“It is the permanent teaching of Fidel concerning how to defend principles in an uncompromising manner without falling into dogmatism.”—Amando Hart Dávalos, Cuban Minister of Culture, December 9, 1987, with reference to “Un Encuentro con Fidel,” a transcription of a fifteen hour interview with Fidel by the Italian journalist Gianni Miná on June 28, 1987.
Fidel Castro is a man of firmly held principles: the right of nations to be truly independent and sovereign; the rights of all persons to education, health care, nutrition, and housing; and the right of all nations to defend themselves against aggression, interventionism, and terrorism. And he is a person of convictions: the resolution of the social problems generated by the capitalist world-economy and the neo-colonial world system cannot be resolved without a structural transformation to a socialist world-system. But he has never been dogmatic. His absorption of Marxism-Leninism was characterized by a creative interpretation and adaptation of its insights to Cuban reality and to the Cuban struggle for national liberation, and thus he forged in theory and practice a form of Marxism-Leninism that was a synthesis with the ideas that emerged from the Cuban struggle against colonialism and neocolonialism (see “Fidel adapts Marxism-Leninism to Cuba” 9/9/2014; “Fidel becomes revolutionary at the university” 9/11/2014). Thus, in his formation as a Marxist-Leninist, Fidel placed himself in opposition to the established dogmas of Marxism-Leninism. His way of thinking was diametrically opposed to dogmatism, that is, to fixed doctrines, concepts and plans of action that are applied universally, regardless of particular national conditions.
Dogmatism leads to sectarianism, which involves the refusal of popular organizations with common goals to cooperate, because of differences in tactics or concepts. When revolutionaries adhere to fixed doctrines, they have a tendency to believe that those who do not accept these doctrines are outside the revolutionary process and are allies, consciously or unwittingly, of the counterrevolution. Thus, there emerges the lack of cooperation and division within the revolutionary movement, rendering it unable to take power or to implement a deep political, economic, social and cultural transformation. We have seen, for example, that in the early 1930s, sectarianism among popular organizations in Cuba created division within the popular revolution and facilitated Batista’s rise and consolidation of power (“The lesson of sectarianism” 8/15/2014).
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Fidel worked to overcome sectarianism in the Cuban popular revolution, and his success in this effort made possible the survival and sustainability of the Cuban Revolution. He sought to forge unity on the basis of a common commitment to an anti-imperialist project that would transform neocolonial structures (Arboleya 125). He sought to include all who had participated in the struggle against Batista, regardless of organizational affiliation or whether they had been in the guerrilla struggle or the urban front. In spite of a political situation overwhelmingly in favor of the organization that he founded, the 26th of July Movement, he dissolved this organization and established a new unifying revolutionary organization that would include the communist party and the Student Directory, which eventually led to the establishment of a reconstituted Communist Party that would be the only party to lead the revolution (“Unifying the Cuban revolutionary process” 9/16/2014).
Thus, Fidel sought to create unity on a foundation of commitment to common principles and acceptance of a diversity of views with respect to the implementation of these principles, a diversity concerning concepts, strategies, and tactics. These differences would be debated within the context of an organizational unity of a single political party, which would permit the maintenance of political unity of the face of the opposition of the counterrevolutionary forces.
The Cuban revolutionary project has been criticized for developing a single political party and not following the multiple party model of representative democracy. Structures of representative democracy, however, were developed in a social and historical context defined by the need of the revolutionary bourgeoisie to enlist the support of the popular classes, but also to constrain the full expression of popular interests (see various posts on the American Revolution and the French Revolution). As a result, structures of representative democracy often function to protect elite interests rather than the interests of the people. In a neocolonial context, representative democracy is even more dysfunctional with respect to popular interests. For in a neocolonial context, the denial of popular rights and needs is more profound, the capacity of the government to make concessions to popular demands is less, and the popular movement must contend with both the international and national bourgeoisie. In the neocolonial context, when a popular revolution triumphs, it needs a political structure that promotes unity, in order to defend the revolution for national liberation and social and economic transformation against the various strategies and maneuvers of powerful national and international actors. Such a need is not provided by a system characterized by multiple political parties, for it promotes competition for power rather than the seeking of consensus. For this reason, the African nationalist movement and the movement for African socialism in the 1960s developed a concept of one-party democracy, as we will see in future posts.
Following the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, a political process developed in the context of Cuban conditions was required. Given the historic problem of division and sectarianism, which had undermined the Cuban revolution in three historic moments (1873-78, 1898-1902, 1933-35), Fidel sought to develop a political structure that would permit internal debate and discussion but would facilitate unified action on the basis of consensus. In developing this approach, he took into account, on the one hand, the historic problem of division within the revolution; and on the other hand, the fact that the revolution must proceed in an environment characterized by the opposition of powerful actors that have an economic interest in preventing the structural transformation that the revolution intends. The single revolutionary party does not intend to stifle debate, but to permit debate and respect diversity in a form that does not undermine necessary revolutionary unity.
At the international level as well, Fidel has possessed a pluralist conception of revolutionary unity that is opposed to dogmatism and sectarianism. Speaking in 1987, Fidel maintained that there had been a tendency in the international communist movement to “seek an impossible unity, an absolute homogeneity of thought” that “ignored the diversity of situations existing in the world,” and that does not take into account the particular conditions of each nation. This tendency had emerged as a result of the prestige and authority of the Soviet Union in the international communist movement. Fidel discerned, however, that there was beginning to emerge within the international communist movement “a greater understanding of the diversity of situations and of the need for pluralism within socialism.” He saw this emerging principle of pluralism as a remedy for the problem of sectarianism. In the case of the Third World nations, he observed, many theoretical concepts had emerged that reflected Third World situations (Castro 1988:125-28). In this respect, Fidel was anticipating what would become a principle in the Third World revolutions after 1995 and a principle of socialism for the twenty-first century: respect for the diversity of situations in the various nations, recognition of the pluralism of socialism, and avoidance of a sectarianism that excludes and divides.
In the same vein, speaking at a time in which Muammar Qaddafi and the Ayatollah Khomeini had been labeled as devils by the transnational mainstream media, Fidel described both as revolutionaries, even though they were not Marxist-Leninists and had philosophical and political concepts different from those of Fidel. Qaddafi, he noted, had played an important role in liberating Libya from colonialism and from the military bases of NATO. His government had established national control over petroleum, had developed important programs in economic and social development, and had made an effort to provide food for the people. Fidel noted that he had read Qaddafi’s Green Book, which expressed advanced social ideas; although he did not agree entirely, Fidel expressed respect for Qaddafi’s point of view. The aggression and hostility of the United States toward Qaddafi, Fidel noted, is simply a consequence of his anti-imperialist policy and his defense of the sovereignty of Libya. Similarly, Khomeini had played a central role in overthrowing the Shah of Iran, who had been a tyrant and an ally of imperialism (Castro 1988:118-21).
In his comments with respect to Qaddafi and Khomeini, Fidel was anticipating attitudes in Latin America today, where socialist and Leftist governments are developing relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. In spite of religious and cultural differences, the need for mutually beneficial economic and commercial relations, cultural interchange, and unity in opposition to US and European imperialism is recognized.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Castro, Fidel. 1988. Un Encuentro con Fidel: Entrevista realizada por Gianni Miná. La Habana: Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado. [English translation: Mina, Gianni. 1991. An Encounter With Fidel. Translated by Mary Todd. Melbourne: Ocean Press].
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, neocolonial republic, Fidel, Communist Party of Cuba