By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso
HAVANA TIMES — Fidel Castro has passed away. And with him the last poster of the 20th century’s great revolutions has fallen off the wall of History.
I don’t mean to say that I share the dreamlike desire of conservatives throughout history when it comes to the end of a revolution. These will continue to take place while – and here I’m reminded of Brecht – human hope exists in the face of dead end streets. Nor does it mean that it casts aside violence as a path, because violence is practiced everyday – physically or symbolically – sometimes by the market, sometimes by the government, and sometimes by a infinite number of dormant domination in everyday life. That microphysics of power which seduces us so.
However, I do believe that Fidel Castro symbolized a kind of revolutionary and headstrong Jacobean change, whose achievements were never compensated with their immense human cost. He belonged to a century were heroes captivated people’s hearts riding horses and armed to their teeth – Pancho Villa, Trotsky, Mao, Giap, Guevara – and not this era where icons – Mandela, Ghandi, Luther King, Malala, Mujica – seem to be more interested in modest and gradual but long-lasting change. As if they were choosing these interstitial strategies that Olin Wright insisted were the paths for the future. As if, whether they knew it or not, they were dusting off that Gramsci saying: before a class is dominant, it needs to be ruling.
Although his eulogists are striving to display him as a contemporary Marxist thinker, the truth is that he was never this. Marxism, a Western intellectual product, was too emancipatory and libertarian in his view. He was, of course, an accomplished and effective ideologist who used Marxism as a pretext. However, among his sources, there was nothing more than a few techniques taken from its most totalitarian version: Leninism. This is where he stole the idea of having a single party system, so-called democratic centralism and other dressings which enabled him to create an advantageous relationship with the Soviet Bloc for over two decades. He took the most important things from other places: manipulation of the masses from populist autocracy; the art of winning over representatives from his Jesuit professors; gangster techniques to deal with hostile enemies from his university years.
His legacy is practical. After half a century leading the Cuban State, Fidel Castro will be recognized as the architect of a strong justice-seeking project. The social programs he funded produced an unprecedented social movement in the country. And the resulting creation of a “human capital” force which remains today the guarantee that the national economy will take off and the reason behind its emigres’ success.
In economic terms, his half century in power was a disaster which was underpinned by foreign subsidies, which Cuban society paid for greatly when the Soviet Bloc fell in 1990. He handled the economy like a string of expensive fancies that began with the dehydrating 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest in 1970, but his headstrong nature also made a wise decision: Cuba entering an elite club of cutting-edge technology in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.
Fidel Castro is a crucial figure when it comes to explaining global geopolitics in the second half of the 20th century. The Revolution that forced the US to consider Latin America as something else but a backyard, and which reformulated the framework of its hemispheric relations. Which certainly led to monstrosities such as the invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965 or Operation Condor-, but also the Alliance for Progress and other further advanced reforming projects, like the symptomatically named Revolution in Freedom by Chile’s Christian Democratic Party.
The emergence of all kinds of alternative projects – from military nationalism to the so-called “20th century socialist movements” – are inexplicable without going back in some way or another to the presence of Fidel Castro in the politics of the Americas. There’s no need to explain his impact in Africa. However, like everything else in life, there aren’t any unambiguous results and it must be recognized that much of his international success was achieved at the expense of a large sum of resources and human lives, which were sometimes set aside for military odysseys which, in name of his global revolution, ended up strengthening corrupt and bloody satraps.
Believing that Castrism will end with Fidel Castro’s death – like I hear and read in the flood of opinions which are poured into the shadow of the Comandante’s sarcophagus – is doubly wrong.
Castrism as a political project – an authoritarian system which controls every aspect of life and asks for its subjects’ fervent support – has been dying out for quite some time now, even Fidel Castro becoming extinct in the government’s leadership. What his washed out brother Raul is doing is managing the process of transforming the post-revolutionary elite into the new bourgeoisie, especially high-ranking military men and close technocrats. It had been some time now that Fidel Castro was a capricious and irritable old man who explained how to cook black beans, who shouted out against Obama, who suggested that moringa was the answer to saving the global environment, who gave his opinion about the Neanderthal´s past adventures, among many other ramblings that came from his senile loquacity. Ever since his convalescent withdrawal, he never gave up on talking to a world that only he imagined was listening, as populist autocrats, the real ones, never retire.
Instead, if we talk about Castrism as a political tradition, it has very little to do with Fidel. Castrism didn’t found the extremist and authoritarian nationalist tradition in Cuban history, but it did sanctify it. It existed beforehand – hidden or explicit – and it will continue to exist. This is Cuban society’s greatest challenge.
When China’s Chou En Lai was asked his opinion about the French Revolution in 1974, he said that it was too recent of an event to give his opinion about. I think there are more than enough reasons to do so with Fidel Castro. Nothing will be able to excuse him of the terrible liability with regard to the lack of freedom and democracy in Cuba, the division of society and the mass expropriation of émigré’s civil rights, the irresponsible way in which he played with US hostility and the economic disaster that he led the country into.
Every Cuban has paid a price for his megalomania, and the lives of a couple of generations at least were affected by the charm of his slogans, paying prices that were way too high for one life. However, no judgement can leave out a very simple fact: he captivated the imagination of entire generations who had benefited from a revolution that ended a long time ago, but still survives as a political system.
Raul Castro, his voice choked up with emotion and his chronic lack of charisma, announced some grand funeral celebrations. I imagine that his remains will be placed in Revolution Square, and that Cubans will parade before them. Some voluntarily and others “mobilized” by all of the institutions that make up Cuban society, which increasingly suffer greater setbacks.
The great Cuban writer Lichi Diego once said that one of the Cuban people’s flaws was their reluctance to let go of the past. It’s not about forgetting, as taking the past into account prevents you from banging your head against the same wall. But you do have to overcome it, which is the best way to remember. I hope Cuban society will be able to do this and advance towards a Republic and democratic future which shouldn´t leave out the historic burden of an intense and contradictory process which has left its inevitable mark in national history for those of us who live in this century which – along with us – is aging.