Vas Bien, Fidel.
In 1999, LeftWord Books – only a few months old – decided that one of our early titles must be from Fidel Castro. Castro had delivered two speeches that year, one at the University of Venezuela and the other at a conference on culture and development in Havana. These were incredible speeches – vintage Castro – laying out his assessment of the world through the experiences of Cuba and through the emergence of what he called ‘imperialist globalisation’. One of the key elements of Castro’s speeches is that these are teaching tools – a magnificent opportunity, he felt, to run a master class in ideas of economics, politics, and culture. This is precisely what the two lectures do – they lay out his vision of the present, grounded in his understanding of the past, and offer a glimpse into potential futures. We published the two essays in a book we called ‘On Imperialist Globalisation’. The book remains popular, and has never been out of print.
Sudhanva Deshpande, LeftWord’s Managing Editor, took a copy of the book to the Cuban ambassador to India. He ‘was so thrilled at our cover design and production values’, Sudhanva remembers, ‘that he promised to deliver a copy to the man himself. The next time I met him, he said that not only did Fidel receive the copy, but he was also delighted at the cover, and particularly when he was told that it was a Communist press’.
The book is part of a long history of material and moral solidarity between the Indian Communist movement and the Cuban Revolution. After 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Cuba lost its main supplier of foodstuffs and fuel and it main buyer of sugar. This opened up the Special Period, a time of great sacrifice. At that time, the CPI-M and the CPI decided to defy the US-imposed blockade and send wheat and rice to the island. A massive nation-wide campaign raised 10,000 tonnes of wheat and 10,000 tonnes of rice, all of which was carried from Calcutta’s port on the Caribbean Princess to Havana. Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet travelled to Havana to deliver the immense fruit of the Indian peasantry and workers. For this, Castro called him ‘Bread Man’. The food was not the only gift in the shipment. Tucked away in it was the work of Comrade Gulab Singh, a CPI-M state leader from Uttar Pradesh. He sent green military fatigues stitched at Delhi Cantonment for Fidel. Our volume of Fidel’s speeches comes in that tradition.
The death of Fidel Castro does not come as a surprise. He was 90 and had been ailing over the past decade. This did not stop him from observing world events and writing about them in Granma. In 2009, ten years after his first book with us, we published The Gigantic Casino: Reflections on the World Financial Crisis, a collection of his short essays over the decade.
When we published that book, Aijaz Ahmad wrote, ‘Fidel is undoubtedly the most visionary and audacious among revolutionaries of our age but also a hard-boiled realist, devoted to detail and precision’. This about sums up how we feel about Fidel.
We hope to bring out a volume – in time – of the Fidel’s later writings and speeches. For now, we wanted to share two essays on Fidel written by our Managing Director Prakash Karat and our Chief Editor Vijay Prashad.
Karat’s essay, published in Rediff, shows how Fidel ‘for people of my generation’ – as he puts it – ‘was the embodiment of revolution’. First seeing Fidel in 1978 at the World Youth Festival in Havana, he recalls the ‘thrill that ran through the assembled participants’ who enjoyed his unannounced visit to Lenin Park. What was most significant about Castro himself, Karat writes, ‘was a revolutionary who used Marxism creatively. He applied Marxism to the concrete conditions of an underdeveloped country, drew on its national-cultural resources and pioneered a path to Socialism which had an enormous impact on the Third World’.
On the issue of his impact on the Third World, in The Hindu, Prashad writes of Fidel being the ‘voice of the Third World’. Prashad recalls how Castro spoke at multilateral forums where he was greeted like a ‘folk hero’, but that his policy suggestions were set aside. Fidel’s views evoked in the leaders of the Third World their own suppressed pasts, histories of anti-colonialism that had been squandered to what Fidel called the idol of the market. Fidel for the Third World, he writes, ‘was not merely another leader. He was the mirror of its aspirations. That mirror is now shattered’.
When Fidel addressed the vast crowd in Havana in January 1959, he turned to his closest comrade Camilo Cienfuegos and asked, ¿Voy bien, Camilo? [Am I doing fine, Camilo?]. Camilo, who died tragically in a plane crash a few months later, responded, Vas bien, Fidel [you’re doing fine Fidel]. From us at LeftWord Books as well, vas bien, Fidel.