In light of the current controversy over differing opinions within Cuban universities, a researcher goes one step further and analyzes the risks of eliminating criticism in today’s context.
By Gisela Arandia Covarrubias (IPS)
HAVANA TIMES – Regarding the debate on social media about the value of criticism in Cuban society today, it would be worth remembering the function criticism has had as a decisive element to protect the Revolution. Its function has been irreplacable because it creates contradictions that allow us to really dig deep into socially difficult issues that tend to be outside of the government’s agenda.
Criticism is meant to become a warning signal and a mechanism to encourage controversy around issues that are characterized by opposing opinions, where conflicts emerge and end up staying on the sidelines, beyond what we can see in our everyday realities. This is why I will run the risk of repeating definitions that you all know already, because they can also give us a provoking insight into how criticism has become an indispensable political exercise:
With Greek origins, the word “criticism” means to discern, analyze, separate. It is a personal reaction or opinion and it is linked to the word “criterio” (opinion). Social criticism always implies an idea of human happiness or development, along with the idea of how things should be: how a society should be organized or its members and how they should behave in order to bring this happiness or development to fulfill human potential.
Unfortunately, the recent proposal to root out dissent within university staff rejects the presence of plural opinions as part of the most advanced revolutionary ideology, especially during a time of recurring Imperialism.
Ironically enough, this approach attempts to swallow the critical analyses that the youngest generation of society so very much needs because they haven’t experienced the harm Capitalism did and they will now need to construct their own critical discourse, which will be much more complex, in able to face the country’s future challenges.
Within this context, the critical discourse represents a way for pure revolutionary thought to evolve. The command and control dictate, legacy of Stalinism without Stalin, as I call it in my book “Cuba’s Afro-descendant Population Today”, as a social mechanism has already proved its inability to find appropriate solutions and to build a participatory democracy for social emancipation.
Why is criticism essential? Because it’s the only way we human beings have to correct our mistakes. People who exercise their rights are stemming from the political legacy that the Revolution can be better every day. If there is any similarity in this regard between historic and current “enemies” of the Revolution, this means that there is a ideological strength that libertarianism itself has conceived, and it shouldn’t be considered a stigma.
Denying the existence of errors with indispensable criticism would be opportunism and a lack of basic knowledge that sustains different strains of Marxist thought, some of which are closer to Cuban reality than others, but always from the validity of criticism as the essence of an ideal that a better world is possible.
Right now, with the vast problems the revolutionary project is facing and trying to survive without 100% citizen participation, but with a majority consensus, we are looking at a situation where some people who hold public office find it hard to accept critical opinions and try to justify certain actions.
Although it’s also the case that counter-criticism doesn’t do what it should in social terms, as participation is normally limited to a very small group of people, which limits the chance to create a critical mass that can influence new mindsets that appear in order to delve into the paradigma of social justice, as a strategic issue of the project that began in 1959.
The traditional line of argument that only the enemy encourages disagreements forms part of an ideological landscape that is a lot more complex than it was 60 years ago. The presence of coincidences with other cultural discourses, in terms of approach and repressive means, doesn’t necessary mean to say that they are against the Revolution. This reality forms part of what Marxist theory called “unity and conflict of opposites” and it has to do with social processes that show the permanent need for social criticism, precisely to safeguard the national liberation project.
Way back in the 1970s, Cuban writer Lisandro Otero dealt with the revolutionary project’s inability to deal with a line of thinking where diverse opinions were presented as an ideological crime, in his book The tree of life. He also mentions how hard it was for certain political perspectives to establish differences between revolutionary criticism and the agenda of people who were really against it. It was an early reflection that foretold what the political cost would be of such a misunderstanding.
Half a century after this literary work was published, the impact of some repressive moments in Cuba’s history, from the UMAP [military run work camps for reeducating draft dodgers and homosexuals] to the recent conga against homophobia, not to mention the so-called Five Grey Years, seem to continue to wander about like a deeply embedded phenomenon, where authoritarian measures were encouraged rather than public dialogue.
Today, alarm bells are ringing with the urgency to reach a political census within certain institutions in spaces that often seem to encourage repressive approaches and actions, which I personally think, compromises the Cuban revolutionary project’s own consolidation.
These proposals are incongruent as they don’t clearly stipulate the idea of a nation for everyone and other analyses such as the controversial critical remakes made by Marxist George Lukacs, of what he called the possibilities of socialism… From my point of view, exercising criticism should form part of the Revolution’s everyday reality, always. It should be accompanied by the population from different social groups. In order for this to become daily practise, criticism needs to be healthy and not just like a bad marriage going over certain problems. It needs to be supported with participatory mechanisms that contribute towards social improvement.