Cuba: What Do We Mean By Revolution?

Yusimi Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES, April 2 — The question of what do we really mean by revolution came to me recently while I was reading the official Granma newspaper. It talked about how a group of self-employed workers had reaffirmed their commitment to the “revolution.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard and read the word revolution throughout my life. I don’t know how many slogans with the word “revolution” are batted around in school. But never until now have I wondered what exactly the revolution really is.

I just hope no one tries to clarify my questioning by suggesting that I again listen to or read the famous concept of Revolution stated by the eternal leader of the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro. It wouldn’t surprise me if I found that concept in some encyclopedia or a dictionary after even having heard it even in the Coubre Terminal. It was read over the same screeching microphone that announces the arrivals and departures of the buses and trains.

However, when our leader — displaying his usual brilliance (let’s recall the planting of Carturra coffee and the Ten Million Ton Harvest) — announced the concept, there had already been talk of Revolution (with a capital letter) to refer to the process that took place, has taken place and supposedly is taking and will continue (?) to take place in Cuba.

It amazes me the ease with which people say the word “revolution,” apparently with full knowledge of what they are talking about.

I remember the years of the Special Period crisis when the slogan became “Save the Nation, the Revolution and Socialism.” The Revolution that we were being asked to save was the one that had triumphed in 1959, and afterwards we saw the elimination of even the smallest private businesses (corner groceries, cafes, food stands and sales carts) as the last remnants of the bourgeoisie.

It was within this same Revolution, without there being a change of government, that it later proved necessary to issue licenses to re-open small businesses in the nineties. Twenty years since then, the government has had to again start issuing licenses to save that same nation, Revolution and our so-called “socialism.”

It was within this same Revolution that we saw the creation of UMAP (Military Units to Aid Production), which were types of labor camps for homosexuals, hippies, rockers, religious believers, criminals and anyone who would fit into the bag of showing “improper” behavior.

A Seventh-Day Adventist cousin of mine was unable to get into the university after having expressed her religious affiliation. She lost several jobs for the same reason, and on several occasions her family was encouraged to leave the country.

The Revolution brought us an atheist state in which no practitioners of any religion could be members of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Then, without speaking of another revolution, religious believers were suddenly allowed into the party, and we began to receive the visits in solidarity by the group Pastors for Peace. We even had a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1998.

And who greeted him in person? …excommunicated Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro, the same one who declared this an atheist state. And where did the Pope officiate his Mass? …in Revolution Square. And there they were with him, all of the party members (Catholic or not) following the directive to welcome the Pope with “affection and respect.”

Now, not only have we decorated the city to receive a second Pope, but Masses and religious messages are being broadcast on television.

Now we also have the annual Day Against Homophobia, though homophobia remains in the minds of police officers and leaders. Nevertheless, the issue of homosexuality is addressed on the radio and television and there is at least talk about tolerance.

Those within the Revolution itself who had the idea instilled in them that homosexuality was an aberration, immoral and inconsistent with the concept of the new man, can only look at this with their jaws hanging open.

Yet all of this happened without the government having felt the need to apologize for the host of outrages committed against homosexuals, religious believers or against anyone who dared to be different or demonstrate their differences.

It would be at least a little coherent if the government were able, in one fell swoop, to respect all differences, and not just those of sexual orientation or religious beliefs, but also political ones.

At some point during this same Revolution, the government decided that it was illegal to possess dollars, and many people went to jail for that crime. During the Special Period crisis of the ‘90s the government decriminalized that currency of consumerism and imperialism as one of the measures to save the nation, the Revolution and Socialism.

But those who were in jail at the time they undertook that patriotic measure, remained in jail.

In 1994, I met a man who had been arrested for the possession of dollars just weeks prior to their decriminalization. I met him after he had just completed his two-year sentence.

I never knew if the Nation, the Revolution and Socialism were saved. Those who were saved were people fortunate enough to have some relative living abroad. Those former betrayers were now the bringers of dollars, clothes, shoes and food.

The patriots (including my parents) remained as self-sacrificing workers loyal to the government while existing on their paltry state salaries paid in worthless national currency.

Yet they witnessed how the better future that they believed themselves to be constructing was vanishing. Now they know that this will be forever.

All these contradictions belong in the same film, which has now lasted fifty-three years, shot entirely under the label of “socialism” – a system that, according to the eternal leader himself, no one knows how to build (apparently not even him).

He said this without blushing after more than fifty years of experiments with the lives of the Cuban people.

I know that someone might tell me that everything has been consistent with the concept of the revolution expressed by the eternal leader: “Revolution means changing everything that must be changed.”

This is the phrase that I like most in his concept. But what it doesn’t say is who decides what changes should be carried out or who decides when to carry them out.

So far in Cuba, what changes to make and when to perform them have been decided by an elite, desperate to hold onto power.

6 thoughts on “Cuba: What Do We Mean By Revolution?

  • In Cuba the baby with through with the water at the moment of birth. Cuba is a lost cause.

  • Don’t you realized that what they want is to keep their personal power until their last breath? The PCC will never give up its power? The Cuban constitution was changed just few year ago in response to the Varela project that was asking for what you said.

  • So, revolution means change what need to be change to keep him in power and you forgot to mention the low blow Castro strike when he changed the constitution to eliminate the Varela project? Humm?

  • When hearing the words “support the revolution”, I substitute for the word ‘revolution’ with the words ‘one party military dictatorship.’ Provides for a much clearer and accurate mental picture.

  • The Cuban revolution ended capitalism which is the ultimate in totalitarian economies and Poder Popular as written replaced the multi-party electoral farce that became irretrievably corrupted .

    As in the old Soviet Union what started out there and in Cuba with the best of intentions, evolved into something with the same basic fault as what was replaced and that is a lack of democracy because of the top-down bureaucracy that developed .

    The trick now is to figure out just how that happened and set reforms in place using the history of those mistakes as a guide around creating the same rigidity and lack of bottom up economics and electoral politics.

    As it is with any addiction, those power must first recognize the problem for what it is before corrections can be made.

    Raul Castro and the leadership seem to be taking very careful and small steps for fear of going off the cliff and backsliding but I think the leadership should now take a deep breath and do some wholesale housecleaning .

    They should set term limits or whatever will be effective in ending the ossification of the government, perhaps term limits, take a few giant steps toward cooperatives as Grady recommends in order to open up the economy in a way that both gives the Cuban people some initiative but preserves the necessary socialist aspects of the economy .

    Since the rigidity of PCC seems to be a major contributing factor, there also needs to be changes in their structure and in their totalitarian hold on the entrepreneurial aspirations of the small business people.

    Again, it all boils down to a need for democracy .

    How that need can be filled is beyond me but better minds than mine can surely come up with something that will work .

  • The sad fact is that the word “revolution” became a fetish within the socialist movement in the 1800s, and has remained so to this day. It is like making a fetish out of the bloody birth event of a baby, while ignoring the real essence of childbirth, the healthy raising of the child. The true essence of socialism is not the possibly violent smashing of the capitalist state, but the economic and social transformation that is supposed to occur over several generations under democratic socialist state power.

    In the US we have almost discarded this fetish with the word “revolution” because it tends to obscure what we are really after: economic and social transformation. This is why I try to refer to both modern cooperative, state co-ownership socialists, and even state monopoly (Marxian) socialists as “transformationaries.”

    All, or almost all of what you say in this article, rings true, Yusimi; and yet, I am still a socialist transformationary. I hope that you might become one, a well, if and when you come to understand that real socialism is truly free and democratically owned private enterprise. I hope that you will begin to call for restoration of private property rights in Cuba, so that both small bourgeois enterprise and worker-owned cooperative enterprise might flourish in your country, and the word revolution will be replaced by the word that is correct.

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