Challenges Facing Cuba’s New Left

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

  • January 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    @ George Ramirez, a perusal of the table of contents of “Cooperatives and Socialism: A Vision from Cuba,” indicates that the contributors all base their writings on the premise that “socialism” means state ownership of productive property, and that, under socialism, socialist property can only be state property. This is precisely the premise of Bruno Jossa’s “The Economic Theory of Socialism” referred to in an earlier comment above. It is evident that all the proponents of cooperatives under socialist state power, in both books, assume the same thing: that the socialist state must own everything productive, and cooperatives may only exist as creatures of the all-owning state.
    This blanket assumption stems from a moralistic view that the institution of private productive property rights is incompatible with the socialist stage of society. Such a view was held by the old Utopians, and also by Engels and Marx. In fact, it is the foundation of statism, and it is the foundation of Marxian ideology.
    The present controversy between the whole world body of Marxists, on the one hand, and the tiny modern cooperative socialist movement, on the other, pivots on this question of property rights. Marxists, every one, still belief with Engels and Marx that private property rights must be abolished promptly under socialist state power, and that this is the foundation of socialism. Modern cooperative socialists believe that such rights should not be abolished, but should be retained and utilized for workable socialism.
    I have shown that Engels and Marx formulated the principle of statism in the next-to-last page of the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto; and that they reaffirmed this principle a quarter-century later in their preface to the 1872 German edition of the Manifesto. You and other Marxists will say and print mountains of statements about statism and cooperatives. But you will never even address directly and honestly what Marx and Engels wrote and believed. You will never admit that statism comes from them, and that they were 100% wrong in their absurd principle and formula for a socialist mode of production.
    You and those like you must attribute everything bad to the monster Stalin, of else your entire ideological edifice comes crashing down. No matter how mush evidence is presented, no matter how many excellent arguments are presented, you people cannot come up with anything but self-righteous dogma that puts religious cultism to shame. You don’t even have the intellectual courage to review the Weitling/Hess letter to see if what I say about Engels and Marx being financially supported by the bourgeoisie is true.
    You, George, are a statist. You believe that private productive property rights are incompatible with socialism. You say you don’t believe Marx is a god, but behave as though this is precisely what you believe.

  • January 14, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks for the link, George! But I’m in the midst of Marcuse’s Eros & Civilization, which is – to say the least – a mind opener.

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