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?

These populist régimes—the late Vargas and the early Peronfootnote1—therefore bring in social reforms which seem revolutionary to their beneficiaries at the time, but are in fact merely demagogic, since they are not based on any solid economic foundation. Carried to power by the army or thanks to its neutrality, both régimes fell as soon as the armed forces—or their most reactionary sector, the navy—turned again them. Organized violence belongs to the dominant class; the coup d’ état which manipulates that violence is fated to bear the mark of it. In his Manifesto of May 1930 Prestes refused to support Vargas—who was backed by almost all of the tenentesfootnote2 who had emerged from the left insurrections of 1920, 1922, 1924 and from the Prestes Column itself: the method used by Vargas and his gauchos to take power was a sufficient indication of the reactionary character of the future Estado Novo. Five years later, the same Prestes returned from Moscow, and organized a localized military insurrection, independent of any mass movement, but in connivance with certain high personalities in the established power-structure—such as the Prefect of the Federal District of Rio. The putsch ended in disaster: Prestes went to prison, his wife Olga to a German concentration camp, and the Communist Party was driven underground for ten years. That is how strong the temptation of the coup or military insurrection is, even for the revolutionary left. In Brazil, in Argentina, in Venezuela, and until recently in Peru, the Army in fact recruits its junior officers from the lower middle classes. This has resulted in a theory of the army as a social microcosm, which reflects the contradictions of the national macrocosm. Numerous local military insurrections which have taken place in Latin America, from Rio de Janeiro in 1922 (the famous episode of the 18 heroes of the Copacabana fort) to Puerto Cabello in Venezuela in June 1962, might appear to confirm this view. But in reality, while one must not underestimate the revolutionary or nationalist politicization of some sectors of the army and the aid which they can give to the revolutionary movement, it is an absolute rule that one cannot base a strategy, or even a tactical episode of the struggle, upon the decision of a regiment or a garrison. In Venezuela, the revolts at Carupano and Puerto Cabellofootnote3 accelerated the convergence of left nationalists in the army and civilian militants, which produced the faln, but it achieved no more than that. The precondition for achieving even this is that there is already in existence a civilian organization with its own objectives and resources, into which men leaving the army can be integrated: in Venezuela, a guerilla force already existed in Falcon and Lara, before the rising of the marines at Carupano. The inverse process is very revealing of the value of civilians who participate in a military coup. In October 1945, Betancourt, Leoni and Barrios, and all the main leaders of Action Democratica,footnote4 took part in the putsch fomented by Perez Jimenez and the army against President Medina. Three years later, Jimenez, by means of a new coup, rid himself of Gallegos, the elected President of the Republic and leader of Accion Democratica. The revolutionary tradition of aprafootnote5 in Peru was based on the insurrections at Trujillo (birthplace and fief of Haya de la Torre) in 1930, and Callao in 1948. The lessons were the same. The devotion and sacrifice involved could not alter the fact that it is impossible to destroy the semi-colonial state in a day, with the State’s own instruments—whatever their courage and worth. Putschism was also a latent tendency of Peronism, which paid as early as June 9th, 1956 for the unsuccessful rising of the Peronist general Valle, as a result of which 4,000 junior officers lost their commissions. The most recent experience of this kind, in Brazil, is instructive: the sergeants’ movement—25,000 as compared with 15,000 commissioned officers in the entire army—had favourable conditions at its disposal to oppose the reactionary putsch of April 1964 in a decisive fashion (acquiescence of the President of the Republic,footnote6 support of public opinion, relatively high degree of freedom). But it was incapable of breaking the army’s vertical discipline and of taking the initiative. Its failure was the consequence of the absence of any central organization, or political homogeneity among the sergeants, and the lack of any organic link with trade union forces.

Thus Fidelism has truly transformed the traditional conceptions of revolutionary action in Latin America, by rejecting the coup d’ état or the military rising—even when they are linked with a civilian organization—as a method of action. For everything seems to favour such methods: the normal political passivity of the masses and the struggle of bourgeois factions for control of the State, with its formidable means of repression. The strength of historical tradition is such that even the best and most resolute of militants do not always perceive the essentially different character of a revolutionary seizure of power—which is the installation for the first time of popular power, based on the awakened majority of the nation.