Setting the record straight on the Cuban Trotskyists: a reply to Gary Tennant

Les Schaffer godzilla at
Wed Oct 25 21:28:33 MDT 2000

[Part I of greater than 30 Kb post from Jose Peres ]

    For quite some time, Gary Tennant has been waging a single-minded
campaign on this list and elsewhere to rehabilitate the insanely ultraleft
and provocative Trotskyist sect that operated in Cuba in the early 1960s,
the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (Trotskista).

    The political motive for this is transparent. It is one more in a long
series of attacks by self-proclaimed Trotskyists of various currents against
the Cuban revolution and its leadership.

    The record of the Cuban revolution is there, plain for all to see. I'm
not going to waste the list's time defending it. Most of us here are
veterans of the movement: if you don't get it by now, certainly nothing I
can say is likely to change your mind.

     But in trying to rehabilitate the Cuban Trotskyists politically,
Tennant has accused me of having distorted the record, and suggests I might
have even falsified and fabricated evidence to make it seem as if the Cuban
Trotskyists demanded that the revolutionary government expel the United
States military from the Guantánamo naval base by force. Tennant claims the
Cuban Trotskyists did not do this:

"Yes, Jose, I do argue that the one, single phrase to be found in
all the Cuban Posadist newspapers, leaflets and pamphlets that I
have read which appears to call on the expulsion of the U.S.
from the Guantanamo Base was not at all an incitement to launch
an attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo. As Adolfo
Gilly argued, it was more a general propaganda slogan along the
lines of expelling the U.S. from the Panama Canal, which all
sorts of groups have carried at some time. Your very well
referenced article simply doesn't come up with another instance
when the Cuban Posadists raised the issue of 'expulsion' and
you were very unfair in saying that the Cuban Posadists
'launched' such a campaign from the pages of their newspaper....

"[Y]our article is  thoroughly misleading to a non-Cuban audience on this
'incitement' charge."

    In going on about "one, single phrase,"  it is Gary Tennant who is
misleading this list, as I will show.

    Tennant's polemic against me continues a controversy that is now
over two decades old. SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes had said, in a
speech on the XX anniversary of the Cuban revolution, that the Trotskyist
movement (by which he meant the currents in the USec) had missed an
opportunity to influence the Cuban leadership in the first years of the

    "Unfortunately, in Cuba, Trotskyism was misrepresented by a group that
followed a cult leader named Juan Posadas. Their specialty was passing out
leaflets demanding a march on the Guantánamo naval base, while the Cubans
were trying to consolidate the revolution. They denounced the leaders of the
revolution for not being socialists."

    Barnes's speech was, in part, a continuation of the long series of
polemics between the SWP and other Trotskyists, especially in Europe.
This long-running rivalry had dominated much of the internal life of the FI
(International Secretariat) since that body was reconstituted after W.W.II,
and of various split-offs and public factions derived from it, until the SWP
turned its back on the United Secretariat in the late 1980s, after I had
withdrawn from the party.

    Thus it is hardly surprising that others involved in this long-running
dispute would answer. That answer came in the form of an open letter to
Barnes by Adolfo Gilly, a prominent Argentine Trotskyist and author, who had
been in the Cuban Trotskyists group for a while in the early 1960s.

    Gilly said the POR(T)'s politics hadn't been all that bad, and accused
Barnes of lying about Guantánamo:

    "The center of your [Barnes's] argument ... is that their 'specialty'
(by which I understand main or almost exclusive activity) consisted of
proposing a march on Guantánamo.
    "That's a lie."
    "The rest of your argument also collapses along with this point."

    Earlier in the letter Gilly had said, "The Trotskyists, like all the
Cubans beginning with the revolutionary government itself, denounced the
military presence of imperialism in Guantánamo, and called for its
expulsion, just as in our propaganda we call for the expulsion of
imperialism from Latin America. It should not be forgotten that the recovery
of Guantánamo was among the five points of the Cubans during the October
1962 crisis."

    I was at the time a member of the SWP and of its leadership, and was
assigned to do a response to Gilly. Gilly's letter and a similar by another
Latin American Trotskyist, Angel Fanjul, were printed together with my reply
in the May 11, 1981, Intercontinental Press.

    The MAIN POINT of my reply was not about Guantánamo, however, but simply
a description, with a detailed recounting of various incidents and issues
from the early 1960s, why it was a sectarian error, to put it mildly, for
the Trotskyists to have set up their own "vanguard" party separate from and
counterposed to the actual real leadership of the revolution, and to have
called for the removal of the revolutionary government from power.

    [I still agree with the central theses of the piece, but hasten to add
that today I believe essentially the same thing is true about Trotskyism as
a separate, distinct current. The world that gave rise to and justified
Trotskyism as a separate current ended in the Second World War and
its aftermath. Cuba was the final confirmation of this fact, if any more
were needed after China, Yugoslavia, etc. Just as Marx and Engels understood
that the old organizational form of the Communist League was unsuitable
after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848, and ditto for the International
after the fall of the Commune more than two decades later, the Trotskyist
movement should have understood that the circumstances that had given rise
to a specifically "Trotskyist" movement from the late 1920s through 1930s no
longer obtained.]

    Two decades ago, Gilly and Fanjul were trying to rehabilitate the POR
(t) politically because, in essence, they still agreed with its approach of
being "left" critics and opponents of the Cuban leadership. In his open
letter, for example, Gilly called the Cubans "a typical current of centrist
revolutionaries" -- whatever that means -- and chided Barnes for speaking of
the Cubans "too uncritically."

        So the question was not merely a historical one, as indeed I believe
it is not in this case either.

        I've said before on this list that I believe the reply I wrote then
was accurate and fair, but that I was not in a position to defend every last
formulation because I had neither a copy of my article nor the material it
had been based on.

    I think this must have encouraged Tennant to try to pull off a little
bit of a swindle: if even the author of the piece in question had not been
motivated to look it up after the issue had been kicking around for a year
or so, who would? So he decided to push the envelope a little bit, and
suggest that, really, apart from one poorly formulated article, the
Posadistas weren't all that ultraleft about Guantánamo.

        Louis Proyect is undoubtedly right when he answered Tennant that
Guantánamo was really a side issue, the real issue is the utter stupidity of
a few dozen people setting up a "Revolutionary Workers Party" counterposed
to the real leadership and course of development of the revolution.

        And as Louis said, looking for a smoking gun some 40 years later on
something like this is an exercise in futility.

        But it just so happens that Tennant's magnum opus, "The Hidden Pearl
of the Caribbean -- Trotskyism in Cuba,"  coupled with his latest blast
against me, led Walter Lippman, another former SWPer, to track down and send
me photocopies of what was printed in 1981 in Intercontinental Press.

    And guess what. The smoking gun is there. Fingerprints and all.

    Reading what I wrote then, and then re-reading what Tenant has posted
here, has led me to the conclusion that Tennant has distorted what I wrote,
and is giving people on this list a false impression about the content of
what I wrote. And the way he has done so suggests to me it is likely
this was not an unconscious process.

    Take, for example, his statement "Yes, Jose, I do argue that the one,
single phrase to be found in all the Cuban Posadist newspapers, leaflets and
pamphlets that I  have read which appears to call on the expulsion of the
U.S. from the Guantanamo Base was not at all an incitement to launch an
attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo."

    The formulation sounds quite sweeping "... all the Cuban Posadist
newspapers, leaflets and pamphlets." But actually, he doesn't include words
like "magazine," "journal" or "review" -- or generic ones like "publication"
or "document."

    There's a very good reason for this.

    Tennant should have been well aware, although perhaps he hoped
no one else on the list would be, that the most damning and unequivocal
expression of the insanely provocative position of the Cuban Trotskyists on
Guantánamo that I was able to find two decades ago had been put out in a
mimeographed journal called "Supplement to the Latin American Marxist
Review, Cuban Edition" dated October, 1962.

    An article signed by Posadas, head of the "Fourth International" that
the Cuban Trotskyists were part of then, says the following:

    "Yankee imperialism organizes a new invasion of Cuba. Fidel Castro
charges that from Guantánamo the counterrevolution is being organized. The
concrete measure to be adopted is the immediate expulsion of Yankee
imperialism from Guantánamo."

    "The concrete measure to be adopted..." Does THAT sound
like "a general propaganda slogan" which is what Tennant would have us
believe is all the Cuban Trotskyists ever put forward?

    My 1981 article, after quoting that bit about "the concrete measure to
be adopted" continued:

    "To underline that he was not just issuing demands on the imperialists
but making concrete proposals for action, Posadas added, 'The Workers
States, the Communist Parties, the unions, the labor federations of the
Workers States and the whole world, should openly come to the aid of Cuba,
sending armed militias and all sufficient means to crush Yankee

    "As Gilly himself explains," I went on in the 1981 article, "there is a
'qualitative difference' between raising 'propaganda slogans and concretely
proposing to organize a march right now on the Panama Canal. It's the
difference between propaganda and provocation. It was the same in the case
of Guantánamo.' "

    After which I said in my original article, "We rest our case."

    It seeme to me that Tennant had this article in front of him when he
wrote his posts in September. Consider this from the September 23 post that
(re)started this controversy.

    "While Ocean Press and the like feel able to state boldly that the
Cuban Trotskyists agitated for an attack and/or march on the
Naval Base to reclaim it for Cuba, José Perez some years ago
did actually cite some references in support.
In his article in Intercontinental Press, 11 May 1981, pp497-
504, which is ironically entitled 'How Sectarians Misrepresented
Trotskyism in Cuba', José cites a whole host of articles on
which he 'rests his case' in a discussion with Adolfo Gilly over
this issue of whether the Cuban Posadists advocated that Cuba
militarily take over the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo.

    "Seemingly the most damning of the articles which José cites is an
article from the first edition of the POR(T)'s newspaper Voz
Proletaria. José states that 'Voz Proletaria, from its first issue
in April 1960, waged a campaign to demand of the Cuban
government that it expel the U.S. navy from the base at
Guantánamo.' Really, if this is his central source, instead of
resting his case he should have really withdrawn it. Having
trawled the archives (including the SWP(US)'s, Hoover, and
those in Cuba) for leaflets and newspapers of the POR(T),
finding perhaps 30 something of the 42 editions of Voz
Proletaria, how José draws this conclusion is nothing other than
misrepresenting Trotskyism in Cuba. The principal article in
question is the 'El Conflicto de la Base Naval de Guantánamo',
Voz Proletaria (Havana), April 1960, pp4-5, which discusses
the conflict between the U.S. authorities and Cuban workers at
the Base. This comprehensive article, though stating that
'together, the workers of the Naval Base, the people of
Guantánamo and Caimanera and the Cuban masses must
prepare the struggle for the definitive expulsion of imperialism'
(my translation) was far from a provocative incitement to storm
the Naval Base. Instead it was one single sentence in a much
wider article which emphasised the defence of the trade union
organisations inside the Base."

[to be continued]

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