14ymedio, Ariel Hidalgo, Miami, 20 September 2021 — When José Martí was preparing Cuba’s war of national liberation from exile, he wrote in the newspaper Patria that the objective was not a change of clothes, but “a change of soul.” It could be understood that the root of the problem did not consist of transforming institutions, not excluding economic relations here, but a change of consciousness and, in this case, a much deeper and more generalized consciousness than would have been a class consciousness like the one that Marx advocated.
This was probably related to what Martí expressed in his article about the act carried out in New York in honor of Marx posthumously, where, after praising him, he added this criticism: “But he walked quickly and somewhat in the shadows, without seeing that children who have not had a natural and laborious gestation are not born viable, neither from the bosom of the people in history, nor from the bosom of a woman in the home.”
Martí, more influenced by Emerson and the American transcendentalists, did not see the class struggle, and violence in general, as the appropriate way for the triumph of social justice. For him the important thing was not the number of weapons in hands, but “the number of stars on the forehead,” from which it is understood that a patient struggle was required to generate that consciousness that was not class, but transcended the social classes towards a civic conscience of the entire population. “Trenches of ideas are worth more than trenches of stone,” he said.
Thus, the only revolution that could bring about the rights and freedoms of a people was the one carried out in the human spirit.
Political prisoners who individually had become aware of rights that are inherent to human nature were not afraid to speak out their thoughts. They were even freer behind the bars than the jailers who guarded them. When a State Security captain threatened me with a new charge for a “subversive” manuscript that they had found in my cell during a search, I replied: “Well, when you understand its pertinence, send for me to sign the papers.” And when he warned me that if they found an anti-government leaflet out there they would come looking for me, I told him: “If it isn’t signed by me, don’t bother, because I sign everything I write.”
To use violence to overthrow communist regimes is to confront it in a field that those regimes know all too well. All the violent attempts against the totalitarian regime imposed in Cuba were defeated. But when half a dozen political prisoners created a group that instead of violence denounced human rights violations along with other peaceful actions, that was the starting point of a non-violent movement that grew and spread throughout the country and that could never be defeated, because the regime had prepared to counter any violent opposition, but not a peaceful struggle.
Curiously, of the six of us, two had been professors of Marxism, and another two came from the ranks of the old communist party, the Popular Socialist Party (PSP). Little by little we came to understand that more than denouncing international public opinion, our most important mission was to create an awareness in the population of their rights. It was a patient process that in reality turned out to be a long and tortuous path of almost forty years from which only the two professors of that small founding nucleus survived. But it was very necessary because it required, as in Martí’s criticism of Marx, “a natural and laborious gestation.”
In the first days of 2021, we both wrote an open letter to the Government alerting it of what was coming so that it could make the radical changes that could prevent that imminent social explosion, but they did not want to listen. And when the people finally took to the streets on July 11, the behavior of those massive demonstrations that took place in dozens of cities in the country was peaceful, unlike the social explosions in other Latin American countries.
The violence was later initiated by the regime with ruthless repression. But Cuba could no longer be the same, because finally the people had awakened and had become aware of their destiny. And this is a more important conquest, even, than the possible collapse of the dictatorship, because it is a conquest for all time. That people did not take to the streets because a caudillo ordered it to. No leader led it.
Remember how this dictatorship was imposed. The leader was applauded, they compared him to Christ, and in fact many took down the images of Galileo from the walls to place their own. Many people offered him their homes: “Fidel, this is your house.” When someone expressed their mistrust, they said to themselves: “If Fidel is a communist, put me on the list.”
And in the tumultuous mobs they called out for “to the wall” [execution] for their adversaries. If it is idolized, if an idol is raised to an altar, from there our destiny will rule with an iron fist. The Cuban people, with their cries for freedom and “Patria y Vida” [Homeland and Life], have just brought down from that altar all those who today have tried to establish themselves as supreme sovereign.
None of the Eastern European countries that escaped this totalitarian dictatorship had a history of civic struggle as long as Cuba’s, and consequently as fruitful for the collective consciousness of its people. Even from the brutal response of the repressive forces we have accumulated valuable experiences.
Threats, gags, and jailings don’t matter. A people who are not afraid to say what they think and who act not as unjust laws dictate but as their own conscience dictates, is already, in fact, free.
Because freedom is not granted by governments, nor by laws, not even, in the end, by bars and chains, but by the will to be free in thought, in words and in actions. The rest will follow.
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