Harold Dilla Alfonso* (photos: Caridad)
HAVANA TIMES — A few weeks ago, some members of the Observatorio Critico (Critical Observatory, or OC), a group of intellectuals and activists who are a part of what has been called the “Cuban new left,” turned their attention to the “Call for a Better and Possible Cuba” (Llamamiento por una Cuba Mejor y Posible), which was signed by several hundred Cuban emigrants and residents on the island.
Some OC members signed it, considering it to be a good way to validate their positions and to build bridges with other people and groups who — while not sharing their ideology — do agree with certain concrete steps for a better future for the nation.
I think this concurrence was a very interesting qualitative aspect of this document, one that speaks to the political maturity of the signatories. I think it honored all of us.
Others didn’t sign it. They believe (in the case of at least two articles I read that were signed by Karel Negrete and Rogelio Diaz) that it is a kind of liberal democratic document from which the “alternative left” (as the OC is also referred as) must distance itself if it wants to be just that – alternative.
Instead of issues such as multi-partyism or the exercise of civil liberties, these two writers from the OC reminded us that among the left is the goal of moving towards the organization of the rank-and-file and the grass roots, wherever they might be, and to do all that from an anti-capitalist perspective.
Of course I respect their reasons, and the fact that they didn’t sign the appeal isn’t particularly relevant. This is a document that deals with a particular situation and its acceptance or rejection doesn’t mean the end of the galaxy.
I think the document was something positive given the range of positions it encompassed — from neo-liberals to socialists — as it spoke of the political evolution of an entire segment of transnational Cuban society.
I think it would have been interesting for the OC as a network to have signed this document of consensus, especially because if the appeal leaned in any one direction it was precisely to the left. Perhaps this was because most of its promoters were of that inclination, and obviously it leaned in that direction because no one objected. But again, it was a simple document, not the “last Coca Cola in the desert.” Certainly there will be other opportunities for understanding and misunderstanding.
What really concerns me is the kind of argument used by the writers and the cost that this sort of puritanical sectarian position can have, given how the left has been historically prodigal, while leaving behind nothing but the rubble of its testimonies of defeat.
I must make it clear that if I’m dwelling on this this point, it’s simply because I feel that both the emergence of a so-called “new left in Cuba” and the existence of the Critical Observatory are two very important facts in the complex present of our transnational society.
Frankly, I think that at this stage of the game, to continue believing that liberalism is a viral compound as deadly as Ebola is a fatal political mistake. Democracy is a complex entity that involves many things, many of them inherent in the liberal creed: free and competitive elections, transparency, participation, freedom and rights, political pluralism, etc.
According to one’s doctrinal preferences, one component or another can be emphasized, hence from these sprout different formats of democracy. But to omit liberal values as transversal ingredients is to denaturalize democracy.
To the most obfuscated anti-capitalists, it’s worth reminding that liberalism is a sociopolitical construct that preceded capitalism itself, and that it began to take shape in those early times when the Greeks began to separate positivist morality from positivist politics, the people from the legislature, and the individual from the community.
Marx himself was a product of that evolution, and often took a seriously liberal position, such as when he proclaimed that the realization of all depended on the realization of each individual – and not vice versa, as was desired by the not so illustrious constructors of “real socialism.”
Without democracy there’s no alternative that functions. It’s really encouraging that one of the OC writers advocates “working directly in the neighborhood and in the community, as well as advocating power consciousness among all citizens.”
I too think this is important. It’s only that my personal experience suggests to me that what today is referred to as “empowerment” cannot be achieved in the long term outside of a democratic system.
Twenty years ago I tried to work “directly in the neighborhood,” and with a great team, and I think we did very well. Between 1990 and 1996 we established links and shared community experiences related to self-management and empowerment in places like Atares, Santa Fe, Condado and Libertad, while at the same time working with progressive and reform-minded municipal leaders.
Significant steps were taken, and tangentially we wrote several articles and a couple books that are still read on the island today, at least something more than what is cited. We conducted several workshops on the topics of self-management that were attended by community leaders, social activists, academics and municipal authorities.
No less important were the contacts between our people and Central American counterparts who could show the value of autonomy.
But in 1996, when there came the counter-offensive by the Political Bureau of the PCC, which decimated the Center for American Studies, the first thing they did was to totally shut down those studies and to sever those ties. Those organizations were then sterilized, split up or converted into auxiliary mechanisms of the respective municipal apparatuses.
There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, simply because there were no spaces dedicated to rights and freedoms – whether bourgeois, proletarian, liberal or anarcho-syndicalists, but sufficient to ensure social autonomy.
The problem of democracy in Cuba — from the rights and freedoms of citizens, to political pluralism as an organizing principle of the system, to democratic renewal through free and autonomous participation of society — cannot be placed on a waiting list. Staring closely at utopia for too long isn’t the best way to look at the thorny realities that we have to solve.
No rhetoric about “Cuban social movements” or the “conscious forces of the working classes” can serve as a pretext for continuing to imagine that we’re doing something while actually doing nothing other than leaving a testimony of good intentions.
Similarly, no statement of solidarity with the global anti-capitalist struggles legitimizes the silence called for by a part of our new left with respect to the systematic repression suffered by fellow citizens who want to exercise their political rights in the land of their birth. It doesn’t matter whether those who are repressed are social democrats, pro-capitalist neo-liberals or Christian Democrats: they all have rights and these are being denied. As long as they don’t have them, no one does.
Capitalist restoration in Cuba is inevitable. It is not possible to regenerate socialism where it doesn’t exist. Nor is it possible to believe that Cuban society — exhausted and tired of inflated goals — is in any condition to carry out epic feats.
The question is whether Cuban society will have to witness the restoration of capitalism with its hands tied, or if — instead — there will be room for social, labor, feminist, environmental, racial, regional, and other struggles in defense of the republican and revolutionary social achievements and for the establishment of new norms of entrepreneurial social responsibility and the functioning of markets.
All this inevitably involves the establishment of a democratic order and liberal principles that protect the autonomy of society. If at the end of this story we succeed in establishing a social-democratic order in Cuba, I think we will have achieved much more than what lofty rhetoric holds.
I know this last point must sound like a terrible betrayal. I know that social democracy has backed peddled so much that at this point I don’t know if it remembers how to move forward. But I also know that it has made historic achievements in the redistribution of income through taxation, in the handling of corporatist regimes and establishing states that are governed by the law and that have strong social content.
It didn’t do what it said it would do, but I think it did better than the other left that was led by the experiences under the so-called “socialism” of the Soviet Union. The contrast was evident between Willy Brandt and Erich Honecker.
It’s time for the Cuban new left to advance without the shrouds of remorsefulness, dogmas, doctrinal rigidities or slogans in which no one is interested and that only serve to promote our masturbatory recreation.
Let’s preserve utopias as references, but let’s also look at what’s happening on the corner. To want to hoist utopia above and beyond reality is a sure sign of defeat for the left. It means the left heading out alone, very alone, and by virtue of its triviality, I would say completely alone.
(*) Originally published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.