Fidel Castro: An American Experience, PBS Productions, 2004
This year marks the 55th anniversary of the Cuban July 26th movement, the 49th anniversary of the victory of the Cuban Revolution and the 41st anniversary of the execution of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara by the Bolivian Army after the defeat of his guerrilla forces and his capture in godforsaken rural Bolivia. I have reviewed the life of Che elsewhere in this space (see July archives, dated July 5, 2006). The Cuban Revolution stood for my generation, the Generation of '68, and, hopefully, will for later generations as a symbol of revolutionary intransigence against American imperialism.
Thus, it is fitting to review a biography of Che’s comrade and central leader of that revolution, Fidel Castro. Obviously, it is harder to evaluate the place in history of the disabled, but still living, Fidel than the iconic Che whose place is secured in the revolutionary pantheon. The choice of this documentary reflected my desire to review a recent post- Soviet biographic sketch. As always one must accept that most Western biographic sketches have various degrees of hostility to the Castro regime and the Cuban Revolution. The director here, Ms. Borsch, is apparently a second generation Cuban exile in America. Nevertheless, after viewing this sketch I find that it gives a reasonable account of the highlights of Fidel’s life thus far and for those not familiar with the Fidel saga a good place to start. To get a more detailed analysis one, as always, then goes to the books to get a better sense of the subject.
Let us be clear about two things. First, this writer has defended the Cuban Revolution since its inception; initially under a liberal- democratic premise of the right of nations, especially applicable to small nations pressed up against the imperialist powers, to self-determination; later under the above-mentioned premise and also that it should be defended on socialist grounds, not my idea of socialism- the Bolshevik, 1917 kind- but as an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist revolution nevertheless. That prospective continues to be this writer’s position today. Secondly, my conception of revolutionary strategy and thus of world politics has for a long time been far removed from Fidel Castro’s (and Che’s) strategy, which emphasized military victory by guerrilla forces in the countryside, rather than my position of mass action by the urban proletariat leading the rural masses. That said, despite those strategic political differences this militant can honor the Cuban Revolution as a symbol of a fight all anti-imperialist militants should defend.
Ms. Borsch obviously differs with my political prospective. Nevertheless she has presented interesting footage focusing on the highlights of Fidel’s career; the early student days struggling for political recognition; the initial fights against Batista; the famous but unsuccessful Moncada attack; the subsequent trial, imprisonment and then exile in Mexico; the return to Cuba and renewed fight under a central strategy of guerrilla warfare rather than urban insurrection; the triumph over Batista in 1959; the struggle against American imperialist intervention and the nationalizations of much of Cuba’s economy; the American-sponsored Bay of Pigs in 1961; the rocky alliance with the Soviet Union and the Cuban Missile Crisis; the various ups and downs in the Cuban economy stemming from reliance on the monoculture of sugar; the various periods of Cuban international revolutionary support activity, including Angola and Nicaragua; the demise of the Soviet Union and the necessity of Cuba to go it alone along with its devastating hardships; and, various other events up through the 1990’s.
All of this is complete with the inevitable ‘talking heads’ experts interspersed throughout the documentary giving their take on the meaning of various incidents. There is plenty of material to start with and much to analyze. As mentioned before Che’s place is secure and will be a legitimate symbol of rebellion for youth for a long time. Fidel, as a leader of state and a much more mainline Stalinist (although compared with various stodgy Soviet leaderships that he dealt with over the years he must have seemed like their worst Trotsky nightmare) has a much less assured place. Alas, the old truism holds here - revolutionaries should not die in their beds.