Thursday, July 9, 2020

A Trotskyist Oddity (2020)

Book Review from the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

I Want To Believe: Posadism, UFOs and apocalypse communism by A.M. Gittlitz. Pluto Press, 

The Argentinian Trotskyist J. Posadas is mostly known among left trainspotter circles for his belief in UFOs and advocacy of nuclear war. This book reveals a different story. Rather than a crankish outlier, he is revealed as pretty much a typical guru of a Trotskyist sect, with policies and positions typical of mainstream Trotskyism.

Born Homero Cristalli, in 1912 in Buenos Aires, he was the child of Italian immigrant shoemakers, who were themselves involved in left-wing politics. He grew up malnourished, and became an entertainer, and (briefly) a professional footballer. Football would be an enduring feature of his life, and his cadres at conferences would be required to have a match, leading in one instance to the French police being called to their supposedly secret meeting place because neighbours heard the shouting.

He became involved in the radical Buenos Aires milieu, and came to the notice of a group of Trotskyists after a short poem calling for unity with the Spanish government (during the civil war) he wrote was published in a left newspaper. The group, the International Communist League (LCI) had been typified as ‘coffee-bar wankers’ (the author, incorrectly, attributes this to Trotsky himself), and were seeking to break out of their intellectual ghetto and connect with the working class.

Cristalli proved to be an enthusiastic and energetic organiser, and made successful work with the shoemakers union. His working class authenticity made up for his limited theoretical grasp of Trotskyist positions. J. Posadas was a collective name of the group’s leadership, and Cristalli began to join in writing Posadas’s editorials. Eventually, he would possess the name entirely (the ‘J.’ was never defined).

Although Trotsky is venerated in many parts for his theoretical subtlety, in reality, his plans amounted to ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for civil war’. His orientation was to try and form the command/control of a military force that could win that civil war, hence his and his followers focus on leadership. In practice this usually meant small groups trying to orientate towards and piggyback on bigger movements. In Argentina, this meant the strongman Juan Peron, who successfully co-opted the workers movement for his own ends.

Cristalli became a full time revolutionary, depending on the income his faction could bring in from its membership in the Fourth International, and he came to prominence in the internecine manoeuvring of the factions in the international, and became a supporter of Michel Pablo, who ostensibly led the International after Trotsky’s murder. This position, along with his energy and charisma, led him to being among the pre-eminent Trotskyists in Latin America, eventually with groups in Cuba, Brazil and Ecuador.

When the Second World War failed to bring about the revolutionary wave Trotsky predicted, the Fourth International’s leadership veered between trying to enter mass communist parties or supporting anti-colonial guerrilla movements. Cristalli visited Cuba after the revolution there and ended up being singled out as a leader of the Fourth International by Castro as he denounced and suppressed Cuban Trotskyists.

It was the Cuban missile crisis that developed Cristalli’s position on nuclear weapons. He was, though, not alone in wanting a nuclear confrontation with America: Che Guevara and Castro both wanted the conflagration. Cristalli’s position was that the imperialist states would not surrender to socialism without using their nuclear weapons, such a confrontation was inevitable; but that with the greater population of the communist world, only communism could emerge from the aftermath. This was simply a logical continuation of the basic position of Trotskyism to a world with nuclear weapons.

His other famous position, on extra-terrestrials being communists, was in fact not his position. Gittliz reveals that his notorious essay, ‘Flying saucers, the process of matter and energy, science, the revolutionary and working-class struggle and the socialist future of mankind’, was in fact written to close down debate from an enthusiast for UFOs in his party. In some senses his argument ‘We must appeal to the beings on other planets, when they come here, to intervene and collaborate with Earth’s inhabitants in suppressing poverty. We must make this call to them’ is simply a continuation of the notion of appealing to powerful figures to try and make changes.

 The UFOs simply became a distinguishing feature by which other Trotskyists could deride him and distinguish themselves from his organisation.

The secrecy of Cristalli’s organisation was essential in the face of real repression (some of the cadres were arrested and murdered by repressive regimes in Latin America). This, coupled with stern sexual moralism (including seeing homosexuality as degenerate) led to Cristalli controlling the sex lives of his cadres, separating married couples to work in different areas. He abandoned ‘democratic centralism’ in favour of his personal rule of the organisation, or ‘monolithism’.

It comes as no surprise to discover that he was caught receiving oral sex from a young female recruit. He responded in a fashion we are becoming accustomed to from the US president, of accusing all of his colleagues of being sexually promiscuous. He expelled them all, and then fathered a child with the recruit. As Gittlitz notes, this situation is not unique, and other Trotskyist sects had similar stories (Gerry Healy and the WRP springs to mind).

The book ends with an essay on the birth of the Posadas meme as a generation of young leftists rehabilitate the Ufological legend for the slogan ‘Fully automated space communism’, used ironically but still indicating a search for hope in a time of fallen ideas. Gittlitz points out that for a short period, references to Posadas outranked Trotsky himself in Google searches thanks to the memes.
Pik Smeet

No comments: