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Makers of the Twentieth Century: Castro

Alfred Stepan argues that the romantic acclaim of Fidel Castro as a revolutionary guerrilla leader disregards the practical achievements and structural changes he has brought to Cuba and distorts his world-view of revolution.

Castro (left) alongside Che Guevara, 1961. Photograph by Alberto Korda
Castro (left) alongside Che Guevara, 1961. Photograph by Alberto Korda

Whether he is depicted as a romantic guerrilla in the Cuban Sierra, a mercenary pawn in Angola, or an exporter of arms to Nicaragua, the stress is usually put on his military role in discussions of Fidel Castro. Compared with Lenin or Mao, Castro had no early concern with creating a party organisation; to this day, despite his reputation as a rhetorician, there is virtually no Castroite corpus of social and political doctrine. Thus Castro appears to many observers to be the most ‘caudillo-like’, the most militarily 'voluntaristic' of the great modern revolutionaries. While certainly not without some validity, this perception of Castro distorts the structural and political context of his pre-revolutionary strategy and post-revolutionary policies within Cuba. Internationally, it prevents an appreciation of his involvement in the promotion of revolutions in countries as diverse as Vietnam, Angola and Nicaragua where, despite his military contribution, his independent ideological and political concerns may well weigh more heavily in the historian's balance.

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