Chronicles of my drama with the Communist Youth organization UJC
HAVANA TIMES – I come from a family of Communist activists. My mother, a rural pioneer of Villa Clara’s most complicated areas, joined the Young Communist League’s (UJC) ranks at the same age I did: 14 years old. The selection process for her membership was rigorous. She passed different screenings, only the best, the impeccable were selected to join the ranks of the Cuban youth vanguard organization.
My grandmother says that the day my mother was given her ID was a great step towards honor, towards a status that would make her stand out in society. In any case, my father was the organization’s rural leader. He even took part in the Youth and Student Festival that took place in Cuba and he traveled to the Soviet Union as part of a delegation of young militants, members of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).
I was a good student at junior high school. I’d won academic tournaments and in 9th grade, I already had all of the medals I needed and had been named the most well-rounded student every year, but I didn’t want to belong to the UJC. When I told my parents they were going to give me the ID that I didn’t want it, that told me that this was an achievement back in their times, that they understood my position, but I should accept it because I shouldn’t put a “political target” on my back.
My political target took a little longer to come, but not too long, and it wasn’t exactly because I’d dissented within the UJC’s ranks. There was so much disorganization in this organization that I couldn’t even dissent. I went to pre-university, in Placetas, when I was 15 years old and with an ID put away in the drawer. I have vague memories of somebody asking who was from the UJC at that time, but the committee at my school honestly didn’t exist. I was never summoned to meetings, I never knew who was leading it; nor was it something I lost sleep over, because at that time, my classmates and I didn’t believe in the UJC, or the Communist Party.
The image I had of these organizations in my teenage years were that of repetitive slogans and young people with checked shirts that I wouldn’t trust with my budding political concerns even if I were crazy, because I didn’t want a “political target on my back”. I have memories of the UJC organizing events at the time when they called on me to be the master of ceremonies, because I had been a radio host on Radio Placetas ever since I was a little girl. I also can’t forget the hate rally that was organized against Antunez, a dissident neighbor. I also remember when they’d take the most well-rounded students to La Tatagua camp after sixth grade. Those trips were very pleasant experiences. But I don’t remember if they relied on me for anything.
Nowadays, I wonder why I didn’t get closer to the organization at that time and try to commit and take part. When I was 14 or 15 years old, those who had brought about the Revolution were now struggling. Why did I, who had repeated to death that I’d be like Che, not be like him? Well, because in my teenage mind, I was sick and tired of empty words: “Revolution is the direction of this historic moment,” “pioneers for Communism”. Silvio Rodriguez had already said it: “Nobody knows what Communism is and this can be censorship’s grazing land.”
I went to the Central University of Las Villas with my dusty UJC ID card in a drawer. Once again, they asked who was a member of the organization and I hesistated in answering, but I did answer. They called a meeting once, but hardly anyone went. They chose the secretary from my class and I lost track of the UJC, or the UJC lost track of me ever since.
A red sheep strays from the flock
I’m not like Che. Che set the bar high for me. Che was a middle-class man from the ‘60s, who was able to travel all over Latin America on a motorbike. I’ve never had a motorbike, and if I tried to go a trip like him, as a woman, I’d probably end up a victim of human trafficking.
The UJC has set up its discourse on unattainable models: Mella, Camilo, Che: all three of them cishet men. When I got to university, I began reading Marx, Engels, Che, Fidel. Then, I read Trotsky, Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollontai and later came the post-Marxists and then black and decolonial feminisms. None of those authors came from a study group or at a general-secretary’s recommendation, they rather fell into my hands from the friends I made along the way. That’s how I became Communist, with the UJC’s inexistence.
However, I was still living in a protected bubble back then, in the comfort of my parents’ home. When I moved to Havana, to a neighborhood in Marianao, to a house with a bookshelf full of Marxist texts, to an environment with politicized people who didn’t belong to the UJC, I realized that political and mass organizations in my country aren’t Communist. I don’t mean to say with this sentence that there weren’t any Communists within these organizations trying to do something.
I recently read the article: “Between the urgent and important (or towards the eye of the storm)“ originally published by the UJC’s ideological secretary at Havana University, Josue Benavides, in Alma Mater Magazine, which was later censored and then republished on La Tizza blog. Before talking about this article, I’d like to tell you about some experiences.
Many university students were arrested on July 11, 2021. Lots of other young people – activists or UJC members – condemned these arrests and took letters to the Ministry of Higher Education to get them released. The organization and some FEU (Federation of University Students) members visited those involved and with their hands on their hearts were told: “I understand you compadre, but we can’t do anything” or “this isn’t in your interests.” However, the collusion of these organizations’ senior members with the repressive bodies, encouraged harassment of their members’ families, friends and classmates, instead of protecting their members. This is far removed from what a revolutionary organization should be.
Today, Communists in Cuba are also being censored and persecuted. As a Communist, I personally had to migrate from a country that calls itself Communist because of my own ideals. Having an ideology that phonetically sounds like the Government’s doesn’t make you exempt from dissenting against them and suffering the consequences. I’d even say that in an authoritarian environment like Cuba’s, speaking a similar language to the people that are in power makes you an even bigger problem for the State. The discourse of “those who watch over you” begins with “the confused comrade” and ends up being “the ordinary mercenary paid off by Imperialism.”
Josue, the UJC secretary, was censored in Alma Mater, the quintessentially university student magazine, that belongs to the UJC’s own publisher. The magazine’s director Armando Franco dared to publish , after a lot of pressure from the university’s student body, “Deudas”, an interview with Leonardo Romero Negrin and Alexander Hall, students arrested during the 11J protests. Despite the article passing every screening and having most of the injustices committed against both students removed, despite Franco and his team’s caution, despite the good journalism they were trying to publish, this director was reassigned to a new post and almost all of his team went with him.
In this poorly managed community that I like to call “the critical Cuban Left”, members and non-members of the UJC coexist, inventing organizations and blogs that never worked properly because of Cuban State Security’s harassment and because of other factors such as the economic crisis with migration being an escape, as well as the fact that global hegemonic powers that normally support the Cuban opposition, aren’t interested in Communists either, no matter what their political stripes.
Nevertheless, I do believe in the ability of quite a few young people who are in a kind of productive truce right now and are still thinking and writing about Cuba, even if their scope for action is limited. These young people, activists, aren’t in the UJC’s ranks, they are leaving the country without giving up their leftist stance, which isn’t the case with some former UJC members, who end up belonging to the most foul Right when they step foot on a plane.
Other young people are also working really hard in Cuba, but the UJC doesn’t want a “political target” at this point, when Communists aren’t in government. In addition to a mea culpa for censoring their ideological secretary at Havana University’s committee – which hasn’t come and might never come -, the UJC should also create an inclusive and transparent dialogue with activists without an organization about the structural causes of the current socio-political system in Cuba, which are the root cause of problems mentioned in that very same article. I’m saying this as a utopian desire, because I’m not naive and I know that the people who censored the article in Alma Mater, would purge the dissident flock.
A Communist without the UJC
My greatest sorrow after leaving the country was not knowing how to face my activism now outside Cuba. This was also my greatest uncertainty when I left. The transformation of so many who used to say they were Communists to the core and then switched sides as soon as they stepped foot in the first supermarket, was there floating around in the air. However, the supermarket always led me to ask more questions about the macabre capitalist system that I’d reached, rather than the one I’d left behind.
In my search for alliances and affiliation, or at least people who I can talk about these things with, I’ve run into many leftist organizations. I learned about how they were criminalized and persecuted, and I couldn’t stop comparing them to a Cuba that also persecutes dissidents. Cuba is Mars, I used to say in the beginning, but no, Cuba is very similar to the rest of the world, even if the world doesn’t seem like it.
These organizations showed me their good and bad sides: yes, you can protest, work with the community, be recognized as a civil society, but despite being “dissidents” in their context, and while there are less dogmatic organizations – mostly Trotskyist, who have tried to approach the Cuba issue with a critical view. Others are Stalinist to the core and they idealize the Island with a fervor that prevents them from hearing anything bad about its political system, even if it’s coming from a Communist’s experience. That’s when I discovered that the UJC’s faults aren’t very different to those of the foreign Left, and my concern is that while we entertain ourselves with doctrine, supermarkets will continue to work their magic.
I admire and respect the optimism of members who have decided to fight the war from within and believe they can revive a cadaverous organization. I really am sorry, I’ve seen this movie way too many times, plus I’m an atheist and I don’t believe in spiritualism, I believe in talking to the living. A dialogue that should be between equals and without arms, if it’s going to bear any fruits. When they are a little more like young Cubans in all of their diversity and less like Che, call me. There are lots of us who are still trying to bring about the Revolution.