HAVANA TIMES — At our last neighborhood meeting to select candidates before the recent election of a delegate (this was the third attempt since the two previous meetings were canceled due to the lack of attendance), one man began his presentation for nomination saying:
“In view of the fact that there are no revolutionaries here…!
He was then interrupted by several people present, all indignant. One resident even demanded a retraction. Very few of us remained unmoved by the offense. But I could only but reflect on the enormous submerged portion of the iceberg.
I can bet that the residents who reacted most violently to the adjective have never bothered to look it up in a dictionary. But they have seen the price of being identified with the terrible antonym: “counterrevolutionary” (with it not having mattered if the person designated as such was precisely someone who wanted to “change everything that needs to be changed”).
Fear is an effective method of persuasion because what doesn’t change within is held onto, at least on the outside, and the way the soul reacts to those harsh orthopedics can go on for many years.
The word “revolutionary” is among my earliest memories from school. It remains linked to the neckerchief and lined formations, to those ballot boxes they sent us to guard, which where people dropped in pieces of folded paper. It is tied to the CDR meetings that my sisters and I used to attend, not because we understood anything of was being talked about there, but because sometimes a neighbor would play the accordion, a great show for kids.
That word is connected to the speeches of Fidel on TV (which I didn’t understand), though one of which I remember in particular because my mother suddenly jumped up in front of the TV, screaming with joy. When asked what happened, she replied bursting with emotion: “They’re going to start issuing school uniforms that don’t need ironing!” You can imagine what that meant to a housewife who had three daughters and was expecting the fourth.
Digging deeper into my memory, the word “revolutionary” gradually became diffuse, lost between white spaces, reappearing between sneers, shrugs and scoffs.
Just three years ago, I met someone who had just published a serious social analysis on the Internet that they directed to “Cuban revolutionaries.” I asked why she didn’t simply expand his invitation to “Cubans,” since that abused “R” word could turn off many otherwise interested readers.
I told her about what a poet had said to me about the need to drop certain words emptied by abuse, to let them rest a while and become recharged in time with their original meaning and depth.
I even told this writer about my experience when I would speak to God, how I realized the tension a certain term could cause and therefore decided to replace it. Communication with people then became clearer, avoiding misunderstandings.
Nevertheless this friend said preferred to use the word “revolutionary,” with all its risks.
Already by that time I had noted that the epithet was used as a safe-conduct pass for saying anything publicly. It was invariably the preamble — either that or its opposite: “I’m not counterrevolutionary” — like advance warning when making any critique of anything.
This is the conflict of using vivid words to demarcate phenomena that — because they too are living — are transformed to the point of dying and need other words to define them.
Being etymologically accurate, what “revolutionary” means, according to Larousse, is:
1. (Adj.) Having to do with a political, social or economic revolution of a nation.
2. One who supports the revolution of political, social and/or economic institutions.
3. That which produces a sudden and innovative change.
4. That which causes an uproar (e.g., a revolutionary attitude)
Despite how much people publicly use it, Cuba doesn’t have a population that is outstandingly revolutionary, nor is this obvious when you travel across the country. What one finds is statism and apathy, qualities opposed to change and movement.
With all that I’ve experienced with Cuban institutions (and not just cultural ones), proposing and achieving noticeable changes is almost impossible. There’s a fierce inertia of conservatism and control supported by more than candid prejudices.
Of course this obstruction of movement (which denies the very principle of “revolution”) cannot avoid other internal movements, thus creating a situation that ends up being outrageously visible: decline.
A new aspect of the problem
No matter how much those of us born in Cuba since the ‘60s were taught that being “revolutionary” was the highest of quality, I for one had questions as to whether this was achieved through merit (as with the Pioneer badges and certificates) or if it was automatically inherited.
Certainly there are born revolutionaries, but they’re the exceptions. Now, being strictly honest, how many human beings have proven themselves to be “revolutionary” (re-evolutionary?). How many can be revolutionary in every single aspect that society needs?
By natural law, each generation is more advanced than the preceding one. Under this premise, a generation that set a precedent for progress is superseded by the next, which assimilates and optimizes what it inherits.
This is also the undeniable principle of synergy. As the poet Khalil Gibran said when discussing children: “You can try to look like them, but don’t try to make them be like you, because life doesn’t go backward nor does it stop with yesterday.”
Now, what bothers me most about all the verbal iconography and paraphernalia that developed during my childhood (and with all Cuban children after 1959) is a basic question: Why is it so important to be defined as revolutionary?
When one reads the moral foundations of ancient religions and philosophical systems, you don’t find this term. I wonder (here I’ll rule out everything about faith so as not to limit the analysis), if a person aspires to and sincerely struggles to: not lie (which implies not deceiving or manipulating), not steal, not kill, earn one’s own living, share with the needy, respect laws and norms and develop one’s will and consciousness, then what does it matter if they’re revolutionary or not?
Likewise, in the name of this “revolution” (often overpowering and confusing, like all social whirlwinds), what was stigmatized was not only religion but also spirituality itself, along with plurality, individuality, autonomy and civil consciousness – cardinal aspects for developing a genuinely revolutionary society.
Paradoxically (and not innocently) the term was used (and still is) to divide, confront and exclude, thereby perpetuating the denial of its meaning.
Someday perhaps, in honor of the truth, the deeper etymology of “revolutionary” in Cuba will be restored. In the meantime, because experience always supersedes words, I’ll continue associating it with anger, imposition, hatred… and fatigue.