Early Lessons in Russian Activism (II)

Dmitri Prieto

Cuba nature photo by Caridad

When spring arrived in Moscow in April, all kinds of creatures came out from their hiding places. Systematically, the girls (I don’t still understand why it was specifically girls) dedicated themselves to hunting the seven-spotted ladybug or “C-7” (Coccinella septempunctata in Latin, and whose common name in Russian for some reason means nothing less than the “cow of God”).

To prevent these bugs from flying away, the girls would pull off their soft, reddish, transparent wings – the extensions that these small scarabs used for moving through the air (when they weren’t flying, the insects would fold these under their harder wings).

It seems there was no ethical problem in pulling apart the body of a living being for pure aesthetic reasons.  Although these were only insects, this action seemed to be the aestheticization of politics, as Walter Benjamin might say.

Someone would say:

“All children mistreat animals.”

But a wise woman once told me:

“Perhaps not all abusers of animals will become fascists when they grow up; but in their childhood, all fascists were abusers of animals.”

I took that thesis very seriously, especially since we were learning a new subject in school: “The Political Life of My Homeland.”  In it we were explained the importance of political and mass organizations, solidarity and the features of socialism – a system which of course had nothing to do with fascism.

My best friend back in those days was Osiel Altunaga Aguirre.  Osiel was a Havana-born mulatto who loved adventure books and who spoke perfect Russian.  He was also the grandson of the Cuban ambassador (Severo Aquirre del Cristo, an old communist leader who later became president of the Cuban Parliament but is now deceased).  That status, of course, in no way afforded Osiel any social or educational privileges.  In time, my friend and I begin to share our respective commitments to environmentalism, and using multiple arguments.

Those arguments ranged from the need to conserve the ecological balance (“In nature everything is related.  If you continued pulling off the wings of ladybugs, the insects that eat these would consume all the trees.  This would bring an end to photosynthesis, causing the atmosphere of the planet to fill up with smoke and CO2.  Consequently, we wouldn’t be able to breathe and we would die) to the political stability of the revolution (“to be an abuser of animals is fascism, and if you continue in that manner, Cuba will become capitalist”).

But the girls didn’t pay any attention to us (perhaps they didn’t fully understand our arguments concerning fascism and CO2?).

So, with a few other boys (among whom were a couple of Mexicans and a Panamanian-Nicaraguan, because the Cuban School in Moscow was truly international), we got to work and organized ourselves.

We created the Nature Defenders Union (UDN), a kind of environmentalist league parallel to the Pioneers Organization, of which we were members.  We told ourselves that the UDN was a political organization (because, like we had learned in the classes of “Political Life of My Homeland,” political organizations are those which not anyone can join, only people who completely commit themselves to an ideal).

We designed a flag with three colors representing the three kingdoms of nature.  A yellow sun was in the middle along with a letter “N” for “nature.”  The N was black for mourning, like in the flag of Cuba’s July 26th Movement, though its closer origins were in the battle flag of Captain Nemo.  After the victory of “our revolution,” we supposed that the N would definitively be changed to white.

We continued with our “agitprop” (agitation and propaganda) among the girls.  We broke out in holy hell every time one of them mistreated an insect.  Once a teacher asked me what we were up to.  Without going into great depth about the “political organization,” I launched into an explanation about ladybugs, the “green filter” of plants and CO2, and I concluded by pointing out that “to protect nature is to protect the Homeland!”

We never understood why the school administration, with such lightning speed, made the decision to strictly prohibit students from hunting ladybugs.  That decision was also announced in classrooms and in a meeting with parents.  We were indeed thrilled, though we never ended up hoisting the flag with the white letter N.  The victory was too easy; it lacked something for this to have been a true revolution!

That summer, the Cuban School in Moscow closed for a few years. Ambassador Severo had concluded his mission, and it appeared that they pulled the budget for the school.  My “environmentalist” friends and I separated, but I’ll always remember that it was in Russia where we learned how the sole fact of being organized could be decisive in the triumph of a just cause.

One thought on “Early Lessons in Russian Activism (II)

  • U made the correct assessment that — rather than allowing your campaign 2 develop normally & “organically” — the state authorities (represented in the school administration) handed U your “victory” by 2-simple, top-down, bureaucratic fiat. Hardly satisfying at all. Or lasting; as neither was the school, either, apparently — which itself became a victim of the same sort of capricious, bureaucratic state fiat.

    Obviously, true socialism entails a profound respect 4 — & consciousness of — the natural “rhythms” & flows of all processes: including political, social & individual, psychological 1s. Which process, I have to add, does NOT necessarily entail ‘going along with the flow’, or pandering 2 ignorance, etc., as so often becomes the case. It instead means maintaining & developing conscious, intelligent *engagement* with the concrete circumstances we all find ourselves in.

    As U people R (often, but not always IMO) attempting with this ‘offshore’ website.

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