In fact, his first major revolutionary act might be seen as a huge failure. In 1953, he led a small group of working-class discontents in an attack on military barracks in Santiago de Cuba. The attack failed and Fidel along with many of his compatriots were captured.
Castro, an attorney, defended himself in court. Ultimately he was found guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the attack. At the sentencing hearing, he took the stand and delivered a four hour speech justifying his actions, denouncing the governing regime, and laying out a plan for the future. The concluding line of his speech was, roughly: "I will be absolved by History."
And of course, he was. After a short stint in prison, he went into exile in Mexico where he regrouped and eventually returned to Cuba. Within five years his popular revolution had swept the country and he rolled into Havana on New Year's Day in 1959.
Fidel had the vision to understand the long game; the future was going to look very different from the past and present, so he positioned himself to be on the right side of the movement of History.
Here in the Western World, the First World, things have been more or less pumping along in the same direction for generations. My life so far has been an I-phone version of my parents' lives, and their lives were just a Technicolor version of my grandparents lives. It's very easy to fall subject to recency bias and assume that this trend will continue on indefinitely. Except that here,at this moment, History is at another major turning point.
So what if you're one of the people, facing this Brave New World, who recognizes that the future will not look like the past? Why not just speak up- after all, this isn't Batista's Cuba, this is a free country!
Noam Chomsky offers an excellent bit of insight into how our free society deals with divergent opinions:
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.
— Noam Chomsky, The Common Good, 1998
What Chomsky is telling us is that the apparent freedom of thought and speech we experience in the West is an illusion. If you're speaking within the bounds of what is acceptable, you're not really exercising freedom. And if you step outside of those bounds, you will definitely experience consequences.
I, like many of you, am engaged in the Business of the industrial economy: we sell our labor power for Federal Reserve Notes so that we can pay our bills, buy food, and care for our families. For us it's not enough to just sell hours of our lives- there are a diversity of social conventions and institutions that we have to participate in and be members of. To maintain our place in society and our jobs, we have to show that we're a part of the club. And the club is self-censoring, self-monitoring, and self-enforcing.
As a community planner I'm subject to the social expectations of the professional association that oversees our trade. As a public servant, I'm also accountable to the sense and morals of our elected and appointed community leaders. These groups are thoroughly invested in the continuation of Business as Usual (BAU), in perpetuity.
If I were to openly espouse a divergent opinion about the direction of the future and the feasibility of perpetual BAU, the result would be strikingly similar to Fidel's attack against the regime in 1955. I wouldn't go to jail (I think), but I'd certainly be exiled from my social position and lose my ability to economically support my family. Freedom of speech has it's limits, and I can tell you that my position is far enough outside of those limits that I would face severe repercussions for letting myself be known.
Does that make me a coward for not openly speaking out about my convictions? Perhaps, but there are key differences between the situation Castro faced and the one we face now. For Castro, the absolution of History meant a new world, with a new chance to overcome the stigmas of the past. Today, there is no real vindication if I'm right. There's only collapse, and suffering, and death whether I speak out about it or not.
The reason I write here is two-fold:
First- I need an outlet for these thoughts, and I can't do it in my "real life" using my "real name." As a human being, a social creature, I need connection with my fellow creatures. I feel a moral obligation to share the knowledge I've accumulated with people who might be able to use it. In my current position, I am completely alone in my views. So in a way, writing here in anonymity is a way to make this information available and at the same time, perhaps, keep myself sane
Second- in my own (cowardly?) way, I want to be able to say that I was right. This is my selfish, egocentric reason for writing. When collapse is undeniable, and social convention no longer requires that I be silent, I'll be able to point here, to these writings, and tell the world that I saw it all coming- and couldn't say a thing about it. A bittersweet vindication it will be.
It's all coming to an end. It's all our fault. We had chances to stop it, but we didn't and now it's too late. Nobody wants to hear it, or think about it; just writing about it is a dangerous violation of social convention.
But I know, in the end, La Historia Me Absolverá.