Sculptor Enzo Gallo Chiapardi hurriedly crafted a bust of Fidel on the night before the Caravan of Liberty reached Havana, January 8, 1959, after triumphantly crossing the island following the Rebel Army’s victory. With the same speed, upon hearing the news of the sculpture erected near the Colombia military base, Fidel ordered that it be immediately removed, to the Italian artist’s dismay.
Given such evidence, it should not have surprised us to hear the leader of the Cuban Revolution’s last wishes – announced by Raúl in Santiago de Cuba’s Antonio Maceo Plaza – that after his death, neither his name or likeness should ever be used to name any institution or public site, nor should monuments, busts, or statues in his memory ever be erected.
Even prior to this announcement, certain media had been perplexed when President Raúl Castro Ruz communicated Fidel’s death this past November 25, and reported the Comandante en Jefe’s request that his remains be cremated.
More than one international journalist asked if plazas and other public spaces would soon bear the name Fidel Castro. Speculation fueled expectations. Some even recalled that Fidel had previously opposed honoring leaders with statues and avenues bearing their names, while they were alive.
The man who resisted the hostility of eleven U.S. administrations understood the dangers and consequences of personality cults. That is why one of the first laws adopted after the triumph of the Revolution, January 1, 1959, was an absolutely unprecedented prohibition on erecting statues of living leaders or using their names for any street, city, town, or factory… likewise ruling out official photographs of authorities in government offices.
Fidel, the statesman, talked about this law in a speech on March 13, 1966, saying, “It is not necessary to be seeing a statue on every corner, or the name of some leader on every town, all over the place. No! Because this would reveal a lack of confidence in the people on the part of leaders; this would reveal a very poor conception of the people, of the masses, as incapable of believing because of a lack of consciousness, or having confidence because of a lack of consciousness – artificially fabricating consciousness or confidence, using reflex responses.”
He referred to Karl Marx, Frederic Engels, and Vladimir I. Lenin in his remarks, saying that they never “made gods of themselves,” but rather “were humble their entire lives, until death, loath to cults,” he added.
Fidel knew the history of humanity and was clear on the role played by personality cults, without distinguishing between countries based on capitalism or socialism, ranging from Mao Tse Tung to Rafael Léonidas Trujillo, statues of whom proliferated across the Dominican Republic, where even churches were told to popularize the slogan, “Trujillo on earth, God in heaven.”
Reference texts indicate than the term “personalty cult” was first used in 1956 by Nikita Khrushchev, secretary general of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in a speech denouncing Stalin, during the 20th Congress of the organization.
In Rosenthal and Ludin’s Dictionary of Philosophy, it is defined as “blind deference to the authority of a figure, excessive consideration of real merits, the conversion of a historical figure’s name into a fetish.”
Maintaining a philosophical lens, it is not difficult to see that underlying such cults is an idealistic conception of history – as Thomas Carlyle would say – which considers the will of individuals, as opposed to the action of the masses, as the determining factor in making history, precisely as Francisco Franco would have his compatriots believe his self-proclaimed status as god’s messenger and ruler of Spain by the grace of god.
As Fidel stated in 1966, events have confirmed the Marxist precept, “It is not men, but rather peoples who write history,” while at the same time recognizing, “The revolutionary leader is necessary as an instrument of the people, necessary as an instrument of the Revolution.”
In more than one international forum, Cuban researcher and journalist Luis Toledo Sande has spared no words denouncing the allegations of a personality cult of Fidel in Cuba, noting that such accusations are coming, in fact, from countries where university degrees are granted in the name of monarchies.
Toledo, who has also studied José Martí, noted that in Cuba, for example, the names of leaders’ family members are not attached to public institutions either, no matter how charming they may be, although it is here, some allege, where a personality cult exists.
Toledo recalled, years later, that his comments were not included in the summary of the event during which they were made, due, he was told, to space limitations. Nevertheless, he has said he would have liked them to have been published, so no one might think they were excluded because he used the metaphor, “the noose in the house of the hanged man.”
The supposed personality cult of Fidel and the media campaign against Cuba are two sides of the same coin; that is both seek to discredit the leader as well as his most important work: the Revolution, in which the people play the leading role.
When Nicaraguan Tomás Borge was asked about the issue, he responded, “In a country like this one, it is very difficult for some form of absolute power to exist, because Cubans, with their idiosyncrasies, their mentality, argue everything, analyze everything; it could just as well be baseball, agriculture, politics, anything; Cubans discuss it all, they have character, a special idiosyncrasy.”
These virtues, verified in the people by Fidel, are far removed from the perspective of Plato, the first to address the elements associated with the charisma of leaders, who described the masses as ignorant and malleable, at the whim of charismatic individuals.
Leadership and political charisma, are terms which have inspired many to think:
Aristotle, Machiavelli, Weber, Freud and Bourdieu, and have been epitomized in the person who headed the Cuban state for more than 50 years and survived 638 attempts on his life, emanating basically from the entrails of the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency, looking to eliminate his example that inspired the world.
Despite such real – not mythical – greatness, his body was reduced to ashes, which have been resting, since December 4, inside a massive rock in Santiago de Cuba’s Santa Ifigenia Cemetery. The site dedicated to his memory, could well have been placed on top of Mt. Turquino, exemplifying modesty and austerity, contrary to the forecasts of detractors of the man who did not seek glory, but encountered it along his way.”
Enrique Ojito writes for Granma, where this article originally appeared.