By Pedro Campos*

Havana Barbershop.  Photo: Caridad
Havana Barbershop. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 22 – Polemics and dialogue reflect similar but differing concepts. The clarification of these differences is vitally important, especially now in Cuba, where an intense and varied exchange of opinions is developing on the current situation and perspectives on the form of socialism to which we aspire.

“Polemic” comes from the Greek “polemikos.”  It is a reference to war, and it means controversy (general public controversy or in writing) on any subject, according to the “Gran Diccionario de la Lengua Española.”  Polemics was also a former military discipline that taught how to defend or attack a territory.

Polemics implies the defense of positions, retrenchment and attack after meticulous preparation.  It involves techniques and methods of fighting that more than a few strategists of that branch have always wanted to impose through authoritarian means rather than through civil forms and approaches (which are quite distinct) of conducting politics and guiding the affairs of the nation – the cause of great discord and misfortune in our own history.

When people enter into polemics, they cling to their positions and look for arguments to defend themselves; if these are not found they are often invented, they are manufactured.

Polemics is proud, slippery; its terms are not always transparent, its “cards” are face down or hidden, and they usually hide pitfalls and traps that are looked to for undermining, weakening and defeating the position of whomever confronted.

Dialogue, on the other hand, is reasoning.  It refers to a positive and open conversation, to a negotiation, with the alternation or exchange of words and opinions between people.  In dialogue, one does not aim to defeat the other interlocutor, but to clarify, expand and modify the positions of the actors to achieve consensus, to reach agreements in a constructive and participative manner that satisfy the interests of the parties involved, where neither a winner nor a loser is sought, but the gain of all.

When one enters into a polemic, the tendency is not the clarification of each position, but the reaffirmation of one’s own, with the intent to defeat the position of the “adversary.”  This is why dogmatism is contrary to dialogue and prefers the polemic and the diatribe.

This is also why, seeking the constructive character of an exchange, many choose not to respond to personal allusions.  We avoid polemics and epithets and name-calling, which generally end in inducing confrontation, anger and the accentuation of differences, when what should be involved is the search for rapprochement.

To Bread, bread, and to wine, wine;  but people are neither bread nor wine, but human beings.

The debate, of course, has to be based on the existence of different positions and actors in relation to the same matter, given that a “discussion” (where there is a sole position and a single expositor) can be a monologue, contemplation, a soliloquy, anything – except a debate.  And when one ignores or impedes the expression of the other positions, we would now be in presence of open impositions.

Therefore debate, to be successful, must be developed on the basis of dialogue and not polemics.

In the history of the revolutionary movement, many debates have been carried out through polemics and not dialogue.  They ended in tragedy and outrage that have -even up to today- marked currents on the left with deep scares of hate among revolutionaries and socialists who had previously been quite close in their positions.  Among many there prevailed the spirit to win the dispute, imposing a position that in the long run was negative for all, in absence of the conciliatory dialogue.

Some who never “won” with their arguments, ended by imposing them through violence against other revolutionary and socialists tendencies.  This, as we all know, resulted in sectarianism, persecution and executions, which concluded with the destruction of the persecutors themselves.

Violence always engenders more violence, as a natural law of life; since to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction, although it is not perceived.  If violence is negative, as a general rule, and has only been positive in majors labors of history (like forces freeing a mother in the sublime act of birth), its use between revolutionaries and socialists is self-destructive.

To reconcile positions does not mean to betray one’s own, but to advance them to higher states.  This is keeping in mind that no one lives or develops in an isolated niche, but in wide shared spaces with others.  Here, the interests of the majority and minority are not mutually exclusive, nor must they be ignored, if coexistence, peace, harmony and development for all is truly desired, without this having to be at the expense of others.

I could cite many “valuable maxims,” but I prefer to appeal to the logic and wisdom possessed by the readers, which is richer than much literature.

“The Teacher” (Jose Marti), humanism personified, advocated among the Cuban people: “With all and for the good of all.”  For us to arrive at this stage that he predicted will depend precisely on the capacity of each one of us to engage in constructive dialogue -not polemics- as we have been summoned to do by the current president of all Cubans, comrade Raul Castro.

A Havana Times translation with permission from the author.

* Pedro Campos Santos. Former Cuban diplomat in Mexico and at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. International political analyst. Head researcher of the Center for United States Studies project the University of Havana. He is currently retired. His articles can be read at the following site: http://boletinspd.eltinterocolectivo.com


2 thoughts on “Polemics & Dialogue in Cuba

  • I suspect Pedro Campos Santos arrived at these insights after some hard observations and experiences during the destructive period when polemics held sway. It seems like every revolution, after an initially creative and liberating stage, then enters a counter-productive polemical phase. The Cuban Revolution is leaving that phase and entering a period of dialogue. There are many reasons for this transition, amongst which are perhaps a more careful assessment of Jose Marti: how he conducted his life, as well as what he thought. As someone who believed in the potential of the Cuban (and really all) people, he preferred dialogue to polemic. The goal of polemic is power, that of dialogue, truth. As an early and eloquent supporter of the Cuban Revolution, C. Wright Mills, once said: “There are more men of knowledge in the service of power, than there are men of power in the service of knowledge.” I can hope there will be a marriage of the two.

  • Yes, Pedro, let there be honest dialogue, and not egoistic, sectarian polemics.

    Your wisdom is in line with our nascent modern socialist movement in the U.S. in which four attributes are raised to the level of organizational principle: non-violence, legality, openess and persuasion.

    Of these, persuasion is the most potent. Without it the people cannot be won. If the people are not won, transformation along socialist lines is not possible–especially in the short term and within our short lifetimes.

    The Cuban dialogue may revolve around two reform choices. Like the Chinese, the Cuban party can begin by saying openly that Marxist economics (state ownership/bureaucratic administration) is choking the Revolution.

    Two routes seem possible to relieve Marxian strangulation. The Chinese path, a fast-track to capitalism; and careful restoration of the trading market with cooperative private property & state co-ownership, i.e., a socialist cooperative republic.

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