Fidel Castro: Cuba shows revolution needs Marxist leadership to win

January 17, 2022

The condensed excerpts below are taken from a Dec. 1, 1961, speech published rapidly by the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which campaigned across the U.S. in defense of Cuba’s unfolding socialist revolution, under the title “Fidel Castro Speaks on Marxism-Leninism.” The Militant is printing these excerpts — just a small portion of the rich 82-page pamphlet — to mark the 63rd anniversary of the revolution.

The speech was broadcast from a Havana television studio to discuss with the Cuban working people the formation of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution, which later became the Communist Party of Cuba.

On July 26, 1953, Castro led some 160 revolutionaries to attack the Moncada army barracks in Santiago de Cuba, part of initiating a fight to overturn the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. The attack failed and the military-police tyranny assassinated 56 captured revolutionaries and put Castro on trial. Castro’s speech at the trial was smuggled out of prison and distributed by fellow revolutionaries as “History Will Absolve Me” in tens of thousands of copies.

In the face of a growing popular movement demanding amnesty, the dictatorship released Castro and other combatants in 1955. Castro went to Mexico, assembling and training combatants, returning to Cuba with 82 revolutionary fighters on the Granma in 1956. He was the central leader of a handful of revolutionary fighters that made it to the Sierra Maestra mountains, where they initiated the guerrilla struggle against the dictatorship.

By Jan. 1, 1959, the Rebel Army had decisively defeated the regime’s army and Batista fled. Workers across the island massively embraced Castro’s call for a general strike. The army and police were dismantled and replaced by revolutionary combatants.

The new government was at first made up primarily of anti-Batista bourgeois politicians, who tried to block the advancing revolution. But the revolutionary upsurge rapidly pushed them aside. By February 1959, Castro had been appointed prime minister, and rebel forces consolidated a workers and farmers government, which organized peasants to implement a deep land reform and workers fought to impose workers control over the big capitalist companies.

You cannot make a revolution, and above all, you cannot carry a revolution forward without a strong and disciplined organization.

In the common goal that united all revolutionary and non-revolutionary organizations — because there were forces against Batista’s tyranny, which you could not call revolutionary — there were politicians who were simply against Batista because he had kept them out of his government.

Those people in power would have maintained a professional army, instruments of repression; they would have maintained all the organs of persecution; they would have maintained the existing social system. In other words, there was a group representing the dominant economic interests and imperialists which was against Batista simply because they wanted to be the ones in the government; they did not at all like having Batista and Batista’s clique instead of them doing the robbing.

What we always had in mind was to attempt an uprising in one region and try to keep it going and, if that failed, then to go into the mountains with all those weapons and begin a struggle in the mountains.

Can anyone imagine that you can win revolutionary power with a handful of men? We never imagined such a thing. We knew that you can win power only with the support of the people, by mobilizing the masses.

Everyone in our country was aware of conditions in the rural areas. Peasants who were not squatters were tenants. Squatters on public lands were the victims of constant evictions and abuse. Cane workers toiled three of four months during the harvest, and two or three months during “the dead season.”

Unemployment in the countryside was high. The rural population had migrated to the city where in turn there was already much unemployment. A tenant on the coffee plantation had to pay one-third or one-quarter of his crops. The tobacco tenant farmer or sharecropper also had to pay 25% or 30% of his crop. The cane planter had to pay a lower percentage, but still it was high.

Commodities were very dear; the peasants had to sell their produce cheap. Tens of thousands of men and women from the cane fields, from the sugar plantations, who had no work during “the dead season” went into the mountains to pick coffee.

When we reached the Sierra Maestra, however, it was evident that we had not organized certain aspects of the struggle we were undertaking. For example, we hadn’t even made a geographical survey of the Sierra Maestra. We hadn’t even set up a preliminary organization there. It may be good to point up these things so that they can serve as examples to other exploited peoples. We did not know a single peasant in the Sierra Maestra.

In other words, conditions were very difficult, but it’s true that where the objective conditions are favorable, the revolution can develop. This teaches the first lesson: that there can be no revolution in the first place, unless there are objective circumstances at a given historical moment to facilitate and make the revolution. In other words, a revolution cannot be created out of the minds of men.

Political work among peasants

We began to do some political work among the peasants, explaining to them the aims of the revolution.

It is beyond question that in the valley [the cities], many young people struggled, made sacrifices, staked their lives and fought heroically.

[But] the arena of the struggle was the mountains. It was perfectly logical that in those objective conditions existing in the Sierra Maestra, the revolutionary work should develop until it could count on practically unanimous support of the peasants — as it eventually did.

We were already counting on that social force although we had few weapons and a great many difficulties. Guerrilla fighting became nationwide: first, in the Second Front of Las Villas; then, in the Second Front of Oriente. We began to give up the putschist type of tactics. The tactics we favored were wearing down the forces of the tyranny.

What was it that made the maneuvers of the American embassy and of reaction disappear like candy in a school yard? Simply the general strike. It was not necessary to fire one more shot.

What do reaction and imperialism try to do? The history of Latin America is full of examples. What they try to preserve at all costs is the military apparatus, the military machine of the system. In the final analysis, neither imperialism nor the ruling classes give a hoot who the president is, who is a representative, who is a senator.

When a crisis of this kind arises in any country, the prime objective of the people’s movement is to destroy the military machine and seize its arms. This is an indispensable condition; without it, the revolution can be checked, can be betrayed, and can be crushed.

We do not invent this; it is all very clearly stated in a book by Lenin — I imagine that all of you or most of you are familiar with it — called State and Revolution.

Of course, that is not the only condition for a revolution; but it is an indispensable condition.

The force Lenin spoke about 

How different are the power, security and confidence, the force of the revolution of today from those early days when the revolution had to face the most trying moments; when it had to face the responsibilities of power, to launch a revolutionary program, and when a large part of the government, all of the press, all of the mass media and, above all, a force — a force that I believe was the greatest — the force Lenin had spoken about, that is, the force of custom.

That is, force of habit, a series of prejudices, instilled, sustained, and spread by the ruling economic classes, by imperialism and by capitalism in our country, constituted, beyond any doubt whatever, one of the most powerful forces that faced the revolution.

All the forces, which were previously divided among these separate organizations, [July 26 Movement and Rebel Army, the Popular Socialist Party, and the Revolutionary Directorate] are now fused in a single organization, under a single revolutionary leadership. It means simply a tremendous strengthening of the revolution.

What is the most revolutionary class? The working class, beyond a shadow of a doubt. Why? Because its social position makes it revolutionary.

I began to see contradictions and began to have a few revolutionary ideas while taking a course on bourgeois political economy at the university.

Later on, naturally, at the university, we began making our first contacts with the Communist Manifesto, with the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and all that. This marked (the beginning of) a process. I can certainly say, admitting it honestly, many of the things which we have done in the revolution are not things we invented — far from it.

When we left the university, especially in my own particular case, I had already been greatly influenced — I wouldn’t say that I was a Marxist-Leninist, far from it. It is possible that I had two million petit bourgeois prejudices and a string of ideas that I’m glad not to have anymore.

Recently, while looking through some books up there in the capital, I found that when I was a student I had read up to page 370 of Capital. That’s as far as I got. When I have the time, I plan to continue studying Karl Marx’s Capital.

‘I believe absolutely in Marxism!’ 

In my student years I had studied the Communist Manifesto and selected works of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Of course, it is very interesting to reread now the things I read at that time. I believe absolutely in Marxism! Did I believe on the first of January [1959]? I believed on the first of January. Did I believe on the 26th of July? I believed on the 26th of July! Did I understand it as I do today, after almost 10 years of struggle? No, I did not understand it as I do today.

The more experience we gain from life, the more we learn what imperialism is — and not by word, but in the flesh and blood of our people — the more we have to face up to that imperialism; the more we learn about imperialist policies throughout the world, in South Vietnam, in the Congo, in Algeria, in Korea, everywhere in the world. The more we have to face the reality of a revolution and the class struggle, the more convinced we become of all of the truths Marx and Engels wrote and the truly ingenious interpretations of scientific socialism Lenin made.

Marxism is a living science, a developing science. We have to study everything that Marx taught, but at the same time we have to study everything that Lenin taught.

That is the great dialectical truth of mankind: imperialism, and imperialism versus socialism.