Carlos Baliño

Art: Marcelo Guimarães Lima


Entry from the “Dictionary of Marxism in America”

Life and political praxis

Carlos Baliño (1848-1926) spent his childhood in Guanajay, strongly identified with the ideas of his father, an architect and engineer persecuted for his independence ideas. In 1865 he joined the Escola Preparatoria Profesoral from Havana. Already at that time, he published verses and articles in defense of Cuban independence, in newspapers in Pinar del Río (the westernmost state of Cuba). In 1868, he began to study architecture and entered the Escuela Profesional de Dibujo, Painting, Sculpture and Engraving from San Alejandro (Havana), which he abandoned due to his family's precarious economic situation.

Due to the intensification of political repression in his country, in 1869, Carlos Baliño emigrated to the United States of America (USA), having initially worked in tobacco factories in Florida. The following year, he decided to move to New Orleans, where he would come into contact with Marxist ideas through union organizing. Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor [Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labour] and later the Socialist Labor Party [Socialist Labor Party], the latter influenced by Lasalle.

In 1892, Carlos Baliño supported José Martí in the creation of the Cuban High School of Cayo Hueso (in the USA) and, above all, in the founding of Cuban Revolutionary Party – with a view to achieving the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico. From 1893 he presided over the Club of Revolutionary Emigrants from Thomasville; in 1894, he declared himself a supporter of socialism.

Between 1895 and 1897, he made numerous speeches for independence in many American cities; and published articles in the journal the new republic, in Tampa (Florida), denouncing imperialist threats to Cuba. In 1897, he moved to Jacksonville, where he would translate several books critical of US policy, in addition to giving lectures on socialism to Cuban immigrants.

After the US intervention in the Cuban war of independence, Carlos Baliño returned to Cuba in 1902, starting to contribute to the daily The world and with the working newspaper The proletarian; around this time he also supported the strike that became known as Huelga de los Aprendices. In 1903 he founded the Socialist Propaganda Club of the Island of Cuba – with the aim of spreading Marxist ideas. A year later, he began to contribute to The working voice, organ of Worker Party (PO) – association that demanded the adoption of the maximum program of the II International.

Carlos Baliño also wrote the fundamental bases of this party, in which he proposed the socialization of the means of production, the conquest of political power by the workers and the struggle for a classless society. In 1905 he published the pamphlet socialist truths, in which he expounded his fundamentally Marxist conception.

The following year, he was elected to the board of directors of the now Socialist Workers' Party (POS), as the PO became known; participated in the May Day celebrations in Matanzas and visited other Cuban cities, including Manzanillo (where he met the socialist Agustín Hammer Martín Veloz), seeking support for the strike of the currency. In 1906, he participated in the founding of the Socialist Party of Cuba (PSC), arising from the merger of POS and International Socialist Group, which he also helped to create – being elected a member of its Central Committee. In 1909, in controversy with the Socialist Grouping from Havana, denounced its favoring of immigrant workers, discrimination against Cubans and the reformist nature of its objectives. In 1911, he supported the capital's sewer workers' strike (Huelga del Alcantarillado).

When the February Revolution of 1917 triumphed in Russia, Carlos Baliño wrote “En march hacia la vida y la liberdad”, in which he emphasized the historical significance of the event; and, from 1918 onwards, he produced several articles in support of the first workers' and peasants' state. In 1919, he joined the National Association of Cuban Revolutionary Emigrants. Two years later, she translated Scott Nearing's book, The American Empire, of which he also wrote the prologue – in which he reaffirmed his anti-imperialist ideas.

In 1922, he managed to Socialist Grouping from Havana criticize what he considered the Second International's betrayal of socialism and join the Third International; directed the magazine Spartacus, which spread socialist ideas, and collaborated with several workers' publications, among them the Fan newsletter. In 1923, he founded the Communist Group from Havana and, the following year, the newspaper class fight, in which Marxist ideas were disseminated, especially those of Lenin.

During those years, he began collaborating with Julio Antonio Mella in the magazine Youth; in 1925, would participate with him both in the founding of the Cuban Section of the Anti-Imperialist League, like the first Communist Party of Cuba – of whose Central Committee he was elected a member.

On June 18, 1926, he died in Havana, at a time when the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado was intensifying its repression against the labor and communist movement.


Contributions to Marxism

Carlos Baliño's political thought, in its beginnings, leaned towards the socialist theses of the Second International; later, however, he would come to identify with the communist positions of Lenin and the Third International.

The fact that the Cuban first came into contact with socialist and Marxist ideas in the United States, in the last third of the XNUMXth century, meant that his philosophical and ideological formation was permeated by works on such themes that were then circulating in this country – fundamentally in English. . In his political reflections on that initial stage, characterized by reformism, a teleological historical perspective prevailed – as also happened with other Latin American socialists –, according to which the overcoming of capitalism would inexorably occur, in such a way that practical revolutionary activity would not be indispensable. But the Marxist did not remain tied to this fatalist conception. And if his first ideas were more similar to those defended at the time by the Second International – about the conquest of power by the working class only through elections –, gradually this conception was turning to more radical revolutionary positions.

Together with José Martí – who considered him “a Cuban with a beautiful soul, who suffered the pains of humanity and could only sin by impatience to redeem them” –, his first great success was having understood, in a timely manner, the need to fight first for the national liberation of the Cuban people, before dedicating himself to social emancipation.

With the establishment of the Cuban neocolonial republic, Carlos Baliño then undertook his best battles for socialism and Marxism – facing the economism reigning in the Socialist Party of Cuba, permeated by reformist and anarchist ideas –, until he managed, together with Julio Mella, to found the Communist Party of Cuba (August 1925), associated with the Third International. Such a posture does not mean that he underestimated the importance of the economic factor in social development, especially when, having achieved its independence from Spain, Cuba had been captured by Yankee neocolonialism.

Despite his thought not showing extensive or profound knowledge of the works of Marx and Engels, a basic mastery of the materialist conception of history and its main categories is clear; coming from the working class, his education was self-taught, which enhances his achievement.

In one of his first articles (1889), Carlos Baliño considered Jesus Christ one of the first agitators in history – for his fight against the powerful –, stating that “the question is to give back to the disinherited their inheritance; to make them owners of the property that was usurped from them; to emancipate the worker, assuring him the full satisfaction of the wealth he creates with the effort of his arms or his intelligence”. This utopian idea was presented in 1905, when he pondered that there would be no peace and tranquility in the world before social justice was established and there was work for everyone, before all those who worked received the full product of their work - thought of Ferdinand Lasalle which had been criticized by Karl Marx.

At first, Carlos Baliño did not support the workers' strikes for wage increases, considering them useless, as the capitalists would immediately raise the prices of their products. Until then, he had not understood that they are an important form of workers' struggle, through which at least some labor or social improvements are usually achieved, and that, in addition, they contribute to their ideological formation. Later, however, the Cuban Marxist became a promoter of strikes, arguing that, although they were not transcendental, they served for workers to obtain certain achievements.

For him, nothing that leaves the system of capitalist exploitation and wages standing can prevent the misery of the masses; a complete transformation in the system of production and distribution is indispensable - and to this end socialism is directed.

Baliño has always been optimistic about the future triumph of socialism. His conception, as mentioned, was initially marked by the teleological finality of history, which led to the thought that “humanity is tracing an infinite spiral in its progressive path” – towards socialism. This presupposed that social progress would necessarily be brought about by a kind of inexorable natural law. In his words: “revolutions do not arise or proceed according to a program fixed in advance, but are the inevitable and fatal result of great forces operating within society, and its moment and direction cannot be established exactly”.

In his thinking, one can see the influence of some of the ideas of the so-called social Darwinism, typical of the positivism then prevalent in Latin America. However, even though he thought that “progress takes place with us or without us”, he recommended the active participation of human beings to achieve emancipatory goals, not letting themselves be abandoned to blind fatality.

Until 1904, idyllically, Carlos Baliño believed that revolutionary transformation could happen gradually and peacefully, only by raising awareness – obtained through the propaganda of socialist ideas that, once accepted by the majority, would evolutionarily change the order of things that causes so many problems, no violent shocks or disasters for anyone. Thus, he thought that socialism could be realized without resorting to force, depending only on the workers. Were they to realize exactly what it is possible for them to achieve, the immense well-being they can achieve, the means that are at their disposal to obtain their own emancipation and the freedom of mankind, their power would be so irresistible and overwhelming that the idea of armed struggle would be ruled out.

In welcoming the Russian Revolution of 1905, he argued that social transformation could be accomplished without shedding blood, if that were the case, but also spilling it in torrents if necessary. He reasoned that good-loving people want the social revolution to be a peaceful transformation; but if greed and pride blind those who wish to perpetually maintain the exploitation of man by man, it is certain that the majority who triumph by suffrage will not meekly allow the fruit of their victory to be snatched from them.

In this regard, in 1906 he maintained that he had no predilection "for violent dealings in the question of workers", nor would he defend this as long as he had "hopes that by peaceful means the redeeming formulas of socialism can be presented". However: “wherever the holders of power oppose propaganda and the free development of new ideas, I will be a rebel against this power, and if I were obliged to choose between social revolution and the perpetuity of wages, I would opt for revolution with all their violence and disasters.”

He also denounced the prevailing corruption in the electoral systems, which would make it difficult for the working class to gain power peacefully. And he criticized the conciliatory postures that guide workers to behave like “colleagues of the bourgeois parties”, or to just complain about their governments – which Marx considered only “administrative committees of the bourgeoisie”.

Some of Baliño's utopian proposals refer to the protagonism of the working class in fulfilling its supposed “historical mission”. He was a sharp critic of capitalism – and of its imperialist stage –, stating that this regime impedes development and “lowers” ​​the human species. He perceived the emergence of monopolies as something progressive in history, as paving the way for socialism – and on this point he sought to find support in Marx. Despite this controversial view, he agreed with Engels: once political power was seized by the working class, the main task would be the socialization of the fundamental means of production.

For him, black slavery in Cuba had not really been abolished, but rather expanded – to include white workers as well – through the industrial exploitation of capitalists. He denounced the cause of the miserable situation of all workers, regardless of their color: the capitalist exploitation regime. Thus, it would not be possible for workers to significantly improve their living conditions because, as they were the ones who produced everything, they would have to support with the product of their work an immense army of non-producers, parasites who not only lived without working or producing, but who took for themselves the greatest and best part of what labored hands produced.

He defended the idea that black workers do not have an interest different from those of white workers, as they suffer the same miseries, the same injustices, the same disappointments, the same vexations; thus, black workers are as or more interested than white workers in the abolition of this cruel order of things.

His great aspiration was to achieve a better distribution of the wealth achieved by the human civilizing process, so that it was no longer enjoyed only by a minority. In his conception, the core of socialism is to succeed in making the achievements of science, the intellectual pleasure of art and literature, the comforts, satisfactions and refinements, enjoyed today only by a privileged few, become the heritage of all beings. humans.

One of the main battles fought by Carlos Baliño was against bourgeois moralists who tried to improve society with mere preaching. He claimed that the bourgeois or capitalist regime demoralizes society in its upper and lower strata. In this sense, he asserts, socialism is the only movement “capable of moralizing customs and ideas, so that society can rest on the foundations of absolute and eternal justice”. And, although he did not understand socialism as an exclusively ethical process, he believed that the creation of a new morality was indispensable for the consolidation of socioeconomic and political transformations. He thus attacked the foundations of idealistic conceptions of social development and rightly predicted the new moral relations that socialism would build among human beings after its triumph. He was still firmly convinced of the validity of the materialist conception of history, which presupposes the mediation of the class struggle in the spiritual development of society.

In his polemics, Carlos Baliño confronted those who unfoundedly criticized socialism for treating all human beings equally, without taking into account the natural differences that exist between them. Faced with this, he stated that the intention of socialism is equality of conditions and opportunities, arguing that Marxism does not presuppose egalitarianism or the annulment of individuality.

Despite acknowledging the importance of the class struggle, he did not perceive the central meaning of peasant struggles in it. He promoted the socialist internationalism of the working class and was an outspoken critic of bourgeois patriotism, accusing the demagogic nationalist chauvinism of certain politicians – whose intention was to combat solidarity between peoples.

He was clearly aware that the working class, in order to achieve its objectives, had to organize itself through trade unions and a party that represented all the oppressed sectors of society – in order to finally seize political power. His optimism about the future triumph of socialism was expressed in 1921, when he reflected that even in those countries where (due to special circumstances) it had not yet been possible to form a communist party affiliated with the Third International, the yearning of the proletarian masses for a revolution redemptive work would not cease.

According to Carlos Baliño, the proletarian class – contrary to all social classes that made revolutions for their own benefit – would make the revolution for the benefit of all; with this, the classes that hitherto divided human beings into antagonistic camps would be abolished. He believed that only with socialism would full freedom and social justice be achieved. It should be noted that, in this respect, its conception converges a lot with the ideal of a communist society outlined by historical materialism.

Although he was a dedicated nationalist – committed to the struggle for Cuban independence – he was a critic of bourgeois chauvinism, maintaining an internationalism congruent with socialist ideology. His practical humanism led him to envision a broader perspective, when he assessed that if it is good to love one's country, it is better to love humanity, freedom and justice, because countries and nationalities change, disappear and become extinct in the course of time. centuries, but freedom and justice are “eternal” things. This approach confirms the view that his socialist ideas, which logically sympathized with the emancipation of the working class, did not limit his redemptive aspirations to this social class alone – for he was referring to all those oppressed by capitalist society, which he perceived as the cause poverty of a large part of the population.

With his enlightening work in the press and on the tribune of political events, Carlos Baliño helped to promote the political culture of the popular sectors – especially the workers –, explaining to the people the true causes of their unbearable socioeconomic situation.

His definitive conception of what a socialist society should be made him criticize, in 1905, some formulas of a supposed “special socialism” for Cuba, since in his opinion such a proposal would have “a lot of special”, but “would have nothing of socialism”. , it was already essential to socialize the means of production.

In short, the Carlos Baliño's revolutionary ideology and praxis give him great merit to be considered one of the most authentic precursors of Marxist socialism in Latin America.


Comment on the work

Carlos Baliño's thought did not take the form of voluminous works or detailed analytical studies, but of agitation pamphlets, manifestos, letters, programs, press articles, texts especially aimed at revolutionary action - which denotes his affinity with the postulate in the which Marx affirms that, more than interpreting the world, it is necessary to transform it.

Many of his articles and speeches, published in the United States and Cuba, have not been recovered. The following, briefly commented, are only a representative sample.

In the article “Agitation” (The producer, 3 Mar. 1889), he welcomes the appearance, in Cayo Hueso, of the newspaper The work tribune, and highlights throughout history the action of political agitators in favor of the interests of the humble - from Jesus to the leaders of the labor movement in the USA.

On the occasion of the anniversary of the beginning of the struggles for Cuban independence, he delivered his “Discurso con motive del 10 de octubre de 1892”(Homeland, 7 Nov. 1892), in which he recognizes the value of nationalism, but attributes greater significance to the struggle for freedom and social justice.

In one of his letters – “Letter to Rafael Serra” (Ocala, Florida, 6 Oct. 1894) – argues that it is a priority for the people to fight for their national freedom, before dedicating themselves to the greater objective of social emancipation.

In the article “False Prophecy” (The New Republic, Tampa, 29 Mar. 1897), criticizes US businessmen who oppose Cuban independence, and highlights the decision of Cubans to continue their struggle against Spanish colonialism.

The dependent character of the Cuban economy is criticized by him in “Economic independence” (The discussion, Havana, 5 July. 1902), in which he relates this problem to the Yankee intervention that took place after the collapse of Spanish rule – a fact that generated Cuba's political dependence on US imperialism.

In the text “La fiesta del trabajo”(The working voice, Havana, 1 May. 1905), emphasizes the significance of the date of May Day and values ​​Marx's ideas about the transcendence of the struggles of the working class in the path of its emancipation.

Already in the leaflet socialist truths (Havana: Imprenta la voz obrera, 1905), Baliño bases his Marxist ideas in favor of a socialist society, emphasizing the importance of working class consciousness, in addition to criticizing the inhuman, immoral and exploitative character of capitalism. He also analyzes the economic wars of the monopolies for more international markets and defends socialism as a superior form of social organization.

When analyzing the 1905 Revolution in Russia – in “La Revolución Rusa” (The working voice, Havana, 19 Aug. 1906) – affirms it as a precursor of socialist revolutions, which are an inexorable product of “historical laws”.

In the article “Practical Socialism” (The working voice, Havana, 16 March. 1906), highlights the achievements of the struggles of the workers of Catania for improvements in the production and price of bread, considering these events favorable to socialist achievements.

About the Russian revolutionary process – in the essay “En march hacia la vida y la libertad” (Cuba and America, Havana, Apr. 1917) –, Baliño considers that the release of political prisoners in Siberia, after the February Revolution, was a prelude to struggles for deeper social transformations.

His text “We unite or succumb” (fan bulletin, Havana, 15 Oct. 1921) reflects on the coalitions of the international capitalist plutocracy, after World War I, to avoid workers' revolutions, such as the one that occurred in Russia in 1917; and analyzes the III Congress of the International and the strengthening of the international communist movement.

In the face of bourgeois “patriotism”, in “Obrero internationalism facing capitalist internationalism” (Youth, Havana, 1923), the Cuban Marxist emphasizes the meaning of workers' internationalism in favor of socialism.

Finally, the essay “Lenin” (class struggle, Havana, 30 May. 1924), in which Baliño deals with the death of the Soviet leader and the significance of his revolutionary work, especially valuing his legacy – strengthened with the creation of the Communist International.

Posthumously, the Institute of the History of the Communist Movement and the Socialist Revolution of Cuba organized the book Carlos Baliño: documents and articles (Havana: Departamento de Orientación Revolucionaria del Comité Central del Partido Comunista de Cuba, 1976), which contains, among others, several of the texts commented on here.

*Pablo Guadarrama Gonzalez is professor of history and philosophy at the Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” de Las Villas (UCLV), in Colombia. Author, among other books, of Marxism and anti-Marxism in Latin America.

Translation: Yuri Martins-Fontes and Lil Bidart.

Originally published on the Praxis Nucleus-USP


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