[Marxism] Fidel Castro's revolutionary struggle is well served by his autobiography (Guardian)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 13 07:55:56 MST 2007

(As this reviewer points out, and as we say in the United States,
Fidel is on his "J.O.B" all the time, and he's participating up
to the present moment in the ideological and political struggles
of his, and of our own time. The Spanish edition of this book is
available here in Cuba for a mere $15 regular Cuban pesos, and 
it's available everywhere. And people here are reading it as well
as keeping it handy for reference. Fidel is, of course, a more
than life-sized figure, from every point of view, to those who
love him as well as those who revile him. But no one can manage
to get around him because he's like the rock of Gibraltar, just
too big and too strong. It looks like I may have to wait until
returning to the United States to get my hands on the translated
edition of the book, unless some nice reader of these messages
can bring me one if they are coming to Havana anytime soon.)


Cuba libre
Fidel Castro's revolutionary struggle is well served 
by his autobiography, says Seumas Milne 

Saturday November 10, 2007
The Guardian

My Life
by Fidel Castro, with Ignacio Ramonet, 
translated by Andrew Hurley 736pp, Allen Lane, £25

"When the Soviet Union and the socialist camp disappeared," Fidel
Castro tells Ignacio Ramonet, editor of what is in effect both
Castro's autobiography and political testament, "no one would have
wagered one cent on the survival of the Cuban revolution." Even the
Cuban president's fiercest critics would find it hard to disagree
with that. The catastrophic withdrawal of Soviet support in the 1990s
and the overnight loss of Cuba's main markets and suppliers plunged
the Caribbean island into a grim period of retrenchment, known
euphemistically as the "special period".

In Miami, the heirs of the grisly US-backed dictator Fugencio Batista
prepared to return in triumph to reclaim the farms, factories and
bordellos that Castro, Che Guevara and their followers closed or
expropriated after they fought their way to power in 1959. The US
government tightened the screws on their economic blockade and around
the world both sympathisers and enemies waited for the Cuban regime
to follow the example of its east European counterparts, bow to the
global triumph of capitalism and embrace the end of history.

More than 15 years later, they're still waiting. In defiance of the
laws of political gravity, Cuba has rebuilt its shattered economy,
held on to its independence, stepped back from the most damaging
social compromises it had been forced to make and used Castro's
illness to begin the leadership handover outsiders assumed would
never happen or would lead to precipitate collapse. Meanwhile, the
leftward tide across Latin America and the consolidation of the
Chávez government in Venezuela has thrown Cuba a political and
economic lifeline, as has the growing economic muscle of China.

In the light of such a remarkable comeback - and given Castro's
history of survival against ridiculous odds, from the attack on the
Moncada barracks in 1953 and the ensuing guerrilla campaign in the
Sierra Maestra to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 - perhaps it's not
surprising that the world's longest-serving president places such
emphasis on "subjective factors" in revolutionary politics in this
extraordinary account of his life and convictions. If ever there were
a case of triumph of the will over objective adversity, the Cuban
experience epitomises it.

Of course, the nature of that triumph remains the focus of a sharp
global ideological contest, far out of proportion to Cuba's size or
strategic significance. In the past couple of weeks, what Castro
calls "the empire" was outvoted by 184 votes to four in the UN
general assembly over the annual demand for an end to its embargo, 
as George Bush openly called on the Cuban military to support an
uprising against a "dying" regime. In Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times,
one writer ludicrously branded Castro "another version of the tyrant
that he replaced in 1959", while he is routinely dismissed as a cold
war relic with nothing to say to what he himself describes as this
"decisive century" for the human race.

What is striking from the hundred hours of conversations with Le
Monde Diplomatique editor Ramonet which make up this book is, on the
contrary, the Cuban president's capacity to reinvent himself and his
undimmed focus on contemporary struggles. Far from being beached by
history, Castro has in his final years provided a vital link between
the socialist and communist experiences of the 20th century and the
new movements against neoliberal globalisation and imperialism that
have taken root in Latin America and elsewhere in the 21st.

Which is not to say that the veteran revolutionary is in any way
reluctant to hold forth on the conflagrationary events and
personalities he has been involved with, from his earliest days on
his father's sugar plantation to his round-the-clock efforts to
rescue Chávez during the abortive coup in Venezuela five years ago.
There is a gripping, almost cinematic quality to Castro's
recollections of some of the most dramatic episodes - under fire in
the mountains with Guevara in the 50s; his chilling exchanges with
Khrushchev on the brink of thermonuclear war in 1962; hands-on
negotiations with US-indulged hijackers in 2003.

Just as revealing from the perspective of today's politics are his
self-critical comments on issues such as Cuba's changing approach 
to gay rights ("homosexuals were most certainly the victims of
discrimination"); religion ("I consider myself largely responsible"
for excluding believers from the Communist party); and racism 
("we were pretty ignorant about the phenomenon"). Ramonet has been
attacked for being uncritical - slightly absurdly since this is
supposed to be Castro's book, which the man himself edited from his
hospital bed - but he in fact presses the Cuban president on pretty
well every controversial question, from caudillismo and dictatorship
to press freedom and capital punishment.

Castro has never been a political theorist - Che's ideological
arguments in the early 60s over planning and the market seem to have
left him slightly bemused - but his speculations about the future of
socialism are tantalising. He describes himself as a Marxist and
Leninist (as well as an ethical "Martí-an" after José Martí) and is
convinced the human race will not survive under capitalism, but also
asks: "What is Marxism? What is socialism? They're not well defined."
He concedes that the Cuban revolutionaries may have "tried to go too
far too fast", and speculates about what a restoration of capitalism
in Cuba would mean, worrying about Cuba's failure to break the link
between educational achievement and family background. "Building a
new society is much harder than it might appear," he says.

For some, Cuba's resistance to multi-party elections, its clampdown
on those who work with the US against the regime, its shortages and
bureaucracy mark Castro down as a failed dictator, even if the only
prisoners tortured and held without trial on the island are in the 
US base at Guantánamo. But for millions across the world, Cuba's
resistance to US domination, its internationalist record in Africa
and Latin America, its achievements in health and education and its
pursuit of an independent, anti-capitalist course remain an
inspirational point of reference. Whatever happens after Castro has
gone, this book will provide an indispensable perspective on that

· Seumas Milne's The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners
is published by Verso

· To order My Life for £23 with free UK p&p call Guardian book
service on 0870 836 0875

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