In La Edad de Oro, a collection of stories written for children, José Martí wrote, “liberty is the right of all men to be honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy.” Any person who obeys a bad government or unjust laws is not an honest person. Many people, he wrote, do not think about what is happening in their surroundings; they are content to live, without asking if they are living honestly. They are living without dignity (Marti 2006:10).
But some persons are not content to live without honesty and dignity.
“When there are many men without dignity, there are always others that have in themselves the dignity of many men. They are the ones that rebel with terrible force against those that rob the peoples of their liberty and that rob men of their dignity. In these men walk a thousand men and an entire people; in these men, human dignity is expressed. These men are sacred” (Martí 2006:11).
Cintio Vitier maintains that Martí considered truth to be the highest duty of the human being. Accordingly, he believed that there can be no political liberty without spiritual liberty, and that “the first task of humanity is to reconquer itself,” to know the essence of human life at its roots. He believed that the impossible is possible, and that it can be attained through truth, honesty, and integrity (Vitier 2006:87-88).
Martí believed that the world is divided between “those who love and found, and those who hate and destroy” (quoted in Vitier 2006:96). In this conflict of the world between good and evil, our duty is to stand on the side of the good, through the constant practice of generosity, service, and sacrifice; and through the cultivation of knowledge and the prudent exercise of reason. And reason must be accompanied by heart, by universal love, which brings us to identify with the weak and the oppressed and to cast our fate with the poor of the earth. Together, reason and heart provide human redemption (Vitier 2006:96-97).
Martí profoundly influenced the development of the Cuban revolutionary movement, establishing a fundamental moral perspective. Thus, Julio Antonio Mella, who founded the Communist Party of Cuba in 1925, would embrace the notion of the need to sacrifice in defense of the great ideals. “All of the great ideas,” Mella wrote, “have their Nazareth” (quoted in Vitier 2006:132).
The central concept of heroic sacrifice in defense of the moral world was kept alive by the intellectual class during the period of cynicism and fatalism of 1934-53 (see “The Republic of Martí lives, hidden” 8/29/2014). As a result, the idea of heroic sacrifice would be central to the generation of the centenarians, young men and women who emerged as decisive political actors in the aftermath of the March 10, 1952 Batista coup, a young generation that possessed a sense of justice and believed that the world promised by the heroes and martyrs was in their hands to attain. Fidel emerged as a leader among these young activists, who recognized his exceptional capacities. He understood the attack on Moncada barracks of July 26, 1953 as a heroic act in defense of noble ideas and in response to the prevailing cynicism that had been created by the neocolonial political-economic system (Vitier 2006:186-90).
Thus, the new stage of the Cuban Revolution that was launched on July 26, 1953 was understood by those who led it as a collective act of heroic sacrifice in defense of noble ideas, in defense of human dignity and the dignity of the nation, and in the memory of the heroes and martyrs who had come before, whose names they invoked as they established legitimacy in the eyes of the people.
Sixty-one years later, on July 26, 2014, the Cuban evening television news program Mesa Redonda was dedicated to the theme of heroism. One of the panelists was Arsenio García, who was among the 82 members of the expeditionary force that arrived with Fidel on December 2, 1956, to launch the guerrilla struggle. He maintained that heroes are simply those who do heroic things and carry out heroic acts out of a sense of duty. They believe it is their duty to do these things, and they do them not for themselves but for others, all of the others who form the people of the nation; and they do them from a sense of love and commitment to noble ideas. Heroism, Arsenio maintained, is above all self-sacrifice for an ideal.
In the sixty-four years since the heroic attack on the Moncada Barracks, the Cuban Revolution has formed a people that believes that there are heroes; a people that defends universal human values with sacrifice; a people that stands as a dignified alternative to the cynicism, skepticism, consumerism, and individualism cultivated by the ideology of the neocolonial world-system.
Martí, José. 2009. La Edad de Oro. La Habana: Editorial Pueblo y Educación.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
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