It wasn’t long after Fidel’s death on Friday that statements of mourning were issued by the various Palestinian political factions.
Notably among them were the statements of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, DFLP, both of which described Fidel as a champion of the oppressed, with the PFLP highlighting his support for those struggling against “imperialism, Zionism, racism and capitalism.”
But under the current global reality of ruthless neoliberal capitalism, what meaning do these words have for the younger generations of Palestinians and Palestine-solidarity activists around the world?
In particular, what do the leftist factions mean when they praise Fidel for his “internationalism”? And how crucial is it for today’s youth, particularly in Palestine, to comprehend these terms?
Of course, it’s well known among Palestinians that Fidel and Che Guevara, along with their July 26 Movement, waged a successful and legendary guerrilla campaign to overthrow the American-backed Batista dictatorship in 1959.
Palestinians can relate to Fidel’s resilience and capacity for survival in the face of all odds, including more than 600 assassination attempts by the CIA and oppositional forces.
And Cuba’s geographical position as a small island next to the Empire that is the United States conjures associations of the Palestinian boy with stone in hand, bravely facing off against the Israeli tank.
Fidel: A Revolutionary Life
A little less well known is how Cuba’s position in relation to the rest of Latin America is similar to Palestine’s position in regards to the rest of the Middle East: a small region with imperialist powers and puppet regimes at its doorstep, threatening its very survival.
Particularly significant is Colombia’s role as an American-backed, right-wing state in the middle of Latin America, threatening to destabilize the region, specifically with Israel’s support through military and paramilitary training and intelligence sharing through the Israeli Mossad.
But perhaps the least well known — and yet most significant — feature of the Cuban Revolution is not the symbolic nature of Fidel’s triumph over imperialist aggression, but the offer, albeit unrealized, of an alternative vision of how to organize society and the economy for the rest of Latin America, and indeed the world.
It is what Noam Chomsky called the “threat of a good example,” an example of a society based on principles of solidarity and egalitarian values, where people can develop their capacities without worrying about meeting their needs.
Cuba occupies the top spot in the world when it comes to medicine and medical research, and it has invested in increasing its literacy rates by providing free education.
But Fidel’s vision of a more just society and the possibility of a more equitable world ran counter to the free-market economy the United States and its allies espoused and invaded and murdered and pillaged for.
And so pressure had to be brought to bear on Cuba through the U.S. blockade and the invasions and assassination attempts.
Yet despite the decades of imperialist aggression faced by Cuba, Fidel fought tirelessly to export the revolution to oppressed areas of the world, including Southern Africa, Algeria, Afghanistan and Palestine.
This is what we mean when we describe Fidel as an internationalist — he sought to provide the world with an alternative to capitalism as a system.
Through socialism, Fidel sought to create economic development that benefitted everyone instead of a wealthy minority, and where the benefits of development are shared and used for social gain rather than profit.
The Cuban example pushed all nationalist movements in the 60s and 70s to the left, including the PLO, and emboldened movements of oppressed peoples to fight against their own ruling classes in addition to imperialist or colonialist enemies.
Just as the Arab elites after the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) were pushed aside by Yasser Arafat, George Habash, Nayef Hawatmeh and the rest of the PLO, so today young Palestinians must work to appeal to the masses in new and creative ways, both nationally and internationally.
Palestinians on the left should reimagine and reframe the struggle, as there is currently a power vacuum within Fatah, with a pathetic battle raging on between two unpopular elites, PA president Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah mob boss and strongman Mohammed Dahlan.
Hamas, for its part, has become unpopular for its perceived recklessness and failure to bring Gaza out of its “uninhabitable by 2020” condition, according to the U.N.
With little credible political leadership, a left-wing populist appeal could very well materialize within these ripe conditions, as we’ve seen in other parts of the world ravaged by neoliberalism and lost in a power vacuum.
Palestine Solidarity Day
A workable leftist program in Palestine should lead with (1) taking on the political elites in the PA that are banking off the occupation, with privileges conferred to them; (2) breaking down the PA patronage network that ties so many Palestinians to it materially, and replacing it with a new economic strategy that involves making alliances with progressive governments and regimes; (3) filling the political vacuum with new organizations (including social media) to re-direct the rage people are feeling against domestic political elites and the two-party stalemate, and against the Israeli occupation; (4) doing all this while advancing an egalitarian program (including tackling gender issues) that is broad, inclusive and deals with social and economic justice, and that (5) rejects the organizational methods and theoretical dogmatism of the “old” Communist Palestinian Left, and instead takes examples from newer, more original formations like PODEMOS in Spain, Jeremy Corbyn's movement in England, etc.
Fidel knew how to outsmart and outmaneuver his enemies; he was a master at the political game.
Indeed, we would be doing a disservice to his legacy if we stuck to outdated lines and rhetoric.
But in the more immediate term, it’s crucial that newer generations of Palestinians are not given a simplistic picture of Fidel the same way Hugo Chavez was reduced to a nationalist figure who supported Palestine simply because he sympathized with our cause.
Fidel Castro supported and loved Palestine because he believed in leftist principles of social justice, solidarity between oppressed groups, armed struggle against colonialism and a burning desire to overthrow capitalism and replace it with a socialist vision of freedom, justice and equality for all.
And you can only fight capitalist imperialism with socialist solidarity between oppressed groups, for socialist internationalism has the capacity to bind oppressed and exploited peoples together across borders and across identities.
That’s what Palestinians can learn from the legacy of Fidel Castro.
Hammam Farah is a Palestinian-Canadian activist, refugee resettlement worker, socialist and psychoanalytic therapist in training. His family's resilience in Gaza is a source of fierce inspiration for him. Follow him on Twitter at @HumHum83