Good Communists

Armando Chaguaceda

Havana rooftop.  Photo: Caridad
Havana rooftop. Photo: Caridad

In this period marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall -filled with such grief, silence and commemoration- it’s worth re-visiting other, more personal storylines of communist utopia.

I approach this from the real-life existence of people who have devoted their lives to the effort to build a decent society.  Yes, decent, because this term -seemingly “de-ideologized and bourgeois” when it translates itself into daily private and public acts- represents a fortification against the censorship, fatigue and fanaticism that have enveloped the anti-capitalist epic of these past 92 years of state socialism, particularly its half-century long Cuban chapter.

One such decent individual I ran into a few years ago, while walking down Obispo Boulevard in Old Havana.  I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turning around I found this old friend accompanied by his wife.  He hugged me saying, “Look dear, now this is a ‘good communist.'”

In this case, the personal praise mixed with an ideological insult was understandable.  This fellow had been sanctioned three years earlier under the pretext of “cheating,” which hid the dogmatism, anti-religious prejudice and the inhumanity of some of his teachers.

The case: He had done all the work in writing an evaluative essay, but out of friendship he attributed it to a less capable student.  Once discovered, it was proposed that he be expelled from the university; however, intense opposition from comrades and student leaders (wielding posters, writing letters of protest and forming a negotiating committee) were able to reduce the punishment to his failing the class and a one-year suspension.

But the disappointment that he suffered (he was also subjected to the wrath of the hierarchy from his evangelical temple, which accused him of being a communist) added to his difficult family situation (he had two elderly relatives, plus a practically demented mother living in absolute poverty).  This forced him to drop out of school to begin looking for some means of support, leaving him with the idea that “all politics is shit.”

I allude to that anecdote, which always makes me shudder, because this week I’ve spent time with several “good communists.”

In my dreams, I spoke with my maternal grandfather.  He was a sincere Fidel Castro supporter and non-card-carrying communist.  Likewise, he was a friend of the secret Afro-Cuban Abakuá society, a person critical of ludicrous acts like the closing of the Farmer’s Markets and was a member of the neighborhood elections board.  His death in 1993 deprived me of his invaluable advice.

I also met an excellent Cuban teacher, whose history of activism in the face of mediocrity and opportunism -which deprived us of her presence- is a legend at the University of Havana.

I talked with this person of a half century of fruitful but uneven trajectory within the State and Cuban academia, where she had exercised her intellectual autonomy – not despite her political activism, but precisely because of it.  She shared my obstinate hope that we will build a deliberative democracy and a transparent society in which people’s rights will not be administered at the discretion of the bureaucracy nor managed by the savage market.

From in the distance I accompany the effort of several friends and colleagues who, from here on the island, debate, march and dream of “changing everything that must be changed,” despite the hurdles and internal blockades.

To them I want to pay homage with my words because they don’t know how much I owe them.  They have made me a fuller and happier being, giving me the force to banish fear and selfishness, and to continue believing in collective efforts.

I believe that in the combination of their acts, often muted and small, they have sustained the areas of decency that exist in our public life, increasingly urging that “aspirin the size of the Sun” promised us by Roque Dalton, that immortal Salvadoran bard.

3 thoughts on “Good Communists

  • & so, scientific socialism being the understanding that the concrete praxis of daily economic life is the fundament & bedrock of human social organization – & of contentment & freedom – it was always the hugest mistake for stalinists to do such bone-headed things as i.e. closing farmers markets & the like. Socialism of necessity grows out of capitalist forms & praxis; & u only really get rid of capitalism by systematically squeezing it out of existence — once u gain political power over its past practitioners — when u have something better to replace it with. So for instance: u do not abolish the money economy overnight (as say, most anarchists really believe is possible): u systematically free up the social economy as u see the opportunities. However in impoverished Cuba, these opportunities have been few & far between up to now. ALBA, however, has become your best bet to get out of this box — which is why, of course, the imperialists are making their big moves now.

  • It’s true that capitalist agents work feverishly to confuse issues of class, in order to weaken class solidarity: the conflating of people’s *personal property* (houses, cars, personal effects, etc.) with *industrial/financial capital* (vast hectarage in land, factories/means of production, possession of quantities of material goods, etc.) being the classic example. & it is also true that the stalinists (but not only them), being without a true understanding of “scientific socialism” (crude opportunists &&|| pencil-pushers that so many of them were/are), invariably fell onto the opposite side of this bourgeois lie: & did indeed sanction versions of the collectivizing of poverty & regimentation. This was made all the more possible in that all extant “socialist” states were formed from colonial/nationalist revolutions or the results of these — therefore operated from the beginning under conditions of privation. The point is for us to get past these lies and to the Real Thing.

  • Great article. Thanks.

    Many “good communists” need to realize that the defenders of capitalism have a whole history of going into the socialist movement and twisting it from within.

    One of these “twisting jobs” was equating the desire of industrial workers and small farmers for “more money for their families” with the capitalists’ lust for “more luxury money in profits from the workers’ and farmers’ labor.” This twisting converted socialism into a movement that somehow saw prosperity as bourgeois, and poverty as proletarian (don’t laugh!).

    This of course was absurd, but it is a fact. The odd thing is that many communist bureaucrats and sectarians still cling to such silly nonsense.

    Another deliberate twisting job was the bizarre idea that when workers own and run a business as a cooperative, it converts them into capitalists. Think of it: workers owning their own means of production are now capitalists! How absurd and how stupid can sectarian Marxism be?

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