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J.B. Stuart

Cuba’s Elections:
Background & Analysis

(July 1944)

From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.7, July 1944, pp.205-208.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The outcome of the Cuban elections of June 1, 1944 can be understood only as another, highly important manifestation of the reawakening anti-imperialist struggle that has recently been sweeping Central America and the Spanish speaking countries of the Western hemisphere. The victory of Ramon Grau San Martin and his “Autentico” Party (Partido Revolucionario Cubano) over the Government coalition of Batista and the Stalinists shows that the masses of the island Republic are as eager to rid themselves of the rule of Wall Street’s puppets as the masses in other Latin American countries.

This does not, naturally, mean that by the election of Grau as president they have made positive headway in the direction they actually desire. For, Grau is formally pledged to support the war of the “democratic” imperialists and his old reputation as an anti-Wall Street warrior – already suspect by that very fact – has still to stand the practical test of a term in office.

The election result must be taken, rather, as an indication of the growing revolutionary anger against the redoubled exploitation which colonial and semi-colonial peoples are forced to suffer under the war-time conditions of the imperialist world.

Immediate Economic Causes

As in most Latin American countries, the war has entailed an increase in the cost of living and a corresponding downward sweep of living standards far more severe than similar phenomena in the United States. Curtailed imports of necessities, and an ever stricter confinement to the one-crop (in Cuba: sugar) system foisted by imperialism on most Anglo-Saxon colonies in the Carribean, have raised prices of primary commodities beyond the reach of most of the population. The increase in nominal wages during the early war years – for which the Stalinist leaders of Cuban Confederation of Labor (Confederation de Trabajadores Cubanos) like to take the credit – has long since been outraced by living costs and now, as in the United States, wages have been frozen – something which the Stalinists do not like to, but unquestionably can also take “credit” for.

Added to their economic misery, which the masses correctly ascribe to Yankee imperialism and its war – a war they cannot find any tangible reason to be enthusiastic over – are the burdens imposed by graft, corruption and political oppression under the eleven year old “democratic” dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

The Stalinists have the dominant position in the Confederacion de Trabajadores Cubanos, organized a few years ago, which embraces most of the working population of the island. Their present position is due primarily to their former anti-imperialist and militant role. They organized the trade union movement in their radical past. Since “people’s front” days (1935) they had been flirting with Batista. Since June 21, 1941 they have actually become a government prop. In turn the Batista government has done all it could to integrate the Stalinist trade union leadership as part of its quasi-totalitarian machine.

With the CTC membership getting out of their control as the Stalinist march toward reactionary politics accelerated, General Secretary Lazaro Peno and his henchmen found new means of maintaining and entrenching themselves. Assisted by Batista’s Ministry of Labor machinery, they have not only been able to flaunt a few fake concessions to cover up their miserable strike-breaking role (such as the government seizure of the Bacardi firm, a stunt on the style of Roosevelt’s Montgomery Ward “seizure”) but more ominously, to gag and purge internal trade union oppositions. For their part, the Stalinists have rigidly enforced the no-strike rule and virtually transformed the trade union apparatus into a veritable auxiliary police force of the government.

Composition of the Two Electoral “Blocs”

Sweeping resentment made itself felt in many unauthorized strikes as well as in mass demonstrations. The Batista regime felt compelled to hold an election which, considering its past record of terror and intimidation, was relatively free.

Arrayed in the election struggle were two blocs. One, the government bloc, called itself the Democratic Socialist Coalition. It was composed of the Liberals and the Democrats, parties long associated with Batista’s dictatorship, and the Stalinists, who recently changed their name to “Popular Socialist Party.”

The other, the opposition bloc, rallied around the Cuban Revolutionary Party, known popularly as the “Autenticos.” This party played a leading role in overthrowing the regime of General Gerardo Machada in the anti-imperialist revolt of 1933. Its leader, Grau, was one of the provisional presidents in the interregnum that followed the revolt. His few months in office during 1934 were marked by several anti-Wall Street acts, the best known of which was a decree requiring all business enterprises to employ at least 50 per cent native Cubans.

In order to understand the evaluation made by the Cuban masses of these two blocs it is necessary to go beyond the surface issues and platforms. According to the press reports, Grau declared for “Cubanidad,” (Cubanism), asserted the need for “collaboration of all classes,” proclaimed “fair treatment of foreign capital” and hailed “collaboration in international relations rather than blind nationalism.” All these vague and ambiguous aims could equally be found in the platform of the Government coalition in somewhat different language.

He also accused the Batista regime of “mismanagement of the war economy,” of causing inflation and food shortages and of tolerating the black market. While these latter issues undoubtedly struck closer to home among the masses, in themselves they could not have been decisive as long as both contestants approved of the war, which has been used to justify their hardships.

The decisive factors in the Cuban masses’ election verdict can be found only in the experiences of the past eleven years. The wartime conditions only served to accentuate and dramatize these experiences for them. A brief review of this past is therefore in order.

Review of the Political Background

In 1933, under the impact of the world economic crisis the proletariat and the students, the agrarian masses and the petty functionaries overthrew by a popular revolt the dictatorship of General Machada, whose regime applied in Cuba the general line of Wall Street: to shift the burden of the crisis – through wage cuts and reduction of the budget – on the lower classes of the population under its control.

Labor organization, political life, national and anti-imperialist sentiment swept the country under the provisional regime of Grau San Martin, a university professor at Havana who led the uprising of the students.

American imperialism was alarmed. The Roosevelt New Deal started out on its vaunted “Good Neighbor” policy ... by refusing recognition to the revolutionary Cuban government early in 1934.

The Army, in which the uprising was reflected by a “sergeants’ revolt,” remained a doubtful factor. Through Ambassador Sumner Welles – yes, the self-same the latter-day liberal saint – Yankee capitalism negotiated with the leader of the military insurgents, Sergeant Fulgencio Batista and won the army over against the revolution. Batista became Wall Street’s “strong man,” who upheld the hand of the successive puppet presidents to whom Washington deigned to grant recognition.

The Cuban army, 18,000 strong in peace time, could not but play a first rank role in the life of a country with a population of approximately 4,000,000. Together with the political police and the rural constabulary, all tightly controlled by the General Staff, this disproportionately large armed force could not be supported financially by an impoverished colonial people. From the first, the Washington powers had grasped this situation and, by manifold manipulations, they have fostered it as a reactionary tool to serve their interests. Even in the midst of an economic depression loans were found with which to maintain and even expand the Cuban army. Batista became entrenched.

Rule by decree became the law of the land. Strikes were prohibited, trade unions persecuted, political propaganda suppressed. The revolutionary masses, frustrated in their aims, seethed. The working class party which might then have welded them together for another successful assault, the young Communist Party of Cuba, was engaged in the ultra-leftism and divisive tactics characteristic of the “Third Period.”

The Trotskyists, expelled from the CP only a year or so previously, did all they could to contribute political cohesion to the movement but with their meager forces could not overcome the preponderance of the adventurist petty bourgeois politics that dominated it.

The General Strike of 1935

In March 1935, the Autentico Party of Grau San Martin called a General Strike for which a united front “Committee of Proletarian Defense” was set up. The Stalinists called a General Strike under their own auspices and denounced the former as “social fascists.” With the insurgent forces thus split, preparations inadequate and action premature, the strike was foredoomed to failure.

Batista declared a state of war. In three days of terror and bloodshed, the army crushed the strike. A curfew was proclaimed for nine at night. Not more than three persons were permitted to gather in the streets at any time. The trade union headquarters were raided and padlocked. The government admitted taking a toll of 30 dead among the strikers, among them the Trotskyist Crescencio Freire, and 900 prisoners. Six to ten year sentences were imposed upon trade union leaders, among them over a score of Trotskyists. The very carrying of a trade union card was made subject to imprisonment.

As an aftermath to the strike, Antonio Guiteras, the Autentico leader of Joven Cuba, the Left Wing youth organization which had been in the vanguard of all the revolutionary developments, was assassinated by Batista’s thugs as he was about to embark for a trip to Central America. Guiteras had come out of the upheaval with tremendous prestige. A brilliant and courageous leader, he had grown politically from the experience and was at the time of his assassination moving close to Trotskyism.

The brutal suppression of the General Strike and the assassination and imprisonment of its outstanding leaders concluded the revolutionary period and opened up the period of reactionary “stabilization” under the Batista dictatorship. For five years the country was ruled by dictatorial decree. With “stabilization” assured, Washington gave the signal for a “democratization” of the regime. A war was coming and democratic illusions were on the order of the day for imperialist policy.

In 1940 Batista promulgated a constitution and began to restore civil rights in piecemeal fashion. During the elections held that year under the new constitution, Batista succeeded in getting himself elected over Grau for the presidency. The masses had not yet had much of an opportunity for political life and Batista’s new turn undoubtedly gained him a certain popularity among the masses after the years of dictatorial rule.

Political Revival After 1940

Labor organization flourished under the new conditions. For the first time a single centralized trade union federation was organized in Cuba. Subsidized by the Comintern, the CP naturally had more powerful means of maintaining an illegal existence than the other opposition parties suppressed in 1935. It was therefore not surprising that when trade unions and political organizations were once more legalized, the Stalinists emerged with the greatest organized strength and were able to capture control of the new Cuban Confederation of Labor, the CTC. Control of the trade unions, the base for expansion in many other fields of mass organization, made the Stalinists a powerful political factor in the country. With the entry of the Soviet Union into the war in June 1941, it became evident that collaboration between Batista and the Stalinists was inevitable. Stalin’s war policy denoted support of Wall Street’s puppets. Batista needed a mass base. At the same time, a sharp cleavage between the masses of trade union workers, particularly those under Autentico influence, and the Stalinists became just as inevitable.

Soon after the Stalinist Juan Marinello entered the Batista government, following its declaration of war on the side of the “United Nations,” the CTC was given “official status” by presidential decree. That signified the incorporation of the CTC leadership and its policies into the Ministry of Labor. A government lottery to subsidize the new, $200,000 headquarters of the CTC was another payment made by Batista for Stalinist support.

The Stalinists, for their part, proclaimed their “no strike” policy and proceeded with characteristic thuggery to apply it against the recalcitrant workers. Among other things, they engineered the assassination of the popular Autentico trade union leader Sandalio Junco. Where their terrorist methods didn’t work out so well for them, the strong arm of Batista was always there to lend aid.

Thus, in May 1943, a strike of Autentico railroad workers in Guantanamo, in which Trotskyists played a leading role, proved to be too stubborn for the Stalinists to break by the usual means. The workers stood firm in their demand for a 50 per cent increase in wages to meet a 300 per cent rise in living costs. The strike even began to spread and threatened to take on the form of an area-wide general strike. At this point Batista rushed in troops to man the trains. The strike was finally broken, the leading militants – among them the Trotskyists Juan Medina and Luciano Garcia – were victimized, but the government felt itself compelled nevertheless to grant increases of from 15 to 20 per cent.

Preliminary Clashes

In numerous other struggles of a similar nature, the lineup for the election contest was similarly foreshadowed. While the Stalinists were still able to maintain their sway over a considerable section of the workers and the population as a whole – in part through their bureaucratic job control and in part because of the prestige of the Soviet Union with which they tend to be identified in the popular mind – the most militant sections of the working class had turned decisively against them, against Batista and, of course, against the policy of supporting American imperialism common to both. Opposition to the Stalinists and to Batista was naturally associated with the great struggles of 1933, 1934 and 1935. Out of those struggles against imperialism and for national and social liberation, the political figure of Grau San Martin arose with the least blemish and with the greatest prestige. It was not for the miserable “platform” of Grau, but for the revolutionary banner of 1933-1935 and against “continuismo” – the tendency of the Batista regime to perpetuate itself – that the Cuban masses cast their decisive majority in the presidential elections.

This analysis is substantiated by the result of the elections for the two houses of the Cuban legislature. There, with nondescript political groupings and personages aligned with both blocs, the so-called Democratic Socialist Coalition elected a majority of Senators in four out of the six provinces and obtained a majority in the lower house over the Autentico-Republican coalition. There the Stalinists also obtained a slight increase in votes.

Grau’s main base of support, as already indicated, lay in the masses of Autentico workers who have been in continual conflict with the Batista regime and the Stalinist leaders of the CTC. It is therefore not surprising that one of the first declarations of policy by the President-elect has dealt with the trade unions. In it he openly proclaims his intention of intervening by state means in the CTC against Stalinist control. The latter have opened a campaign on this subject, hypocritically protesting today against government intervention in the unions, which they invited and welcomed only yesterday. They make a big show of being for trade union democracy now, with “fullest rights for every political tendency” – yesterday they were carrying on a violent drive (unsuccessful to be sure) to run the Trotskyists out of the labor movement.

Grau Adopts a Batista Policy

Grau’s announced “trade union policy” provides grave cause for apprehension – but only because it follows in the well-trodden footsteps of Batista. A struggle against it, which is vital to the task of reestablishing the independence of the unions, is unthinkable, however, without a concomitant fight against the Stalinist originators of this reactionary policy.

What the new president intends to do to live up to his anti-imperialist past record is not known. If he has anything in mind, he has kept it secret. But it has been rumored that “American interests” are discouraging plots for coups d’Etat hatched by Batista’s military camarilla. (One such plot was quickly exposed and its sponsor, a Batista-made general, fled by plane to ... Miami). Apparently Big Business has a little scheme to housebreak Grau – if not as yet an understanding with him.

For the Stalinists, the election has undoubtedly been a heavy blow. If the Autentico leader goes through with his declared plans, they stand to lose many government posts as well as their strangle-hold on the trade union apparatus. Their whole powerful machine (it is more ramified, richer relative to the size of the country, and far more influential than the US Stalinist machine) stands in danger of cracking up. Although they accuse Grau of being a tool of the Falangists (what is true is that he did receive editorial support from such organs as the Diario de la Marina, the reactionary Havana daily which has been known to espouse the cause of the Franco-inspired Fascists) that should not deter them from doing all they can to make a deal with him. Indeed, in the Daily Worker (July 14), a report informs us that the Stalinist leader Blas Roca, secretary of the “Popular Socialist Party” can see “no obstacle to united work with Grau should he show himself willing to accept unity.”

Both the interests of the Cuban Stalinist bureaucracy and that in the Kremlin dictate such a line. Only a falling out between Grau and Washington could seriously change it.

The future of the anti-imperialist trend indicated by the elections and the strike struggle preceding it will not, however, be decided by the actions of Grau or of the Stalinists – though their capacity to impede it cannot and must not be underestimated. The masses are on the move and their voice will, it can be expected, be heard in ever greater volume in the coming political life of the Island republic. The success of their aspirations is tied up with the ability of the conscious vanguard of the working class – the Trotskyists – to place themselves at the head of the struggle and to pursue the tested policies of the Fourth International in the course of its development.

The Trotskyist Movement in Cuba

The Trotskyists in Cuba are known as the Partido Revolucionario Obrero or Revolutionary Workers Party. First appearing on the scene as an independent political grouping in 1932, they grew rapidly in the stirring days of 1933-1935. But they were completely outlawed and decimated in the terror that followed the defeat of the Autentico-sponsored General Strike. Since then the organization has slowly recuperated, working illegally and semi-legally, and only recently regained its place as a factor in the political life of the country. After years of a stifled sectarian existence underground, these valiant comrades have with great hardship and many sacrifices, established a firm mass base, particularly in the Oriente and Guantanamo provinces, where the Trotskyists enjoy considerable trade union influence, primarily among workers, the majority of whom still follow the Autentico leadership politically.

Trotskyists came as delegates to last year’s national congress of the CTC and there defeated decisively the Stalinists’ attempts to oust them from the unions. Aside from their successful self-defense, they played a great and prominent role in the deliberations of the Congress as a whole. They put forward resolutions embodying the Transitional Program of the Fourth International which received wide minority support. They took the leading part in preventing a split of the trade union movement proposed by the Autentico leaders on provocation from the Stalinists, who mismanaged credentials and used their other well-known machine tricks to impose their line on the Congress. The Autentico workers upheld the Trotskyists against their own leaders in the caucuses and togather with them formed an organized Revolutionary Trade Union Opposition to combat Stalinism within the united Confederation. (A full account of the events centering around the Congress can be found in the August, 1943 issue of the Fourth International).

As a result, the prestige of the Trotskyist trade unionists was greatly increased, and their influence has been growing steadily.

In the current elections, the PRO attempted to get on the ballot at least for the municipal contests. The Supreme Court, after a legal struggle, denied them the right. The party then held a write-in campaign for Mayor and Alderman in Guantanumo. As its candidates, it ran comrades Juan Medina and Luciano Garcia, the two militants victimized for their part in the railroad workers’ strike the year before. In spite of the wide-spread illiteracy of the workers in that provincial city, the party’s standard bearers received over 1,000 officially counted votes!

Criticism of PRO Election Policy

Unfortunately, the PRO could not participate in the presidential or the national legislative elections with candidates of its own. The central committee, therefore, decided to give critical support to Grau San Martin. Indeed, the support was much more critical than “support.” Nevertheless, the mere act of endorsing the candidacy of Grau deviated from Bolshevik policy in election tactics. Trotskyists have supported candidates of other political organizations 1) when they represented another working class party against capitalist party candidates; 2) when support of such candidates would further the objective of independent labor political action or 3), in the case of colonial countries, when the candidates ran on an unambiguous and uncompromising anti-imperialist platform.

Grau’s candidacy did not fall into any of these categories. On the contrary, in his “platform,” he declared for collaboration with the imperialists of the “United Nations.” His electoral bloc, moreover, included bourgeois nationalists hostile to labor. Under such conditions, support of the Autentico leader was impermissible.

In their declaration on the elections which appeared in the official organ Revolucion Proletaria (May 1, 1944) the PRO comrades correctly evaluate Grau as follows:

“Grau’s turn to the right and to conservatism, which is most clearly expressed in the vice-presidential candidacy of Raul de Cardenas, figures prominently in the domestic reaction, the unconditional abandonment by the Autentico leader of the anti-imperialist struggle in favor of “democratic” imperialism and finally, the presentation by the Partido Revolucionario Cubano of confessed Machada followers as its candidates – such as Aquilino Lombardi and Deldo Nunez Mesa – are proof of the Autentico leadership’s liquidation of all revolutionary manifestations of the party; they indicate how the leadership has broken with the aims and interests of the masses which continue to remember the glorious events of 1933.”

However, from this correct appraisal, they drew the following erroneous and confusing conclusion:

“We do not propose support of Grau San Martin as a ‘lesser evil’; we give him critical support in conformity with the Leninist theory, as a tactic in fighting the immediate enemy of the working class: that is, the military police dictatorship of Batista, disguised under the trappings of the Socialist Democratic Coalition.”

Unquestionably the masses’ first desire was to get rid of the self-perpetuating Batista regime. And unquestionably, that is why they rushed pell mell to the illusory hope represented by Grau’s Autentico banner. But, that is precisely why it was the task of the revolutionists to clearly dissociate themselves from that treacherous banner and, in the best way possible to make heard the voice of genuine anti-imperialist struggle.

Under the circumstances, that was a most difficult task. The masses, in the heat of the election contest, would not perhaps have paid much heed to the party voice. But, in the stormy days to come, such a stand would undoubtedly have redounded to the greater prestige and strength of the party which alone refused to join in upholding the treacherous politicians of either camp, and which traced the clear and correct course while all the others vied to confuse and deceive the masses.

The PRO is now engaged in a discussion and reevaluation of its electoral policy, in which co-thinkers in other countries are participating. By virtue of mutual and comradely criticism and aid, the young PRO will gain in theoretical strength, solidify its already important progress in mass influence and learn to overcome the manifold and complicated obstacles that confront it on the road toward establishing itself as the party of the Cuban proletariat. Its responsibility is enormous. For, only with a party grounded in Marxist theory and Bolshevik tactics can the Cuban revolution hope to conquer.

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