I recently attended a colloquium within the framework of the Havana Film Festival. The topic was Julio Antonio Mella (1903-1929), an emblematic young Cuban and founder of the island’s Communist Party, the Federation of University Students, the Popular University and the Anti-imperialistic League.
Mella was also the boyfriend of the famous photographer, activist and actress Tina Modotti, whose arms he died in while in Mexico, where he was met by the bullets of a henchman acting in the service of the Cuban dictator of the moment, Gerardo Machado.
The organizers of the forum wanted to promote a discussion related to the current situation in Cuba through reflecting on the life and work of Mella (who was expelled from the Cuban Communist Party and had to flee to Mexico since he was seen as a heretic in the eyes of the representatives of the pro-Moscow line).
Colloquium participants included Fernando Martinez Heredia (a revolutionary Cuban thinker and the present director of the Institute of Cultural Research), Nestor Kohan (an Argentinean Marxist theoretical), Ana Cairo (a researcher specializing in Cuban culture) and Christine Hatzky (the German author of a recent revealing biography of Mella), along with a small but active audience.
What was discussed was stimulating but, in my modest opinion, of interest basically only to those stirred by debates on Marxism or examinations of Latin American history.
For me, however, the most outstanding moment was the sudden arrival — almost at the event — of Alfredo Guevara (the founder of the ICAIC (Cuban cinematographic institute) and the film festival, as well as a friend of Fidel Castro. In fact, people say that in their youthful militant days Guevara was charged with accompanying Fidel around the University carrying his personal gun hidden inside a book. In this way Castro had ready access to it if needed while at the same time avoiding arrest for carrying a weapon).
Alfredo made a brief statement about the destinies of socialism in Cuba, specifically asserting: “The de-statization of Cuban society is irreversible. Society will break free — it seems — from the prison of the State. The government will release its prey, whether it wants to or not.”
I was pleasantly surprised to hear such words from Guevara. Historically, scholars and also the people of Cuba generally have identified socialism with statism (a tendency that prevailed circa 1933). Still today, few people know of the existence of liberal (anti-authoritarian) tendencies within the left.
Obviously, Alfredo Guevara could have been referring to the political-ideological control of the government over culture. In such a sense, it’s good that he’s promoting freedom of speech, autonomous initiatives and access by many more people to all types of cultural resources (including of course the Internet, with Wikileaks and all).
But I imagine that — given today’s crisis— his words had a more generic sense, also referring to the economy, decision making, resource distribution and life of all society.
So then the question emerges: So what kind of de-statization are we talking about?