Friday, 22 February 2008

Cuba: Farewell Fidel, Farewell Commandant

Cuba: Farewell Fidel, Farewell Commandant

THIS week we witnessed a momentous development, one quite poignant to me personally. Let me confess, I have a soft spot for Cuba, Cuban Revolution and Cuban Leadership. A real soft spot. I have devoured literature on the Cuban revolution as if there is no tomorrow. Within that broad read, I have traced striking strands, which coalesce to make what is known as the Cuban Revolution. You are struck by the sheer depth of that revolution, the sheer numbers of historical personages which that Revolution yielded, all of them individuals of consequence in their own right.

Each life in that struggle is an admirable lesson in struggle. I am talking of other personages drawing from the Revolution, other than Fidel Castro and the late Che Guevara. Even Sierra Maestra, itself a mere mountain range, gets animated, indeed becomes a guerrilla fighter, so trenchantly opposed to America’s Batista. Its dense vegetation, its bitter cold, its awesome ravines, its swift streams, its falsely serene and dozing but deadly sloughs, all these became part of the arsenal of the Cuban Revolution. The story starts variously for different readers. I chose the leaky Granma —that small wretch of a boat into which Castro, his few men, fewer victuals and fewest guns, flung their intertwined and inseparable fates. It was a dark odyssey, one rendered madder by the sheer enormity of its hemispheric goal. That wretched collective sought to topple an American-backed dictatorship!

Saved by an assassin

I found quite riveting Che’s account of an encounter in Sierra one night. The column, which Fidel led, had been infiltrated. One they took to be of their own, had been sent to eliminate Castro in order to stop the revolution. On this very cold night, blankets were too short to go round. Fortuitously, among those who could not cover their shaking limbs was the traitor. In a show of camaraderie, Castro elected to share his wafer-thin blanket with this agent and turncoat who was fully kitted for a remarkable assassin. What saved Castro was not training. It was the sheer enormity of his imposing personality, which simply sapped the assassin’s urge to kill. Che’s description of the hindsight fear is so forceful that you relive the moment.

Has he left, has he departed?

This week Castro formally resigned as Head of State of Cuba, and conjecture is that his brother Raul, will take over. It has been a drawn out succession, one America would have wanted to destabilise through sponsored rumours. Little does George Bush know that from 1959 when revolutionary Cuba was founded, to this day, Cuba has exhausted all its tricks in America’s psych-op bag. We are talking here of a mature revolution, indeed one with depth. Still unrelenting America wants to know whether Fidel’s departure means he has left.

It is a very stupid enquiry by an unthinking bully. Just how does a revolution depart or leave? It is the same folly we see here with their obsession with whether or not Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe, has had another good morning, a long 84 years after. Castro can never leave; he only takes a walk. Such a tremendous character made all the more heroic by whose enemy he has been, cannot possibly die in Cuba when he lives so well on America’s campuses and psyches. If America wants to know whether Castro has left, let them go to the John Kennedy School of Government and read what is on her children’s T-shirts. The Commandant lives!

Defending the revolution

But I have personal encounters with this iconic figure. On at least four occasions, starting with our NAM of 1987. The latest was a mere two years back. The Commandant walked with a limp; often looked wizened and lost. Then his intellect would just burst into an avalanche of very penetrating questions, all of them demanding encyclopaedic detail. His intellect rang against yours, and you wilted. He would want to know the output of each mineral; the earnings from each, know how many listeners’ radios there were in Zimbabwe, and where? You fumbled, you stammered.

He was so tolerant; he would suffer your little knowledge and vain attempt to stretch it or make up for it through volume and verbosity. At the end of it all, he got to me, this giant man of Cuba, leered and softly warned: "Young man, the defence of the revolution is in your hands. A revolution communicates and is always in the home of the people, talking to them." The advice rings deafening every day, and everyday ndinokakama. Farewell Commandant and well-deserved rest before your next revolutionary bustle.

Just this one question please!

But before I leave you Commandant, answer me this short one. Someday in April 1965, Major Che Guevara disappeared, the public knew not for where. There was intense speculation, including that you had killed your comrade-in-arms. No doubt the last interpretation had an American patent to it, all designed to destabilise your Cuba. You held your silence for a very long while, amidst all these searing rumours. Then you decided — on October 3, 1965 — to break that silence at a public square in the presence of Aleida, Guevara’s wife fated to be widowed a mere two years later.

You produced a piece of letter that turned out to be epistle of a decisive moment in world history. Its most striking part read: "I feel that I have fulfilled that part of my duty that tied me to the Cuban revolution in its territory and I say good-bye to you, to our comrades, to your people, who are my people. I formally resign from my responsibilities in the leadership of the Party, my post as Minister, my rank as Major, my Cuban citizenship. I have no legal ties to Cuba, only ties of another sort — ties which cannot be given up as appointments to office can."

Here is my last embrace.

The writer was the legendary Che, your comrade-in-arms, the Argentinean who became a Cuban through struggle. Apart from this letter to you, Ernesto had also written his mother and father, in part stressing "In essence, nothing has changed, except that I am much more aware. My Marxism is firmly rooted and purified. I believe in the armed struggle as the only solution for the peoples who are struggling for their freedom and I act in accordance with my beliefs.

Many would call me an adventurer, and I am one; only of a different sort, one of those that risks his skin to demonstrate what he believes to be true. This may be the end. I do not seek it, but it is in my calculus of probabilities. If that is the way it turns out, here is my last embrace. I loved you very much, only I didn’t know how to express my affection…." Two years later at Valle Grande, Bolivia, at exactly 1:40pm on October 9, Warrant Officer Mario Teran, having hesitated once, took a few steps forward to where Che lay, injured in a dilapidated rural classroom.

He pulled the infamous trigger of his American M-2 rifle, and fired. In moments, Che slipped "from a legend to a myth". Commandant, you used an epistle as a vehicle for announcing your resignation. Deliberately or otherwise, you throw memories back to Che, leaving many wondering what is it about Cuban politics and the letter form? But that is not my question to you Comrade. If you were to write a valediction to your comrades in the world — to Southern African comrades with whom you fought and won wars — what would you say to them? When will I receive it, Fidel?

Memories of Amilcar Cabral

There is no better way of paying homage to Fidel than to recall another revolutionary, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau and of PAIGC. This late revolutionary — again slain by forces linked to America — is in league with the likes of Nkrumah and Fanon, in developing a framework for Africa’s unfolding revolution. I choose to highlight his thoughts shared with the rest of the world in January 1966 at the first Tricontinental Conference of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America held in Havana and graced by Fidel.

In his paper entitled "The weapon of Theory", Cabral challenges and broadens parameters of Marxist theory on class struggle, particularly its idolisation and fascination with the working class. Challenging the Marxist belief that history only starts moving once given modes of production create and differentiate classes, Cabral counter-argues that such a view suggests Africa which is largely a peasant continent under classical colonial foreign domination, would thus pass for terra incognita, a dark continent existing outside history. In place of this theory, he advances an alternative, founded on accent on how racist colonial strictures do fetter national forces of production and ownership structure in a way that turns a whole nation, a whole people, into a national working class.

Illustratively, under restrictive colonialism, the search to meet bodily needs and satisfaction often gets an African elite on collision course with the colonial authorities who may not want African competition in certain economic areas or activities. In the long run, such embittered Africans circumstantially placed next to their white masters, will begin to challenge those barriers until they begin to realise that the main source of these barriers is in fact colonialism itself. That way, the struggle for decolonisation begins, usually led by an African elite nearest to colonial governors and thus feeling discrimination and such barriers keenest.

A serving class

And because they are a serving elite in the employ of colonial governments, their aspirations do not get down to challenging the economic foundations of the colonial superstructure. And since they do not own or control the wealth of their countries under colonial occupation, Cabral calls them "a local pseudo-bourgeoisie" happy to play heir to colonial governors in order to manage government for the edification of foreign capital which continues to dominate the mode of production, it being the sole force of production.

To the extent that the forces of production will not have been liberated to allow indigenous people to participate and dominate, the political arrangement resulting from this is a neo-colonial one. From this important observation, Cabral draws a sharp distinction between decolonising a country from classical foreign domination, and liberating a country’s national productive forces through change in the ownership structure of the economy in favour of indigenes. The inability to make this crucial distinction is, according to Cabral, one important pitfall of the African revolution. Such a pitfall is what gets the pseudo-bourgeoisie to limit the scope of decolonisation to being mere governors for the ruling class of the erstwhile colonial power, now relocated from the political structure to a more recondite level of the economy. Any national liberation movement "which does not take into consideration this basis and this objective may certainly struggle against imperialism, but will surely not be struggling for national liberation," concludes Cabral, declaring "the principal aspect of national liberation struggle is the struggle against neo-colonialism."

Committing class suicide

The pseudo-bourgeois class satisfied with a neo-colonial outcome, added Cabral, is averse "to the destruction of the capitalist structure implanted in the national territory by imperialism." Instead, it is wedded to the doctrine of foreign investment, aid and attracting other forms of preferences from the imperial world, including helping international finance capital mould what he termed "a privileged proletariat" which lowers the revolutionary level of the working class.

Within that set up, tribalism comes as an opportunistic quest for legitimacy by what in fact is a de-tribalised servile class running political power on behalf of foreign capital. Yet this is the only class able to lead the African revolution, accepts Cabral, identifying this is another pitfall of the African revolution. Pitfall because the same pseudo-bourgeoisie still has to be eliminated to allow for national liberation to be attained. And such an end-state needs the national pseudo-bourgeoisie who are inspired by "patriotic sentiments" and thus able to "faithfully interpret the aspirations of the masses in each phase of the struggle" to identify more and more with them.

Only through such a people-centred revolution guided by "revolutionary consciousness" can this service class begin to grasp genuine political power supported by economic access and control, in order to emerge as a national bourgeoisie. This is what Cabral calls "class suicide", without which a revolution is betrayed. He concludes by loading everything on the quality and capacity of the leader of the national liberation struggle "to remain faithful to the principles and fundamental cause of the struggle."

Incarnates of social tendencies

I am sure the gentle reader is wondering the import of all this regurgitation. Well, simply to place a theoretical perspective to the politics that are upon us.

We face a decisive poll and one can only agree wholly with George Shire’s piece in yesterday’s Herald. Let it not be forgotten that both MDCs and their latest recruit, Simba Makoni and the political phenomenon he incarnates, comprise individuals who were in the struggle or at the very least, who supported it. All this is lost in a shallow journalistic terminology of "factions" which suggests superficial divisions founded on personalities and idiosyncratic proclivities.

Not much thought is given to the social foundation and tendencies, which these individuals personify. As I have always said, it need not be Morgan Tsvangirai, Arthur Mutambara, Jonathan Moyo or Simba Makoni. It could have been anyone else. But what is an objective external necessity is both our colonial background and continued British and other western economic interests here which require a certain political arrangement to feel safe and secure.

This is the determinant, and one, which takes advantage of the internal characteristics of both the Zimbabwean society and Zanu-PF, to dock the politics which secure these interests. What we are terming "factions", "internal reformists" or "kingmakers", are part of these internal characteristics now articulated to the objective external dynamic which is shaping our quest for national liberation.

Decolonisation vs national liberation

And for this phase in the struggle, it does not matter that you fired a gun at Altena, Hwange or Mutiusinazita, all to end classical colonial rule. What matters is whether or not you are imbued with revolutionary national consciousness to know that decolonisation and national liberation, while usually consecutive, are not quite the same. Those that decolonised can and do in fact end up legitimising and defending the continued enslavement of their people by participating in a neo-colonial arrangement which inhibit the development of national productive forces.

We have seen this all over Africa, classically in Kenya. And of course a class which seeks such an arrangement and outcome, will always draw from the anti-colonial struggle for legitimacy, including counting its battles in the war of national decolonisation which it often conflates with national liberation struggle. Clearly the latter is wider, larger than the anti-colonial struggle which is quite important in its own right, but as a stage towards national liberation. While white Rhodesians were uncomfortable with black rule, imperialism was not. Black rule need not necessarily contradict imperialist interests. There is thus nothing unfathomable about figures from the struggle joining hands with the British and Americans.

The trouble with Robert Mugabe

What brings discomfort to imperialism is the evolution of politics of national liberation aimed at freeing national productive forces, thereby creating a national bourgeoisie. Such politics will have become nationalism gone too far, in fact a revolution. The trouble with President Mugabe lies in the fact that after winning the decolonisation war, he has not rested, as he should have. He has chosen to work on the seventh day, instead of stopping to admire his creation, and then rest, like Our Good Lord did on Sunday (depending on when you begin the count).

Nkrumah was stopped; Kenyatta rested; Khama carefully rested; Kaunda slowed down; Mandela smiled and reassured the white world with the aesthetic peace of the rainbow. But Mugabe is wistful and restless. And at 84 too when imperialism expects him to seek peace and stability, in the comfort of a neo-colonial status quo! He seeks national liberation. He has since taken the land and has given it to his black brood. Now he peeps beneath the top soil, to want to see and claim what lies underneath. Haa-a! He wants 51 percent in Platinum and all that is in the "ribs" of that part of the "territory which is ours".

Apoka apo! He is the erstwhile national pseudo-bourgeoisie who is now inspired by "the patriotic sentiment", who has organically connected with the peasantry to push the frontiers of national liberation. Hence his continued insistence on "defending the land and national sovereignty", and on "building prosperity through indigenisation". Indigenisation is the ideological shorthand for freeing national productive forces all along fettered by the neo-colonial arrangement. They do not like it, which is why they create political foils for him.

Refining crude Rhodesia

Let us face it, pre-2005 MDC was white Rhodesia’s crude way of stopping Mugabe’s incipient national liberation project, before Europe and America had grasped its full import. Tsvangirai’s beginnings are in remnant racist white Rhodesia, with its crude and unsophisticated politics we saw between 2000 and 2003. As land reforms went beyond meeting limited land need among Africans, to full decolonisation of a national asset, imperialism became alarmed, with Ian Smith righteously writing about a second "great betrayal".

Slowly but inexorably, what began as a response by the irrational Rhodesian racists, widened to become generalised western opposition and resistance. Mugabe had gone too far, well beyond what Europe was prepared to suffer. Sanctions and a whole battery of measures manifested this alarm, one made worse by proximity to strategic South Africa, where a political overspill is dreaded. He should have just got land for a few elites to make the Rhodesia’s racial land club a bit multiracial and thus legitimate. This is what Makoni seeks; this is what assures Britain.

Tsvangirai was too crude to carry Europe’s nuances. Which is why his outright rejection of land reforms while quite welcome within the unsophisticated Rhodesians, was a disaster for Europe and America and the politics they sought to inaugurate against Mugabe. The split within the MDC was the high-point in the mutation of a more refined imperialist response to Mugabe’s project. Tsvangirai became the proverbial old coat to this mighty serpent, one that had to be sloughed off for something new and sophisticated.

Brown’s ideal independent

Enter Makoni. Simba personifies an upgrade in the imperialist strategy against Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Bedecked by epaulettes of war heroes, he at once personifies the pseudo-bourgeois element in the decolonisation project which has no spine for a longer struggle for national liberation, and imperialism’s investment in a native class well positioned as heir to colonial governance. Simba can give you two flags quite credibly: one from Leeds, another from the Zanu of Maputo. When he melds both, he becomes Brown’s ideal "Independent".

The one makes him qualified for a management post in a neo-colonial outcome; the other gives him the legitimacy to pacify and contain the forces of liberation under such an arrangement. He is quoted as recently telling an American diplomat that those in Zanu-PF who back him are both corrupt and ignorant, adding once he gets to power, he will shake and bump them off to prison. It is a very revealing naivete. I suppose Jonathan Moyo has learnt the hard way that the Makoni project does not need brittle thinkers. He seems out, and bitterly so. I suppose we have also noticed that the title of "Independent" was for Simba a time-honoured political non deplume meant to assuage the shock of his summersault into the MDC camp.

Pay the right price

Yes, for once the Zimbabwe Independent has got it right on this Presidential Independent; has briefed correctly by the bitter Jonathan who is feeding all sides, including Zanu-PF. I don’t know what that makes him, which he has not been before. But he is right. Tsvangirai is under tremendous pressure to give way and hand over. To Makoni of course so the reunion of the MDC is secured before polling day. Simba’s title as an "Independent" was meant to make the British project approachable to all: MDC Mutambara, MDC Tsvangirai, renegade Zanu-PF and NGOs.

Madhuku will have to shape up or ship out. His assignment is to deliver the NGO sector and his irreverent remarks against Makoni did not advance that. On polling day, the British, the Americans, the Germans, the Americans want one candidate who mops up all opposition votes. Tsvangirai is breaking and says he will agree "for a right price". And "right price" is what is being discussed now. Is it money price? Is it political price? Is it both? Indeed, a price is deserved, for there is an enclave within the Tsvangirai group so opposed to any merger with Makoni. That means when Makoni gets soundly beaten, Tsvangirai will not be able to come back to anything at all. That will be his end. He will have been a fool to have slid into oblivion on nothing. But then fools abound.

Murawo wetsvubvu

Chamisa must be very careful. At this rate he must be. Advice to him comes free. Let him keep quiet. Let him start packing: T-shirt by T-shirt, short by short, stokononzi by stokononzi, so that when his time to leave for Stanford University comes, he goes away peacefully. His childish calculation that he can play firebrand for his party, making reckless comments relating to a Kenya he never knows, will someday fill and distend his stomach, to great discomfort. I am sure he once was a herd-boy. If you want to enjoy the call of nature, avoid swallowing tsvungurubwe dzetsvubvu.

Once in the stomach, they wont to borrow bodily waters, before swelling disproportionately. As you seek to push them out, they compete for the small orifice, as if all along unhappy to have been hosted by the abundant and generous stomach of such filling care. It can be excruciating. But hark, did anyone see MDC factions’ joint statement on Sadc Dialogue and the coverage attributed to Biti and Ncube? BBC quoted Biti as saying "We hope that after the elections we will be able to sit down again as a united opposition." In case you did not know who the victor will be!



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