Adolfo Gilly, Paths of Revolution: Selected Essays (Verso 2022), 277pp. Adolfo Gilly, Paths of Revolution: Selected Essays (Verso 2022), 277pp.

Adolfo Gilly’s essays in Paths of Revolution make the insights of an important Mexican-based revolutionary available to a wider audience, finds Orlando Hill

I confess I had never heard of Adolfo Gilly before being asked to review this assemblage of his writings. I have been involved in Latin American politics since the late 1970s. This illustrates how isolated we are from each other and the importance of websites such as Counterfire where we can build international solidarity and knowledge of what revolutionaries in other parts of the world have and are writing in other languages.

In his introduction, Tony Woods describes Gilly as a ‘living link – across the tumult of several decades – between the post-war generations of the Latin American left and the radical upsurges accompanying the “Pink Tide”’ (p.1). Gilly has not only been an observer and analyst, but also an activist. His best-known book, a landmark history of the Mexican revolution, La revolución interrumpida (The Interrupted Revolution) was written inside Mexico City’s Lecumberri Prison where he was confined from 1966 to 1972.

The book is divided into four sections, which can be read independently from one another depending on your interest. In each section, Gilly plays out his various distinct roles as a journalist, intellectual and historian. Sometimes these roles overlap, but he is always a Marxist militant.

In the first section, Gilly is a witness of revolutionary struggles. The essay I found most interesting is on the 1963 Cuban October missile crisis. Mainstream historians tend to present the crisis as a standoff between Washington and Moscow. We hardly ever see the crisis from the viewpoint of the people in Cuba. Gilly was in Cuba at the time. The essay was published in English a year later in Monthly Review.

The blockade, which is now over sixty-years old, was established with the objective of keeping the development of the Cuban economy from influencing the rest of Latin America, and to bring about the downfall of Fidel Castro. But it had the unforeseen consequence of stopping capitalism from ‘establishing a more solid alliance with the conservative, bureaucratic sectors of the Revolution – as it managed to do to some extent in Yugoslavia and Poland’ (p.23). We could add other eastern European countries such as Czechoslovakia which he discusses in another essay.

Gilly does not see revolution as the simple overthrow of an oppressive government. It is a process of active participation of the masses who are critical of the privilege that can develop as a consequence of the consolidation of a bureaucratic stratum. But at the same time, the masses will reject all criticism from anyone who is against the change. ‘Thus, the people will staunchly defend against an enemy the same leader whom they criticize and spurn at home’ (p.25). This attitude can be seen in Cuba, Venezuela or any country that has gone through a revolutionary struggle.

International solidarity

At the end of the essay, Gilly gives some advice to those who wish to write about and support the Cuban revolution, which can be applied to any other revolutionary struggle. Anyone who tries ‘to paint a picture of the Cuban revolution without shading or lacunae, is providing cover for local conservative forcers in allegiance with pro-capitalist forces, and holding back the development of the Revolution. That is why the propagandistic writings of many so-called friends of the Revolution, who refuse to discuss its truly rich dialectic or who deny it, are biased. Such writing works against the Cuban Revolution, for it prevents its partisans – the millions of workers, farmers, students and intellectuals who stand up for it throughout the world – from learning and intervening with their opinions and their strength to give a boost to those sectors and trends that want to carry forward the Cuban Revolution, not to neutralize it or slow it down’ (p.26).

Every year the National Education Union (NEU) organises a delegation of teachers to Cuba during the October half term. Nominations for places for this year’s trip are being taken and can be found here. I would encourage teachers to go. The delegation includes school visits, meetings with Cuban education colleagues and representatives of the Cuban educators union. It gives teachers form England and Wales an opportunity to see how much can be achieved despite having so little. But don’t come back with ‘propagandistic writings’ that simply paint a rosy picture of progress. Be critical while showing support and solidarity. Follow Gilly’s advice.

In April 1966, Gilly was arrested and tortured by the Mexican police barely two weeks after his arrival in the country. He was only released in 1972. He wrote a defence which he read at his appeal hearing on 7 October 1969. To the accusation of struggling to establish a socialist regime by overthrowing the established government, he replied the two are different things, which don’t necessarily follow one from the other:

‘We Trotskyists do struggle for a socialist government, a government of workers and peasants. But we did not propose to “overthrow the established government”, that is the one that currently exists. Not because we support the government that carried out the Tlatelolco massacre but because it would be absurd to call for the overthrow of any government before the masses possess the organizations, the independent revolutionary working-class party, the leadership, and the organizational means required for the struggle. Revolutions are made by the masses, not by conspirators’ (p.60).

The view that revolutions are made by the masses is what Gilly defends throughout his essays, whether he is examining Bolivia, Nicaragua, or Mexico. Through every experience, the masses gain a greater degree of consciousness. In his essay on the history of the Russian Revolution and the USSR, he quotes an extract from a document of the Left Opposition, which was circulating illegally in 1927, that describes the Russian Revolution ‘as the second experiment in proletarian dictatorship since the Paris commune, broader and more fruitful, but only an experiment’ (p.180).

When he looks into the role of the internet, he compares its importance to previous forms of communication technology: printing, telegraph and telephone. ‘It can boost the repercussion of social movements, but it cannot replace their materiality. The real terrain of struggle, organization, and strength in the face of the adversary is what it always was: the social, corporeal, and the spiritual reality of human beings, the reality which is created and recreated in the infinite weave of their daily lives and dreams’ (p.200).

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Orlando Hill

Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.

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