The career of Ramón Grau San Martín is a good example of a kind of reformism that functions to undermine popular revolution. It reveals the cynical character that reformism sometimes has.
Grau was among the founders of the University Student Directorate (DEU), established in 1930. DEU condemned the repression and the corruption of the Machado dictatorship and called for the restoration of constitutional democracy. Its program was essentially reformist rather than revolutionary, in that it did not advocate the popular taking of power nor the breaking of the neocolonial relation with the United States (see “The Cuban popular revolution of 1930-33” 8/5/2014).
Grau was named the President of Cuba on September 10, 1933, in the aftermath of the sergeant’s revolt of September 5. His government, which lasted only until January 15, 1934, was the only government during the neocolonial republic that was independent of the United States. As we have seen, the government was divided into three factions, and Grau headed the reformist faction, which proposed the distribution of land to peasants, but not in a manner that conflicted with the interests of Cuban or foreign landholders; and which defended the sovereignty of the nation, but not in a form that would threaten US neocolonial interests (see “Guiteras & the ‘government of 100 days’” 8/11/2014).
In February 1934, in the wake of his resignation from the presidency and the de facto taking of power by Batista, Grau formed the Authentic Cuban Revolutionary Party. The program of the Authentic Party was reformist, calling for respect for the interests of the Cuban large landholders and foreign investors in Cuba; the honest management of public funds; the improvement of labor-management relations; and the convoking of a Constitutional Assembly. It was opposed to the revolutionary program of Joven Cuba and Antonio Guiteras, who had headed the revolutionary faction in Grau’s “government of 100 days” (Instituto de Cuba 1998:324-25; see “Guiteras and Joven Cuba” 8/12/2014).
Consistent with its reformist orientation, Grau and the Authentic Party were resolutely anti-communist. The Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) advocated not merely concessions to working class but the taking of power and the formation of a government composed of popular councils of workers, peasants, soldiers, and sailors; and its anti-imperialist perspective involved not merely non-interventionism but the breaking of the neocolonial relation with the United States (see “The Cuban popular revolution of 1930-33” 8/5/2014).
When the Communist Party of Cuba attempted to form a united anti-imperialist front (National Liberation Front, NLF) of Cuban popular organizations in 1936, the Authentic Party played a negative role in undermining the initiative. First, it abandoned the talks for the formation of the NLF, even though significant progress had been made in defining its parameters. Subsequently, in 1937, the Authentic Party in 1937 formed another front around elections for a Constitutional Assembly, effectively killing the NLF (see “The failure of the Cuban NLF, 1936-37” 8/20/2014).
In spite of Grau’s opposition to the program of the Communist Party and to the Joven Cuba of Guiteras, and in spite of his anti-revolutionary perspective, Grau astutely cultivated a popular image of commitment to the Cuban revolutionary process. This was possible for two reasons. First, because Grau’s “government of 100 days” had implemented significant measures in defense of popular interests, as a result of initiatives undertaken by Guiteras and his revolutionary faction. The people were aware that Guiteras was the force behind these popular measures, but the image of Grau also benefitted from his government’s implementation of popular measures. Secondly, the people did not have a fully developed understanding of the difference between reform and revolution, and they therefore could not fully understand the long-range issues that were at stake in the divisions between the Authentic Party, on the one hand, and the PCC and Joven Cuba, on the other. Accordingly, as Arboleya writes,
“The Authentic Party declared itself to be the repository of the revolutionary aspirations of 1930, and in good measure they were recognized as such thanks to the populism of Ramón Grau San Martín and the demagogic exploitation of the figure of Antonio Guiteras. ‘Socialism, Nationalism, and Anti-Imperialism’ was the party slogan. Nevertheless, its origin was in the right wing of the University Student Directorate, and its role within the revolution was more reformist than revolutionary. Under the leadership of organic intellectuals of the bourgeoisie, the leaders of the Authentic Party were the advocates of a movement headed toward the modernization of the neocolonial regime without altering its basic suppositions or its dependency on the United States. They adopted a revolutionary rhetoric that won them much sympathy, but . . . the nationalism of the Authentic Party had an ethical character—one could say rhetorical—and it never had a concrete project of anti-imperialist liberation” (2008:109-10).
Utilizing the rhetorical strategy of appearing to be revolutionary, and capitalizing on the memory of Guiteras and on the tradition of popular revolutionary struggle, the Authentic Party won the elections of 1944. But the government, as we have seen, was defined by corruption (“The failure of “democracy,” 1940-52” 8/25/2014). And the Minister of Work in the Grau government, Carlos Prío, in accordance with the shift in the international scene from the “popular front” to McCarthyism, expelled communists from leadership positions in the workers’ movement and replaced them with reactionary leaders (Arboleya 2008:117; Vitier 2006:148).
The kind of reformism represented by Grau is cynical, for it pretends to be what it is not. It plays with the sentiments and hopes of the people, giving the impression of being on the side of the people, when in fact it seeks to protect the interests of elites. It pretends to possess revolutionary virtues, when in fact it is anti-revolutionary. It is deliberately ambiguous with respect to the difference between reform and revolution, but recognizing that a true popular revolution would cast reformism aside, it attacks revolutionary projects and leaders. Reformism confuses and divides the people, and it plays a central role in preventing revolutions from taking power.
In the next post, we will pursue further this issue of the characteristics of reformism and its relation to revolution.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
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