The Painful Shedding of Colonial Modernity

“(…) modern/colonial capitalism has entered a stage of stagnation and decadence. It no longer generates, nor will it generate any more employment or wages that aren’t precarious or flexible. A new horizon, where we are moving from simple resistance to the creation of alternative forms of life, is emerging.” – Anibal Quijano

Erasmo Calzadilla

The countries with the highest crude reserves have already surpassed the production peak.
The countries with the highest crude reserves have already surpassed the production peak.

HAVANA TIMES — From the struggles for independence to the present day, the political debate in Cuba has revolved around one question: what path should we follow to put colonialism behind us and insert ourselves satisfactorily into the modern world?

The revolution of 1959 sought to make Cuba a sovereign, independent, educated, industrialized, prosperous, democratic and civilized country – a modern nation, in other words.

The drift towards Marxism-Leninism during the second half of the century sought to find a shortcut, to leap over a number of developmental stages in order to reach the much-deserved modernity Cuba had been denied till then. The reform process impelled by Raul Castro today seeks prosperity through the liberation of the country’s productive forces – put differently; it hopes to find its way back to the lost path of modernity.

When the Cold War ended, it seemed that, free from all obstacles, humanity would be able to move gradually towards development and progress. The few, remaining bastions of resistance would inevitably fall under the pressure of the market, the persuasive forces of the media and the discrete charm of modern life.

Now in the second decade of the 21st century, it is becoming clear that things didn’t quite turn out as the optimists had hoped.

The 4-by-4 of Western civilization is stuck in the mud of an abandoned oil well. Impelling the massive and sophisticated artifact that this civilization has become requires a surplus of energy that is no longer available.

Right now, a significant number of countries are being “expelled” from that tricky paradise that modernity was. We’re not talking about Haiti or Somalia, those poor folk who never got to see its pretty side. Countries like Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Venezuela, Cuba, the Ukraine, Greece and Mexico touched the star with the tip of their fingers and are now plummeting away from it at high speed.

Two Exit Doors

Recent events demonstrate that there are at least two ways to abandon the civilizing project of the West, two perfectly distinct ways that have very different social repercussions. In one, the State collapses; in the other, it grows even more.

Countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yugoslavia, the Ukraine and Mexico could be said to be dangerously approaching the first alternative. War lords, mafias, nation states, ethnicities, provinces and other actors struggling for power end up destroying the hegemony of the State. The region is torn by conflict and becomes ungovernable and vulnerable to intervention by ill-intentioned neighbors.

Cuba, Venezuela – and perhaps Egypt and Russia – have gone the opposite way: faced with threats and aggression, the State fortifies itself, but democracy, that fragile flower, does not survive the process.

In abstract terms, we could say that both paths are the two sides of the same phenomenon. Concretely, we could point out that the second option is less terrible for people, for it does not involve war.

Among those exiting modernity through a hypertrophied State, some, like Venezuela and Cuba, call themselves socialist (in a paternalistic way) and claim to be defenders of the people. I think there is some truth in that.

I don’t want to stop to debate that, however. I would rather focus on a different matter. Because of its intrinsic “virtues” and the aggression it suffers, a socialist economy tends to be less spectacular.

This, which seems to be a weak point of the system, is a strength from the point of view of the imminent cataclysm – for those who have less and are accustomed to isolation and shortages stand to lose and suffer less. Fidel Castro said it: “no one is as prepared to confront a crisis in the world as are the Cuban people.”


The pretty dream of modernity irremediably vanishes. Like the mature adults that we are, we must face up to reality and look for the least disastrous way to touch the ground.

Could there be a third way, a means of avoiding chaos without having to rely on the Leviathan of the State? Are there any people, nations, ancient or contemporary communities we could look to?

If we return to the past and we get to choose, I would prefer to live like a Taino native or a fugitive in a hiding place. I would never want to be a settler and much less a slave, or the servant of a feudal lord. But don’t pay much attention to me, I’m a little unruly.

9 thoughts on “The Painful Shedding of Colonial Modernity

  • I’ve just returned from a 2-week trip to Cuba. A 2-week trip may give me no credence to views but I would like to make a few points. The Cuba I saw had many good values ,those which I recognize from my childhood 60 years ago. Pre-computer and the digital revolution, life was simpler and nicer. Our modern world in the wealthy West is not necessarily one to aspire to. We’ve made horrendous mistakes and are now suffering the fallout. Cuba has not taken part in this colossal upheaval to our straightforward lives so what you have is actually desirable in so many ways. We are conspicuous consumers, we crave the latest in technology, we spend, spend and spend, most of it unnecessary, buying luxuries we can’t afford. At the end of the day, what do we have to gain by it? Stress, anxieties, bad behaviour, crime, drugs, poor health are what our world is made of. And immigrants want to come to our ‘rich’ countries, believing that they have to be better, not realising that they will only end up just as impoverished, they’ll live in appalling conditions and get only the worst of jobs for very little pay. They simply cannot afford to live in our countries. Is this the road down which a Cuban wants to go? I envy a lot of what you don’t have and therefore, do have; a ‘real’ life where what matters is growing food, taking care of your own, living in harmony with nature. You have old-fashioned values, ones we used to have but have got lost in our frenetic, selfish lives. Please don’t want what we have. Stay as sweet as you are.

  • Your world is totalitarian and its outlook is catastrophic.
    First off, the rich are collecting all the wealth of the planet in a rapid disproportionate manner that is record breaking . This is due to free enterprise capitalism which controls the world’s most powerful governments .
    Your world is heading towards a catastrophic rich-poor divide
    The coming Second Machine Age will eliminate jobs wholesale within ten years because all competing capitalists will then rush to eliminate as many human workers as possible as fast as possible with what will be smarter-than-human robotics.
    Secondly, if you are in the 80% who profess a belief in God and are most likely Christian , you look forward to the Rapture and/or Armageddon a literal end to our world.
    This applies largely to Muslims as well who believe in virgin rewards when one dies.
    It’s life under a celestial dictator .
    You may be sitting in your BMW cruising down the highway with nothing but a great future in view but somewhere just down the road, a mammoth semi called AI/technology is going to T-bone you and then your little word changes forever. .
    Thirdly, you have consigned and resigned yourself to life under a pseudo-democracy in which those we elect serve the interests of the wealthy whose money financed any winning campaign.

  • The USA has been waging an economic war on Cuba for 54 years .
    It is a war that Under Secretary of State Lester Mallory said would be necessary to impoverish the Cuban people …ALL the Cuban people -to the point that they would overthrow their revolution..
    He knew, short of an outright invasion that the revolution would do quite well if left unattacked (which is not the way of the GOUSA/Empire) and that Fidel had very well taught his history lessons to the Cuban people such that a mere propaganda war would not do the trick.
    In fact, the Cuban people, for having survived the empire’s economic war for 54 years, something no other people or nation has ever been able to do .
    are truly superior to many others who folded under the unrelenting pressure from the Empire.
    But to imperialists like you, most of the Cuban people are stupid for believing Fidel’s words.

  • Jajaja! You CLEARLY don’t live in Cuba!

  • Viva Fidel
    Fidel Castro the oldest surviving giant of an age gone by a man measure is his action and not by spin doctors
    Standing up to greedy murderous giant as in the United States of America who have already invaded Cuban and left the people in objective Poverty
    Is a man worth this salt and definitely a hero

  • “No one is as prepared to confront a crisis in the world as are the Cuban people.” Really? This coming from the guy who caused the crisis in Cuba. The people of Israel, Somalia, blacks in South Africa, Bosnia, African-Americans, and others can also make the same claims given their track record in facing existential crisis. This is another example of bullsh*t that Fidel has shoveled to convince the Cuban people of their superiority in the face of the suffering he has caused them.

  • Take a look at world GDP, for it had more than doubled in last 30 years. The world is richer than ever. At same time it is true that the forces deployed against the common man’s democratic rule have risen. Theocratic and equalitarianism based sovereigns are rising with false promises to the public that lead to serfdom. What we need is a revolution to end all these power brokers. More individual freedom in exchange for less security and less economic support would be a bargain.

  • Well said! A cogent analysis of our current predicament–though I feel you would soon tire of the Rousseauean role of fugative or Taino!
    It has only been 700 years since the beginning of the Rennaisance, 400 years since the beginning of the Enlightenment, 200 years since the beginning of modern socialist thought– and this is a mere wink of the collective eye as far as the passing of geologic epochs are concerned. Empires will rise. Empires will fall. If we are fortunate, through the use of our reason–and compassion–we will triumph. If not, there are other planets, other solar systems, other galaxies where intelligence will win out. “In the meantime, in between time, ain’t we got fun!”

  • It’s clear that Erasmo’s dystopian view of our future is shaped by his experiences in Cuba, where dreams of s better future remained just that. In the “free” West, we hold a more optimistic view of the future. One in which human ingenuity, free from a totalitarian system, can solve many of our current challenges.

    I’m so sorry Erasmo. The world is not as bleak and hopeless as you feel. The future is not about touching the ground, it’s about reaching for the mountains. Unfortunately your pessimistic outlook is just another of Castro’s many gifts to the Cuban people. So go ahead, light your Cuban candles and hunker down. I’ll continue to move forward into a bright future!

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