When you speak of Fidel Castro, what do you speak of? The Cuban Leader is not your everyday leader. To fully understand Fidel Castro you must have a firm foundation with which to work from. I will explore the political ideology of Fidel Castro by explaining what is in an ideology, Fidel Castro’s background, and his political position both before the Cuban revolution and presently.
An ideology is a number of action-oriented, materialistic, popular, and simplistic political theories that were originally developed as an accommodation to the social and economic conditions created by the Industrial Revolution (Baradat 13). The action can be broken into a five-part definition for idealistic purposes. To begin, the term ideology can be used in many contexts, but unless otherwise specified it is proper to give it a political meaning. All ideologies provide an interpretation of the present and a view of the desired future. This desirable future is thought to be attainable in a single lifetime. Each ideology includes a list of specific steps that can be taken to accomplish its goals. Ideologies are oriented towards the masses, and finally, ideologies are simply stated and presented in motivational terms. In speaking of Fidel Castro and his ideologies I will apply these five definitional segments.
Many theorists believe Cuban Leader Fidel Castro was directed in his political thought from an early age. He was born on May 13, 1927, on his families sugar plantation in the town of Mayari, Cuba. As a boy, Castro worked on the family plantation, and at age 6 was able to persuade his parents to send him to school. He attended two Jesuit institutions, eventually entering a Jesuit preparatory school; a member of the Roman Catholic Society of Jesus founded by Saint Ignatius Loyola in 1534 and devoted to missionary and educational work. Both through his first hand look at the oppression of individuals and the importance of education help to shape Fidel Castro, and differentiate what was right and wrong.
Three years later, in 1945 Castro attended the University of Havana Faculty of Law. That same year he was so fed up with the oppressed working class that he unionized the workers of his father’s plantation to fight for a voice in exercising their rights. After graduation from Law School in 1950 be began practicing in Havana with two partners. As a lawyer he devoted himself to helping the poor.
Although very active in politics throughout his college career, it was in 1952 that Castro first attempted to run for national politics. Just as Castro intended to campaign for a parliamentary seat, General Fuligenico Batista overthrew the government of President Carlos Prio Socarras in a coup and cancelled the election. Trying to oppose the military dictatorship through peaceful means and failing led Castro to head an armed attack of 165 men, calling themselves the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement. Failing completely through his violent attack, Castro and his brother Raul were taken prisoner until May 1955. After much recruiting, on New Year’s Day in 1959 he succeeded in overthrowing the dictatorship of Batista. It was one week later that the United States officially recognized Castro’s new government.
It was shortly after this time in 1961, and now in power, that Fidel Castro announced to the world that he was a Marxist –Leninist and would remain so until the last day of his life. The question that arises when you first hear this is what is a Marxist-Leninist ideology and does Fidel Castro qualify to call himself such a thinker. Many theorists argue that Fidel Castro isn’t attached to any particular ideology. His only goal is survival and power. Strong evidence pointing to this fact is that Fidel Castro survived the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union. In the case of Castro, however, if you dig enough in search for an underlying ideology, you will find that his thought and action is closer to that of a Marxist- Leninist than to any other ideology.
It is for certain that he was a young revolutionist in his preliminary political life. Remember it was he who led the country of Cuba into a revolution against the political power, President Batista, in 1959, believing that change would only happen if he burnt down the political system and rebuilt on its ashes. After the rebellion was over the entire population had to be radicalized, attitudes changed, traditions destroyed, the popular support maintained and deepened, viable organizations and institutions created, and social justice distributed. Fidel Castro in 1967,
“The most difficult task was not exactly the overthrowing of Batista… the most difficult is the one that we are engaged in today: the task of building a new country on the basis of an underdeveloped economy; the task of creating a new conscious, an new man” (Sutherland 93).
Unquestionably a leftist, it is almost certain that he was not a Marxist during this time in the mountains before his attack on the Batista government. The opinion a Castro employee had on his ideology in late 1957 suggested ‘broadly’ that:
“The Fidel Castro I knew in the Sierra Mountains… was definitely not a Marxist. Nor was he interested to Social Revolution. He was above all a political opportunist, a man with a firm will and extraordinary ambition.” (Thomas 1053)
At this time Fidel Castro had no ideology, even if he coveted it privately. All was vague, if heroic. Both he and the leaders of the 26 July generally had certain general ideas of nationalism and of social reform, but there was no explicit program. When the revolution had to be defined it divided. Like all revolutions, its vision of the Utopian future, where there is a genuine compassion for the masses at the bottom of the social structure, was sustained by a view of the past. (Thomas 1056)
Through his willpower Fidel Castro was eventually able to move his men together, holding a common ideology. Castro did not want to organize a movement but rather try to unite all the existing forces against Batista. He only intended to participate in this struggle as just one more soldier. It was the leaders of the other forces that showed they did not have the ability, the resolution, and the seriousness of the purpose or the means to overthrow Batista. This lack of input left Fidel Castro worked out a strategy of his own. Before his Revolution movement in 1959 Castro implied:
“I was a pure revolutionary, but not a Marxist Revolutionary. I thought that change could be brought about under the Constitution of 1940 and within a democratic system.” (1052)
He was able to attract members of other forces by his enormous leadership qualities. He has huge appeal to Cuban patriotism, his traditional appeal to the Cuban poor and stance against the rich. Overall, Fidel Castro has delivered himself as a Latin American “caudillo”- a strongman, a boss.
There are two circumstances that made Fidel Castro a revolutionary, those are the mere vocation, special duty, tied to being a revolutionary and secondly, the fact that the revolution for revolutions sake, not any particular revolution. Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries rejected all forms of human conformity and wanted this profound change in the political system in a relatively brief period. They regarded most of societies governmental institutions as mere devices to enslave human spirit, denying it them of liberty for which they were destined.
As a revolutionist Fidel Castro appealed to all social classes of the Cuban population. For the unemployed Castro promised livelihood, for both the rural and industrial workers he promised to put an end to embezzled retirement funds, for peasants he promised land that they could call their own, and finally for the 10,000/year young professionals he promised employment. In its early phase, Castro’s revolutionary regime included moderate politicians and democrats; gradually, however, its policies became radical and confrontational. Though Castro remained the unchallenged leader, and the masses–whose living conditions he improved–rallied behind him.
Even shortly after the Revolution, with his social structure now in disarray, Castro’s political system was a crisis’s, but still the revolutionaries were celebrities, folk hero’s, and the final hope of the hopeful. But a Revolutionary party can not rule forever, there comes a time when they have to adopt a new ideology.
This is a controversial time in the history of Fidel Castro; it is his conversion to Marxism-Leninism after coming to power that makes him unique.
The hostility of the United States government towards the Castro regime from 1959 to 1961 drove Castro to seek protection of the Soviet Union and thereby wedding Cuba to the Soviet bloc and expanding Soviet interests into the Western Hemisphere. These new ties with the Soviet Union solidified Castro’s Marxist belief. Fidelismo, the adaptation of Marxism by Fidel Castro, combined dialectic and idealistic rhetoric with anti-Yankee policies to create the new Cuba (Baradat 312).
Under the Socialist ideology there are three main features, they are, Public ownership of production through nationalized industries or cooperatives, secondly, a welfare state that assures the material well-being of the citizens, and finally, the intention to improve the liberty and well being of all citizens, thus creating a happier, more tranquil social existence. When the dictatorship of the proletariat had replaced the bourgeois rulers, a system that rewarded people according to their work would be established. Through education, material rewards, and the elimination of the worst dissidents from society, the proletariat would grow until it was the only economic class to exist in the society. Mike Harrington wrote,
“To sum up, socialism is more than an economic system. It forces a completely new relationship among individuals based on a plentiful supply of material goods. Socialists argue that the elimination of material hardships will relax human tensions as never before, creating a much more pleasant atmosphere, in which people can live and develop.” (Baradat —)
Despite the fact that Castro’s regime is still hampered by the United States policies the country has still achieved some social progress for its people. Abiding the framework of Marxist-Leninist, based on the assumption that economic factors were the primary human motivation and that history was propelled by struggle among competing social classes. Advances in education, public health, and racial equity have been significant.
Fidel Castro’s work within the socialist framework is also exemplified in the ownership of production. The traditional way to socialize an economy is by nationalization, thus at the same time making everyone a working individual, eliminating tensions between social classes. Nationalization occurs when the government expropriates- takes over the ownership of- an industry. This was the case in Cuba when Fidel Castro after the 1960 sugar crop was harvested; over 600 sugar cane co-operatives were set up. Their finances were centrally organized, with regional headquarters, technical staff accounts, machine repair shops and so on. The Agrarian Reform Institute usually set up people shops, where basic goods could be bought at reduced prices, up to 15% cheaper. All profits that were made from these co-operatives would be distributed (for the first five years four-fifths of the profits were to be invested into the schools, housing, roads, and so on).
Not only were sugar cane plantations being turned into co-operatives. By April 1961 there were 266 state farms, covering over five million acres. Many of these farms were divided into separate parcels of land. These state-owned farms employed nearly 100,000 workers, and paid $2.11 per day (with free housing, medical care and education). The whole category of private farmer was ignored by this regime. Banks were also being nationalized, transport and distribution being disrupted and the INRA given all the advantages, they found it both hard to get supplies and to deliver their goods. These difficulties eventually led to food shortages, as well as to the beginning of the black market. By 1967, 70% of Cuba’s agricultural production, all of its heavy industry, foreign trade, education and culture were state owned. (Sutherland 99)
Castro’s second example of the Socialist thought is the belief that the welfare state assures the material well being of the citizens. The welfare state that can exemplify such a function is one that provides a large number of social programs for it’s citizens, including social security, publicly supported education, public assistance for the poor, and public health services.
Castro was extremely proud of the accomplishments that he made in the area of the welfare state. He gave credit to the elementary measures of justice that the revolution had to adopt- measures in Castro’s opinion could not be postponed. Social Security was the first program that Castro claimed as being an overwhelming success. A total of 320 million pesos were outlayed for social security in 1970, compared to 114.7 million in 1958, or pre-Revolutionary Cuba. Likewise, the outlay for public education was 77 million before Castro’s triumph, and rose to 290.6 million in 1969.
Keeping with the welfare state the health care system also flourished. The outlay for public healthcare service increases 210 million peso’s in ten years under Castro’s movement. The total outlay for these three sectors was 213.8 million peso’s in 1958, and rose to exceed 850 million in 1970. (Bonachea 320)
Castro’s final features that he exemplified were his intention to improve the liberty and wellbeing of all citizens, thus creating a happier, more tranquil social existence. This was done through creating equality, making everyone a middle-class worker, or creating a Utopia state.
Equality among the masses was to be eliminated by achieving a Utopian state. The Utopian State would desire for equity within the society and from genuine compassion for the masses at the bottom of the social structure. The lavishing sumptuous wealth on some while allowing other to languish in squalor was immoral, since the economy produced enough for all to live comfortably if goods were distributed more evenly.
Fidel Castro enacted upon this equal state shortly after the revolution occurred. It is through the two previous conditions of socialism that helped Fidel make the Cuban population relatively equal in most external aspects of life. Through the nationalization of production, no longer did monopolies exist that were owned by an individual family. With the nationalization of the means of production all money was distributed evenly throughout the country. Also, with the implementation of the welfare state, the population all had free education, medical care, etc. making it readily available to all, not only the elite.
Fidel Castro now in his 70’s has had to make slight modifications to his political ideology. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Castro has had to modify his Soviet-style socialism. Although one of the final supporters of Marxism-Leninism, Cuba’s current deep economic crisis and in the light of the developments in the rest of the Marxist-Leninist world, one wonders how long Castro’s island of communism can endure blows of this decade’s hurricane of political change. (Baradat 248) It is thought that Fidel Castro will enjoy political power for one overriding reason, Canada, who is driven by unadulterated profiteering when it comes to Cuba. The billions of dollars that Canada invests into Cuba is a lifeline to Castro, while at the same time being able to thumb their noses at their powerful and envied neighbor, the United States.
I feel that the Marxist-Leninist ideology that is worked by Fidel Castro has proven to be too reliant. For 30 years Cuba has been very much dependent on the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, while in economic despair, Fidel Castro turned to the United States to blame for his countries economic problems. Many well-intentioned Cubans still believe Castro’s claims that the country lacks sugar and oranges because of the U.S. enacted embargo. Tragically, Cubans believe that any change in policy is good for the country, a victory for Castro.
Baradat, L. (1997). Political Ideologies: Their Origin and Impact. New Jersey; Prentice Hall.
Bonachea, R. (1972). Cuba in Revolution. New York; Anchor Books.
Sutherland, E. (1969). The Youngest Revolution. New York; The Dial Press.
Thomas, H. (1971). Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. New York; Harper & Row Books.