Democracy As I Understand It

Osmel Almaguer

"We will be like Che"

Nothing reminds me more of the army than Cuban schools.  They are institutions for the perpetuation of the dominant ideology.

They have morning sessions, evening sessions, student meetings, parent meetings and involve the training of detachments.  They seem like a kind of preparation for our conversion into the “new person” desired by Che Guevara.

In Che’s letter El Socialismo y el hombre en Cuba (Socialism and Man in Cuba), published in March 1965, there appear some of the guidelines projected for the future revolutionary.

Overall, these consist of strict control of education and human behavior.  The school has therefore been the ideal factory for the production of revolutionaries designed in the government’s laboratories.

Education in Cuba is universal and obligatory.  However private schools don’t exist, so families don’t have an alternative.  Their children must spend eight hours being influenced by ideas that may or may not be in tune with those of the parents.

It’s in school where we learn our first “revolutionary” concepts “Nation or death,” “We shall overcome” and “We shall be like Che” are some of the slogans that we have to repeat ad nauseam, without even knowing exactly what the hell they mean.  Another idea that we’ll soon discover around that age is the one of “democracy.”

In the beginning I believed it to be “something good that only existed here”; in other words, that the benevolent government “gives” us everything we have and that it has done everything for us, which is why we’re so happy.  Wealth was snatched from the “bad guys” so that we would all have the same amounts.

When you grow up a little you realize that that the egalitarianism so actively promoted doesn’t exist.  Some people in Cuba are entitled to things that the majority cannot dream of having.  This same majority —that sometimes finds out about the government’s decisions through filtered information, or because it’s broadcast on foreign radio stations— does not dream of participating in those decisions either.  This, as far as I understand it, is not democracy.

Democracy is a concept that has been managed in a clever way throughout our history.  Since antiquity, when it arose, it was understood as “the power of the people,” but the word “people” didn’t have the same meaning that it does today.

“The people” were something like the heads of households with money, and/or those with positions in government.  Later this notion was used in the French and Cuban revolutions, and in a countless number of organizations that masquerade behind the apparent benevolence of “democracy.”

Here, democracy is assumed to be the people united around that great figure who has a project for all, while those people who differ from him are known as “worms” and are unworthy of consideration.

For me, democracy is the power to participate, and in this way the subordinates influence the decisions that affect them. Or am I mistaken?


Osmel Almaguer:Until recently I would to identify myself as a poet, a cultural promoter and a university student. Now that my notions on poetry have changed slightly, that I got a new job, and that I have finished my studies, I’m forced to ask myself: Am I a different person? In our introductions, we usually mention our social status instead of looking within ourselves for those characteristics that define us as unique and special. The fact that I’m scared of spiders, that I’ve never learned to dance, that I get upset over the simplest things, that culminating moments excite me, that I’m a perfectionist, composed but impulsive, childish but antiquated: these are clues that lead to who I truly am.

3 thoughts on “Democracy As I Understand It

  • Schools in Cuba educate everyone – that’s wonderful. Do they also indoctrinate – yes, they do but why so surprised?

    This is nothing new to people in other countries. It is needed to inculcate patriotism and pride and, of course any regime will also try to convince the kids that it’s the best of all possible worlds.

    Most children go on to think for themselves just as Osmel seems to have done.

    As a child, I attended the French-Canadian-Catholic school system for my first 12 years. Apart from the education, it attempted to indoctrinate us religiously, as it was heavily administered by the church, and politically because the church itself was beholden to the government of the day.

    I and most of my schoolmates seem to have shrugged off what was clearly nonsense and developed a better, more realistic view of the world than was taught us.

    Those Cubans who flee to Florida will see their kids reciting the US’s Pledge of Allegiance and will be force-fed plenty of propaganda aimed at cloaking the empire’s constant wars in terms of “fighting terror”, etc.

    I would choose Cuba, any day.

  • Osmel, I don’t think you’re mistaken, but you seem to be looking at conditions in Cuba as though Cuba were the only place on Earth where a lack of “the power to participate” obtains. It is not–by a long shot. Perhaps you could critique the countries of the capitalist world for a lack of real participatory democracy, as closely as you critique your own country.

    Democracy in the capitalist world is a sham. None of us ever control anything. It’s all controlled by the monopoly banks and other capitalists. Or am I mistaken?

  • Cuba may not be much of a democracy — and certainly neither were the soviet “really-existing socialist” countries: but the lies of self-declared socialist democracies past and present really can’t hold a candle to the heinous lies of the capitalist bourgeoisie about their loudly proclaimed “Democracy” (with a capital ‘D’ no less).

    “Democracy” in the West is a sham: an elite ‘dog-and-pony show’ intended to rope-a-dope the masses in a “society of the spectacle”; and is essentially held together by bribery, patronage, fraud, lies, damned lies, endless propaganda, coercion, repression — and not a little judicious murder here and there; but mostly ‘there’ (in the various “Third [Thralled] World” vassal regimes — but in the metropolitan countries as well, when ‘required’). Not to mention the continuation of various forms of slavery, waged or not, in all capitalist countries. Even ones supposedly still being run by stalinist “communists”.

    So what’s in a word, eh?

    Look: whatever the failings of cuban or any other socialism — there really is no alternative to ridding the World of an out-of-control capitalist oligarchy which is systematically destroying the Planet — and which fully intends to enslave us all, forever. And the only conceivable, realistic alternative to capitalism in our time is *socialism*. It simply has to be ‘done right’; and just because it hasn’t been ‘done right’ up to this point in History does not mean it won’t be. It is simply that the *workers* absolutely MUST be in control, *in fact* — and not merely in name.

    So all power to the workers’ and farmers’ councils and communes. For real.

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