The following notes are the outcome of a long period spent in South America, side by side with revolutionary militants of every kind. I have attempted to understand these men and the beliefs which move them, on the spot—where I knew them: in Venezuela in the guerilla front of Falcon and the long vigil of the urban struggle; in Colombia on the eve of the military offensive against the independent territory of Marquetalia; in Ecuador under the military junta; in the streets of Lima, and in the prisons of Peru; in Bolivia in the great tin mine of Siglo Veinte, operated and defended by an army of workers; in Argentina, where a new generation of revolutionaries is emerging at the confluence of traditional Peronism and communism; in Uruguay and Brazil among the political exiles and the militants of the interior. None of the ideas expressed here would have been possible without the assistance of all these comrades, who lives are bound up with each.
As a revolutionary tactic, Fidelism has proved itself irreversibly: its proof is Cuba. Nevertheless, Fidelism, which has over the last 10 years constantly experienced the difficulties of keeping pace with history, is not yet a triumphant model, a written strategy. It does not yet exist except in those towns and mountains where at the present moment thousands of militants are fighting, beleaguered, with no guarantee of the future. Fidelism is in labour, like South America herself, that immense, silent workshop, walled in, where the sun does not always rise at the appointed time—a workshop of ideas, of organizations, of arms and of plans. These notes, by their very nature, are abstract, since they aspire to theoretical knowledge. But they should nonetheless evoke in their course the mute presence of all those anonymous lives and deaths. For anything written on Fidelism which tries to be rigorously complete, is likely to fail, not so much theoretically as, in the last analysis, imaginatively.
In semi-colonial countries, even more than in developed capitalist countries, the State poses the decisive political problem. For it is in these countries that the exploited classes are least able to influence, control or—a fortiori—conquer state power; and where—since the State concentrates all the elements of power in its apparatus—the question of State power becomes most intractable. The usual way of resolving the problem in South America is the coup d’ état, by means of which almost all transfers or overthrows of established power take place, even when they are carried out in the name of the popular classes and against the oligarchy. Fidelism defines itself first of all by its refusal of the coup d’ état.
This refusal, which may seem elementary, is in fact crucially important in a continent where the importance of power, and the absence of any power other than that of the State, have produced since the dawn of independence the classically Latin American ritual of the golpe or putsch. Both Peron and Vargas won power by a putsch, even if each expressed a general crisis—Vargas the 1929 crisis and the ruin of the Sao Paulo coffee economy, and Peron the crisis which followed the Second World War and the rapid industrialization of Argentina in boom conditions. But whatever the forces which initially support it, a government brought to power by a putsch—that is, a lightning action at the top, in which the Army generally plays the principal role as protagonist or as arbiter—necessarily tends to the right. Compelled to obtain immediate successes in order to win the support of the expectant masses, it has to base itself on the institutions which already exist—established economic interests, the bureaucracy, the majority of the army. Since the masses lack political consciousness or organization—things which can only be acquired in a long and difficult revolutionary experience—on whom can the government base itself? How can it ask for the sacrifices which a real policy of national independence would demand, if the peasantry and above all the working-class are not convinced of the need for them?