Alfredo Guevara: ‘Cuban Society Will Break Free of the Prison of the State’ (I)

Dmitro Prieto

Alfredo Guevara. Photo:

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?

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

3 thoughts on “Alfredo Guevara: ‘Cuban Society Will Break Free of the Prison of the State’ (I)

  • I have been thinking that the state would confine itself to the commanding heights of the economy and leave the rest to various modalities of ownerships. In today’s world that will mean such sectors as research, space exploration & rest of high tech, capital intensive & long term, not in the sphere of production or services.
    Old Marx knew something that tend escape most of us. Marxism – it seems- is yet to come of an age.

  • This is a response to the previous comment by Grady Ross Daugherty. It would be wise to look at the actual wording from the Communist Manifesto: “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible” (Tucker, Ed., The Marx-Engels Reader, 2ed., p. 490).

    I think it might be wise to shift the focus from a question of statism vs. non-statism to one regarding what sort of state we are going to have. In other words, it is important that Marx is advocating a State that consists “of the proletariat organized as the ruling class”—those words are very important. Has there ever been a society where, objectively speaking, the proletariat functioned as the ruling class? Certainly such was never the case in the USSR. Perhaps one can say that the government in Cuba has had the support of the proletariat, but that is not the same thing as the proletariat actually controlling the state. Until we’ve actually had a state that was controlled by the proletariat, one cannot say that such a form of statism will not work. And it is not fair to Marx and rather disingenuous to suggest that he is the true originator of Stalin-style statism (or even of Castro-style statism, which is not nearly as unsavory).

  • Good article, Dmitri. The quote from Alfredo Guevara that “Society will break free — it seems — from the prison of the State,” is encouraging–very encouraging.

    You make a profound mistake however in tracing the “statism” of Cuba to 1933. This mistake is typical of one certain ultra-Left tendency that believes that the statist perversion of socialism comes from Joseph Stalin. It does not. Believing that it does interferes with a person’s ability to contemplate what authentic, workable socialism truly is.

    As Raul Castro admitted in his speech reprinted in yesterday’s (I believe) HT, the Cuban leadership took the stipulation from the “Marxist-Leninist classics” that the state should own all the means of production, and had the Cuban state own everything. Well, Dmitri, this is what all the socialist experiments have done since 1917.

    Each one has followed the core stipulation of Marx regarding state ownership of all the instruments of production, and each one has found that the bureaucratic constipation and political/social absolutism caused by it is unworkable.

    You and others need to re-read the next-to-last page of the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto, and stop laying the blame for statism on the monster Stalin. It comes directly from Karl Marx. All you have to do is read his words indicated above in the Manifesto.

    For the re-vitalization of the world socialist movement, please stop tracing the statist perversion of socialism to Stalin, and zero in one its real source, Karl Marx.

    The world socialist movement will be revitalized when it returns to its pre-Marx roots, to a cooperative, private-property, market form of socialism.

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