Against All Sectarianism

Pedro Campos*

Old Havana scene.

HAVANA TIMES, August 17 – It has been a disastrous tradition in the left to try to impose one’s position or to discredit and exclude others who don’t agree with the ideas one defends.  This is sectarianism: the eternal error.  It exists among those who believe themselves to be completely correct and who entirely reject those who don’t share their point of view or simply have tactical differences that the disparities of experience encourage.

It’s not necessary to mention specific names.  It’s not necessary to enter into personal polemics with anyone in particular.  More often than not such exchanges end up in sterile irreconcilable brawls, despite the sides having more in common than they do differences, like the debate between Marx and Bakunin that did so much damage to socialism.  The battle is one of ideas, not of people.  It’s not necessary to attack anyone.  Those who insist on personalizing criticism do not share constructive positions for the solution of problems; instead, they look to complicate them.

As it has still not been possible to structure the new socialist society —the one that is as free and democratic as so many revolutionaries have dreamed for over centuries— no one is entitled to claim themself the absolute owner of truth, which must be demonstrated in practice.  Much less can they aspire to exclusive approaches and focuses in concrete politics – which is not the same as ideology.

Basic ideological principles can be shared as people simultaneously think of distinct policies, actions and tactics for similar situations.  This is especially true if the analyses are made in different geographical or chronological situations, and with dissimilar experiences.  But to seek to impose a position, or to try to ignore those of others who are from equally revolutionary origins, is plain and simple sectarianism.  All sectarianism should be rejected.

It also means trying to destroy critics when their disagreements are not clearly motivated out of error or are concealed counter-revolutionary activities (in the worst cases); sometimes it’s never known.  However, given the lack of information, the most serious case should not be assumed.

Sectarianism as the rejection of criticism

When the possibility appears on the horizon to realize the society that all true socialists desire, as has occurred in Cuba since the victory of the revolution of 1959 —even with all the defects and errors of the process and of the actions of its leaders— this compels us not to impose any “line” on the events, proposals or imaginations of any individual or groups.  Instead, assistance in the form of healthy and committed criticism is required for and by the good of all.

Why is this help rejected and not wanted to be heard?  Why is the dissemination of ideas blocked and its promoters harassed?  This is indeed happening, but it cannot tire us or lead us into a confrontation.  There have always existed differences among revolutionaries.  There have always been those who have reconciled themselves with the dominant forces; those who have opted for open confrontation between revolutionaries and erred in tactics; those who have preferred to leave their country or have left to continue that same struggle from other countries; as well as those who have opted to face the complex political situation within its very bowels and exercised constrictive criticism from here, against all risks.

In line at the neighborhood store.

Something has indeed been demonstrated in all revolutionary experiences up to the present: division, sectarianism, disrespect of other revolutionaries, lack of dialogue, undisclosed and secretive actions, the absence of transparency in positions, “ad hominem” allusions, insults and other similar attitudes have always been among the factors that have led to the failure of revolutionary processes and socialist initiatives.

Principled flexibility

But of course this is not defending “unity without principles” as a false unanimity that attempts to conceal the diversity of revolutionary thought and to make a single doctrine sacred.  It is not to turn one’s cheek and later the other.  It is to struggle because there coexist in an open and democratic atmosphere —based on respect— all of the different forms of thinking of revolution and socialism.  From sharing and exchanges between these emerge a resulting political line, without impositions, that not everyone has to approve of completely.  Nor does consensus mean having each revolutionary agree on everything, but it must satisfy most of the yearnings of everyone.  Interests are diverse.  What is difficult is often bitter… as we know.

In any case, there have always existed extremists and sectarians of diverse stripes who have aspired to “impose” (a verb that revolutionary Marxism rejects in principle) their way and manner of doing and projecting things.  They underrate and even attack other positions that we cannot share, however they part ways with those who have demonstrated their honesty and have risked their necks to defend the interests of the majorities.

I have outlined this on other occasions and now it is even clearer: Yes, I aspire for us to begin dialogue between all those who want a socialist, democratic and better society without exclusions – any exclusion.  Those who have believed themselves capable of achieving this from a stance of narrowness have not won a single inch in the advance toward socialism.

The evolution of sectarianism in Cuba

At its beginning, the July 26 Movement was not sectarian; it couldn’t be, given its democratic and emancipatory objectives and because of its social composition that arose from a crucible of ideologies.  It included positions that ranged from the defenders of diverse bourgeois and landowner ideologies, to anti-imperialists and even liberals and the whole gamut on the left – all the way to the extreme left.  The radicalization of the revolution once in power and its “filtering” starting from its first months of existence, led to the integration of many of those left currents into the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).  But it also resulted in many of these distancing themselves and others deserting or being fought against in a sectarian fashion.

The later evolution is known: excessive economic centralization and that of political decision making, led to a single party system in which democracy lost ground to centralism.  Collective leadership remained as an aim that was not reflected in systematic meetings of governmental bodies that assembled to discuss and to come to agreements on tactics and strategies.  Policies created through a military type of chain of command came to prevail, which was the breeding ground for deviations as or more disastrous than sectarianism: nepotism, favoritism, clientelismo (machine politics), arribismo (“top-downism”), corruption and others.

It was not by chance that Raul Castro has talked about a more democratic Party, diversity and collective leadership.  He has in fact raised these issues, though some believe that it was done only to placate some of the more dissatisfied elements.

Today in Cuba there exists a broad radical socialist current within and outside the PCC.  This current aspires that we escape from the current stagnation starting by superseding the current bureaucratic-authoritarian statist structure.  This social current for change includes communists, socialists, Trotskyists, Guevarists, Marxists, Gramscians, Guiterists, anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, Martianos, self-management socialists, free thinkers, Santeros, Christians, religious believers of several other denominations, liberals, homosexuals, pacifists, radical democrats, eco-environmentalists, anti-racists, municipalists, nationalist, internationalists and others: all generally defenders of broad political and socio-cultural diversity, and among all of whom are both young and old revolutionaries.

Havana street.

However, that current by itself cannot achieve its yearnings.  It seems that what is revolutionary in Cuba today is to attempt to link all of these people —keeping in mind their differences— with other democratic and anti-imperialist forces in support of a socialist-oriented program.  This must be built on the basis of consensus and count on the support of those in government leadership who are true proponents of changing everything that must be changed, those who are capable of rescuing and encouraging the original democratic and emancipatory content yet to be achieved but that succeeded in reaching a broad consensus in 1959.  If an expressed political will towards socialization is not reached by the current leadership, the alternatives will be in favor of capitalist restoration.  But that would be just as sectarian, trying to exclude the current sectarian rulers.

Obstacles to change

It is clear that there exists a group, a tendency or a corrupt wing in the bureaucracy that is interested in hijacking the revolution and that is seeking its own salvation in an alliance with international capital.  They are willing to share in the exploitation of Cuban “human capital” (our workers, technicians and professionals trained by the Revolution).  Nevertheless, the entire leadership cannot be identified as such, nor does all of the bureaucracy have those aims.  Those who don’t know our revolutionary process intimately can make a mistake in fully appreciating this.  Those who have experienced it intensely know that it’s not like this.

The main obstacle to socialism in Cuba today is not in and of itself the State, nor certain figures within that State, but the ultra-conservative bureaucratic and centralized-State mentality that still exists among some comrades.  What must be removed is that mentality: consisting of a certain group of concepts about society, production relations, the party, the state, government, freedom, democracy, human rights and others.

Those who believe that “the death of the dog means the end of rabies” forget that rabies is dispersed among many animals and is in the atmosphere.  According to that approach as a solution, it would be necessary to kill vast numbers of dogs and animals.  However, it’s not necessary to kill; it’s necessary to vaccinate them and cure them.  Marx, Stalin and Bakunin died and Trotsky was murdered; but Marxism, Stalinism, anarchism and Trotskyism didn’t die.

Sectarianism in the bosom of the left has led to the failure of revolutionary processes in deeds and thought.  It has ended up being imposed anti-democratically and almost always by force, and at the cost of other left tendencies, which in the long run have nonetheless resurged.

On occasion that resurrection can become pregnant with sectarianism by one or another representative who unfortunately may sometimes seem more interested in avenging the events of the past than in helping the workers find the path away from political and ideological alienation.  But certainly there are those others, I respect them, who overcome bitterness and past punishment to put the general interests of the revolutionary movement ahead of everything else, without giving up their principles.

Lessons to be learned

Dogmatism is not exclusive to Stalinism.  Inveterate sectarians of all stripes behave as if they don’t want to learn from their own errors and as if they want to mechanically reproduce the old contradictions or to transplant similar (but unequal) phenomena into us; this has occurred in other times and places.  Beware of simplistic analogies!

The Metropolitan Bank

Whoever is unable to accept the existence of other concepts, other ways of achieving the same ends or similar ones, and those people who lack the capacity even to forgive others who have committed errors (you don’t have to be a god to forgive a fellow being) and are willing to correct them, are without knowing it serving the cause of divisionism and in the long run abetting those who do not want to leave any vestige of what has been accomplished here in Cuba over this past half century.

It is true that historically, in the 20th century, Stalinist centralizing currents have achieved hegemony over the revolutionary process and have mercilessly attacked other forces of the left, even committing murder.  Basically these forces have been social democrats, Trotskyists and various anarchists.  But if the positions of those tendencies are to act as an opposition at all costs, they will only be reproducing their own ghosts, serving to strengthen traditional hegemony and deferring the socialist advance.

Peaceful and patient action, open to originally minority currents, is the sole road to making others comprehend the need for understanding among revolutionaries.  If the response to low or sanguinary blows is of same character, there will be no correcting of problems, and “tit for tat” and “eye for an eye” reactions will only lead us into interminable feuds between the Montagues and Capulets.

It’s known that force conquers but it doesn’t convince, and in the long run reason imposes itself. Those who do not trust their own arguments and try to impose themselves through armed force against other revolutionaries, instead of winning them in the battle of ideas they will sooner or later lose them all.

Summer on the Havana malecon seawall.

Diverse stripes of sectarianism were not only largely to blame for the debacle of the former  “socialist camp” and the USSR, they were also responsible for the division of the revolutionary and democratic movements before and after the first and second world wars.  Sectarianism was a basic component of the division in the revolutionary and democratic movements of Latin America in the 1960-80 period; and today, in this new 21st century, it continues to wreak havoc in the core of the Cuban Revolution, in Venezuela, in Ecuador, in Mexico and in the rest of the revolutionary and democratic movement in Latin America and the rest of the world.

Behind sectarianism can be the open or concealed hand of the imperialist enemy, who has always played upon the division of the left and its internal confrontations around tactical questions and hegemonic personalities.  I’m not accusing anyone who commits sectarianism of being an “agent of the enemy,” but objectively they can be made the object of media manipulation and disinformation campaigns, of “psychological operations” of distraction and diversion aimed at sowing confusion, at misinforming revolutionaries and seeking to turn our discussions into other types of confrontations.  “Divide and you will conquer.”

Beware of the “white noise” and the campaigns of the imperialistic special services: the news that so-and-so is a “murderer of revolutionaries,” that Joe Blow “is a copy of so-and-so”; while one side is made up of “counter-revolutionaries” and the John Doeists “sold out.”  All that, which in its time could occur as a consequence of the inflamed class struggle, in certain periods of the revolutionary processes becomes inflated and multiplied by disinformation specialists working for specialized services of the empire.

The maturation of the revolutionary movement, its capacity to overcome differences, to enter into dialogue and subordinate personal interests and those of particular groups to the general interests of the revolutionary and socialist movement: these are among the most urgent tasks in this new 21st century, especially now that the imperialistic crisis is opening up new horizons and spaces for the resurgence of revolutionary and socialist processes.

Critical support of Cuba

When comparing Cuba with other revolutionary processes, it’s necessary to appreciate its general features that offer similarities, but also its particularities that offer differences.  The excessive centralism that is criticized as being neo-Stalinism in politics and in the economy is certainly here, but it would be unfair to assert the occurrence of bloody or massive repression against revolutionaries and communists as occurred in Russia and other countries.

Here it exists, but it’s veiled, fox-like, low-intensity and only occasionally overt.  However, as far as we know, up to now it has been bloodless.  It has been appropriately criticized, without stridence, in an attempt to prevent the repression of the left from serving the interests behind international campaigns directed against the revolutionary process as a whole.

Over the last several decades, Cuban revolutionaries have been “separated” from the Party, threatened, “changed” or fired from their jobs.  Those in power have tried to prevent them from participating in May Day parades with posters, they have been “visited” and made the victims of other abuses of power; yet there is no possible comparison with the crimes of Stalinism.

Study old histories to learn errors, yes; to relive the bitterness, no.

For a revolutionary, it’s more painful to be attacked by the irresponsible fire of a supposed “friend” than to fall in combat attacking the enemy head on.

* Pedro Campos Santos. Former Cuban diplomat in Mexico and at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. International political analyst.  Head researcher of the Center for United States Studies Project the University of Havana. He is currently retired. His articles can be read at the following site:

Contact Pedro Campos at: [email protected]

5 thoughts on “Against All Sectarianism

  • Here is a young Fidel Castro saying he is no communist

    (some spanish and the rest in english)

    He said in spanish
    “and all that campaign of communist against the revolutionary government is a false campaign is a cruel campaign and we are not worried about it neither are we scared. The people of Cuba know that the revolutionary government is not communist…”

    How many lies , Now one has to wonder also
    was he really a Marxist and Leninist?

  • somewhere i have a documentary film about the cuban revolution in which there is an interview with the young fidel castro. when he is asked what his political philosophy is, he responds in broken english, ” social justice and representative democracy..”
    50 years later cuba has neither.
    in 2004 and 2005 i had the opportunity to travel to cuba, and so i embarked upon this journey with wide eyes and a passion for justice in my heart. i had a great time during both trips, met good people, at good food, drank lots of beer. i had an invitation to attend an anti free trade agreement in which i was able to photograph fidel, as well as evo morales. also present were the recently disgracefull daniel ortega and of course the venezuelan blowhard hugo chavez. the excitement was very real. the passion of the medical students of various latin american countries was breathtaking. but the whole time i was there something was nagging at me which i did not recognize at the time. i have since been able to work out in my mind that while the cuban revolution was perhaps inspiring, i much prefer the democratic system in my own country (u.s.) for the simple fact that if i choose i can take part her evolution. there is obviously no doubt that a movement trying to build some kind of social justice will face an uphill battle here, but thats the point. its supposed to be a struggle. someone like grady, attempting to build a workable cooperative socialism is free to carry on with his struggle here in the u.s. if he were in cuba he would probably be in jail, or fired from his job. the fact of the matter is that political and individual liberty is the most important feature of a county. cuba has neither. so for all her errors and injustices, these united states really are something worth defending. i sincerely wish pedro and the rest of the comrades luck in their struggle for socialism and democracy, with political liberty for everyone, even ‘counter revolutionary worms’

  • Pedro, as always it is a delight to bask in the warm glow of your rhetoric and your noble heart. There is nothing in this superb article with which I can take issue.

    I’d just like to say one short word. The Marxian principle of state monopolization of the land and all the instruments of production produces the need for authoritarian bureaus to run the economy.

    To run bureaus, bureau workers and bureau leaders are needed.

    The Marxian form of socialism therefore creates the bureaucracy, and sectarian mentality needed to defend such a system, if we like it or not.

    The way to get rid of both bureaucracy and sectarian is to come up with a new hypothesis for the further socialist experiment in Cuba.

    What we cooperative transformationaries in the US are struggling to develop is what I think you in Cuba are struggling to develop: an authentic, workable program for socialist economy and political/social democracy. Good luck to us all.

  • While I am not a leftist I think I can give some of my input on this.

    From my philosophy classes still remember the dialectics the struggle of contraries is clear on my mind as one important dialectical principle that is always ignored.
    Let me explain myself better. By not allowing this confrontation of ideas even if they are totally opposite and showing the unanimous support behind someone. Is a totally ridiculous idea. When it comes to things as subjective there is as many different opinions as people out there.
    So it is in the best interest of any political faction be left right or center not to eliminate the opposition but to encourage it.

    To be left without right is not to be!

    It will be equivalent to the negation of the dialectical principles of your own philosophical ideology!

    As I was saying before the people of Cuba never wanted socialism and not even more dictatorship. Cuba had a prior history of vicious dictators but none seem to have restricted personal liberties to the extremes that the current regime has gone to.

    Yes, Batista was a dictator but people were able to exit and enter Cuba at their own will without having to have the approval of the government. But I am not really interested in talking here about what Batista was but on what we have right now in Cuba.

    The question to ask is.
    Is it possible to build a democratic society that allow the participation of everyone and that is only socialistic or leftist?

    My answer is No.
    The reason for this is simple. They will always be people that will be oppose to it.
    To start the reason why people may be oppose is simple
    Just because the centralized economy of socialism is proven beyond any reasonable doubt not to work. It has been try by almost every race and culture. From many countries in Asia, Europe and America and in none has worked.
    It is obvious it is hard to find excuses.
    So given that. The only choice is to return to capitalism as economical system.
    Notice capitalism does not mean monopolistic capitalism. That is a different animal that should be avoided at all cost.

    Given that we have settle back in a softer form of capitalism then the question still remain.

    Why then keeping just one party the left in power?

    As I was saying the left without the right will be unbalance. One needs of the other. Neither the right should exist by itself or the left by itself. This balance of power is what makes society move in the best direction. One can pull for the people and one could also pull for the interest of businesses. After all we all need the businesses unless we are all willing to go back to the caves and start hunting with arrows.

    So the question is do we want to go into a modern society were change is natural and is accepted or the stagnant society that Cuba has become?

    From this part I will take one word that pollutes it

    “ I have outlined this on other occasions and now it is even clearer: Yes, I aspire for us to begin dialogue between all those who want a socialist, democratic and better society without exclusion”

    “socialist” Since as soon as you place that word there then as I explained it is already exclusionary.
    How about this other one
    “Yes, I aspire for us to begin dialogue between all those who want a democratic and better society without exclusion”

    See that last one does not assume anything about the type of system and therefore is less exclusionary.

    The main reason for corruption is that people with power can exchange the power they have for some tangible hard currency that will help them in some way thru the difficult times. Never mind all the rethorics about consciousness of the masses. People will do what is best for them as individuals and not what is best for a collective.
    That is exactly the base of capitalism. Read Adam Smith.
    The collective wisdom of all these people working in their individual self interests actually end up working for the collective good of the whole of society!
    What at amazing concept. Even more interesting is that it really works!

  • Pedro,
    I have no idea if you are even able to read what we write here if you do reply back. I will make an analysis of your article later with more time.

    To start the juices I will point something very obvious.

    The approval the revolution got on 1959 was because people though the revolution was going to restored democracy not because it was going to create a socialist system.
    The leadership of the revolution never claimed to be communist and they emphatically denied it in the first years of the revolution. Cubans wanted freedom and democracy no dictatorship.

    Unfortunately that’s exactly what we got.
    Nobody was consulted about if people really wanted socialism. I am sure if it was consulted probably a great majority would have say No.

    With regards to the Stalinist regime in Cuba been soft. Wow, you sure never seen the other side of the coin.
    All the families separated. The people that have die and yes those that were murder or simply those that die by sharks crossing the Florida strait.
    Be revolutionaries or not. It is kind of hard to define revolutionary.
    If we look the real meaning of revolutionary is those that want change the status quo but of course that is not probably the meaning you have in mind. For the “revolution” who stop from been a revolution as soon as it was created and as soon as those in power the elite became the de facto new ruling class that will rule Cuba as their own personal farm and Cubans as slaves of the plantation.

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