The sacred texts of ancient Israel teach us that Moses, on the basis of an experience that he interpreted as an encounter with God, came to understand and to teach a vision of God as one who acts in history in defense of the oppressed. As the chosen people of God, Ancient Israel was assigned the mission of developing a just society, unlike other nations. But Israel as it evolved became a kingdom like others, reaching its heights under the reigns of David and Solomon. As a result, prophets emerged, denouncing the turn from the covenant between God and the people of Israel in the time of Moses, some of them focusing on the demand of God for social justice. Among the prophets of Israel, Amos stood out as a voice condemning the social injustices of his day. He decried corrupt public officials that reveled in luxury, wealthy merchants that trampled on the poor and the defenseless, and laws that served the interests of the commercial class. He prophesied that if the people do not change their lifestyle and return to faithfulness to the Mosaic covenant, God, acting in the arena of history, would unleash terrible events upon them, including the destruction of Israel as a nation, a prophecy that came to pass (Anderson 1986:212-316).
Fidel is like a modern day Amos. He condemns the global political and economic inequalities of our time, and he defends the rights of the poor, the neocolonized, and the excluded. But unlike the prophets of old, Fidel did not merely denounce with words, predicting the punishment of a God angry with an unfaithful people. In addition to denouncing the global elite, Fidel led the peoples toward the construction of an alternative world-system, proclaiming the duty to maintain hope for the future of humanity. His exceptional capacities for political leadership were evident in various stages: his discerning the necessary strategies for toppling the U.S.-supported dictator in the late 1950s; his understanding of the decisive steps necessary for establishing basic revolutionary structures in Cuba in the early 1960s; his leadership of the nation toward the development of alternative structures of Cuban popular democracy in the 1970s; his condemnation of the short-sighted economic policies of the global elite and his scientifically-informed support of the Third World proposal for a New International Economic Order in the early 1980s; his formulation of Cuban structural adjustment policies in the early 1990s, demonstrating the possibility of adjustments in the post-Welfare State era that did not ignore the needs of the people; and his active participation as Cuban head of state in the process of Latin American unity and integration in the early twenty-first century. This modern day profit possessed not only the gift of discerning God’s will for social justice, like his ancient forebears, but he also was gifted with the capacity to teach and lead the peoples toward the construction of a more just and sustainable world-system.
The ancient prophets condemned the ways and the policies of the elite, but the conditions did not exist for the formation of social movements. The prophets possessed the insight and the commitment to condemn the kings, but they could not mobilize the people for the taking of power from the kings.
The incapacity of the people to form sustained social movements persisted throughout the ancient and feudal periods in human history. Slaves, serfs and peasants sometimes revolted, but urban-rural ideological and cultural differences as well as difficulties in communication and transportation prevented the formation of a coalition of popular sectors, necessary for sustained social movements.
The bourgeois revolutions of the late eighteenth century in Western Europe and North America established the foundation for modern popular social movements. The bourgeois revolutions were led by a rising merchant class, which enlisted the support of farmers, peasants, artisans and workers, who became actively engaged in the bourgeois revolutions, which ultimately were successful in establishing bourgeois control of Western political institutions. Excluded from effective political power by the new bourgeois institutions, the popular sectors formed their own movements and organizations, sometimes organized by gender or race as well as class or occupation. In the developed economies of the West, however, these movements could be channeled toward reformism, thus maintaining bourgeois control.
Modern capitalism was built on a foundation of colonial domination, and the ultimate destiny of the popular movements formed by the colonized would be different from the popular movements of the West. In the colonized regions, anti-colonial movements emerged, formed by an alliance of the national bourgeoisie and the popular sectors of peasants, agricultural workers, artisans, urban workers, and middle class merchants and professionals. Once the colonies attained political independence, the conflict of interest between the national bourgeoisie and the popular sectors became manifest. The national bourgeoisie had an interest in the preservation of the economic and commercial relations developed during the colonial period, with political control of the formally independent nation by the national bourgeoisie, the sovereignty of which was limited by the rules of the neocolonial world-system. In contrast, the popular sector had an interest in a fundamental social transformation, in order that their social and economic rights would be protected; such transformation necessarily implied true independence of the nation from the colonial powers. Inasmuch as the world-system depended on the superexploitation of the people in the neocolonies and the unregulated exploitation of their natural resources, reformist concessions to popular demands were necessarily limited, and as a result, the popular movements in the neocolonies could not be channeled toward reformism.
In this panorama, there emerged during the second half of the twentieth century a number of Third World charismatic leaders, the prophets of our time. They were mostly young men of the middle class of the colonies/neocolonies. Their social condition as middle class men afforded them some possibility for study and reflection, and at the same time, they found that their condition as colonized limited the possibilities for their own class, for other popular sectors, and for the nation. They were and are exceptional leaders, with a capacity for understanding national and international economic and social dynamics, an ability to mobilize and lead the people, and a highly developed sense of social justice. They condemned the aggression and imperialism of the colonial and neocolonial powers and the morally unjustifiable inequalities between rich and poor. They have maintained that the neocolonial world-system is not sustainable, and that the future of humanity requires the development of a New International Economic Order, or what they today call a “just, democratic and sustainable world-system.”
They are the legendary figures of the Third World: Toussaint of Haiti; Zapata of Mexico; Mao, Zhou En-lai and Xi Jinping of China; Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam; Sukarno of Indonesia; Gandhi and Nehru of India; Nasser of Egypt; U Nu of Burma; Ben Youssef of Algeria; Nkrumah of Ghana; Nyerere of Tanzania; Martí, Mella, Guiteras, and Fidel of Cuba; Allende of Chile; Sandino and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua; Mandela of South Africa; Chávez and Maduro of Venezuela; Evo of Bolivia; and Rafael Correa of Ecuador. They have been found in the United States as well: DuBois, Garvey, A. Philip Randolph, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King.
Fidel is perhaps the most legendary of them, because of the persistence of the Cuban Revolution in the face of the hostility of the neighboring neocolonial hegemonic power; the leadership of Fidel and Cuba in the Non-Aligned Movement; the concrete support of Cuba for the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggle in Africa; the consistently dignified participation of Cuba in international fora in defense of universal human values; the presence of Cuban missions in many nations in health, education, and sports; and the vibrancy and openness of the Cuban people.
Like the prophets of Israel, who offered the people a choice between repentance and the wrath of God; the prophets of our time offer humanity a choice between, on the one hand, seeking to maintain an unsustainable neocolonial world-system, based in domination and superexploitation; and on the other hand, cooperative participation in the development of a more just and sustainable world-system. Like the prophets of old, the profits of our time maintain that the existing patterns of human behavior cannot be maintained without threatening our very survival. As expressed by Rosa Luxemburg, a prophet from another place, yet widely cited by the prophets of the Third World, it is a question of socialism or barbarism.
We the peoples of the North should appreciate the prophets of our time as the authors of sacred texts that we should study, so that we can better discern the true and the right, and find the path toward cooperative participation in the development of that more just world that they have maintained is both necessary and possible. As Raúl said in the eulogy to his brother, “The permanent teaching of Fidel is that it can be done.”
Anderson, Bernhard W. 1986. Understanding the Old Testament, Fourth Edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.