Jose Marti, from Apostle to ‘Pret-A-Porter’ / Fernando Damaso

One of the many many José Martí statues in Cuba.

Fernando Damaso, 1 August 2020 — The preaching and thought of José Martí had their greatest diffusion in the United States, among the emigrants and the participants in the War of 1868, which they knew and shared with him. It was logical: joining forces for the new war, he tried to convince them, with his words, to join the crusade. The Cuban Revolutionary Party and the newspaper Patria were instruments that reflected his ideology.

Once the new war began and, when Martí fell in combat at its beginning, his ideas about war, independence and the Republic to be created, remained in the power of his closest collaborators, without becoming part of the ideology of most of the combatants, both officers and simple soldiers.

Thus, in the Mambi camps and in the heat of the fighting, the opinions and positions of the military leaders to whom they were subordinated prevailed, such as Gómez, the Maceo, Masó, Calixto García and others.

With the advent of the Republic in 1902, the principal protagonists disappeared, leaving only as main figures Máximo Gómez and Calixto García. Within a very short time, the Martí ideology is lost, as an active element in the political work. With the disappearance of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, by will expressed in its statutes, politics is settled between liberals and conservatives, with figures of the second and third rank.

Martí remained practically forgotten until 1920, when he began to be taken up by those born with the Republic, who began to reach adulthood, the so-called “generation of 25”, moving from culture to politics.

His ideas, mixed with the nationalism of the Mexican Revolution, the nascent anti-imperialism and socialist concepts, imported from the Russian Revolution, are present in the fight against Gerardo Machado and in the discussions of the first moments, after 1933.

Helping this was the appearance of books on his ideology and his life, which make him a respectable figure among young people, plus the opinion of Martí faithful who, with their preaching, show the differences between the real Republic and the ideal Republic.

In 1922, Congress decreed January 28, the date of his birth, as a national holiday, and it establishes that each Cuban school has his bust. Each municipality on the island was also required to designate “one of its main streets with the name of José Martí”, as well as to dedicate “a statue, a bust, an obelisk, a commemorative column, a plaque to the memory of the Apostle of bronze or marble in the most prominent public place.” In other words, Martí began to be vindicated in marble and bronze, in addition to spreading his ideas.

After 1933, the Cuban Revolutionary Party was created, adding the word “Authentic” to its name, pretending to be a continuation of the one organized by Martí in the 19th century. Nothing was more alien to reality, in its later practice.

Martí, at this time, begins to be used by both politicians, according to their interests, taking his thoughts out of context, depending on their mobilizing effectiveness. This brings about their demagogic manipulation. However, his ideology, as an unfinished task, remains in the minds and hearts of many Cubans. It makes an appearance, as a protective shadow, in the constituents of 1939 and during the drafting of the important Constitution of 1940.

Governments, from 1940 to 1958, remembered Martí on national dates, for editions of banknotes, stamps and by erecting new and greater monuments to him.

From the side of the opposition, he was increasingly brought in and incorporated into the struggle, as the main endorsement of those who used it. Thus did those who fought Batista between 1940-44, Grau between 1944-48, Prío between 1948-52 and Batista, again, between 1952-58.

It is in this last stage, where Martí acquires an unusual presence: he “participates” in the march of the torches, a fascist imitation transplanted to Havana on January 28, 1953, he is the apostle of the so-called “Centennial Generation” (1953 ), the “mastermind” of the assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, “is present” in the subsequent trial, and he is the inspirer of the armed and clandestine struggle and much more.

Martí becomes the raison d’être of everything that is done, as if the acting subjects lacked ideas for it, or tried to justify all their actions, as an “implementation of Marti’s preaching.”

After January 1959, Martí was divided into two halves: one part in exile along with the Cubans who emigrated, and the other stayed here. The use of Martí occurs on both shores.

Here it becomes overwhelming and becomes something out of the ordinary, breaking the limits of sanity, producing its most rude manipulation. An example: the questioned Schools in the Countryside, according to the new authorities, “constitute the application of Marti’s conception of study and work”, something totally false, since his approach in one of his writings, was taken from his experience in the United States.

 He was referring to a city he visited, where the main source of work was the railroad, and he drew the conclusion that, in this case, it would be convenient for schools, in addition to teaching academic subjects, should teach classes on railway trades. He also referred to a rural area, with schools teaching classes that had to do with agriculture, and so on. He never raised the absurdity that all urban schools had to move to the countryside and vice versa!

As of April 1961, with the declaration of the socialist character of the process, the ideology of Martí is replaced by that of Marx, Engels and Lenin, establishing massive indoctrination from kindergarten to university, as well as of the entire population. Red flags with hammer and sickle, the International and the old slogans of the world’s left fill the days of Cubans, like a circus show, in the absence of the bread that was already beginning to run out.

Sometimes more, sometimes less, according to convenience, Martí has been manipulated, disfigured, accommodated and overused, creating in many young people, and the not so young, a rejection of this alienating and absurd preaching.

The climax came with the phrase: “Martí promised what he promised and Fidel kept it for you,” and with the assertion that, the character of yore, “was his best disciple and the most faithful interpreter of his ideas.” Then Fidel went even further, placing his ashes near his grave.

A detoxification process for this false Martí is necessary, to take back his ideology and his real figure in its proper measure, without pretending to deify him or consider him the possessor of all the truths and solutions for all times. Martí must be the one to advance and stumble upon us, but he cannot replace us.