Pedro Campos

The problem of racism was, and is, essentially a problem of power. Photo: Elio Delgado
The problem of racism was, and is, essentially a problem of power. Photo: Elio Delgado

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 23 – I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several forums dealing with the problem of racism in Cuba.  The most recent one was on November 18 at the Sacred Trinidad Episcopal Cathedral at the invitation of the Oscar A. Romaro Reflection and Solidarity Group.  In it, a panel of experts made up of Gisela Arandia, Maria Ileana Faguada and Luis Carlos Marrero approached the problem from a historical angle and in its relation to the Catholic and Protestant churches.

Later, several invitees contributed assessments and data on the issue, which added to the depth, breath and multidimensional treatment of the issue.  Not only was the phenomenon and its causes outlined, but also its eventual solutions.

The following is a summary of the three concrete points I referenced in my brief address as an invitee:

1.- The problem of racism was, and is, essentially a problem of power. This is especially in the sense of power being an element in the capacity for decision-making and action. Those who hold the power to discriminate against someone are those who can do so.  In this manner, the existence of hierarchy and the concentration of power condition the possibility for the existence of discrimination.

Dispersed power, distributed power and -especially- distributed and socialized economic and political power would eliminate the conditions that facilitate racial discrimination (as well as other social problems).

2.- Racism had, and has, an economic base.  Its origin in Cuba is in the horrendous history of slavery.  Likewise, of those who participated and died in the wars for independence, there was a proportion of nine blacks for every white casualty.  Moreover, the white minority came mainly from those classes that held economic power and were slave-owners, whereas the blacks were slaves.

Playing Chess in Havana.  Photo: Elio Delgado
Playing Chess in Havana. Photo: Elio Delgado

Independence brought about the elimination of classical slavery, but it didn’t eliminate the exploitation of blacks.  Rather, it opened the way for the full development of wage slavery under which most blacks later found themselves.  Also, with independence, whites continued belonging to the economically more powerful classes for the most part, and those who had been hacienda-owning slave holders then became landowners who exploited sharecroppers, tenant farmers and agricultural workers, while those who were the owners of sugar mills and other industries exploited wage labor.

The 1959 Cuban Revolution brought us the overthrow of tyranny, new hope for freedom; the nationalization of properties owned by imperialists, landowners and the national bourgeoisie; a cultural revolution, a socialist system and equal possibilities for the development for all Cubans.

But the nationalization of the land and industries remained under statism, and the socialization of ownership did not advance; this was because all property, power and decisions were concentrated in the State and its bureaucratic apparatus.  Meanwhile wage labor -the new slavery- continued being the predominant form of the organization of production.

The maintaining of wage labor and property concentrated under the State reproduced the old bureaucratic, hierarchical and discriminatory structures of capitalism, only in a different form.

It was believed that eliminating the formal problems of racial discrimination and providing the possibility for the equal development of all would be sufficient to facilitate the equal access of blacks and whites to education, government positions, and political and managerial leadership, thus eliminating racial differences – but without changing the system of labor force exploitation.

But those who previously were paid a wage -the great black majority in the main, and a white minority- continued being paid a wage.  Into the State apparatus entered mainly comrades who came from classes that had had greater access to formal education and education in general, where logically whites prevailed given their socio-historic advantages.

The objective material conditions will remain for discrimination to continue as long as the statist wage system basically remains in its hierarchical form; while social division exists between those who manage and those who work; while property, land, factories, production centers and service centers are not truly distributed equally between all Cubans; while the means of production -the real power- is not directly in hands of the people, of the workers in each locale, in each municipality; and while the people are not the ones who democratically decide how production is managed and how profits are distributed.

This is for the simple reason that there will continue to exist a bureaucratic power with the capacity for independent decision-making, a power that is distant from the people and the workers, distant from the black majority.  And discrimination (please recall) is exercised by those who hold power.

3.- Problems of inequality cannot be solved with “equalitarian” political positions.  When social and economic differences already exist, it’s necessary to develop differentiated policies, “unequal” ones, to be able to resolve those differences.  And those policies would favor blacks.  Blacks, by virtue of first being the descendents of slaves and later wage slaves for the most part, have always been at a disadvantage.

The majority live in neighborhoods that are the most run-down and least endowed with the modern conditions of life, their housing is of lower quality; historically they have had less access to universities, to scientific and technical professions; they owned the least property and today -like almost everyone, black and white wage workers as a whole- we continue to not own anything concretely, to not have anything that guarantees us a future beyond our labor power, which can be an employed, or not, depending on the bureaucrat on duty.  What’s more, that same labor power is paid for according to what the bureaucracy deems fit.

“Equality” for those in an unequal position is not fair – it is not equality.  Those in an unequal position, blacks in this case, must be treated differentially.  It’s necessary that they be provided with greater opportunities of all types (housing, education, employment and access to individual and collective property) if we really want to eliminate the conditions that foster discrimination.

It is necessary to design plans and policies specifically directed at improving the conditions of life of blacks.  And this is not an instance of “giving” them anything, but of providing them access to that which they historically won through their participation in national wars and in the formation of the Cuban nationality.

Cuba must not, it cannot, forget that it owes a great historical debt to blacks.  They were the ones who paid -overwhelmingly so- with their lives, blood, sweat and tears in contributing to our independence.


19 thoughts on “The Race Problem in Today’s Cuba

  • This commentary should have greater distribution. Racism in the US defies comprehension: Consider a ‘Black’ President lecturing Black Citizens about their irresponsible behavior. Then the Black President defends a Black Professor at Harvard. See? Equality in action.

    It will take a real Revolution here to dismantle that system. Affirmative Action only gave White men something more to whine about! Integrated neighborhoods and schools are a figment of the Media: if they do exist, as they do here in Hawaii, first, starve the Public Schools, then build more gated-communities. Ship manufacturing off-shore, and destroy the Unions. It’s is a dog-eat-dog world on our streets.

    Cuba’s advantage: A fairly level society economically. Embracing Capitalism will put an end to that!
    Strive for Solidarity, and insist on working together for equality, rather then as individuals, . Remember, A Black President can be a mirage…

  • The deficiencies of socialism are both inevitable and unacceptable. In every society there is a gap between ideals and practice. If there weren’t, it would show a lack of imagination! The unfulfilled ideals are a motive force for struggle to make them real.The gap cannot be denied or justified by past achievements, but also may not be used to denounce the revolution. For those of us living outside of Cuba I suggest the following guidelines:
    1. The starting point is 100% solidarity with the Cuban revolution. This does not imply acceptance of everything that happens there or agreement with all its decisions, but rather commitment to improve the process.
    2. Criticism has to be based on knowledge– of the historical origins of the problems, the context of their persistence, the conditions for their solution.
    3. Criticism cannot be our main activity. Our main responsibility is to help the process and stop the efforts to destroy it.
    4. It is their revolution but also belongs to all…

  • Alberto, right back at you. Thanks.

    It occurs to me that, if a few sincere companeros could just consult together at length, all puzzles might be solved, and all problems might be swept away pronto. But, alas . . .

  • Thanks Grady for your always warm and supportive words. We also enjoy very much your timely imput. Please keep it up. Gracias. Alberto

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