Unity and More Unity: On Cuba’s Official History

Erasmo Calzadilla

Maximo Gomez
Maximo Gomez

HAVANA TIMES — In the dystopian novel I wrote about in my previous post, The Planet of the Apes, society stagnated for thousands of years because the orangutans – the planet’s teachers and custodians of the official truth – would pass down the same dogmas to their students, again and again.

After giving the Cuban History high-school syllabus a quick glance, I’ve come to the conclusion that Cuba’s educational system – at least as far as its ideological aspects are concerned – is run by orangutans.

Here’s an example for you: Cuba’s war of Independence, fought at the close of the 19th century. Why did the invasion of Cuba’s west, led by the Mambi independence forces, fail? They’ve hammered the answer into our heads so much that one almost answers on reflex: because of the independence fighters’ blind loyalty to strong, local leaders and their regionalism.

A good many independence leaders placed regional interests above the interests of the nation (which did not yet exist) and disobeyed the orders handed down from the high command when these were detrimental to their immediate compatriots. Official history textbooks portray these men as seditious and undisciplined fighters who delayed the country’s emancipation.

Official History vs. Official Philosophy

Dialectical materialism is one of the philosophical pillars of Marxism-Leninism. In its Soviet version, it feels less like a philosophy and more like an unquestionable, iron-clad determinism. Even so, it continues to be fairly interesting and dynamic when compared to dogmatism plain and simple.

According to this philosophy, the whole and the parts (as in any system) imply and negate each other mutually. This relationship is condensed in the concept of the “unity and struggle of opposites.”

When the story of the “homeland” is told in Cuba, however, it would appear that Unity, the Nation and its reasons, are the only legitimate and worthy concepts, and that whoever was unable to grasp this was either a traitor or an obtuse mind incapable of comprehending the political stage of the time.

A historical narrative more congruous with the philosophy of dialectical materialism would have interpreted Cuba’s independence struggle more along these lines: People (or any supra-individual community, for that matter) have one specific set of interests and the Nation another.

In 1878, these interests did not coincide sufficiently for the people of Cuba to undertake a collective, national project. That is to say, Maximo Gomez was not struggling for a more sublime or legitimate idea than those who placed the defense of their particular province above all else.

The authors of Cuba’s high school syllabus could have availed themselves of the country’s official philosophy to at least create a more interesting history course, but they were unable to do even that little.


First, because the system protects itself. Under no circumstances would it want to light the spark of free thought in its pupils. It would be dangerous for the system (at least for the system I knew back in high school) if history were presented as anything other than a clear, inevitable course of development.

Second, because the principle that the parts are less important, less dignified and ultimately expendable before the totality, is one that cannot be missing from the education that a self-respecting totalitarian system provides.

Either society begins to be constructed from the ground up, by real individuals and communities, or it will continue to be oppressive, even if we have all the national sovereignty we want.