Playing the Fool
HAVANA TIMES, June 21 – Last Sunday I sacrificed my yoga class and other things I could have done that day to go work planting trees with my friend and colleague Erasmo. This was not the first time I’d done this; from time to time I even ask him, “Compadre, tell me when you’re going to plant or do something.”
When I got home, sometime after eight in the evening, a friend who’s a little older than me asked what we had planted.
“Trees,” I replied.
“Yeah, but what kind?” he continued, and I began to list them: “Ceiba, Indian locust…”
My friend was shocked: “So you’re telling me you didn’t plant anything to eat? So what’s in it for you if you’re not going to get anything to eat or sell? You’re playing the fool.”
He was right. It’s pretty stupid to waste a Sunday planting something you won’t eat or sell; and on top of that, we weren’t paid.
So I asked him, “What role have people in this country been playing for all the years they’ve been doing “volunteer” labor under the direction of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs)?
My friend found the question silly. “That’s something different. They make you do volunteer work because that’s the way things are set up. You do it so you don’t get singled out, so you don’t have problems when it comes time for some background check,” she told me. That’s the pay-off. It doesn’t matter whether what you’re doing is useful or not.
Often this only involves cutting grass that’s already been cut, or sweeping in front of your house or apartment building. And of course this is voluntary – it’s in front of your own house. In any case, the important thing is that you leave your house on the designated day to do voluntary work and that people actually see you doing something.
However, the saddest thing is that after fifty years of living in a supposedly socialist society —where supposedly work and altruism are promoted for the well-being of this society— people still cannot see beyond their own immediate and tangible interests, be it in money or in kind.
What’s certain is that we are not really accustomed to working for the common good (at least not on our own initiative), not only for this society, but for human beings as a whole.
3 thoughts on “Playing the Fool”
It is not good people like Yusimi and Erasmo who are “playing the fool.” It is the socialist vanguard elements in Cuba who cling to the false, bourgeois ideology of Marxism.
Part of the original idea of socialism–in the early and mid 1800s–was that by the working classes achieving direct ownership of the land and means of production as their own private property, they would be much more productive, happy, altruistic, social minded, etc.
This taking away of private property from the new monopoly capitalist class, and holding it legally by those who actually did the work, was the material basis for the expected change in the self-centered scrabbling of people. It meant getting back to the social oneness of the countryside, but generalizing it for even those living in the cities.
But there was a problem. If the working classes took over direct ownership of the means of production–through cooperative industrial structures and small farm ownership in the countryside–the new monopoly capitalist class and the financial banking families who collaborated with them would not be able to maintain their privileged positions in society. What was needed was the intellectual and ideological sabotage of the newly-forming socialist movement.
A key idea of sabotage was that people could learn to be more altruistic and socially minded by immersing them in “social ownership of the means of production,” rather than in their taking ownership of the means of production away from the capitalists and holding it themselves directly. In other words, through “state” ownership of the means of production.
Socialism therefore began to look on the institution of private property as a moralistic horror, not as something that needed to be taken and utilized by the working classes. Socialism, through the ruling class elements who came into the socialist movement and were accepted a genuine, went from being working people’s, common-sense, cooperative society to a bourgeois formula of the state owning everything in sight.
All that would be needed in this perversion of socialism was for the non-owning, wage-and-salary workers to be constantly lectured and “guided” into being altruist and socially minded. All that was need was for Karl Marx–like Stalin after him–to become the infallible equivalent of a god.
This sabotage was only possible by converting socialist ideology into a cult-of-personality, quasi-religion where scientific methodology was given lip service but not actually used.
There is only one thing thing needed to achieve authentic, workable socialism–and citizen altruism and social mindedness–in Cuba and in the world. It is the getting rid of the quasi-religious ideology that perverted socialism in the mid-1800s, and replacing it with the common sense cooperative socialism of the working people.
Best wishes, Yusimi, and to the Cuban people.
Don’t worry Yusumi, your volunteer work planting trees will be appreciated… I’m sure the children of the Revolution who aren’t even born yet will be delighted to play around those trees, as their shades will prevent the sun from burning their necks and shoulders.
I’m doing volunteer work on my own, maintaining a barely working computer network at college. There’s no budget available for a paid technician, so I decided to do it for free. People also say I’m ‘playing the fool’… little do they know that I also personally benefit from this work, as I gain more and more technical (and social!) experience.
Despite the (in-)”voluntary” work under the aegis of the C.D.R.’s. there are always a minority of active citizens who step up to the plate when work in the community needs to be done, either in Cuba, or here in the EE.UU.–or anywhere. What does it take the expand this minority so that more citizens are motivated from within, rather than from without (i.e. under duress)? I suspect this has something to do with overcoming an economy of scarcity. Still, even the most poverty-stricken communities, if fact, often the MOST poverty stricken communities, reflect an active involvement of many in taking on collective responsibilities. For example, a few years back my daughter and a group of young people travelled to Gulfport, Mississippi, to help rebuild/rehabilitate homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina; it was the members of the black communities of Turkey Creek and Pascgoula, however, who really organized these efforts by setting up housing, transportation, supervision, etc.
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