Trotskyism and the Cuban Revolution, or how the traditions of the dead weigh upon the living

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Sun Jul 6 15:49:15 MDT 2003

Walter wrote:

It's a distortion of Trotsky's theory to
insist that this is "required" but those
who label themselves as Trotskyist
faulted the Cubans who led their
Revolution for not having put forth an
explicitly socialist program (etc.).

What we are really contending with in this discussion is recipes for
revolutionary schematism, in which multiple confusions are possible.

I read quite an acceptable sketch once of the development and application of
Trotsky's theory by Prof. Michael Lowy (The Theory of Combined and Uneven
Development: the Strategy of Permanent Revolution), which showed not only
that it wasn't really about a girl with artificial long wavy hair, but also
that Trotsky's own theory developed over time, and was developed by
Trotsky's followers as well, in various ways.

Initially, Trotsky took on board a simple insight by Alexander Helphand
(alias Parvus, the "merchant of revolution"), then he developed that, and
then after the success of the Russian revolution, he generalised his
perspective more, first in the context of the fight against the right wing
of the CPSU (where Stalin picked on anything he could to weaken Trotsky's
political mana, in the context of a mood of war-weariness and desire for
civil reconstruction) and secondly in exile, when Trotsky wrote his memoirs
an antidote against historical falsification; Stalin killed off nearly all
the real leaders of the 1917 overturn of power, and rewrote history for
official policy purposes) and sought to build a new international, named the
Fourth International.

In the discussions about all this, something very interesting is revealed:
(1) all the key figures in the Russian revolution changed their points of
view about the strategy and possibilities of a Russian revolution, prior to,
and subsequent, to the overturn of power, so that nobody was completely
correct at all times (2) at the time the insurrection happened, there was no
real unity in the ranks of the political leaders, and many were taken by
surprise, (3) once the bolsheviks had seized power, they did not even know
if they could hold on to power, (4) once they did secure their political
position, it turned out that the real problems they faced were very
different from what they had originally thought, so they had to improvise
massively (5) whereas the political overturn of power happened from 1917,
the actual attempt at the socialist transformation of society only began to
take off much later, from the mid-1920s, with an ideology of "socialism in
one country". That is to say, for the purpose of carrying through the
revolutionary process, concerns of theoretical consistency were mainly

As regards the Cuban revolution itself, we have to distinguish between (1)
The followers of Trotsky inside Cuba itself, who were even weaker than the
official communists in Cuba were from the time that Castro's army took
power, and overseas Trotskyists (2) Different factions within the Trotskyist
movement in different countries, for example the Healyists versus the
Mandelists versus the Hansenists (3) The officially published versions of
Trotskyist positions by different factions, versus internal or unpublished
positions, (4) the changes in the Trotskyist positions subsequent to the
success of the Cuban revolution, (5) changes in the position of the Cuban
revolutionaries towards the Trotskyists over time, and different sympathies
or antipathies of different Cuban revolutionaries towards different
Trotskyists personalities and factions.

As regards (3), Ernest Mandel for example was a person who always supported
a left-wing revolution when there was really one happening, and there was
never one single case where he didn't do it (although of course he never
presided over a socialist revolution himself). At the time the Cuban
revolution happened, and I was born, Mandel was situated in the Belgian
Socialist Party and he was writing articles in La Gauche (a leftwing trade
union paper) saying that socialists had to support the Cuban revolution, and
"viva the Cuban revolution". That was pretty radical for Belgian conditions.
But this was different from the internal Trotskyist discussions about the
finer points of the Cuban revolutionary process going on, and how that might
fit with what Trotsky had said before the world war, or what Lenin said, or
what Marx said.

So anyway there are an enormous number of parameters in the discussion about
Trotskyism and the Cuban revolution, with subtle changes of emphasis and
subtle nuances possible. Any plain and ordinary worker trying to get at the
truth might well be motivated to think, "what in heaven's name is going on
here ?". And he might well think, "stuff this for a joke, I am just going to
read Tad Szulc's biography of Castro instead, and take a holiday in Cuba,
see for myself". Because, in this discussion, we are simultaneously dealing

(1) an interpretation of what objectively happened in the Cuban
revolutionary process
(2) a consistent explanation of that process in terms of Marx's and Marxist
(3) the political-ideological-moral justification of that revolutionary
(4) the impact and reception of the Cuban revolution overseas
(4) the implications which the Cuban revolutionary process "might" have for
how revolutionary processes that "might" occur elsewhere in the future.

If anything is clear, it is that the Cuban revolutionary process DID NOT
conform to any ideological schema or political agenda some academic might be
able to devise after the fact. But the question now is, is this whole
discussion important today, except for scholars and people writing their
memoirs, or is it rather that we ought to be discussing how the situation in
Cuba might be improved, and how Cuba might be able to advance towards
socialism, within the current geopolitical situation ? And I think the

What I do know is that, as Doug Jenness pointed out to me in 1983, Castro
had already been assimilating Marxist theory prior to the Cuban revolution,
but contrary to Jenness, Castro did not think about the overthrown of
Batista in any rigid schematic way at all, rather he was very flexible in
his strategy and tactics, AND THAT IS WHY THE REVOLUTION SUCCEEDED. See

As regards the Trotskyist movement itself, the most interesting thing was
that the success of the Cuban revolution was that it stimulate the
Reunification congress of the Fourth International. Most Trotskyists agreed
that "yes, a revolution had taken place somewhere else, and yes, that it
ought to be supported". The lesson to be drawn out of this is, that
socialist unity cannot be arrived at ideologically, but must be arrived at
through political practice.



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