We have seen that the Communist Party of Cuba during the 1930s rejected a strategy of alliances with popular organizations that would not subordinate themselves to the direction of the party, and it was opposed to the government of 1933, even though this government included a revolutionary faction headed by Antonio Guiteras (see “Guiteras and the ‘government of 100 days’” 8/11/2014; and “The Communist Party of Cuba in the 1930s” 8/13/2014). In accordance with this sectarian approach, the PCC published harsh criticisms of Joven Cuba, the revolutionary organization developed by Antonio Guiteras and his followers after the fall of the Grau government (Tábares 1998:327; see “Guiteras and Joven Cuba” 8/12/2014).
At the same time, Guiteras and Joven Cuba also committed the error of sectarianism. They insisted that the unity of the popular organizations in opposition to the Caffery-Batista-Mendieta government be formed on a base of compliance with the perspective and methods of Joven Cuba and be under the leadership of Guiteras (Tábares 1998:327).
Moreover, the problem of sectarianism was evident not only with respect to the principal popular organizations, the PCC and Joven Cuba. A wide variety of small revolutionary groups emerged during 1934 and 1935, with different programs and tactics, giving rise to “constant antagonism and frequent confrontations among them” (Tábares 1998:328).
José Tábaras maintains that the antagonism among the popular organizations was an important factor in enabling the government to consolidate its power. He writes, “The contradictions and disunity among the different organizations that were opposed to the Caffery-Batista-Mendieta government contributed much to its survival and consolidation” (Tábares 1998:328). He concludes:
The defeat of the revolutionary process ought to be attributed, not so much to the power of those who were opposed to it, but to the division of the revolutionary forces. Rather than uniting into a solid bloc the vast sectors of the people interested in a democratic and anti-imperialist revolution, the popular organizations wore themselves out in internal conflicts, proposing in an exclusive manner dissimilar political projects (Tábares 1998:333).
In the 1930-35 stage of the of Cuban Revolution, there were two competing theories: the taking of power through the creation of popular councils, which would replace the structures of representative democracy; and the taking of power through a guerrilla war emerging in the country and advancing to the city. The Cuban Communist Party practiced the former concept; and the Revolutionary Union and Joven Cuba implemented the latter. These organizations were by far the most influential popular organizations of the period. The proponents of both conceptions had many beliefs and commitments in common: opposition to the existing government, on the basis of its representation of imperialist and national bourgeois interests; the taking of power by a vanguard organization in the name of the people; and the formation of a government of national liberation as a first step toward socialism. But they disagreed concerning the strategy through which power is to be taken. It was not a trivial disagreement, for different understandings of the road to power can imply different forms of exercising power, once the revolution triumphs. Which was correct? Should the people take power through the formation of popular councils, or through armed struggle? The answer emerges in practice: one of the two approaches will have more success, and this greater success in achieving goals demonstrates its greater insight in the context of particular conditions.
An example of the answer emerging in practice is provided by the case of Cuba in the 1950s. Although the Cuban revolutionary process was aborted in 1935 by the consolidation of the power of Batista, the revolution continued. Division within the revolutionary process remained, principally in the form of conflict between a strategy of alliance with reformist sectors, including bourgeois parties, and the strategy of armed struggle. But on July 26, 1953, an attack on Moncada Barracks by Fidel Castro and his followers announced a renewed armed struggle and a revitalization of the concept of the taking of power from the country to the city. This heroic action was effective in galvanizing the people, freeing them from a pervasive sense of powerlessness, and renewing the hope of the people in a more just and democratic nation. Thus, the insight of the strategy of armed struggle, in relation to the particular conditions of Cuba in the 1950s, could not be denied. The evident superiority of this approach made possible the unification of the popular revolutionary forces on a basis of support for the guerrilla struggle emerging in the mountains of Sierra Maestra in 1957 and 1958 and spreading to the cities in late 1958, culminating in the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959.
In retrospect, we can see that the strategy of armed struggle was appropriate for the conditions of the Cuban neocolonial republic of the 1950s. To be sure, the Communist Party strategy of 1930-35, involving the formation of popular councils, had much to recommend it, inasmuch as it involved the people actively in self-government, thus promoting practical education in the meaning of democracy, and it had been the successful strategy of the October Revolution. And the Communist Party strategy, beginning in October 1935, of forming alliances with various sectors, including bourgeois parties, made possible certain concrete gains. But the particular conditions of Cuba in the 1950s made the armed struggle a viable strategy for the taking of power: the repressiveness of the second Batista dictatorship, creating serious obstacles to the more open and visible forms of political opposition; the long history of armed conflict in the political affairs of Cuba, giving legitimacy to the tactic of armed struggle; and the willingness of the rural people to support the guerrilla struggle in practical ways.
With the restoration of the project of the Right on a global scale, a process that began in 1979, the post-World War II era of revolution came to an end. The imposition of the neoliberal project and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist bloc would soon follow. After this setback for the revolutionary forces, there emerged a period a profound critical evaluation of the errors of the revolution. Among the conclusions was recognition of the error of sectarianism, defined as the malady in which popular organizations with common goals refuse to cooperate, because of differences in tactics or concepts. Since the reemergence of popular movements, beginning in 1995, principally on the basis of popular world-wide rejection of the neoliberal project, the various emerging revolutionary organizations have been conscious of the need to avoid sectarianism. They have been oriented to cooperation with one another, seeking to include in collective action the various organizations that are committed to the creation of a more just and democratic world.
The revolution today that seeks to establish socialism for the XXI century has learned the historic lesson of the absolute practical necessity of overcoming sectarianism. It has learned the need for unity, not a unity imposed from above, but a horizontal cooperation that respects differences and that becomes in practice a unity with pluralism and diversity. A unity and diversity that has a base in universal human values (see “Universal human values” 4/16/2014) and in the knowledge of errors of the past, errors made by persons of good intentions who continue to be our heroes, even as we seek to overcome their limitations. And a unity with diversity that has faith that, when there are sincere differences among us, rooted in different understandings, our experience together in common struggle will teach us the way.
Tabares del Real, José A. 1998. “Proceso revolucionario: ascenso y reflujo (1930-35)” in Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, neocolonial republic, Guiteras, Cuban Communist Party, sectarianism