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The best homage we can pay Fidel: look outward together in the same direction

 

 

By Marta Harnecker

 

September 14, 2016 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Over half a century ago, as Latin American households were celebrating the start of a new year, some good news arrived from Cuba: a guerrilla army with a social base among the peasantry triumphed on the Caribbean island, liberating the country from the tyrannical Batista regime. A political process began that not only aimed to overthrow a dictator, but sought to follow a consistently revolutionary line: genuinely transform society for the benefit of the great majority.

 

This victory of the popular forces, headed by the 26th of July Movement and led by a young lawyer, Fidel Castro Ruz, awoke the sympathies of a large part of the Western Left, but more particular that of the Latin American Left. It was a beacon of light that shone out in the dark conservative mood that the continent was then living through.

 

It represented a break with two kind of fatalism that were widespread among the Latin American Left: a geographic one and a military one. The first argued that the United States would not tolerate a socialist revolution in this strategic region, but Cuba triumphed very close to its shores. The second sustained that given the level of sophistication armies had reached, it was no longer possible to defeat a regular army, but the guerrilla tactic employed by the revolutionaries demonstrated that it was possible to weaken it to the point of defeating it.

 

It was therefore logical that after the Cuban triumph, the issue of armed struggle would become the central issue of discussion for the Left in our region. But there was much more than guns and the guerrilla tactic: there existed an entire political strategy skillfully constructed and applied by Fidel, without which this victory could not be explained.

 

The Cuban leader understood that politics could not be reduced to the art of the possible – a conservative vision of politics. Rather, it had to be the art of constructing a correlation of social, political and military forces that would allow making possible tomorrow what today seems impossible.

 

As a contribution to this magazine I have selected the conclusion to my book Fidel Castro’s Political Strategy[1] because I consider it be absolutely relevant to the current reality we face.

 

The first part refers to the issue of the immediate enemy and the broadness of the political front. I outline the important lessons that we can learn from the enormous tactical flexibility that Fidel employed to construct a broad alliance involving all the anti-Batista forces. The Cuban leader understood that to achieve victory against the dictator, it was necessary to unite as many social forces as possible. That is why he went about, step by step, building unity not only of the revolutionary sectors and class, but also with reformist sectors and even with those reactionary sectors that had even a minimal contradiction with the dictator. To achieve this objective he had to retreat on many aspects, but he never ceded on the central issues: he never accepted a possible foreign intervention to facilitate things, nor a military coup for the same purposes, nor the exclusion of any force that represented some sector of the people.

 

The second part refers to the criteria he used to construct the unity of revolutionary forces. In this part of the text, I note the lessons we can take from his practice and his speeches. No one fought for unity like Fidel, who transformed it into a pillar of his political strategy before and after the victory. Fidel preferred to avoid theoretical discussions and instead centered his energy in applying a correct political strategy; he was convinced that the ideological and political differences of the various revolutionary groups would be resolved through practice, with much less internal attrition.

 

To end this short presentation, I want to recall a phrase from Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction”.

 

I believe the best expression of love and the best homage we can pay Fidel on this 90th birthday is to look outward together in the same direction

 

July 12, 2016

 

Fidel Castro’s political strategy (selection)

 

The immediate enemy and the breadth of the political front

 

Fidel's strategy for forging the bloc of social forces that made possible the overthrow of Batista and then the march toward socialism provides us with important lessons.

 

Although he was well aware that the only consistently revolutionary forces were those that were part of “the people,” as he defined it, he also realized that the ruling classes had very powerful means for maintaining the status quo, including the support of the world's most pow¬erful imperialist country.

 

His great historic merit lies in having known how to identify clearly the decisive link that would make it possible to seize the entire chain and enable the revolution to advance. That decisive link was the struggle against Batista.

 

The maximum social forces had to be united to overthrow the dictatorship. That meant uniting not only the revolutionary classes and sectors, but also the reformist sectors and even those reactionary sectors that had even the slightest contradiction with Batista.

 

And so, the Moncada program put forward only measures of a “bourgeois democratic” type. Although it proposed steps that would hurt United States interests, it contained no formal anti-imperialist declaration. Then, in the Sierra Pact, as we have seen, even the measures related to nationalization were eliminated. Finally the Caracas Pact, with its minimum program, contained only the most essential measures: punishment of the guilty, defense of the rights of the workers, order, peace, freedom, fulfillment of international commitments, and the quest for the economic, social, and institutional progress of the Cuban people.

 

Where Fidel never gave ground was on the fundamental issues, the only ones that could have stopped the development of the revolutionary process. These were: the rejection of foreign military interference, repudiation of any military coup, and refusal to be part of any bloc that would exclude any force representing a sector of the people.

 

The most general guidelines on the need for building a broad anti-imperialist, antioligarchic front were set forth in the Second Declaration of Havana of February 4, 1962. Ten years later, concerned about the lack of unity of Chile's democratic and progressive forces and concretely the absence of common views within Popular Unity (the political front that supported Salvador Allende) at a time when the advent of fascism already loomed on the horizon, Fidel repeated those words. The occasion was his December 2, 1971, farewell speech, after a visit of several weeks to Chile.

 

“Imperialism, making use of the great motion picture monopolies, the wire services, its reactionary magazines, books, and newspapers, uses the most subtle lies to pro¬mote division and to inculcate the ignorant with a fear of and a superstition about revolutionary ideas, ideas which should bring fear only to the powerful exploiters and their traditional privileges.

 

“Divisionism, a product of all kinds of prejudice, false Ideas and lies; sectarianism; dogmatism; the lack of general concepts in the analysis of the role of each social stratum, with its parties, organizations and leaders; all these obstruct the necessary unity of action which should exist among the democratic and progressive forces of our people. These are the weaknesses of growth, childhood ailments of the revolutionary movement, which should become a thing of the past. It is possible to organize the im¬mense majority of the people in the anti-imperialist and antifeudal struggle for the goals of liberation which unite the efforts of the working class, the peasants, the intellectual workers, the petty bourgeoisie and the most progressive sectors of the national bourgeoisie. Together, these sectors constitute the immense majority of the population, great social forces which are capable of doing away with imperialist domination and feudal oligarchy. From the old militant Marxist to the sincere Catholic who has nothing to do with the Yankee monopolies and the feudal landowners, all can and must fight side by side in this broad movement for the welfare of their nations, for the welfare of their people, and for the welfare of America.

 

“This movement can also include the progressive elements in the armed forces, which have also been humiliated by the Yankee military missions, by the acts of treason perpetrated against the national interests by the feudal oligarchies and by the sacrifice of the national sovereignty to the dictates of Washington.

 

“These ideas were expressed ten years ago and do not vary one iota from the ideas we hold today.”[3]

 

But that broad policy of alliances that Fidel had in mind from the beginning — which included special concern for winning over the greatest possible number of members of the repressive apparatus of the state (remember the words he addressed to the military and to the judges in “History Will Absolve Me”) — was implemented in keeping with certain strategic considerations.

 

Fidel first sought unity with the revolutionary forces, and only after efforts in that direction did he call for broader unity. It is important to note that failure to achieve full unity among the revolutionaries did not prevent him from moving toward broader unity. However, he took concrete steps in that regard only when the 26th of July Movement had become a considerable force and its strategy for struggle had been successfully tested in practice — when it had decisive weight on the political scene. Otherwise, as we’ve pointed out before, the movement would have run the risk of trailing after the capitalist forces.

 

Reflecting, in December 1961, on the process of unity with the capitalist forces and concretely on the repudiation of the Miami Pact, he said:

 

“We were left on our own, but at that moment it was a thousand times better to stand alone than in bad company...”

 

“Why is it that back when there were just 120 of us in arms, we weren't interested in broad unity with all the organizations in exile, while later, when we numbered in the thousands, we were interested in that broad unity? The answer is simple: when there were just 120 of us, unity would have meant a clear-cut majority for conservative and reactionary elements or representatives of interests that were not revolutionary, even though they opposed Batista. We would have been a tiny force in such a union. However, toward the end of the struggle, when all those urbanizations were convinced that the movement was headed to victory and that the tyranny was going to be defeated, then they became interested in unity. And we were by then a decisive force within it.”[4]

 

The unity of the revolutionary forces

 

Fidel provided some extremely interesting views on the formation of the unity of the revolutionary forces in a talk with Chilean students in 1971:

 

“The ideal thing in politics is unity of opinion, unity of doctrine, unity of forces and unity of command, as in war. A revolution is just like a war. It is difficult to imagine a battle, being in the midst of a battle, with ten different military strategies and ten different sets of tactics. The Ideal thing is unity. That is the ideal, but reality is something else. I believe that every country must get used to waging its battles in whatever conditions it finds itself. Let's say it's impossible to attain total unity. Well let's get some unity on this opinion, on this idea and on that other idea. We must seek unity on objectives, unity on specific questions. If it's impossible to achieve the ideal of absolute unity, let's get together on a number of objectives.

 

“A single command — or if you wish, a single general staff — is the ideal thing, but it isn't always possible. Therefore, we must get used to making do with what we have, with reality.”[5]

 

The Cuban experience provides three important lessons in relation to the process of unification of the revolutionary forces:

 

First, as Fidel put it, the revolutionary leaders must have as a central concern advancing the process of unity of the revolutionary forces, and to do so they must use minimum, not maximum, objectives as the point of departure. An example of this is the Mexico Pact between the 26th of July Movement and the Revolutionary Directorate.

 

Second, what aids the unification of the revolutionary forces most is the implementation of a strategy that will prove to be the most correct one in the struggle against the main enemy. If the results are satisfactory, the other truly revolutionary forces will join during the struggle, at the moment of victory, or in the months or years to follow.

 

If unity at all levels is sought too early, before conditions are ripe for it, what you might get is a purely formal sort of unity that could fall apart as soon as it runs into difficulties. Or, a minority with a correct strategy could give it up in order to submit to the majority view, with negative consequences for the revolutionary process as a whole.

 

Third, all the participants must have equal rights and any “superiority complex” that might crop up in one or another of the organizations must be fought. This is very important for achieving lasting unity of the revolutionary forces, and — something that Fidel always urged strongly — for a correct evaluation of the contribution of each of the revolutionary forces, without establishing shares of power either in terms of their degree of participation in the victory of the revolution or on the basis of the number of members of each organization.

 

Fidel's most valuable contributions on this issue came about in the course of his fight against sectarianism, especially in what became known as the first Escalante trial, in March 1962. Aníbal Escalante was organization secretary of the ORI (Integrated Revolutionary Organizations) — the first effort to institutionalize the unity of the revolutionary forces after the victory of the revolution. He set out to take over all posts and duties with “old Marxist militants,” which in Cuba meant the members of the Popular Socialist Party, the only Marxist party existing before the revolution.

 

Instead of a free organization of revolutionaries, what was being created was a “yoke,” a “straitjacket,” an “army of tamed and submissive revolutionaries,” Fidel said. He stressed then that it was necessary to fight both the sectarianism “of the Sierra Maestra” and the sectarianism “of the old Marxist party members.”

 

In this regard he said:

 

“The revolution is superior to what each of us may have done. It is superior and it is more important than each of the organizations that were here: the 26th [of July Movement], the Partido Socialista Popular, the Directorio — than all of them. The revolution by itself is much more important than all that.

 

“What is the revolution? It is a great trunk which has its roots. Those roots, coming from different directions, were united in the trunk. The trunk begins to grow. The roots are important, but what begins to grow is the trunk of a great tree, of a very tall tree, whose roots came together mid were joined in the trunk. All of us together made the trunk. The growing of the trunk is all that remains for us to foster and together we will continue to make it grow...

 

“What matters is not what each of us has done separately, compañeros, the important thing is what we are going to do together, what we have been doing together for a long time now. And what we are doing together is of interest to all of us equally, compañeros.[6]

 

On the same day he gave another speech, referring to his personal experience: “I, too, belonged to an organization. But the glories of that organization are the glories of Cuba, they are the glories of the people, they belong to all of us. And there came a day that I stopped belonging to that organization. Which day? The day when we had made a revolution greater than our organization, the day we had a people with us, a movement far greater than our organization, near the end of the war, when we already had a victorious army that would become the army of the revolution and of all the people, at the time of the victory, when the entire people joined us and demonstrated their support, their sympathy, their strength.

 

“And as we moved through towns and cities, I saw lots of men and women, hundreds and thousands of men and women with the red and black uniforms of the 26th of July Movement. But many more thousands wore uniforms that weren't black and red but were the workshirts of workers and farmers and other men and women of the people. And since that day, honestly, in my heart, I left the movement that we loved, under whose banners we had fought, and I joined the people. I belonged to the people, to the revolution, because we had truly accomplished something that was greater than ourselves.”[7]

 

Written for the Peruvian magazine Reflexión: Ciencia, humanidades y arte, which dedicated a special edition to Fidel for his 90th birthday.

 

Notes

 

[1] Published in English by Pathfinder Press, New York, London, Sydney, 1987.

 

[2] See Fidel Castro, The Second Declaration of Havana. http://www.walterlippmann.com/fc-02-04-1962.pdf

 

[3] Fidel Castro, “Farewell Rally,” in Fidel Castro on Chile Pathfinder Press, 1982, pp. 102-3.

 

[4] Castro, Fidel Castro, “Comparecencia en TV del 1 de diciembre de 1961”; en Historia de la revolución cubana (selección de discursos sobre temas históricos), Editora Política, La Habana, 1980, pp. 407

 

[5] Fidel Castro, “University of Conception,” in Fidel Castro on Chile, p. 45. Fidel Castro, “Conversación con los estudiantes de la Universidad de Concepción”, en Cuba—Chile, Chile, 18 noviembre, 1971, op.cit. p. 274.

 

[6] Castro, “Against Bureaucracy and Sectarianism,” in Selected Speeches, pp. 73-74. Fidel Castro, “Discurso del 26 de marzo de 1962”, en Obra revolucionaria Nº 10, p.29—30; en La revolución cubana, 1953-1962, Ed. Era, México, 2da. ed. 1975, p.539.

 

[7] Fidel Castro, March 26, 1962, speech, in La revolución cubana, Op.cit, pp. 545-46.

 

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