HAVANA TIMES, March 21 – Every day, friends and foes use the term “Cuban Revolution” in describing events happening in Cuba. Similarly, calling me a “revolutionary”, right wingers have sought to accuse (and offend) me in the middle of academic debates in Mexico and Costa Rica. They do so owing to my ideological posture and critical commitment with the anti-capitalist processes on the continent.
For their part, the defenders of Cuban State socialism (be they officials, intellectuals or simple citizens) use the epithet “counter-revolutionary” —a central component of official political rhetoric— with perverse laxity. This allows them to demonize not only the true right-wing opposition linked to the USA, but also those initiatives and postures of civil disagreement located within the coordinates of the country and within the socialist framework.
I believe that helping to situate today’s concept of “revolution” in its rightful place constitutes not only a vital theoretical task but is exceedingly practical and urgent. In Cuba, the concept —as vast as it is imprecise— serves to refer to several elements simultaneously: a historical process, the governing political regime and society in general on this Caribbean island over the past half century.
No revolution has survived for such a long time in a nation’s daily imaginary and discourse. The French Revolution passed stormily from the Bastille to the “reign of terror” and from there to “Thermidor reaction”; the Russian Revolution became the Bolshevik state and later the USSR in a few years; while the Chinese only recovered the term during the Mao’s traumatic “Cultural Revolution.”
The Cuban “Revolution” was a heterogeneous process, an expression of the unstable balances and social consensuses resulting from the triumphant initiative of 1959. It sheltered two fundamental tendencies: Marxism-Leninism and revolutionary nationalism. And it evolved, moving at the end of its first decade toward the institutionalization of the political regime and the both symbolic and effective centralization of the power around Fidel Castro’s charismatic leadership.
Academics such as Marifeli Perez Stable identify this revolution’s end as a historical fact as being in 1970; I prefer to assume that its emancipatory character of radical social changes and the demolition of old hierarchies lasted —as sociological inertia— until the end of the 80s.
That’s why, in order to understand current Cuba, I prefer to differentiate “Revolution” from the regime. I distinguish the two notions, defining the regime in terms of the complex of institutions and norms tied to demands of realpolitik and the dictates of the dominant group at the hub of society.
The “Revolution,” on the other hand, includes a wide repertoire of practices, values, speech and customs, coming from vast social sectors (popular ones and the media) that at least call for the remembering of history, popular participation, equality and social justice, as well as the rejection of all forms of domination and hierarchy.
The regime and the Revolution coexist; they’re overlapped and confront each other. The first (an organizational demand of modern society) can direct or devour the second and is only appropriate when it’s subordinated to popular participation and the cause of the liberators —individual and collective— of revolutionary existence.
The transition to a socialist society requires institutions and functionaries capable of operating and adapting to the demands of the times. However authoritarianism, censorship, the promotion of civic amnesia or the repression of disagreement do not correlate with the effectiveness and legitimacy that all institutional authority needs in order to fulfill its social obligations. This comment is apropos for any experience, that of Cuba as well as Venezuela…
For the first 30 years after 1959, the Revolution and the regime in Cuba maintained greater correlation, coherence and symmetry than in the last two decades, when the “disconnect” became more visible. The crisis of the 1990s damaged all consensuses and made clear the need to reform the socialist model, something the government undertook only partially. The challenges persist today before a valuable but exhausted population and a State that introduces changes so piecemeal and slowly that they don’t seem to bear fruits. And imperialism? – it awaits, smiling.
When we defend identity and national sovereignty, re-distributional social programs and participative democracy, we reject —simultaneously— the capitalist order in force in the first half of last century (the one proposed to us for a “golden future”), as well as the bureaucratic deformations erected in the name of socialism.
To differentiate “Revolution” from “Regime” is not a capricious or pejorative classification, but instead offers the possibility of constructing a critique from the left. This can assist in delineating a new socialist project and in reclaiming the emancipatory content threatened in our country by bureaucratic immobility, the conservative pressures of daily life and the forces of neo-liberal restoration.
My hope is that the many dreams, sacrifices and conquests of our parents and grandparents do not become lost in the overgrowth of memory, nostalgia and frustration…that we can continue singing —together with Los Aldeanos in a communion of feelings— “(…) so yeah, why not, let the Revolution live.”1
1 The song La Naranja se Picó, on the CD El Atropello (2009), by that popular Cuban hip hop group.