Review: Mella in His Rainbow

How and why does the Cuba make a distinctive contribution to the history of the working class and socialist movements? By seeing itself in the stream of both its own national history, from Marti and his predecessors, through Mella, Antonio Guiteras and many others, TOGETHER WITH its place in the international struggle for socialism, Cuban revolutionaries are best equipped to participate in and promote their struggle, at both of these mutually interdependent levels.

These are remarks made by Cuba's National Assembly President at the launching of a new book containing writings by and about this student and revolutionary leader who was one of the founders of the first Cuban Communist Party — in 1925 — and assassinated four years later by agents of the Machado dictatorship in Cuba. -Walter Lippmann, CubaNews

After a hundred years, Mella is still with us. He calls on us to think and fight; he calls on humanism. Those who march with him will always grow in numbers

First, I want to thank the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center and the Oriente Publishing house, especially Dr. Ana Cairo, for her serious study that has led to the publication of this important book. I also greet many authors who are with us this afternoon who are, what she called, a "solidarity group formed by intellectuals who admire Mella and enthusiastic workers who have selflessly worked in it, with great modesty and exemplary humility."

In her prologue, Ana affirms that it is a "pleasant and useful book." I agree, but it is also a necessary and challenging book and a call to continue along his road.

We are confronted by a broad and varied summary of the writings of Mella that have never before been put together. There are not only political analysis or reflections about him, and about the problems and conflicts of his time, but also personal testimonies. In addition it has some previously unpublished texts by Julio Antonio. There are a series of materials that had not been published before, or which were in publications that were not easy to come by.

They are from previous Party members but, also, from revolutionaries and from some who never were revolutionaries.

Respect and admiration for Mella covered the entire political spectrum — Machado and Batista the only exceptions and it extended far beyond his death. One generation after another, began meetings of the University Student Federation taking a roll call and, when mentioning Julio Antonio — the unanimous answer of those present was never rhetorical but represented simple truth felt by all.

Here readers will find interviews with Angel Augier published in Bohemia on January 23, 1949, on the twentieth year of his assassination. Together with the words of some comrades and close friends. Present are the respectful words of persons like Eduardo Suárez Rivas, an important leader of the Liberal Party at the time. I want to note the declarations by Aureliano Sánchez Arango who was then the Minister of Government and who was known for his serious differences with the Cuban communists. These were the words of Aureliano: "Julio Antonio Mella is the highest and jost complete example of that generation".

Certainly, the final document is the words I spoke last March commemorating the centennial of his birth. My only contribution was to place him within the context of the battle we Cubans are waging today,paying tribute to our five heroes, unjustly imprisoned in the United States for fighting terrorism against Cuba: Gerardo, Ramón, Antonio, Fernando and René. They revive the courage, abnegation and dignity of Julio Antonio. They rise up like five giants and, today like Mella in his time; they are the highest and jost complete example of this generation.

The book also has important literary texts. Some very well-known such as those by Lezama, Carpentier, Poniatowska, and others by Guillén, Tallet, Pablo, Navarro Luna, Mirta Aguirre or Naborí. There are others not lesser known such as those by Sindo Garay or some forgotten ones such as Mexican corridos also dedicated to Mella.

Ana Cairo has rescued many pages that bring us closer to the real Mella, the living one, of flesh and bone. They show us his character, his habits; who he was and how he was remembered by those who were by his side. I must especially mention the personal testimonies of my university professor, Alfonso Bernal del Riesgo, who, with Julio Antonio, took part in decisive events and experiences which he kept in his memory and that he shared with his students. Now they are available for all those who want to read this book.

There are also important documents on the contradictions Mella faced with the leadership of the Cuban Communist Party about the hunger strike that he conducted for 18 days without their authorization. His hunger strike, one that moved Cuban society, faced the opposition of the Party and was also an important blow to the Machado tyranny. They mention the differences he had with the Mexican Communist Party in which he was the secretary general for a time; his union work and his conflicts with some officials of the Communist International and his attitude toward the Left Opposition which he later labeled as Trotskyism.

The book incites a deep reflection on the contradictory positions that were an inseparable problem for the revolutionary forces when a new period was beginning in history. A look at the past would only make sense if we extract lessons from analyses that help us to move forward in today's battles. We would have to do them as Mella did and in the manner he said: "Tomorrow we can talk about it but today the only honest thing to do is to fight."

Let me express some thoughts whose only value is that they can answer, or try to do so without any other intention, to take the first step regarding the challenge the book presents.

Against the forecasts made by Marx, the first proletarian revolution occurred in Russia, a backward country, on the periphery, and that had not completed its capitalist development. It was jostly due to the genius of Lenin and the enormous sacrifices of the Russian proletariat. That Revolution would defy a siege, aggression and the fiercest opposition of all the capitalist powers, unleashed at the time of the greatest war the world had experienced. It would give way to bankruptcy and the greatest social convulsions in several European countries that seemed on the verge of great and radical changes. Many thought they were on the eve of making their own revolutions. All this would coincide with the development of the international workers movement that had suffered its deepest split because of the war.

The decade of the 20s was one of great battles but, also, of great defeats for the proletariat of Germany, Austria, Italy and other countries.

Although the expected revolution in Europe never occurred, the international revolutionary movement was born with a Euro-centrist character in theoretical and strategic concepts and even organizational ones. This Euro-centrist point-of-view dominated left-wing philosophy until the beginning of the sixties of last century.

As Perry Anderson stresses in his astute essay: "the characteristic of western Marxism as a whole is that it is the result of a defeat". From this defeat the jost distinctive feature is a divorce between theory and practice. That is why "it's not a coincidence" that, according to Anderson, the eleventh thesis of Feuerbach "had found a poor echo in western Marxism."

During the 20s a militant Marxism appears in Latin America that is not the product of defeat but a rebirth of national struggles that were founded on history itself and the applications of our realities, independent and creative, according to the theories of this German scholar. Mella and Mariátegui were the two highest representatives. Their lives were too short and later events in the world and the revolutionary movement did not fulfill the great task they had taken up.

I want to list, although schematically, the elements of Latin American Marxism, all of which typified the ideology of Mella and that were also present in Mariátegui:

— Indestructible union between theory and revolutionary practice
— True personal bond with the struggle of the masses
— Relationship between national liberation and social emancipation
— Recapture of the indigenous and campesinos' cause
— Internationalism
— Independent and creative ideology
— Unmasking of APRA and reformism
— Rescue of MartÍ's ideology
— Fusion of the Agrarian Reform and Social Revolution: real incorporation of the revolutionary students movement (Popular University, University Student's Federation, students-workers union)

They were not only aspects of thoughts expressed in documents or speeches but were part of his intense and systematical work and daily activity fully linked to specific practices and the problems Cubans faced at the time.

It was Lenin who precisely defined the roots of the problem revolutions faced and that was the objective foundation of complex and serious differences: "A true revolutionary theory is only definitely achieved through a close connection of revolutionary practice to a movement that is truly of the masses and revolutionary".

To be truly both, the battle had to be also against reformism and dogmatism, and internationalism had to be practiced as well. Mella did so impeccably, in a higher plane than many of his comrades in Cuba and in Mexico. Of course, to a degree that was beyond the reach of many officials of the Communist International with whom he had to deal. Suffice it to mention attempt at joint ventures with the so-called Nationalist Union and other bourgeois opposition groups to defeat the Machado tyranny, his work in favor of the reunification of the Mexican union movement and union and student unity in Cuba and his solidarity with Sandino and his combatants.

It was done by this same young man who was the first to denounce the opportunistic Haya de la Torre and his Aprista (the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance) policy.

At this point I want to return to the text of Sánchez Arango because it helps us to put into context some aspects related to the language and style in those debates. Aureliano noted characteristics "of environment and moment" where a "strong language" predominated with "energetic use of adjectives" but explaining that "at the back of this attitude there was an evident expression of a great spirit of renunciation, of abnegation and sacrifice".

It is one thing is to strongly condemn a policy damaging to the interests of the proletariat, and another to ignore the hardships and sacrifices of the militants following this mistaken policy. Mella understood the difference between the APRA program and the sincere support of quite a few Apristas believing that it was an anti-imperialist and even communist party.

There is a little-known article he wrote, about 1927, on the insurrection in Vienna, that is an example of militant sobriety and objectivity in his analysis. Let us remember the date. The positions of the communists and social democrats seemed irreconcilable. There had been the great defeats we mentioned previously, and the governments in which the social democrats participated had crushed proletarian insurrections. In 1927, the communist side had consolidated towards Stalinism with its dogmatism and bureaucratic inflexibility. Again the proletariat confronted reactionary violence and again presented contradictions in its midst, that had contributed to previous defeats. Mella criticized the reformists but recognized the Austrian Socialist Party as one of the jost important in Europe that was more to the left, identified, above all, in the antagonism between the socialists and fascists as the origin of the conflict and called for a united struggle and solidarity with the Viennese workers.

The outcome of that battle is well-known.

Mella could not know, obviously, the theoretical book published by Otto Bauer, in exile by that time, where he recognizes the failure of the reformist policy to which he had dedicated the greater part of his life and called for a reunification between the social democrats and communists to battle fascism. It was too late. Bauer died in Paris shortly after the Munich Pact. Others were less fortunate: his colleague Hilferding also died in Paris but at the hands of the Gestapo in 1941.

Surely Bauer died without knowing that a 24-year-old Cuban had been ahead of him and had seen farther and deeper than the important leader of Austro-Marxism.

The book presented, I repeat, is a challenge that we cannot ignore. It takes us to the real Mella and allows us to better understand his incredible contribution to the world revolutionary movement. We do so finally from an independent Cuba and where Mella's Revolution continues and deepens, reaches unprecedented goals, and proposes unimaginable others. It is a Revolution that proposes a possible alternative in a world where capitalism claims its unquestionable hegemony.

The fall of what had been called "real socialism" and the apparent world victory of capitalism led many, Tyrians and Trojans, alienated by an enormous and brutal propaganda, to believe or try to believe that the story was over.

Let me mention Joseph Schumpeter, not in the least suspected of adhesion to any of the Marxist versions. We should recall his famous prophesy: "A socialist form of society will inevitably arise from the also-inevitable decay of the capitalist society". In 1942 it was not easy to conceive of a world that would follow this surprising prediction. But that is the world of today.

The imposition of an unrestricted capitalism and on a planetary scale, so-called neoliberal globalization, creates the conditions for its decay and its substitution by socialist alternatives. It will not be "one socialist form" but it will be many, diverse, multicolored like the rainbow that appears after a storm.

It will not be the result of any "Law." That possible world will have to be conquered and it is worth noting that Schumpeter saw in intellectuality a major factor in the process to surpass capitalism.

And where is Marxism today? When celebrations abound about the fall of the Soviet model, a noted US professor, M.F. Perutz, acknowledged, "Marxism can be discredited in Eastern Europe but it still seems to flower in Harvard."

I prefer the warning by Wallerstein: "When Marx is thrown out the door, he tries to come back through the window".

That is what this is all about. Opening wide the window. All the windows. Design a revolutionary strategy capable of encompassing everyone, beyond sects and dogmas, creating a solidarity without exclusion to save humanity from barbarity.

We Cubans should also contribute to this decisive battle, in the theoretical preparation.

Mella had not reached 21 years of age when he wrote LENIN CROWNED. I will read the last paragraphs:

"We don't intend to implant servile copies of revolutions made by other men, in other climates, in our midst. In some points we do not understand certain transformations, in others our thoughts are more advanced, but we would be totally blind if we deny the step forward made by man on the road to his liberation.

"We don't want all to be from this or that doctrine. That is not important at this time where, always, the important factor is Man, I mean the beings who act following their own thoughts and by there own understanding, not by the reasoning of foreign thoughts.

"Thinking beings, not lead.

"Persons, not beasts."

After a hundred years Mella is still with us. He calls on us to think and fight, calls on humanism. Those who march with him will always grow in numbers.

________________

Remarks at the presentation of the book: Mella 100 años. [Mella 100 years]

From the Spanish original at La Jiribilla: 
http://www.lajiribilla.cu/2003/n127_10/127_29.html

 

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