By Dimitri Prieto
“Bombard the Headquarters!” wrote Mao Zedong on August 5, 1966 in a dazibao (a big-character poster, in Chinese), giving his blessing to the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China.”
I was reminded of Chairman Mao and my friend Erasmo Calzadilla* a few days ago when I presented a work on the teaching of the history of philosophy before a commission of the Forum of Science and Technology in my municipality of Santa Cruz.
The Forum is a setting for technological innovation that was born among Cuban industries at the beginning of the 1990s, and later gradually extended to other institutions and fields.
Initially it was called the “Spare Parts Forum,” and was devoted to discussing suggestions for technological improvement and the re-conditioning of parts of various industrial machines. Many of these had become scarce following the structural crisis caused by the collapse of Euro-Soviet socialism.
The leadership of the Cuban Communist Party decided to gradually enlarge the base of the Forum, whose meetings now begin in workplaces and progressively feed into assemblies at the municipal and provincial levels, until culminating at the national level.
The Forum of Science and Technology today is certainly a structure that is very inclusive, where suggestions emerge about technological improvements, energy conservation, and in our case even on how to manufacture percussion musical instruments for traditional fiestas in Santa Cruz by using scrap industrial materials.
Therefore, I decided to present a critical work to the Forum – which also included some proposals – about the need to review the way philosophy is being taught in the Municipal Universities (Community Colleges) of Cuba.
Wishing to be respectful of the designers of the program, I limited myself to analyzing the textbook’s shortcomings, as well as the special characteristics of our students. From this I reached the conclusion that important changes should be implemented.
I decided not to get involved with the program itself, because I knew that the same one is rigorously applied at the University of Havana, although I did intend to make forceful mention of the fact that there are several ways of appreciating philosophy in Cuba.
These include the recognition of developments in critical Marxism by professors such as Jorge Luis Acanda and Fernando Martínez Heredia (of the Gramsci Team, affiliated to the state-owned Cuban Institute for Cultural research School), as well as an original philosophical system expressed in two books by professor Alexis Jardines, published recently by the Cuban publishing house Ciencias Sociales.
These developments are completely opposed to the “Soviet” variant of studying philosophy, euphemistically called “Marxism-Leninism.” I knew that other colleagues such as Erasmo Calzadilla had defended similar ideas; Erasmo even presented a work that was similar or even more radical than mine to the Forum at his university.
Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised – and I thank God for the experience! – for the critical and supportive positions of the teachers who made up the scientific commission of the Forum. They analyzed my proposal and emphasized that what I was doing was only the beginning of a greater work, and that I should be neither reserved nor reticent in my conclusions.
The work was selected to be reviewed at the provincial level, and it was strongly suggested that I include a critical analysis of the program in it – come what be – because as teachers we are responding to the future of our students, and we should commit ourselves to the destruction of erroneous visions that can impede the learning of youth, as well as the future of all of Cuban society.
“But I didn’t design the program; they designed it at the University of Havana!” I said. “So what?” the jury responded. “You’ve already demonstrated that you can criticize it. Can’t teachers at the University of Havana make mistakes? So, what’s the problem? We need more works like yours. Don’t be afraid, go ahead!”
Through my mind passed the images of Chairman Mao in Beijing in the 1960s with his “Red Guards,” and my colleague Erasmo Calzadilla. Now I’ll have less free time during my vacation because the provincial session of the Forum of Science and Technology has been announced for September. This is even better, since it’s very hot out on the streets of Havana.