Interview with Celia Hart: "How can you not be a Trotskyist in the Cuban Revolution!"

During her stay in Buenos Aires at the end of June, El Militante Argentina interviewed the Cuban revolutionary Celia Hart. In this interview, Celia tells us about the role of Fidel in the Cuban revolution and the perspectives for Cuba, about the relevance of the ideas of Che and Leon Trotsky, and about the Venezuelan revolution and the tasks for Latin American revolutionaries.

During her stay in Buenos Aires at the end of June, El Militante Argentina interviewed the Cuban revolutionary Celia Hart. In this interview, Celia tells us about the role of Fidel in the Cuban revolution and the perspectives for Cuba, about the relevance of the ideas of Che and Leon Trotsky, and about the Venezuelan revolution and the tasks for Latin American revolutionaries.

Following Fidel's illness, there was plenty of talk about what will happen when he's no longer alive. Some have mentioned the need of a transition à la China. What do you think about all this?

Celia Hart
Celia Hart
When the provisional cessation of Fidel's functions was announced on July 31 last year, we thought for an instant that the world was falling apart. For the first time we realized that Fidel would die one day. To those who accuse us of practicing a personality cult, etc., I always say that leaders play a critical role in history.

It's precisely because they are revolutionaries who are always fighting and have the enemy's guns permanently aimed at them that they are usually the first to go: Rosa [Luxemburg], [Vladimir Ilich] Lenin, [Cuban youth leader Julio Antonio] Mella, Che Guevara, etc. Fidel has been the target of the highest number of assassination attempts ever, with more than 600. Therefore, it would be absurd for a revolutionary to brush off the miracle that he's alive and constantly aware of the revolution anywhere in the world.

Those first months were upsetting ("I talked about them in my article ‘Fidel from my balcony') and a very hard time for all revolutionaries, though not so for my country's leaders, who against all odds kept running the country like clockwork. Cuba's administration is totally safe: our economy grew 12.5% last year; the infant mortality rate was reduced to 5.3 per every thousand births; the Summit of the Non-Aligned Countries went smoothly; key economic issues are being taken care of, including old ones; and the Parliament is working without a hitch, just to mention a few examples.

That's not a problem. We have good administrators and talented people back home. Nor is there any risk of a U.S. invasion; you can rule that out. And if it happens, it's their funeral. Our Revolutionary Armed Forces are better prepared than ever before and even the children know what to do. Think of an Iraq multiplied by a million and an unbeatable unity of convictions. It's a price the United States can't possibly afford to pay.

The problem lies in what Fidel used to do. His voice and his speech were among the Revolution's most effective weapons. Fidel's words have meant a lot since we were born, and so has his battle of ideas. He himself has understood that (I believe) and, always the fighter, now soothes us with his daily REFLECTIONS since obviously he can no longer keep the same high profile as before. It's something, all right, but by no means a substitute for his voice, his style, his look. The journalists who read them [out loud on Cuban radio and TV] are no match for him.

It's true that we have people and sectors in Cuba who know how to think and believe we can do a Chinese-like transition to capitalism, mainly because in our country we have not managed to see China as a model of centralized capitalism and some sectors still call it "socialist". However, when they asked comrades such as [Cuban Parliament president] Ricardo Alarcón or the Minister of Finance about it, they answered that there would be no such transition because each country has its own particular idiosyncrasy -- not because China, as I see it, has become a capitalist country. This is causing serious social problems there.

Nonetheless, I do think there's a sector in Cuba today that defends such a viewpoint calmly and confidently. Now that's risky, and denying it would be political infantilism. Even though we don't have a Stalin in Cuba, there exists a dangerous tendency, if somewhat slow, towards the restoration of capitalism. In fact, Fidel said so in November 2005, shortly before he fell ill.

It's also true that there are signs of a different tendency. For instance, the currency exchange market was centralized and the U.S. dollar is not in circulation anymore as a result. Fortunately, however, the basic counterweight to a Chinese version of my revolution is the existence of Venezuela's revolutionary process, which is increasingly moving to a radical left and thus tugging at the Cuban process somehow, so that many Cubans who stopped talking about socialism and chose instead ecumenical, alter-worldish terms like "social justice" or "a better world" are now seeing that Venezuela talks quite naturally about Socialism and want to follow suit, never mind the strange ways some people want to call it these days, namely 21st Century Socialism, saying that it can be attained without expropriating the local capitalists and so forth.

Che Guevara's phrase that "To Imperialism... give not one tiny bit" is applicable to the indigenous bourgeoisie they've offered us since Rosa Luxemburg had to fight against Eduard Bernstein until the present time when the Brazilian senate opposes [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez's presence in MERCOSUR. I seize the occasion to recall that we don't need too many of "GOD"'s revelations to know, like Che said, that "they are the caboose of the imperialist train.

Listen, David, no revolutionary in the world is indifferent to Cuba or its process, luckier than other revolutions such as Russia's. And not just because Fidel is still alive and, as it were, a sort of Lenin's equivalent with all the ups and downs typical of a Head of State in a climate of unheard-of international stress, but because the left in its various forms and the country's topnotch intelligentsia are fighting for Socialism, unlike the USSR when Stalinism won through or when the Berlin Wall was torn down... That's an advantage, much like those 70 years worth of the very valuable experience of Eastern Europe, China and its problems, the demise of the Nicaraguan revolution in the 1990s, and so on. Above everything else, Cuba is lucky for the unparalleled opportunity we have to see a bunch of (never betrayed) revolutions taking place and coming together. Our links with the young Bolivarian revolution broaden our horizons and force us to improve ourselves more and more.

For all the slow pace of Bolivarian Venezuela's revolution -- unlike the way it was in Cuba almost 50 years ago -- this communion is already showing unequivocal leanings and contradictions. We had never seen a similar process before.

Once again are we hearing long-lost terms like "socialist revolution" or "caricature of revolution", etc. When my first writings were published, many people asked me in surprise what socialism I was talking about, or what I meant by all that about the permanent revolution, Trotsky, and so on.

New discussions are now underway, especially in certain fora (like the recently held meeting of the economists, or the one they called "From Marx to Today"), all closely related to the Venezuelan intelligentsia, and I believe it's a chance for radical intellectuals and leftists the world over to come to Cuba and Venezuela to take part in those debates and commit themselves to our realities.

When people ask me about Cuba's future, I give them this picture: "Cuba's future is also walking down the streets in Caracas, while the Venezuelan comrades are also defending the continuity of the Cuban Revolution. They have a huge responsibility, and that's why our unrestricted "and always critical" support to the remarkable accomplishments of Chávez's speech has become our main bulwark...without disregarding what we have at home". It's like seeing how the Permanent Revolution thesis of that Russian in 1905 comes to life a century later.

For that reason, a Chinese-style transition, which I dread, is defiantly challenged with an increasingly radical Venezuela. Who will prevail? Making bets is not to a revolutionary's liking. While others take time to make up their mind, we will be fighting without respite for the sake of the only choice that Fidel Castro's outrageously beautiful and coherent revolution deserves.

In your articles you underline the affinity between Trotsky's ideas and thoughts and those of Che Guevara. For decades it seemed there was a wall separating those who followed Trotsky, Communism or Che Guevara, all of whom had different concepts of those two revolutionary leaders. What's your opinion?

Paradoxical though it may seem, when I started reading Trotsky's writings I found them somehow familiar and well-known, along the same lines of Che Guevara's works.

Unfortunately, Che Guevara has been through the same adversity that so many other revolutionaries who were hogged by the Stalinist parties and whose ideas and thoughts were distorted, which fueled prejudice in other revolutionary and socialist schools, including Trotsky's. Almost all of those Stalinist parties have converted to reformism, except for the wonderful comrades of the Communist parties with whom we have so close contacts and bonds. In fact, I come from the Cuban Communist Party myself, and I take the opportunity to tell you that we are at a juncture where we can quite easily work with all parties of Marxist leanings. That's another little gift we received from real socialism's "desmerengamiento", to quote Fidel Castro.

In Trotsky's ideas I discerned concepts...that one way or another I had grasped from Che Guevara... about the Permanent Revolution, the Uneven and Combined Development of backward capitalist countries, internationalism, or his attacks on Soviet bureaucracy. Suffice it to make a second, careful reading of Socialism and Man in Cuba, or the Message to the Tricontinental, or his speech at the Afro-Asian Conference in Algiers, to recognize Che's influence and his fierce criticism at what he himself labeled "Socialist Powers", his sense of internationalism as a pressing need to continue the revolutionary struggle, a militant internationalism committed in every aspect.

Consequently, both Che and Trotsky ended up in the same limbo. The Trotskyist left, in special cases like that of Argentina, saw Che only as a martyr or a hero, with no regard whatsoever for his real, specific, explicit contributions to revolutionary theory... just because Che's followers usually extolled only his guerrilla profile. On the other hand, most Trotskyists get edgy at the mention of guerrilla warfare or gunpowder, even if it was the USSR's foremost guerrilla who marshaled and centralized the Red Army. Here in Buenos Aires they gave me Trotsky's Military Writings. Well, you should see his splendid criteria on revolutionary war! Both Che and Trotsky clearly, definitely and repeatedly defended the exploited's right to violence against the exploiters.

They also had faults and made mistakes, like any other revolutionary and any one who tries to do something in this world. We've been the victims of a most appalling plan to coop up the best Marxists in confined spaces.

Not that the Trotsky-Guevara equation is a new thing; I don't think I'm standing up for anything original. Néstor Kohan gave me a book by Carlos Rossi (that's a pen name) where he talks about those topics that I've just stumbled upon. Yes, I'm a fool who discovered warm water, as we say in Cuba. But I fell compelled by the circumstances.

Besides, I know for a fact that Che read Trotsky's work and shared his internationalist stance and other views. Just take a second look at the interview that Orlando Borrego gave Néstor Kohan, included in his book The subject of power. For instance, Ernest Mandel has already tried to bring both currents together; others like Michel Lowy also refer to this connection between Che and Trotsky in his book about the former. What happens now is that I come from the Cuban Revolution and highlight Trotsky without being a member of any Trotskyist party. I'm just pointing out that my Trotskyist comrades should see in Che Guevara a comrade-in-arms, read his works and realize that no two ways of thinking are more similar than theirs. Even their contradictions reveal they follow a single road and offer similar solutions to the same problems, each in his own day. And the same goes to Che Guevara's followers: get to know Leon Trotsky a little beyond your parties instead of rejecting him per se.

Two or three years ago you merely mentioned Trotsky's name and it seemed you were invoking the devil. I believe that's no longer the case as much as I believe that comrade Hugo Chávez, with his admirable oratory and transparency, has helped pull back those rigid curtains we had to endure for so long.

In Che Guevara's book "Critical Notes on the USSR's Manual of Political Economics" that was published in Cuba in 2006 exactly as he wanted it, with several comments hitherto unknown -- although parts of it had already been used by Carlos Tablada in his wonderful work Economic Thoughts of Ernesto Che Guevara and later on by Orlando Borrego, who reproduced some passages in his Camino al Fuego (On the Road to Fire) he carried out a very critical analysis of the USSR, to the point of assuring that it was "going towards capitalism".

If you read Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed and then this one, you will notice the continuity in space and time of the same criticism and exactly in the same sense. Hence the importance of understanding that they both undertook the same road ... taking into account the specific circumstances of their activity ... to reach the socialist system: the Permanent Revolution, or what Che called "the uninterrupted revolution".

That's why I maintain that it was Che who "won me over", as you guys like to say here, to Trotskyism... or rather to "Trotskyness"... which in no way implies being a member of any of today's parties. You, for instance, come from Ted Grant, as others do from Moreno, Posadas, Pablo, Mandel, Lambert, etc. I come then from Che Guevara's "stock". That's right, so they can keep criticizing me: I "Trotsky-ize" Che as much as I "Guevar-ize" Trotsky. It's not the case, but I could say the same about Rosa, Mariátegui, Gramsci, etc., whom our wicked enemies try to divide us while we convert ourselves into tight sects.

The Marxist thinkers... those who have truly served the revolutionary cause, either with their words or by force of arms, remain captivatingly coherent and balanced, even in their mistakes. Now, when it comes to Trotsky and Che, the misunderstanding has reached shocking levels in both sides of the playground. That's why I follow Trotsky and Guevara, as well as Mariátegui, Gramsci, [Rosa] Luxemburg, etc.

We should coin a term to refer to all those Marxists who strayed from Moscow's official line and kept swimming against the tide despite their Communist orthodoxy. In fact, the pushers of the official line accused Che, Mella, and many others of being Trotskyist? Could it be that they were right?

You're a gung-ho supporter of the Bolivarian revolution and its socialist nature. Furthermore, you have said that Venezuela's revolution is the key to Latin America's socialist revolution. Early this year Chávez called for the creation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). A full-blown debate has taken place in the midst of Venezuela's and Latin America's left-wing sectors about the Marxists' expected attitude toward that party and whether or not they should join it. Where do you stand?

I think we must stand up for the PSUV. So my warmest congratulations to the Venezuelan Marxists who joined and supported that party, which doesn't mean there are no challenges ahead. It won't be child's play, but a long struggle. Many bureaucrats and reformists have become members, but it's up to us Marxists who believe in a single revolutionary front to do battle inside the PSUV, because there's where Venezuela's first-grade revolutionaries are.

From a psychological viewpoint, we must understand that Chávez is a revolutionary figure followed by his people, over which he has a great deal of authority. Some people have a problem in that they make light of a person's or a popular leader's subjective role, and by doing so they contradict themselves inasmuch as they elevate figures like Marx, Lenin or Trotsky to biblical levels regardless of whatever mistake they might have made along the way while at the same time try to belittle the importance of Chávez or Fidel to the revolutionary process, and that's a mistake.

A personality is a product of the circumstances, a consequence of historical evolution. As a physicist, though they say I'm also a positivist -- they call me so many things! -- I'll give you an example: when a force whose frequency is equal to the oscillation is applied to a pendulum, resonance occurs, a very useful phenomenon since it increases the amplitude of oscillation to the max. Well, Chávez with his actions, his words, and, fortunately, his ascent to power, found out his frequency was equal to the internal frequency of historical oscillation, and so resonance occurred.

Denying this is like denying the sea its waves. So, there has to be consistency with the revolutionary process... as long as we never lose sight of how significant a party can be when it has over five million applicants after the hangover brought by the end of other parties, the end of socialism, and so forth.

Look, David, the events of the 1990s, when most of us lost a little faith in the parties and their work, are still fresh in our minds. Thus we must understand from a dialectical viewpoint those who pour scorn on this party on the basis of bitter past experiences. You in Argentina saw MAS blow out and leave your Trotskyists marked forever. So we must work together to carry on with this instrument the revolution needs so much. To do that, however, we must be in it, for little can be done from the outside. Of course, we must strengthen other sectors like the labor unions so they can serve as a class-struggle counterweight and convince all comrades to take a step forward, organize themselves once inside, and see how to work things out. I also know it won't be easy for many comrades after years of organizational work.

I disagree with those who believe that their organization or apparatus is more important than its impact on and role in society. Getting organized just for the fun of it is pointless. Organization is important, but so is its internal articulation. I know, because more than once I was a grassroots Communist Party leader, and the better our internal work the more we could do whenever we had an assignment, but using the methods allowed by your own realities and aware that the apparatus is a means and not an end in itself.

We must not be afraid of the ghosts from days gone by and devote ourselves fervently to building this revolutionary party. Unlike the reformists, those of us who have more experience never renounce the party and therefore have a great lead over them. Making the best of that advantage will be our mission.

Establishing the PSUV represents a victory to people of every Marxist current who, even when the going got tough, never doubted Lenin's remark that there's no socialism without a revolutionary party. Making his words come true through such a massive party is our challenge, because building socialism in Venezuela will be a mammoth challenge. History will never forgive us should we let this opportunity slip through our fingers. We must get down to it and fight. We will surely screw things up now and then, but staying put and burying our head in the sand would be our biggest mistake.

Another thing, you may have noticed that I always speak in the first person plural: "Our Party". It's because I think this party will never get anywhere unless we revolutionaries start organizing ourselves once and for all, at least in this continent.

Funny, but now the "International" will begin with countries Karl Marx never knew or even got to understand. However, it's still Karl Marx's International. Not only should those of us who are not from Venezuela commit ourselves, form judgments or make mistakes. This time there'll be no talk of "national interests", like in the post-Lenin Soviet CP.

Nevertheless, Latin American workers must pick up the thread of OSPAAAL's Tricontinental, where the whole revolutionary world gathered for the first time, including the USSR and China as socialist powers, the Central American guerrilla, and a Vietnam wracked by its daily grind. Rather than these horizontal fora, I'd like to have a meeting attended by insurgents from Iraq and Palestine, Marxists parties, and all those who defy the bourgeoisie in every possible way. But that's still a long way off. For the time being, laying the foundations of the Socialist Party of the Great Colombia is pivotal to the PSUV's success. Just thinking about it would help us settle our mind.

I'm writing an article about it these days, titled "PSUV or revolutionary party of Great Colombia", where I state that even if the establishing a revolutionary party in Venezuela is the most important thing, it's still to be done. We must do it and design a program that gets the workers involved. The PSUV makes it possible if we work from within its ranks and contribute to its development, for it belongs to the revolutionary people of Venezuela, whose example is to be extended throughout our continent.

We must seize the opportunity of what's happening in Venezuela to build common fronts using the means and possibilities provided by the revolution, and not only in the ideological field. For instance, the government issued a million copies of The Communist Manifesto for free distribution. It's from there that we have to get all the support our revolutionary comrades need. Some comrades from the Communist Party joined the party too, contrary to their leaders' wishes.

We'll have to wait and see how all Marxists join forces under the PSUV. Chávez said there will be no trends but, with all due respect, that remains to be seen. I think it will be unavoidable, what with the reformists on one side and the Marxists on the other. If the wing we must defend becomes a force majeure, I guess Chávez will go its way, as I think he's doing step-by-step despite the signs of bureaucracy and corruption coming from some sectors in his surroundings. It's in his nature. Notice that instead of going to the MERCOSUR meeting he announced his trip to Russia to buy weapons to defend the revolution, and called MERCOSUR a capitalist organization. My God! When I said that about a year ago they almost branded me as a "terrorist" and a "sectarian". See how things change.

So let's all promote the party. I know that you in the International Marxist Tendency have done a great job in that regard. I guess the time has come for all Trotskyists to meet therein, with our various concerns and interpretations.

Hugo Chávez and his revolution have triggered a real upheaval across the continent which, to paraphrase Che, will become socialist or a caricature. It's what the Cuban revolution deserves, among other things, after hanging in there all alone, enduring the onslaught of the End of History. That Party is our best prize. So let's do it together.

Latin America is no doubt in the vanguard of the world revolution, a far cry from the situation 10 or 15 years ago. What do you think is the outlook for this process and what would you recommend the revolutionaries in the continent?

We've grabbed a breathtaking left-side pendulum to counteract the neoliberalism of previous years. Yet, I'm not letting myself be swept away by hope, because some rather weird events too. For instance, the process in Mexico last year, with Atenco, Oaxaca, or López Obrador's National Democratic Convention. I thought they would have a stronger impact, considering the great demonstrations we saw and the significance of Oaxaca's commune, etc. I had great expectations, but to no avail. In my view, the left somehow failed to make something out of it, for all the considerable progress of some revolutionary trends. Both Deputy Commander Marcos and López Obrador could have done what Cuba did at the time of [tyrant Fulgencio] Batista's coup d'état: take in the blow and start anew from there. We also have many "friends" like Tabaré Vásquez in Uruguay: despite the expectations he created at the outset, now he wants to make it up with the people responsible for the dictatorship by enacting the Full Stop Law; or Lula's case in Brazil. In sum, we acknowledge this overall shift toward the left no less than we see those little moves to the right. That's why we must get a firmer foothold instead of getting overconfident. We'll have to wait and see what happens in Ecuador, and see how far things can go in Bolivia with its contradictions and under the guidance of a president who is a social leader conducting a process different from the one in Venezuela.

In my view we must not waste too much time, lest the pendulum swing back to the right. Sarkozy won in France, and Mauricio Macri might become the mayor of Buenos Aires. No matter how you look at it, those are moves to the right, hence my concerns and my rush.

Therefore, I devote myself to writing as much as I can, because that's what I can do right now. And we must reinforce all points of contact among the Latin American revolutionaries, try and see if we're really capable of working as a revolutionary organization with all those comrades that I talk to, if we will finally come of age and leave behind any subjective problem and internal divisions. We'll develop a basic common action program to that effect, and my recommendation is that we must unite, for we need that party in Venezuela, as much as we need it in Argentina and elsewhere, because that's what can channel all our energies.

Finally, Celia, how do you appraise your stay in Argentina, the presentation of your book and other activities?

I'm glad you asked. It's been great, excellent; I never imagined it would be like that. Still, I'll take the opportunity to tell you something I've thought about a lot in order to understand such welcome. As I said in our conversation, I went through the same thing that happened to Charles Chaplin in his emblematic film Modern Times, when by sheer chance he climbs out of a sewer right when some strikers were demonstrating and someone put a red banner in his hand as he was lurching to and fro. It's been more or less like that: many of my qualities don't depend on me at all. I come from the Cuban revolution, to which my revolutionary parents are bonded, and I've just been fairly consistent with all that. Other than a certain skill at putting letters together, that's all. What counts is that Leon Trotsky and radical thought are in people's minds today, and the resonance I mentioned before has taken place, albeit momentarily. Just notice how Chávez becomes more popular as he talks about Trotsky and Gramsci, a sign that revolutionary thinking and internationalism belong in the present historical moment. Curiously enough, it's starting to be a popular topic. I've done nothing in my life to deserve the treatment I receive, except being on the same wavelength as the circumstances, by chance, just like it happened with Charlie coming out of that sewer.

Furthermore, I was still wet behind the ears when I aligned myself with radical Marxist ideas. I stumbled upon Trotsky at the right time and under the right circumstances, after I had searched and searched for a long time -- he had been concealed from me as well as from many others. I met him a little before the fall of the Berlin Wall, which made his ideas see all the more fresh and reviving...

With all my heart I undertook the Cuba revolution's radical and internationalist route, so inherent to and manifest in Cuban history as it started with José Martí and the class party he founded to achieve our delayed independency; Julio Antonio Mella, whom the regrettably well-known Vidali accused of being a Trotskyist too; Antonio Guiteras and Joven Cuba [Young Cuba]; the Popular Socialist Party's successive strategic mistakes (with Machado and Batista); the attack on the Moncada Garrison, where my uncle Abel Santamaría and my mother took part together with Fidel; the creation of the 26th of July Movement, with my parents among the founders, which embodied the ideal of a vanguard movement fully opposed to any electoral option, unlike the PSP, the former Communist Party of Cuba, whose leaders stopped calling the revolutionaries adventurers only one year before they won. And there's Fidel, with his immense, deep sights set on the revolutionary processes. If ever a revolution can reveal itself to be permanent and lacking confused stages, that's ours! Finally, there's Che and his intangible truth. That's what got me closer to Trotskyism.

In light of today's realities, when the means of survival of the longest and most coherent revolution in history are going through another revolution, the Old Man's principles are taking shape.

All these factors are piling up on me. Many ask me in surprise, "How can you be a Trotskyist in Cuba?" And I answer, full of confidence: "Wrong: how can you not be a Trotskyist in Cuba", given our historic revolutionary tradition and our quintessential internationalist nature.

Cuban thinker and revolutionary Fernando Martínez Heredia declared at a recent meeting: "Marxist thinking is a substantial part of Cuban culture". I tried to think of other countries where that happens, but was unable to come up with more than a few. We put up with no dictators in Cuba; not one person has ever disappeared. Our people rose up after the Moncada crimes and the government had to pardon Fidel Castro. We were scared of neither Bay of Pigs nor the Missile Crisis. We took a notable part in the overthrow of apartheid in Africa; we put paid to Fukuyama's thesis by holding up the slogan Socialism or Death. We're on our way to the 50 year of revolution; we have flooded the world with doctors and teachers.

Trotsky is also ours as he was in a way "growing wild" within these events, as others did, in perfect harmony with our sun, our rum and our cigars. That's why I say, David, that I got smuggled in this story with a certain naiveté, trying to use the world's Marxist thinking to accomplish the consistency I had learned to appreciate since I was a child.

I do assure you, comrade, that whoever tries to take away from me the little red banner Chaplin had in Modern Times will have to do it over my dead body.

Thank you very much, Celia, and until next time.

Thank you, and thanks again to El Militante and the Friedrich Engels Foundation for giving me so happy moments... You're experts at making me happy.

A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.