Fidel Castro has died at the ripe old age of 90. But in the eyes of the world, the image that will endure is of the young and dashing leader of the Cuban Revolution. Fidel led the revolutionaries to power at the age of 32.
The overthrow of the hated Batista regime led to the first socialist revolution in the Western hemisphere. Under Fidel’s dynamic leadership, Cuba emerged from the shackles of semi-colonialism and of being a playground for the mafia and the wealthy from the United States. With Fidel as the head of the government, Cuba made remarkable strides in creating a socially just society. Castro and his revolutionary government was able to show what socialism is capable of – abolition of illiteracy, universal education, a health care system which compares with the best in the advanced countries, equal rights for women in all spheres and racial equality in a country which used to have slave plantation labour.
Building socialism in the island of Cuba was something which the world’s biggest imperialist power – the USA – could not tolerate. For five decades, Fidel Castro led Cuba in fighting off various conspiracies to destroy socialist Cuba. As it was later revealed, the CIA had organized hundreds of attempts to assassinate him.
The Cuban revolution became a beacon light for all revolutionary and progressive movements in Latin America and inspired the Left advances there. Fidel Castro, along with his close comrade-in-arms Che Guevara, became revolutionary icons for generations of young people. No other Communist leader after Lenin had such an internationalist vision as Fidel. Revolutionary Cuba helped and assisted revolutionary struggles around the world, particularly in Latin America and Africa.
Fidel dispatched the Cuban armed forces to help Angola and Mozambique from the depredations of the counter revolutionary forces backed by the racist South African regime. Scores of newly independent countries benefitted from the internationalist service rendered by Cuban doctors and teachers whom Castro sent to serve the people.
Fidel Castro will go down in history as a creative Marxist both in theory and practice. Along with Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh, Fidel applied Marxism to the concrete conditions of an underdeveloped country and pioneered a path to socialism which has had an enormous impact on the third world.
For people of my generation, Fidel was the living embodiment of revolution. I first saw him and heard him speak at the World Youth Festival in Havana in 1978. 20,000 young people had assembled for the international event. Twenty years later, in 1998, I attended a programme to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Che Guevara’s martyrdom. The speech Fidel made on this occasion at Santa Clara remains still vivid in my memory. It was a magisterial survey of the Cuban revolution and the worldwide struggle against imperialism.
The CPI(M) has had close ties with the Cuban Communist Party. The Left and progressive-minded people of India have always been inspired by the Cuban revolution. When Cuba was in serious economic difficulties after the fall of the Soviet Union and the tightening of the economic blockade by the USA, in India, under the leadership of Com. Harkishan Singh Surjeet, a solidarity campaign to send a shipload of wheat to Cuba was launched. Eventually, a ship with ten thousand tons of wheat was dispatched in December 1992. Fidel received the shipment at the Havana harbor in the presence of Surjeet. At the function, Fidel declared: “The 10,105 tons of wheat plus medications mean much more than a symbol, these are 10,105 tons of solidarity, 10,105 tons of moral support and make us not only more internationalist, but also more patriot, more revolutionary and more determined to defend our glorious cause.”
After more than fifty years of the economic blockade imposed by the USA, Cuba stands tall as a proud and independent nation with a social system which rejects the exploitation inherent in capitalism. This is Fidel’s revolutionary legacy.