The Struggle for Hegemony in Cuba

Erasmo Calzadilla

Foto: Ismael Francisco/cubadebate

HAVANA TIMES —The 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party has left me in a state of shock, with the bitter impression that nothing in this country is going to change for a long time. But, one should not be deceived. It was nothing but a performance destined for a large audience.

Important changes are taking place in Cuba in the economic and political realms and, most significantly, in terms of the reigning worldview. To understand these better, allow me to share some thoughts from Slovenian thinker Slavoj Zizek, taken from his piece In Defense of Intolerance.

Recently, we witnessed a heated debate between two Cuban academics concerned with these issues: Samuel Farber and Marlene Azor. Zizek’s ideas could help them reframe the debate differently.

Without further ado, here are the quotes:

“The struggle for ideological and political hegemony is thus always the struggle for the appropriation of the terms which are ‘spontaneously’ experienced as ‘apolitical’, as transcending political boundaries. No wonder that the name of the strongest dissident movement in the Eastern European Communist countries was Solidarity: a signifier of the impossible fullness of society, if there ever was one. It was as if, in Poland in the 1980s, what Laclau calls the logic of equivalence was brought to an extreme: ‘Communists in power’ served as the embodiment of non-society, of decay and corruption, magically uniting everyone against themselves, including the disappointed ‘honest Communists’ themselves. Conservative nationalists accused the Communists of betraying Polish interests to the Soviet master; business-oriented individuals saw in them an obstacle to unbridled capitalist activity; for the Catholic Church, Communists were amoral atheists; for the farmers, they represented the force of violent modernization which threw rural life off the rails; for artists and intellectuals, Communism was synonymous with oppressive and stupid censorship; workers saw themselves not only exploited by the Party bureaucracy, but even further humiliated by the claims that this was done on their behalf; finally, old disillusioned leftists perceived the regime as the betrayal of ‘true Socialism’.

The impossible political alliance between all these divergent and potentially antagonistic positions was possible only under the banner of a signifier which stands, as it were, on the very border which separates the political from the pre-political, and ‘Solidarity’ was the perfect candidate: it is politically operative as designating the ‘simple’ and ‘fundamental’ unity of human beings which should link them beyond all political differences.


“Now, when this magic moment of universal solidarity is over, the signifier which, in some postocialist countries, is emerging as the signifier of the ‘absent fullness’ of society, is honesty: it forms the focus of the spontaneous ideology of ‘ordinary people’ caught in the economic and social turbulence in which the hopes of a new fullness of Society that should follow the collapse of Socialism were cruelly betrayed, so that, in their eyes, ‘old forces’ (ex-Communists) and ex-dissidents who entered the ranks of power joined hands in exploiting them even more than before under the banner of democracy and freedom.”