Cuba Between Post-Totalitarianism and the Dictatorship of the Right

Erasmo Calzadilla

The Ministry of Finances and Prices.  Photo: Juan Suarez
The Ministry of Finances and Prices. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — I often say that the Cuban regime is a totalitarian dictatorship and, in saying this, I vent the frustration it produces me in one fell swoop. It’s a shame Spanish does not have as expressive and accurate a term as Totalherrschaft.

To be entirely honest, however, I am not too sure that shoe fits this particular system. Allow me to explain myself.

Totalitarianism is defined by a series of characteristics: some we find in Cuba, others not. Those that are related to the Party-State seem to have a higher “survival rate.”

These characteristics are:

  • Hierarchical authority.
  • Complete control over the press and media and their use for propagandistic purposes.
  • Overlapping of the State and the single Party.
  • The existence of a secret police whose activities do not appear to be restrained by law.
  • Intense and explicit indoctrination of children and young people.
  • Ideological control over key aspects of society, such as culture and the economy.
  • Persecution and demonization of the “Other” (dissidents, in our case).
  • Liquidation of representative democracy: the leader communicates with the people directly.

Now, totalitarianism is not authoritarianism. To secure total control, it requires the complicity and enthusiasm of the masses. We could say that a country is going through a totalitarian phase if:

  • The fear towards those who would threaten the nation state (aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, capitalists, communists, anarchists, foreign powers) has been transformed into mass hysteria.
  • Faith in political institutions has been lost and a form of unity loaded with transcendent and mystical references is appealed to.
  • People long for the arrival of a charismatic, iron-handed leader that embodies the spirit of the community and takes on the battle against the demons that besiege it.
  • People are driven by a blind and irrational faith in the project’s ultimate triumph.

Do we qualify?

During the first years of the revolution, we did, but not so much now. Some old-school Stalinists with high-ranking positions seek to restore the country’s lost ideological purity and popular euphoria, but the spirit of the times is headed in a different direction. Even the president seems to be blowing in a different direction.

People are fed up with grandiloquent strongmen and military parades. Neighboring sister nations have easy access to the Internet, an active political life, modern cities, middle classes, high levels of consumption, so people invariably ask themselves: “why not us?” The feeling of belonging, of a national, cultural, ideological or spiritual identity, is a light tendency – the times of fundamentalism are behind us.

I also perceive a considerable consensus in favor of a free-market economy. If we add the informal and indomitable spirit that characterizes “us” to the above, it becomes extremely difficult to fit Cuba into the mold of a totalitarian state. Where shall we place it, then?

Post-totalitarianism could be described as the remnants of a totalitarian system (one that isn’t sufficiently large to implode, as did the Soviet Union) that has exhausted the social “energies” that once sustained it. The government, now devoid of massive popular support, becomes increasingly authoritarian. But it is a weary form of authoritarianism, sustained more by inertia than by weapons and violence. The people, however, remain mired in a king of “light totalitarianism.” I say this thinking about Cuba in particular.

The liquidation of institutions, of civil and community structures and the affront on labor organizations, among other disasters brought about by the revolution, have engendered what we could call the empowerment of the rabble, a phenomenon that is not lacking in totalitarian features. Tongue-in-cheek, I would say it is an emergent, community-based, horizontal, self-managed and profound form of totalitarianism.

No Country for Dupes

This totalitarianism is not political, fanatical, obstinate or cruel, like its predecessor. On the basis of local forms of aggression, however, it wears down those who do not share its principles and values. It is suffered by those who insist on considering themselves persons, the bearers of an inalienable individuality that is irreducible to the masses, most of all.

The enterprising, the creative, the intelligent, the talented, the early-risers, the self-sacrificing, the studious, the hard-working, those who patiently cultivate something that takes its time to yield fruits, the non-violent, those who loathe seedy places, shady dealings and illegalities invariably grow frustrated in such an environment. Some lock themselves up in their homes and others leave the country, complicating the situation even more.


If the social brew described above is placed in the context of the approaching global crisis, the mix becomes explosive. I foresee three possible scenarios: two probable and one miraculous.

  1. The country becomes ungovernable, torn by chaos, insecurity and growing poverty. It ends up being run by mafias and patriarchal brotherhoods.
  2. In reaction to the above, the State gets down to business and tries to restore order by force, without discarding the possibility of alliances with some criminal organizations. I would call this a “Mexicanization” of society.
  3. Caught between a rock and a hard place, attacked by both, people grow up, mature, organize and arm themselves and decides to fight for their interests. This is something that’s also happening in Mexico.

I would like to end this post with a question: if the above happened and you had a choice, what group would you join?

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.

21 thoughts on “Cuba Between Post-Totalitarianism and the Dictatorship of the Right

  • By definition, basically. Fascism is unbridled nationalism. Nothing outside the state, nothing above the state, everything within the state. Furthermore, Fascism asserts that one nation is inherently better than all others. This hierarchical viewpoint is characteristic of extreme right-wing ideology. Liberalism, in contrast, is usually opposed to nationalism and tends to encourage equality.

    Fascism is the merger of the state and capitalism. The left-wing fights for a more egalitarian society. Left-wing doesn’t mean more government. Fascism is anti-egalitarian, with instances of racism, smashing labor unions, and merging the state and capitalist hierarchy. Fascism is extremely anti-communism. The left-wing has been vehemently anti-fascist, fighting in all respects against it.

    What is being left-wing about if not a belief in equality? The far left want something close to absolute equality of outcome for all individuals. And what was Nazism if not the polar opposite of that? Whole categories of people were considered so worthless that they were exterminated. On a less horrific note, the Nazis also reversed much of the earlier move towards gender equality in Germany.

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