Tributes are not meant only for the departed, but are also befitting to living revolutionary legends who have served the cause of humanity with distinction, like Cde Fidel Castro Ruz, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba! Cde Fidel, as he is affectionately known in Cuba and throughout the progressive and socialist world, was until earlier this week, the President of the Socialist Republic of Cuba and Commander of the Armed Forces of the Cuban Revolution.
On the announcement by Cde Fidel that he is to resign as President of Cuba, the South African Communist Party (SACP) issued a statement in appreciation of the role that he has played in the Cuban revolution and his worldwide contribution to the struggle for an alternative, just and humane society.
The SACP, as an ally of the Cuban Revolution since its victory on 1 January 1959, thought it would be amiss not to dedicate this column to the heroic role of Fidel Castro, one of the greatest revolutionaries of our times. Cde Fidel has touched the hearts of millions of people on the globe, way beyond the borders of Cuba, due to his commitment to the building of a truly better world, free of all forms of exploitation and oppression.
Cde Fidel’s struggle and that of the Cuban people mean many things to many people in the world today. But one thing is certain, to billions of starving people he has been a symbol of hope. Through Fidel’s life and struggle, we today wish to highlight some of the most important areas through which his life has touched the millions, if not billions, of the workers and the poor in the world. The SACP wishes to highlight some of these, some of whom also assist us to make sense of contemporary South Africa, continental and global challenges and developments.
CASTRO AND CAPITALISM AS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
Marx and Engels, in the 19th century both celebrated and condemned the emergence and growth of capitalism as first a European system that revolutionised the world’s productive systems, as well as a cruel worldwide system of brutal exploitation. Reactionaries, some of whom former Marxists, today tend to see only the positive and developmental side of capitalism. They know that by this one-sided emphasis they have sought to distort and appropriate the ``developmental’’ aspects of capitalism in order to justify their abandonment of the very fundamentals of Marxism.
Those who have progressively sought to learn and consistently uphold the fundamental lessons from Marx and Engels have highlighted the deeply contradictory nature of capitalism, thus understanding and seeking to daily expose its brutal reproduction through the underdevelopment of the majority of humanity. And that it is a system that must be overthrown as it is incapable of meeting the needs of humanity today and in the future.
The Cuban Revolution has taught us that basic human needs like education, health, gainful employment and provision of basic services need not be commodities to be sold and bought through an unequal market, but that they can indeed be provided freely to society. That Cuba today, under the leadership of Cde Fidel, has one of the best health and education systems in the world, including extraordinarily high levels of literacy, and has ably demonstrated that you do not have to be rich in order to access these basic services and become literate and skilled.
The Fidel Castro-led struggle against the brutality of capitalism also exposes the extent to which what is normally referred to as the ``rule of law’’ under capitalism is at its core the rule of the rich over the poor. Capitalist rule of law, including in many instances in our very own South African rule of law, privileges the interests of the rich over that of the poor. For instance serious economic crimes committed against the poor are not defined as crimes, but as matters requiring ``regulatory oversight’’ and the ``discipline’’ of say, competition. What is the dividing line between, on the one hand, corruption and fraud and, on the other hand price fixing robbing the poor of billions of ands over the price of bread and other foodstuffs or collusion amongst the big banks to fix higher interest rates? Yet this daylight robbery of the poor does not get the attention of the investigative authorities of the criminal justice system, but are matters for ``regulation’’ and ’competition’’, not defined as corruption or fraud.
What the above mean is that crimes committed by the rich against the poor are not to be prosecuted, but those by the poor against the rich have to be heavily clamped down. This therefore means that what we normally define as the ``rule of law’’ is actually the rule of the rich over the poor, including decriminalisation of some of the most criminal behavior of the former over the latter. It is perhaps important that the SACP will have to wage a massive campaign for the criminalisation of some of the worst exploitative practices of the bourgeoisie against the workers and the poor, as part of struggling for a rule of law based on the socioeconomic rights of the overwhelming majority of our people, and generally the poor peoples of the world!
Indeed one of the most serious crimes visited upon humanity by capitalist mega-corporations is the pillaging and degradation of the environment and mindless squander of non-renewable energy sources. This, accompanied by global warming and other capitalist-induced environmental dangers, poses one of the most serious threats to the survival of the human species itself, as Fidel continues to forcefully remind us. In a different world, such plunder would have been amongst the high priority crimes in the work of, for instance, organisations like Interpol, yet under imperialism they are reduced to the niceties or choices of whether to sign the Kyoto protocol or not!
FIDEL, INTERNATIONALISM AND STRUGGLE AGAINT NEOCOLONIALISM
This year, 2008, Southern Africa and the Cuban people, will be celebrating the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale, the joint victory of the Angolan and Cuban military forces over the apartheid regime’s armed forces, rolling back their aggression against the newly victorious Angolan revolution. The victory at Cuito Cuanavale was greatly assisted by the participation of the Cuban military forces in support of Angola. It would therefore be important to celebrate this battle as part of the celebration of the internationalism of Cde Fidel and the Cuban Revolution, and his leadership qualities in propelling the Cuban and Angolan military forces to inflict a resounding defeat over apartheid’s armed forces.
Fidel’s and Cuba’s defence of a newly liberated territory like Angola was based on a belief that newly liberated nations, led by progressive national liberation movements, had a right to national self-determination and sovereignty. In addition such nations, like in the Cuban Revolution itself, also had a right to choose a radical and redistributive economic system as their economic model in reconstructing their economies destroyed through centuries and decades of colonial wars and plunder.
Cuba’s internationalist support to the Angolan people were in support of the commitment and understanding by many such liberation struggles that progressive national liberation struggles were never just about political independence and freedom, important as these are, but that they were fundamentally about the transformation of the economic relations between the colony and the colonisers, and between the oppressed and the oppressors.
The above objective is, amongst others, aptly captured in the Strategy and Tactics document adopted by our own African National Congress (ANC) at its Morogoro conference in 1969:
``In our country, more than in any other part of the oppressed world, it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole. It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not even represent a shadow of liberation.’’
It is these perspectives that also informed the Cuban Revolution’s support of many other national liberation struggles. Cuban internationalism was also informed by the fact that in many post-colonial countries, aggressive imperialist interventions sought to prevent these countries from proceeding beyond formal political independence.
Unfortunately it is still the case that in many post-colonial societies political independence was not accompanied by the transformation of the colonial character of the economy, with the (colonial) ``metropole’’ continuing to dominate the post-colonial economy as if there had been no political independence! Such a situation inevitably reproduced some of the worst features colonial domination by the former colonising power, albeit indirectly but very forcefully, thus producing what has come to be known as ``neo-colonialism’’ — a seemingly outdated, but a still highly relevant concept in contemporary developing world!
It was also for the fact that the Cuban Revolution managed to break out of any attempts at imposing a neo-colonial order there that it remains an inspiration to millions of people in many post-colonial developing nations.
Fidel’s internationalism is no better illustrated than by his own description of the nature of the sacrificed made by Cuban internationalists in supporting many liberation struggles. Immediately after the end of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in 1988, Cde Fidel pointed out that Cuba has supported Angolan and many other struggles of the African people since its victory in 1959, without Cubans expecting any material gains for themselve, other than the satisfaction of contributing towards the liberation of those countries. To that extent, Fidel said, what the Cuban government brought home from such internationalist missions was not bags of gold or diamonds but only bags carrying the dead bodies of Cuban internationalist combatants! This is unlike those who illegally raid other countries, but hide the dead bodies from their own citizens, and instead display prominently their prized trophies — the gold, diamonds and oil captured from what are described as ``wars for extension of frontiers of democracy’’ and ``wars against terrorism’’.
FIDEL AND THE BATTLE FOR IDEAS
Like a true Marxist and communist, Fidel has always understood that the prerequisite for any meaningful revolutionary advance or victory rests primarily on winning the battle of ideas. The first decisive defeat of the apartheid regime by the liberation forces was not so much on the streets or the factory floors, where the apartheid regime commanded more firepower than the stones thrown at them by the workers and the youth, but the superiority of the ideas of liberation over the bankrupt morality of white minority oppression over a majority.
The Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel, has always been exemplary in its detailed attention to ideological work amongst the Cuban masses. It is this ideological work that has been the pillar of the failure of the US imperialist aggression of its criminal blockade to defeat the Cuban Revolution. As we pointed out in the previous edition of this publication, it is imperative that we take the battle of ideas to higher levels as part of pursuing a radical national democratic revolution.
FIDEL AND MISTAKES OF THE REVOLUTION
A critical component of any revolution is that of timeously acknowledging mistakes and shortcomings in the very revolution itself, including mistakes made by the leadership in the conduct of the revolution. In other words, there is no revolution without mistakes, but the art of revolutionary work, as Lenin used to consistently point out, was that of timeously identifying such mistakes as mistakes, and seeking to learn appropriate lessons from these. In other words denialism of any sort is the biggest enemy to revolutionary advances.
[Former SACP stalwart] Cde Harry Gwala used to be scathing of those comrades who would pride themselves that they had never or do not commit mistakes in their work. He used to say true revolutionaries do commit mistakes, as it can only be those sitting back and doing nothing that are incapable of committing mistakes. Mistakes are an integral part of any revolution, including adoption of wrong policy choices at crucial moments in the progress of any revolution. The task is to admit and learn from these.
One of the most impressive features of Fidel’s leadership and that of the collective leadership of the Cuban Revolution is the ability to candidly admit to mistakes. For instance Fidel and the entire collective leadership of the Cuban revolution readily engage self-critically on the extent to which for instance what is known as Cuba’s Special Period (hardships faced by the Cuban revolution after the collapse of the Soviet Union) might not have been less difficult had the Cuban revolution not spent a long time trying to follow the Soviet model of socialism.
HEAP NO PRAISE ON FIDEL BUT ON THE REVOLUTIONARY RESILIENCE OF THE CUBAN PEOPLE
We have raised the points above not in order to romanticise Fidel, but to highlight some of the heroic contributions and dedication of this leader to the cause of the total liberation of humanity from the barbarism of capitalism. The achievements of the Cuban Revolution could never have been attained through an individual, but by the conscious mass of the Cuban people determined to defend the advance they had made in trying to build a better society. Therefore our task is not to romanticise but to seek to emulate the heroic actions of Cde Fidel.
Cde Fidel always emphasises the fact that much as Cuba is a very poor country, but its wealth is its people, wealth not determined by how much the rich can consume the earth’s resources, but based on the determination of the Cuban people to work hard and contribute towards building a better Cuba and a better world.
For all the above reasons, we honour cde Fidel; he has never sold out the Cuban people and their revolution and he has never wavered in the light of numerous assassination attempts on his life, attempts relentlessly made by more than ten successive US presidents! In all of this Cde Fidel has not lost his great sense of humour, but instead tells many jokes about how the Americans have attempted to take away his life! After all, Fidel and the Cuban Revolution are a living proof that selfishness is not an inherently, natural human quality, but a social and political construct, fostered by a heartless capitalist system.
As we said at the Congress of South African Trade Unions Central Committee in September 2007, every revolution produces its heroes, but also every revolution produces its own traitors. Fidel is a hero and has refused to be a traitor! Indeed there is no nobler a cause than that of loyal service to the interests of the workers and the poor.
Fidel and the Cuban Revolution remain an inspiration to the justness of the struggle of the SACP to accelerate a radical national democratic revolution as our most direct route to a more humane alternative for our country, a socialist South Africa.
We say to Fidel, you deserve your rest. Uyibekile induku ebandla mfoka Castro!
*Blade Nzimande is general secretary of the South African Communist Party. This article first appeared in Umsebenzi, Volume 7, No. 3, 20 February 2008.
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