Cuba: The Rabble Strikes Back

Erasmo Calzadilla

Taxi colectivo. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — In my previous post, I suggested having a debate about an issue that worries me at the social level and bothers me like hell at a personal level: the rabble that has flooded this country.

The phenomenon, though disagreeable, is undeniably interesting because it has taken root around us and because it is the result of an anthropological experiment that was once the hope of half of humanity. There’s probably rabble among the Eskimos, but, in Cuba, this category has been elevated to the status of a national identity. The question is why.

I still haven’t found an analysis of the situation that is proportional to the problem. I came across the most detailed description of this process of moral and psychological degradation under totalitarian systems in Orwell’s novels. But we need something more directly connected to our context, a fellow Cuban who will dare write about the vast rebellion that one day took place in a banana republic, among the animals of the Basic Cooperative Production Units (UBPC).

My stance on this issue may be summarized thusly:

With its modernizing impulse and totalitarian vocation (the two wheels of the bulldozer), communism tore apart the social tapestry and its main actors and institutions: the community, family, church, work, civil society and a long list of etcetera’s. The social tapestry is something of a delicate ecosystem: it takes centuries to be woven, but it can be ripped apart in no time. The extinction of roles and figures that appear insignificant tends to have catastrophic effects.

Answering the question as to how we got here is more complicated than it appears. Let us put aside simplistic ideas, in the style of “this is a consequence of the Special Period and chronic shortages” or this is a “side-effect of psychological repression” (see Dagoberto Valdes’ concept of “anthropological damage”), the result of “making people live in shit” (as a regular commentator puts it), the “propagation of the bad examples set by the great leader,” the impact “of Saturday night films aired on television,” etc. No, folks, this may all have a say in the matter, but we are witnessing a far more structural problem. We won’t make heads or tails of it until we understand this.

At first, passing the bulldozer of the revolution over the social tapestry had a sublime intention: casting off the colonial yoke. Soon, however, the revolution’s leaders learned how to work things with cynicism. They discovered, for instance, that spurring on the rabble against their opponents was an extremely effective mechanism of social control and domination. To make the people rabble, which is a step beyond empowering the rabble, may well be one of the most brilliant political discoveries of Fidel Castro.

People were encouraged to become rabble even by the Cuban Radio and Television Institute. This process was presented as something authentically Cuban and popular, and it was a barrier the system used to ward off Western influences. The most interesting side to this, however, is that, once empowered, the rabble takes on a life of its own. There’s no need to feed it or water it, like a bad weed it can take care of itself and becomes highly resistant to any attempts at change. What it lacks in self-awareness it more than makes up for with self-confidence and resilience. Could capitalism really put it in its place?

Many hope it can. And, true, it does have certain logic to it: if capitalism makes progress, thanks to its ambassador, Obama, the rabble will go back to its birthplace: the peripheral and marginalized neighborhoods…but it will then become an ugly demon. In fact, the slight injection of capital that has taken place under the reign of Raul Castro has done nothing other than rouse it.

So, what’s preferable? A more widely-disseminated but not too malign rabble, or one that’s concentrated and evil? So if you live on the outskirts of town, you might consider moving closer to the city center.

One thought on “Cuba: The Rabble Strikes Back

  • The only cry not voiced here is “let them eat cake!” So you are saying “The phenomenon, though disagreeable, is undeniably interesting because
    it has taken root around us and because it is the result of an
    anthropological experiment that was once the hope of half of humanity.” … That ‘Rabble’ is the result of the communist experiment. I can’t see that when you look at the deplorable conditions suffered by people all over the world. I have not seen all of Cuba’s cities nor ventured into the mental attitudes that have evolved, but it is my impression that Cubans overall are in better shape than a lot of other people where drug lords, gangs and corruption rule and governments dare not tread. It is said the police would not enter the neighborhood where the Parisian bomber ‘mastermind’ was finally tracked down. I don’t know how there cannot be a ‘marginalized’ segment of the population. There is undeniably a spectrum, yes a bell curve, of people’s skills, drive, intelligence and proclivity to excel. There’s going to be a smart guy and a dumb guy and a lot in between. Who takes care of the down and out? You don’t like them? Where do they go and what should they do? Do they live in the poorest and undesirable places? Economic success is not fair. Nothing is life is fair. Should that stop people from wanting it? Should they stop striving for things they want? Are they rabble? Is the desire or drive to improve your lot in life qualifying you to be called rabble? I don’t know what the changes in Cuba will bring, but many places in the world depend on tourism and as far as Cuba’s economic track record goes, Cuba may belong to that list. So you have decided there is a large un-empowered and dangerous populace stirring for violent revolution. I think people are excited by what they do not understand is happening but have a ray of hope for something new to take shape and make life better. China has changed with it’s hybrid government stemming from Nixon’s time. Cuba will evolve. Don’t be afraid.

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