One of the historic leaders of the Cuban Revolution, Hart became a central organizer of the July 26 Movement’s urban underground fighting the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship. The underground supplied the Rebel Army commanded by Fidel Castro with arms and provisions and carried out sabotage actions against the police, armed forces and other government targets in the cities. It mobilized a broad network of supporters who raised money and organized propaganda activity in Cuba.
The victorious advance and growing strength of the Rebel Army, combined with a mass insurrection of working people in cities and towns across the country, brought down the tyranny on Jan. 1, 1959, opening the way to Cuba’s socialist revolution. From that day to this, Hart has shouldered central leadership responsibilities in the Communist Party of Cuba, as minister of education and later minister of culture, and in other institutions.
The annual Havana International Book Fair, held here Feb. 9-19, was dedicated to Armando Hart. Above all, he “taught people to believe in themselves,” said writer Graziella Pogolotti, speaking at the main tribute to Hart. His lifelong revolutionary activity was honored at special events almost daily throughout this cultural festival. These events complemented book presentations, panel discussions, exhibits and other activities paying tribute to the historic leadership of Fidel Castro, who died last November.
Today Hart is head of the Martí Program, which promotes the publication and study of the writings of José Martí, leader of Cuba’s wars for independence from Spain. The program organizes social activities reaching out to young people with Martí’s example.
During the fair, a large number of prominent political and cultural figures participated in the panels, book launches and other programs on Armando Hart’s work. In addition to others mentioned in this article, they included Guillermo García, a commander of the Rebel Army; Pedro Pablo Rodríguez, the foremost Cuban writer on the anti-imperialist legacy of Martí; and former Cuban vice president José Ramón Fernández, who was imprisoned with Hart on the Isle of Pines during the struggle against the Batista dictatorship and who in 1961 led the main column that defeated the U.S.-organized Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. A photo exhibit, “Hart: Passion for Cuba,” was curated by well-known Cuban photographer Roberto Chile.
Hart never set out to write a book, he insists. He has concentrated all his energy and discipline on revolutionary political activity. As part of advancing those goals for 65 years, nonetheless, Hart has written enough to fill a 16-volume collection of his writings, the first six of which were presented at this year’s book fair. Issued by different Cuban publishing houses, these collections have been compiled by researcher and editor Eloisa Carreras, Hart’s wife.
A life of revolutionary activity
“A revolutionary for all times” was the name of the central event paying tribute to Hart’s life work. Speakers at the Feb. 14 panel, held at the Casa de las Américas cultural center, were Fernando Martínez Heredia, director of the Juan Marinello Institute for Cultural Research and a well-known writer on Marxism; Graziella Pogolotti, a prominent theater critic and essayist and longtime leader of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba; and Lesbia Cánovas, honorary president of the Association of Cuban Educators. The meeting was chaired by Ana Sánchez, director of the Center of Martí Studies.
“The practice of politics has been at the center of Hart’s life since he was a youth,” said Martínez Heredia. A founding leader of the July 26 Movement, Hart was “always an outstanding combatant.” He was captured and jailed by the dictatorship three times — in 1954, then in 1957, when he made a bold escape, and again in 1958. Locked behind bars during the final year of the revolutionary war, Hart acted with “exemplary dignity,” Martínez said.
“Hart’s writings during that early stage, published in the underground press, and the letters and speeches from the first year of revolutionary power,” Martínez noted, “are one of the most valuable sources for studying the historic movement that liberated the country and initiated the deepest transformations in the history of the Cuban people.”
After the 1959 victory, “Hart was alongside Fidel in the key political and state bodies, throughout all those glorious days.” He became a leader of the newly forged Communist Party of Cuba, Martínez said, serving as its organization secretary for several years.
“I will never forget Hart’s valuable contributions and the comradely attitude he extended to the group of young revolutionaries I was part of during the 1960s,” Martínez recalled. “I learned a lot from his example and leadership, his ability to listen and discuss,” his dedication to “hard work and attention to detail.”
Hart has written extensively about how, as “a Fidelista,” he became an advocate of Marxism as a “fundamental instrument for creating and developing a new culture,” Martínez said. For Hart, Marxism was a guide to transform society, not “an ornament or a straitjacket.”
That revolutionary course, Martínez said, is the opposite of “the system under which Marxism had been deformed and turned into a sterile dogma –– a detour that prevailed for decades in the world,” referring to what existed in the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes before they collapsed between 1989 and 1991.
What has been achieved through Cuba’s socialist revolution “seemed impossible,” Martínez said. “But this is where Armando Hart was forged — in the fight to turn the impossible into reality.” In face of today’s challenges, “the best tribute young Cubans can pay to Hart today is to emulate him.”
Transformation of education, learning
Lesbia Cánovas, a long-time educator and director of teacher training programs, focused on Hart’s leadership in the transformation of education and learning in Cuba, a transformation made possible by the revolution. Named minister of education at age 28, one of the two youngest in the cabinet, he directed the 1961 literacy campaign, which involved hundreds of thousands of working people. At the heart of that effort was the mobilization of more than 100,000 volunteers — mostly newly recruited teenagers, in their majority women — who went into the countryside and taught 700,000 people to read and write. Cánovas herself, at age 13, was one of those volunteers.
Illiteracy, a scourge of Cuba’s capitalist past, was wiped out within a year. “This past Dec. 22 we commemorated the 55th anniversary of declaring Cuba a Territory Free of Illiteracy,” she said.
The literacy campaign, Cánovas pointed out, was not organized by “experts in teaching methods.” It was prepared and carried out with the support of unions, the women’s federation and other mass organizations.
The expansion of access to education, she noted, was intertwined with other social demands of workers and farmers, such as “the aspirations for a land reform, the demand to create jobs for all and to end unemployment and poverty.”
Another pillar of the measures overseen by Hart, Cánovas said, was the 1962 University Reform, whose aim was to make it possible “for the sons and daughters of working people to enter the universities.”
To be meaningful, “education has to have a real connection with life, with the basic problems of daily living,” she said. In pre-revolutionary Cuba, schools were exclusive institutions isolated from the working class and the lives of the toilers in town and country.
Hart led the effort, Cánovas said, “to make the school the most important community cultural center … to open the school to its surroundings.”
Hart as minister of culture
As a revolutionary leader, said Graziella Pogolotti, Hart has always been known as someone “with an open mind,” someone who understood “the essence of Fidel’s ideas.” That, she noted, made him a good choice both when he served as the Communist Party’s organization secretary and then as Cuba’s minister of culture.
As organization secretary from 1965 to 1970, Hart helped lead “the work to build the party under extremely difficult circumstances — which I will not go into here — of conflicts and confrontations with sectarianism,” she said. “Following Fidel’s lead, Hart was able to build a party of labor, above sectarianism,” she added. “That was the party Fernando Martínez and I both joined on the same night in the Chaplin movie theater.”
In 1976, when Hart was named the first minister of culture, it was “a moment of great happiness,” Pogolotti said. “We had just been through some difficult times, times we remember today as being painted gray.”
During the first half of the 1970s, which later came to be known as the “gray half-decade,” the official National Council of Culture implemented policies against many Cuban writers, artists, and others deemed “politically unreliable,” preventing them from being published or from having the materials and conditions necessary to work. This marked a reversal of policies championed from the beginning by Cuba’s revolutionary leadership.
During those years, for example, the University of Havana’s philosophy department, headed by Fernando Martínez Heredia, was closed, along with the magazine Pensamiento Crítico (Critical Thinking) edited by Martínez. “Socialist realism” — imposed in the Soviet Union since the 1930s by the Stalinist regime in Moscow — made inroads in Cuba, especially in literature, theater, and film.
In 1976 the dissolution of the council and creation of the Ministry of Culture, with Hart as minister, initiated a “radical transformation of this situation,” Pogolotti said.
As the cultural policies promoted by the revolutionary leadership were re-established, Hart took on “the delicate task of healing wounds, of restoring the confidence of many writers and artists who had lived through bitter moments during those earlier years.” He helped fight “prejudice against writers and artists.”
Hart was a visible figure in the revolutionary leadership’s efforts to widen access to culture, said Pogolotti. He worked tirelessly to promote “the 10 Basic Cultural Institutions” — libraries, bookstores, art galleries, museums, movie theaters, literary workshops, theater groups, choirs, bands and community cultural centers. “Hart wanted to convince every single local official in Cuba of the important role of culture,” she remarked with humor.
Speaking a few days earlier on Mesa Redonda, a national TV round table discussion, Pogolotti said that under Hart’s leadership the Ministry of Culture encouraged “creativity, initiative, courage and, above all, the ability to listen.”
A similar point was made by Abel Prieto, Cuba’s current minister of culture, also speaking on Mesa Redonda. “Hart’s entry into the Ministry of Culture,” Prieto said, “undoubtedly marked the return to Fidel’s cultural policy as enunciated in his [1961 speech] ‘Words to the Intellectuals.’” (The speech can be found in the Dec. 21, 1998, Militant.)
For new generation of revolutionists
One meeting that was part of the special events honoring Hart was a Feb. 18 presentation of two books. One was Armando Hart: Una vida, un sueño (A life, a dream), a comic-book-style biography of the revolutionary leader’s early life aimed at young Cubans. Issued by Casa Editora Abril, publishing house of the Union of Young Communists, it was written and illustrated by Enrique Lacoste, a cartoonist for the political humor magazine Palante.
The other title, written by Hart, was Aldabonazo: Inside the Cuban Revolutionary Underground, 1952-58. Long out of print in Cuba, Hart’s account is published in both English and Spanish by U.S.-based Pathfinder Press.
On the platform were Armando Hart; Eloisa Carreras; Rubiel García, president of the Saíz Brothers Association, a nationwide organization of young artists; Lacoste; and Mary-Alice Waters, editor of Aldabonazo and president of Pathfinder Press. Javier Dueñas, director of Abril, chaired the event.
Among those in the audience were minister of culture Abel Prieto, Fernando González and Antonio Guerrero. González and Guerrero are two of the Cuban Five revolutionaries who spent more than a decade and a half in U.S. prisons for their actions protecting Cuba from planned attacks by U.S.-based counterrevolutionary groups.
Lacoste said his book, the first of two parts, is aimed at reaching a young audience. In a popular style, it tells the story of the Cuban leader’s early study of Martí’s revolutionary legacy and how as a university student he joined the fight against the Batista dictatorship. The text and drawings depict Hart’s recruitment to the July 26 Movement and his participation in the urban underground through the Nov. 30, 1956, armed action in Santiago in support of the Granma expedition led by Fidel Castro.
Waters explained how Pathfinder’s edition of Aldabonazo had come about through collaboration — going back 17 years — with Hart, Eloisa Carreras, and Editora Abril. (See Waters’ full remarks on page 7.)
“The more we absorbed the value of Armando’s account of the clandestine revolutionary struggle, and how it was enriched by the leaflets, press accounts and other documents produced in the heat of the life-and-death battles,” Waters said, “the more we knew [we had to] make it available, in both English and Spanish, for new generations of revolutionary fighters in the U.S. and around the world.”
For revolutionists, meaningful history is history “that will be most useful in finding the road forward,” Hart once wrote, as Waters reminded participants.
“And that,” she said, “is precisely what Aldabonazo gives us.”
Pathfinder published Aldabonazo because it is part of the political arsenal needed by working people in the United States and around the world. We need it to “politically arm a mass vanguard for the class battles ahead of us in the 21st century.”
Participants at this and other gatherings bought 75 copies of Aldabonazo, every one Pathfinder had. Many also picked up copies of Armando Hart: Una vida, un sueño.
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