Fidel, in Love with Cuba

By Katiuska Blanco on January 5, 2021

Photo: Roberto Chile

The profound reasoning behind a manner of thinking and a Revolution. I imagine him absorbed in reading while the questions race through his mind, quickly and clearly, as he discovers for himself the roots, the political nature of his concerns, the absurdity and chaos of a capitalist society and a transparent truth: only a socialist society, entirely new in its economic structure and a spirit based on solidarity and justice, can constitute a guideline, reason, future, not as an aspiration or a dream – though at the time this may have been the case – but rather, first and foremost, as historical necessity. And to that end, another truth: his destiny. It was during the 1946-47 academic year. Fidel was 20 years old and studying law at the University of Havana.

Halfway through 1947, he had become a firm opponent of the Ramón Grau government and a sympathizer of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Orthodox), created by Eduardo Chibás.

Fidel himself referred to the extreme acceleration of his political maturity on numerous occasions, one of which was his speech at the Aula Magna of the University of Havana on September 4, 1995, when he said:
[…] this is where I learned perhaps the best things in my life, because it was here that I discovered the best ideas of our era and times. It was here that I became a revolutionary, here that I became a follower of [José] Martí, and here that I became a socialist, a utopian socialist at the beginning, thanks to the lectures of that professor we mentioned earlier […] who taught classes in Political Economy and Capitalist Political Economy, so difficult to comprehend and yet so easy to reveal with all its irrationality and absurdities. That’s why at the beginning I was a utopian socialist, although thanks to my contacts with political literature here at the university and the Law School, I became a Marxist-Leninist.

Fidel wrote about the critical experience he gained from his readings at the time and his irreverent and questioning habits, in a prologue to the book Frei Betto, a Biography, written by Americo Freyre and Evanize Sydow and published by Editorial José Martí in 2016. It was where Fidel himself recounted the 90 years of his life and spoke with us as though in a way he foresaw the 25th of November to come when he would begin another kind of crossing.

I asked myself why I’d studied law. I thought that it was a lack of professional orientation that led me to that error. The habit of arguing about everything led to many people saying that I would end up as a lawyer, and when I was asked what career I intended to pursue, I unthinkingly responded: lawyer. I enrolled in that major but while studying a course in Political Economy – feared by all freshman students, I discovered the truth. A demanding professor, who left no-one in peace, would occasionally perform the oral examinations of students himself; since I was busy attending to students myself as the head of the student body of the first term in that year, I left Political Economy for the second term; a thousand blurry mimeographed pages, since there were no textbooks. I read that complex material several times and presented myself for the oral exam. I was more than a little surprised when, following the long exam, the professor graded me “outstanding.”
Fidel’s explanation of his life’s destiny is a very important part of this narrative:

Politics was precisely what interested me. How to deal with the phenomenon of overproduction, economic crises, unemployment, hunger, social injustice. Therefore I added an additional major, in Social Sciences. Faithful to that idea, starting in the third term, I dedicated myself to studying more than 30 courses corresponding to these subjects. It seemed to me to be the objective to follow as an instrument of revolutionary politics, which was the idea that was really taking shape in my mind.

This last part was written by Fidel practically at the end of his life and he concludes that reflection with a brief and forceful phrase, recalling his eagerness to study Karl Marx’s Capital, in English. He points out how wild it was: “Imagine for yourselves the idea of studying Marx in English, an author hard enough to understand in Spanish.”

He also spoke about this process in the speech previously mentioned which he gave on the 50th anniversary of his enrollment at the University.
For me, my own political training and adoption of a revolutionary consciousness was fundamental. I had the old idea about the war of independence, things to do with Martí, the great sympathy for him and his thinking, the wars of independence about which I had read practically everything published, until I came in contact, first, with the ideas of capitalism and then their absurdities, and I carried on developing a utopian mentality, of utopian socialism, as opposed to scientific socialism.

Everything is chaos, everything is disorganized, a surplus of things, unemployment over here, a surplus of food, hunger over there. I began to gain a consciousness of the chaos of capitalist society and that is where I began; arriving on my own at the idea that such an economy, of which we were told and taught, was absurd.

This is why when I had the opportunity for the first time to read these university texts, they were so helpful. La Historia de la Legislacion Obrera (The History of Workers’ Legislation), written by someone who later on failed to live up to their history but wrote a good book; also Roa’s works and the histories of political ideas. In other words, there were a number of texts from various professors that helped introduce me to the material.

Even through the library of the Popular Socialist Party – and on loan, because I hadn’t the means to pay for them – I began to acquire a Marxist-Leninist library. They were the people who supplied me with the materials which later, feverishly, I dedicated myself to reading.

By then the Orthodox Party had been founded and I was part of it from the beginning, before I’d acquired a socialist conscience. Later on I became something of a leftist within the Party.

On February 3, 1999, in his speech at the Aula Magna of the Central University of Venezuela, Fidel acknowledged that first, he was a utopian communist and later on, an atypical communist, as explained in these fragments from that memorable day when he also insisted that a Revolution can only be the product of culture and ideas.

Consumed by that intensity common to young people and even often among elders, I incorporated the basic principles that I learned in that literature, which helped me to understand the society in which I lived. Until then, for me, it was a tangled web that lacked any kind of convincing explanation. And I should mention that the famous Communist Manifesto that took Marx and Engels so long to write (its main author evidently worked conscientiously, as he used to say, and it must have been reread more times than Balzac ever reviewed a page in any of his novels) made a great impression upon me because for the first time in my life I saw so many truths that I had never seen before.

Until then, I was a kind of utopian communist […].

These were the paths I followed to arrive at my ideas, which I faithfully and increasingly fervently maintain and preserve, perhaps as a result of having a little bit of experience and firsthand knowledge, and maybe also for having had the opportunity to ponder new problems that didn’t even exist in Marx’s era.

In that sense, I am still wearing the same clothing as when I enrolled at the university 40 years ago, the same as when we attacked Moncada, the same as when we disembarked from the Granma. I daresay that despite the many pages of adventures that anyone might find from my revolutionary life, that I always tried to be wise but prudent; although perhaps I’ve been more wise than prudent.

I was discreet, not as much as I should have been, because I began to explain Marx’s ideas and class society to so many people, in such a way that in the popular movement I’d joined after arriving at the university, where the slogan in its fight against corruption was “Shame on money,” I was tagged as a communist. But already in the final years of my studies I was not a utopian communist but an atypical one, who acted freely. This was based on a realistic analysis of the situation in our country.

Fidel studied, he wrote; a number of texts influenced his thinking. His discovery of the Communist Manifesto unleashed “a storm within [his] head.” His clairvoyance also owed much to the thinking of Martí and to the knowledge of Cuban history. And via the path of student struggle at a university with an inherent history of a combative approach in favor of true sovereignty and a just society in Cuba, in the readings of Marxist Leninist literature, and lived experience at protests, demonstrations, experience such as the expedition of Cayo Confites, his travel throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the insurrection of El Bogotazo, international political events, battles and wars, all were definitive in the maturing of his thinking. Already, just before his graduation in 1950, he was convinced that Cuban societal change could no longer be delayed: “The Revolution is made from a position of power, for it is from power that just laws can be made.” It was what inspired his first revolutionary project, until as a result of the country’s upheavals, he arrived at the conclusion that armed an insurrection was the only way to overcome the Batista tyranny, which one dark sinister morning, escalated its military force and reaction.

After Chibás’s death, Fidel began to outline a strategy because he believed that the leadership that remained in the Orthodox Party was useless. He was absolutely certain that “it would mean political catastrophe, because those who headed the Orthodox leadership would be incapable of doing anything in a country calling for Revolution.” In the book Timeless Guerrilla (Vol. II, page 21) Fidel said that he began to sketch a strategy within the entire political process and, taking into account the subsequent period:
[…] I planned to introduce myself to the party machinery, present my candidacy as a legislator for the organization and head to Parliament. I already knew what would happen. Later, from Parliament, I would present a revolutionary program with the Orthodox members […] In virtue of the Constitution and the laws, I thought about presenting a program similar to that of the Moncada. All the vital questions that I expounded upon in History Will Absolve Me appeared in the form of laws within the plan that I was going to present to the Parliament, with the surety, that this project within the party would become a program for the revolutionary masses. In other words, it wouldn’t be passed, but it would become a platform for mobilizing all the social and political forces, as well as the armed forces, to topple that government.

The entire process in development was abruptly interrupted by the coup d’etat of March 10, 1952.

Shortly before the assault on the Moncada barracks, Fidel visited his home in Birán, and wrote about the experience while in prison at what was then the Isle of Pines.

Everything was the same as it had been for more than twenty years. My little school was a bit older, my footsteps a little heavier, the faces of the children perhaps a little more surprised, and that was it!

Probably it had been that way ever since the birth of the Republic and would invariably have continued without anyone making any serious effort to affect this state of affairs. This is how we delude ourselves into thinking that we possess a notion of justice. Everything done relative to the techniques and organization of learning was useless if the country’s economic “status quo” was not profoundly changed. In other words, the masses of people are where the tragedy is rooted. Throughout the years, palpable lived reality has convinced me of this more than any theory.

His struggles took on a steep learning curve, just like that of his own enlightenment. Barely three years after graduating from the university, he led the heroic action assaulting the second-largest military fortress in the country, which he called the resumption of the Cuban people’s armed insurrection for their full independence and for the just republic dreamed of by José Martí. Then came prison, exile in Mexico, the Granma expedition and the battles in the Sierra Maestra and the heartland, in order to arrive triumphant, on January 1, 1959. For him, even with so much combat experience, the hardest mission had barely begun. On January 15, 1960, he expressed the profound content of his awakening, the essence of his struggle: resolving the failures of human society.

And that should also be one of the lessons in the history of a subterranean society; that yes, it’s possible to write a geography, not just a cold and methodical enumeration of nature’s accidents, but of the human beings who die in that nature, because here it’s customary to teach a cold geography, as though the planet Earth were uninhabited, as though on planet Earth among its peaks and valleys human beings were not dying, a geography that for some interest, some self-interest, for some powerful social cause is divorced from the other essential and primordial element that is precisely at the heart of this scenario: the human being. Thanks to the efforts of that group of young people a geography could be written that was not divorced from the human being, that was not divorced from the peasant Mamerto, that wasn’t divorced from the rural palm thatched dwellings, that was not divorced from the family where a child fell ill and the only cow had to be sold in order to obtain precarious medical assistance.

That is, a geography that is also human. We were taught about accidents of nature but no-one taught us about the tremendous accidents of humanity. They taught us about the failures of nature, but didn’t teach us the failures of human society. They taught us about unequal things, the great inequalities in nature, of land and more, but didn’t teach us about the great inequalities of human society. We were taught about societal peaks, but no-one taught us about society’s swamps. They taught us that there was a Zapata Swamp but never taught us that there were many social swamps in our country. And that the work was not simply one of putting material things in order but that it was also fundamentally a job of putting things in human order. And yes, geography is interesting because it’s the stage on which human beings live, where humans must of necessity be still more interesting that the very natural environment where they live. Of men we were taught very little, of social problems very little, because in the schools, above all the schools where the privileged mainly go to study, the truth of humanity is hidden from the young. They tried to teach the rote memorization of a series of natural accidents – the accidents of our people’s social reality.

It’s because of this, as though this era was something like the dawn, like a conscious awakening, where the people begin to see clearly a series of events and facts that are practically astonishing for not having been evident to all of us.

Fidel then acknowledged that the more he came to know our homeland, the more he fell in love with it. He was always faithful to it. He knew how to discern and keep watch for danger and he defended it against the Empire and those who would subordinate it by trampling our dignity.
The aspiration to make the Cuban people happy, fully able to enjoy their rights provoked an aggressive internal and external reaction against the Cuban Revolution. Fidel discovered this reality right from the beginning. He pointed out that revolutionary Cubans knew very well that the battle would be difficult, not because of a lack of understanding of the Revolution, but precisely for being a generous Revolution, one that truly proposed a significant change in national life.

He constantly insisted on pointing out that as a result of being just and noble the Revolution would be harshly attacked. But that, for example, if agrarian reform had not been carried out, the country would have sunken even deeper into misery, in ruin, perhaps even in anarchy and blood, because the people would not have remained impassive if after so much struggle and effort, and the deaths of so many children, it had all been for nothing. On a political level, agrarian reform was an absolute necessity and based on that, another country was built; an equitable country with a sense of solidarity, dedicated to the humble.

The signing of an agrarian reform law had already, at a higher level, generated a brutal and concerted response from reactionary forces and those who felt harmed by a fair distribution of the country’s lands. It also generated a reaction from political forces in the United States that perceived with extreme clarity the absolute loss of their power in Cuba.

The revolutionary leader confirmed that the Revolution had acted in accordance with a spirit of justice, granting the country what the stateless oligarchy and North Amercan imperialism had denied it for so many years. It had acted in the spirit of attending to a series of demands that the Cuban people had lodged since the beginning of the Republic, desires that had been postponed since the time of the Mambises. Among them, a real sovereignty and independence over internal affairs and control of national resources, specifically the rescue of huge expanses of land from foreigners, not just in the countryside but in the cities as well.

Furthermore, the Revolution meant a moral and ethical turnaround in history, an adjustment of public life and a radicalization of thought in order to grant rights to those subjected to exploitation and discrimination.

Throughout his life, on numerous occasions, he defined Revolution. He pointed out that it is a process and not merely a substitution of one government for another, concluding: “It is a social response to a crisis.”
A Revolution, Fidel believed, is a practically superhuman undertaking, overwhelming in its nobility and difficult for the fight it entails, for the total dedication it requires, for the courage necessary to carry its historical destiny forward and something that furthermore, is impossible if the wills of the majority are not united. Its legitimacy, its legal bases are found in sovereignty, in the many who decide to carry it out. This last part only being possibly based on very just causes, such as those relevant to Cuba: independence and social justice.

In Cuba, the great abuses committed over many years, starting with the injustice of a usurpation of the triumph of insurrectionist Cuban forces and the birth of a mediatized republic, a neo-colony, through to the violations of the Batista dictatorship in the mid-twentieth century; these were the essential causes behind the growing Revolucion. The exploitation, the humiliation, the indignity in which the country had been submerged, created the necessity for substantial change throughout the archipelago. The Revolution was a necessity and continues to be so in order to exist as a nation, and for its people to lead a decent life.

From the beginning of his struggles, Fidel was convinced that a Revolution would be no bed of roses and that a revolution is a fight to the death between the future and the past. On repeated occasions, he cited the revolutionary Italian Antonio Gramsci. He was convinced that in Cuba’s particular case, its extremely specialized circumstance was to be found in the fact that support for internal reactionary forces came from very nearby. It had begun to be felt since 1959 and can be perceived today much more clearly; a very powerful force, that of North American imperialism which constituted then and now, the greatest brake on humanity’s development and also has become the greatest danger to humanity itself. A force that first invaded Latin American nations militarily, from the middle and end of the 19th century and the beginnings of the 20th and that up to the present day, generates wars and conflicts in all the world’s continents.

During the early years of the Revolution, Fidel insisted that the Revolution had not won the enmity of countless Cuban gentlemen and foreigners for having taken actions against the people but for taking them in their favor. For being faithful to the ideas and interests of the nation, for not having maintained a series of privileges and interests against the people but for taking their side once and for all against those interests. This was the Cuban Revolution’s “original sin”: to be a people.

In this struggle, Fidel saw division as the worst enemy of any revolution and the number one ally of the enemies of the people. He emphasized unity as a key factor. The Cuban revolution offers proof. Its extensive history demonstrates that people united are invincible. The Commander in Chief of the Revolution expressed it in exquisite detail: to achieve unity, the cause for which the struggle is taking place must be very clear. He said that in Cuba there was only one party: Cuba. Only one party and one flag: Cuba. And one purpose alone: the conquest of a happier and more dignified destiny for its people.

This is the path we continue to travel and defend as the Revolution reaches its 62nd anniversary. With love and courage, like Fidel and Martí, in love with Cuba, that is to say, homeland and humanity.

Source: Red en Defensa de la Humanidad, translation Sue Ashdown