Fidel Castro on the fight to defend Cuba’s socialist revolution
Introductory note by Mike Taber
To honor the contributions of Fidel Castro to the world revolutionary movement, below are three short excerpts by him from 1961, at the time of the U.S.-organized invasion at the Bay of Pigs. The fall of the regime of Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959, opened up a period of sustained popular mobilization throughout Cuba. Led by Fidel Castro and a broad team of July 26 Movement cadres, over the next two years Cuban working people carried out one of the most profound revolutionary transformations in modern history.
Encouraged by the revolutionary government, working people and peasants organized and mobilized on many levels: in armed militia units, in block-by-block defense organizations; in trade unions; in women’s organizations and youth organizations. Through its organized power, the Cuban working class was the conscious force that eliminated institutionalized racism; implemented radical urban and agrarian reforms; made initial steps to bring about women’s emancipation; established workers’ control of factories and enterprises; and ultimately carried out the definitive nationalization of domestic- and foreign-owned capital throughout the country.These measures earned Cuba’s revolutionary government the undying hatred of the imperialist rulers in Washington. All wings of the U.S. ruling class and its backers were united in their determination to overthrow the power of Cuba’s workers and farmers by any and all possible means.
This included economic warfare, exemplified by the cutting off Cuba’s sugar quota and the imposition of a total embargo on trade. It included a massive propaganda war, utilizing every conceivable lie in the imperialist arsenal. The CIA and other U.S. agencies organized counterrevolutionary terrorist actions within Cuban cities and rural areas. Biological warfare was organized, as well as assassination attempts against the revolution’s leaders; more than 600 such attempts were made against Fidel Castro alone.
Of special concern to the revolutionary leadership was Washington’s organization and training of a large counterrevolutionary Cuban exile army. The U.S. planners’ idea was to organize a seaborne invasion of Cuba by this mercenary force. Once the counterrevolutionaries had secured a beachhead, the plan was for them to declare a provisional government that could then appeal to Washington for help. Once this happened, U.S. troops would immediately be sent in to support them.
As a prelude to this invasion, on April 15, 1961, the counterrevolutionaries’ planes attacked Cuban airfields in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, hoping to destroy the small Cuban air force on the ground. Seven Cuban defenders were killed in the attack as they heroically saved most of Cuba’s warplanes.
Two days later, some 1,500 Cuban counterrevolutionaries attacked Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in south-central Cuba. A revolutionary militia unit composed of local charcoal workers confronted the invaders immediately. Although suffering heavy casualties, the charcoal workers kept the invaders engaged long enough for other revolutionary units to arrive.
Aware in general terms of the counterrevolutionaries’ plans, the revolutionary forces were determined to avoid the consolidation of a mercenary beachhead. After 72 hours of intense combat, the last invaders finally surrendered on April 19. This was, as Castro put it, “the first military defeat of imperialism in the Americas.”
We are including three items:
- Fidel Castro’s speech on April 16, 1961, to honor those Cubans killed repelling the previous day’s attack. Convinced that the expected attack was now imminent, Fidel Castro used this speech to prepare the Cuban people to repel the invaders. As part of this, he publicly announced for the first time the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution. That way, Cubans could go into battle under the banner of defending the socialist revolution.
- Castro’s April 17 announcement to the Cuban people of the invasion, issuing a summons to battle that spelled out the social conquests they were defending.
- Castro’s May 1 speech less than two weeks later, in which he helped draw a balance sheet of the fight. In the short excerpt included here, Castro speaks of the class nature of the fight to defend the revolution. Of note are his remarks about what would have happened had the imperialists been successful. Far from bringing “democracy,” as the imperialist propagandists claimed, a revolutionary defeat would have led to a bloodbath on an unimaginable scale.
1. What the imperialists cannot forgive (April 16, 1961)
What the imperialists cannot forgive is that we are here. What the imperialists cannot forgive is the dignity, the firmness, the courage, the ideological integrity, the spirit of sacrifice, and the revolutionary spirit of the Cuban people.
This is what they cannot forgive: the fact that we are here right under their very noses. And that we have carried out a socialist revolution right under the nose of the United States!
And we are defending this socialist revolution with these guns! We are defending this socialist revolution with the same courage that our anti-aircraft artillerymen showed yesterday in riddling the attacking planes with bullets!
We are not defending this revolution with mercenaries; we are defending this revolution with the men and women of our nation.
Who has the weapons here? Perhaps it is the mercenaries who have the weapons? Perhaps it is the millionaires who have the weapons? Perhaps mercenaries and millionaires are one and the same thing. Perhaps the little boys with rich daddies have the weapons? Perhaps the overseers have the weapons?
Whose hands hold the weapons here? Are they the hands of playboys? Are they the hands of the rich? Are they the hands of the exploiters? Whose hands hold the weapons here? Are they not hands of workers and peasants? Are they not hands that have been hardened by work? Are they not hands that create? Are they not the hands of our humble people? And who are the majority of our people? Millionaires or workers? Exploiters or exploited? The priviIeged or the humble? Do the privileged have the weapons? Or do the humble have the weapons? Aren’t the privileged a minority? Aren’t the humble a majority? Isn’t a revolution democratic when it’s the humble who have the weapons?
Compañero workers and peasants: This is a socialist and democratic revolution of the humble, by the humble, and for the humble. And for this revolution of the humble, by the humble, and for the humble, we are ready to give our lives.
Workers and peasants, humble men and women of our country: Do you swear to defend this revolution of the humble, by the humble, and for the humble, to the last drop of your blood?
Compañero workers and peasants of our country: Yesterday’s attack was a prelude to a mercenary aggression. Yesterday’s attack, which cost seven heroic lives, aimed to destroy our planes on the ground. But it failed. They only destroyed two planes while most of the enemy planes were damaged or shot down. Here, before the tomb of our fallen compañeros; here next to the remains of the heroic young people, children of workers, children of the humble, we reaffirm our resolve that just as they exposed themselves to the bullets, just as they gave their lives, we too, all of us, proud of our revolution, proud of defending this revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humbler shall not hesitate, whenever the mercenaries come, no matter who is against us, to defend it to our last drop of blood.
Long live the working class! Long the peasants! Long live the humble! Long live the martyrs of our country! May the martyrs of our country live forever! Long live the socialist revolution! Long live a free Cuba!
Patria o muerte!
2. What we fight for (April 17, 1961)
To the People of Cuba:
Invading troops are attacking various points of the national territory in southern Las Villas province by sea and by air, supported by warships and planes.
The glorious soldiers of the Rebel Army and the Revolutionary National Militias have already engaged the enemy in combat at all landing points.
They are fighting in defense of our homeland against an attack by mercenaries organized by the imperialist government of the United States.
Our troops are already advancing against the enemy, confident of victory.
The people are already being mobilized, carrying out our watchwords of defending the homeland and maintaining production.
Forward, Cubans! We will reply without quarter to the barbarians who scorn us and who want to force us back into slavery.
They are coming to take away the land that the revolution turned over to the farmers and cooperatives. We are fighting to defend the farmers’ and cooperativists’ land. They are coming to take away the people’s factories, sugar mills, and mines. We are fighting to defend our factories, sugar mills, and mines. They are coming to take away our children and farm girls’ schools, schools that the revolution has opened everywhere. We will defend the children’s and farm girls’ schools. They are coming to strip from black men and women the dignity that the revolution has returned to them. We will fight to maintain that supreme human dignity for all people. They are coming to take away the workers’ new jobs. We will fight for a free Cuba with jobs for every working man and woman. They are coming to destroy the homeland. We will defend the homeland.
Forward, Cubans! Everyone to their post of combat and of work!
Forward, Cubans! The revolution is invincible, and all our enemies will fail in their attempts to crush it and the heroic people who are defending it!
Now, when Cubans are already sacrificing themselves in combat, let us shout with more fervor and determination than ever:
Patria o muerte!
Fidel Castro Ruz
Commander-in-Chief and Prime Minister
of the Revolutionary Government
3. Working-class blood defended the revolution (May 1, 1961)
Think of those who died in the recent battle. Would it have been worth a single drop of Cuban blood to defend the privileges of the past? Think of those Cubans who were killed — the young workers or children of workers who died less than two weeks ago to defend what we’ve seen here today. They died to defend those rights that the revolution has given the people. They died to defend today’s enthusiasm, today’s hope, and today’s happiness. For that reason, earlier today, when we saw a happy or smiling face full of hope, we thought of each smile as a flower on the graves of the militiamen and soldiers who fell. Each smile is a recognition and an expression of gratitude to those who gave their lives.
Had it not been for those lives cut down by selfishness, treachery, and the imperialist aggressor; had it not been for those men willing to die, there would not have been a May Day today There would not have been a parade today by the Pioneers, the Young Rebels, the women, or the workers who unfurled those flags of the homeland. The athletes would not have marched by.
What would have happened to those young antiaircraft gunners, antitank gunners, or artillerymen? What would have happened to those gallant and disciplined battalions of workers — well armed, well trained, and now a bit more experienced — who marched today through this plaza?
What would have happened to the workers’ leaders? What would have happened to the workers and the militiamen? What would have happened to their wives, their children, their brothers and sisters, to their factories? What would have happened to them had imperialism been able to establish a beachhead on our territory?
What would have happened to them, their children and wives, their homes, had the imperialist aggressor been able to take a piece of our territory? And from there, send their Yankee planes, their Yankee bombs, their napalm bombs, their explosives and shrapnel, to wage a war of attrition against our nation? This is on top of the economic aggression, the blockade of our exports, the cancellation of our quotas, the embargo on exports of spare parts or raw materials to our country. Amid these difficulties presented by imperialist economic aggression we would simultaneously have had to confront almost daily bombing of our communications lines, our transport system, our production centers, and our cities.
Let’s not even talk about what would have become of the people’s hopes and aspirations had imperialism been able to defeat revolution. Because there is no more terrible spectacle in the history of humanity than that of a defeated revolution. There is the history of the uprising of the slaves in Rome to win their freedom, with thousands of slaves nailed to crosses all along the roads leading to Rome. This should give us an idea of what a defeated revolution is. There is the history of the Paris Commune, with its frightening toll of workers murdered. This too should give us an idea of what a defeated revolution is.
History teaches that a defeated revolution has to pay an extraordinary toll in blood to victorious reaction. The victorious ruling class demands payment for the anxiety it experienced, for all the interests that were affected, or that were threatened with being affected. But it not only demands payment for present debts; it also seeks to collect, in blood, payment for future debts. It tries to annihilate the revolution down to its very roots.
Of course, under certain circumstances it’s impossible to smash a revolution. I’ve spoken of revolutions that were defeated before conquering power. What has never happened before in history is to defeat a revolutionary people that has truly conquered power.