HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago I shared an evening with a young couple of compatriots to discuss the ideological colors of the island’s future. Though these were sensitive and well-educated people, children of the fine educational legacy of the Cuban Revolution, these friends were pessimistic about the chances of a socialist alternative being a solution to the problems in Cuba.
“No way,” they told me. “Though it will take its toll, it seems that the solution will be to hit bottom and then accelerate the capitalist reforms to resolve the accumulated clutter and backwardness.”
Such a reflection by people who I admire and respect for their values ??and social commitment — shown in inspiring everyday pursuits ranging from ecology to free-software — got me thinking about the discrediting of the socialist idea among many Cubans.
Living (and suffering) the rigors of a state centralized model that has lasted half a century, it’s understandable that some residents in neighborhoods like Marianao or Placetas would be horrified with the thought of giving this “ism” another chance.
On the other hand, a non-negligible sector of the population (aging, resigned) is making the decision to continue living under the current model out of their fear of change. Frightened by the East European experience, their concern is that here too, a new direction would certainly be traumatic. Neo-liberalism or neo-Stalinism: this seems to be the restricted menu of options for our island.
However, given the problems of the present (ranging from the accumulated material shortages to undermined freedoms and human rights) and those approaching (increasing inequalities of all types) I believe that — far from giving up — our task is to battle for the future of the socialist alternative.
This is certainly difficult to sustain under the expansive capitalist hegemony to which the island is subjected, hegemony that weighs on cultural consumption, the devaluation of self-organized solidarity and the visible leadership role of economists and technocrats from Cuban academia and politics.
But if we want Cuba not to become a “market without a republic” (as predicted in the dismal prophecy of one prestigious Cuban intellectual), it seems to me we’ll have to fight.
To do so implies abandoning abstract utopianisms, far from what some proclaim. It’s about defending viable proposals for managing social services, regulating fundamental businesses and bringing up for discussion state spending at all levels. It’s about promoting cooperatives, participatory budgeting and independent unions.
It means demonstrating with examples — which exist like islands of self-determination within this capitalist world — that what’s collective isn’t the same at what’s state-owned and run. What’s truly participatory is not a mere guise for what’s actually authoritarian, and “socialist” inefficiency can’t be remedied by privatization.
We need to look to real and virtuous experiences, like the Nordic social protection systems, the social economy networks in Uruguay and the public policy of the current government of Ecuador.
In the specifically political realm, it’s about building a substantive (representative, participatory, deliberative) democracy, where there are no exclusions for ideological reasons, and hegemony is achieved with reason and debate not through force nor accompanied by irreversible bouts of institutional sclerosis.
This would mean trans-institutional democracy in which the citizenry rules through political and social organizations, and the arrogance of bureaucrats is not merely replaced by new and refurbished self-referencing party and business elites. This would be where battles of ideas were not supplanted by marketing campaigns.
The history of pre-revolutionary Cuba was a long sequence of authoritarian governments that began with our colonial status and included two ironhanded anti-communist dictatorships supported by Washington.
Notwithstanding, today there’s no shortage of Cuban liberals, democrats and patriots — an unavoidable part of the nation — who are reintroducing the legacy of the pluralistic press (such as the Republican press) and progressive constitutionalism (like the one of 1940) to continue striving towards the establishment of a state of rights with the tri-partition of powers and multi-partyism, akin to the classical canons of representative democracy.
Therefore, if others have all the energy and right to dream a different future, why should we on the left refuse to aim for a different form of socialism as an alternative to the current regime and to any neoliberal substitutes?
In a few weeks we’ll be marking five years since that Mayday march when, despite threats of repression, a small group of comrades went out to Revolution Square to march in the Labor Day parade carrying a banner reading: “Down with bureaucracy! Long live the workers! More socialism!”
In light of this, I can only recognize the relevance of that action, where we overcame our fears to defend national and popular sovereignty.
I remember how we began to detect — in the joy, surprise and warm acceptance of other marchers — for the possibility of a socialist future.
If there’s something (I think) should distinguish a socialist, it’s not seeking a pure and unreal world, but the reasoned, free and collective construction of better ways and places for living, here and now, as human beings.
This is a search in which we will need to accompany (and join) the struggles and contributions of all movements – pro-democracy, environmentalist, feminist and anti-imperialist.
Anything that threatens the happy advent of this emancipatory plurality — be they the holy words of a messiah or the preaching of merchants — is, in the crudest sense, profoundly reactionary.