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.