Robin Maisel's comment on SWP-US view of Allende and Cuba's role

Walter Lippmann walterlx at
Fri Sep 12 22:49:21 MDT 2003

Memory can be erratic at times and sometimes
people remember things as we wish they were
rather than as they actually were. I was drawn
to the US SWP because, as I saw it looking
around the rest of the US left, the SWP was 
doing a lot more Cuban solidarity work than 
was being done by any of the other left groups 
at the time, which is mainly referring to the 
CPUSA. (The Workers World Party was not 
in my radar screen at the time, being but two 
years old and even smaller than the SWP.)

The US SWP's attitudes toward Cuba were 
really extremely hostile in the early years.

Over a year AFTER the triumph of Cuba's
revolution, The Militant published a central
editorial declaring that the main danger to
the Cuban Revolution was ITS OWN
LEADERSHIP. The SWP quietly changed
its line on Cuba (for the better) but it never
acknowledged the error or explained how it
came to change its view. 

In other words, the former view was quietly
swept under the rug and no lessons drawn 
as to how a revolutionary party could have 
gotten so far away from the reality of Cuba
in this way. These views were reproduced
more often than one might like to think, as
the SWP tried to do its very best in action
to defend the Cuban Revolution. Finding
fault with the Cubans and finding ways to
differentiate the SWP from the Cubans
always seemed to be an element in the
political agenda of the SWP. It seemed to
have a great need to differentiate itself, to
justify its particular existence with various
kinds of programmatic conceptions. 

Later on in 1960, in a series of Militant
articles which became a popular pamphlet
which was used in Cuba solidarity work
(in general an excellent pamphlet, by the
way, most of which continues to hold up)
we read things like this:
"Where the Castro leadership has proved
weakest is in its appeals to the American 
workers and farmers.  Cuba's cause is 
directly connected with the interests of the 
working people in the United States, many of 
whom are exploited by the same companies 
that have bled the island since the terun of the 

"But boldness of policy in this field has been 
lacking.  Instead the main bid has been to 
restore the tourist trade.   There is nothing 
wrong with this, of course; Cuba has much to 
offer as a vacation land, including low cost.  

"But the case for Cuba's revolution and appeals 
for help against the common foe located in 
Manhattan and Washington have not been 
presented with the needed energy and 
thoroughness.  It is singularly difficult, for 
instance, to find even such elementary items 
as English translations of the speeches and 
writings of the Cuban leaders.

"Perhaps one reason for this is the fact that 
the Cuban revolution has not reached the 
socialist stage where the international 
ramifications are clearly seen and followed.  
Its appeals have largely been antionalist in 
character.  These can well serve to arouse 
the Cuban people for a time to heroic efforts 
and can serve as a stirring example to other 
countries in Latin America.  But they are not 
sufficient to deeply move the American working 
class.  Not even the far-reaching reforms 
already achieved in Cuba will catch the 
imagination of the American workers although 
the Cuban fighting spirit may arouse enough 
sympathy and admiration to complicate 
Wall Street's effort to whip up a warmongering 
spirit against the small country."

Hansen's words were written literally on the eve
of Cuba's nationalization of the commanding 
heights of the capitalist economy, which finally
got the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party to
agree sit up and take notice that a genuine and
thoroughgoing revolution HAD taken place there,
even without the leadership of a Trotskyist party
such as the Socialist Workers Party thought of
itself as exemplifying. 

Even after the massive nationalizations, Hansen
and the SWP continued expressing all manner of
criticisms of the Cubans. 

Joe's words were reprinted, without any critical
re-assessment, many years later, in the book
THE TROTSKYIST VIEW, where we can see
the same kinds of highly critical assessments 
of Cuba's revolutionary leadership.

I haven't time today to scan and post some of
the articles there, but the book is sharply 
critical of the Cuban leadership and its strong
backing of Allende (just one example), such as:
"Although  Although Castro may have sensed
a coming showdown in Chile when he was there 
on tour -- his parting gift to Allende was a 
submachine gun -- the support he offered the
regime appeared to be support for its adherence
to cappitalism.

By the time I came around, the SWP had
changed its attitude toward Cuba, for the
better. I didn't know about its earlier highly
negative attitude toward the leadership of
the Cuban Revolution until many years later,
after my departure, when I began studying 
the SWP's history a bit more diligently. In
my view, these problems are rooted in the
Trotskyist politics of the SWP.

Yesterday I was looking at DISASTER IN
CHILE: Allende's Strategy and Why It Failed
(Pathfinder 1974). Except for two sentences
in which the editor said the responsibility for
the Pinochet coup belonged to the US, this
book spent most of its efforts attacking 
Allende and his allies, writing, "Except for
the Trotskyists, every other tendency on
the left misunderstood - wilfully or otherwise
 - in face of mounting evidence - the inherent 
and self-imposed limitations of the Allende 

And while the SWP certainly engages in pro-
Cuba activities of various kinds (such as the
publication of books about the early years of
the Revolution), the politics of the SWP are 
very different from those of the Cubans on 
innumerable big political questions today.

Examples: they opposed the rescue of Elian
Gonzalez from the home of rightist exiles
who had kidnapped him. The Cubans praised
Clinton and Reno for having done the right
thing. The SWP opposes the anti-globalization 
movement, characterizing it as protectionist. 
The SWP opposes the Bolivarian Revolution 
being led by Hugo Chavez and they're also 
militantly opposed to Lula in Brazil, as is more
or less the norm among the ultraleft currents.

Today, for example, as the world looks back
at the US-backed coup against Salvador
Allende, Cuba emphasizes its support for
and solidarity with the Allende government.

Friday, in Havana, Jose Ramon Balaguer,
a member of the Political Bureau of the
Cuban Communist Party, laying a wreath
at a statue of the fallen Chilean leader, 
described Allende as one who initiated
"a unique revolutionary process that 
proposed profound political, economic 
and social changes to the benefit of the 
people within the canons of bourgeois 

The SWP, on the other hand, tries to drive
a rhetorical wedge between Castro and 
Allende. This week's MILITANT, in the 
second of a long two-part series, writes: 
"The Cubans and Castro identified themselves 
with the UP government and its anti-imperialist 
measures. At the same time, however, Castro's 
political line for Chile, and his projection of what 
the workers needed to do to carry the struggle 
forward, was in opposition to the line of the 
UP leadership."
One could go on and on. 

The US SWP, whose youth group I joined in 
1962 (the party in 1967) and which I left
(involuntarily) in 1983, but whose activities 
I continue to follow, responded as best as it
could to the Cuban Revolution. It did so within
the framework of its Trotskyist theoretical 
heritage. Cuba caused the SWP some real
theoretical challenges, but in activity, the SWP
responded and did the right thing. But in doing
so, it had to overcome, in practice, important
parts of its theoretical and ideological baggage.

There's no need to reject Trotskyism. It's just
a developmental stage like adolescence, which
is best left behind by people when they grow up.

Though the Socialist Workers Party has junked
the self-definition of Trotskyism which it used
to be proud of (me, too, in the olden days), the
SWP remains as Trotskyist as ever, without
the self-designation. That's unfortunate, but 
nevertheless, it's true.

The Militant: "Cuba at the Crossroads" editorial January 18, 1960

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