The October Revolution was a response from the Russian working class, peasants, and soldiers to feudal despotism and Capitalist exploitation. The Latin American working class and workers from the city and countryside similarly understood this: not only were good feelings towards Russia on the increase, but so was the consciousness of the need to follow the example of the Russian Revolution to construct Socialism-Communism.
In 1918 in Argentina, Victorio Codovilla and Rodolfo Ghioldi founded the International Socialist Party, which, with only 92 days since its foundation, decided to affiliate itself to the Communist International the following year. Codovilla, who had started his political activism in his home country in the ranks of the Italian Socialist Party, and was now a resident of Buenos Aires, was amongst the founders of the “Karl Marx Study Centre” in 1912.
In 1919 in Guatemala the League of Patriotic Workers was organized, which only months later was the principal driving force behind the insurrection of the workers against the dictatorship. In 1921 the 1st May was celebrated for the first time in this country.
Also in 1919 the First Socialist Congress of Mexico was held, which, with a majority of votes, decided to incorporate itself into the Communist International. Two months later it opted to change its name in accord with the international organisation which it had just joined: it would now be the Mexican Communist Party.
In Colombia, the Trade Union Federation, the Confederation for Social Action, and the Society of Mutual Assistance met, and, with the representation of 20 associations and guilds, formed a Socialist Party which would be used to promote the independence of the working class from other political parties and religious sects and to fight for working class concessions. Its main initial themes were proclaimed to be freedom, equality, and fraternity.
Despite the fact that we are concentrating on Latin America and the Caribbean, it is also important to mention the foundation of proletarian parties in the USA: the Communist Party and the Workers Communist Party. Both parties worked clandestinely and joined the Communist International, unifying themselves in 1921. The US Communist Party gained legality in 1929.
The people of Guatemala rose up against the dictator in 1920 and were able to overthrow him. This victory bought new energy to the young working class, and class based Trade Union organisation grew with the creation of the Trade Union confederation “Worker’s Union”.
On the 17th July 1920 the Second Congress of the Communist International met in Petrograd, setting the conditions which working class parties would have to meet to be accepted into its ranks. Lenin’s report “On the role of the Communist Party in a proletarian Revolution” was accepted, censuring the opportunist theses of some Trade Unionists which maintained the uselessness of a political party of the working class and the priority of the Trade Unions.
The report assures that revolutionary Trade Unionists “wish to fight against the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie but don’t know how. They don’t understand that the working class without an autonomous party is like a headless tree trunk. The Trade Unionist and Revolutionary industrialist represent a step forward only in comparison with the old, rancid, counterrevolutionary ideology of the Second International. But, in comparison with Revolutionary Marxism, i.e. Communism, Trade Unionism and industrialism are but a step backwards” .
Under this Leninist line, the 8th Congress of the Uruguayan Socialist Party decided with a massive majority to incorporate themselves into the Communist International. The following year-1921- they decide to change their name to the Communist Party of Uruguay.
In December 1920, the Socialist Workers Party of Chile which had been founded in 1912 by Luis Emilio Recabarren and which had manifested its warm felt support for the October Revolution in 1919, now decided to join the Communist International. In 1922 it opted for the name of the Communist Party of Chile.
In June 1921, the Constituent Congress of the Red International of Labour Unions met in Moscow with 41 countries, including an important class-based contingent from Latin America.
In 1921 the Third Congress of the Communist International met with the assistance of 50 affiliated parties, including Latin Americans. One of the central objectives was the creation of a unified front which would allow the union of all of the workers in the fight against Capitalism. An ample discussion was held on tactical questions, and guided as it was by Lenin, the Communist International recommended “criticizing in a fraternal, but energetic and clear way, the anarchic-Trade Union tendencies which reject the dictatorship of the proletariat and negate the necessity of a leading, unique, central organization to work with the Revolutionary vanguard, i.e. a Communist party . The Communist International judged the “fusion of the Revolutionary labour organisations and Communists into a united front” as being possible .
With this political line numerous unconnected Marxist groups met in March 1922 in Rio de Janeiro by the invitation of A. Pereira, director of the journal “O Movimento Comunista” (The Communist Movement) and resolved to construct the Brazilian Communist Party.
By the end of 1922, the following Communist Parties existed in Latin America, each of which acted as Latin American sections of the Communist International: Argentina (January 1918), Mexico (November 1919), Uruguay (September 1920), Chile (January 1922), Brazil (March 1922) and Guatemala (1922).
As per the logic of the Latin American class struggle, faced by the plan of the Communist International, US Imperialism counter-attacked; and faced with Revolutionary advances by the working class, in 1923 the Fifth Pan-American Conference met in Santiago of Chile.
In 1924, year of the passing away of Vladimir Ilich Lenin in Gorki in January aged 54, a great depression overtook the progressive forces of the world, including the Latin American Communists.
Lenin’s work, however, continued to expand in the Latin American region. This very year the Communist Party of Honduras was founded, instantly confronting the imperialist United Fruit Company with heroic acts, and declaring itself as a sectional of the Comintern on the very day of its foundation.
In August 1925 the Communist Party of Cuba was organized in illegal conditions. Back in February 1917 an insurrection against the Government which was coordinated with numerous strikes had caused US Imperialism to take the opportunity to send marines to invade the island, under legal protection from the Platt Amendment. The occupation lasted until 1922, during which the first steps for the creation of a Communist movement were taken: left wing socialists met and approved a declaration recognising the need for the creation of a unified party, such as the Comintern had suggested. Marxist groups from various cities and villages were organized in build up to August 1925 when, in a clandestine congress, the Communist Party of Cuba was born, with its leaders requesting immediate incorporation into the Comintern.
In Argentina in 1925 a strong anti-imperialist Latin American movement was given form, with great resonance in the intellectual world. Amongst its objectives was “to develop in the Latin American peoples a consciousness of solidarity for national and continental interests, supporting all ideological renovation which pushes for the exercising of popular sovereignty and combatting all types of dictatorship which oppose social reforms” .
In 1926 in Ecuador some Marxist-Leninist groups had sprung up since 1920, and in 1924 Ricardo Paredes founded the newspaper ‘La Antorcha’ (‘The Torch’). In 1925 the ‘Ecuadorian Communist Sectional for the Divulgation of the Ideas of Lenin’ was organized, with workers and intellectuals affiliating themselves. In May 1926 the Ecuadorian Socialist Party was formed, incorporating itself to the Comintern in 1928.
In Brazil, the Communists started making contact with the Revolutionary, democratic military movements (lieutenant rank mostly) which Luis Carlos Prestes presided over. From these contacts was born the Worker-Peasant Front.
In most Latin American Countries Anti-imperialist leagues appeared, such as in Mexico and Cuba, which combined the class-based Revolutionary struggle with the international solidarity struggle. Revolutionary intellectuals commonly participated in these organisations, often editing numerous newspapers in which North American Imperialism was challenged with great worth.
By initiative of Ghioldi and Codovilla, in December 1926 the Communist Party of Argentina manifested their solidarity with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, ratifying their energetic opposition to Trotskyism and its conceptions, describing them as “erroneous, adventurous, and anti-Leninist” .
Propelled by this Revolutionary and anti-imperialist upsurge, in Nicaragua in July 1927 General Augusto Sandino, the “General of free men”, started the patriotic war of the guerrillas against the invading North American troops. Next to Sandino was the El Salvadorian Communist Farabundo Martí. This movement for national liberation received the support of all of the anti-imperialist sectors of Latin America. The Venezuelan Communists Carlos Aponte and Gustavo Machado were also on the scene. For the people it was the start of a historic struggle which culminated with the victory of the Sandinista Revolution decades afterwards.
At the anti-imperialist Congress held in Brussels in 1927 and presided over by the French writer Henry Barbusse, Latin Americans such as Gustavo Machado (Venezuela), Jose Vasconcelos (Mexico), and Victor Codovilla (Argentina) were present.
Similarly, as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations for the October Revolution in November 1927, some of the most important Revolutionary leaders in the world congregated in Moscow, with the Latin Americans who were present taking advantage of the encounter to discuss strategy and tactics in the Latin American struggle.
In 1928 in Moscow the 6th Congress of Comintern was held, with Latin America being amongst the themes discussed. Taking into account the existence of mass-based organisations, the Congress considered the need to transform “the expression of the will of these mass-based political parties into truly Bolshevik parties”. With this objective the Caribbean Bureau was created, and the Socialist Party of Ecuador and Socialist Revolutionary Party of Colombia were accepted as Comintern sectionals.
In September 1928 the Peruvian Communist Party was founded, with Jose Carlos Mariátegui as its most important leader.
In Colombia, an extraordinary resurgence of the masses, as much in the labour organisations as well as the political parties, drove the conservative Government to consider a law to restrict the constitutional guarantees and prohibit the practices of the Revolutionary Socialist Party (PSR). At the time, the Venezuelan General and anti-dictatorial fighter, Emilio Arevalo Cedeño was exiled in Colombia and, whilst working with the plans of the PSR, was planning an invasion of Venezuela through the plains, giving Cedeño, an ex-telegraphist, the nickname of the “new Sandino” .
In June of 1929 the First Communist Conference of Latin America took place in Buenos Aires. Thirty-eight delegates took part from fifteen countries across the region (Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Uruguay, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, and Paraguay) as well as delegates from the Comintern, the Youth Comintern, from the Communist Parties of the United States and France. In the same year, the Caribbean Bureau set up a Support Committee in Barranquilla, Colombia, for the incipient Communist movement which was working clandestinely in Venezuela. At the head of the mission was Gustavo Machado, who later became the President of the Communist Party of Venezuela whilst residing in Bogota.
In Venezuela since 1914 various foreign companies, led by Royal Dutch Shell, were extracting oil from the ground, reaching a total of 332.000 barrels. During this year, work on the first commercial refinery began, with great quantities of handicraft workers, peasants, and fisherman being transformed into oil workers. Inspired by the news of class struggle on the old continent and the victory of the Bolsheviks, political and labour struggles expanded. The US, alongside the Venezuelan dictator, recognized the dangers that the example of the October Revolution could set when, in 1918, they expressed that “the doctrines of the radicals in Europe will have a greater impact in the countries where the ignorant and poor people are deprived of their political rights. Driven by the initiative of the social parties of Mexico and Puerto Rico, a public propaganda campaign is seeking the formation of a Workers League in all of the countries of America. This type of agitation is dangerous for us because our enemies will try to exploit it and some of those will start replicating the extremist doctrines of the Russians, i.e. the redistribution of land and wealth amongst workers and soldiers…” .
On the 5th March 1931, the first Communist branch in Venezuela was constructed in clear clandestinity, and on the 1st May the first manifesto from the Venezuelan Communist Party was circulated “to the working people”. The manifesto finished with a phrase from Lenin: “the gun on the shoulder of a worker is the only guarantee of democracy”, and amongst the slogans used was “Long Live Soviet Russia”.
Equally, for the first time in Venezuela, the Bolshevik Revolution was mentioned in a party political document, stating that “in Russia, the largest country in the world and with a population 50 times greater than Venezuela’s, which was submitted to a tyranny as bloody as that of Gomez- the Tsarist regime- the workers and peasants overthrew this Government thirteen years ago and put in place a Government of their own class, a workers and peasant Government called Soviet. The lands of the great landowners have been redistributed to those who directly worked them, and the factories, mines, and businesses have become collective property of the workers Soviets… wages have gone up and prices have fallen and there are no workers unemployed… in the schools, colleges, and universities workers and their children are given preference and the Government covers all of the needs of all of the students. Women enjoy exactly the same rights and advantages as men and are given complete time off for 2 months before and 2 months after giving birth. Under the worker and peasant Government in Soviet Russia comfortable and clean houses are being built for the workers, magnificent tower blocks for rehabilitation centres, hospitals, clubs, libraries, schools for the workers, who enjoy a freedom and comfort that has never been seen before in the world by the class which produces… the workers of the entire world are struggling and organizing to do that which their class brothers have done in Russia” .