By Armando Cahguaceda
Soon we will mark 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that signaled the global-scale ideological victory of neo-liberalism in politics and daily life. It is quite conceivable that Cuban media coverage-the same press that ignored the events in Eastern Europe until the final and incontrovertible moment-will focus on highlighting the social costs of the transition to capitalism.
The true and tragic consequences of that collapse linger in the form of poverty, crime and alienation. However, this is assumed as inevitable by many people interviewed in those countries; they see these are the costs of expanding personal freedoms and erecting barriers to previously almighty state intervention.
Pausing from our daily struggles, we Cubans we will also recall this date, though our sentiments may be mixed.
On the one hand, many people will be seized by the feeling of a certain degree of abandonment, betrayal and surrender to imperialism.
Others will understand that change as merely an exercise of the right to self-determination (which, as Fidel said in 1989, is valid even in respecting the decision to return to capitalism).
For the majority, however, nostalgia for the times of well-stocked cupboards and future certainties (apparent ones) will tinge the colors of this upcoming November.
What is evident in this debate is that-apart from a handful of magazines and academic forums-the public and local politicians will not identify what is the most important upshot: the structural similarity of the regimens that collapsed in 1989 to the design of Cuban institutions today.
Certainly that doesn’t mean absolute identity, because cultural factors (the existence of an anti-imperialist consciousness) and geopolitical considerations (the nexus between socialism and national liberation) mark the peculiarities of the Cuban case.
Likewise, Cuba has benefited from almost half a century of a charismatic leadership able to arouse-despite its errors-the support of the majority Cuban of the population. Likewise, there exists on the island a highly effective social and redistributive politics, though these are currently threatened by the world crisis and the rapid expansion of patterns of inequality.
It is now time to discuss-along with the concrete debate around proposals for greater efficiency, savings and discipline that the government stimulates-the reaches of state socialism into the institutional and daily life of our country.
We must exchange views on not only achievements, but also the shortages and inertia produced by a state model and centralization that subordinates social organizations to the role of “transmission belts” for decisions adopted by the State-Party hybrid. These are incompatible with the principles of the genuine republicanism of our founder Jose Marti and the values of public decency.
To think of “Socialism of the 21st century” it is necessary to take into account past and present experiences (including the Asian and Cuban ones) and articulate new strategies and foster emerging actors in Latin America that critically surpass the approaches of socialism of the 20th century.
In this struggle, it is key to restore the idea of autonomy. This alludes to the capacity of people to structure their own participative processes based on norms and principles that they themselves dictate, and which they accept without coercion or external influence.
This means sustaining the relative practical independence and self-identity of particular collectives and interest groups (youth, campesinos, women, environmentalists, etc.) in relation to institutional mechanisms (states and parties) that try to subordinate them.
This also means reclaiming the ideals of self-management, which propose that entities exert more control and management over their own resources as a means of generating more horizontal and transparent organizational forms.
This seems like an immense struggle (and indeed it is) but it is necessary to undertake before our own exhaustion or our neighbor’s “showcase of seduction” get the better of us. We must see if we can rediscover the path that we once proclaimed in a beautiful song (now forgotten by our capitalist “common sense”) of a world that doesn’t need “Caesar, the bourgeois or God.”