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Issue #1778      May 24, 2017

The new culture of communication

Among his many other achievements, Fidel Castro’s accomplishments as the constructor of the new Cuban society include:

  • overthrowing capitalism in favour of socialism and its related principles of equality and solidarity;
  • defeating US neo-colonialist domination to attain sovereignty,
  • independence and dignity;
  • upholding human rights in the areas of health, education, culture and sport;
  • respecting racial equality, gender equality, food and housing for all; and
  • defending freedom of speech and the press, the latter being one of the domains in which Fidel’s example still has much to teach us, and creating a civilized social/political atmosphere without violence.

The basis of these exploits, which did not exist before 1959, is the political power of the people resulting from the Revolution that quashed the US-backed state.

As early as 1953, the conquest of a new revolutionary people’s power was at the forefront of Fidel’s mind. This unshakeable goal was combined with the spirit of self-sacrifice that characterised his entire political life. Through defeats and victories from 1953 to 1956 until 1959, his every thought and action were inspired by this overriding guiding objective. It was indelibly combined with key creative tactics that were designed to convert the aspiration to conquer people’s power through armed revolution into a reality. This was the focus of Fidel’s passion.

The current new society bequeathed to the Cuban people finds its origins in the liberated areas during the wars of 1868 and 1895, the latter reaching new levels of organisation under the leadership of the Revolutionary Party of Cuba and José Martí. Thus, the seeds of new political power were sowed in the second half of the 19th century, to be resuscitated and updated by Fidel in compliance with the new conditions. Local political power forged in the Sierra Maestra’s liberated areas in 1957–58 was embedded as a virtual state within the neo-colonial dominated state. The July 26 Movement and the Rebel Army were founded and developed by Fidel and his comrades. They grew as the seeds of the Communist Party of Cuba and the Armed Forces respectively. These institutions constitute two ramparts in the maintenance and development of the people’s power, in combination with Cuba’s socialist culture as the shield.

In the course of this epic victorious march and in the ensuing decades, Fidel contributed toward a new feature of the culture of enacting politics within the Cuban Revolution. He was a communicator par excellence, a key component to conquer and improve political power. Thus, his thought and action, among other aspects of his legacy, constitute a new culture of communication between the leader and his people. Let’s look at a few examples of how Fidel’s culture of enacting politics was fuelled by the new culture of communication, both of which mutually propelled each other.

First, there was the 1953 writing and distribution of History Will Absolve Me. One may ask how it is possible to speak of the communication talents of a leader representing the people’s quest for political power, when he was imprisoned in solitary confinement, far from the masses. However, despite these extreme restrictions, he managed to communicate secretly with other jailed combatants, with some inmates serving time for common crimes and even with guards and prison employees. Before and after his defence, this was his extremely limited world.

Despite being limited to this underground communication system only and combined with the few books he was able to muster, he prepared his defence by memory. It was reported that he wrote and edited in his cell day and night, committing every word to memory until the moment he was brought to court. Only a person entirely devoted to solving Cuba’s problems through a revolution to open the path for people’s power could have maximised such scant communication tools at his disposal.

After delivering his defence from memory, he returned to his cell to find that his written statement had vanished. He set about rewriting it from memory. With close clandestine connections inside and outside the prison walls, he further expanded his communication with the people. Fidel smuggled out his defence piece by piece, using ingenious methods, such as using lemon juice for invisible ink to write on tiny bits of paper. By the time they reached their destination in Havana, the papers inscribed with invisible ink passed through prison security, but, as planned, they then dried up and could be read in Havana.

In Havana, Melba Hernández and Haydee Santamaria, the two women who had participated in the Moncada attack, were among a handful of people in charge of assembling the pieces of paper like a jigsaw puzzle and then printing the text in pamphlet form. Fidel initially instructed his limited world, consisting mainly of these two women, to produce 100,000 copies of his defence. He wrote to Melba and Haydee on June 18, 1954: “Without propaganda there is no mass movement, and without a mass movement, no revolution is possible.” Fidel was no doubt inspired by this interaction with his two comrades, who once again, like in Moncada, were putting their lives on the line under the Batista dictatorship. They themselves, in turn, were galvanised by Fidel’s thinking and heroic resistance in prison. And thus the lemons growing from Cuba’s fertile soil returned to fertilise the revolutionary movement through Fidel’s makeshift pen.

A second illustration is Fidel’s unique communication skill in defending people’s power. On January 8, 1959, this time in front of an immense crowd in Havana, in contrast to the extreme limitations of his solitary cell, Fidel said, “There is immense joy. However, there is still much to be done. Let us not fool ourselves into believing that the future will be easy; perhaps everything will be more difficult in the future.” No doubt the leader was inspired by the jubilant people. However, he was also making use of his unparalleled perspicacity in front of overjoyed supporters, realising that he had to convey to them, and the national TV audience, caution and vigilance for the coming months and years. Fidel and the people converged into one political and ideological entity by means of his dexterity to communicate. It is difficult to say whether that classic statement spontaneously emerged out of the Havana political atmosphere of the time, given his extraordinary gift to feel the pulse of his people, or whether Fidel had already thought it through. In any case, he said what had to be said.

Either way, there are many other memorable moments in which his communication was indeed spontaneous, leaving in its wake a permanent imprint on the Cuban political landscape. This brings us to our third illustration, which occurred on September 28, 1960, where Fidel spoke in Havana in front of a mass gathering. The transcript reads the way many Cubans still remember it today, either through their own participation or by that unequalled Cuban revolutionary collective memory, through family and friends. I quote from the transcript this first portion in parentheses:

“(Sounds of the explosion of a firecracker) Fidel says, ‘A bomb?’ (People shouting: ‘Block them! We will win!’) (People sing the national anthem and shout, ‘¡Viva Cuba! ¡Viva la Revolución!’)”

The transcript continues:

(Someone from the public speaks with Dr Castro)

(Sounds of a second explosion)

Fidel goes on:

“… Do not underestimate the imperialist enemy.”

Out of this dramatic US-backed threat in the heart of Havana, the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) spontaneously emerged in the neighbourhoods and then further developed with the assistance of the Cuban revolutionary leadership. The need for this new type of mass organisation was one of life and death for the Cuban Revolution. At the time, in 1961, their formation proved to be indispensable in defending Cuba against US-supported and financed incursions and terrorist acts designed to subvert revolutionary political power. The CDRs, a fruit of the Fidel-and-the-people dynamic, also contributed substantially to governing at the national and local levels, especially from 1959 to 1976, when the political system was institutionalised and the new Constitution approved. The CDRs continued their work after 1976 in many other ways.

In sum, Che captured the essence of this unsurpassed leader-and-people communication. The guerrilla wrote, “At the big public mass meetings, one can observe something like the dialogue of two tuning forks whose vibrations interact, producing new ones in the speaker.”

Next article – In self-defence

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