As we have seen, the Cuban intellectual class fulfilled an important historic task in the period 1934 to 1953 by keeping alive an ethical attitude in the face of the cynicism and fatalism generated by the neocolonial republic and the inability of the popular movement to transform it (see “The Republic of Martí lives, hidden” 8/29/2014). Nevertheless, by 1952, there had emerged among the people the sentiment that an ethical attitude is not enough; one must act. Therefore, the attack on the Moncada military garrison of July 26, 1953, led by Fidel Castro, can be interpreted as a great act, which broke the barriers that were confining the movement to the verbal expression of an attitude, an act that opened the possibility for a new stage in the Cuban Revolution.
But Moncada was not only an act, it also was a heroic act, and thus it called into being a new stage of struggle for human and national dignity that would advance through personal courage and sacrifice. In his address at his trial for the attack, which later came to be known as “History Will Absolve Me,” Fidel expressed the significance of the emergence of a young generation of Cubans prepared to sacrifice in defense of the nation.
“It seemed that Martí would die during the centennial year of his birth, that his memory would be extinguished forever. . . . But he lives; he has not died; his people are rebellious; his people are dignified; his people are faithful to his memory. There are Cubans that have died defending his doctrines. There are youths who in magnificent selflessness have come to die beside his tomb, to give their blood and their lives in order that he would continue living in the soul of the country” (quoted in Vitier 2008:177; Castro 2014:84).
The power of Moncada lay in the fact that it provided the people and the revolution with exactly what they needed in that historic moment. It provided an example of heroic struggle that the people were able to understand and were ready to support. As a result, Moncada launched a new stage in the Cuban revolutionary struggle, and it lifted Fidel, the organizer and leader of the Moncada attack, to the position of the charismatic leader of the new stage, a role assumed in earlier historical moments by Martí, Mella, and Guiteras.
Revolutionary processes can be aided by a Moncada, some dramatic action or event that galvanizes the energy of the people and renews its faith in the possibility of a more just and democratic nation, and that lifts up a charismatic leader. It can be a dramatic action undertaken by the popular forces from below, such as the failed coup d’état led by Lieutenant Coronel Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 1992, an event that converted him into “the most popular man in the country, venerated in the popular barrios, glorified in the walls of the cities,” as described by the well-known French academic, journalist and activist Ignacio Ramonet (2014:23). Or a Moncada can be created by the conduct of the forces of domination: the police brutality in Birmingham in 1963; or the barbarous brutality of the US war in Vietnam from 1965 to 1973. The bail-out of finance capital by the United States and Western European governments during the financial crisis of 2008 provided an opportunity for the mobilization of popular energy, but the popular organizations of the United States and Western Europe did not have the capacity to use it to educate and mobilize the people for a sustained revolutionary process, a theme we will address in future posts.
The Moncada event itself is not enough; the energy that it galvanizes must be captured and creatively channeled and sustained. And here the role of the charismatic leader is vital, for a discourse rooted in a deep understanding of the sources of the problems must be formulated, and practical solutions to the problems must be proposed; and these formulations and proposals must be expressed in a form that connects to the people. The channeling of the energy generated by a Moncada event into a sustained popular revolution requires the presence of a person with exceptional qualities.
Castro, Fidel. 2014. History Will Absolve Me: Speech at the Court of Appeals of Santiago de Cuba, October 16, 1953. La Habana: Editora Política.
Ramonet, Ignacio. 2014. “Introducción” in Hugo Chávez, Mi primera vida: Conversaciones con Ignacio Ramonet. La Habana: Editorial José Martí.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
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, Moncada