According to Cuban legend, Che Guevara once said, “When Fidel speaks, I am not sure if he is expressing his own ideas, or those of the people.” Indeed, one of the gifts of Fidel was his capacity to listen to the people, and to reformulate their hopes and needs on a political and moral plane.
This dynamic was present with respect to Fidel’s leadership of the progressive forces in the Non-Aligned Movement during the period 1979 to 1982. He adopted the 1974 Third World proposal for a New International Economic Order and made it his own, placing the proposal in the context of the increasingly aggressive and destructive policies of the global powers and the consequent eclipse of Third World hopes, and at the same time further developing the proposal, bringing it to a more complete and more advanced formulation.
In the 1983 Report to the Seventh Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (Castro 1983), Fidel’s call for a more just and democratic world-system was based in an analysis of the adverse effects of world-system dynamics on the Third World, including elevated interest rates, high levels of inflation, declining terms of trade, increasing external debt payments, and declining foreign investment in production. This economic state of affairs was compounded by global political realities: the global powers, rather than recognizing their historic debt before the situation, seized upon it as an opportunity to rescue declining corporate profits, imposing structural adjustment policies on the governments of the Third World. At the same time, transnational corporations were promoting their own development ideology for the Third World, seeking to undermine the sovereignty of Third World nations in order to promote and defend their particular interests (see “Fidel speaks on the global crisis” 7/25/2016).
Confronting this reality, the peoples of the Third World, Fidel concluded, must struggle to create a more just world order, recognizing that the peoples of the Third World constitute the immense majority of humanity, and that the development of the Third World economies would be beneficial to the world-system as a whole and enable it to overcome its structural crisis. Accordingly, the peoples of the Third World must struggle: to transform the structures that promote unequal exchange and declining terms of exchange; for the cancellation of the Third World debt; for new and more equitable international monetary and financial systems; for a form of industrialization that responds to the interests of the Third World; for necessary socio-economic structural changes, such as agrarian reform; for the adoption of measures by states that control and limit the activities of transnational corporations; and for an elevation of the prestige of the United Nations. The struggle requires the unity of the peoples of the Third World, in spite of political and cultural differences, in recognition of their common experience of colonial domination (Castro 1983:223-29).
In the 1983 Report, Fidel formulates a concept of development that is not based on the model of Western development, which Fidel considers impossible to repeat in present global conditions. The development model proposed by Fidel involves strong state action in order to break the core-peripheral relation, in which the underdeveloped countries export raw materials and leave industrial production in the hands of the developed countries. To overcome core-peripheral structures, the underdeveloped countries must mobilize national resources for the development of technically-advanced industries. In this vein, Fidel maintains that the forms of industry that have been developed recently in the underdeveloped world will not lead to their economic development. Recent industrial expansion in the Third World has been in labor-intensive industries that have low levels of technical development, such as textiles or manufactured food products, which have been attractive to transnational capital because of the Third World cheap labor supply. In contrast to emphasis on low-wage export-oriented manufacturing, Fidel advocates investment in the Third World in those branches with technological-industrial complexity, such as nuclear, chemical, or petrochemical energy, or the aerospace industry; this would stimulate the growth of Third World internal markets (Castro 1983:127-40).
Fidel’s understanding of Third World development included the concept of South-South cooperation. The 1983 Report notes that cooperation among the underdeveloped countries has been an historic objective of the Non-Aligned Movement, and it is an important component of the 1974 program for a New International Economic Order. Cooperation among the countries of the Third World would be a weapon of struggle against neocolonial dependency, which derives from the colonial empires, reinforces underdevelopment and poverty, and aggravates the present crisis of the world-system; it would be a powerful, dynamic factor contributing to autonomous development (Castro 1983:165-67).
Fidel maintains that South-South cooperation is a real practical possibility. The Third World as a whole has ample petroleum, agricultural and mineral resources, and some of the Third World nations possess a certain level of industrial development as well as a sufficient supply of highly-qualified specialists, technicians and doctors. If developed with a strong political will to protect the sovereignty of the nation over its natural resources, South-South cooperation could be a mechanism for controlling the actions of transnational corporations. At the same time, the concept of cooperation among the nations of the Third World does not negate the possibility for North-South cooperation. The Third World continues to seek mutually beneficially commerce with developed countries; it seeks to put an end only to unequal exchange and exploitative trade with the developed capitalist countries (Castro 1983:167-70).
Fidel concludes The Economic and Social Crisis of the World: Its repercussions for the underdeveloped countries, its dismal prospects, and the need to struggle if we are to survive: Report to the VII Summit of the Non-Aligned Countries with a call for Third World unity, proclaiming that the Non-Aligned Movement has the objective:
To struggle with determination for the strongest unity of the Non-Aligned Movement and all the states of the Third World. To not permit anything or anyone to divide us. . . . Let us form an indestructible group of peoples in order to demand our noble aspirations, our legitimate interests, our irrefutable right to sovereignty as countries of the Third World and as an inseparable part of humanity.
As we have faced difficulties, we have never been characterized by resigned submission or defeatism. We have known how to confront difficult situations in recent years with unitary consciousness, firmness, and resolve. Together we have strived, together we have struggled, and together we have obtained victories. With the same spirit and determination, we should be prepared to fight a great, just, dignified and necessary battle for the life and future of our peoples (1983:229).
The guardians of the established order were driven not primarily by the desire to know, but by the defense of the particular interests of the wealthy, the corporations, and the powerful nations. They were not merely mistaken; they were morally culpable, for they chose to align themselves with power and privilege, and to ignore the basic human needs of the majority. But unlike the ancient prophets, Fidel did not predict the unleashing of the vengeful wrath of God, punishing the powerful and the privileged for their transgressions. Rather, driven by a moral commitment to the people, Fidel was led to dream, to envision a world in which the people would have the capacity to defend their interests. He thus called the peoples of the Third World to a unified and dignified struggle in defense of themselves, for the sake of the future of humanity.
The global powers could have no reasonable response to the words of the twentieth century prophet. They could only ignore them, pretending that the prophetic words in defense of humanity had never been uttered. As we will see in the following post, they would proceed to implement their economic war against the people, confusing the people for a time. But the people did not forget the words of the prophet, nor the ignoring of them by the global powers. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the peoples of the Third World would rediscover their resolve and their spirit of struggle, as we will see in subsequent posts in this series on the Third World project. The peoples of the Third World would begin again to strive together for the creation of an alternative, more just, democratic and sustainable world-system, proclaiming Fidel as their comandante.
Castro, Fidel. 1983. La crisis económica y social del mundo. La Habana: Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado.
Key words: Fidel, Non-Aligned Movement, global crisis, New International Economic Order