Politics of Fidel Castro

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Fidel Castro has proclaimed himself to be "a Socialist, a Marxist, and a Leninist".[1] As a Marxist and Leninist, Castro believes strongly in converting Cuba, and the wider world, from a capitalist system in which business and industry is owned by private individuals and organisations, into a socialist system in which all business and industry are owned by the working class. In the former, there is a class divide between the wealthy classes who control the means of production (i.e. the factories, farms, media etc.) and the poorer working classes who labor on them, whilst in the latter, this class divide would be obliterated as society becomes more egalitarian.

Marxism is the socio-political theory developed by German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the mid-19th century. It holds as its foundation the idea of class struggle; that society mainly changes and progresses as one socio-economic class takes power from another. Thus Marxists believe that capitalism replaced feudalism in the Early Modern period as the wealthy industrial class, or bourgeoisie, took political and economic power from the traditional land-owning class, the aristocracy and monarchy. In the same process, Marxists predict that socialism will replace capitalism as the industrial working class, or proletariat, seize power from the bourgeoisie through revolutionary action. In this way, Marxism is believed by its supporters to provide a scientific explanation for why socialism should, and will, replace capitalism in human society.

Leninism refers to the theories put forward by Russian revolutionary, political theorist and politician Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party who was a leading figure in the October Revolution that overthrew the Russian Provisional Government and replaced it with the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic under the rule of the Communist Party. Taking Marxism as its basis, Leninism revolves around putting forward ideas for how to convert a capitalist state into a socialist one. Castro used Leninist thought as a model upon which to convert the Cuban state and society into a socialist form.


"What talent and abilities! What thought, what resolve, what moral strength! He formulated a doctrine, he propounded a philosophy of independence and an exceptional humanistic philosophy."

Fidel Castro on Martí, 2009.[2]

Castro has described two historical figures as being particular influences on his political viewpoints; the Cuban anti-imperialist revolutionary José Martí (1853–1895) and the German sociologist and theorist Karl Marx (1818–1883). Commenting on the influence of Martí he related that "above all", he adopted his sense of ethics because:

When he spoke that phrase I'll never be able to forget – 'All the glory in the world fits into a grain of corn' – it seemed extraordinarily beautiful to me, in the face of all the vanity and ambition that one saw everywhere, and against which we revolutionaries must be on constant guard. I seized upon that ethics. Ethics, as a mode of behavior, is essential, a fabulous treasure.[3]

The influence which Castro took from Marx on the other hand was his "concept of what human society is", without which, Castro argued, "you can't formulate any argument that leads to a reasonable interpretation of historical events."[4]

On the Soviet Union and its leaders

Although a Leninist, Castro remained critical of Marxist–Leninist Joseph Stalin, who was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1953. In Castro's opinion, Stalin "committed serious errors - everyone knows about his abuse of power, the repression, and his personal characteristics, the cult of personality" and also held him accountable for "the invasion of the USSR" by Nazi Germany in 1941. At the same time, Castro also felt that Stalin "showed tremendous merit in industrializing the country" and "in moving the military industry to Siberia", things which he felt were "decisive factors" in the defeat of Nazism.[5]

On Israel and antisemitism

In September 2010, The Atlantic began publishing a series of articles by Jeffrey Goldberg based on extensive and wide-ranging interviews by Goldberg and Julia E. Sweig with Castro, the first of which lasted five hours. Castro contacted Goldberg after he read one of Goldberg's articles on whether Israel would launch a preemptive air strike on Iran should it come close to acquiring nuclear weapons. While warning against the dangers of Western confrontation with Iran in which inadvertently, "a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war", Castro "unequivocally" defended Israel's right to exist and condemned antisemitism, while criticizing some of the rhetoric on Israel by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, under whom Iran–Israel relations have become increasingly hostile:

I don't think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. [Iran must understand] Jews were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.

Asked by Goldberg if he would tell Ahmadinejad the same things, Castro responded, "I am saying this so you can communicate it". Castro "criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the 'unique' history of antisemitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence."[6]

Public image

By wearing military-style uniforms and leading mass demonstrations, Castro projected an image of a perpetual revolutionary. He was mostly seen in military attire, but his personal tailor, Merel Van 't Wout, convinced him to occasionally change to a business suit.[7] Castro is often referred to as "Comandante", but is also nicknamed "El Caballo", meaning "The Horse", a label that was first attributed to Cuban entertainer Benny Moré, who on hearing Castro passing in the Havana night with his entourage, shouted out "Here comes the horse!"[8]

During the revolutionary campaign, fellow rebels knew Castro as "The Giant".[9] Large throngs of people gathered to cheer at Castro's fiery speeches, which typically lasted for hours. Many details of Castro's private life, particularly involving his family members, are scarce as the media is forbidden to mention them.[10] Castro's image appears frequently in Cuban stores, classrooms, taxicabs, and national television.[11] Despite this, Castro has stated that he does not promote a cult of personality.[12]


  1. Castro and Ramonet 2009. p. 157.
  2. Castro and Ramonet 2009. p. 147.
  3. Castro and Ramonet 2009. pp. 101–102.
  4. Castro and Ramonet 2009. p. 102.
  5. Castro and Ramonet 2009. p. 181.
  6. "Fidel to Ahmadinejad: 'Stop Slandering the Jews'". Theatlantic.com. September 7, 2010. Retrieved March 16, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 10, 1995/01_5_m.html "In brief" Check |url= value (help). Arizona Daily Wildcat. February 10, 1995. Retrieved August 12, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  8. Richard Gott, Cuba : A new history. p. 175. Yale press.
  9. Jon Lee Anderson. Che Guevara : A revolutionary life. p. 317.
  10. Admservice (October 8, 2000). "Fidel Castro's Family". Latinamericanstudies.org. Retrieved January 13, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Americas | Ailing Castro still dominates Cuba". BBC News. August 11, 2006. Retrieved January 13, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Fidel Castro" PBS Online Newshour February 12, 1985.

Further reading