and commitment, she wrote a considerable number of scientific papers. She specialised in magnetism and superconductivity, contributing particularly to the development of magnetic resonance imagery, which had valuable medical applications.
Having had the opportunity to read more of Trotsky, as a result of which she has said ‘Everything fell into place’, she left the university in 2004 to devote her time and energy to political writing and speaking. It is not clear how her new career was economically possible. In Cuba the most distinguished of academics are very poorly paid, and one meets numerous holders of doctorates who have abandoned academe for the chance to earn a slightly better living as tourist guides and bar staff. But the life of a freelance writer pushing a minority political line must be beyond precarious. And most of the Trotskyist journals and websites do not regularly pay for contributed articles or interviews.
Her first article promoting Trotsky, The Flag of Coyoacán, appeared in November 2003 on a Spanish website promoting Cuba solidarity, but attracted little attention. In May 2004, however, when the Cuban magazine Tricontinental published her article “Socialism in One Country” and the Cuban Revolution, this in effect launched her international career as a Trotskyist. The US group Socialist Action translated and published it in pamphlet form, and as a supplement to their monthly newspaper. Walter Lippmann, a Los Angeles–based socialist activist and long-time friend of the Cuban revolution, also posted a translation of the article on his website, which focuses mainly on Cuba. She quickly became a much in demand speaker at conferences of Trotskyist tendencies around the world, among them the International Marxist Tendency (Grant–Woods), the ‘official’ Fourth International and the Freedom Socialist Party/Radical Women, accepting opportunities to speak at their conferences, having her writings distributed on their websites and printed in their journals. Even Workers Vanguard, on most occasions predictably the grouchiest of critics (when it can bring itself to recognise the existence of individuals outside its tendency at all), found a kind word to say of her.
CHS, however, was careful not to join any of the organisations that welcomed her. And she described the differences among them as insignificant, deriving from their isolation. Nor, as far as we can tell, did she attempt to build a Trotskyist organisation of any kind in Cuba. In an interview she described herself as a ‘Trotskera’, not a Trotskyist – that is, an independent follower of Trotsky’s ideas, not a member of a Trotskyist organisation.
In her articles she claims Trotsky as a true and misunderstood ally of the Cuban revolution, and particularly sought to reconcile Trotskyist and Guevarist positions. That this endeavour had become possible at all is noteworthy, and the courage required to undertake it is admirable. ‘Trotsky comes to us from within our own ranks. He is the twin brother of Che.’, she writes. The essence of her position has been distilled in a number of articles about her, which is broadly in line with that of the Joseph Hansen tendency in the US SWP and its international allies, that the Soviet Stalinists exercised a harmful influence over the Cuban revolution, but did not succeed in destroying it as they did in the European satellites. A powerful bureaucracy developed during the period of Soviet influence, but during and following the ‘special period’ (the decade following the collapse of Stalinism in Europe and its economic support for Cuba) this was beaten back and is now no more than a potential danger.
CHS described to the USA paper Labor Standard a letter from Fidel Castro (whom she had known from childhood) which concluded with the assertion that she was not to be discouraged from expressing her views. ‘No one will hurt a single hair on your beautiful head’, wrote Castro. We are forced to conclude that the Trotskyists of the POR(T) suppressed and imprisoned by the Castro regime in the 1960s and into the early 1970s must have had ugly heads indeed to have earned Fidel’s vituperations. As far as we know, CHS never criticised the suppression of the POR(T), but one article about her reported she had made contact with some of the elderly survivors of the POR(T) who had historically been influential among the working class in the city of Guantanamo, in particular 90-year-old Ydalberto Ferrera (who served out five years of his nine-year sentence) and his son Juan Leon Ferrera (sentenced to nine years, of which he served only 18 months, discharged as a model prisoner).
(For readers to whom the history of Trotskyism in Cuba is unfamiliar, we recommend The Hidden Pearl of the Caribbean. Trotskyism in Cuba, Revolutionary History, Volume 7, no. 3 (Socialist Platform, London 2000). This volume consists of edited sections from Gary Tennant’s PhD thesis, and a selection of supporting documents. The full thesis is available at http://www.cubantrotskyism.net/PhD/central.html. Also of importance, at www.whatnextjournal.co.uk/Pages/History/Cuba.html are primary documents on the POR(T)’s dispute with the Barnes SWP on the facts of the POR(T)’s positions and activity prior to their repression, and which bear upon the failure of the various international currents adequately to support the POR(T).)
A rumour received some circulation to the effect that she had been expelled from the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in 2005. She publicly denied this, saying she had voluntarily left the party, while determined to continue to defend the Cuban revolution from outside the ranks of the PCC. Why she felt better able to defend the revolution outside than inside the ruling party has not yet been elucidated. The facts that she and Abel were buried among prominent supporters of the revolution, and that the deaths were reported in Granma and on state TV (with of course no reference to her political line) would seem to bear out her claim to a considerable, but not conclusive, extent. Some of her reported conversations indicate that her membership was ‘suspended’ for a period before her departure, during which ‘the plug was pulled’ on her right to promote her positions within the party. She referred in interviews to comrades who could not reconcile her Trotskyism with her defence of the Cuban revolution, but so far we do not seem to have the benefit of access to records of any such discussions within the PCC. (For the sake of completeness in the record, I mention an article Celia Hart: In Memoriam, by Jorge Gómez Barata, from the Cuban weekly Progresso (18–24 September 2008), which disputes what Barata takes to be CHS’s positions. This is available on Walter Lippmann’s website, though he makes clear his distaste for it.) Nor is it clear that she had any formal status within the PCC that would require her views to be considered (though the matter of her distinguished parentage and personal friendship with Fidel Castro may well have weighed more heavily than whether she had the support of any constituency). At the time of writing, these would seem to remain unresolved questions.
Her descriptions of her position in relation to the tendencies present within the PCC, and their approaches to the crisis arising from the illness of Fidel Castro, at least as far as they are available in English, are at best gnomic. It is however fairly clear from a number of sources that she opposed the line of Raúl Castro, the ‘Chinese Road’ to re-establishment of capitalism with a strong state influence (describing it on at least one occasion as ‘a nightmare possibility’). The available data are inadequate to allow us at this point to assess whether her voluntary separation from the party was an outward sign of a hidden stage in the PCC’s progress towards a strategic decision.
CHS found a platform in a wide range of international speaking engagements. In November 2007, she participated in a rally in Caracas, Venezuela, calling for a ‘Yes’ vote in the constitutional referendum on 2 December 2007 on a basis of critical support to Chávez. She participated in the November 2006 conference in Algeria in solidarity with the working women of Nazareth (Palestine).
An aspect of CHS received little appreciation among the international Trotskyist tendencies – her focus on the sensuous, physical side of human life. A comparison with Kollontai is inevitable. Here, for example, in an interview for Rebelión, she describes Fidel Castro, responding to an accusation that he is ‘macho’:
People exist who do not know how to use any of their senses or sensuality. The corruption of this civilisation, the lack of sensuality; the inability to achieve orgasm, the spiritual frigidity (anorgasmia) in which we live, and of which we are all guilty, has turned us into nothings, neither men nor women, neither machos nor hembras nor gays, neither rhinoceroses nor bees.
It’s obvious that he’s macho! Whoever among us is a woman, whether of the hips or of the heart – and all genuine men and women, if they are sincere – must recognise that Fidel is the ‘leader of the pack’ or ‘chief horse of the herd’. And he’s a stud horse who sires good fillies and colts.
I’m not being sexist. The dominant horse in a herd is something that exists, as are Alpha males and females, macho men and dominatrixes. (The queen bee, for example, is the boss of the beehive.) I am overpowered by Fidel’s hands. He moves them as if he were a flamenco dancer. Guayasamín [the Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo] has painted them very well. They dance, they whirl about, they contain ideas, and there is no way, no human way anyhow, of resisting the movement of those hands.
It would be entertaining to observe such ideas presented at one of those interminable ‘aggregate meetings’ in dreary rooms above London pubs, that constitute the inner life of Trotskyism. Nevertheless, the Trotskyists who have obituarised her all found her a warm and lovable comrade. (All of them assumed the right to write about her under her first name.)
Some of CHS’s political articles in English can be found at websites, including the Marxists Internet Archive http://www.marxists.org/archive/celia-hart/index.htm. This selection is based substantially on the material assembled by Walter Lippmann (http://www.walterlippmann.com/celiahart.html). Material is continuing to be translated and posted at a rapid rate and any attempt at a list would be out of date before this journal goes to print. A broader range of her writings in Spanish may be found on the website www.rebelion.org. At least three selections of her articles are available in print, including It’s Never Too Late To Love Or Rebel, and Celia Hart Speaks: The Cuban Revolution and a World in Revolt. All of this material is central to the urgent task of clarifying the Trotskyist line on Cuba.
Celia Hart Santamaría, 46, is survived by her two sons, José Julián (16) and Ernesto (11).
1. This is not as improbable as it may seem. A member of the Revolutionary History Editorial Board saw volumes of both Trotsky and Deutscher in second-hand bookshops in Havana in 2008.
Updated by ETOL: 1.11.2011