We think of UFO cults, typically, as being naïve, fancy-dress Californian affairs, scary religious Doomsday sects, or even neo-Nazi groups convinced that flying saucers operate from a secret Antarctic base. But there was one UFO cult at the opposite end of the political spectrum: a Trotskyite UFO cult.
They called themselves the Posadists after their founder Juan R Posadas and, like many UFO cults, they bore a fierce loyalty to their “dear master”.1 They believed that close encounters were evidence of superior socialist civilisations from Earth’s future. Their bizarre belief in flying saucers was not channelled to them by some tackily-named space entity but “theoretically informed” by Marx and Trotsky, and was for them a logical extension of Marxist dialectical materialism. Posadas wrote: “We will travel to planets millions of light years away under a Socialist society.”
Their founder was a leading light of Latin American Trotskyism, one of a select group running the Fourth International (see ‘Posadism for Beginners’ side bar) after Leon Trotsky’s death. Alongside their esoteric texts on “flying saucers, the process of matter and energy, science, the revolutionary class struggle and the Socialist future of humanity,” 2 they also preached more orthodox Marxism and strove tirelessly to bring about world revolution. Posadist Fourth International affiliates worked to organise trade unions, often operating clandestinely under dictatorships. Some ‘comrades’ even lost their lives in the struggle.
To be fair, the Posadist Fourth International did not start out as a UFO cult. Trotsky went into exile in Mexico in 1938 and worked closely with Latin American Marxists to set up the International. These contacts included Argentina’s Partido de la Revolución Socialista, which was affiliated to the Fourth International from 1941. Among its activists was Comrade Juan R Posadas.
Details of Posadas’ life outside the Party are now hard to come by. If he had a family, he kept quiet about it. Being a top Trotskyite was a life-threatening occupation at the time, so it was wise to be a bit coy about personal details. Pseudonyms were common in Posadas’ circles, and the Posadist Fourth International gave the venue of their congresses as ‘Europe’. The Posadists were understandably camera-shy too. We know that Juan Posadas was born Homero Cristalli in Argentina in 1912, and that he was of Italian origin. A labourer, a shoemaker and a professional footballer for La Plata Estudientes at various points of his life, he organised a shoemakers’ and leather workers’ union in Cordoba, Argentina, in the 1930s. 3
At some time in the 1930s, he stood as a Partido Socialista Obrero candidate in the elections for Buenos Aires Province, capitalising on his fame as a footballer 4 and quickly gained a reputation for long-winded discourse. The Argentinian Trotskyite Librorio Justo recalled attending a 1940s meeting in which Posadas tried to win over Justo’s faction with a sustained attack on him, lasting “for several hours”. 5
Posadas gathered Latin American affiliates to the Fourth International under the Montevideo-based Latin American Bureau. These Latin American Trotskyite parties had some clout among trade unions, especially Cuban railway workers, Bolivian tin miners and agricultural workers in Brazil. Latin American Posadist parties were accepted as part of the mainstream Trotskyite Fourth International until its Third World Congress – its final congress as a united body – in 1951. With splits already forming, Posadas was part of a commission attempting, without success, to reunite the International’s quarrelling factions.
A sizeable Pabloist section split from the Fourth International in 1953, taking with it Posadas’ still relatively mainstream Latin American Bureau. This splinter group styled itself the International Secretariat of the Fourth International, under the leadership of Michel Pablo. By 1959, Posadas was quarrelling with Pablo, denouncing his “lack of confidence”. But another factor led many top Trotskyites to dissociate themselves from Posadas’ “extreme behaviour”. In fact, many were alarmed at Posadas’ doctrine on nuclear war.
A combined “War–Revolution” to “settle the hash of Stalinism and capitalism” 6 was orthodox doctrine among the Pabloist Trotskyites. But in the hands of Posadas it became a full-blown Doomsday obsession, complete with its own Last Judgement – sinisterly referred to as “the final settlement of accounts of Socialism against the capitalist system.”
Posadist “atomic war” theory emerged at the first congress of the fully independent Fourth International (Posadist), held shortly after its definitive split with all other versions of the International in 1962. At this meeting – appropriately titled “Extraordinary Congress” – Posadas announced: “Atomic war is inevitable. It will destroy half of humanity: it is going to destroy immense human riches. It is very possible. The atomic war is going to provoke a true inferno on Earth. But it will not impede Communism.”
He later added that: “Nuclear war [equals] revolutionary war. It will damage humanity but it will not – it cannot – destroy the level of consciousness reached by it… Humanity will pass quickly through a nuclear war into a new human society – Socialism.” 7 Posadas predicted that atomic war was “the supreme opportunity for the forces of the world revolution”, which would come swiftly. “After the destruction commences, the masses are going to emerge in all countries – in a short time, in a few hours.”
The disciples were to be prepared for “the atomic quagmire that humanity will have to step over before it constructs Socialism.” The 8th World Congress had a ‘Cadre school’ with a curriculum which included “Analysis of the Atomic War, Its Consequences and the Tasks for the Post Atomic War”. 8
As time wore on, Posadist nuclear war doctrine became more impatient, demanding of the Soviets and Chinese that they hurry up and annihilate capitalism with a pre-emptive first strike right now. “Preventative war” was a doctrine briefly discussed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, but never with such urgent enthusiasm as by Posadas. China “should launch the war now… they call upon the masses of the world to take power now”, he declared in the European Marxist Review of 1968. He saw Soviet preparation for war as being “accompanied for support for the revolution. Thus, every button they press is part of the progress of history.” 9
Posadas also held the delusional view that his nuclear war doctrine had been adopted by China, declaring that: “If this intervention by fraternal solidarity unleashed war from the side of imperialism, imperialism will perish… these are our conclusions, which the Chinese also draw.” 10 By 1970, Posadists believed of China’s nuclear war strategy that “Until six months ago, the Chinese totally ignored this question. Today, they put this conclusion at the centre of their analysis, taking complete phrases from the articles of Posadas.” 11
Such appeals for pre-emptive nuclear strikes by the Communist superpowers were accompanied by a techie fanboy’s admiration for the latest Sino-Soviet nuclear hardware. The pages of the British Section’s paper Red Flag were filled with the praises of the Workers’ States’ newest nuclear weaponry: “WE SALUTE THE LAUNCHING OF THE CHINESE MISSILE WITH AN ATOMIC WARHEAD, AS A GREAT SCIENTIFIC ADVANCE OF THE WORKERS’ STATE AND A GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE WORLD MASSES.” 12
At the time of his death in 1981, Posadas was convinced that the USSR had nuclear weapons in space. The Posadists were great space travel enthusiasts, as long as the space travel achievements in question were either Soviet or Chinese. It was a short leap of the imagination from idolising the latest Soviet space vehicles to speculating about UFOs.
The pamphlet La ciencia espacial (Space Sciences) dealt with the glorious Soyuz space programme,13 while the Bolivian Section of the Posadists sent a telegram to the La Paz Soviet Embassy in October 1961: “We salute the Soviet masses. Hail the success of Soyuz and Intercosmos. Forms insoluble answer of USSR and other workers states to preparation counter-revolutionary war Yankee imperialism.”
The British Red Flag was full of over-capitalised praise for the latest flashy items of space kit: “WE SALUTE THE SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT OF THE USSR IN LANDING A SPACECRAFT ON VENUS,” 14 and “VIVA THE HISTORIC TRIUMPH OF THE SOVIET LUNARKHOD (sic).” 15 Such odes to space achievement are made all the more odd, appearing as they do alongside more down-to-earth concerns: “LONG LIVE THE CONTINUATION OF THE DUSTMAN’S STRIKE.” 16
It was in the heady summer of 1968 that Posadas’ stargazing tendencies finally led him to leave behind the earthbound World Revolution and turn his thoughts to “other galaxies and solar systems” where “they can eliminate the ruling class”. Posadas began to boldly go where no Marxist theory had gone before and announced that “dialectic concepts can permit the existence of UFOs and other life-forms.” 17
Just as Trotsky rejected “socialism in one country”, so Posada rejected socialism on one planet. Posada’s Les Soucoupes Volantes (Flying Saucers) opens in the baffling, tortured, long-winded style that became his hallmark: “A new ray has been discovered in the Soviet Union which is infinitely more rapid than light… This energy must have a property and strength infinitely superior to what we know.”
The pamphlet continues to lurch from cliché to cliché, bordering on incomprehensibility: “In the same way it is conceivable that a being who raises his hand and produces light, attracts, remakes and organises energy… And the forms of the social organisation could be infinitely superior,” and continues: “Even if these reports of flying saucers are fantasies, as is possible that the majority may be, many of them, their historical basis is correct… the scientific capacity of human beings is determined by their social organisation.” 18
And there is a Marxist explanation for why the UFOs visit but do not stay: “Capitalism doesn’t interest the UFO pilots, which is why they do not return. Similarly, the Soviet bureaucracy (doesn’t interest them) as they don’t have perspective.”
UFOs, predicts Posadas, will show a greater interest in us “at the moment of the collapse of the bourgeoisie and the General Strike.” Star Trek fans will recognise the similarity with the film First Contact, in which Vulcans passing Earth only show an interest in humans after they have developed warp drive.
“To draw conclusions from these problems… [it is] necessary to study attentively … The answers to these mysteries would lie in a study of Marxism,” advises Posadas. Presumably, it is necessary to study attentively in order to work out what the hell he means by other mind-boggling ideas expressed in Flying Saucers, including his conviction that elephants live for 260 years; that humans will disappear to be replaced by something else; that humans will ultimately reproduce asexually like amœbæ; 19 and the puzzling statement that the UFO phenomenon is “not an accidental, occasional concern which arises because a person two metres tall arrives, fair haired and with transparent clothes.” 20
Flying Saucers ends with a call to our extraterrestrial comrades: “We must call upon beings from other planets when they come to intervene, to collaborate with the inhabitants of the Earth to overcome misery. We must launch a call on them to use their resources to help us.”
Flying Saucers encountered instant derision from the rest of the Left. It would be easy to write it off as an aberration later ignored or ‘corrected’ by Posada’s followers, but that is simply not true. Flying Saucers appeared without comment in the British Red Flag in 1969, and was re-issued by the Posadist International’s French imprint in 1971, with an introduction which began: “We are reprinting this article by J Posadas… at a time when new social revolutions in Mozambique, Angola, Vietnam, Ethiopia, etc pass rapidly from tribalism to Socialism. On the other hand, the capitalist system is in total chaos.”
The introduction praises the far-sightedness of Posadas for anticipating, by many years, the importance of flying saucers, “that is to say external and superior civilisations.” The preface to the French edition emphasised “The irreplaceable function of Marxism… to predict the course of history and of life and to develop the capacity to organise all possible forces – including extraterrestrial ones if they exist – to achieve the objective of communism.”
One would have thought that Juan Posadas’ death, on 14 May 1981, in Italy, would have provided an opportunity to ditch all the UFO stuff from the Posadist canon. But no; a year later the disciples praised the depth of his vision and his ideas on UFOs, “if a little wild”. It was further noted that “All these problems met at the time, scepticism and irony on the part of the communist currents and the world proletarian movement, and also a certain incomprehension in the ranks of the Fourth International itself’.” A German version of Posada’s Flying Saucers appeared as late as 1987. 21
Not only did Posadas’ political heirs defend his UFO theories, they also took on board his increasingly New Age ideas on “the goal of the harmonisation of human relations together with nature and the cosmos” that followed in the wake of Flying Saucers.
Professor Igor Charkovsky’s experiments for the Soviet Academy of Sciences on ‘water birthing’ and his work on communicating with dolphins won the admiration of Posadas, as did unattributed “plans to conceive babies in space.” Charkovsky is today a celebrity of the New Age Californian bourgeois ‘water birthing’ circuit and his forays into human–dolphin communication interfaces are continued by Alexander Yushchencko at Kharkov Polytechnic, Ukraine.
In any event, Posadas’ disciples defended his most esoteric dolphin and water birthing ideas after his death, stating that: “Posadas highlighted the full significance of experiments the Soviets are making in communicating with animals (eg. dolphins) and in space exploration... this is the plane on which Comrade Posadas lived.” They also firmly believed that Posadas’ “radiant and living thought… laid down principles to see further into the future.”
While the disciples felt that the death of Comrade Posadas “left an enormous vacuum in history”, an obituary by his former mentor Michel Pablo called him “delirious” and described him as “a preacher of the ‘permanent revolution’ simultaneously and everywhere, to the point of giving itself an interplanetary dimension.” 22 Posadas may still have surprises in store for us – transcripts of his tape recordings, his ‘internal memoranda’ and his drawings are sealed in the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam and cannot be opened until 2010.
But the true strangeness of the phenomenon that was Posadism lies in the fact that much of the Posadists’ activity was of a ruthlessly rationalist character. Their British Section – the Revolutionary Workers’ Party – was a typical Trot organisation. Its members got into trouble in the Vauxhall and Austin car factories for their industrial militancy around the ‘United Car Worker’ group. They were as preoccupied as any other Trot group with sneaking members into the Labour Party and with a Monty Python’s Life of Brian Judean People’s Front/People’s Front of Judea style feud with their near-identical rivals, the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, with whom they had frequent scraps and fisticuffs.
While Posadist ‘interventions’ in Europe amounted to little more than leafleting demonstrations, in Latin America their work was more dangerous. In Brazil, Comrade Roberto Pinto was assassinated leading a rebellion of 5,000 peasants in August 1963. He was just one of a dozen or so Latin American Posadists executed or murdered up to 1977. 23
In Guatemala, Mexican Posadists collaborated with the ‘MR13th November’ guerrillas under Lieutenant Marco Antonio Yon Sosa – until the guerrillas realised that the money raised from a ‘tax’ on the bourgeoisie was going not to the armed struggle but towards producing European Marxist Review in many languages, including supplements in Greek and Arabic. Posadists were the first Trotskyite group to operate in Algeria after independence. At their peak in the late 1960s, they numbered perhaps a thousand worldwide.
Strangest of all was the Posadists’ relationship with the ‘Workers’ State’, Cuba. Posadist guerrillas fought alongside Castro and Guevara in the 1959 revolution, and Che Guevara flirted with support for Posadist groups. Posadas and his followers went as delegates to the First Conference of Latin American Youth in Punta de la Este, Uruguay, in August 1961, although they were allegedly held as virtual prisoners in their hotels. Cuban Posadists were soon jailed and, in 1967, Posadas unveiled his conspiracy theory of “the morbid farce of the so-called death of Guevara”; that Che wasn’t really dead, but imprisoned by the right wing of Castro’s government. Fidel Castro took the trouble to denounce Posadists by name as ‘pestilential’ at the Tricontinental Congress of January 1966. 24
Most Posadist parties collapsed shortly after the dear leader’s death in 1981. But in Germany, retired metalworker Paul Schulz keeps the Posadist flame alive. A communist fugitive from the Third Reich who settled in Argentina, he worked with Posadas and tried – unsuccessfully – to set up a German Posadist party on his return in 1991. He now runs an Internet-based one-man-band called Gesellschaftsreform jetzt (Social Reform Now!) which publishes post-Posadist analysis of UFO phenomena – including a book which he blessed with the inspirational title Official contact by an extraterrestrial civilisation with us earthlings is nigh. Let’s show ourselves worthy of this exceptionally joyful event of epochal significance. 25
The most prominent living post-Posadist is the Argentinean-born Adolfo Gilly, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the National Autonomous University of Mexico strike in 1966. On his release in April 1969, Gilly was still claimed by the Posadists as one of their own, but he later repudiated Trotskyism. Now regarded as one the foremost living thinkers of Marxism, Gilly writes for the Mexican newspaper La Jornada on issues including globalisation and, in 1999, was working as an advisor to the Mayor of Mexico City. 26
The word ‘bizarre’ does no justice to the Posadist belief system. While writing this article, I joked to a friend that the Posadists had everything except a Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory. Then I came across the January 1964 edition of Red Flag with four pages of closely printed, incomprehensible rant on Why The Pentagon Killed Kennedy, by J Posadas.