Revolution and Anti-imperialism in Antonio Guiteras
Master Juana Rosales García, Researcher of the Philosophy Institute

A CubaNews translation by Ana Portela.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.

In his passionate political career there are fruitful pages for an historian who is not afraid to tell the truth about the concerns of an honest man at the crossroads of terrible dilemmas. But, Antonio Guiteras was sure of his faith, and of his fever for the revolution because the revolution was like a fever in the imagination of this person.
        -- Pablo de la Torriente Brau [1]

Antonio Guiteras Holmes was one of the most relevant protagonists of the revolution of the thirties. In the documents he left, he clearly expressed his ideals for national liberation and his rejection of imperialism most of all, during his brief but intense life as a revolutionary fighter. To study the opinions of Guiteras, it is necessary, in many cases, to glean the more general characteristics of his ideology, garnering them from political texts, often about other situations. On the other hand, he did not leave many written documents because he dedicated his fruitful life to political action and insurrectional struggle. Raul Roa defined him well when he said: he was “the most complete man of action of his times”.

He was born November 22, 1906, in the US state of Pennsylvania, in a home of comfortable economic means.[2] His maternal family, the Holmes', residing in this country were a cultured people and figures of literature. His mother, Marie Theresse Holmes, a woman of advanced ideas and deep convictions, had a strong feeling of independence forged by reading about far-off Ireland, the homeland of her ancestors.

His father, Calixto Guiteras, a cultured Cuban and liberal spirit, knew how to transmit to his child a love for his homeland and for José Martí. He was a fervent admirer and supporter of the revolutionary cause. The child grew up listening to stories of the patriotic actions of his uncle, José Ramón Guiteras – who died for the freedom of Cuba during the first war of independence – and the exploits of his great uncle, the Irishman, John Walsh, one of the most important Irish independence leaders. From childhood, Guiteras wondered if “some day he would be like them”.

Although he did his primary schooling in the Escuelas Pías [Pauline Brothers], Catholic teachings did not have as strong influence on the child as the progressive environment of his family. There the subject of Cuba's situation and the influence of imperialism in the nation were themes of daily conversation. That home was preparing an upright young person who, when in pre-university, demonstrated his sensibility for the political reality of the country and his desire to transform it. This was reflected in some of the pieces he wrote – at only  age 16 – where he dealt with central themes such as will power and human dignity, condemning social injustice and criticizing the living conditions of the masses.

Guiteras was aware and interested in the University Reform and student unrest headed by Julio Antonio Mella in the Pinar del Río Institute where he studied. He participated in activities supporting the revolutionary actions of students during the years 1923 and 1924. During this period he already revealed a strong anti-imperialism and forcefully condemned the interference of the US ambassador in our affairs and the existence of the Platt Amendment. He met and admired Mella, supported the student leader in his well-known hunger strike (December 1925), and participated in the movement for freedom of the young man, trying to save his life [3].

Confronting the young university environment, he forged his increasing revolutionary preparation. In 1927 he became a member of the University Student Directorate (DEU) – for the Faculty of Pharmacy and Medicine. His opposition to the extension of powers by Gerardo Machado, would evoke his first appearance in the Cuban political scene. There he was involved in the struggle for the ideals of social improvement. Since then he was in the frontline against tyranny and as a student leader in 1923, he promoted the ideals of democracy and anti-imperialism.

The university environment at the time forged the revolutionary preparation of the young. In 1927 he became a member of the University Students’ Directorate (DEU) – within the School of Pharmacy and Medicine at the University of Havana. DEU opposed the extension of the political powers of Gerardo Machado - who then ruled Cuba. This was Guiteras' first political participation in the national political scene. By then he was involved in defending the demands for social justice. From that time on, he was in the forefront of fighting against tyranny, promoting the ideals of political and democracy as well as anti-imperialism. These had been been the demands of the student leaders of 1923.

During the years of 1929 to 1932, Guiteras continued to enrich his political and revolutionary experience. His actions were directed, mostly, to obtaining weapons for the insurrection that would overthrow the tyranny of Gerardo Machado (1925-1933).

During his lifetime he was a profound student of politics and economics; and of social and historical content. A man of a vast culture, he knew and analyzed the structural problems of Cuban society of his time.

A series of testimonies and criteria of his biographers have demonstrated that he was also knowledgeable about the experience of the Russian Revolution and a student of Marxism and Leninism, ideas that he approached from the positions of national liberation and anti-imperialism, strongly influenced by José Martí.


In the DEU of 1927 he represented the continuity of the revolutionary ideals of 1923. Guiteras defended student reform and anti-imperialism and concentrated his political opposition to the government. For the young revolutionaries, the project for an extension of powers represented an attack on the most elementary principles of democracy.

In a letter to students, Julio Antonio Mella gave evidence of the profound character of this new phase in university struggles and their significance: “Student protest is the same protest as that of the majority of the Cuban people. Let us join with all those who feel a need to end the existing oppression”. [4]

Participation in the struggle against an extension of powers was young Guiteras' first political activity. As the representative of the DEU he was one of the signatories of a series of manifestos from the School of Pharmacy that elected him as delegate.

He joined the insurrectional battles from the ranks of the student bodies. His experience in the Directorate, his knowledge of the struggle for independence in Ireland, Cuba's independence wars and the exploits of Augusto César Sandino in Nicaragua – who he also admired – were the main reasons that convinced him armed insurrection was the only road to revolution. [5]

In 1932 he decided to break with the old nationalist political leaders and unite the small groups that he already led, founding Revolutionary Union (UR). His disappointment with the previous actions in which he had participated influenced him to consider the possibility of preparing a general armed uprising in what was then Oriente province, famous for its long tradition of struggle. The plan Guiteras had devised was aimed at taking several barracks and towns, handing weapons over to the people and beginning a revolutionary war as the only means of overthrowing the tyranny.

Consistent with his ideas, Guiteras demonstrated a true identification with the demands of the masses who, for him, as for José Martí, were the prime movers of the revolution. He solved the historical, controversial relationship and acknowledged the importance of this interaction to achieve victory.

From the UR he issued the “Manifesto to the Cuban people” [6] where he presented a minimum program centered on the unity of all the anti-Machado forces. In the document he explained that only through the unity of all men – even of different political leanings – involved in the struggle for a regime of freedom and justice, would a true revolution be victorious.

The central core of the manifesto's program was a call to arms as the only means to overthrow the dictatorship. [7] Another series of questions, of key importance in the document, would later be implemented by the government of Ramón Grau San Martín.

The concept of revolution that Guiteras outlined in the manifesto is the radical expression of his thought. The revolution he fought for would have to confront a true renovation of the values and all institutions and would not simply be a substitution of men. Guiteras was revealed, then, as a sharp politician without renouncing his principles. He only made public what was necessary. His absolutely revolutionary thoughts and ideas revealed in the most convincing manner how to achieve immediate tactical ends. [8]

This manifesto did not have a project prepared to achieve the social changes that revolution implied. At the same time he did not explicitly set down the anti-imperialist concepts in his ideas. This position allowed him to move about with all the forces, keeping to himself the ideological definitions that could become an insurmountable barrier among the different organizations. However, later he confirmed that: “A brief review of the political-economic situation in Cuba, led us to the conclusion that a movement that was not anti-imperialist in Cuba was not a revolution. You either served Yankee imperialism or you served the people because their interests were incompatible”. [9]

Another example of his clear anti-imperialist position was his view on Yankee imperialist mediation and its agent, Sumner Welles. In a letter to the director of the “Diario de Cuba” of Santiago de Cuba, weeks before the fall of the tyranny, he rejected “all ideas of mediation between the government and the opposition to reach an agreement, considering the only possible means to solve the conflict between the de facto supporters of the present government and the people, is Revolution”. [10]

When Machado fell, Guiteras prepared to take the Bayamo barracks. His prestige, as military chief and revolutionary, was recognized by all the eastern forces. The government that took office through the military revolutionary movement, on September 4th (known as the “Pentarchy”) named Guiteras governor of Oriente, the province where he was indisputable leader of the revolutionary forces.

As Raúl Roa explained, Guiteras had all the capability of a leader and was a leader of: “talent, political perception, theoretical formation, unbridled courage, unlimited abnegation and unselfishness. He was the example of a unique phenomenon where harmonious dynamism, the man of ideals and the man of action, joined. He was useful both for the barricades as for the cabinet”. [11]

In the so-called 100 days government (September 10, 1933 – January 15, 1934) – headed by Grau San Martín, Guiteras was given the post of Minister of the Interior. He set down a group of reforms with a strong anti-imperialist essence. [12] Soon a strong ideological battle was waged in the cabinet among its different forces.

In the midst of these reformists and right-wing elements that made up the government, Antonio Guiteras revealed a marked difference as a man of the left where the revolutionary elements grouped around him. It should be remembered that the followers of Guiteras lacked a strong revolutionary culture and it was precisely the young leader who defined the strategy and tactics of the group.

Targeted by the right and the lack of understanding of the left, Guiteras began his anti-imperialist actions, with radical benefits for the workers, as he himself explained: “I have the satisfaction of having taken to President Grau, for his signature, decrees that attacked Yankee imperialism the hardest…”[13]

These measures were:

-  The creation of a Department of Labor

-  8 hour a day work day

-  Setting up a minimum wage

-  Purging of state institutions

-  Distribution of lands and projects of settlements

-  University autonomy

-  Call for the formation of a Constituent Assembly

-  Reduction of the prices of basic necessities

-  Reduction of the price of electricity

-  Intervention of the Cuban Electricity Company

Under the guidance of Guiteras, his comrades were prepared to radicalize the revolution. They came out for a non-capitalist development that would pave the way for a later and higher stage towards a socialist revolution.

His experience in government would make him realize the need to structure a new power for real changes in the socio-economic structure. Reform, according to Guiteras's clear criteria, covered an initial period during which they would have to continue the battle until eliminating neocolonial exploitation. This could only be achieved on the basis of a socialist economy and not a capitalist one.

“In a capitalist regime – he declared – no government would be very interested in defending the interests of the workers and campesinos, such as the current Revolutionary Government”. [14] With this he launched a clear definition of the basic limitations that the bourgeois government could not accept, a government of which he was a member. At the same time he defined what to us today is a clear alignment with the interests of the dispossessed classes.

“In the capitalist regime” was a clear acknowledgment that only a socialist regime could genuinely and and definitively defend the workers and campesinos. His later statements confirmed this: State Socialism to rapidly re-conquer the wealth and the economic independence of Cuba as a ‘solid foundation on which political independence could stand”. [15]

Guiteras was convinced, like Martí, that economic independence was the foundation of political independence. He warned Cubans of the dangers of trade alliances with large and powerful nations whereby “those who speak of economic union speak of political union”.

In an interview towards the final part of 1933, days before the fall of the government, he again reiterated the importance of conquering economic independence because without it there was no political independence. “We can achieve political independence easily – he explained, – but we would lose immediately”. What Guiteras understood as economic independence was “…a society of producers with the means of production in the hands of the Cuban people, not controlled by foreign capital from abroad protected by a servile government based on military tyranny”. Production – Guiteras added with definite precision – would be “in the hands of all the Cubans who work and produce”. [16]

In 1934, he clearly explained the main objective of his actions in the revolutionary government: the need to impose a minimum program that, gradually, would set down the conditions needed to face the enormous task of a social revolution in the near future. At the same time, he emphasized his decision to continue fighting for the establishment of a government where the rights of the workers and campesinos would be above the desires for profit by the national and international capitalists. [17] In his well-known article “Septembrismo”, he explained his concept of revolution and anti-imperialism. He evaluated the limitations of the anti-interference position and stressed that economic anti-imperialism would be waged implying that it was the basis for all the evils in a nation.

Referring to his action in government, he recalls that: “Regarding the decrees, like enormous hammers that are gradually breaking the gigantic machine that drowns the people of Cuba, like so many others in Latin America, there were scenarios to counter us, all the native and foreign servants …” [18] Thus, his concept of taking power was closely linked to the fulfillment of an anti-imperialist revolution.

He again insisted on the radicalization of the revolution he planned to organize, which “…would not be a political movement with a scattering of cannon shots, but a deep transformation of our economic and social structure …, a total liberation …that responds to the demands of the all-suffering masses”. [19]

Guiteras understood the belligerence of the working class in the revolution he was preparing; an idea that also came from Marti's ideology, which considered the proletariat as the most trustworthy class in the struggle for national independence.

In “Septembrismo” he clearly defined his concept of the role of a revolutionary organization to wage the revolution and to be the main pivot of ideology and unity: “a revolution can only be made keeping the men identified ideologically; powerful in their strong union, linked to the same principles…”[20]

While writing articles and making statements about the defeat of the government, Guiteras continued strong activities to create a political organization to confront the dictatorship of the president of the Republic, Carlos Mendieta. The revolutionary spin-off of the most radical was grouped in what was known as the TNT. But by mid-1934 he founded a new revolutionary group with greater perspectives and greater horizons: Joven Cuba. The insurrectional thesis of this organization promoted the beginning and development of revolutionary war going through successive phases with the support of a clandestine apparatus designed to strike the enemy in the cities and the rear guard.

The program of Joven Cuba was very advanced for its time. It listed the objectives and tasks of a revolution of national liberation, agrarian reform, democracy and anti-imperialism. It also explained the specific situation of Cuban society at the time: the “…transformation of the people is limited by historical and economic realities, on the one side, and spiritual realities on the other; social transformations require possibilities of consciousness – subjective – as well as environmental possibilities – objective ”.[21]

He pointed out that “the coordination of Cuban productive forces ”were the first obstacles to overcome”.[22]

In the first part he covered the basis of the feelings and objectives of the program in the specific situation of the country: “Cuba has the necessary elements to become a nation but it is still not a Nation … Cuba continues to be a colonial state. Answering to foreign capital the Cuban economic structure is an apparatus that does not serve the collective needs from within, but outputs calculated by and for those abroad.” [23] And he added that: “Therefore the peak idea of our orientation defines the organic order of Cuba as a Nation once it reaches stability.” He pointed out that the “Cuban state be structured according to the lines of Socialism. Until then, Cuba would be open to the voracity of financial imperialism. [24]

Among his objectives he set down a series of political, socio-economic, legal and cultural measures that, through the reforms proposed by the Program, would lead to the achievement of transforming Cuba into “a State of human dignity” by which, nobly and easily, it would rise to superior-ulterior modes of culture”. [25] In other words, the program only expressed the first stage of the Revolution whereby fulfillment would create the necessary conditions to pass on to a higher phase of development in the revolutionary process. The second stage of the program, “as an act of anti-imperialist faith”, subscribed the measures or specific reforms that would have to be accomplished to transform the country.

The Joven Cuba program relied on general lines to begin building the society that Guiteras proposed; considering the failure of the system of representative democracy in Cuba and in face of the need to strengthen the national economy, “ We will establish – Guiteras affirmed – functional democracy founded on participation of manual workers or intellectuals who affect the life of the State. In the new regime they will take positions that represent their interests as a class, professionals, workers, campesinos, business persons and industrialists, the latter two not because of their condition as capitalists but by the role played, first, in the distribution of wealth and, secondly, in the application of the technique of transforming nature”.[26]

In this state, Guiteras argued that: “The socialist State is not an imagined hodgepodge; it is a rational deduction based on social dynamic laws…” and that “we approach the socialist State through successive preparatory stages. The great goal is set to where we lead our march; our Program should be interpreted as an outline of the first stage”.[27]

In conceiving this program he had no point of contact with the social-democratic concepts of the time, nor with the national reformist programs of parties such as the Revolucionario Cubano Auténtico Party that typified a terminology of activity and socialization, demagogic and electoral. The ideological and strategic empathy was clear with the national liberation program of the Association of New Cuban Revolutionary Émigrés (ANERC) [28] and with the theses of Julio Antonio Mella on the stages of the Socialist Revolution in Cuba.

In other papers, Guiteras insisted that, what, for him, the essence of the future revolutionary government was the imposition of a program from a position of power through a dictatorship.[29] Another important point to be considered – he explained in clear reference to the Leninist theory of revolution – was the existence of objective and subjective conditions for the Revolution. “There is no doubt that the objective conditions existed. Suffice it to cast a glance at the economic reality of Cuba to understand that it is at the critical crossroads of imperialist processes’ …Referring to the subjective conditions – he adds – “they exist in a people when the majority feel a need for change”. [30]

In Guiteras’ concept of a new society, like all the young revolutionaries, his generation represented the paradigm of the Marti popular and democratic republic now enriched with a socialist class definition. Also, the ideals of revolutionary unity proposed by Marti, expressed in the Cuban Revolutionary Party, had a continuity in some of the members of the Joven Cuba who intended unity not only under the banner of the sickle, but all the patriots that could serve the cause of the revolution. It is this purely popular characteristic from which strength would be garnered in a short time. By 1935 Guiteras conceived the formation of a real true front of struggle that would include those elements and genuinely left leaning groups. By March of that year, Guiteras warned other revolutionary forces about the lack of conditions for the triumph of a general strike because it had not been coordinated with an armed struggle, nor was there the required organization to transform it into an armed insurrection.

The evaluation of these events can be found in the letters written after the failure of the revolutionary general strike of March 1935. [31]

Even after the defeat of the strike, Guiteras continued to propose the possibility of a triumph of the Revolution. He then considered that the organization of the revolutionaries had to be strengthened; resources acquired and to begin, again, the insurrectional battle, In the midst of these activities he was assassinated in Morrillo, on May 8, 1935.

The physical disappearance of this radical revolutionary when he had become the clear leader in this historic moment, was a harsh blow for the revolutionary movement of his time. The priority he gave to conspiratorial activity and insurrection deprived us of more documentation and limited the conservation of a collection of intimate letters; but these realities do not prevent an understanding of the process of maturity of his revolutionary thoughts and his transit through Marxism, from an initial formation of Marti philosophy, with the important stamp of the political thoughts of Julio Antonio Mella that was clearly set down in the Joven Cuba program.

His lack of political contacts with the main cadres of the first communist party [32] can only be understood from the adverse and contradictory scenario of the times. But this was a barrier that Guiteras was prepared to overcome in a historical period. He understood how the lack of unity then was the main cause of the weakness of the left in the country. In the last interview we made reference to, he stated: “perhaps for the first time in Cuba, elements and groups would join together for the same ideology that represent different shades … [33]

They say that during his last days in clandestinity, his bedside book was “The State and the Revolution” by V. I. Lenin. It is not mere chance that – as Mella did – at the moment he was assassinated, he was preparing an armed expedition and Carlos Aponte died fighting by his side, a Venezuelan communist, comrade in arms, one of the founders of the first Marxist-Leninist Party in Cuba.


[1] Pablo de la Torriente Brau: Chosen papers; Impresora Universitaria “André Voisin”, 1973, pg. 33

[2] Consult: Tabares del Real: Guiteras. Editorial de Ciencias Sociales. Havana, 1973.

[3] Cabrera Olga: Antonio Guiteras. Su pensamiento revolucionario. (His revolutionary ideology) Editorial de Ciencias Sociales Havana; 1974, pg. 7.

[4] Institute of the History of the Communist Movement and the Socialist Revolution in Cuba: Mella. Documents and Articles. Editorial de Ciencias Sociales. Havana, 1975. pg. 279

[5] Tabares del Real, José A.: Guiteras. Op. Cit. pg. 92

[6] Cabrera, Olga: Antonio Guiteras. Su pensamiento revolucionario, (His revolutionary ideology) pg. 89-94

[7] This position marked a deep difference from the proposals of the new University Student’s Directorate (DEU) founded in 1930 that had not set down armed insurrection as a basic principle in a program. This directorate was formed because of the need for a revolutionary organization that could lead the student struggles against the Machado tyranny, in a new stage. The organization grouped the young people in the heroic demonstration of September 30, 1930. Although all could be identified as fighters against Machado soon the different ideological positions expressed in the DEU were evident.

[8] Tabares del Real, José A.: Guiteras. Op. Cit. pg.3. See also pg. 169-170 and 177-179.

[9] Antonio Guiteras: “Septembrismo” in: Cabrera, Olga. Op. Cit. pg.181

[10] “Carta de Guiteras al Diario de Cuba” (Letters of Guiteras to the Diario de Cuba) in: Cabrera, Olga: Op. Cit. pg.97

[11] Raúl Roa: La revolución del 30 se fue a bolina. Editorial Ciencias Sociales, Havana, 1973, pg. 155

[12] Initially Antonio Guiteras held the post of Minister of the Interior. On October 25, Army and Navy was added, with Guiteras as the head. The Secretary of the Interior, Army and Navy held the interim posts of Public Works, from September 13 to October 3 and that of Communications from October 4-5. See: Tabares del Real, José A.: Guiteras. pg.169-170

[13] See: “Septembrismo”. Olga Cabrera. Op. Cit. pg. 181

[14] Guiteras, Antonio: “A los obreros” en Hombres de la revolución. (“To the workers” in Men of the Revolution) Instituto Cubano del Libro. Havana, Cuba . 1971, pg.15

[15] “Habla Guiteras sobre la libertad de los presos políticos” (Guiteras speaks about the freedom of political prisoners) in: Cabrera, Olga: Op. Cit. pg.131

[16] “El alma de Guiteras sigue marcando la ruta”. (The soul of Guiteras continues to show the way”) Ibidem. pg.244-245.

[17] Guiteras, Antonio: “Declaraciones de Guiteras”in: Hombres de la revolución. (Declarations by Guiteras in Men of the Revolution) pg.17

[18] Antonio Guiteras: “Septembrismo” en: Cabrera, Olga. Op.

[19] Ibidem. pg. 182.

[20] Ibidem. pg.181.

[21] Guiteras, Antonio: “Programa de la Joven Cuba” en Olga Cabrera: Op.Cit. pg. 184.

[22] Ibidem.

[23] Ibidem.

[24] Ibidem.

[25] Ibidem. pg.187.

[26] See: Hombres de la revolución. (Men of the Revolution) pg. 46.

[27] “Programa de la Joven Cuba”.(Program of Joven Cuba) Olga Cabrera: Op. Cit. pg.185.

[28] ANERC was an organization of broad spectrum founded by Mella during his exile in Mexico and designed to prepare the armed insurrection against the Machado tyranny.

[29] Hombres de la revolución. (Men of the Revolution) pg 41.

[30] Ibidem. Pg. 44-45.

[31] This strike closed the revolutionary cycle that covered the period between 1920 and 1935. It was the largest popular demonstration since the fall of the Machado tyranny. Both Guiteras and the Communist Party warned that the conditions for its triumph were not sufficient. Lacking were the preparation and time to acquire the necessary weapons needed to organize an armed insurrection against Batista and Yankee imperialism. And furthermore, cohesion of a united front of all the revolutionary forces had not been achieved.

[32] Blas Roca who, since 1934, was Secretary of the first Communist Party said: “It is true that for a short time the communists were attacked by the forces of the right of the Grau provisional government and controlled by an extremist childish line. They made irrational propagandist attacks – from a left wing position – against Guiteras as a member of that provisional government. It is also true – and more important historically – that the communist, once we defeated and condemned the false position of the extreme leftists, approached Guiteras and agreed with a number of considerations and worked towards the common anti-imperialist, progressive and democratic objectives”. See the document: The truth. In “Pensamiento filosofico-social y politico de Blas Roca” (Social-philosophical and political thoughts of Blas Roca”).

Thesis presented and approved for the defense of the PhD in Philosophical Sciences.

[33] “Como pensaba el político cubano Dr. Guiteras” (How the Cuban politician, Dr. Guiteras thought) in Men of the Revolution pg. 45.

May 2005