By Ramona Wadi
“The resentment of imperialism is so profound, its hatred of our revolution so great, that the imperialists refuse to resign themselves.”
Uttered by Fidel Castro during a speech in 1961, the statement generates a particular relevance in relation to the dissemination of contrasting narratives regarding Fidel and the Cuban Revolution.
In the years following the death of Ernesto Che Guevara, attempts to sabotage the narration of the Cuban Revolution have focused upon creating unfounded hypotheses. Imperialist narratives attribute the intellectual inscription of the revolution solely to Che, depicting a process which fragmented itself when Che was captured and murdered in Bolivia. However, this attribution does not deter imperialism from forging a perverse triumph over Che’s murder and the alleged termination of the revolutionary struggle. In fact, the incomplete and intentionally misrepresented image of Che serves to marginalise Fidel’s consistent anti-imperialist narrative. By promulgating the image of the murdered revolutionary into the limelight, the imperialist narrative has also served to detract from the primary historical framework which supported and implemented the revolution – the revolutionary philosophy of José Martí and Fidel Castro.
Imperialist narratives of the Cuban revolution differ; the simplest depicting Fidel a dictator whose tenure as leader defied the objectives of democracy. However, a more intricate manipulation exists, which weaves a narration of the Cuban Revolution through a historical account disassociated from its origins. Within this narrative – a common feature within material purporting authentic history, the revolutionary history of Cuba is sidelined to portray the alleged imperial triumph culminating in the murder of Che, in a manner which marginalises Fidel. This erroneous narrative depicts Che as the sole intellectual author of the revolution, relying upon the capitalist exploitation of Che’s iconic image to portray the fall of the martyr without acknowledging the Cuban revolution as a process ingrained within education and internationalism. The definition of Che as the intellectual author of the revolution not only marginalises Fidel, it is also in direct conflict with the historical narrative which describes José Martí as the intellectual author of the revolution, asserted by Fidel in 1953 after the Moncada Barracks attack, preceding Che’s inclusion in the revolutionary July 26 Movement. It is also in direct contradiction with Che’s assertions in ‘Socialism and Man in Cuba’ (1965), in which, among many references to Fidel’s leadership and intellect, he states, “At the head of this immense column, we are neither ashamed nor afraid to say it – is Fidel”. Like Martí, Fidel sought to impart revolutionary consciousness to Cubans even prior to the defeat of Batista’s tyrannical dictatorship, as is evidenced in his defence speech ‘History will absolve me’, which served as the foundation for his later anti-imperialist stance. Imperialist manipulation regarding Fidel’s role in the revolutionary process lies in relying upon tangible and concrete sources which are then divested of the meticulous chronology and ideology in order to attain a new narrative derived from the authentic – a calculated process which is also disseminated unwittingly by some purported supporters of the Cuban Revolution.
The widely-disseminated imperialist narrative, therefore, utilises and exploits fragments of the Cuban Revolution by placing a modified and diminished perspective of Che at its helm while disregarding the narratives of the three revolutionary protagonists – Martí, Fidel and Che. In particular, the imperialist narrative seeks to disassociate Fidel from the integral frameworks of ideology, history and memory constituting the Cuban Revolution. The erroneous disassociation of Fidel from history has also enabled imperialist narratives to appropriate and exploit the essence of Martí to define counter-revolution, despite the resonance of Martí’s interpretation of revolution as a direct attack upon colonial and imperialist practices – a strategy which resonates throughout Fidel’s writings, speeches and historical example. On the contrary, Fidel managed to impart Martí’s philosophy to the people through the revolution, rendering Cubans participants within their history primarily through Fidel’s own adherence to Martí. It is therefore imperative to deconstruct the imperialist disparagement that seeks to annihilate Fidel’s identity by revisiting significant aspects from the revolution’s early historical framework as articulated initially by Martí and later by Fidel, to consolidate the authentic narrative.
Martí’s writings convey a profound consciousness of the magnitude of the struggle against colonialism and imperialism. In identifying with Cuba and Latin America, Martí set a precedent in breaking away from the imposed colonial identity, articulating the necessity of continuity in order to maintain the transformation from colonial to anti-imperialist identity, thus providing a strategy to disseminate an internationalist revolutionary struggle. Martí deemed liberation of the people through social processes, including education, as necessary in order to transform the colonised perception of identity. A common goal which Martí emphasised and Fidel implemented on a wider foundation was the imparting of revolution through education which would render Cubans participants in the continuous historical struggle as opposed to passive spectators subjugated to imperialist exploitation and plunder.
An analysis of Fidel’s early writings and declarations not only portrays profound insight into Martí’s revolutionary philosophy, but also a heightened awareness of the prevailing struggle as a permanent commitment. During the prelude to the revolutionary struggle following Fidel’s trial for organising and leading the Moncada Barracks attack, adherence to Martí was articulated, particularly within his eloquent defence speech, ‘History will absolve me’. During the speech, Fidel reversed the roles of prosecution and the accused by delving into the terror of Batista’s regime and the inevitability of revolution. Invoking Martí’s exemplary revolutionary consciousness as an affirmation of the historical processes involved in the struggle against colonialism served as a reminder that Cuba’s recent past was imbued with revolutionary ideology, undermined by the dictatorship’s intentional separation of education and revolutionary struggle to obliterate a unifying narrative leading to Cuban independence. The speech also highlighted the deplorable education system under Batista as compatible with the escalating trend of social injustices: “Our education system is perfectly compatible with everything I’ve just mentioned. Where the peasant doesn’t own the land, what need is there for agricultural schools? Where there is no industry, what need is there for technical or vocational schools? Everything follows the same absurd logic; if we don’t have one thing we can’t have the other … Is this the way to make a nation great? (Castro, 1953). Allusions to the future internationalist approach were also made, with Fidel declaring a shift from military strategy to education unified within the revolutionary struggle following Batista’s defeat.
In prison, Fidel sought and succeeded in creating a revolutionary learning environment, describing the prison as “our academy of struggle”, in reference to the perceived future struggle against the imperialist-supported dictatorship. With the Moncada trial placing Fidel’s name on the political map, inscribing the revolution from incarceration commenced through an extension of ‘History will absolve me’, with the text being disseminated and utilised to illustrate the impunity enshrouding Batista’s crimes. Fidel’s prison letters are a testimony of certainty that the revolutionary struggle would triumph, paving the way for a wider struggle following the imminent defeat of Batista. Martí remains central to Fidel’s revolutionary discourse, quoted incessantly while weaving compassion, indignation and determination through letters which expounded upon the atrocities suffered by the captured revolutionaries, tumultuous anger ceding to the necessity of strategic planning. The letters provide a comprehensive insight into Fidel’s later internationalist stance, already indicated in his defence speech and inscribed in the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra (1957) and later in the First and Second Declarations of Havana (1960, 1962). For Fidel and Martí, ideological abstracts were to be shunned in favour of a practical revolutionary consciousness.
The expansion from the liberation of Cuba to internationalism can be viewed in the Manifesto of the Sierra Maestra. After detailing the tyranny embodied by Batista, Fidel insists that “the civic-revolutionary front does not invoke or accept mediation or intervention of any kind from another nation in the internal affairs of Cuba. Even stronger are the references included in the First and Second Declarations of Havana in the early years of the revolutionary process following Batista’s defeat. Denouncing imperialism in Cuba, Fidel expands his criticism to include imperialist oppression in Latin America and globally. “The movement of the dependent and colonial peoples is a phenomenon of universal character which agitates the world and marks the final crisis of imperialism.” Expounding upon the problems faced by Cuba and Latin America as direct imperialist attacks aimed at preventing liberation, Fidel declared imperialist oppression an aberration conforming to interest in exploitation: “they imagine that revolutions are born or die in the brains of individuals,” a succinct observation which partly describes the imperialist intention to normalise the Cuban Revolution as a process which embarked upon its demise with the death of Che, despite the fact that imperialism subsequently conspired to exploit Latin America through neoliberal experiments, in an attempt to destabilise the revolutionary consciousness fomenting in the region. While the Second Declaration of Havana focuses upon imperialist intervention in Latin America, the analysis expounded upon by Fidel with regard to imperialist perception of history passively conforming to exploitation is reminiscent of later criticism directed against US imperialism and international organisations whose guise of concern serves as a platform through which subjugation is enforced under euphemisms such as humanitarian intervention. Revolution is inevitable, determined “by the development of the revolutionary consciousness of the masses, by the world crisis of imperialism and the universal movement of struggle among subjugated people.” Fidel also defines the success of Cuba’s revolutionary struggle through the existing socio-economic conditions which enforced the re-thinking of exploitation in order to construct revolutionary consciousness. Internationalism entrenched within anti-imperialist discourse departs from the Cuban experience to encompass worldwide exploitation. “A country that exploits the people of Latin America, or any other parts of the world, is an ally of the exploiters of the rest of the world.” Revolutionary consciousness however, must be sustained in order to combat the possible internationalist exploitation by imperialism which mellows the revolutionary process into reformist practice. Fidel’s view also shows certain similarities to Peruvian philosopher José Carlos Mariátegui’s analysis of international colonial oppression in confrontation with internationalist revolutionary socialist thought.
As is evident through this brief overview of Fidel’s earliest writings, while the imperialist narrative is sustained by manipulation of leadership intended to fragment the unity of revolutionary thought embodied by Martí, Fidel and Che, Cuba’s anti-imperialist and internationalist commitment became a tangible reality through Fidel’s insistence and implementation of revolutionary consciousness through education. For Fidel, the political right to education precedes the rights to vote, which is deemed “fictitious and manipulated”, in relation to the degradation experienced by people whose potential is restricted by social inequality. The emergence from colonialism and its domination of social structures required a culture based upon social justice ingrained within education, allowing Cubans to resist the neoliberal threat. Cuba’s approach towards education is based upon three important structures: Martí’s insistence on reconciling the individual with collective needs, Fidel’s insistence upon educating the masses as a form of resistance against imperial exploitation and Che’s views regarding the education of the masses in relation to productivity and independence.
Celia Hart’s article in 2007, entitled ‘Fidel from my balcony’, written at a time when speculation was rife about Fidel’s health, defines the international importance of Fidel which has moved beyond derogatory symbolism through his constant anti-imperialist struggle. “Although Che Guevara is the world’s symbol of youth rebelliousness, his friend and comrade Fidel stands for the topmost expression of the Third World’s anti-imperialist and socialist struggle.” Che’s image has been intentionally exploited and tarnished within the capitalist realm in a manner which not only seeks to create adulation, but also to fragment the unity of the Cuban Revolution and isolate Cuba’s achievements following the CIA’s murder of Che to disassociate Fidel’s relevance from the revolutionary process. Hart’s writing dispels the illusions conjured by comparisons, in particular the repetitive deprecation depicting Fidel as having lived in Che’s shadow. Imperialism has sustained itself through violence and illusions, building upon innovations within historical process to justify forged narratives claiming authenticity. Fidel’s intellectual capacity as leader has never been in conflict with the historical framework of Cuba’s revolutionary consciousness; it builds upon Martí’s legacy and moves beyond due to the tenacity towards the anti-imperialist struggle – a fact also attested by Che himself.
Throughout his life, and at an early stage following the revolutionary triumph, Fidel exposed the paradox of imperialist influence and its dependence upon subjugation of the oppressed in order to retain a climate in which it can thrive. The anonymity of the collective under imperialist subjugation was encouraged to explore and affirm its identity through participation in Fidel’s revolutionary struggle, severing the dependence allowing imperialists to view history and need as unremittingly conforming to exploitation.