“The Cuban people are the revolutionary people that Fidel taught to be revolutionary, and that he educated. Fidel is eternal. He will physically die, but he always is going to be here with us. His analysis, his teachings, and his spirit of struggle always will be with us.” Carlos Alberto Valido Castillo, President of the Municipal Assembly of Cruces, Province of Cienfuegos, Cuba, August 8, 2006.
Fidel has a special place in modern history as a defender of the oppressed, as a person with such deep respect for moral principles that he could never accept the proposition that they were impossible to implement. He has constantly and persistently acted on the premise that a different and more just and sustainable world is possible.
He led a revolution that came to power through armed struggle, forcing the tyrannical dictator to flee the country. But once in power, it turned military barracks into schools, committed to the principle that education was the most powerful arm that a people and a nation could possess.
He directed a revolution that was anti-imperialist, totally rejecting the continuous imperialist policies of the United States. But it was not a revolution that cultivated hatred toward the United States. From the earliest days of its taking of power, it constantly has been open to dialogue with the United States, and it has called for a negotiation of differences on a basis of mutual respect.
He forged a patriotic revolution that above all else defended the sovereignty of Cuba. But it respected the sovereignty of all nations. A just and sustainable world, it understood, could only be built on a foundation of solidarity among all nations and peoples.
He came of age in the context of a corrupt and ignominious neocolonial republic, shaped from its beginnings to serve US imperialist interests. He developed a thorough knowledge of the events and important figures of Cuban history. Reading on his own as an adolescent about the nationalist wars and social movements against colonial Spain and the neocolonial United States, he developed not an abstract historical perspective, but a concrete interpretation rooted in the practical needs of the people and the nation. He read and appreciated the nineteenth century Cuban revolutionary José Martí, interpreting him from the vantage point of the popular movements during the neocolonial republic.
He developed his political consciousness at a time when Western Marxism had fallen into Eurocentrism. Reading on his own as a university student the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, he fashioned a reconstruction of Marxism-Leninism from the perspective of the neocolonized. Synthesizing the works of Marx and Lenin with the teachings and writings of Martí, his speeches establish an important advance in Marxist-Leninist theory (see “Fidel adapts Marxism-Leninism to Cuba” 9/9/2014).
He developed an understanding of Marxism that rejected dogma and reductionism. He formulated an ethical and humanist revitalization of Marxism, in which socialism is understood as constructed by persons with consciousness, possessing a new mentality. The cultural formation of the person, able to read and to think, is the essence of the socialist revolution.
He has been described as a military genius. He created and directed a guerrilla army that overthrew the US-backed military dictator in twenty-five months; and he directed the defense against the US-supported invasion at the Bay of Pigs, overcoming the invading force in seventy-two hours. From Havana, he directed Cuban troops in Angola, a successful campaign against South African troops that protected the independence of Angola and ultimately led to the fall of apartheid.
As he led the Cuban Revolution, he repeatedly demonstrated an exceptional mastery of the art of politics. (1) In 1953, he discerned the need for dramatic action, moving beyond verbal protest. Accordingly, he led an attack on the Moncada military barracks, galvanizing the people to heroic political action, and opening a new stage in the Cuban Revolution. (2) He was sensitive to the concrete needs of the people, and he formulated a program that responded to their specific grievances, proclaimed in conjunction with the Moncada attack. (3) He appreciated the need to educate the people in stages, bringing them to socialist consciousness only after concrete popular needs had been addressed. (4) He saw the importance of popular unity, and he possessed the capacity to unify the various popular currents, combining flexibility with a persuasive presence. (5) He understood the need for the revolutionary government to take decisive steps in defense of the people, even when they provoke the hostility of the national bourgeoisie and the neocolonial hegemonic power. (See “Moncada: a great and heroic act” 9/2/2014; “The Moncada program for the people” 9/5/2014; “Reflections on “History will absolve me” 9/8/2014; “Fidel adapts Marxism-Leninism to Cuba” 9/9/2014; “Unifying the Cuban revolutionary process” 9/17/2014; “The pluralism of revolutionary unity” 9/18/2014; “Decisive revolutionary steps of 1959” 9/22/2014; “The Agrarian Reform Law of 1959” 9/23/2014; “The defining moment of the Cuban Revolution” 9/24/2014).
In the 1960s, understanding the importance of scientific knowledge in social and economic development, Fidel initiated a process of national commitment to the development of science and to the formation of scientists, which would continue to unfold for the next fifty years, with very impressive results today. From the outset, Fidel had a vision of developing scientific research and knowledge in response to health needs, and not driven by the market. And he has had an integral vision of health, seeing human health as connected to animal health, and seeing the connection of both to nature. A variety of research and teaching centers have been developed, including such fields as biotechnology, nanotechnology, genetic medicine, minimum access surgery, and computer and informational sciences. He has been constantly present in the development of new centers and on anniversary celebrations, thanking the scientists and researchers for their work, inquiring concerning the latest discoveries, making suggestions, and in general demonstrating the commitment of the Cuban revolution to scientific development.
In 1970s, appreciating the limitations of representative democracy, Fidel led the nation in the development of alternative structures of popular democracy (see “Cuba, United States, and human rights” 4/9/2015). He recognized the need for the eventual replacement of his personal leadership with that of a vanguard, and he thus led the development of a new communist party, uniting three revolutionary parties, which ultimately would function to lead the revolutionary process.
In the early 1980s, as the global powers turned to neoliberalism, Fidel called upon the nations of the Third World to be faithful to their historic project of national and social liberation. Working with a team of Cuban economists and speaking as Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, he presented an analysis of the crisis of the world-economy. He maintained that the crisis is rooted in fundamental structures established during European colonial domination of the world, but US economic policies during the 1960s and the 1970s deepened the crisis. US policies had negative consequences for the world-economy as well as the US economy, and they had disastrous consequences for the Third World. He maintained that inflation (caused by US spending beyond its productive capacity), the elimination of the gold standard for the dollar, a US monetary policy of high interest rates, declining terms of trade, and declining investment in production had catastrophic consequences for the Third World, leading to a dramatic growth in the Third World external debt. Moreover, the external debt, combined with the increasing power of transnational corporations, constituted a serious threat to the sovereignty of Third World nations. At the same time, rather than recognizing their responsibility in creating a global crisis, the global powers and the transnational corporations took advantage of the weakened position of the Third World to impose their own ideology and economic policy, seeking short-term profits. In response to this situation, Fidel called upon the nations of the Third World to struggle for cancellation of the Third World debt, for fundamental structural change in the world-economy, and for a more just world-system. He advocated strong action by Third World states, seeking diversification of production, the development of high technology industries, and mutually beneficial trade among the nations of the Third World, thus breaking the core-peripheral relation between the Third World and the developed capitalist economies (see “Fidel speaks on the global crisis, 1983” 7/25/2016; “Fidel proposes new global structures, 1983” 7/27/2016).
In the early 1990s, with the collapse of the socialist bloc, Fidel led the Cuban nation in the development of an autonomous structural adjustment plan, demonstrating how to make economic adjustments without sacrificing commitment to moral principles and without abandoning the people (see “The Cuban structural adjustment plan” 8/1/2016). As the Cuban economy recovered, he led the nation in developing strong ties with the progressive and Leftist governments that symbolized the new political reality in Latin America in the early twenty-first century.
During the five decades in which he was the active leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel was constantly committed to a society based on human knowledge and creativity and on social justice; a society in which everyone has the right to learn and to develop, no one should be abandoned, and the most vulnerable should be protected. But in addition to moral commitment, Fidel has demonstrated an advanced understanding of the dynamics of the world-system. With an integral historical and global perspective, formulated from the vantage point of the neocolonized, Fidel’s capacity for understanding surpassed that of the overwhelming majority of historians, social scientists and philosophers. At the same time, he repeatedly demonstrated mastery of the art of politics, discerning the strategies necessary for the attainment of social and political goals.
These qualities are exceptional; beyond what one would think possible for a human being. Observing this for more than twenty years, I could not fail to recall my university study of Max Weber’s typology of three forms of authority, and his description of charismatic persons who possess authority on the basis of their exceptional qualities. Moreover, as I studied revolutions in other lands, I could not help but observe that triumphant revolutions often were led by persons with exceptional understanding, extraordinary commitment to social justice, and uncommon mastery of the art of politics. So I have concluded that Fidel represents the general phenomenon of the emergence of charismatic leaders in revolutionary processes, who include Toussaint, Lenin, Ho, Mao, Chávez, and others. (See various posts in the category of Charismatic Leaders).
After his retirement in January 2009, Fidel was no longer constantly present. But he has continued to be present in an important way, writing articles periodically that were published in Cuban newspapers as “Reflections of Fidel.” Among other themes, his reflections expressed support for the new Leftist tendencies in Latin America, conveyed concern for the ecological balance of the earth, and condemned the neofascist wars and the movement toward a global military dictatorship.
By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Communist Party of Cuba was ready for its vanguard mission. Composed of committed persons who have developed an advanced understanding, party members are highly respected by the people, and they are intellectually and morally prepared to lead. In November 2010, the party presented guidelines for a new economic and social policy, responding to the desires of the people and the unfolding national and international economic situation. After significant modification of the proposal through an extensive popular consultation, the new model was approved by the National Assembly in 2012. The party today is leading the people in the implementation and development of the new economic and social model. Thus, one can observe today in Cuba what can be described as the institutionalization of charismatic authority through the creation of a vanguard political party that bases its theory and practice on the teachings of the charismatic leader, the historic leader of the revolution from 1953 to 2009.
Fidel has appeared from time to time to give his support to the development of the new social and economic model, which is principally designed to increase national production in order to improve the standard of living of the people. He has praised party members for their intelligent and active participation in the process, and he particularly has noted the impressive capacities of young leaders that have been formed by the revolution. “I am confident,” he proclaimed, “that the youth of Cuba will fulfill its duty.”
There is a special bond of affection between Fidel and the Cuban people. But Fidel is especially appreciated by Cuban intellectuals, artists, and scientists, who analyze his special capacities from the vantage point of their professions and fields of study. Fidel also is appreciated by well-known intellectuals of Europe and Latin America, such as the French journalist Ignacio Ramonet, the Argentinian social analyst Atilio Borón, and the Brazilian intellectual and Dominican priest Frei Betto, who have had opportunity to observe his exceptional capacities.
In the days leading up to the anniversary of the ninetieth birthday of Fidel Castro, there has been a clamor that the major media of communication has not heard. It is the proclamation of popular organizations throughout the world, declaring: “Thank you, Fidel, for your commitment; thank you for your defense of the people; and in the context of a world increasingly turning to barbarity, thank you for your fidelity to moral principles.”
Thank you, Fidel.