Julio Antonio Mella
Julio Antonio Mella McPartland (25 March 1903 – 10 January 1929) was a founder of the "internationalized" Cuban Communist Party. Mella studied law in the University of Havana until he was expelled in 1925 and is considered a hero by the present Cuban government. Some Cubans[who?] view him as a victim of the Stalin-Trotsky struggle. His biography varies with the source consulted.
Mella was born Nicanor McPartland in Havana in 1903. His father was Nicanor Mella Breá (1851–1929), a tailor and son of one of the heroes of the Dominican Republican war of independence, Matías Ramón Mella Castillo. Mella’s mother was an Irish woman named Cecilia McPartland, Cecilia was not the wife of Nicanor senior. Mella initially took his name from his father and as a child travelled with his younger brother Cecilio to New Orleans while his mother convalesced from lung troubles. The boys returned to Cuba to live with his father’s wife (and step-mother) Mercedes Bermúdez Ferreira. Mella changed his name from Nicanor to Antonio and his younger brother became Nicasio Mella.
Antonio Mella studied secondary studies at Chandler College in Marianao, Havana and Colegio Mimó. His step-mother, Mercedes Bermúdez Ferreira, died in 1915, and after visiting the US again in 1917 Mella returned to Cuba. He prepared for the University of Havana at Academia Newton before being sent to boarding school at the prestigious Escolapios of Guanabacoa, where he was expelled. Mella finished his secondary studies at the public Instituto de la Habana and or Instituto de Segunda Enseñanza of Pinar del Río in 1921 [Instituto de Segunda Enseñanza de Pinar del Río (1921)].
First arrested during the democratic rule (1921–1924) of Alfredo Zayas, Mella attended the University of Havana where his radicalism was further enhanced through his leadership. Students forcibly occupied Havana University and sought power through demands for changes including: the modernization of textbooks, autonomy for the university, free education for all, and more unusually, to be head of the university for one day. Mella was soon involved in the struggle against future Cuban president Gerardo Machado, and organized the formal founding of the Moscow directed Partido Comunista de Cuba. At this time he was linked to women radicals Rosario Guillaume (Charito), and Sarah Pascual. He was expelled from the University after being arrested and accused of a bomb plot. After being released in late 1925, he eventually fled to Central America in the earlier portion of 1926.
Foundation of the "internationalized" Cuban Communist Party
Cuba had a number of communist and or anarchist parties, especially in Havana and in the eastern area of Cuba, at least as early as the beginning of the Cuban Republic. Possibly the first was founded in 1906 near Manzanillo by Agustín Martín Veloz (Martinillo)),.
The original "internationalized" Communist Party of Cuba was formed in the 1920s when Gerardo Machado was president and then dictator. This organization is said to be related to several fronts including the anti-imperialist league and its anti-clerical analogue. This party was formally recognized by Moscow in 1925. Contacts with Moscow were said to be made in a street-level restaurant at 687 Compostela street on the corner of Luz street in Havana.
The founders of the Cuban Communist Party are listed as: Julio Antonio Mella, Juan Marinello, Alejandro Barreiro, Carlos Baliño, Alfonso Bernal del Riesgo, Jesús Menéndez, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Lázaro Peña, Blas Roca, Rubén Martínez Villena, Anibal Escalante, Emilio Roig and Fabio Grobart.
Fabio Grobart (aka Abraham Semjovitch; Alberto Blanco) was born in Bialystok, Poland, in 1905 and died in Cuba. October 22, 1994. He was a member of the Comintern and often considered a covert Moscow-appointed leader of the Communists in the Caribbean area. Mella used the pseudonyms Cuauhtémoc Zapata, Kim (El Machete), y Lord McPartland in his writing. Blas Roca was born Francisco Calderío.
Alejandro Barreiro is sometimes considered an anarchist, although the Communist Party of Cuba claims him as their own. Barriero is said to have gone mad in 1929 when Mexican police searched his house and raped his daughters. The various pseudonyms of some of these "actors" often include historical references. For instance Fabio or, in English, Fabian refers to a Roman consul who used stealthy tactics, and Fabian Socialism was an English socialist movement, to which George Bernard Shaw belonged, which advocated stealthy democratic change.
The Cuban Communist Party was later renamed the People's Socialist Party for electoral reasons. Its policy was dictated from Moscow. At one time, it supported the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado and would later support Fulgencio Batista, in whose government Dr. Juan Marinello and Carlos Rafael Rodriguez were ministers without portfolio. Although covert communist support was given to Castro and Che Guevara in the Sierra Maestra, the overt People's Socialist Party was critical of Fidel Castro's rise to power until the summer of 1958.
After being expelled from the University of Havana, then arrested and released, Mella fled Machado's repression in Cuba. He escaped through Cienfuegos, Cuba, reaching Honduras in 1926, then Guatemala and from there, Mexico. In Mexico, he wrote for a number of newspapers: Cuba Libre, El Libertador, Tren Blindado ("The Armored Train", a Trotskyist symbol), El Machete and the Boletín del Torcedor (which is published in Havana).
At the time of his death he was a Cuban marxist revolutionary in Mexico trying to organize the overthrow of the Cuban government of General Gerardo Machado. This cause was an embarrassment to the Cuban Communist Party which was trying to gain power by establishing a modus vivendi with Machado. What further disturbed the Cuban communists was that they felt he had fallen under Leon Trotsky’s influence. Mella was assassinated on January 10, 1929, while walking home late at night with photographer Tina Modotti. The Mexican government tried to implicate Modotti in the murder, even releasing nude photographs of her by Edward Weston to try and generate public opinion against her. Muralist Diego Rivera played a very active role in defending her and exposing the Mexican government's crude attempt to frame her, for this crime that the Mexican authorities felt correctly or incorrectly to have involved her. It is unclear whether Mella was murdered by the dictatorial Cuban government, if his death had been brought about by Trotsky-Stalin Communist Party feuding, or by combination of these mutual interests. It is widely speculated that he died by the notoriously bloody hand of Vittorio Vidale.
The Mystery of the Murder of Julio Mella
Many political murders, often of communist backsliders and other "heretics" such as Trotskyists, have been attributed to Vidale's "bloody hand." Outside of Cuba, the murder of Julio Mella is commonly believed to be one of them. The love triangle of Mella, Vidale and Modotti is immortalized in Diego Rivera's mural "In the Arsenal.". The extreme right [as you face it] of the mural shows the beautiful photographer and silent film actress Tina Modotti holding a belt of ammunition. Vidale's face, partly hidden, stares suspiciously from under a black hat, as he peers over her shoulder, while Modotti gazes lovingly at Julio Antonio Mella (shown with light colored hat).
Given the closeness of Diego Rivera to the people involved some consider this fresco painting to be evidence of Vidale's and Rivera's involvement in Mella's assassination and this work of art is believed by many to relate to Rivera's expulsion from the Mexican Communist Party.
Mella had rejoined the communist party just two weeks prior to his death, although this circumstance like much else related to Vidale is murky.
The Mella assassination illustrates the complexity of those times and demonstrates Vidale and his "manager's" skill at obfuscation and covering his tracks. Officially José Agustín López (said to have no particular political affiliations), was charged with Mella’s murder, but two other known killers, Jose Magriñat and Antonio Sanabría were also suspected. The police investigating this crime were given conflicting eyewitness reports. In one version, Mella and Modotti were walking alone, in another Vidale was said to be walking with Mella and Tina Modotti. Since Mella's wounds were from point blank range, neither Modotti or Vidale were injured, and Modotti gave a false name to the investigators, the police were suspicious of her alibi. Modotti was arrested, but soon released. Magriñat, who had also been arrested was then released. Apparently a loose end, he was ultimately killed in Cuba by Communists in 1933 (Albers, 2002).
The official position of the present Cuban government is still that Mella was killed at Gerardo Machado's orders, but it admits that Tina Modotti was a Stalinist operative who operated in a number of countries. Yet there are some even in Cuba who seem to believe that Vidale did it. Adding to the mystery, according to Abers (2002), both Magriñat, and Diego Rivera who had just returned from Cuba had warned Mella that he was in danger.
Funeral and symbolism
On September 29, 1933 the troops of Fulgencio Batista, less than a month in power, broke up a procession to bury his ashes in Havana. Perhaps six people were shot under confused circumstances. There is a small park on Infanta Street, near the José Raúl Capablanca chess club that commemorates this event
Mella's bust (now replaced by a far larger obelisk) stood in a small park on San Lazaro Avenue slightly east and downhill of Havana University and is the object of much Marxist veneration. Before the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion, this bust was often blown down at night and could be heard in the silence after the explosion rumbling in a most frightening way as it rolled eastwards. Each time, by next morning it was rapidly restored to its pedestal.
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Media related to Julio Antonio Mella at Wikimedia Commons