[Part II] Setting the record straight on the Cuban Trotskyists: a reply to Gary Tennant

Les Schaffer godzilla at SPAMnetmeg.net
Wed Oct 25 21:31:43 MDT 2000

[Part II from Jose Perez]

    I said that Tennant must have had my article before him, as twice he
echoes the "we rest our case" line in what he writes. Yet he makes it seem
as if the main piece of evidence I had introduced was the April, 1960, Voz
Proletaria article, when in fact I quoted no fewer than six different issues
of publications by Trotskyists of the Posadas current, not just reiterating
the call for "expelling" imperialism, but reporting on Cuban POR efforts to
organize demonstrations around this demand, and, finally, insisting that the
time to act on it was right now.

    These included publications of Argentine, Mexican and Bolivian
Trotskyists as well as the Cuban one which Tennant mentions. It also
includes the OTHER Cuban one he fails to mention, the one with
Posadas's article in it, the "smoking gun."

    Now in the post I quoted above Tennant goes so far as to raise doubts
about whether I made this stuff up:

    "Anyway, to those who aren't quite happy enough just deferring to what
the Cuban government says and who look to make sense of the direction of the
Revolution, its errors, successes and potential, please let me know if
you've seen in any archive any of these leaflets and newspapers which after
six years of searching only Jose claims to have seen. Maybe they do exist,
but they are not in Hansen's papers held in either New York or Stanford, and
not in Cuba, either at the National Library Jose Marti or the Instituto de
Historia de Cuba where there are indeed collections of the Cuban Posadists'

    First, my article was extremely precise about the sources I used and
where they could be found: "The SWP's archives have an extensive collection
of publications and leaflets published by the Cuba POR(T), and some from the
POR(T)'s cothinkers in Latin America. we have a complete set of Quatrième
Internationale and Fourth International, the French- and English-language
organs of the International Executive Committee." And each and every
quotation I used is precisely sourced, stating the publication where it
appeared and the date of the specific issue where it appeared.

    I did that for a reason. Gilly had said in his original, "If there are
documents in the SWP's files that prove what you said, I'd like to see them,
and I'd be willing to correct my own view. Obviously I can't prove a
negative fact--that the Cuban Trotskyists did not have such a 'specialty.' "

    Well, as it turned out, there were such documents in the SWP's files.

    I did not seek access to and did not use Joseph Hansen's personal
papers, Cuban government archives, or anything else like that. I don't
believe that I went outside the building at all in looking for material, it
wasn't necessary.

    While hardly the main point in dispute, it was important to the SWP to
demonstrate definitively that what Barnes had said could be backed up with
extensive documentary proof.

    And to show up now, two decades later, with statements like whether
anyone else has been able to find  "any of these leaflets and newspapers
which after six years of searching only José claims to have seen" is

    This wasn't "Jose" as an individual claiming to have seen something, it
was a report by one of the SWP's leaders, acting on assignment and on behalf
of the leadership as a whole, on the material in the SWP's archives, which
the SWP had been specifically challenged to produce, and which it did.

    Moreover, anyone familiar with the functioning of the SWP's national
apparatus at that time, and especially Intercontinental Press, knows that I
had to submit to the IP editors copies of all the articles I referenced or
quoted in my piece, so that each and every quotation, translation, date, and
proper name could be --and undoubtedly was-- double-checked. This was
standard operating procedure for everything printed in Intercontinental
Press or The Militant.

    The accuracy, completeness and fairness of the factual material I
incorporated went unchallenged at the time. Comrades disagreed with my
analysis, politics and conclusions, but no one questioned the factual
research and reporting underlying the piece. Gilly was associated with the
majority current in the United Secretariat "Fourth International" at the
time, and the SWP would have as a matter of course given him access to all
the articles I used and anything else in the archives that he might have
wanted to see.

    Tennant's suggestion that there is something fishy going on is
especially dishonest when you consider that he knew --but no one else on
this list did, until Walter sent me a photocopy of the original material--
that mostly what I quoted on the Guantánamo issue was not material in the
Cuban POR's newspaper, but from the publications of their cothinkers
reporting on the POR's positions and activities.

    Thus when he says how much time he spent rummaging in archives in Cuba,
or in Joe Hansen's personal papers, and could never find all this stuff
"only José claims to have seen" he is being deliberately disingenuous. It is
hardly surprising that a Cuban library would not have collected and
preserved publications from tiny Trotskyist sects in various Latin American
countries. And whatever may have become of Joe's personal papers, clearly
this material was not part of that collection, as it remained at the SWP
headquarters on West Street in the early 80s, well after Joe's death.

    Moreover, Guantánamo was NOT the main subject of the article published
in 1981. That section was just under one page of a nearly seven-page
article. What I focused on instead were the politics of the Cuban POR and
its cothinkers, the International Secretariat, Posadas's Latin American
Bureau and, as of 1962, the separate Posadista FI. In doing so I quoted
extensively from the Cuban Voz Proletaria and the International
Secretariat's magazine Fourth International. Tennant, who by his own account
spent six years researching the Cuban Trotskyists and eventually wrote a
book-length series of articles about them ("The Hidden Pearl of the
Caribbean -- Trotskyism in Cuba," Revolutionary History, Volume 7, Number
3), does not question even a single one of the quotations I provide in the
rest of the piece.

    Now Tennant claims to have checked all sorts of sources, but what he
does NOT claim to have tried, unless I've misunderstood his explanation of
his search, is to get access to the material in the SWP's possession,
although that is precisely where they were two decades ago when I wrote the
article and it seems the logical place to have started searching for them.

    He also stays away like the devil from holy water in making any
suggestion that documentary evidence of the position of the Cuban
Trotskyists could be found in OTHER publications of the international groups
were affiliated to, until mid-1962 the "International Secretariat" Fourth
International and after Posadas led his followers in a split from that
group, in Posadas's own FI.

    In fact, in my article I do not "claim" to have seen any "leaflets"
specifically about the Guantánamo issue. What I did was to quote the
newspaper of the Bolivian POR, which reported that "We have received a
letter from the Revolutionary Workers Party (Trotskyist) of Cuba, through
which we are informed that the comrades distributed some leaflets calling
the workers to a demonstration to ask for the expulsion of imperialism from
the Guantánamo base." I go onto quote how some of the comrades were arrested
by "the Stalinists" but freed by a judge.

    The significance of this mention is that it shows the POR did not limit
itself to literary propaganda on the Guantánamo issue, and it confirms
statements made at the time by no less a figure than Che Guevara.

    Guevara's attitude towards the Cuban Trotskyists was an important part
of the discussion two decades ago. Gilly had said, "On at least two
occasions during the time I was in Cuba, comrades were thrown in jail for
periods of a month or more. And I know that more than once Che intervened on
their behalf. He never would have done that had he considered them a bunch
of irresponsible provocateurs, as you [Barnes] make them out to be."

    Yet in a September, 1961 interview, originally published in a radical
quarterly called "Root and Branch" and excerpted in the April 9, 1962, issue
of the Militant, Guevara was asked about the Trotskyists in the US who the
interviewer, Princeton University Professor Maurice Zeitlin, described as
"enthusiastically approving" of the revolution. Guevara commented:

    "I do not have any opinions about Trotskyists in general. But here in
Cuba -- let me give an example. They have one of their principal centers in
the town of Guantánamo near the U.S. base. And they agitated there for the
Cuban people to march on the base--something that cannot be permitted."

    In that same interview, Guevara criticizes the suppression of the Cuban
POR's newspaper as well as of Trotsky's book, The Permanent Revolution.
"That did happen. It was an error committed by a functionary of the second
rank. They smashed the plates. That should not have been done.

    "However, we consider the Trotskyist party to be acting against the
revolution. For example, they were taking the line that the revolutionary
government is petty bourgeois, and were calling on the proletariat to exert
pressure on the government, and even to carry out another revolution in
which the proletariat would come to power. This was prejudicing the
discipline necessary at the time."

    Guevara's testimony about the real overall line of the POR(T), as well
as about their activities in Guantánamo, is especially significant because,
as I said in the 1981 piece, this was a witness vouched for by Gilly
himself. Gilly insisted all this stuff about the POR demanding that the
Cuban government "expel" imperialism from Guantánamo by force, was invented
by the Stalinists, and the proof was that a real revolutionary like Che
intervened on behalf of the POR comrades who had been jailed, something he
would never had done if the POR had been acting irresponsibly.

    The reality is precisely because Che was a real revolutionary gifted
with extraordinary political insight that he understood why it was a mistake
to fight the Cuban Trotskyists by putting them in jail, why it was better to
take them on politically.

    The facts of the matter are exactly what I reported in 1981:

    "[T]he POR(T) and Latin American Bureau not only advocated expulsion [of
imperialism from Guantánamo]. They agitated for it and organized
demonstrations demanding it. At one point, they even proposed that the time
had come to launch and all-out military attack."

*   *   *

    The position on Guantánamo was but one part of an overall sectarian
political line that flowed from the POR's decision to stand aside from and
counterpose itself to the main organizations that had emerged in the course
of the struggle against the Batista dictatorship, to constantly try to
outflank the revolutionary government from the left, to refuse to take part
in the fusion of the political organizations that supported the revolution.
I have no reason to doubt that the members of the POR were dedicated and
self-sacrificing revolutionaries, but as a group, they were a sectarian

    This sectarian arrogance is quite typical of Trotskyist groups in
general, and is based on the idea that the Trotskyists are superior to other
currents because only they have the correct "program." They forget what
Engels said, that Communism is not a doctrine but a movement, and Marx's
dictum that every real step forward for the workers movement was worth ten
paper programs.

    But, of course, this abandonment of Marx and Engels's approach could not
but lead to programmatic degeneration. In the case of the Cuban and other
revolutions in the colonial and semicolonial world, i.e., in the case of the
popular revolutions for more than half a century, this has typically taken
the form of counterposition of the socialist revolution to the democratic
revolution in the name of "permanent revolution."

    Trotsky said in the Transitional Program that permanent revolution just
laid out "the general trend of revolutionary development" in colonial and
semicolonial countries, and warned specifically that "The relative weight of
the individual democratic and transitional demands in the proletariat's
struggle, their mutual ties and their order of presentation, is determined
by the peculiarities and specific conditions of each backward country and to
a considerable extent by the degree of its backwardness."

    Nevertheless, instead of viewing permanent revolution descriptively, the
way Trotsky presented it in the Transitional Program, the overwhelming
majority of post-war Trotskyists have viewed it prescriptively,
counterposing transitional demands and anticapitalist tasks to the
democratic tasks of the revolution.

    And this has been coupled to something else, the idea presented in the
Transitional Program that outside the ranks of the Fourth International,
there was not a revolutionary current worthy of that name. Whether or not
that was true in 1938, it certainly was NOT true in the new political
situation created by W.W.II and its aftermath.

    To say that the Chinese, the Cubans, the Vietnamese and others were not
worthy of the name "revolutionary" is to turn "revolution" into an abstract
platonic category totally divorced from the real world. It may be that any
given revolutionary group has any number of weaknesses and blind spots, it
may even be that a certain group may degenerate and stop being
revolutionary, but it simply makes no sense, no sense whatsoever, to claim
that groups which led actual social revolutions against imperialism and
"their own" bourgeoisies weren't "really" revolutionary.

    And it leads to extremely peculiar phenomena, such as the point Barnes
was making in the section of the speech about Cuba that gave rise to all
those polemics long ago, which was that the Trotskyist movement had missed
an opportunity to influence the Cubans.

    Yet why should the SWP or anyone else in the Fourth International have
been preoccupied in the early 60s, or 20 years later, about "influencing"
the Cubans? Should not the preoccupation have gone in the other direction --
how could the SWP absorb the lessons in the theory, politics and art of
revolution to be learned from the struggle the working people of Cuba were

    This was Marx and Engels's method, and after them, Lenin (and, I
believe, Trotsky's also). Marx had literally NOTHING to say about what the
dictatorship of the proletariat would look like until AFTER the class
struggle threw up the example of the Paris Commune. Similarly Lenin did not
analyze the Russian soviets to pinpoint where they fell short or deviated
from the Parisian model. He did so from the angle of seeing how this second
experience enriched and refined the lessons of the first one. Yet today most
Trotskyists insist on using State and Revolution and the early Soviet
experience as some a norm which other revolutions must be judged by, the
better to criticize their shortcomings, as the Cuban Trotskyists of the POR
and their international cothinkers did, and as the SWP ALSO did at the time,
albeit in a much more muted way.

    I believe the experience of the Cuban POR should lead all of us who at
one time or another have been part of or connected with the Trotskyist
movement, as well as comrades who come from other currents that may have
suffered from some of these same weaknesses, to reflect on just how far
towards political insanity you can go by adopting an idealist method and
latching onto and fetishizing some particular programmatic or organizational
idea and demanding that the real class struggle adapt itself to your idea of
how it should play out.

    For these reasons, I believe the title and one of the central themes of
my 1981 article ("How Sectarians Misrepresented Trotskyism in Cuba") are way
off politically. Not that I have any doubt that the POR did misrepresent
"Trotskyism" if by that is meant the thinking and political approach of
Trotsky in the late 20s and throughout the 30s, which was nothing more than
a fight to preserve genuine revolutionary Marxism against the attack on it
by the Soviet bureaucracy. But the problem is that I think the other
Trotskyists ALSO "misrepresented" revolutionary Marxism vis a vis Cuba,
albeit it to different degrees. They all, as far as I know, supported the
revolution but they all also criticized it along two axis, the failure to
take socialist measures (and eventually, this criticism became, the failure
to take socialist measures more quickly than they did) and the lack of
soviet-type bodies, (not seeing the militias, the CDRs and other mass
organizations as organized expressions of workers democracy and not
understanding what history has now shown, that these mass organizations were
the road towards more generalized, institutionalized forms of workers

    In this sense, the main thing to be said about the POR isn't that it
"misrepresented" Trotskyism (not "ideal" Trotskyism but "really existing"
Trotskyism) but that it stands as an object lesson on how insisting that
Trotskyists have a monopoly on revolutionary truth and therefore have to
preserve and build a "pure" Trotskyist movement leads to sectarianism.


---- Original Message -----
From: <gat100 at demeter.cs.york.ac.uk>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Friday, September 29, 2000 2:26 PM
Subject: Cuban Posadists

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.


More information about the Marxism mailing list