Cuban Capitalism Already Has a (Human?) Face

Dmitri Prieto

Chala in the Cuban film "Conducta" (Conduct)
Chala in the Cuban film “Conducta” (Conduct)

HAVANA TIMES — Among the many believable characters in the recently released Cuban film Conducta – a film that has already begun to receive international recognition – we find one that is especially realistic.

I am referring to Igancio, the presumed father of the main character, a kid named Chala – a man of strong character whose relationship with the community that surrounds him and the child who could well be his son are marked by an aggressiveness that is questionable but not devoid of elements that would allow us to call it consistent.

Ignacio likes to call things by their name and has a very clear idea of everyone’s private interests. He makes a point of looking after his own and protecting “his” territory.

He is not indifferent to Chala, but his concept of manhood and of what’s right makes him mold the child in his own image, that is, prepare him for a life where one’s independence depends on our ability to survive a war governed by the so-called “law of the jungle” and to endure a constant struggle where it’s every man for himself.

For Ignacio, to be “one’s own boss” involves the ability to make money without any apparent violence against others.

This skill betrays a system of values in which one can make the most of the mistakes and shortcomings of others, of the twists and turns of fate and the life and pain of animals raised expressly to kill or be killed in clandestine and cruel fights, staged for rowdy men who enjoy making bets and care little about the blood and tears of those who suffer.

Chala runs into this unsettling reality head on, and its cruelty leads him to cry and throw the money Ignacio earns “honestly”, raising dogs to be torn to shreds in fights, in his face.

That reality, however, isn’t called Ignacio.

Igancio’s violent, calculating, blood-drenched, money-making face is merely the (human) face of that reality, a mere palpable hypostasis of the evil at work there.

It is an evil governed by an iron-clad logic, reason and faith.

It is an evil that inhabits the bodies fitted with human faces that serve as masks, bodies that are not necessarily filled with hate but that become tireless producers of hatred and misery – an evil known as capitalism.

In Cuba, there are those who, wishing to continue living off people’s sweat, want more Ignacios among us and for the personal dose of Ignacio we all carry with us to grow.

A few of these desiring beings, I believe, are people of a certain naivety, like Chala, who one day becomes aware of the true human (or animal) cost of the “honest” money Ignacio put in his hands.

In most cases, unfortunately, these people are dominated by a cynical spirit which pushes them to simply look after their own skin, pockets and power.

The girl I went to see Conducta with had to look the other way when the highly profitable death of a fight-dog was shown on screen.

Her tears are what give me the strength not to give up our struggle, a decision that some may perhaps consider an expression of childish naivety.

The capitalist economic regime and bureaucratic totalitarianisms that sustain it here, there and everywhere are manifestations of death. That is why they deserve to die – so that Cuba and the world can be reborn.

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.

4 thoughts on “Cuban Capitalism Already Has a (Human?) Face

  • I prefer the metaphor of a poker game. Technically, EVERYONE has a fair shot if they use their heads and try hard, but ultimately the pot goes to the player who knows best how to diddle and manipulate the others, rather than the one who knows the “rules” of the game by heart.

    Even the horse-racing metaphor, your panglossian image leaves out the mafiosi who fix the races and dope the horses. Corruption is the AIDS of capitalism; it can’t be gotten rid of, only “treated,” with varying (in an overly optimistic sense) degrees of success. It’ll be here till we collectively get tired of the system it survives off of. or until we get wiped out.

  • There must be some sort of virus infecting the political discourse of the left wherein they describe capitalism as totalitarianism. Capitalism has many faults and sins, but totalitarianism is not one of them. Let’s define the term, then:

    Totalitarianism or totalitarian state is a term used by some political scientists to describe a political system in which the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever possible.[1]

    The notion of totalitarianism as a “total” political power by state was formulated in 1923 by Giovanni Amendola, who described Italian Fascism as a system fundamentally different from conventional dictatorships.[9] The term was later assigned a positive meaning in the writings of Giovanni Gentile, Italy’s most prominent philosopher and leading theorist offascism. He used the term “totalitario” to refer to the structure and goals of the new state, which was to provide the “total representation of the nation and total guidance of national goals.”[10]

    According to Benito Mussolini, this system politicizes everything spiritual and human: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.[9]

    Karl Popper, in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) and The Poverty of Historicism (1961), articulated an influential critique of totalitarianism: in both works, he contrasted the “open society” of liberal democracy with totalitarianism, and argued that the latter is grounded in the belief that history moves toward an immutable future in accordance with knowable laws.

    In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt argued that Nazi and State communist regimes were new forms of government, and not merely updated versions of the old tyrannies. According to Arendt, the source of the mass appeal of totalitarian regimes is their ideology, which provides a comforting, single answer to the mysteries of the past, present, and future. For Nazism, all history is the history of race struggle; and, for Marxism, all history is the history of class struggle. Once that premise is accepted, all actions of the state can be justified by appeal to Nature or the Law of History, justifying their establishment of authoritarian state apparatus.[15]

    In addition to Arendt, many scholars from a variety of academic backgrounds and ideological positions have closely examined totalitarianism. Among the most noted commentators on totalitarianism are Raymond Aron, Lawrence Aronsen, Franz Borkenau, Karl Dietrich Bracher, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Conquest, Carl Joachim Friedrich, Eckhard Jesse, Leopold Labedz, Walter Laqueur, Claude Lefort, Juan Linz, Richard Löwenthal, Karl Popper, Richard Pipes, Leonard Schapiro, and Adam Ulam. Each one of these describes totalitarianism in slightly different ways. They all agree, however, that totalitarianism seeks to mobilize entire populations in support of an official state ideology, and is intolerant of activities which are not directed towards the goals of the state, entailing repression or state control of business, labour unions, churches or political parties.

    From the forgoing definitions, and I invite readers to check the numerous references cited a the link, capitalism does not fit the definition of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is the condition in which a state assume complete control over all aspects of a society: economic, political, social, spiritual, cultural, & intellectual, and forces them all to serve the purposes of the State. As Musolini said, and which somebody else later paraphrased, “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state”.

    Capitalism is an economic system only. The states which have practiced capitalism have been monarchies, liberal democracies and authoritarian dictatorships. More often than not, capitalism exits in a given state along side other economic institutions such as socialist programs and monopolies. In capitalist societies, there are many independent institutions (religious groups, political parties, labour unions, artist & intellectuals, cultural groups, & etc) which are in no sense under the control and direction the State, and certainly not under the complete control of the State, as is always the case in Totalitarian societies.

    There is something very Orwellian to use the term “totalitarian” to describe capitalism. It is a manifestation of the totalitarian mindset to engage in that perverse discourse.

  • To further your horseracing metaphor, as in capitalism where ordinary citizens can buy stock in a corporation and profit from it’s success, any fellow at a racetrack can place a bet on a given horse and profit from a good winner.

  • So you would have us believe that the cruel and inhumane sport of dogfighting is a metaphor for capitalism? Wrong. Too much blood and the loser usually dies. Capitalists don’t like making the loser that obvious. A better metaphor would be the sport of horseracing. It is best ‘played’ by the rich and the horse is the real reason behind the sport, yet the jockey, the trainer and the owner get all the credit.

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