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.

Perspectives

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

  • February 21, 2016 at 8:32 am
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    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.

  • October 31, 2014 at 10:09 am
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    Wikipedia said that fascism has always been recognized as a right wing phenomenon but that since the Cold War the term “fascist has been employed by anti-communists /pro-capitalists as a pejorative when referring to any left government that the public has been brainwashed into automaticaly thinking of as evil .
    In other words, it’s intellectually dishonest and transparently so to employ the term fascist to describe Cuba.
    I will not respond to replies.

  • October 29, 2014 at 10:22 am
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    In 1944, Ramon Grau was elected in a responsive democratic election. In 1948, Prio was elected president. During those eight years the Authentic government was known to be corrupt, but it was democratically elected and the party had broad support in the Senate and House of Representatives. Several opposition parties also held elected seats.

    In 1952, Batista’s coup overthrew the last democratically elected government in Cuba. The 1958 election was boycotted by the 26 July Movement. Once he seized power, Castro cancelled the multiparty elections he had promised during the fight against Batista. The Castro regime has never been responsive, democratic or free. And it has become far more corrupt than that of Machado, Grau, Prio or Batista.

  • October 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm
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    Today the dictator is Cuba is called Castro.
    Lets focus on him for now and stop looking at the past.

  • October 28, 2014 at 7:52 am
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    Actually, it’s not just Batista. It was Socarias, and Machado as well. Except for the beginning of the Gobierno de Cien Dias, Cuba, since 1900, has always been extremely corrupt violent and undemocratic. The ABC, El Porro, Los Bonches, are forgotten history. If you step back, the Revolution still is the most responsive, democratic government free Cuba has ever had.

  • October 26, 2014 at 7:20 am
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    No system that called itself “communist” – like Cuba – has ever allowed direct ownership by workers or democracy in any form.
    Some socialist systems have.

  • October 26, 2014 at 7:19 am
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    The guy is just using the standard propaganda rhetoric excuse.
    In pro-Castro “newspeak” everything is “extreme” and “dualist”.
    Castro or Batista: I reject both as they both are / were dictators
    Castro Stalinist versus extreme uncaring capitalism: I reject both as there is a middle way.
    The simplicity of some of the “arguments” used here by those that defend the Castro regime are very informative: they don’t want to address reality and just want to compare propaganda lies – which they claim is reality – with and imaginary extreme opposite.
    The intellectual dishonesty is evident.

  • October 25, 2014 at 6:17 pm
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    Apparently, as you’ve convinced no one of your quack theory and interpretation of communism, you’ve resorted to argument ad nauseum. Perhaps you’ll just beat your ideas into us.

  • October 25, 2014 at 12:22 pm
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    I am glad we cleared this up. We were indeed only arguing about which terms better suit the situation. I am glad that any misunderstandings have been cleared up.

    I agree we share the same values and resulting critiques of the Castro regime.

    On the fascist theme I found this interesting article that may interest you: (if Circles allows it)
    DANIEL F. CALDERÍN: El castrismo, ¿comunismo o fascismo? | El
    Nuevo Herald – http://www.elnuevoherald.com/opinion-es/opin-col-blogs/opinion-sobre-cuba/article3351966.html

  • October 25, 2014 at 10:25 am
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    In order for an economic system to be termed socialist or communist , it must be run from the bottom, in a democratic fashion , by the workers.
    Cuba is state capitalist and the only difference between the workers in Cuba and the workers in the U.S. is who tells you how to do your job and how much you will be paid.
    In the U.S. it is a single person or a board of directors.
    In Cuba it is government agencies.
    Both are totalitarian and need to be eliminated in favor of democratic economic systems in both countries.
    .

  • October 25, 2014 at 7:56 am
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    Thank you for the clarification. We share the same critiques of the Castro regime, even if we prefer to use slightly different terminology. Fair enough.

    I appreciate your well-informed posts. Even if I sometimes disagree on a given point, I find great value in what you have to say.

    “Cuba is already fascist, “red fascist”, and may become “black fascist”. In either case I oppose the fascist elite.”

    Perfectly stated!

  • October 25, 2014 at 4:37 am
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    We are arguing semantics again.

    I agree with your arguments of free market capitalism. I also agree that most capitalist countries have a role for the government in providing some services and infrastructure. You are again preaching to the converted.

    The current Cuban economic system can best be described as “State capitalist”.

    state capitalism noun
    : an economic system in which private capitalism is modified by a varying degree of government ownership and control

    In Cuba’s case nearly 100% of the economy is in the hands of the regime.

    The reason why I prefer not to use your description of Cuba as a “Marxist Socialist system” is simple: it isn’t clear and concise enough. The terms you use can describe a whole wide variety of systems and serves as an excuse for the regime. In a “Marxist socialist” system the means of productions are supposed to be owned by the workers. In Cuba they are owned by the state. The regime loves to call.self “socialist” implying communal ownership of means of production and a “workers democracy”. In reality neither exist in Cuba.

    As far as being informed about the economic situation and the abuses of the money grabbing Castro (military) elite: yes I am very aware of it and of all the items you mention. I know the origins of Gaviota and Cimex and the struggle between the military and the “parliamentary” factions that the military won when Raul came to power. I know of the paladares and galleries owned by top members of the elite and their offspring. I know of the sons and grandsons of the elite being sent abroad to study and work for cover companies. I know of Fidel’s personal holdings (see the “Pain de Paris” story for example).
    I think you greatly misinterpret what I am saying.
    Cuba is already fascist, “red fascist”, and may become “black fascist”. In either case I oppose the fascist elite.

  • October 24, 2014 at 5:49 pm
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    By definition, capitalism requires a free market for the economic forces which drive capitalism to function properly. Some government regulation may be necessary to prevent excesses and help preserve a fair economic environment. However, when the government intervention is of too great a scale, when the government assigns to monopolies all of the key industries and businesses, from telecom, to banking, tourism, manufacture, retail, transportation and all import/export business, the economic laws of capitalism no longer function. The system is therefore no longer capitalist in any real sense of the word. This is the current state of the Cuban economy, which is in transition between a Marxist socialist system and modern Fascist state.

    Raul has declared there will be no political reforms, no multi-party democracy, no opening to human rights and freedoms. The Party will maintain an absolute monopoly on political power.

    Keep in mind, the “private capitalists” you mention, the recipients of the assets being transferred under the Raulist economic reforms, are all connected to the highest levels of the military.

    Did you know that the largest hotel chain owned by a Latin American corporation is Cuban system, owned by GAESA, the FAR owned holding company? The director of GAESA is Raul’s son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodrigues Lopez-Callejas. Keeping it all in that family, Cuban style.

    Many of the most popular paladars, especially the ones the tour busses (all GAESA owned) drive their hungry Canadian tourists to are owned by nephews and daughters of senior Cuban military officers.

    Cuba today is indistinguishable from Fascism.

  • October 24, 2014 at 5:26 pm
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    I can’t say I know in details how exactly it goes in daily life on Cuba but I strongly believe that branding Cuban state stalinist or even fascist, can come only from those who believes that “communism” and “satanism” are synonyms.
    I am not even sure that Cuban state is truly totalitarian. Authoritarian, maybe. As I can see it is not much different from what the Soviet Union was in 1985 – contrary to popular Western believes (and back-room rumors) KGB was not raiding houses nightly, army did not practice for world domination and bears did not stroll the streets (maybe not that often).
    I had pretty radical opinions myself in those times but now from the
    height of years I can see how much of it came from me being young and
    stupid. Not everything, what seemed to be evil beyond any measure,
    actually was. And more than enough of what we dreamed and desired of
    have betrayed our expectations.
    As for prospectives – there may be another way – the similar to what I lived through in Russia.
    I remember the utter despair of 1989-1996 (yes we had our own Special Period :), when social institutions, medicine, morale was crumbling around us, with bloody and disastrous war on hands, daily street murders and weekly acts of terror. It seemed that future will bring only more shame, chaos an destruction. The State did not help – bureaucrats were busy splitting the pie. But we have survived. It took endurance.
    I hope that Cuba will skip this period or slide through it swiftly. You guys are kinder, more cheerful and capable of taking it easy better than we were. Just don’t get too angry on each other and don’t believe that fight will make life fair.
    As in Russia, the state property will be privatized and split. Yes, it will be unfair. Some powerful people and some unscrupulous people will get more and will become first capitalists. Good people will endure, survive and learn to live in a new society which will be changing every other day. It will be better than another round of unrest or revolution.

  • October 24, 2014 at 2:31 pm
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    “state capitalist” is an expression used for a system where the government controls all capital in the country. It is of course – as you point out correctly – not free market capitalism.

    The system towards which Cuba is moving is another massive expropriation of the Cuban people where the current military-political oligarchy that controls the “state capitalist system” wants to transfer these assets to there “private capitalist” holdings as happened in the Soviet Union.

    This is indeed a form of “economical fascism” as you point out.

  • October 24, 2014 at 2:26 pm
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    I have always opposed any dictatorship and have rejected the Batista dictatorship for the same reasons I reject the Castro dictatorship.

    There is no “Batista leadership” that can return.

    All I support is that the aims of the anti-Bastista revolution are achieved: restoration of the 1940 constitution and free and fair multi-party elections.

    Even Che admitted the revolutions was communist:
    “The Cuban revolution is not a class revolution, but a liberation movement that has overthrown a dictatorial, tyrannical government.”
    Che Guevara Speaks: Selected Speeches and Writings, G. Lavan ed. (New York: Pathfinder, 1967), p. 13.

    Stop thinking that this is about Batista vs Castro. It is about democracy versus dictatorships.

  • October 24, 2014 at 1:02 pm
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    News Flash: Batista is dead.

    He ain’t coming back. You can put away your bogeyman.

  • October 24, 2014 at 10:32 am
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    What you need for a wake up call is the return of a Batista leadership, then you just might cease the whining and whinging. There is just no satisfying some folk.

  • October 24, 2014 at 9:19 am
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    Erasmo, I sincerely hope Cuba has more than those three options to chose from.

    I think we agree that the leaders of the country today are transitioning from the older Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist style totalitarianism toward a new form. You label it “right wing” authoritarianism. I call it Fascism, which is in fact a left wing form of authoritarianism, a rival to the Stalinist form of totalitarianism but not it’s polar opposite.

    Fascism opposes free-market capitalism, even if it is happy to form partnerships with foreign capitalists to further their domestic monopoly of the economy. Such partnerships are structured under the authority of the Fascist State, and remain subservient to it. Thus we have the expropriation of property and imprisonment of foreign capitalists when the State decides their erstwhile partners have overstepped their prescribed roles.

    Under Fascism, workers are controlled through trade unions kept wholly subservient to the State. Such is the case in Cuba.

    Under Fascism, the military holds a dominant position in the political and economic realms, as is the case in Cuba.

    I foresee that the future options for Cuba are:

    1. The Fascist oligarchy of Raulism. (call it Cuba 2.0, or the Chinese option)

    2. Anarchy and chaos of varying degrees (your options 1 & 2, or the Mexican option).

    3. Liberal Democracy, in which the Cuban people freely organize and strive toward building the country in the direction which they freely chose through regular multi-party elections (…if I may suggest, the Canadian option).

    My preference, obviously, is #3, the “Canadian option”. My country enjoys a society with the full set of constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. We have a prosperous free-market economy which allows us to afford and generous and extensive social programs including universal healthcare, education, and pensions. We have regular multi-party elections, contested by political parties from the full spectrum of opinion. Cuba could do worse that this choice.

    There is a fourth option for Cuba, the worst of all perhaps. That is a Cuba which continues to fail to provide their citizens with any hope for a future. The population will continue to age and decline, as the young and talented continue to flee the island in droves. That is the option Fidel Castro chose for the nation 55 years ago. If Cuba continues on that path for another 20 years or so, the inevitable demographic collapse will extinguish the Cuban nation.

    It’s your choice. Chose wisely.

  • October 24, 2014 at 8:53 am
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    Not capitalist, as capitalism requires a free market economy. The system toward which the reforms are moving the country involves an extension of state-corporate monopolies, firmly in the hands of the military oligarchy. Such as system is accurately called Fascism. By definition and historical tradition, fascism has always been in opposition to both Communism and capitalism.

    Raulism is Fascism.

  • October 24, 2014 at 7:23 am
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    Cuba is between two totalitarian system. A Stalinist state capitalist system and a new oligarchy with a authoritarian capitalist system.
    The Castro military elite is waiting for Fidel to die to rob the Cuban people again.
    To prevent that all that support the Cuban people should join in the efforts to save the Cuban people from another abuse.

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