Erasmo Calzadilla

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, 11 ene — Cuban political scientist and columnist Haroldo Dilla recently published an essay on the need for a new left to be born in our country.

Nevertheless for me, as someone who considers themself a member of that political wing, those words (at least most of them) didn’t resonate. Nor did they resonate with most of the “new leftists” I know.

Haroldo’s commentary invites us try to specify what is (and what is not) the “new left,” who belongs to it and who doesn’t – a task that I leave for the wisest among us.

Instead, I’m going to discuss the “new leftist spirit” that has been astir here in Cuba.

In recent decades there has been born not one or two isolated groups, but an entire spirit, a new (or deeper) consciousness among earthlings, and also among Cubans.

This new awareness includes a lot of environmentalism, queerness, cool solidarity (also with other species), pantheistic religion that ubiquitously assumes a divinity threatened by the consumerist and alienating praxis of the current regimes, and of politics in the sense of activism from below against the established powers.

I would suggest, though not everyone will agree, that this is a left motion.

Like with the “indignados” at Puerta del Sol (Madrid) and elsewhere, this new left is far removed from centralism, authoritarianism, chauvinism, the traditional symbols of the left as well as representative democracy. It distances itself from the spectacle of the struggle between parties, elections, private ownership and other aspects in common with the “Western” paradigm.
I don’t deny that some people in this new wave (I’d say that only a minority feel fairly strongly about this) still believe that this regime is not beyond hope and that the “historic leaders” can lead the change.

Another minority (one that is given much attention and fanfare) consists of those who only focus on the issues of civil and human rights, and who believe that social democracy is a way out. (This is a minority within this “new leftist spirit” to which I’m referring, though perhaps not among the general population).

But back to Dilla. Later in his commentary he states: “But at the same time, I think that this emerging left is facing several critical issues that it must resolve if it wants to actually be a political alternative in Cuban society.”

A “political alternative in Cuban society”? What a joke! For the time being, I don’t think such a thing can be hoped for, and for several reasons.

Building from the ashes

In the first place this is because the movement is still very immature and (in my opinion) too few in number. Castro Stalinism fell like an atomic bomb on the left tradition, hurling people — by their natural rejection — into the arms of capitalism and liberalism.

The left now has to reconstitute itself from the ashes and it must do it at the rhythm of those who are little by little building a new paradigm.

Secondly this is because participating in the political struggle in the traditional style would mean renouncing the essence of the movement. It would involve, for example, the role of an “enlightened vanguard” and everything derived from that: top-down “verticalism,” internal police organization, the frequent purging of heretics, demagoguery, representativeness as a mode of relations between professionals and the rest of the movement, and so on.

However, what’s clear is that the new left should propose (explicitly or by example) the alternative of “achievable good living” (i.e. not committing the idealist’s sin).

There is much talk of cooperatives but — be careful! — when some new leftists suggest this as a way of organizing work (versus private enterprise and wage labor), aren’t they invoking another form of totalitarianism where everything would have to be turned into cooperatives, and where everyone would have to be connected to work in that manner?

In any case, I’m not denying that this movement has before it plenty of dilemmas constituting veritable mountains in its path. It wouldn’t be bad to hear “And you, on your tiptoes!”(*), but maturity can’t be rushed.

As for the question of time running out, I think the left can take it easy regarding this point: there will always be plenty of work for it.
* In Mambi mythology, when one of the Maceos died in combat with the Spanish, the mother, Mariana Grajales, said to another of her sons who was still a minor “And you, stand on your tiptoes so that you can head for the jungle to fight.” Maybe that wasn’t the exact expression – but who really knows?


Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

10 thoughts on “Challenges Facing Cuba’s New Left

  • Hello Grady,

    The little I know about the ex-Yugoslavia also comes from ‘snippets here and there’. I recently came across a short essay that tries to explain the contradictions between the communist cadres and the democracy in the workplace that characterized the Yugoslav socialist experiment:

    But nothing further.

    I think the problem with Yugoslavia was the Balkan cultural diversity itself – only a strong and charismatic leader like Tito could unite the region. It was not perfect, but it was far more revolutionary than any orthodox Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

  • Hey Luis, most of what I know or think I know comes from years of hearsay and snippets here and there. I’m not much of a scholar, but only a worker. My understanding of them is that they were not owned by the workers who participated in them. As I understand, they were owned by the state–and the surplus-values (profits) generated by the workers went directly into state coffers–with the state bureaucracy then remitting part of these profits according to prior agreements. Perhaps someone out there in cyberland can bring us both up to speed.

    The problem of industrial and commercial cooperatives under socialist state power goes to the heart of the traditional Left’s disdain for legal private productive property rights. A socialist state that believes that such rights are anathema to socialism cannot grant private cooperative ownership to workers of coop corporations without going against the old concept of socialism as full state ownership of everything. In Cuba, if workers are granted such rights, and a movement should arise for the founding of such cooperatives, this would seem to be the end of Cuban state monopoly socialism (and the beginning of real, workable socialism).

    I know that private property rights are not inconsistent with real socialism, but this again flies in the face of all the old prejudices and old thinking. I believe that coops owned directly by those who work could solve Cuba’s many economic and social problems, but do not know if they will be possible, given the PCC’s stand on Marxism (state monopolism) as the state ideology.

  • Hello Grady.

    Do you have any sort of material on the Yugoslavian cooperative experiment? This is a subject that intrigues me, and even the internet lacks deep investigations on the matter.


  • Hey Erasmo I agree with your critique of Haroldo’s essay and one paragraph in particular caught my attention:

    “There is much talk of cooperatives but — be careful! — when some new leftists suggest this as a way of organizing work (versus private enterprise and wage labor), aren’t they invoking another form of totalitarianism where everything would have to be turned into cooperatives, and where everyone would have to be connected to work in that manner?”

    Isn’t it totalitarian to think that “there is only way to go”? After the demise of the USSR, the left-wingers felt one huge impact as the “new global order” was literally hurled into our own throats. The neoliberal order of the 90’s was particularly harmful for us from Latin America.

    Now we face another kind of totalitarianism – the social-developmentalism one. It is of course 100 times better than it was in the 90’s, but it has killed politics, we have no other choice at all.

    Then it comes down to Cuba. Even with all its flaws, it is still a symbol that “there’s another world possible”. That’s why we on the left hope that Cuba will follow its own way.


  • A good, even-handed article.

    With regard to the possibility that cooperatives might result in a new sort of totalitarianism, I don’t think there’s much to worry about on that score. There are all sorts of cooperatives, and pluralism and cooperative business structures go hand in hand. One of the primary principles of coops is that they are voluntary organizations.

    The only instances I know of where coops were less than voluntary were the Yugoslavian experiments, in which the totalitarian regime tried to squeeze more surplus-value out of the workers by offering them more self-management and a slightly larger piece of the pie.

    In Cuba hopefully the production cooperatives that will arise will be owned by the working associates, not the state. Workers would join them as a means of improving their incomes and job satisfaction. At least, that is the hope.

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