Celia Hart on Anniversary of the October Revolution

On November 7: Fidel and Chávez Are Together, and in Red

This article by Cuban revolutionary Celia Hart, daughter of revolutionary leaders Haydée Santamaria and Armando Hart, was translated by W.T. Whitney from the Spanish original.

On November 7 I like to visit Lenin Hill in Regla. Regla is a little seafaring town that is part of Havana. You have to cross the bay to get there. The Virgin of Regla is the patron saint of the city. So she flirts when we get there, receiving us with her blue dress on, and she tells us that her baseball team, the Industriales, are going to be on top this coming season.

Lenin is farther up the hill. In 1924 a Communist mayor decided to build a monument as a handsome Cuban tribute to the leader of the workers. I think it was the first one dedicated to Lenin outside the USSR. I insist that nationhood in Cuba is trimmed with these touches of love that come from a new internationalism. Blessed are my fellow countrymen of Regla! These days, especially after November 2 [the U.S. elections], Lenin and the Black Virgin will have been talking a lot—she, fearful of what’s going to happen to the Cubans and the world’s poor people; and he, worried about whether or not the Communists can beat back this last bit of enemy scoring.

You buy flowers for November 7 in front of the church. The beautiful Virgin always saves the freshest ones for her comrade up on the hill. No one believes this compañera has any interest in pathetic verbiage from Rome or in a Polish guy clutching at a cross. And that one has nothing in any way to do with the spirit of that Palestinian who died at the hands of the first Zionists for standing up for the poor people of the world. No, without question the Caribbean Virgin blesses those hundreds of children who, here in their homeland, are going to live full lives, and the old people too who aren’t condemned to deaths from starvation.

One looks from the hill down on the port. More than ten years ago, with one stroke of a pen, the presumptive heirs of the man on the hill decided they no longer needed to help Cuba, or the Virgin of Regla, or the children, or the old people. In the name of liberty they decided to turn themselves over to imperialism. Their sense of purpose failed them.

My own people not only saved themselves, with their virgins and everything else, but Cuba also saved the honor of the October revolution. And during those hard years under “Socialism or Death,” there were Europeans who regarded this little island as a zone of safety.

That’s why Cuba today puts on the certifiably best celebration of the world Communist movement. No, that’s not from any words put out by his Excellency, the Russian ambassador in Cuba. That guy wouldn’t even know how to talk about the October revolution. He does better talking about the history of the tsars and the Orthodox Church, never about the Bolshevik Revolution, or the banner of the proletariat. They took the red flag down from that embassy. As for myself, I think that’s the color you need for a real celebration. If there is any banner that is too much on a November 7, it’s the flag of the Russian Republic. They took down the Communist flag everywhere, or to be precise, everywhere except Coyoacán, where Leon Trotsky keeps watch.

The anniversary of the October revolution is celebrated in Havana by the Council of State and the ministries. In the middle of the night on November 6, Commandante Chávez decided to pay a call on his injured colleague. Right then and there, eight hours and a single embrace were merged into a one-second time frame of the world revolution. Just then Lenin was back with his voice to take hold of the working class and the Red Army came back to shake up the world. Its fabled chieftain also took part in that embrace. 126 years may have passed, but the red flag of Coyoacán is flying high, wings spread wide, over this spectacle of the world’s two foremost revolutionaries together again. A tiny glimmer of hope emanates from that embrace that gives the lie to what happened this past November 2.

It happened this way: Hugo Chávez appeared in the doorway as fresh as the sea itself. He had a pale shirt on and beach shoes for indoors. That coloring set off the intense bronze color of his skin. With an ample smile and steady eyes he is endowed with a unique beauty. He gave a military salute with his right hand. He walked slowly toward one particular place. Smiling and moving his head from side to side, he made a familiar gesture. Smiling changed into an outright laugh. He went to the place where Fidel had to stay sitting, because of serious injuries to his knee and right arm from October 20. Fidel saluted his compañero with his left hand—the one he prefers! Chávez drew close and leaned over with two hands on the legendary guerrilla fighter’s shoulders and repeated the familiar “You’re looking great, Fidel, really great.” And he was! With his leg stretched out and his arm in a splint, his whole being gave off an aura of overflowing happiness that seemed to come from within. But something was different with Fidel. For a moment I didn’t understand. Fidel was not in his usual green. Fidel was in red!

It was an intense red that projected out to the stars the optimism he felt at the sight of his young comrade. Why was he in red? It’s the color of the Bolivarian Revolution, which had achieved another popular victory on October 31. By chance it’s the color too of the world revolution and the color of the October revolution. As Fidel explained to Chávez, by wearing that color, he and all of us had taken part in the elections of October 31, and we came out victorious.

Without a doubt those elections deepened the meaning of the August 15 vote. Chávez had made no hidden agreements, he didn’t deceive anybody, and he didn’t have to resort to the snide kind of remarks his opponents like, nor did he have to waste hundreds of millions of dollars. His campaign, tinged as it was with red and projecting sincerity, appealed to the truth that had made Venezuela’s foremost revolutionary into a legitimate president. He recalled his allies of the past, Che, for example, whom he considered to be “a revolutionary, boundless and immortal.” In his farewell letter to Fidel, Che had said that revolution in Venezuela would tend toward being “a true one.” So too in the Bolivarian Revolution, they are going to “triumph or die.” In his victory campaign, Chávez spoke less of what Venezuela had achieved, and more about problems that had to be solved. “The fundamental problem for Venezuela is exclusion and poverty, and even more, the misery.” He unleashed an all-out war against the bureaucracy and the big landowners.

He asked each governor elected as a Chavista to convert himself into a chieftain in a struggle against big land holdings.

Venezuela is now entering a new stage. The Bolivarian Revolution has to be deepened, each day made more revolutionary, more authentic, more truthful. The structural transformation of the economy and of society is a huge challenge that is still before us”, he says. “It’s going to take more than dabbing with tepid, moist wipes to find solutions for poverty, misery, and exclusion. Simón Bolívar said it well: ‘One doesn’t cure political gangrene with palliative measures.’ I would be able also to add this: one doesn’t cure social gangrene that way either. There is only one true way that we accept and understand. From this day on, will be able to lead our people on to their full social and political liberation through a full, complete revolution. It’s a revolution that has to take on economics, that is to say, a revolution that has to be more than politics or social, but has to be deep, has to be economic. I am going to say it once: we have to leave behind that capitalist model rooted for so long here in Venezuela. It’s not possible to solve a society’s hardest problems—poverty, misery, and exclusion—within the framework of the capitalist model, the model, that is to say, of capitalist economics.”

Che would have cut it short: “Either a socialist revolution or a caricature of a revolution.” Perhaps Chávez isn’t aware of a revolutionary message enunciated by José Martí in his radical speech  Insufficient Politics”: “Remedies only work when one takes into consideration the power and urgency of the sicknesses they are directed at. Politics is an occupation worthy of condemnation when it’s used to cover up misery and obvious misfortune—the huge misery and the huge misfortune of the people.” Chávez’s politics is more than sufficient.

“Homeland or death” is one of the Venezuelan comandante’s watchwords. But as José Martí said, “Homeland is humanity.” Beyond that, we Cubans add on another, quite indispensable word, “socialism,” just for the sake of certainty. Carried out to its full consequences, that slogan is one for the whole world.

I go on trying to understand how two peoples just two days apart from each other can bet on such different things. The North Americans subscribe to war, the Venezuelans, to revolution.

One can’t tell much from what’s on television, although the cameras clearly showed the sweating of the two men, in spite of the fresh November air. Chávez leans over to greet Fidel and renew his commitment. Fidel proudly points out the tiny flags of our two countries stitched along the borders of his shirt pocket. They were together for eight hours. I don’t know what they talked about, but I can imagine it for you—the great win of October 31, by a broad front whose real victory now will have to be made manifest in concrete actions, and of course the recent Rio Summit. There, in no uncertain terms, and a bit out of context, Chávez made an announcement to whoever was formulating a struggle against poverty and hunger in the southern part of my continent. He said, more or less, “I don’t see how it can be done with capitalist economics.” And above all else, Fidel and Chávez would have talked about the triumph of reaction in the United States. That’s a good agenda item for any November 7.

At the end, Chávez was there in front of the cameras sheathed in a beautiful red shirt his campanero had given him, after joyfully accepting a portrait of Bolívar painted by Valdes, an artist from the westernmost province of the island.

It’s November 7 now, and just before having to leave, Chávez, with his quick, piercing glance, will remind us, through a journalist he spoke with, that Fidel and he were “sharing their souls.” I look again at Fidel. I thought about those endless years of struggle and crosscurrents. He’s still there, and his wounds come from combat. It wasn’t at home that he hurt himself, trimming the garden, like most men his age. He had instead been advancing the battle of ideas.

As José Martí said, “When there are a lot of men without honor, there are always others who hold up the honor of many men. They are the ones who, with their awesome strength, rebel against those who rob the people of their liberty, which is the same as removing their honor. With these men go thousands of others, an entire people, human dignity itself.”

At this point in time, the 7th of November, this year, human dignity was enlarged through an encounter of love

I wasn’t feeling bad now about not having been able to visit Lenin in Regla. These two men, done out in red, hosted a celebration marked by perfection, and my November 7 was filled up with yearnings of struggle. In the first battle, moral primer in hand, we will be instructing the people of North America, over whom a spell of evil has been cast for these so many years. We will fight with all our strength, and happy too, knowing that the red flag now flies in South America over a new people, where permanent revolution prevails. And that color will spread over the continent and jump the Atlantic. We’ll arrive in beautiful Europe—where many compañeros are already steeped in this color—and we’ll go down to Africa and make it to the North and South poles. And the whole world will turn again in its proper alignment with the sun.

I remembered that slogan of Trotsky, heartfelt and appropriate, that said. dum spiro spero (While there’s a breath of life , hope remains). And all over they are still asking what’s going to happen when Fidel is gone. Fidel isn’t going to leave; Chávez, I think, is only 50 years old.