We have seen that on October 16, 1953, during the trial for the assault on the Moncada garrison, Fidel Castro made a statement, later distributed clandestinely as “History will absolve me,” that formulated concrete steps that would have been taken by a revolutionary government that had seized power. And we have seen that this formulation reflected a concept of a revolutionary process that included the political and cultural formation of the people, beginning with practice and moving to theory (see “The Moncada program for the people” 9/5/2014).
The key to Fidel’s exceptional capacity to imagine a revolutionary political-theoretical process lies in his form of thinking: he understands issues in historical and theoretical terms, and thus he possesses a solid grasping of the structural roots of problems and the steps necessary for solution. But he does not explain to the people in historical and theoretical terminology, except briefly and succinctly. He primarily explains in concrete language that connects to the world-view of the people. He possesses not only understanding of the historical development of social dynamics, but he also has what the philosopher Bernard Lonergan had called the intelligence of “common sense.”
Fidel’s common sense intelligence is rooted in his appreciation that the perspective of the people is based on their experience of problems: “subsistence, rent, the education of the children and their future” (2014:22). The solutions proposed in “History will absolve me” respond to these concrete problems: the ceding of land to tenant farmers, the sharing of profits by workers in industry and mining, and increasing the small farmer’s share of the sugar yield. When the proposal goes beyond addressing concrete popular needs, its steps are tapping in on resentments that are felt and expressed by the people: nationalization of foreign companies that charge exorbitant rates, and just punishment for corrupt government officials. And the proposal that the revolutionary government assume executive, legislative, and judicial functions, in order to act decisively to implement the popular will, is fully consistent with the frustrations of the people, who have experienced that governments, except in revolutionary circumstances (such as the Grau-Guiteras government of 1933), do not respond to popular will but to the interests of the powerful. The Moncada program was a proposal that was full of common sense intelligence, and as such, it was connected to the sentiments and the understanding of the people.
But the Moncada program was not only connected to popular sentiment. It was based in an understanding of the objective conditions of the neocolonial republic and a philosophical concept of social justice. It was rooted, accordingly, in an understanding of the structural roots of the problems of the nation and the kinds of concrete measures that would be necessary in order to transform the neocolonial reality into an alternative more just and democratic reality. Fidel understood what the most advanced intellectuals of the time understood: the historical development on a global scale of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism; and the emergence of revolutions that must necessarily be socialist, if they are to transform unjust structures. This advanced understanding is revealed in his explanation of the structural roots of the problems of Cuba (2014:34-36; see “Fidel: History will absolve me” 9/5/2014). But his explanation was succinct. He understood that one does not begin with a lecture in philosophical historical social science. That would come later in the reconstruction of the society and the cultural formation of the people, a process of transformation that was proposed in “History will absolve me” simply as a proposal for the “integral reform of education.”
In my life experiences in the United States, I have observed a schism between the academic world and the world of activists. Most academics, as a result of the segmentation and the bureaucratization of knowledge (see “Reunified historical social science” 4/1/2014), do not have an advanced understanding of the historical and structural roots of the problems of the world-system. But some do have an advanced understanding, as a result of their encounter with the social movements that have emerged from below (see “What is cross-horizon encounter?” 7/26/2013). However, even those academics and intellectuals with advanced understanding think in historical and theoretical terms that are alien to the language of the people, who think in concrete terms. Activists, aware of the disconnection of academic knowledge from their concerns, tend to disdain intellectual work. They do not develop a deep understanding of the historical and structural roots of problems, and thus their solutions tend to be superficial and partial. Activists are connected to the people, but they do not have an adequate understanding of the structural roots of the concrete problems that the people confront.
Fidel, however, combines the best characteristics of both academics and social activists. He combines theoretical and historical understanding with a connection to the people, and thus he has been able to express proposals in concrete terms, in the context of a revolutionary process that is continually unfolding and that includes the theoretical and practical education of the people. Fidel’s exceptional qualities reflect unique personal characteristics, but they also were formed in a social context shaped by Latin American popular movements. In Latin America, higher education has been less fragmented than in the United States, and the popular movements have been more connected to the academic world and intellectual work. Moreover, Cuban social and political thought and the Cuban revolutionary movement have been the most advanced in Latin America. Indeed, a central thesis in the insightful book by the Cuban poet and essayist Citrio Vitrier is that Fidel inherited, appropriated, and drove to a more advanced stage a social ethic that had been developing in Cuba since the beginning of the nineteenth century. The advanced character of the Cuban popular movement is a result of various factors, including the twin pillars of domination of colonialism and slavery; the social and cultural mixing of the African and European populations; and the emergence of a relatively developed petit bourgeoisie and working class as a result of the role of Havana as a major international port and the emergence of tobacco manufacturing (see “Cuba and the United States” 6/13/2014; “The peripheralization of Cuba” 6/16/2014).
Thus, as of result of personal characteristics and social dynamics that shaped his development, the author of “History will absolve me” is a person of exceptional intellectual qualities, who combines historical and theoretical understanding of social dynamics with a concrete common sense understanding. But he also is a person of exceptional moral qualities, who analyzes social dynamics from a vantage point rooted in the conditions of the exploited and the oppressed, and who has been committed without compromise to justice for the oppressed. Like his intellectual perspective, these moral qualities also were formed by Latin American and Cuban popular movements, and in addition, they were a consequence of family influences and of the impact of his education in private Catholic primary and secondary schools, as we will discuss in subsequent posts.
We will see in future posts that the Moncada program, in essence, was implemented after the triumph of the revolution. The people would defend and participate in the revolutionary project, many calling themselves Fidelistas. And the Cuban national bourgeoisie and US imperialism would never forgive the audacity.
An English translation of “History will absolve me” can be found in Fidel Castro Reader (Deutschmann and Shnookal 2007).
Castro, Fidel. 2007. “La historia me absolverá” in Fidel Castro: Selección de documentos, entrevistas y artículos (1952-56). La Habana: Editora Política.
__________. 2014. History Will Absolve Me: Speech at the Court of Appeals of Santiago de Cuba, October 16, 1953. La Habana: Editora Política.
Deutschmann, David and Deborah Shnookal, Eds. 2007. Fidel Castro Reader. Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Press.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
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