“Trotsky will walk in Cuba”
Interview with Frank García Hernádez
By La Izquierda Socialista
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
Interview with Frank García Hernández, Cuban intellectual, organizer of the First International Academic Event on Leon Trotsky, in Havana.
The Socialist Left (LIS): Would you like to tell me your impressions of the Trotsky meeting we just had?
Frank: I never imagined it was going to be so shocking. When it was over, just before the event ended, I noticed so many good intellectuals, including Robert Brenner, Paul LeBlanc, Gabriel García, Helmut Dahmer, Eric Toussaint, people who unfortunately don’t know each other in Cuba -except for comrade Eric- but who are excellent academics.
Almost 10 Trotskyist tendencies were present – who were not invited as such, all the exhibitors representing universities, institutions and academic journals came – and there was no clash between them. They sat at the same table, even though they have big political differences. And at the end, at the end of the last day, comrade Rob Lyons raised his left fist and began to sing The International. He could hardly continue, many did not know what to do, but later other voices joined in, and all of them: in Iranian, Indian, Turkish, Italian, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese the International was sung. And in a few minutes, we lived the World Revolution in that small hall. Then I realized something very important: Cuba, 60 years later, is still a revolutionary meeting point.
The event had a very great reception at a global level, a participation of academic institutions, of organizations like yours. The International Marxist Tendency was one of the first to reach out to us when the meeting was just an idea, a very big thank you to you who in record time published the book The Revolution Betrayed in order to bring it to Cuba: you will have the merit of being the ones to blame for reading it. We are also very grateful for the text by Alan Woods In Memory of Leon Trotsky, a basic text and therefore very useful for Cuban youth who still do not know it. In addition, the IEPC helped us a great deal by making it possible, thanks to comrades Pablo Oprinari and Sergio Moissen, to present the title of Trotsky Escritos Latinoamericanos. But it is very important to talk about the Leon Trotsky House Museum. So much so, that’s why I mention them last: so I can stop at them with more force. The compañera director: Gabriela Pérez Noriega, always wrote to us and asked us: “What can we help you with? To each one of the requests we made, she answered affirmatively. She never put a but, rather, she had such beautiful initiatives as bringing the first photographic exhibition on Trotsky that is exhibited in Cuba. And thanks to them, Santa Clara and Havana will be flooded with T-shirts with Trotsky’s image. Trotsky will walk in Cuba.
LIS: The meeting is very significant precisely because it is being held in Cuba, at a time when the revolution is being besieged by American imperialism: Trump’s speeches have been quite harsh in the last period asking Cuba to take its hands off Venezuela, if it doesn’t it is going to have very harsh repercussions for the island. Trump still thinks Latin America is his backyard. It is a fundamental task of a Marxist revolutionary to defend the conquests of the Cuban revolution from any imperialist attack. On the other hand there is a situation that strikes me, the situation inside Cuba has changed rapidly in recent years, particularly in Havana, there are hundreds maybe thousands of new businesses, it seems that a new class is forming, what do you think of this?
Frank: First I would like to say something, even if it has nothing to do with the event. The measures that Trump is taking against Cuba are not exactly a result of what is happening in Venezuela, but this president has had a term with terrible results. He has not put a brick in the wall he had promised on the border with Mexico, the economic war with China has not brought him economic dividends but only losses, his economy has not grown, he has fought with his best allies in the European Union. He knows that by trying to apply the Helms-Burton law he will win votes in the Cuban electorate in Florida, which weighs heavily in the presidential election.
Second, which has to do with the event, is the Cuban situation. We are learning to live with private property – class struggle through -. Some want us to live peacefully with private property and accept it as such. Even if we do, the class struggle runs through us.
The bourgeoisie is born with its media, its cultural policies, its consumerism. The prices of goods -due to the fact that they are quite deregulated in the capital- soar, since the bourgeoisie needs, in order to maintain its business, to consume more than what the working classes consume. The impact is even harder because the businesses that these class controls are essentially in the service sector. This leads to food hoarding and therefore: shortages. Something that does not happen in other regions of the country, like Santa Clara, because the bourgeoisie is more controlled by the government and there is less concentration of wealth.
But comrade Yunier Mena, a Cuban speaker at the event, a philology student, rightly affirms that, more than economic strength, the bourgeoisie has strength in its ideological impact. I explain why: they present themselves as successful Cubans, concerned about culture, animal rights, the LGTBIQ community; they appropriate a good part of civil society, they speak on its behalf, they present themselves with a renovating discourse, they say they are not interested in politics and that they are misunderstood by the Communist Party, they emphasize that they are Cubans and nothing else. The result: The society, mainly the Havana society, ends up admiring them.
On the other hand, the party doesn’t know what to do. It stimulated, propitiated and guaranteed the birth of this new – old – class. It does not fight them because they believe that the class struggle is to divide the people. They forget Fidel’s stance – which kept the bourgeoisie weak: he warned them again and again that they were the fruit of a provisional economic policy. Now, the new Constitution, while insisting on the construction of a communist society, gives constitutional guarantees to their form of property: private property, which is established and exists thanks to the exploitation of human beings by human beings.
I am sure that all this caught the attention of so many participants. Only as an audience did I receive the request of 192 people to attend the meeting; if all the exhibitors had attended, there would have been 51. If I had had a larger logistic structure, I would have gladly accepted it all.
What hurt me the most is that there was not much Cuban public because the event was not publicized, but what I like the most is that all Cubans who were at the event have taken with them a copy of The Revolution Betrayed.
LIS: Victor Hugo once said that when an idea has its moment, nothing can stop it. It seems to me that, as you say, although there was little diffusion of the event, Trotsky’s ideas and thought will have an impact on the next period here. We can’t say that this is the first time Trotsky has been known in Cuba, previously there were groups calling themselves Trotskyists that participated in the different revolutionary processes in Cuba, however, now the reappearance of this figure is given a very significant moment, capitalism is in a dead end, it offers nothing to youth, women and the working class. What can you say to the youth and workers about Trotsky’s figure and its impact on Cuba?
Frank: When ideas start, there’s no one to stop them, that’s very true. I want to limit something, it’s not surprising that Trotsky’s reception in Cuba is so good, what’s surprising is that Trotsky didn’t arrive sooner.
This return of Trotsky to Cuba can never be compared to his arrival in the year 32 when Juan Ramón Breá and Sandalio Junco brought him in a suitcase. We were talking, at the time, about a capitalist society in crisis, involved in a violent class struggle against a murderous dictatorship and with a people with a literacy level of less than 50%. That first Trotskyism gradually disappeared. After the decade of the 1950s, Cuban Trotskyism never surpassed 50 militants, almost always entrusting other organizations as tiny as them. When the Revolution triumphed, they were suffocated, not only by the persecution of the Popular Socialist Party, but also by the major events that were taking place. The working classes paid more attention to the attacks of imperialism and internal counterrevolution than to the controversies, complex for them, sometimes even extemporaneous, between Trotskyism and Stalinism.
At the same time, since the 1960s a critical, heterodox Marxism was fostered in Cuba, which was censored in the 1970s, but after the fall of the Soviet Union, it reappeared with tremendous force. That Marxism has stagnated a bit. It needs more theory. Where there is a great setback in the assimilation of Marxism today is in the university student body. They continue to identify it with the official discourse. That is why Trotsky, who is not present in the study programs, is so attractive to them. This already happened in the 90’s with Gramsci and it was tried to happen with Rosa Luxemburg but it did not bear fruit. 60 years of revolution, in spite of all the errors, completely transform the mentality of society. One of Fidel’s main achievements is that he was in charge of disengaging society by constantly offering culture as an emancipatory instrument. This approach to Trotsky starts from a Marxism already studied and assumed, something that will avoid any sectarian position.
In Santa Clara, a study circle composed of university students called Cuban Communist Forum has already arisen. They have a Facebook page and I call on the world militancy to show solidarity with them by sending them magazines and bibliographies of thinkers such as Daniel Bensaid, Pierre Broué, Isaac Deutscher, Ernest Mandel, Victor Serge, Alex Callinicos, Cornelius Castoriadis, Alan Woods, Tariq Ali, Michael Löwy… They urgently need theory. See if it is important to help these students, who as soon as they returned to Santa Clara began to spread the bibliography they brought and, as I already told you, especially The Revolution Betrayed, the short biography of Alan Woods and another text, also biographical, authored by Esme Choomara, in addition to some explanatory brochures of the Permanent Revolution provided by Paul Le Blanc. These young people are not organized as a political group, they are not interested in doing so. They are born as a circle of study and debate. They do not claim to be Trotskyists, but communists. They understand Trotsky as part of a system of ideas in which Marx, Engels, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Mariategui, Gramsci, Che Guevara, Fidel.
Trotsky returns to Cuba, to the Cuban revolution 60 years later and the situation is completely different from when he came with Junco and Breá. The analyses being done now are neither extemporaneous nor supranational. Trotsky does not land in a quagmire. There was already a knowledge of him; in November 2016 a postgraduate course on his life and work had been given. This course led to the publication in a Santa Clara cultural magazine of a fragment of Trotsky’s speech when he founded the Red Army. What is needed now is literature. For this we have to work hard on the publication of the book that gathers the memories of the event. The book will end up being a before and after the meeting. It will be the first title published in Cuba that will be dedicated exclusively to Trotsky. I call for full solidarity with that dream and with the dream of holding a second international meeting in June 2020 in Sao Paulo: one of the most beautiful fruits of the Havana meeting.
LIS: Thank you very much, Frank, we thank you for everything you have done for the meeting and for the comrades of the International Marxist Tendency and the Leon Trotsky House Museum.
Frank: My greatest greetings and acknowledgments to the International Marxist Tendency, to comrade Alan Woods who sent an emotional message. The International Marxist Tendency were the first to reach out to us when this meeting was just an idea, they were the ones who established contact with the Leon Trotsky House Museum because we had no contact with them. They have been key to developing the event, a work of almost a year, they were tremendously understanding of all our problems, especially comrade Ricardo Márquez -alias el Che- who at any time I wrote to him on WhatsApp or Facebook and he, even at dawn, took the trouble to answer me, to help me coordinate with other people with whom I could not maintain communication due to technological problems. I know that behind him there is a whole team, a support structure, of colleagues like Ubaldo, the German colleague Rosa Carolina: the first foreigner who came to ask and see what was happening -then dozens came- colleague Jordi Martorell, who was always willing to come and who always had a strong bond with colleague Celia Hart -who was my very close friend. Thank you very much to all of you. Excellent magazine América Socialista, we hope to have more issues of this magazine in Cuba and be able to collaborate with it.