To be a young communist

October 20, 1962

[On October 21, 1960, youth from the July 26 Movement, the Revolutionary Directorate and the PSP’s Socialist Youth merged into the Association of Young Rebels. On April 4, 1962, this organization adopted the name Union of Young Communists (UJC). The following speech was presented at a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the unification. It is reprinted from “Che Guevara Reader” published by Ocean Press.]

One of the most pleasant tasks of a revolutionary is observing over the years of revolution how the institutions that were born at the very beginning are taking shape, being refined and strengthened; how they are being turned into real institutions with power, vigor and authority among the masses. Those organizations that started off on a small scale with numerous difficulties and hesitations became, through daily work and contact with the masses, powerful representatives of today’s revolutionary movement.

The Union of Young Communists [UJC], with different names and organizational forms, is almost as old as the revolution. At the beginning it emerged out of the Rebel Army — perhaps that’s where it also got its initial name [Association of Young Rebels]. But it was an organization linked to the army in order to introduce Cuba’s youth to the massive tasks of national defense, the most urgent problem at the time and the one requiring the most rapid solution.

The Association of Young Rebels and the Revolutionary National Militia grew out of what used to be the Rebel Army’s Department of Instruction. Later, each took on a life of its own. One became a powerful formation of the armed people, representing the armed people, with a standing of its own but united with our army in the tasks of defense. The other became an organization whose purpose was the political advancement of Cuban youth.

Later, as the revolution was consolidated and we could finally talk about the new tasks ahead, compañero Fidel proposed changing the name of the organization, a change of name that fully expresses a principle. The UJC has its face to the future. It is organized with the bright future of socialist society in mind, after we travel the difficult road we are now on of constructing a new society, then the road of completely solidifying the class dictatorship expressed throughout the socialist stage of society, to finally arrive at a society without classes, the perfect society, the society you will be in charge of building, guiding and leading in the future. For that, the UJC raises as its symbols those of all Cubans: study, work and the rifle. On its medallions appear two of the finest examples of Cuban youth, both of whom met tragic deaths before being able to witness the final results of this battle we are all engaged in: Julio Antonio Mella and Camilo Cienfuegos.

On this second anniversary, at this time of hectic construction, of ongoing preparations for the country’s defense and of the speediest possible technical and technological advance, we must always ask ourselves first and foremost: What is the Union of Young Communists and what should it be?

The Union of Young Communists should be defined by a single word: vanguard. You, compañeros, must be the vanguard of all movements, the first to be ready to make the sacrifices demanded by the revolution, whatever they might be. You must be the first in work, the first in study, the first in defense of the country. You must view this task not only as the full expression of Cuba’s youth, not only as a task of the organized masses, but as the daily task of each and every member of the UJC. In order to do that, you have to set yourself real, concrete tasks, tasks in your daily work that won’t allow the slightest letup.

The job of organizing must constantly be linked to all the work carried out by the UJC. Organization is the key to grasping the initiatives presented by the revolution’s leaders, the many initiatives proposed by our Prime Minister, and the initiatives from the working class, which should also lead to precise directives and ideas for subsequent action. Without organization, ideas, after an initial momentum, start losing their effect. They become routine, degenerate into conformity, and end up simply a memory. I make this warning because too often, in this short but rich period of our revolution, many great initiatives have failed. They have been forgotten because of the lack of the organizational apparatus needed to keep them going and accomplish something.

At the same time, each and every one of you should know that being a Young Communist, belonging to the UJC, is not a favor someone has done for you, nor is it a favor that you are doing for the state or the revolution. Membership in the UJC should be the highest honor for a young person in the new society, an honor that you fight for at all times. In addition, the honor of remaining in and keeping a high individual standing in the UJC should be an ongoing effort. In that way we will advance even faster, as we become used to thinking collectively and acting on the initiatives of the working masses and of our top leaders. At the same time, in everything we do as individuals, we should always be making sure our actions will not tarnish our own name or the name of the association to which we belong.

Now, two years later, we can look back and observe the results of our work. The UJC has tremendous achievements, one of the most important and spectacular being in defense.

Those young people, or some of them, who first climbed the five peaks of Turquino, others who were enrolled in a whole series of military organizations, all those who picked up their rifles at moments of danger — they were ready to defend the revolution each and every place where an invasion or enemy action was expected. The highest honor, that of being able to defend our revolution, fell to the young people at Playa Girón. At Playa Girón they had the honor of defending the institutions we have created through sacrifice, defending the accomplishments won by all the people over years of struggle. Our entire revolution was defended there in 72 hours of battle. The intention of the enemy was to create a sufficiently strong beachhead there, with an airfield that would allow it to attack our entire territory, to bomb it mercilessly, reduce our factories to ashes and our means of communication to dust, ruin our agriculture — in a word, to sow chaos across the country. But our people’s decisive action wiped out that imperialist attack in only 72 hours. There, young people, many of them still children, were covered in glory. Some of them are here as examples of that heroic youth. As for others, only their memory remains, spurring us on to new battles that we will surely have to fight, to new heroic responses in the face of imperialist attack.

At the moment when the country’s defense was our most important task, the youth were there. Today, defense is still at the top of our concerns. But we should not forget that the watchword that guides the Young Communists — study, work and the rifle — is a unified whole. The country cannot be defended with arms alone. We must also defend the country by building it with our work and preparing the new technical cadres to speed up its development in the coming years. This is enormously important now, just as important as armed defense. When these problems were raised, the youth once again were there. Youth brigades, responding to the call of the revolution, invaded every corner of the country, and so after a few months of hard battle in which there were also martyrs of our revolution — martyrs in education — we were able to announce something new in Latin America: Cuba was a territory free of illiteracy in the Americas.

Study at all levels is also a task of today’s youth; study combined with work, as in the case of those students picking coffee in Oriente, using their vacations to pick that bean so important to our country, to our foreign trade and to ourselves, who consume a tremendous amount of coffee every day. That task is similar to the literacy campaign. It is a task of sacrifice that is carried out joyfully, bringing student compañeros together once more in the mountains of our country, taking their revolutionary message.

This task is very important because the UJC, the Young Communists, not only give in this work but also receive. In some cases they receive more than they give. They receive new experiences: new experiences in human contact, new experiences in seeing how our peasants live, in learning what life and work are like in the most out-of-the-way places, in everything that has to be done to bring those areas up to the same level as the cities and to make the countryside a better place to live. They receive experience and revolutionary maturity. Compañeros who go through the tasks of teaching reading and writing or picking coffee, of being in direct contact with our people, helping them while far away from home, receive — and I can vouch for this — much more than they give. And they give a lot!

This is the kind of education that best suits youth who are being educated for communism. It is a kind of education in which work stops being an obsession, as it is in the capitalist world, and becomes a pleasant social duty, done joyfully to the rhythm of revolutionary songs, amid the most fraternal camaraderie and human relationships that are mutually invigorating and uplifting.

In addition, the UJC has advanced a lot in its organization. There is a big difference between that weak embryo that was formed as a branch of the Rebel Army and this organization today. There are Young Communists all over, in every workplace, in every administrative body. Wherever they can have an effect, there they are, Young Communists working for the revolution. The organizational progress must also be considered an important achievement of the UJC.

Nevertheless, compañeros, there have been many problems along this difficult road, big difficulties, gross errors, and we have not always been able to overcome them all. It is obvious that the Union of Young Communists, as a youth organization, a younger brother of the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, must drink from the fountain of experiences of compañeros who have worked longer in all the tasks of the revolution. It is obvious that they should always listen, and listen with respect, to the voice of that experience. But the youth also must create. Youth that does not create is really an anomaly. The UJC has been a bit lacking in that creative spirit. Through its leadership it has been too docile, too respectful and not decisive in looking at problems on its own. Now that is breaking down. compañero Joel [Iglesias] was telling us about the initiatives regarding work on state farms. That is an example of how total dependency on the older organization, which became an absurdity, is beginning to break down, of how the youth are beginning to think for themselves.

Because we, and our youth along with us, are recovering from an illness that fortunately was not a very long one but that had a lot to do with the ideological development of our revolution. We are all convalescing from the illness called sectarianism. What did sectarianism lead to? It led to mechanical imitation; it led to formal analyses; it led to separation of the leadership from the masses. It led to these things even within our National Directorate, and it had a direct reflection here in the UJC.

If we, also disoriented by sectarianism, could not hear the voice of the people, which is the wisest and most instructive voice; if we could not feel the pulse of the people to be able to turn it into concrete ideas, precise guidelines, how could we communicate these guidelines to the UJC? Since the dependency was absolute and the docility very great, the UJC was like a small boat adrift, depending upon the big ship, our Integrated Revolutionary Organizations, which was also adrift. So, the UJC took a series of minor initiatives, all it was capable of then, which at times became transformed into crude slogans, manifestations of a lack of ideological depth.

Compañero Fidel made a series of criticisms of extremism and sloganeering, some well known to all of you such as “The ORI lights the way” and “We are socialists, go, go, go… ” All those things you are so familiar with and that Fidel criticized were a reflection of the illness affecting our revolution. That era is over. We have completely wiped it out.

Nevertheless, organizations always lag behind a bit. It’s like a disease that makes a person lose consciousness. Once the illness goes away, the brain recuperates and mental clarity returns, but the arms and legs remain slightly uncoordinated. Those first days after getting out of bed, walking is shaky, then little by little it becomes surer. That is the road we are now on. And we must objectively define and analyze all our organizations so we can continue our housecleaning. We must realize that we are still walking shakily so as not to fall, not to trip and fall to the ground. We must understand our weaknesses in order to eliminate them and gain strength.

This lack of initiative is due to a longstanding ignorance of the dialectic that moves mass organizations, forgetting that an organization like the UJC cannot be a leadership organization that simply sends directives to the ranks all the time and doesn’t listen to anything they have to say. It was thought that the UJC or all Cuba’s other organizations had one-way lines, one-way lines from the leadership to the ranks, without another line that came the other way and brought communication back from the ranks. It is this constant two-way exchange of experiences and ideas that should produce the most important guidelines, those that can focus the work of our youth. At the same time this can help identify the weakest areas of work, the areas where there is a slackening off.

We still see today how the youth — heroes almost like in the novels — who can give their lives a hundred times over for the revolution, who can respond as one to whatever specific task they are called upon for, nevertheless sometimes do not show up at work because they had a UJC meeting. Or because they stayed up late the night before discussing some initiative of the youth organization. Or sometimes for no reason at all, with no justifiable reason. So when a volunteer work brigade looks around to see where the Young Communists are, they are often absent; they haven’t shown up. The leader had a meeting to attend, another one was sick, still another was not really told about the work.

The result is that the fundamental attitude, the attitude of being a vanguard of the people, the attitude of that moving, living example that drives everybody forward as did the youth at Playa Girón — that attitude is not duplicated at work. The seriousness that today’s youth must have in meeting its great commitments — and the major commitment is the construction of socialist society — is not reflected in actual work. There are big weaknesses and we must work on them, work at organizing, work at defining the sore spot, the area with weaknesses to be corrected. Each one of you has to work on having it very clear in your consciousness that you cannot be a good communist if you think about the revolution only at the moment of decisive sacrifice, at the moment of combat, of heroic adventure, of what is out of the plain and ordinary, but in your work you are mediocre or less than mediocre. How can that be?

You already bear the name Young Communists, a name we as a leadership organization, as a leadership party, do not yet have. You have to build a future in which work will be man’s greatest dignity, a social duty, a pleasure given to man, the most creative activity there is. Everyone will have to be interested in their work and the work of others, in society’s daily advance. How can it be that you who bear that name today can disdain work? There is a weakness here, a weakness in organization, in clarifying what work is.

This is a natural human weakness. People — all of us, it seems to me — much prefer something that breaks the monotony of life, something every once in a while that suddenly reminds us of our own personal worth, of our worth within society. I can imagine the pride of those compañeros who were manning an antiaircraft battery, for example, defending their homeland from Yankee planes. Suddenly, one of them is lucky enough to see his bullets hit an enemy plane. Clearly, that is the happiest moment of a man’s life, something never to be forgotten. Those compañeros who lived through that experience will never forget it. We have to defend our revolution, that revolution we are building, every day. And in order to defend it we have to make it, build it, fortify it, with the work that youth doesn’t like today, or at least gets left as the last of its duties. That is an old-fashioned mentality that dates back to the capitalist world, where work was indeed a duty and a necessity, but a sad duty and necessity.

Why does that happen? Because we still have not been able to give work its true content. We have not been able to imbue the worker with a consciousness of the importance of that creative act that he performs every day. The worker and the machine, the worker and the object to which he applies his labor — these are still different and antagonistic things. That has to be changed, because new generations must be formed whose main interest is work and who know how to find in work a permanent and constantly changing source of fresh excitement. They need to make work something creative, something new. That is perhaps the weakest point in our UJC today, and that is why I am harping on it. That’s why, amidst the happiness of celebrating your anniversary, I am adding a small drop of bitterness in order to touch that sensitive spot, and to call on the youth to respond.

Today we held a meeting at the Ministry [of Industry] where we discussed emulation. Many of you have probably already discussed emulation at your workplaces and have read that long paper about it. What is the problem with emulation, compañeros? The problem is that emulation cannot be led by papers containing rules, orders and models. Rules and models are necessary later on in order to compare the work of enthusiastic people who are involved in emulation. When two compañeros begin an emulation with each one producing something on a machine, after a while they find they have to set up some rule to know who is getting the most out of his machine, to determine product quality, the number of hours worked, what shape the machines are in when they finish, how they are taken care of, any number of things.

But if instead of giving this set of rules to these two compañeros who are involved in emulation, all we do is give the set of rules to two others who are thinking only about getting home, then what good are the rules? What purpose do they serve? We often set rules and models for something that does not exist. Models must have content. Rules have to limit and define an already created situation. Rules must be the result of emulation, carried out anarchistically if you will, yes, but enthusiastically, overflowing in every workplace in Cuba, and then, automatically, the need for rules will appear. But doing emulation for the sake of a set of rules, no. That’s how we have dealt with a lot of problems. That’s how formal we’ve been in dealing with a lot of things.

I asked at that meeting why the secretary of the Young Communists hadn’t been there, or how many times he had been there. He had been there once or a few times, and other Young Communists had never attended. But in the course of the meeting, as we were discussing this and other problems, the Young Communists and the party nucleus and the women and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the union — everyone — naturally became very enthusiastic. Or at least they were filled with internal resentment, with bitterness, with a desire to improve, with a desire to show they could do what has not been done: motivate people. And suddenly, everybody made a commitment that the whole ministry would become involved in emulation on all levels, that they would discuss rules later, after setting up the emulation, and that within two weeks the whole ministry would be actively involved in emulation. That is mobilization. That is people who have already understood and sensed — because each of those compañeros is a great compañero — that there was a weakness in their work. Their dignity was wounded, and they went about taking care of the problem.

That is what has to be done, remembering that work is the most important thing. Pardon me if I repeat it once again, but the point is that without work there is nothing. All the riches in the world, all humanity’s values, are nothing but accumulated work. Without that, nothing can exist. Without the extra work that creates more surpluses for new factories and social institutions, the country will not advance. No matter how strong our armies are, we will always have a slow rhythm of growth. We have to break out of this. We have to break with all the old errors, hold them up to the light of day, analyze them everywhere, and then correct them.

Now, compañeros, I wanted to share my opinion as a national leader of the ORI on what a Young Communist should be, to see if we all agree. I believe that the first thing that must characterize a Young Communist is the honor he feels in being a Young Communist, an honor that moves him to let the world know he is a Young Communist. It doesn’t make him go underground, nor does he reduce it to formulas. He expresses that honor at all times, so that it comes from the bottom of his soul, and he wants to show it because it is his greatest pride. In addition to that, he should have a great sense of duty, a sense of duty toward the society we are building, toward our fellow men as human beings and toward all men around the world. That is something that must characterize the Young Communist. And along with that: deep sensitivity to all problems, sensitivity to injustice; a spirit that rebels against every wrong, whoever commits it; questioning anything not understood, discussing and asking for clarification on whatever is not clear; declaring war on formalism of all types; always being open to new experiences in order to apply the many years of experience of humanity’s advance along the road to socialism to our country’s concrete conditions, to the realities that exist in Cuba. Each and every one of you must think about how to change reality, how to make it better.

The Young Communist must always strive to be the best at everything, struggle to be the best, feel upset when he is not and fight to improve, to be the best. Of course, we cannot all be the best. But we can be among the best, in the vanguard. We can be a living example, a model for those compañeros who do not belong to the Young Communists, an example for older men and women who have lost some of that youthful enthusiasm, who have lost a certain faith in life, and who always respond well to example. That is another task of Young Communists. Together with that there should be a great spirit of sacrifice, not only in heroic ventures but at all times, sacrificing to help the next compañero in small tasks so he can finish his work, so he can do his work at school, in his studies, so he can improve in any way.

Always paying attention to the mass of human beings he lives among — that is, every Young Communist must be essentially human and be so human that he draws closer to humanity’s best qualities, that he distills the best of what man is through work, study, through ongoing solidarity with the people and all the peoples of the world. Developing to the utmost the sensitivity to feel anguished when a man is murdered in any corner of the world and to feel enthusiasm when a new banner of freedom is raised in any corner of the world.

The Young Communist cannot be limited by national borders. The Young Communist must practice proletarian internationalism and feel it as his own, reminding himself and all of us — Young Communists and those aspiring to be communists here in Cuba — that we are a real and palpable example for all our America, and for more than our America, for the other countries of the world also fighting on other continents for freedom, against colonialism, against neocolonialism, against imperialism, against all forms of oppression by unjust systems. He must always remember that we are a flaming torch, that just as we are all individually a model for the people of Cuba, we are also a model for the peoples of Latin America and the oppressed peoples of the world who are fighting for their freedom. We must be worthy of that example. At every moment and every hour we must be worthy of that example. That is what we think a Young Communist should be.

If someone says we are just romantics, inveterate idealists, thinking the impossible, that the masses of people cannot be turned into almost perfect human beings, we will have to answer a thousand and one times: Yes, it can be done; we are right. The people as a whole can advance. They can wipe out all those little human vices as we have been doing in Cuba over these four years of revolution, improving themselves as we all improve ourselves daily, intransigently casting off all those who fall back, who cannot march to the rhythm of the Cuban revolution.

So it has to be, so it should be, and so it will be, compañeros. So it will be because you are Young Communists, creators of the perfect society, human beings destined to live in a new world where everything decrepit, everything old, everything that represents the society whose foundations have just been destroyed will have definitively disappeared. To reach that goal we have to work every day, work in the inner sense of improving ourselves, of gaining knowledge and understanding about the world around us, of inquiring, finding out, and knowing why things are the way they are and always considering humanity’s great problems as our own.

Thus, at any given moment, on an ordinary day in the years ahead, after much sacrifice… yes, after seeing ourselves perhaps many times on the brink of destruction, perhaps after seeing our factories destroyed and having rebuilt them, after the death and massacre of many of us and the reconstruction of what is destroyed… After all this, on an ordinary day, almost without noticing it, we will have created — together with the other peoples of the world — communist society, our ideal.

Compañeros, speaking to the youth is a very pleasant task. You feel able to communicate some things and you feel that the youth understand. There are many more things I would like to say to you about all our efforts, our desires, about how, nevertheless, we have to start all over after moments of weakness, about how contact with the people — the purity and ideals of the people — fills us with new revolutionary fervor. There are many more things to talk about, but we too have duties to carry out.

By the way, I will take this opportunity to explain to you why I am saying goodbye to you, with an ulterior motive, perhaps. I am saying goodbye because I am going to fulfill my duty as a volunteer worker at a textile factory. We have been working there for some time now, involved in an emulation with the Consolidated Spinning and Textile Enterprise in another textile plant, and we are also emulating with the Central Planning Board, which works in another textile plant. I want to tell you honestly that the Ministry of Industry is in last place in the emulation. We have to make a bigger, greater effort, repeatedly, to move ahead, to meet the goals we ourselves set of being the best, of aspiring to be the best, because it hurts us to be last in socialist emulation. What happened is simply what has happened to a lot of you. The emulation is cold, a little bit artificial, and we have not known how to get in direct contact with the mass of workers in that industry. We have a meeting tomorrow to discuss these problems and try to resolve all of them, to find a common ground, a common language, an absolute identity between the workers from that industry and us workers from the Ministry. After we do that, I am sure our output will shoot up, and we will be able to at least fight a clean, honorable battle for first place. At any rate, at next year’s meeting we will tell you what happens. So until then.

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