As of June 8, the use of communist symbols in Poland will be penalized. The president, with the enthusiastic support of the Polish right wing, approved an amendment to the criminal code to allow the imposition of fines and the imprisonment of those who engage in “propagandizing criminal ideologies.”
Anyone wearing a T-shirt with the face of Che or Lenin on it, or brandishing a flag with the hammer and sickle, will be subject to harsh legal sanctions.
Given the amount of condemnation and astonishment that this matter has caused, it requires us —before exercising any facile criticism— to try to understand the depths of the injuries that were sowed by anti-Sovietism (and therefore anti-communism) in Polish society, as well as in other neighboring eastern European states.
The USSR, the liberator from fascism, acted like a powerful neighbor (the heiress of czarist oppression) and installed docile governments that mortgaged the future of the national left forces, which in many cases had heroically confronted Hitler’s occupation.
The cultures, languages and domestic religions felt the effect the occupant’s boot assumed —as a pendular action— a naive enchantment with everything that signified the West. This included the USA itself, which in this same period bombarded Viet Nam, occupied Santo Domingo and used military force to crush Chile’s peaceful and democratic road to socialism.
Cubans understand well the high cost of defending sovereignty, since this country was successively threatened by the aggression of European powers and from our neighbor to the north. In addition, the Cuban Revolution had to make complex geopolitical plays to survive following the hermetic seal imposed around it by US after 1959; the island’s strategy included non-mechanical alignment (though neither virtuosic nor comfortable) with the politics of the USSR, our “big brother.”
Our socialist project of national liberation united social justice with the recovery of dignity, national independence and demonstrations of solidarity with the Third World, which was based on this verification to make us feel part of humanity’s relegated segment (made up of the majority).
However, my reaction to the Polish measure is not based on the logic of geopolitics or on my advocating a pluralistic ethic of discursive coexistence. Rather, it is founded on the recognition that, in the interior of communism and its legacy, there coexist —along with old and new dogmas— many promises of redemption and hope.
I hold that the Stalinist crimes were not enough to crush the Bolsheviks, who were retaliated against in the 1930s and fell proudly singing The International in the face of their miserable executioners.
The “council communists” of Turin and Budapest, the communards of Paris and the Spanish militiamen of the POUM, the Salvadoran guerillas fighters and the Viet Cong combatants did not seek high positions nor did they order genocide. Rather, through their sacrifices they opened up breaches in the midst of colonialism, fascism and the complicities of the reactionary left.
Let us try to pose a few questions
Are Che and Pol Pot equivalent? Are the Paris Commune and the gulags the same? Will the Polish ruling reach the point of criminalizing the image and memory of their compatriot, Rosa Luxemburg, the same person who demanded freedom for who thought differently from her, who criticized the early bureaucratization of the soviets and who was murdered for advocating a socialist revolution in Germany in 1919?
We can expand the debate wider than the communist bull’s eye: Will they prohibit the image of Christ by the church, penalizing it for all the misery produced in his name? Will they condemn the flag of 1789 as punishment for the cruelties of French colonialism in Algeria? Is it worth entering the new millennium trumpeting the terrible melodies of the Inquisition and obscurantism?