From the ‘New Man’ to the Soldier of the Revolution (I)

Updating the economic model… What about education?

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

Photo: David Hall

HAVANA TIMES — It’s no secret that the educational systems of different societies are geared to reproduce the conditions prevailing in those societies.

Nor is it a groundbreaking discovery that an education system is much more than the school system; it includes communications agencies and the media, as well as political, social, artistic and sports customs, and so on.

The examination that I’m considering in this post deals with the changes being made on the Cuban social-economic model and the repercussions that these should have on the educational system in our country.

Why is it relevant to ask this question? A noteworthy sign of the pertinence of this analysis comes out of something said by Cuban reform czar Marino Murillo in the recent and final session of Parliament. He signaled the alert that the next two years will be the most intense in the “updating” of the Cuban model.

However, before flying into the future, I immediately began thinking back to find the solution to the continuity that would allow an interpretation of the present and prepare me for the future.

We could say that at a certain stage our educational system the paradigm of the “new man” was adopted in accordance with that concept of Che Guevara, though many people might argue with this assertion.

A spectacular example of this might be the Internet. By the very nature of this revolutionary new technology — with all its freshness and bold possibilities — the “new man” would want wide access to it. In contrast, the disciplined “soldier of the revolution” would merely abide by the mandates of those who define who, how, when and to what extent anyone has access.

This notion of the “new man” can be understood as people being more interested in collective rather than individual welfare, people being ready to altruistically sacrifice for the collective good. It implies people being pleased to participate in the institutions of the revolution, and their also having an internationalist spirit.

Although this could be a prototypical ideal established by the leadership of a revolutionary process in line with the standards of a given time, during the epoch in which I went to high school and later during my higher education (in the 1990s), my perception was that the ideal being pursued had changed a little.

The incubators of the hardline “Taliban” generation managed to shift the emphasis of the education-training discourse more toward the construction of the young “soldier of the revolution.” These days, some reasons have come to me as to why this may have made greater sense to them.

The ideal of “the new man” couldn’t be entirely satisfactory to the nomenclature. This uncomfortable archetype carried with it a dose of honesty and courage. It didn’t mean bowing to the imperatives of “the established place and time,” and it also meant practicing criticism and fighting against those leaders who committed offenses, and so on.

As much as some people have blamed Che for having had authoritarian and other features, in the short time that he played important political roles in the Cuban government, he expressed his support of a leadership role for the youth. He saw the need for a kind of combination of their receiving mentoring from older people and them taking their own initiative, though he made light of certain distractive elements of their spontaneity.

The acquisition of the highest standards of science, culture and technology were part of the tools of the new generation for acquiring greater self-importance. Developing and connecting with global conditions, operating with their own hands all of the new technologies existing as they arose.

To top this all off, this idea still aimed at reaching a certain level of happiness in the lives of those present, which couldn’t rule out a level of satisfaction from material needs.

A person who is like a soldier — more aware of their “duties” — is valued more for the comfort they provide the bureaucracy. This class would obviously prefer someone who’s able to obey without question, a person who sees the fundamental objective of their life as sacrificing for a handful of ideals brandished and interpreted by the central levels as they please.

They want someone with utter disregard for rationality aimed at satisfying their well-being or engaging in natural relations and communications with the world.

A spectacular example of this might be the Internet. By the very nature of this revolutionary new technology — with all its freshness and bold possibilities — the “new man” would want wide access to it. In contrast, the disciplined “soldier of the revolution” would merely abide by the mandates of those who define who, how, when and to what extent anyone has access.

To assess the plausibility of this, one only has to follow the historical evolution of the official discourse and match this with the policies implemented.

Every aspect and facet of life corresponds to the leadership’s material and spiritual reproduction, as if the petrification of monolithic control by the leaders at the very top was converted into a legitimate target.

Each possibility for comfort — be they through independent economic activities, travel, or international Internet communications — have been closely regulated or prevented for decades.

Of course a great deal of that was due to defensive purposes in the face of a foreign superpower that was aggressive and angry over the loss of its colony. With all of that, though, what was lost was all sense of balance between the need for a strong defense and those freedoms and rights that such a defense was designed to protect.

In the end, not even the project of shaping the mentalities of soldiers was enough. A soldier can perform acts of heroism in special situations (let’s say in armed conflicts in Africa), but in peacetime this doesn’t yield many benefits.

What’s worse, even for the most disciplined soldiers there comes the time when they wonder where all of this is leading. This is especially so for those who are devoted to ideals, those who are slapped in the face and begin to collide with contradictory realities.

On one hand, we find those who are slated to assume the vanguard, deviating again and again, enticed by the sweetness of power.

On the other hand, there are those who perceive that, despite all their efforts and unconditional service (to continue speaking in this metaphorical language), the ranch that supplies their logistics is lacking; even their uniforms and boots have to be obtained under the table, while the weapons in their hands are irrevocably obsolete, and so on.

If the training of soldiers was truly the goal of the system and the goal had been met, officers could start finding themselves in trouble – unless the ultimate goal was something else.

At least in the field of the achievements, among “flesh and blood” citizens, what predominates more than the spirit of the loyal soldier is a sense of alienation. One tries to “take care of themself the best they can,” even to the point of leaving the country (which, symptomatically, many people still call “desertion”!).

In the end, whether “alienated” or a “defector,” this is a much less committed person, someone who the bureaucracy wouldn’t have to worry about much. The bureaucracy could then do and un-do what it pleases, without fear of an indignant citizenry that feels themselves participants in the destiny of the country, responsible for it or to be the direct recipients of the consequences of all policies – for better and worse.

This is where the question arises as to whether the proclaimed objective of educating citizens with social commitment — even if at a rather draconian level — relates more to the cherished but never recognized (much less materialized) dream of obtaining a malleable and permissive population.

A reasonable person would find it hard to believe that the authorities didn’t know that the methods they used — supposedly for the “new man” objective — would, in the long run, produce the results they finally obtained, especially after so many attempts, plans, studies, warnings from the social sciences, re-attempts and more re-attempts.

(To be continued…)

8 thoughts on “From the ‘New Man’ to the Soldier of the Revolution (I)

  • Actually, living and thinking as a free man is quite liberating. You should try it some day.

  • It must be claustrophobic living inside your negative brain.

  • Grady, we’re working on a new system for comments but all previous comments are properly stored. Sorry for any inconvenience.

  • Grady, we’re working on a new system for comments but all previous comments are properly stored. Sorry for any inconvenience.

  • Circles, a number of former comments have disappeared, for this and for another article. What’s going on?

  • So the New Man is supposed to be born from the dust of the Holmodor? From the rice patties of the Killing Fields? From the wastes of Mao’s Great Famine? From the dank barracks of the UMAP camps? From the bellies of the sharks that swim the Florida straights?

    Is this where we will find the New Man?

  • The creation of the “new man” under socialism is something of a misnomer. Socialism is supposed to return human beings to their cooperative, communal roots, and relieve them of the enormous perversions and devastation of class-based industrial society. The so-called “new man” therefore could more accurately be understood through the term “natural man.”

    This too is deficient however, and should be restated as “natural human being.”

    The catastrophic mistake of bourgeois Marxian socialism, with regard to creation of the “natural human being” during the socialist bridge period, was to think that the socialist state could abolish classes by having the socialist state own everything productive in sight. But in the living laboratory of practice, it came to light that classes, along with their degraded “old” human beings, could not be done away with by 100% ownership of everything by the state.

    The new human being however can ultimately come into existence, but not through the premature abolition of private productive property. What will be needed is a society in which productive property ownership is democratized, through working associate-owned cooperative enterprise, plus small bourgeois and partial state co-ownership.

  • In a system where the reality of life is far removed from the slogans of Party propaganda, it is to be expected that the education the students actually receive bares little resemblance to the purported goals.

    The “New Man” always was a false goal. Human beings cannot be formed into something other than they are. We are not simply the product of our environment, squeezed out of an ideological meat grinder like so many sausages. Most of who we are is innate and genetic. Our environment only serves to help or hinder the potentials we were born with. Human nature, whether you ascribe its presence to divine creation or the evolutionary forces of natural selection, has remained unchanged for millennia.

    So what about that environment? Does an environment loaded with lofty slogans and freighted with pervading fear really produce selfless revolutionaries? Or is it more likely to teach people to hide their true feelings, to cynically mouth the slogans force fed to them? When thinking for yourself carries mortal risk, is creativity enhanced or stifled? When people are encouraged and rewarded for betraying their friends and neighbours, does that build trust or instil fear and suspicion? Does locking a nation within an island prison engender an internationalist spirit or ignorance and xenophobia?

    There is no New Man. There is the same old human being as always, either he’s standing tall or bent into submissiveness.

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