Notes on the Revolution / Column #65
February 3, 2020
Reflections on Martí
By Charles McKelvey
When I first began extensive visits to Cuba in the 1990s, as I listened to the discourses of leaders, academics, journalists, and the people, I discerned, to my surprise, that Cubans believe that there are heroes. Heroes, in the Cuban perspective, are those who act with courage and self-sacrifice for the good of the nation and of humanity. Related to this, I also observed, also to my surprise, that the great majority of Cubans are patriotic flag-wavers. Not a patriotism that involves support for troops in distant lands, but a patriotism that defends a nation that itself stands for universal human values, such the right of all nations to sovereignty, the right of all persons to health care and adequate housing, and the right of all, especially children, to education, nutrition, cultural formation, sports, and recreation. I subsequently would learn that these Cuban characteristics were rooted in the writings of José Martí, and in the dissemination of Martí’s teachings by revolutionary leaders during the course of the twentieth century.
January 28 was the 167th anniversary of the birth of José Martí, the Cuban revolutionary writer and leader of the period 1870 to 1895, whom Cubans refer to today as the “Apostle” and the “Teacher.” Cubans commemorated the anniversary with a variety of activities, including the publication of eight articles, reflecting on Martí’s writings and legacy, in special supplementary sections of Granma on January 28 and 29.
The lead article in the January 28 Special Supplement consisted of fragments of a speech by Fidel Castro on January 27, 1960. Fidel declared that Martí was an extraordinary man who emerged from the people and who was compelled to teach the people with crystal clarity the road to follow. Fidel noted that in the decades since Martí, many have fallen in the struggle. But finally, this generation, the Generation of the Centennial of the Apostle, has in its hand the destiny of the country. Previous generations were impeded by forces more powerful than the sum of all the heroic acts and sacrifices of the people. But now, for the first time, the people are the owners of their destiny. For the first time, this generation has the opportunity to move ahead with the proposal that the people have taken and have imposed on themselves.
Fidel then proceeds to apply Martí’s teaching on the importance of virtue to the historic revolutionary moment of unprecedented opportunity for the people and the nation. Fidel declared that in order to seize this opportunity for the definitive triumph, we have to have virtue; vices will lead us to failure. We have to have courage; cowardice makes possible the definitive failure. I believe, Fidel declared, that this generation will take advantage of this opportunity, culminating in the final victory, because good Cubans are the overwhelming majority over bad Cubans; brave, virtuous, generous, and enthusiastic Cubans constitute the overwhelming majority over egoistic or cowardly Cubans, or those that are immature, as Martí called those that did have not faith in the people.
Virtue has grown among our people, Fidel said. If we were to study the past, we would find that the men who awakened patriotism were at that time a paltry minority; the pioneers of our country were a minority and for a considerable time those that were truly patriots were a minority. But thanks to their good example, their thought and their shedding light on our reality, truth has triumphed, as it always does, sooner or later, the truth that is written with the blood of the people.
Fidel declared that in a historic moment of opportunity like today, we all have to remember how much our desire to be the owners of our destiny has cost, how much it has cost to have in our hands the opportunity to control our destiny. We have to know how to use this great opportunity, and therefore we have to seed the dignity of our people, we have to make into reality that maxim of Martí, that the first law of the Republic ought to be the cultivation of the full dignity of man. That, Fidel proclaimed, has to be our fundamental aim: to foment dignity, which is what a small nation with little power needs more than anything else. We will need virtue and dignity in the battles that we will be launching. We increasingly will need to have reverence for our founders; we increasingly will need to remember our Apostle.
Armed with dignity, Fidel declared, we can move ahead, “reaffirming our sovereignty, making just laws, giving land to the peasants, giving schools to children and hospitals to the sick, providing work for the unemployed, and promising horizons to our youth and to all of our people.” Through dignity, we can continue to turn fortresses into schools, with optimism and confidence.
I believe in our people, Fidel concluded, because I believe that they have sufficient courage and virtue to march on this road, because they have learned the preaching of Martí, which moves and inspires them.
In addition to convoking dignity, virtuous conduct, courage, self-sacrifice, and patriotism, which would make possible the fulfilment of the impossible dream, Martí also was one of the first opponents of American imperialism. In an interview in the Granma Special Supplement conducted by Madeleine Sautié with Pedro Pablo Rodríguez, the editor of The Complete Works of José Martí, asserts that “in reading these works, one immediately understands the profundity of Martí’s critical look at the United States. It is not that he speaks badly of the United States; it is that he understood what then was happening, that the United States was becoming an American Rome, a new type of empire, which was a problem even for its own people.” Martí criticized the manner in which the society was losing its values and the meaning that it had at the birth of the nation, an evolution that was in opposition to the interests of the majority of the people of the United States. One sees “his firm, systematic, consistent, and critical denunciation of the emerging imperialism.” Similarly, René González writes, in the January 29 special edition, that Martí was, of all the Cubans of his time, the greatest critic of the emerging empire.
Moreover, Pedro Pablo Rodríguez stated, Martí always appeals to feelings, to spirituality, and to the values of human beings. This is the reason why Martí is increasingly universal, the reason why persons of different cultures increasingly know his work and are becoming passionate admirers. Rodríguez declares that the more we become disciples of Martí, the more we become better Cubans and better persons. As the world moves toward the destruction of the human species, to which capitalism is conducting us, the explanations of Martí, which are both rational and emotional, enable us to become more dignified human beings and not mere foolish consumers. Martí gives us sentiments that form us as persons, persons who feel patriotic, and patriots who feel part of humanity. In this vein, Cintio Vitier, an appreciated Cuban essayist, stated a number of years ago, at the third anniversary of the Cultural Society of José Martí, that “José Martí is the incarnation, always alive, of our nationality and of our universality.”
These, then, are the key aspects of the legacy of Martí. Virtuous conduct, courage, and self-sacrifice in patriotic defense of the sovereignty of the nation, which is the necessary foundation for the defense of all of humanity, in opposition to imperialism. A legacy honored, remembered, and taught in Revolutionary Cuba.
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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