I have observed a tendency in Cuba to refer to such values as spiritual values, and the practice of them as spirituality. It seems to me valid and valuable to perceive spirituality in this broad sense. The universal human values are indeed spiritual, for they are proclaiming a moral duty of all of us toward humanity as a whole. Let us look, for example, at the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” This is a spiritual proclamation, not because of its reference to God, but because it affirms that human beings possess intrinsic worth, and that the human species, in its essence, possesses goodness and nobleness.
Such affirmation of the essential dignity of humanity implies a projection toward the future: humanity can never destroy itself through malicious and unreasonable behavior, for this would be contrary to its nature. Therefore, although at the present historic moment the elite is leading humanity to self-destruction, the path of collective self-destruction will not prevail, because we who form humanity understand our worth. In accordance with this spiritual affirmation, the peoples of the world have created a movement for a just, democratic and sustainable world-system, a movement by humanity in defense of itself. The world’s peoples in movement are affirming the essential goodness of the human species, and in the process, they are proclaiming that the self-destruction of humanity is not its destiny.
The spiritual attitude, then, is above all consciousness that the good exists, and that one has a duty toward it. Revolutionaries possess the spiritual attitude; indeed, they are driven by it.
The elite, however, has been conducting itself in a form that is profoundly anti-spiritual. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, it has seduced the people with consumer goods, converting citizens into consumers and creating a consumer society. It has fashioned a society that places material possessions above all else, and that cynically views as impossible the creation of a world-system in which the social and economic rights of all persons and the sovereignty of all nations are respected.
Helping this transformation to consumerism and cynicism has been the custom of destroying our heroes. Intellectuals of the Left, for example, note that Thomas Jefferson, although penning the eloquent words “All men are created equal,” himself owned slaves. And they point out that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not actually liberate any slaves, because it proclaimed liberty only for slaves in the territory that the union did not control; and that Lincoln’s public discourses did not express belief in equality between blacks and whites or full citizenship rights for blacks. These observations ignore the complex political reality in which both worked, and that both were masters of the art of politics. And they are in effect saying, “We have been told that they were exceptional and virtuous men, but don’t believe it.” The heroes of the people have been taken away, leaving the people with the belief that there are no heroes.
In Cuba, it is widely believed that there are heroes, people who make self-sacrificing contributions to the good of the nation or the world (see “The Cuban tradition of heroism” 9/1/2014). Important figures in the history of the revolutionary struggle since 1868 are among them: Céspedes, Martí, Mella and Guiteras. In addition, people who have made exceptional contributions in the service of the nation can be formally designated as “Hero of the Republic of Cuba.” The five Cuban men who endured in a dignified and patriotic manner years of unjust imprisonment for anti-terrorist espionage in Miami are the most famous of them, but there are others as well.
One of the reasons that Cubans believe that there are heroes is that Cuban intellectuals do not destroy the heroes of Cuban history. It is not that the intellectuals overlook the limitations of historic figures in Cuba. But they evaluate historic figures in the political and cultural context of their time, and taking this approach, they recognize that a number of historic figures made important contributions to the development of the revolutionary project for a dignified and sovereign nation. Accordingly, they have provided the foundation on which the Cuban revolutionary project today stands. They indeed are heroes. Rev. Jesse Jackson captured something of this spirit at his address to the Democratic National Convention in 1988, when he proclaimed, “We stand on the shoulders of giants,” and then introduced Rosa Parks, “The mother of the Civil Rights Movement.”
There is a spiritual component to our heroes; they are strongly committed to universal human values and to the development of a just world-system on their foundation. On the basis of this commitment, they are prepared to dedicate their lives and their energies. Their commitment and dedication was expressed by Nelson Mandela, when he proclaimed at his 1963 trial:
I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die (Mandela 1994:322).
In the United States, heroes with such spiritual qualities should be held up as an example and inspiration to all, as is done in Cuba.
In the world-wide movement for a just, democratic and sustainable world-system, the people are setting aside cynicism and affirming a positive future for humanity. In contrast to the cynicism of the North, to some extent kindled by academics, revolutionaries of the Third World possess a revolutionary faith in the future of humanity (see “The revolutionary faith of Fidel” 9/15/2014). In order to develop a revolutionary popular coalition in the United States, we must break free from cynicism and affirm our commitment to universal human values and to the future of humanity, discerning the objective possibilities for human emancipation hidden beneath the appearance of things.
Mandela, Nelson. 1994. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Key words: spirituality, heroism