I have a number of family and friends whose revolutionary careers managed them a photo opportunity with Fidel; they hang higher than any crucifix. I also have family who “escaped” Allende’s Chile for the United States and whose Cuban friends think Castro ordered the assassination of everyone from Camilo Cienfuegos to Kennedy. One thing is for sure, Fidel will be remembered.
I consider myself fortunate to have lived for a short while in Cuba. In 1999, we arrived on the eve of a massive protest calling for the return of Elian Gonzalez. In 2002, we returned for a longer stay. We attended many more such mobilisations and we met with all sorts. I will probably never see a May Day like the one I was part of in Cuba. I have yet to meet the sort of teachers and doctors I talked with in Cuba, willing to go anywhere in the world that could do with their help.
I will never get the chance again to meet the revolutionaries I met there from the world over. Unlike Fidel, many of these will be forgotten, exiled for life, wanted by right wing governments and abandoned by history. Like Fidel, many of these revolutionaries emerged from a generation that has yet to be replicated. Like Fidel, these revolutionaries represent an anger and rebellious spirit too much of the contemporary left has abandoned. Like Fidel, they should be remembered because, as Brecht most eloquently said, “Those who are weak don’t fight. Those who are stronger might fight for an hour. Those who are stronger still might fight for many years. The strongest fight their whole life. They are the indispensable ones”.
For a global left with no living memory of socialist revolution, we would do best to remember Fidel not for the state he presided over but for the revolutionary epoch his voice echoed.
In the Americas, there is no doubt: 26 July 1953 opened the door. Everything before that date was a story of retreat, defeat and betrayal. The Soviet aligned communists of the first half of the 20th century are not remembered fondly by many living workers. These were the years when communists forgot how to make revolutions. As he did in the Second Declaration of Havana, Fidel reminded them: “The duty of every revolutionary is to make revolution. It is known that the revolution will triumph in America and throughout the world. But it is not for revolutionaries to sit in the doorways of their houses waiting for the corpse of imperialism to pass by”.
We may debate the limits and contradictions of the Cuban revolution, but the force of its example is crystal clear. It inspired a whole generation of Latin American revolutionaries to forge their own path, to believe in the power of ordinary people against the power of capital and to commit themselves in the spirit of Fidel’s cry, “socialism or death”.
Just as Che and Fidel called for two, three and many Vietnams, we could do with two, three and many Cubas; not because it’s a model of socialism, but because its people have shown it to be a model of resistance, struggle and the power of historical perspective and ideals.
Capitalism has not proven to be the end of history, but it has proven remarkably successful at blurring historical memory. Even among us revolutionaries, impressionism too often prevails. For all their mistakes, Fidel and the Cuban revolution have never wavered from the long view of history.
This has made Cuba the living example of idealism – the dream that history has much better to offer than what it has so far delivered. Gabriel Garcia Marquez said of Fidel, “I believe he is one of the greatest idealists of our time … he has the nearly mystical conviction that the greatest achievement of the human being is the proper formation of consciousness and that moral incentives, rather than material ones, are capable of changing the world and moving history forward”.
We cannot wait for the economic corpse of capitalism to pass by; we must put our shoulders to the wheel and fight to put an end to business as usual.
Comandante Fidel, Hasta la victoria siempre!