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Fidel's Short-lived Humanism

(fom Servando Gonzalez, The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol. Spook Books: Oakland, California, 2001. pp. 248-249)

During his visit to the U.S. in April, 1959, Castro was very careful to disassociate himself from communism, to which he opposed a foggy doctrine he called "humanism." At a press conference held on April 20 at the National Press Club in Washington, he said: "We are against all kinds of dictatorships, whether of a man, or of a country, or a class, or an oligarchy, or by the military. That is why we are against communism." Then, during a speech in New York on April 24, Castro, while continuing with his anti-Communist line, suddenly came up with a totally new idea: "Neither bread without liberty, nor liberty without bread; neither dictatorships of man nor classes; the government of the people without oligarchies; liberty with bread and without terror: that is humanism."

A few days later, talking to American congressmen in the Senate Foreign relations Committee, a relaxed, amiable and assured Castro declared: "The 26th of July Movement is not a Communist movement. Its members are Roman Catholics mostly." Answering questions from newspaper reporters Castro stated that neither he nor his brother Raúl nor Raúl's wife was a Communist and that if there were any Communists in his government, and he knew of none, they had no influence. When questioned on his stand in the Cold War, he said that his heart was with the West. Cuba, he said, would honor its membership in the Rio Treaty of 1947, by which 18 Latin American countries and the United States pledged themselves to defend any state in the Western hemisphere against aggression. Back at home, the Cuban Communists understandably became quite nervous.
Just after his visit to the U.S., when Fidel was paying an official visit to Canada, he said in a speech in Montreal, "We believe that there should not be bread without liberty, but neither should there be liberty without bread. We call that humanism."

Castro had never tried to give his M-26-7 a distinctive doctrine or ideology, therefore he took even his closest associates by surprise when he suddenly began talking about this doctrine called humanism. Though Castro never expanded on the subject, for him, "humanism" seemed to be a kind of third way; an alternative to both communism and capitalism.

After Castro's speeches in the United States and Canada with references to his new "humanist" doctrine, some members of the M-26-7 hurriedly began parroting the new slogan, brandishing it against the Communists. The PSP finally decided to fight back and Aníbal Escalante, one of the party ideologues, criticized Castro's "humanism," labelling "ideological confusion." It was the second time Escalante criticized Fidel for his ideological confusion. But soon after his trip to the U.S., Fidel stopped talking about "humanism" and the term was never used again. Fidel's "humanist" phase-apparently surged, like most of his plans, on the spur of the moment-had a short life-span of about three months.

Some scholars have tried to find out the source for Castro's short-lived humanist phase, but with no success. It seems that Fidel's humanism had nothing in common with secular humanist philosophy, nor with the Socialist Humanism doctrine developed by some Marxist philosophers, like Louis Althusser. Likewise, there is no evidence that Castro's humanism was inspired by the ideas of Jacques Maritain, a French Liberal Catholic philosopher who, in the 1930s, wrote Integral Humanism, a very influential book on the long history of humanism.

Some people have mentioned the possibility that when Castro mentioned 'humanism' he had in mind a so-called "humanist movement" that appeared in Cuba in the mid-fifties founded by Rubén Darío Rumbaut, a well-known Cuban psychiatrist and intellectual. This movement had its origins as an offshoot of the Catholic left apparently paving the way for a Cuban Christian Democratic Party. But the "humanist movement" never had any political importance, and soon disappeared from the Cuban political panorama. Nobody knows if Castro's "humanism" was inspired by Rumbaut's humanist movement, though Rumbaut recalls that, after Castro left prison in May, 1955, Castro visited him to talk about humanism.

Anybody trying to find a rational connection between any of Castro's claims of ideological commitment and any particular ideology is bound to have a difficult time. Having been endowed with an amazing photographic memory, Castro's mind works like a Xerox machine gone berserk, creating instant collages of bits and pieces which if examined separately are fully realistic, but when seen together as a whole create a totally surrealistic picture.




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