Preparing the Rearguard

Daisy Valera
Daisy Valera

Upon reaching ninth grade, which is the third year of secondary school, Cuban students have the opportunity to become members of an organization that is very important in Cuba: the Young Communist League (UJC). This organization is supposed to gather into its ranks those young people who are noted for their exemplary and revolutionary attitudes.

When I was 14, I was able to witness how adolescents entered this organization. One day a teacher came into the classroom and informed several of us students that we had been chosen to form part of the ranks of the UJC.

My idea was that belonging to the organization was nothing more than recognition for having done well on exams and participated in all of the activities sponsored by the school. Almost all of us felt flattered.

UJC logo
UJC logo

Several days later, though, I asked the teacher not to include me in the entrance process. I reasoned that I didn’t even know the meaning of the word “communist,” and I felt incapable of belonging to a political organization without any knowledge of it.

Later, when I entered the pre-university Institute (tenth to twelfth grade), I became very interested in knowing how the UJC functioned, despite not being part of it.  Several of my classmates were activists, and I asked them what they did.

They commented that when they reached the pre-university, they were told by teachers belonging to the Communist Party that they had to have meetings every month, pay dues and discuss political articles-generally speeches made by the leaders of our country. Several said that these political discussions had no importance for them and that they understood very little.

Now I’m in the university, and here too the UJC story repeats itself. I find that many of the members in my class see the monthly meetings as unnecessary. They rarely look interested in discussing a theme that someone else has chosen for them.

On occasions, I have asked some of them why they continue belonging to the organization. The majority told me that it was for convenience, in order to obtain a good job; others believed that resigning could create problems for them.

After all these years, my impression is that instead of developing activists, it seems that the UJC is just collecting numbers.

It’s well known that this organization is meant to shape the future members of the Cuban Communist Party. This seems very contradictory to me, because my classmates reportedly have never even received talks explaining clearly what the purpose of the UJC is, or what rights they have as members; nor have they tried to teach them what communism is.

To me, many of the young people in the organization are far from being a vanguard; instead they appear stifled, unable to make decisions about the themes they’re interested in discussing. In private, many say that it’s a static organization incapable of revolutionizing our society.

Why don’t the leaders begin by explaining the characteristics of a socialist society; why don’t they give a course on what communism is; why don’t they discuss Marxism?

All of this, in my way of thinking, constitutes a very grave error that the UJC has yet to overcome. There are very few in its rank-and-file who really identify with the organization because they are seen only as numbers and not as protagonists.

I ask, how can you be a protagonist if even the topics that you have to discuss monthly are imposed by someone you don’t know and who is incapable of explaining to you their importance?

4 thoughts on “<em>Preparing the Rearguard</em>

  • Some good — and not so good — suggestions before me here.

    Let me say first that, in the sense that ALL social acts are political, there is no need to force ideology down people’s throats (tho’ a-political people are often quick to accuse anyone cornering them on something to be “oppressing” them. It’s an old rhetorical dodge). Simply engaging in concrete, useful, organized praxis in the service of society is itself a political expression, in some sense. And as much as this work interests the protagonists (and those around them), they will be motivated to analyze and discuss it further — leading to exactly the sort of understanding and class solidarity which good communists are always aiming for. Which I guess is what Daisy is aiming at here.

    There should be a clear hierarchy of intent on the part of organized cuban society, laid out for all to understand, whereby it is well and explicitly understood that people do not have to jumpt thru Party hoops to be good socialists, or even just good citizens. However, socialist theory has been hobbled for decades with false theory which serves the interests of cliques who can “game” the system — much as the bourgeoisie games “democracy” in the West: gutting the form of it of all meaningful content. The point of this clarification, of course, would be to aim at convincing ALL citizens to want to be good socialists. The question is: do those in power in Cuba have what it takes to make meaningful change — change which doesn’t turn into a ‘stampede to the exits’, as they so much fear (or maybe not).

    So for one thing: no one should feel pressured anymore to join any official organizations. People must really, really, *want* to join these things– just as has always been the intent of the organizers. We can see how fear of showing weakness in the face of imperialism is actually leading to the *opposite* result: weakness in the Revolution — thru widespread apathy, if nothing else.

    I guess I’d like to add more here, but blog commentary is not exactly dialog. Maybe Havana Times could use a ‘Forum’ software feature maybe..?

  • Daisy makes some great suggestions here (if you are a socialist). Even in an ideal society most people are not going to want to sit around discussing political theory. People should be taught their rights and obligations and then encouraged to debate and discuss these amongst themselves – especially (and obviously) as they relate to their own lives and interests.

    That is the way I raise my two children – here in Canada children are not educated that way in school (here in school children are taught very little about politics – the general idea is to de-politicize people – and it works – you just end up with a general belief in the system – capitalism – which most people don’t really understand – but what they do understand is that our system is “good” and all other systems are “bad”.)

    Marxism-Leninism imposes a straight jacket – which Daisy identifies so well. Real socialism (I hope!) would entail an interdependent network of communities (including cooperative businesses, self-employed, government business, small business, etc…) of people working together democratically to improve their own lives and the community. TO have such a system you would absolutely need critical thinkers – not robots and opportunists.

    Good for you Daisy…the future of Cuba and the entire world depends on people like you!
    John Richmond

  • Whether a revolution or a religion, when it has not yet arrived in power, or has only recently arrived in power, there is a certain dynamism, but over time this seems gradually to diminish. How, in the 50th year of the Revolution, does the UJC regain vitality? I would argue by scrapping the theoretical stuff and beginning again at ground zero. Each potential member should ask her- or himself: Who am I? What would I like to accomplish with this glorious consciosness and potential with which I have been so briefly invested? What is my relationship to my family, my community, my nation and my world? What would I like it to be? and Why?
    Instead of a lot of theoretical baggage, potential members could choose some concrete and achievable projects within their community to make it a better place and, in the proces, use this as a means to remake themselves into more compassionate beings. I’ve always found courses in Marxism-Leninism a big snooze! Arriving at an “oceanic” consciousness is always a tough, individual, life-long struggle, and one that can not be inocculated en masse and from above, but only done by the self on an individual basis by those who are so motivated, and it is always a struggle with self-delusion and egotism.
    That said, I will describe a recent scene where I thought real insights were being communicated. Late one afternoon last March my sixteen year old daughter and I were sitting on a bench in the park in front of the former Presidential Palace, now the Museo de La Revolucion. A few benches down, there were some students in blue uniforms in their late teens gathered around an older man (their professor?). They seemed to be having an animated discussion, not just a lecture by him, but rather a two-way, even a three- and four-way conversation. It seemed a Socratic dialogue, with questions evoking more questions. What we saw happening I am sure is more the exception than the rule. Still, it made us both smile.

  • Hi Daisy,

    “Why don’t the leaders begin by explaining the characteristics of a socialist society; why don’t they give a course on what communism is; why don’t they discuss Marxism?”

    Let me take a stab at answering your question. Maybe because these leaders don’t really believe the rhetoric they espouse, but rather are trying to protect their privileged postions.

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