In the elections of delegates to the Constitutional Assembly in November 1939, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) was part of a bloc headed by Fulgencio Batista; and in the presidential elections of 1940, the PCC supported the presidential candidacy of Batista. The Cuban scholar and diplomat Jesús Arboleya maintains that the alliance was politically costly for the PCC, and that many Cuban historians consider it to have been a “strategic error,” a phrase that implies an error from which there is no recovery (Arboleya 2008:110).
The alliance between the Cuban dictator and the Communist Party of Cuba was rooted in factors that were both national and international. At the national level, Batista had been moving since 1937 to a democratic opening, which resulted in the PCC being declared a legal political party, able to engage openly in its work of organization and education. In addition, the bourgeois political parties that belonged to the Batista bloc offered the incorporation of important popular measures of the PCC program into the Batista bloc platform. At the same time, a proposal for the fusion of the PCC and the Authentic Party of Grau with respect to the Constitutional Assembly was rebuffed by the Authentic Party. Grau represented a kind of reformism that was anti-communist and that was opposed to fundamental structural change and to the taking of power by the popular sectors (see “Grau and reformism” 8/26/2014).
The Batista turn to democracy was pushed in part by international developments. With the taking of power by fascist parties in Germany, Italy, and Spain, a global division between democratic and fascist camps were emerging. On an international plane, there was a growing tendency toward a “popular front” alliance between bourgeois political parties and the communist parties, in opposition to the forces of fascism. With the democratic reforms that began in late 1937, Batista was becoming a part of the democratic camp, and his government was recognized as such by the United States. This interplay of national and international dynamics established the context for the alliance between the PCC and Batista during 1939-40, and it was to a considerable extent accepted by the people as a necessary consequence of the exceptional dynamics of the time, defined by a World War in Europe that would soon include the Soviet Union and the United States (Arboleya 2008:110-11).
The strategies and tactics of the Communist Party of Cuba also can be understood as influenced by the directives of the Communist International. The Third (Communist) International had been formed in 1919 by the Russian (Bolshevik) Communist Party, with the intention of combatting the Second International and the reformist tendencies of European social democracy. The Third International was composed of the communist parties from many nations. At the Congresses of the International, delegates from the various national parties debated a wide variety of issues and informed the leadership concerning the particular conditions in their nations. However, a condition of membership in the International was acceptance of its directives (Ramos 2010:17-19).
As a result of the limited experience of the communist parties in many nations, the battle initiated against social democracy led to a form of extremism that Lenin denounced as the “infantile disorder of Leftism in communism,” and the Second Congress of the Third International in 1920 was dedicated to overcoming the errors of “Leftism.” Such errors included the dictating of ultimatums to the workers, disdaining patient organization and education; engaging in electoral boycotts rather than participating in parliamentary elections; and abandoning workers’ unions in order to form separate “red unions.” In opposition to these negative tendencies, Lenin and the Second Congress called for the patient education and organization of the working masses, and participation of the party members in the unions formed by the working masses (Ramos 2010:20-22).
Benefitting from the revolutionary wave in Europe of 1917-20, the Communist International had sixty national sections by 1922. But the subsiding of the revolutionary wave created a new international situation, which led the Third Congress of the International in 1921 to direct the communist parties of the various nations to adopt the tactic of the “united front” with social democratic and socialist parties in opposition to the bourgeois political parties, on the basis of common political, economic, and social demands (Ramos 2010:22-24).
With the death of Lenin in 1924 and the fall of the Russian Revolution to a petit bourgeois bureaucratic counterrevolution that put Stalin at the head (see “Reflections on the Russian Revolution” 1/29/2014), the Communist International began to assume the role of appendage to the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, which above all was oriented to seeking global allies in the protection of Soviet borders against foreign attack. In the Fifth Congress of the Third International in 1924, the perspective of supporting a world proletarian revolution was abandoned, and the concept of “socialism in a single country” was adopted. This indifference to global revolution defined the Communist International in the period 1925 to 1927 (Ramos 2010:30-31; Grant 1997:146-51).
In 1928, with the theoretical formulation by Stalin of a new stage in the world revolution, the Communist International did an about face. It adopted an extreme Left position, directing the parties to avoid alliances with social democracy, which according to Stalin’s theory, had evolved into “social fascism.” This policy has disastrous and tragic consequences for Germany, in that the extreme Leftist direction of the Communist International prevented the German Communist Party from joining forces with German social democracy in order to prevent the taking of power by fascism, even though communism and social democracy together had twice the number of the Nazi party. This dysfunctional extreme Leftism of the Communist International guided its directions to the national communist parties from 1928 to 1934 (Grant 1997:151-53; Ramos 2010:31-33).
The triumph of fascism in Germany in 1933 constituted a serious threat to the Soviet Union and to the world, and Stalin sought the support of Western powers in opposition to Nazi Germany. Accordingly, the Seventh Congress of the Communist International of 1935 adopted the policy of the “popular front,” and it directed the national communist parties to seek alliances with the parties of the bourgeoisie in opposition to fascism. The popular front continued to be the policy of the Communist International until 1943, when the International was abolished by Stalin, at the insistence of the Western powers (Ramos 2010:33-34; Grant 1997:154-58).
We can see the negative consequences of the zigzag policies of the Communist International for the Communist Party of Cuba. Intense popular activity erupted in Cuba during the period 1930-33, coinciding with the Stalinist turn to extreme Leftism of 1928 to 1934. During this period, consistent with the directives of the Communist International, the Communist Party of Cuba refused to cooperate with parties that would not subordinate itself to its direction. This dysfunctional position prevented the PPC from allying with the Revolutionary Union and the Joven Cuba of Antonio Guiteras, and it led to PPC opposition to the “government of 100 days,” which included the revolutionary faction of Guiteras. This division between the PPC and the forces of Guiteras permitted the rise of Batista and his consolidation of power (see “The Cuban Communist Party of the 1930s” 8/13/2014; “The lesson of sectarianism” 8/15/2014). Thus, the consequences of the directives of the International for Cuba were similar to what occurred in Germany.
After the Communist International adopted its popular front strategy in 1935, the Communist Party of Cuba attempted to form in 1936-37 a popular anti-imperialist front that included the bourgeois reformist party of Grau. The front, however, failed to materialize as a result of the sabotage of the bourgeois party (“The failure of the Cuban NLF, 1936-37” 8/20/2014). And in the period 1939-40, the PCC allied with the dictator Batista, who united behind him the forces of the national bourgeoisie, a strategic error that was politically costly for the Communist Party of Cuba.
For Cuba, the zigzags of the Communist International, the rigid attitude of the party toward alliance with progressive popular organizations in the early 1930s, and the popular front strategy of alliance with bourgeois political parties that resulted in alliance with the dictator in 1939-40, destroyed the capacity of the Communist Party of Cuba to lead the popular struggle, even though the Party, founded in 1925, had arrived at the forefront of the popular movement by 1930 (see “Julio A. Mella and the student movement” 7/8/2014; “The Cuban popular revolution of 1930-33” 8/5/2014). The old Communist Party of Cuba never recovered from these errors. In the 1960s, a new Communist Party of Cuba was formed through an integration of the 26 of July Movement (directed by Fidel), the Popular Socialist Party (the name of the old communist party at the time), and the 13 of March Revolutionary Directory (a student organization).
The fate of the Party in Cuba was very different from what occurred in Vietnam. The Indochinese Communist Party, founded by Ho Chi Minh in 1930, was so weak in the early 1930s, as a result of repression and limited popular consciousness, that the International’s rigid policy of disdaining alliances with social democracy, implemented by Ho, did not negatively affect Party’s popular image. In 1936, the Indochinese Communist Party turned to the popular front strategy and effectively used it in leading the Vietnamese Revolution to triumph in 1945 (see “The Indochinese Communist Party” 5/12/2014; “The Vietminh and the taking of power” 5/13/2014). The conditions in Vietnam were favorable to the success of the popular front strategy. French colonialism and Japanese occupation were the defining factors, and neocolonial structures of economic and ideological penetration were much less developed than in Cuba. AS a result, a bourgeois nationalist and reformist party allied with imperialism and able to undermine the popular front had not emerged as a decisive political force, except in the area of Saigon. In Vietnam, the popular front strategy was not only directed by the Communist International, but it was also forged in theory and practice by Ho Chi Minh, who even before its adoption by the International, understood it to be an intelligent policy in the Vietnamese context. In Vietnam, a broad-based alliance that included progressive sectors of the bourgeoisie was successfully implemented by the Party, and it earned the Party the high respect of the people and placed it at the head of a triumphant revolutionary movement.
There were two fundamental errors of the Communist International. First, it was an error for the International to function in service of the foreign policy interests of one particular nation, thus distorting the revolutionary practices of communist parties in other nations. Secondly, it was an error for the International to formulate directives with respect to strategy and tactics, for the most intelligent and effective strategy depends on particular national conditions. These errors were a consequence of two factors: the triumph of Stalinism in the Soviet Union, and the general world-wide tendency toward sectarianism in movements of the Left during the twentieth century.
Today, the Soviet Union and the Third International are gone. The popular movement in Latin America, however, has moved to a more advanced stage, and it has developed a new style of international with characteristics that are appropriate for global conditions today. The Sao Paulo Forum was founded in 1990 in Brazil, as an organization of political parties of the Left, on the initiative of Fidel Castro and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who later would become President of Brazil. The Sao Paulo Forum today consists of political parties of the Left and social organizations. It defines a fundamental program for the Left, avoiding directives, divisions, and sectarianism. Its tenth meeting is being held this week in Bolivia. We will be discussing the Sao Paulo Forum in subsequent posts, seeking to understand its similarities with and differences from the Communist International.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Grant, Ted. 1997. Rusia—De la revolución a la contrarrevolución: Un análisis marxista. Traducción de Jordi Martorell. Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels.
Ramos, Juan Ignacio. 2010. “Introducción” in La Internacional Comunista: Tesis, manifiestos, y resoluciones de los cuatro primeros congresos (1919-1922). Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels.
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