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PostJ. Posadas and Flying Saucers (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 05/14/14 12:55 pm)
The following was published on Facebook on April 25 by Sebastian Budgen. It is a note I wrote a year or two ago, which was supposed to be "Luciano Dondero's Editorial Introduction to the Posadas text" (available at http://www.marxists.org/archive/posadas/1968/06/flyingsaucers.html ). It had been originally commissioned to appear in the journal Historical Materialism, but didn't, for reasons that are best left unanswered.
I suppose a glimpse into some of the nitty-gritty of a Trotskyist group might be of mild interest in a slack day:
The article you are about to read, pompously titled "Flying saucers, the process of matter and energy, science, the revolutionary and working-class struggle and the socialist future of mankind," is the source of much of the legend about J. Posadas and his Fourth International's "UFO deviation."
If Trotskyism is itself a splintered fringe-movement within Marxism, albeit a creative and occasionally brilliant fringe, "J. Posadas" is a somewhat obscure and frequently bad-mouthed figure.
Let me devote a few words to this self-taught Argentine worker, turned into a self-proclaimed leader of world Trotskyism.
He was born Homero Rómulo Cristalli Frasnelli in 1912 in Córdoba, Argentina, where his parents had emigrated from Southern Italy. A skilled worker, he joined the Trotskyist movement in the mid-1930s, moving after a few years to Buenos Aires to head one of the factions of Argentine Trotskyism (see Osvaldo Coggiola's essays on Argentine Trotskyism in Revolutionary History 2.2 for a detailed background-description).
In the early 1950s, around the time of the big split in the Fourth International between the Cannon-Healy-Lambert wing (the "International Committee," ICFI) and the Pablo-Mandel-Frank-Maitan wing (the "International Secretariat," ISFI), he became Michel Pablo's right-hand man in South America, at the head of the ISFI Latin American Bureau.
Unlike European Trotskyism, which until May 1968 in France was basically unknown, Latin American Trotskyism was a rather significant factor, especially in Bolivia, where the Partido Obrero Revolucionario (POR) was the party of the working class, and had played a significant role in the abortive Revolution of 1952.
Posadas was at the head of various groups throughout the continent, notably the Cuban POR, which was repressed by the Cuban revolutionary government of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara for its call to eject the US troops from their Guántanamo base.
By the early 1960s, Posadas had become convinced of his own role at the head of the socialist revolution on a planetary scale, and by 1962 he had split from Pablo and built his own Fourth International, with sections in several Latin American countries, as well as in Italy, France, Britain, Belgium and Spain, and later in Greece and Germany.*
While the membership of these groups never went beyond a few dozen or perhaps a couple of hundred in Argentina, their influence was not always negligible. For instance, in Guatemala, in the early 1960s, the Posadists managed to convince Yon Sosa, the leader of a guerrilla group called MR-13, to adopt a programme of struggle based on Trotsky's perspective of permanent revolution. This produced a split with a rival CP-loyal grouping led by Luis Turcios Lima, and this formed the basis for Fidel Castro's open attack against Trotskyism and Posadas at the 1965 Tricontinental conference.
The polemical book written by Regis Debray in 1967, Révolution dans la révolution?, probably commissioned by the Cuban leadership, was to take up the same issues against Trotskyism, and denouncing Posadas for "adventurism" in particular.
In my opinion, people tend to put too much emphasis on Posadas's stance on UFOs, which was never a significant part of the theoretical armour of his international. Much more important elements at the time of his split with the official Fourth International was Posadas's emphasis on the coming war between imperialism and the Soviet bloc, with his advocacy of a preventative nuclear first strike by the USSR against the USA. This also reverberated in Soviet publications from the 1960s and 1970s, where Posadas was taken to task, together with Gerry Healy, for advocating a nuclear clash between the USSR and the USA (as can be seen in the writings of Boris Ponomarev, chief of the International Department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1955 to 1986).
Also significant in Posadas's writings was a general downplaying of the role that the European and US working class were to play in a world conflict, as opposed to the movements from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Looking at this from a distance of some fifty years, it is easy to see how, in a sense, Posadas was onto something--just think of Vietnam, Cuba, Congo and Yemen, not to mention the soon-to-explode "Cultural Revolution" in China with all its repercussions elsewhere. On the other hand, May 1968, the 1969 "Hot Autumn" in Italy, the workers' revolt of 1971 in Poland, as well as the stirring of Black workers in the USA (such as in Detroit) would obviously indicate that the situation was not really so bleak after all in the "First World."
In Europe, Posadas managed to get a few beachheads, as well as the first Trotskyist group in Spain since the aftermath of the Civil War. I can speak personally regarding the situation in Italy, where in 1967 things looked very bleak indeed, with a huge Communist Party lording it over the working class, and keeping it in line, that is, away from any confrontation with the bourgeois state. The official Fourth International grouping led by Livio Maitain was ensconced in the PCI, where it had been pursuing a perpetual "deep-entry" tactic since 1952, and the Posadists seemed a lot more militant and determined to offer an alternative. I remember the impact on me when they showed me an issue of their paper, Lotta Operaia [Workers' Struggle], with the headline "Death of a counter-revolutionary" upon the death of Palmiro Togliatti. I had actually met Togliatti as a young kid, when he came to visit the Genoa dockworkers' branch of the PCI, where my father was a significant figure.
Anyhow, one of the most damning positions that Posadas adopted at that time was his claim that Guevara's disappearance from Cuba was due to his having being killed in the middle of a dispute with the Castro brothers (Posadas was reported as actually attributing Che's murder to Raúl). As Guevara was then killed in Bolivia in 1967, the Posadists did not carry the burden of such a position into 1968 and subsequent years.
The topic of the article below was prompted by various reports sent from Posadas's man in Europe, the Argentine Giuseppe Bonotti (or Miguel Arroyo--both are pseudonyms), who was a strong believer in UFOs. Posadas was not so hot on this, but took an open-minded position, basically in line with a Marxist understanding of the universe, and pretty much the same kind of things that a scientist like Carl Sagan argued for decades: intelligent life on other planets is quite plausible.
I was living in Rome in 1968, where Giuseppe was at the time that Posadas article arrived--we duly translated it for Lotta Operaia. Essentially, it was understood as a way of telling Giuseppe to take it easy, and noted for future reference. I do not recall ever engaging anybody in a discussion over this, it was not regarded as a very important thing. As far as I am aware, Bonotti never raised this issue again, doing otherwise was not a real option.
The article also makes a number of assumptions and assertions which are clearly devoid of a scientific basis, but this was not obvious to me at the time. And surely I would not have guessed that over the last twenty years or so it became necessary to go back to this issue time and time again on the Internet (those who are curious can find much reference to it, the Yahoo! group "Leftist Trainspotters" probably being the most interesting among them).
In fact, as far as my recollection goes, the key issue in our discussions was always the call for a Soviet attack on the US--internally, we were given a handbook of the Italian army on the subject of nuclear warfare--as in the 1960s and 1970s this seemed a lot more concrete, not to say relevant, than flying saucers. How this issue became of some significance in the far left is not entirely clear to me; I can only speculate that it would have been an easy club with which to smash the heads of Posadists, and by implication, of other Trotskyists.
The Posadists were a tightly knit organisation, with one leader and one leader only. No discussion would go beyond finding ways to "understand better" and "explain clearly" what was said in a given text signed by Posadas. Security was a big issue: we all used pseudonyms not only in the paper, but also in our day-to-day lives (to this day, there are many people for whom I am just "Federico"). While some of these measures were probably exaggerated, repression was a real factor in the life of the Posadists. Some of their militants were killed in Chile, Argentina and Brazil, and many more were incarcerated and tortured in those countries and elsewhere, including in Cuba and in Italy.
On a personal level, Posadas was a rather charismatic figure, a very engaging person, a powerful man with a white mane which he would touch with his right hand (with the tips of two fingers missing, from an old work accident).
I have a fond memory of "Luigi," as we called him in Italy, and of many meetings in the countryside near Rome, conducted in a rather informal manner, from kicking a football around and eating some home-made pastries, to listening to Posadas (duly recording his speech on tape), and drinking together. As far as I know, this format is typically the way in which political meetings are held in Argentine, where they may add an asado (grilled meat)--and make do without Posadas' speeches...
He had ended up in Italy because a Posadist meeting had been broken up in Uruguay by the army when they were looking for the Tupamaros guerrillas. When they realised that they had got Posadas instead, there was a tug of war between the army and the police, and finally he was expelled to Italy, which granted him, his wife and another comrade of Italian origin political asylum. As the conditions of his stay in Italy formally prevented Posadas from undertaking any political activity, all articles written between 1968 and his 1981 death in Paris have appeared with the dateline "1968."
While in Europe Posadas's politics mellowed somewhat, perhaps also because the Italian CP had been instrumental in granting him asylum, and he started theorising a "partial regeneration of the Soviet bureaucracy." This was possibly a development arising from the old line of the Fourth International at the 1951 Congress, where Michel Pablo had pushed his view of a degenerated USSR possibly expanding further its coterie of deformed workers' states over a period of centuries, clearly positing that this social formation had some kind of historical perspective and value.
Posadas, and we as his followers, did not really pay much attention to what other groups would say. It's an attitude somewhat similar to that of Ted Grant's Militant (the International Marxist Tendency, Socialist Appeal in the UK), which used to call all other groups "sects," thus simply dismissing any criticisms they might have.
In Italy, these changing positions pushed the tiny Posadist group, pompously called Revolutionary Communist Party (Trotskyist), far to the right within the Italian far left, making its paper a laughing stock for some leftists, with its constant call on the PCI to take the lead of the working class in opening the road to socialism via a coalition-government including the left wing of the Christian Democrats (DC). Little did Posadas know that some time after his death, the remnants of the PCI would actually forge a single party with that very same left-DC, namely the Democratic Party, a bickering formation which can't even agree on democratic issue like marriage rights for lesbians and gay people, much less on whether UFOs actually exist...**
* Germany had the only concrete continuity, so to speak, of a Posadist tendency still addressing the issues dealt with in this article. Retired engineering worker Paul Schulz, who settled in Argentina after having escaped from the Third Reich, published books where he claimed to be the official representative of an extraterrestrial civilisation.
** Some of the responsibility for perpetuating the stories about Posadas's "UFO-philia" must be attributed to Fortean Times, which in 2003 published a rather inaccurate piece by Matt Salusbury, "Juan R. Posadas," which has become the standard reference for use by Wikipedia and just about everybody else on the Internet.
JE comments: Fascinating. I confess that despite my "Argentinist" scholarly pretensions, I knew nothing about Posadas beyond a passing reference or two. Today isn't exactly a slack day in WAISworld, but I couldn't delay on Luciano Dondero's excellent post.
(Luciano, this is only tangential to your essay, but when you have the chance, could you send a note on your childhood encounter with Togliatti? Of course, for a car nut like me, Togliatti is best known as the inspiration for the Russian city of Tolyatti, home of the AvtoVAZ corporation.)