I Don’t Talk about Politics, Unless…

By Brady Anderson

By Marcos Adrian Aleman Alonso (Joven Cuba)

HAVANA TIMES – “No, brother, I don’t talk about politics, unless…”

If I was given a Cuban peso every time I heard a fellow Cuban citizen utter these words, I’d probably be able to buy a made-in-Cuba can of soda, which costs a fair amount at the moment.

However, it’s not news that “ordinary” Cubans – as they’re called in some places – have had a complicated relationship, at best, with politics over these past decades, and even with the term “politics” itself. This isn’t surprising given the fact that talking about politics was a reason for “problems” – saying problems was a clear euphemism – at work, in educational spaces and society. Or, at the very least, was the reason for boredom at a “compulsorily voluntary” meeting that wasn’t always wanted.

It wouldn’t be hard to figure out that this distance some people took away from praxis and political discourse is also a display of widespread apathy, which affects most of the population. This apathy is directed at political life in a country where any participation is seen as futile and fruitless, as a citizen feels like their voice is useless, knowing that real power will do whatever it wants regardless of their opinions. Therefore, they’re tempted to focus on their own private affairs and let “those above” do what they want. Citizens’ role in society is thus adjusted, not participatory.

Political propaganda in Cuba/ Photo: vero4travel

Nevertheless, it’d be interesting to think about how far one can wash their hands of “damned politics.” Can you really be politically indifferent, or not have an opinion with an ounce of politics, even if it isn’t explicit?

The origin of the word “politics” takes us back to ancient Greece, there’s no way around it. The term comes from the Greek word politikós (πολιτικός), referring to the practice of affairs within the polis, that’s to say, cities/State that made up Greek civilization during its most properous time. At a first glance, we could translate politics as anything relating to management of a city’s affairs, the idea is a little vague bearing in mind the connotation of the polis for Greeks in Classical times.

With Athens as its canonical model, the classical polis wasn’t only the city, as we understand it today. The polis was also a co-living space where every citizen had to participate. Politics was everyone’s business, and it couldn’t be any other way, as the polis could only work when all citizens were involved in its administration and government in some way. Politics of the Greek city/State, and everyday affairs and co-living, were indistinguishable from one another. Anyone who didn’t deal with public affairs was socially rejected, in fact, and a word was used for them, which – to our joy- has remained in our vocabulary: idiot, from the word idiotes (ιδιωτης), with the root idios, which means: “focused on oneself.” In other words, anyone who wasn’t interested in politics was an idiot, literally, in the Greeks’ eyes.

Over time, the term “politics” evolved, and the meaning of political objectives and subjects also changed. In Cuba, citizens often understand politics as a matter of government, rather than a public affair. The foundational Marxist/Leninist pillars of the Cuban Revolution, which established the working class as a political subject, and then the “organized avant-garde” – in the Cuban Communist Party  – as the driver of this subject’s will, has meant that, in the long term, the concept of politics is now linked to its partisan nature. When the “masses” speak for themselves – through their allocated spokespeople – regardless of the individuals involved, there is a monopolization and aggressive exclusion in political discourse that leans towards alienating citizens.

Political propaganda in Cuba/ Photo: Radio Progreso

The above, in addition to zero political education of citizens, after many years of prioritizing ideology over civic matters, or making civic matters synonymous with what’s ideologically convenient, has led to the feeling that politics only takes place on an ideological level of bureaucracy and discussions. According to this widespread understanding, politics in Cuba is talking and handing over pieces of paper from one person to another, with a picture of Fidel hanging on the wall behind them

Thus, it isn’t hard to understand why citizens don’t “talk about politics”, or not politics as it’s understood in Cuba, at least. However, even though citizens avoid using the term to describe the content of their conversations, are they really not talking about politics?

Many of these “apolitical” Cubans talk in their everyday lives about their problems at work that are the result of a new government measure, they talk about what the community needs, shortages, prices, the dollar going up or anything they saw on the news.

They can vent all kinds of geopolitical questions in a line at the bodega rations store, a neighborhood accountability assembly, talking about the closeness of certain international rice suppliers and our relationships with them, the solution to the agricultural problem… Or maybe one summer afternoon, during a chat on a rooftop, a Cuban might talk with his cousin from the north about the Revolution’s initial measures, but they don’t think of this as politics because they’re having the conversation amongst family. But it is politics, just like all of the above is. If like the Greeks we understand that politics is anything linked to public affairs and problems, every blackout creates a political conversation, whether citizens are aware or not.

Politics inevitably seeps into our everyday conversations, like anything that governs citizens and the State’s public and community life. Trying to change its name is like trying to hide the elephant in the room, because even if you flee from the term, you can still have an opinion with a strong political connotation. Like the Borg used to say on Star Trek: “resistance is futile.” It’s impossible to separate thoughts from opinions about public affairs, or to imagine more desirable futures in our personal lives, that are always mediated by social, community and political matters.

Photo: Jorge Luis Baños – IPS Cuba

In the attempt to avoid politics by name and, as a result, a proper political culture, citizens are exposed to malicious messages from all kinds of ideological stances and are thus moved by their raw emotions rather than conscious awareness. They can find themselves tempted to embrace extreme positions, and the speed at which this propagates, especially among young people, has been mind-boggling of late.

Ever since mass access to the Internet and social media, Cuban youth have accessed new ways of thinking about and understanding politics. The absence of contrasts of these ideas with “official politics”, or avoiding speaking about politics, often becomes a discussion with little analysis, and almost always goes hand-in-hand with a lot of group influence, personal experiences and the understandable social resentment of the general state of things.

On the other hand, when citizens decide “not to talk about politics”, they are opening a door for others – under the misleading saying that “he who keeps quiet, grants” – to interpret their silence as consent for them to speak in their name, or to promote certain measures that might go against the wellbeing of these “apolitical” people, without a voice or vote after losing the game from the very beginning because they didn’t show up, which has happened so many times before on the Cuban political scene. Not voting can also be understood in certain situations to be a way of voting indirectly.

Maybe it’s time to understand that just because we turn the cheek politics won’t stop having an impact on our lives. Ignoring it is futile, and at the end of the day, it will end up causing the security barrier to be knocked down and it will enter everyone’s life, and without the proper preparation, we might be dragged into the well of alienation, radicalization, or exploitation, by others who do take care of – and make a living – of politics.

As a song by the popular anti-establishment band Porno para Ricardo goes: “I don’t like politics, but politics likes me, compañeros.” It’s redundant to say that we need to talk about politics because we already are, in fact. The matter here is rather that we need to call things by their real name, so that at the end of the day, the Greeks can’t call us the idiots.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

4 thoughts on “I Don’t Talk about Politics, Unless…

  • I do not understand why there are still Cubans supporting the Revolution. While Batista was viewed as tyrant and dictator, he was not a Communist and Havana was a tropical paradise when he was President. Yes, I am aware of the widespread poverty in the rural sections of the country but at least Havana was on its way to becoming one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the Western Hemisphere. Now the poverty is everywhere, all over the island. Has the Revolution made life better for any Cuban on the island? The answer is a flat out NO. Whether you want to believe it or not, Batista and the Havana Mob were creating another Monaco in the Carribean until the bearded idiot duped everyone into think he was going to liberate the country. My message is this – stop supporting the Revolution. Communism/Socialism does not work and never will.

  • Cuba, a place stuck in the 1960’s. The world’s biggest prison. No hope, no future. Even Russia has come to steal your citizens for a war on their behalf. Cuba, torn between 2 super powers. Cuba should be the greatest power in Central Caribbean. Take a step back and just look at the mess you are in.

  • The term “masses” is the de-humanizing leftist, socialist, and communist collective group think word for ordinary, regular working “people.” However, the view of those whose thought is guided by that kind of terminology, is that they themselves are are the elite chosen “vanguard,” who are the infinitely wiser, and the only individuals who are capable of leading the ignorant unwashed masses into that future utopia of egalitarian prosperity, which is always promised, but which is never realized. That whole left-wing political concept is flawed, because it is not only condescending, but because it ignores the reality of human nature, except to believe that everyone else must be controlled, except for those chosen few who in are control.

    Western political thought, however, is far more orientated to the individual, in which resides common God-given inherent individual rights, and a present reality of freedom and opportunity, unfettered by any central “political” guidance, or coercion. And really, there can be no real “politics” for any individual unless there exists individual choice; and, obviously, it follows that there can be no real choice unless there are diverse, and even contrary alternatives, which can be freely chosen. And that’s the basic reason, why leftists always seek to destroy any alternatives to themselves; because their basic core philosophy, and their delusional collectivist dreams of utopia, has no place in it for any alternative, nor for any individuals who might think otherwise.

  • The political farce in Cuba is demonstrated at elections. The Communist Party of Cuba appoints in each electoral area, three candidates for three positions. Then on election day, Cubans cast their votes for each. To save effort, there is even a box where the voter can vote for all three candidates, removing the need to vote for each individual. The percentage of Cubans voting, has been steadily declining, but as records are kept by MININT of who is failing to vote, “duty” calls most.

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