The Same Mules for Everything

Osmel Almaguer

Cuban fumigator. Photo: Caridad

Everyone in Cuba must be a member of a number of the mass organizations that we have. Although most are “voluntary,” this is only window dressing, because rejecting participation or membership in one or several of these organizations -governmental or not, but always devised and supported by the State- means declaring oneself to be tacitly against the revolutionary process.

This results in what is known here as being “marked,” which means social rejection by not only revolutionaries, but also by counter-revolutionaries -out of fear- and indifference from those who try to maintain a neutral position. That’s to say, they close all the doors and keep all eyes on you.

I don’t have that problem.  My family has a long history of support for the Revolution.  Although my ideas are different from theirs, they are not opposed; because like theirs, my intention is to improve the system – not to destroy it.

There are many opportunists who take advantage of political circumstances at all levels to climb into positions, almost always harming other people through erroneous, conscious or unconscious decisions.

What most catches my attention is that each person belongs to at least two or three of these organizations, and each group exercises a certain degree of influence and control over the individual.

Sometimes my father (a retired lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary Armed Forces and one of those people who believe what they say) always says, “We’re the same mules for everything.”

When I think about that statement, I can’t help but to agree with him.

Each Cuban over 14 belongs to the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which requires people to participate in community block watch once a month, make blood donations, cooperate in raw material collections, attend meetings and pay dues to sustain the group and to hold parties.

Each woman belongs to the Federation of Cuban Women, which also requires members to attend meetings and pay dues.

A large percentage of Cubans belong to the Young Communist League and to the Communist Party of Cuba, which hold monthly meetings, require dues and assign obligatory tasks to their members.

These tasks might be changing one’s job position or workplace if they are a manager, or going into the streets to eradicate -violently when necessary- any counter-revolutionary demonstration.

Each worker is entitled to join the Union of Cuban Workers, which requires the payment of dues, makes workers “volunteer” and holds monthly meetings. However, in most of the cases it doesn’t solve the problems of workers.

An endless number of other organizations exists, such as the Jose Marti Union of Pioneers, which is a children’s organization that serves to get us accustomed to belonging to organizations from an early age. There are others -which also require the payment of dues- such as the Militias of Territorial Troops, though I don’t even know why this group exists.

In sum, the great majority has to pay dues. And though these are only two or three pesos a month, this is a lot given our extremely low wages. In addition, meetings and other activities leave little time for personal initiatives.

3 thoughts on “The Same Mules for Everything

  • Yes, an excellent article. One item that touches my heart, Osmel, is: ” . . . my intention is to improve the system – not to destroy it.” Such a constructive and loyal expression can give every socialist across the globe hope that the Cuban Revolution will correct and save itself, before it suffers the same fate as the Soviet.

    You also said: ” . . . the Union of Cuban Workers . . . in most of the cases it doesn’t solve the problems of workers.” You probably do not know it, but herein lies part of the key to “improving the system.”

    Trade unions are mainly defensive organizations of the workers. What is needed in Cuba–& in the US–is not trade unions. Workers need to own workplaces directly as cooperative corporate enterprises, as in Mondragon, Spain. The meetings then would be of co-owners, rather than of wage and salary employees hoping to get their voices heard by a big owner.

    The state could still co-own thru preferred stock, but not have control.

  • How to maintain the enthusiasms characteristic of these mass organizations during the infancy of the Revolution? For I suspect that during those early years these organizations were far more voluntary, or at least those taking leading roles in them gladly volunteered their services. With time and energy split so many ways, however, the effectiveness of an individual begins to waver and become pro forma. At various times both wife and I have been very active in voluntary organizations; eventually, though, when we felt stretched too thin between our committments, we began to resent them, and dealt with this by either withdrawing, or subconsciously sabotaging, our efforts. We now have fewer–but better–commitments to the community. You should reserve enough time to “cultivate your own garden,” not out of selfishness, but so that when you return to offer time and energy to the community, you can do it in a more creative and productive manner.

  • Now that’s an excellent article, Osmael, exposing the ‘odds and ends’ of social participation in your country.

    I’d just like to comment this one bit – WHICH group doesn’t exercise ‘a certain degree of influence and control over the individual’? Family, friends, religion, mass media, political organizations, sport associations… heck, even this very site has already ‘influenced’ me. Positively, I mean.

    That’s the most fascinating thing about us, humans, as social beings – we are both products of our own environment AND the builders of this same environment. It’s paradoxal and ‘beautiful’ in its own crazy way…

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