Cuba’s Battle of Ideas

Fernando Ravsberg

Alfredo Guevara - photo:

HAVANA TIMES, July 1 – “I will never ever recommend prudence to anyone; I recommend that they fight – that they express themselves, that they struggle, that they accept to run the risks. Because this time the risks will be of a different nature, and they will be a revolutionary contribution within the Revolution.”

This was what was said to Cuban youth by Alfredo Guevara, a very high-level Cuban intellectual who is a founder of the Cuban Film Institute, and a holder of the Order of the Legion of Honor of France and of UNESCO’s Federico Fellini Gold Medal.

During his university years he fought against the Batista dictatorship, having experienced the Colombian “Bogotazo” in 1948 along with Fidel Castro, it was he who gave the first books on Marxism to the future Cuban leader.  Since 1959 he has promoted some of the important ethical and aesthetic debates in Cuba.

A month ago he spoke with journalism students at a conference that was transcribed on the Internet.  This was an extremely interesting discussion that I am pointing out now after having confirmed that these were his actual words.

Guevara recognized that Cuba is experiencing “a crisis that is of a political and moral character (…) with the most terrible thing being its vacuity.  The most terrible thing is to go walking down the street and not know if the people you pass by are the living dead or real people.”

He added, “The things we experience in daily life are too hard, too bitter; they sometimes hurt us so much in our lives and in the lives of our families that it’s logical that certain features of insensitivity are developed, aspects of desperation and ones of rejection.”

He did not bite his tongue when affirming: “For many years the State has been the refuge of all the —I don’t mean to describe it so harshly; I’ll say it, but note that I’m saying it with love— it has been the refuge of all the vagrants and of all the people who aren’t good for much of anything.”

He also questioned the current activity of the committees of the Communist Party.  “We get together to sit around and look at each other, telling ourselves whatever, such and such was oriented from above and that didn’t make it up, and later we leave to go home acting like we’ve solved everything.”

The aging Guevara accepts the fact that his contemporaries don’t understand the digital age, however he denies the existence of generational conflict.  As he noted, “It’s a terrible conflict that the youth face, including youths such as me.  It is the conflict that exists between resistance to change, routine, restlessness and the time that’s passing by.”

He proposed that the students change the direction of the country without abandoning socialism.  “As the State and as the revolutionary vanguard —if that’s what we continue to be— we have to choose another path, one road or another, but it will take some time, ”

He affirmed that, “Those whose turn it is are ready to take the step,” but he held that the solutions should be found among everyone.  He proposed “the creation of think tanks; that’s to say, groups for reflection and analysis, and for the design of potentials.  In this way taking advantage of the talent that we’ve created and that wander around here, sometimes serving meals in the cafeterias.”

However, Guevara seems to discard the thought of any dialogue with dissidents and émigrés: “What I cannot accept is the counterrevolution, because to allow an active counterrevolutionary force is to accept suicide,” he told the students.

He accepts the application of a Chinese economic model but qualified this by saying as long as it does not sacrifice generations of Cubans: “We have already sacrificed ourselves enough, and I’m not referring to us who are older, but of all those who are coming behind us – you.”

Guevarra told the journalism students that the Cuban press “is very poor, it’s not convincing” and he asked “where are the new examples in our journalism; I don’t know how much work it will take the professors here to quote a contemporary paradigm in our journalism.”

He recognized that not everything is the journalists’ fault, because for a new form of journalism to emerge “all the idiots have to disappear, all the imbeciles and all the ignoramuses that hold positions today.  It’s necessary to struggle for that.”

Nonetheless, his vision of this profession also seems highly politicized when he asserts that “only from activism —which is what I call passion and passionate partiality— can one, in my opinion, do true journalism.”

The statements of Alfredo Guevara, Silvio Rodriguez, Esteban Morales, Pedro Campos and many other intellectuals exhibit a fundamental political and psychological shift: for the first time in a half century, revolutionary Cubans are openly expressing their criticism without feeling that by doing so they are “collaborating with the enemy.”

The debate is coming out of the Revolution’s “own channels” and the disappearance of the sacrosanct unanimity has not caused chaos nor broken the country’s unity.  To the contrary, if it continues to widen, it could mark the first steps toward a true “battles of ideas” over the future of the nation.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by BBC Mundo.

29 thoughts on “Cuba’s Battle of Ideas

  • July 9, 2010 at 4:35 am

    Well said, Michael.

    May I say in agreement that yes, both private monopoly capitalism and state monopoly socialism do waste human potential . . . Oh, so much waste! Only a socialist cooperative republic, in Cuba, the U.S. and each country can change that. Cheers.

    And a tip of the hat to all the contributors of the symposium. This is the type of dialogue we need in abundance.

  • July 9, 2010 at 2:40 am

    Reading Ravsberg’s interview with Alfredo Guevara and your–Julio’s, Grady’s, Luis’s, Alberto’s, Greg’s, Sam’s–responses to it, is like being a fly on the wall at one of the symposia amongst Socrates and his friends. More than mere responses, it seems like this article was a catalyst which has provoked your own ideas. Like the Socratic dialogues, you all seem to be engaged in articulating and defining “What Is To Be Done” or, more precisely, what NEEDS to be done. Somehow, I feel there are truths in what each one of you is saying, but that you are all feeling your way, as through a glass, darkly, towards better solutions to the problems of living, and working, in society. I feel myself privileged to listen in on this discussion.
    I am optimistic that Cubans, both within Cuba and within the diasphora, will come up with solutions which transcend the mistakes of the past. Likewise, I hope that we here in the U.S. will come up with equally creative solutions. We are far from arriving at the New Jerusalem–and perhaps never will– but I can’t help but feeling that both “capitalism” and state “socialism” waste tremendous human potential. Like the characters in Chekov’s plays, let us hope that some day our ancestors will look back on our efforts with some sympathy.

  • July 7, 2010 at 4:28 am

    Julio: You’re correct about the legal system in capitalist countries being able to act against the monopolization of markets. This helps mitigate the process, but that process–which apparently is a natural and powerful part of entrepreneurial competition–is so much a part of capitalism that it cannot be completely held back. The destruction of smaller enterprise by larger is a constant, and today’s world system is recognized by all economic and social science as “monopoly capitalism.”

    Yes, Julio, I agree that the system in Cuba is a form of monopoly. This monopolization comes from the theoretical projection in 1848 by the capitalist Engels & his well-to-do cohort that the future socialist state should and would “concentrate all the instruments of production” in its hands.

    This “all” formula automatically wipes out the historically evolved institutions of private property rights and the free trading market. That is, if the state now owns everything productive in sight, no individual citizen or corporation can own anything, and the trading market–which relies on a pluralistic and variegated number of suppliers and competitors–is automatically destroyed.

    With the naturally evolved mechanisms of social production thus put out of commission by the bourgeois duo’s theoretical formula, the only way to make social production limp along is through bureau planning and control of industry and commerce.

    Ironically, the working class–in whose name all of this was purportedly to take place–is now employed through wages and salaries by one big, monopolistic corporation–the state. This corporation, like all modern corporations, is run by bureaucrats who rake all the gravy of social production to themselves.

    This looks like an advanced but crippled form of monopoly capitalism–coupled with one-party social and political absolutism, especially with military hostility from abroad (the embargo)–but there is a theoretical problem with calling this unworkable mess “monopoly capitalism.”

    The problem is that the political state that leads this monopolized economic monstrosity is sincerely trying to construct a society without exploitation and all the degradations that are a natural and inevitable part of capitalism. Given that state power is the critical question of whether a country is capitalist or socialist, it appears that Cuba is still not capitalist.

    But she cannot be called a workable socialist country either, because this unnatural, rotting system cannot build a truly socialist society and cannot lead in the future to a classless and stateless society. And so we see Cuba as “state monopoly socialism.”

    The good news, from our point of view, is that Cuba is still a crippled form of socialism. The bad news, from our point of view, is that Fidel, Raul and the Old Guard still in power are totally infected with the sickness of believing that Marx was a god. Believing this, and not seeing that he was an agent provocateur, they apparent will keep on beating the dead horse of Marxian economic until the Cuban Revolution is destroyed.

    This unfortunate outcome is practically assured because brilliant opposition leaders still do not understand that the system is “state monopoly socialist per the Marxian formula.” They rant and rave that it violates what Marx intended; that it is monopoly capitalism; that it is Stalinism and non-Marxian; that what is needed by the workers is more control at the workplace. Being the victims of a secular, quasi-religious faith, they–like the historical leaders–probably will continue their impotent bellyaching until it is too late.

    Thanks, Julio. If it were not for the putrid example of monopoly socialism you experienced in Cuba, you probably would be a modern cooperative socialist. Best wishes.

  • July 6, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    Luis if you are referring to this fragment I wrote

    “I think we all agree that monopolistic capitalism is really a bad thing for everyone so in capitalist countries it is not allow for any enterprise to totally monopolize any market if they do so then the government has the right to intervene for the greater good.”

    I mean by that We, You, Grady and Me
    I know you do not like capitalism so it was safe to assume you will not like the worst kind of capitalism the one that should always be avoided Monopolistic Capitalism.

    Grady I believe also agrees with me that the economical system in Cuba is not socialism
    It looks more like Monopolistic Capitalism.
    That is something I am also in agreement, I am not sure if you agree with us also on that.
    So what do you say?

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