Have Cubans Lost Their Rebeliousness?

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 10 — Recently I read one of Yoani Sanchez’s incisive articles stating that Cubans have had their capacity for rebellion rooted out.

Her statement alluded to the inability of Cuban society to produce a socio-political rebellious response similar to the ones that occurred at different times with the Czechs, the East Germans and the Russians themselves. Certainly, this question is nestled in the minds of many people who are interested in the issue of Cuba – and I’m no exception.

For fifty years, Cubans — as members of a very liberal Western society, and as a people who waged enough wars and revolts to fill several history books — have stoically endured an authoritarian political regime, a true dictatorship over their basic needs (here I recall Agnes Heller), which in the past twenty years has been an economy characterized by chronic shortages.

This makes me wonder about what’s the exact meaning of this surgical removal of our rebelliousness of which Yoani speaks.

As we are in the New Year, when we’re always allowed a few extra frivolities, I would like to share some speculation about that subject.

Above all, I don’t think they extirpated the capacity for rebelliousness of post-revolutionary Cuban society but instead, they created a model devoid of it.

In other words, the society we know today is the result of a fatal siphoning off that (in the beginning) not only kicked the bourgeois class out of the country, but also a very considerable part of the middle class. In this same way, it destroyed not only the political right wing but also the center and a significant portion of the left.

What remained was an amorphous and disorganized mass of the population subjected to the aesthetically pleasing but confusing concept of “the people.” Moreover, they were led by a very radical left with no more of a commitment to democracy than to the virtues of their own power and to the applause of those entangled in the even more confusing “worker-peasant alliance.”

In such an asymmetric condition, the “dictators of the proletariat” enjoyed a unique position to engage in social engineering that substantially altered the social composition of Cuba. Moreover, they did their best (Sam Farber brilliantly demonstrates this in his latest book) to omit the nurseries of nonconformity.

The popular masses benefited from the many social programs. In fact, they experienced a powerful surge in social mobility (I don’t think that mobility was as intense in any other period in the history of Cuba), which undoubtedly helped to create areas of consensus.

However, sociologically this would have worked to produce a higher grade of social subjects and an increase in their capacity for rebelliousness; this means the capacity that Yoani mentioned should have grown.

But this didn’t happen, since at the same time the Cuban economy began to be heavily subsidized — with this continuing for nearly two decades — based on its political relationship with Moscow. This allowed Cuban authorities to govern with considerable autonomy with respect to society and to the disastrous economy that they themselves had generated.

Ultimately, the material reproduction of society and the authoritarian political system didn’t depend on internal variables but on political relations with the Soviet Union.

In addition, in their relationship with society they were in an excellent position to produce a credible ideology that pointed to an unstoppable march hand in hand with the “laws of history” and their “indestructible friendship” with the Soviets.

This ideology, as Alejandro Armengol has rightly noted, was not super-structural, but structural, as they still would like it to remain – and effectively it is for the hard-core supporters, certainly the minority, but enough to demonstrate government control of the streets, while the vast majority of people remain waiting in a perennial state of wait and see.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc was a hard economic blow, but it could be assimilated by a rigid system of political and police control. Cuban authorities, masters in the art of saying the same thing and the opposite without blushing, blamed the CIA for the whole mess and shifted all of their sermonizing onto a nationalist tack.

Again they got the best of their antagonists: Cuban-American politicians and the Republican right.

They produced the best case of social mobility that they could come up with: a new migratory stampede that within a few days put several tens of thousands of young Cubans on American soil and forced the US to renegotiate a more favorable immigration accord.

When the economy began to recover and new subsidies started coming [from Venezuela] in the name of Simon Bolivar, the population had already stopped growing and had even begun a dangerous decline, which constitutes the most disturbing sign of the contemporary Cuban situation.

In other words, when the rebellious capacity was growing and had better prospects for functioning, the government clamped down on it with such power that people decided to protest with oars. In fact, they only protested in the streets — for a few hours — when they lost hope in being able to paddle away.

If there’s something that needs to be recognized about Cuba’s leaders, particularly Fidel Castro, it’s their unparalleled talent to retain power, whether by adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing.

They have been the receivers of a macabre combination of Stalinism along with tyrannical and Mafioso-like “caudilloism” – all seasoned with the Jesuit charm that the commander learned in his Belen boarding school. With this they have offset their remarkable economic disabilities, seduced Tyrians and Trojans, and survived allies and enemies alike.

My doubt or question is whether we are at the inevitable end of the incantation or if the Cuban elite has the new resources to accommodate themselves. On the one hand, the state-society relationship has lost its protective function and is vanishing in the aisles of the marketplace, social inequality and the impoverishment of a very high percentage of the population.

In addition, society is generationally different from that which frantically applauded the entrance of the barbudos (the bearded guys) into Havana and cheered Cuban-Soviet friendship, whose basis took the form of three meals a day.

While it’s true that the regime has a strong ability to control repression, and the arrival of the Scarabeo 9 oil rig can lead to a new era of relative prosperity, I don’t think this will be sufficient to reproduce the pattern of fissure-proof subordination that was clamped down so tightly on the capacity for rebellion.

This is especially so since in any circumstance the only way that the economy can function under the new conditions — including with accumulation for the benefit of the emerging the middle class — is to defragment markets and close the most exclusive legal and political gaps.

While none of this automatically produces democracy, it does create a more open setting, especially in a liberal Western society like Cuba.

In any case, everything I’ve said is obviously a hypothetical position, useful only for discussion.

Especially for those of us who from very different political positions and desiring a change without violent disruptions, are convinced that changes organized from above without pressure from below and dependent solely on the will of the elite can only lead to “updated” authoritarianism and the recycling of political and cultural mediocrity.

This is what the so-called orderly transition involves, lots of order but little transition.

The capacity for rebellion is essential.

(*) A Havana Times translation (from the Spanish original) published by Cubaencuentro.


16 thoughts on “Have Cubans Lost Their Rebeliousness?

  • April 24, 2012 at 9:03 pm
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    Perhaps I am missing the overall points being made by Luis and Richard, but let me add my two cents to this conversation.

    Regardless of the fact that Cubans have become domesticated and lost their will to revolt, they have no ability to do so without the guns that were taken from them 50+ years ago. Additionally, the state ran media does not easily allow them the ability to organize. Further, the culture in Cuba is that which promotes spying on your neighbor, and telling the local neighborhood government thug when someone is speaking ill of the communist party.

    Do you honestly believe the cuban people like having their forks accounted for? What about the fact that phones are rationed and distributed for use by only the “well behaved” citizens on the block? How about the fact that in order to have a doctor look at your ailing father, you need to bring additional food staples as a kickback to the doctor so you actually get his attention? Sure, you get free medical care, however if you actually want the care, you need to contribute to the doctor.

    Nevermind that a Cuban doctor earns $26 a month, and a weeks worth of food costs $15 on the black market. How is the black market supplied you ask? It’s supplied by stealing it from the very production/distribution/rationing warehouses where the Cuban people “work”. Afterall, if you ask any communist worker, finding ways to steal goods is literally the only reason to “go to work” on the Cuban “plantation”. If Cuban’s were rationed more than 2 lbs of meat per month, perhaps they wouldn’t need to steal products to sell on the black market in the first place.

    Cuba is an utter failure of a system, and to act as if the people are simply content is absolutely insane. The larger issue at hand for Cuba is that their people’s ability to survive in a capitalistic society has been completely bred out of them over the last two generations of governmental enslavement.

    Why is it that a 20 year old who wins the American Visa “lottery” comes over to the US only to voluntarily return after one year? It wasn’t because it’s “better” in Cuba. In his words, “America requires too much work” compare to the free meager existance he had back home living on US family assistance funds.

    Cuba literally bred the ability to independantly survive right out of him. This is the reason they ask you not to feed the wildlife.

    After a while, they forget how to find the food on their own.

  • March 15, 2012 at 3:24 pm
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    Are you sure? So why wasn’t there another Revolution to counter the ’59 one?

  • January 13, 2012 at 9:14 am
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    It seems to me Richard you also satisfy the stereotypical pattern.
    Attack personally the person when you can not attack the message.

  • January 12, 2012 at 9:16 pm
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    I agree, Julio’s post demonstrated quite clearly the inutily of attempting further political discussion with him.

    It’s unfortunate that the “left” opponents of Cuban socialism selected for promotion by this site have not in fact generated, as Rossy imagines they have, their “own ideas.” Then they could have contributed something as an opposition to the improvement of the Cuban social system and helped keep its political line accurately in line with reality.

    Instead we just get the traditional banalities of the imperial propaganda factories recycled under a pseudo-left “Cuban” banner, as here in the apostle Haroldo’s denigratory epistle to (or rather, against) the Cuban people. This intellectual bankruptcy is even more evident in poor Julio’s pitiful efforts which consist only of the most fatuous and anti-realist version of bourgeois liberal dogma blurted out between tears, insults and roars of rage (“Pay attention to meeeeeeee!!!) in his textual tantrums.

  • January 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm
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    See? He turns something I said into something I haven’t.

    The liberal ‘democracies’ possess much more advanced and subtle techniques of social control than real ‘socialism’. The greatest one is to make the people think that the throne is always empty. As the great anarchist Emma Goldman said, “if voting made any difference it would be illegal”. The real power lies within the military-industrial (and financial) complex, the corporations, out of the people’s control.

  • January 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm
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    Hey Luis thanks for proving my point. This exactly what happens in Cuba!
    The elite keeps ignoring the normal Cubans, the great majority and that is why the revolution will end.

    Fidel is too busy and too old making himself appear as the oracle of Armageddon predicting apocalyptic futures. While Raul very slowly turns towards market capitalism to the dismay of the international left!
    They tried socialism and they failed spectacularly never mind all the money and help and oil they have gotten from the Soviet Union and Venezuela.

  • January 12, 2012 at 9:41 am
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    I agree.

    Richard, just ignore Julio – he’s a lost case. “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free” as Goethe once said.

  • January 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm
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    Richard, I think that the regime in Havana have on purpose maneuvered itself as the little David against the supposed Goliath. It is clear that this is so.

    The real question is what do the Cuban people think and this is an answer that can be partially given. More than 20 percent of us have preferred to live somewhere else than to live as slaves without liberty in our homeland.
    This siege you now talk is what they have used to justify what is not justifiable. Why can they not let the Cuban people decide for themselves in a truly democratic election?
    More than half a century of stubbornness and denial of the people’s natural right to freedom,of terrorizing people. Of making them fearful. That is how they have controlled the Cuban people, those in Cuba and even those outside Cuba.

    The reality of Cuba is that Cuba is worst off. You only have to open your eyes and see every city and every home and even worst every soul in ruins. They did not care and they do not care. If you want to talk about mafia I have discussed here in many posts the mafia ways of the Cuban regime. That is the real Cuban mafia. When you have to employ fear to remain in power that’s mafia. When you pay people that support you and punish harshly those that oppose your regime. That’s mafia. When you denie all human rights to the people that oppose you, that’s mafia.

    If you support such people, that speaks a lot about you.

  • January 11, 2012 at 6:47 pm
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    Julio, your rhetorical questions simply ignore the real situation of Cuba as subject to an amply-funded cold war subversion campaign and blockade from the former imperial power, presently the unchallenged world hegemon and also engaged in a lawless rampage of imperialist intervention. This reality determines that the true answers to your rhetorical questions are the opposite of those you presuppose.

    Because your disingenuous pseudo-questions ignore the reality that Cuba is under siege from a vastly more powerful enemy, the conclusions you seek to draw from them are false. Your arguments betray the same wilful neglect of imperialist reality in favour of abstract liberal platitudes which lends to the Miami ex-Cuban far-right political mafia’s discourse its trademark stupidity.

  • January 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm
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    Rossy, “stooge” doesn’t only mean “puppet.” It also means “someone who is taken advantage of by another.”

    Now you’ve had your English lesson we’re done. There was nothing else to your post except the hackneyed “Stalinist” catchphrase …. or do you imagine that repeating that well-worn stupidity is “your own idea?”

  • January 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm
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    Luis, this may have been true at the very beginning

    “the majority of Cubans actually supports the Revolution.”

    Not anymore. They failed to deliver. They took attributions nobody asked of them. Cubans wanted freedom from the Batista dictatorship they never wanted another dictatorship .
    If it is true that a majority supports them then I see no reason for noy allowing other political parties and many other things necessary for a democracy.

  • January 11, 2012 at 5:38 pm
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    Acording to the primitive logic of Richard Cheseman, if you write your own ideas you are a puppet. This reminds me of the worst Stalinist tradition

  • January 11, 2012 at 1:34 pm
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    If the Cuban government eventually reforms its anachronic immigration laws like it said it would and allows “the free entry and exit of Cubans” would it be one of those ‘little candies to sweeten the “revolution”’?

    I think the opposite – the majority of Cubans actually supports the Revolution. Because it was an event in which the people were a part of it.

  • January 11, 2012 at 11:44 am
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    Richard

    “The stooges can’t, for obvious reasons, consider the obvious explanation: that the Cubans don’t rebel because they actually support their government, national independence and socialism”

    Let us assume your above statement is correct. Is this was the case then there is no reason for the current regime to fear opening the free entry and exit of Cubans right? Without any restrictions.
    There will not be any issue with also allowing other political parties to form and create real contested elections where the people of Cuba are presented with real choice right?

    It seems to me that from the answer to the above questions as reasons why they do not want other competing parties and why they do not want a free press and why they are so eager to crush any minimal signs of dissent. For someone that really have support it really will not mean much if just a few will display their disagreement right?

    Many in Cuba claim that there is a majority who do not support the regime it is only a matter of time. The current regime is walking a very fine line. Why do you think they keep giving them little candies to sweeten the “revolution” ? Many claim the revolution is a pill they can not swallow no matter how much sugar they can coated with.

  • January 10, 2012 at 9:25 pm
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    The author “forgets” the principal reason for this supposed “lack of rebeliousness” – the history of the ’59 Revolution is merged to the history of Cuban independence itself.

  • January 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm
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    It’s laughable to see right-wing stooges like this author and the empire’s most prized stooge, Yoani Sánchez, twisting and turning in their vain attempts to explain why the Cuban people don’t back their (i.e. the empire’s) campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and replace it with a capitalist one under renewed US imperial domination.

    The stooges can’t, for obvious reasons, consider the obvious explanation: that the Cubans don’t rebel because they actually support their government, national independence and socialism. Instead these political wannabes are obliged to denigrate the Cuban people as gutless and cowardly (here: “low grade social subjects”) for not rebelling, a position which is itself highly unlikely to recruit the masses to the capitalist cause. Long may the stooges whine and sneer!

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