The Party for Socialism and Liberation salutes the great Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro Ruz on his 90th birthday this August 13.
Fidel Castro Ruz, lifelong revolutionary and historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, celebrates a milestone in his life at 90 years of age. He is being celebrated throughout the island and worldwide, with popular rallies, concerts, songs, poetry and tributes to his legacy.
Fidel, as he is known to all in Cuba and worldwide, is recognized as the principal leader of the Cuban Revolution, for his relentless struggle in overthrowing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959.
Most importantly, he inspired the Cuban workers, students and peasants to carry on the fight against U.S. imperialism and go forward to build socialism.
Despite all their propaganda, the U.S. imperialists know that it is not Fidel Castro alone who has made and sustained the Cuban revolution. The Cuban people as a whole work and struggle to defend their socialist revolution.
Fidel’s unique capacity as an audacious military and political leader earned him the rightful title of “Comandante en Jefe,” and the deep admiration of the Cuban people.
Despite a relentless CIA campaign of demonization and assassination plots, Fidel not only survived, but emerged defiant as an immensely popular and revered leader in the worldwide anti-imperialist movement.
A virtual U.S. colony
To understand Fidel Castro’s life and success as a leader, it is important to know the historical context in which he has lived.
Georgi Plekhanov, the founder of Russian Marxism, wrote in the 1898 essay “The Role of the Individual in History,” “A great man is great not because his personal qualities give individual features to great historical events, but because he possesses qualities which make him most capable of serving the great social needs of his time, needs which arose as a result of general and particular causes.”
Cuba’s history from 1898 until the 1959 social revolution was shaped by its status as a colony and later, neo-colony of the United States. Every important political decision, from the sale of its sugar to the selection of its “leaders,” had to be approved by Cuba’s imperial masters.
U.S.-Cuban economic relations were characterized by U.S. ownership of Cuba’s main wealth, including the railroads, utilities and nickel mines, and most of the sugar mills and plantations.
The Cuban capitalists were junior partners—though often very wealthy ones. So the politicians representing the Cuban capitalist class never challenged the relationship of dependency.
‘A profound sense of justice’
Fidel’s sense of indignation at injustice and drive to act against it started in his childhood. His father, Angel, an illiterate Spanish immigrant and farmer, had acquired large land holdings over time. Young Fidel was able to live a life without material want. But he was shaped by all that was around him, moved by the poverty and repression of the peasants.
In 1995, he described his upbringing. “What had I brought from my schooling, what had I brought from my home?” he asked. “A profound sense of justice, a certain ethic that one acquires … with a sense of equality in my relations with everyone from very early on, and also, an indisputable temperament or character of rebellion. I would react, I never resigned myself to accepting abuse or imposition of things by force.”
Fidel Castro marks the beginning of his life as a revolutionary as his second year at the University of Havana. “When I arrived at the university at the end of 1945, we were living one of the worst epochs in the history of our country and one of the most deceptive. I was living the remnants of a frustrated revolution, the revolution of 1933, which was a real revolution, because the struggle against [then-president Gerardo] Machado developed into a revolution.”
The Cuban people were seething with rebellion in response to the brutal policies of the dictator Machado. As Machado fled Cuba in the midst of the revolutionary struggle, Fulgencio Batista led a “Sergeants’ Revolt” in September 1933. That revolt was temporarily supported by all opposition forces, including revolutionary student groups.
Behind the scenes, Batista was to rule on behalf of the U.S. government, doing the U.S. government’s bidding for 11 years up to and including under his own presidency from 1940 to 1944.
The spirit of Latin American unity
Beginning in the early 1930s, a generation of young students and workers was coming to life in radical political struggle in Cuba and throughout all of Latin America.
The national rebellion and anti-colonial sentiment that characterized Cuba in the 1930s and 1940s was also sweeping Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and elsewhere.
In all those struggles, students and other progressive forces raised the banner of Latin American unity.
At the University of Havana, Fidel was president of the Committee for Democracy in the Dominican Republic as well as of the Committee for the Liberation of Puerto Rico, then as now, a U.S. colony.
He was an active protagonist for Latin American unity, not just in words but in deeds.
When the famous 1948 “Bogotazo” uprising took place in Colombia’s capital, Fidel was there, taking to the streets with other Latin American students in solidarity with the Colombian masses. At the same time the massive rebellion broke out, he had been organizing a continental student congress in Bogotá with other students to protest the founding conference of the U.S.-created Organization of American States.
The Bogotazo was drenched in blood. Brutal repression by the U.S.-backed Colombian government continues to this day.
Seizing the moment
From his earliest days in political life, Fidel has possessed an acute ability to gauge a political situation and the revolutionary potential therein. His bold decisiveness and personal courage have helped make that potential a reality many times over.
One of his most important struggles was what came to be known as the Moncada attack of July 26, 1953, against Batista’s 1952 military coup. It is celebrated today as Cuba’s main national holiday. The attack on the Moncada barracks was the spark that led to the ultimate victory against Batista.
Batista, aware that he would lose the 1952 presidential election, led a military coup to depose then-president Carlos Prío Socarrás on March 10. He declared martial law, restricted political parties and suspended the 1940 constitution.
While all the political parties were paralyzed and took no action, there were student protests at the university. The 25-year-old Fidel publicly urged people to rise up. In the midst of martial law, he filed suit three days later against the coup plotters in a court of appeals, demanding a sentence of 108 years for Batista and accomplices for violating the constitution. The suit was dismissed.
In May 1952, Fidel told a group of workers and students, “Revolution opens the way to true merit to those who have sincere courage and ideas, to those who risk their lives and take the battle standard in their hands.”
For more than a year, he trained like-minded workers and students for what he deemed as the only option: armed struggle and revolution.
Although more than 1,200 men were prepared for battle, only about 160 were selected for the fateful attack on the Moncada military barracks in Santiago in the early dawn hours of July 26, 1953.
The action was a military defeat for the rebels, with dozens of the men captured and killed. But it became the clarion call for a new movement—the July 26th Movement.
“History will absolve me”
Fidel’s Oct. 16, 1953, speech as he was sentenced to prison for leading the assault became known as the Moncada program.
The speech, giving voice to the masses and their oppression, showed Castro’s supreme confidence in the people—the workers and peasants—as the only true agents for revolutionary change.
“In terms of struggle, when we talk about people we’re talking about the 600,000 Cubans without work, who want to earn their daily bread honestly without having to emigrate from their homeland in search of a livelihood; the 500,000 farm laborers who live in miserable shacks, who work four months of the year and starve the rest, sharing their misery with their children, who don’t have an inch of land to till and whose existence would move any heart not made of stone; the 400,000 industrial workers and laborers whose retirement funds have been embezzled, whose benefits are being taken away, whose homes are wretched quarters. …
“These are the people, the ones who know misfortune and, therefore, are capable of fighting with limitless courage! To these people whose desperate roads through life have been paved with the bricks of betrayal and false promises, we were not going to say: ‘We will give you’ but rather, ‘Here it is, now fight for it with everything you have, so that liberty and happiness may be yours!’”
His concluding words live on today as vindication of the heroic struggle that he waged side-by-side with his brave comrades, most of whom died after being brutally tortured after the Moncada attack. “I do not fear prison, as I do not fear the fury of the miserable tyrant who took the lives of 70 of my comrades. Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”
The willingness to persevere against incredible odds marked each milestone of Fidel Castro’s life in revolution.
Fidel spent two years of a 15-year sentence in prison on Isla de Pinos (now the Isle of Youth), where he developed plans for the next phase of struggle. After a national campaign calling for the release of the Moncada prisoners, Fidel and his comrades were released as part of a general amnesty in 1955. The group went into exile in Mexico to continue preparing to overthrow Batista. It was there that Fidel met Ché Guevara, who pledged to fight in Cuba’s cause.
When 82 Cuban revolutionaries under Castro’s guidance landed Dec. 2, 1956 on the island’s shores from Mexico to continue the armed struggle against Batista, Batista’s army routed them. Many of the revolutionaries were killed and others imprisoned. Although only 12 made it to the Sierra Maestra mountains, Fidel declared, “We are in the Sierras. The days of the dictatorship are numbered.”
Was it an adventuristic statement to make? It was an audacious claim. But it was based on Fidel’s understanding that the Cuban people were desperate for real change and were ready to struggle for it.
The Rebel Army fought relentlessly, all the while relying on the people’s support and winning the confidence of the rural population. The guerrillas’ Radio Rebelde broadcasts countered Batista’s constant claims that the rebel cause was failing.
Five years, five months and five days after the Moncada attack, and a little more than two years after the dozen fighters began the guerrilla struggle, Batista was on a plane fleeing the country. January 1, 1959 marked the victory of the Cuban revolution.
The Cuban masses, already imbued with a rich history of struggle against slavery, Spanish colonialism and U.S. rule, enthusiastically embraced the revolutionary declarations of the Rebel Army. The sweeping land reform decree on May 17, 1959, the cuts in rents and utility bills and later the expropriation of U.S.-owned utilities and industries had the full backing and participation of the people.
When the July 26th Movement took power, Washington expected to be able in its usual fashion to pressure the new leadership to accept its dictates. But the response of the revolutionary leadership was to resist rather than accept the demands of the “Colossus of the North.”
Time after time, with each new attack or threat from U.S. imperialism, Fidel’s speeches and careful analysis of what is at hand have kept the people informed and involved.
Fidel Castro declared the socialist character of the Cuban revolution on April 16, 1961, after a mass funeral procession for the first victims of U.S. imperialist aggression, who were bombed in a prelude to the Bay of Pigs invasion the next day. On April 17, the U.S. government launched the full Bay of Pigs invasion with a proxy force of 1,200 mercenaries and right-wing Cuban exiles.
The socialist declaration was not a sudden announcement. It was part of a revolutionary process in which the Cuban people had been deeply engaged and from which they had benefited.
Socialism and internationalism
The decades following imperialism’s defeat at the Bay of Pigs were filled with great challenges and historic achievements for the Cuban revolution. That year, illiteracy was wiped out after a clarion call by Fidel for the youth of Cuba to volunteer en masse. Socialist construction created world-renowned health care and educational systems and flourishing cultural programs in music, film, sports and more.
Fidel has always emphasized the importance of internationalism for Cuba’s revolution. That has taken the form of everything from material aid to liberation movements—from Guatemala to Vietnam, from Palestine to the Congo—to sending doctors and teachers abroad.
One famous example was Cuba’s crucial role in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid in southern Africa. The 1988 defeat of the South African army at Cuito Cuanavale, Angola, by a combined Cuban-Angolan force, compelled the racist regime to withdraw from Namibia. It was critical in bringing about the downfall of the hated apartheid system in South Africa.
Leadership in difficult times
But Cuba’s greatest test was to come with the overthrow of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s principal trading partner and bulwark of the socialist camp.
The bourgeoisie’s constant predictions of Cuba’s downfall reached a fever pitch as the Soviet Union’s leadership under Mikhail Gorbachev began collaborating with U.S. imperialism and dismantling the socialist system in the late 1980s.
Almost overnight, in 1990, the Soviet Union stopped its trade with Cuba. Without the vital imports and trade, production dropped 34.5 percent and basic necessities became scarce.
Faced with this economic catastrophe, the Cuban government was forced to introduce limited capitalist measures to supplement the state economy. Small businesses were legalized, foreign firms were allowed to operate joint ventures and tourism was developed as a major source of income.
What was remarkable about Fidel’s leadership in this severe test known as the “Special Period” was his revolutionary candor and openness with the country’s workers. He explained the necessity of these measures to rescue the Revolution from the disastrous loss of the socialist camp, and to maintain the socialist gains.
Decades of seasoned struggle and the revolutionary unity of the people and its entire leadership since 1959 made Cuba’s survival possible.
Fidel Castro had earlier made a memorable speech on Dec. 7, 1989 to prepare the people for the possibility of a world without the Soviet Union and with an emboldened U.S. empire. He spoke at a memorial to Cuba’s fallen combatants in its internationalist missions.
“The U.S. imperialists think that Cuba won’t be able to hold out and that the new situation in the socialist community will inexorably help them to bring our Revolution to its knees. …
“Men and women from three generations of Cubans are members and hold posts of responsibility in our battle-seasoned Party, our marvelous vanguard young people’s organization, our powerful mass organizations, our glorious Revolutionary Armed Forces and our Ministry of the Interior.
“We have never aspired to having custody of the banners and principles which the revolutionary movement has defended throughout its heroic and inspiring history.
“However, if fate were to decree that one day we would be among the last defenders of socialism in a world in which U.S. imperialism had realized Hitler’s dream of world domination, then we would defend this bulwark to the last drop of our blood.”
Cuba survived. Beginning in 1996 the country emerged with economic growth and greater development each year.
Of course, as long as capitalism remains the dominant economic system in the world, the vicissitudes of the capitalist market will also buffet Cuba. The 2008 financial collapse that began on Wall Street has also severely impacted Cuba.
Cuba’s alliance with Venezuela’s revolutionary process following Hugo Chávez’s election as president, has breathed new life into the hopes and aspirations for all Latin America and the oppressed peoples of the world.
This is why the U.S. empire demonizes Fidel Castro. But it is also why his stature grows and the Cuban revolution continues to inspire others to fight for liberation.
Fidel’s greatest legacy is as a leader of leaders. At his side are other veterans of the anti-Batista struggle, including his brother and comrade Raúl, who is now the president of the country. He and his comrades have trained a new generation of revolutionary leadership from the ranks of the millions of members of the Communist Party of Cuba, the mass organizations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba and the People’s Power government.
As he reaches the milestone of his 90th birthday, revolutionaries around the world salute Fidel Castro and the leadership of the Cuban revolution. At a time when others faltered, his leadership has been remarkable for its consistency. He has made a unique contribution to the global struggle of oppressed and colonized peoples — first as a tiny organized opposition, later as an armed guerrilla movement and finally as a ruling party in the first socialist revolution in the western hemisphere.
The role of the individual can be decisive in any enduring revolutionary process—but only to the extent that it helps galvanize the collective will of the oppressed classes to make revolution, and then sustain its vision and its power in the face of the predictable onslaught from the old ruling classes and their international allies.
It is precisely these achievements that have elevated Fidel Castro to his indisputable role as the most recognized revolutionary figure in the world today.