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.

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.

9 thoughts on “The Painful Shedding of Colonial Modernity

  • April 2, 2015 at 1:43 am

    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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *