Castroism, Trotskyism, and the SWP
by Goeffry White
[First printed in Spartacist West Vol 1. No. 3 [no date], circa early 1966]
A new step in the evolution of the Castro regime was signalized at the Havana Tricontinental Congress last month by Castro’s closing denunciation of “counter-revolutionary Trotskyism.” The tendency of the conference itself was to paper over the profound differences which exist among the groups represented there with militant and left-sounding phraseology.
Castro’s closing speech contained a long section denouncing the role of Trotskyism and the Fourth International. He characterized Trotskyist participation in the Guatamalan guerrilla movement as “infiltration” and the pushing of the program of the Fourth International there as ” … a true crime against the revolutionary movement, to isolate it from the masses by corrupting it with stupidities, the dishonor, and the repugnant and nauseating thing that is Trotskyism today within the field of politics.” He also attacked as Trotskyist and “villanous” articles by Adolfo Gilly in the Monthly Review giving political reasons for Guevara’s departure from the Cuban scene. Raising these specific attacks to the level of political generalization, Castro said: “If Trotskyism at a certain stage represented an erroneous position within the field of political ideas, in later years it became a vulgar instrument of imperialism and reaction.” Thus Castro, in 1966, embraces in its most crude form the rationalization of the purge trials of the thirties, and paraphrases Vyshinsky’s orations to the Moscow court.
Castro’s espousal of a line which would cause embarrassment to even the more sophisticated Stalinists of Moscow today raises serious questions on both the immediate and long-range levels. Why did Castro find it desirable to push this line at this particular moment? The conference took place at a time when the revolutionary movement, especially in Latin America, is in a serious state of disarray, and at the same time revolutionary pressures from the masses are on the rise. The Latin American revolution can no longer be contained by a purely reformist and constitutional program. Hence the constant emphasis on “armed struggle” at the conference. But the bourgeois reformists like Allende of Chile and Jagan of British Giana and the Stalinists and Stalinoids who dominated at least the Latin American section of the conference are faced with the problem of maintaining their control of the movement and keeping it within acceptable bounds. These bounds are defined as those which will not upset the international diplomatic applecart of coexistence, or by providing an example of victorious genuine proletarian revolution, undermine the political position of the entrenched bureaucracies. An attack on Trotskyism by the conference’s most prestigeful and untainted figure, an attack in which even the Monthly Review is included in the amalgam, serves a double purpose. In the first place, it makes it more difficult for Trotskyists, semi-Trotskyists, and other left elements in Latin America to take advantage of the left rhetoric of the reformers to develope a genuinely revolutionary movement. In the second place, it serves as an indication to the bourgeois and Stalinist reformists of the region and to the co-existers of the Kremlin that the conference forces will keep the revolution within the limits that they define as acceptable. Anti-Trotskyism thus serves simultaneously as a prophylaxis against the effects of the left turn required by the objective situation and as the cement to bind together widely divergent social and political elements.
That Castro should follow such a course should be no surprise to serious Marxists, although the crudity with which the job was done is indeed surprising. In the category of “serious Marxists,” however, we cannot include the leadership of the SWP-YSA and its chief spokesman (we would blush to say theoretician), Joe Hansen.
The SWP has for years sought to ride the coat-tails of “The Lenin of the Caribbean,” has proclaimed Cuba to be a genuine uncorrupted workers’ state, and has reduced its own role largely to that of a spokesman and apologist for Fidelismo. Minorities which attempted to make a serious analysis of the new Cuba and who committed the unpardonable crime of warning that this peasant-petty bourgeois anti-working class regime would evolve in precisely the Stalinist direction it has taken were expelled. These groups became the nucleii of the Spartacist and ACFI organizations, all that is left of Trotskyism in the USA after the SWP revisionists completely degutted the movenent.
For this party which has staked its future on the revolutionary role of Castroism, Castro’s counter-revolutionary attack creates a major crisis. The attack could not be ignored, and in the January 31 Militant, Joe Hansen, the SWP’s international expert, undertook the thankless task of disguising the extent of the disaster. Hansen’s and the SWP’s history and deeply revisionist world outlook make it impossible for him to present a Marxist analysis, however. The key to his approach is in the headline: IN ANSWER TO CASTRO’S ATTACK ON “TROTSKYISM.” The quotation marks around “Trotskyism” reflect the basic ”Who? Us?” approach of Hansen’s article. A major section of this piece is devoted to attacks on the Posadas group (which merits attack well enough, but not in this context). However, this attempt to get out of the line of fire is obviously not enough, and Hansen does go further. He speculates on Castro’s reasons for the attack, suggesting two possibilities; one, that “It was a political concession made in the Kremlin’s direction” and two, that it was designed for “camouflage” for the left line of the conference.
Neither of these explanations is remotely adequate and what is missing from both is any political analysis of the role of Castroism itself, its ideology and its social character. Hansen can only regard Castro’s attack as a regrettable error and end by saying: “It is to be hoped that he will soon see the necessity to rectify his stand on this important question.” The trouble is that in a state in which the working class does not have and never did have political power, in which power is vested in a petty bourgeois formation based on mass peasant support and collectivised property, the political and ideological needs of the new bureaucracy are essentially similar to those of the other established bureaucratic leaderships. In a deformed worker’s state not qualitatively different from Yugoslavia or China the dramatic attack on Trotskyism is not only totally in character but even a political necessity. No arm twisting from the Kremlin is required. Hansen and the SWP, however, can never admit this. They have called on the Cuban working class to rely completely on the Castro regime, and condemned those who would call on Cuban workers to organize their own independent party. They have subordinated their own political work to the Fidelista cult and to the peasant guerilla, and have sought to influence others abroad to do the same. Thus the SWP-YSA is hopelessly tied in with and compromised with Castroism, and it is too late for them to disentangle themselves. Committed to Castro as they are, were the SWP leaders principled politicals, only two courses, would be open to them. One would be to accept Castro’s evaluation and liquidate. The other would be to admit their errors in accomodating to Castroism, and more important, to analyze the reasons, ideological and social, why they followed this disasterous course. Were they to choose the latter, a necessary corollary would be to restore the party membership of those minorities whom they excluded for the crime of having a correct analysis of the character of the Cuban state.
However, being vulgar empiricists and opportunists, they will do neither, and will sweep the mess under the rug while waiting for a new and better Messiah. In an editorial accompanying the Hansen article, they demonstrate their unwillingness to change even in the face of such a blow. The Havana conference is hailed as ” … a step forward for the revolutionary struggle in Latin America.” The strongest word they can find to criticise the false unity of the conference is “dubious.” One paragraph mentions Castro’s speech–in the context of a breech in the United Front. The SWP and its co-thinkers abroad, however, will pay a heavy price in loss of prestige, influence, and membership, to say nothing of revolutionary honor. Honest revolutionaries in the SWP-YSA will see to it that this price is not mitigated.
For those who are involved in principled politics, or who take principled politics seriously, Castro’s symbolic embrace of the most sordid aspects of Stalinism is of profound significance. To be dazzled by numbers, power and prestige, to seek to short circuit the arduous and most often undramatic task of organizing and clarifying the working class independently and against all reformist and opportunist middle class tendencies is to render oneself helpless in the face of such developments as Castro’s speech, which are unexpected to opportunistic hero-worshippers. The building of revolutionary and Trotskyist movements takes on in this context a renewed and pressing importance.