The Negro Question in Cuba

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 8:50 AM
Columbia 9 (Washington Hilton)
Frances Peace Sullivan, Simmons College
By the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Cuban Communist Party realized that, since its inception in 1925, it had neglected to reach out to black workers. In some respects, party leaders had been ideologically opposed to considering questions of race, believing that race and racism merely masked class struggle. Regardless, under pressure from the Comintern and the party’s own wish to become “an organization of the masses,” Communist leaders launched a massive campaign to recruit black workers in the early 1930s.

This paper explores that campaign to recruit and its relative successes and failures. In particular, I trace the three major components of the campaign to recruit black workers: (1) Party support for the Scottsboro Nine, arrested on trumped up rape charges in Alabama, (2) declaration of a “franja negra” or “black belt” policy that the black-majority regions of Camagüey and Oriente had the right to self determination, and (3) fierce (though short-lived) support of Afro-Cuban immigrant workers during the nationalist tide of the Revolution of 1933. I demonstrate that these positions were developed as part of wider transnational dialogues taking place across the Americas. Ultimately, while the party made strides in the number of Afro-Cuban and antillano­ workers joining its ranks, its approach to the “Negro Question” met with mixed results as it confronted Cuban Nationalism and as the Third Period ebbed into the Popular Front. Nevertheless, this era fused the struggle for black liberation and the fight against imperialism in a way that would resonate for decades, surfacing most prominently again in the Tricontinentalist movement.