By Enrique Ubieta Gómez
The war that is being waged against us forces us to look at ourselves more clearly, and to examine our weaknesses and insufficiencies. But it will not be possible for us to fully understand what is happening in our cities, without understanding what is happening in the world, and the peculiar relationship of our country with the world centres of power. To understand the events of the 11th July, we must first talk about many other things that are seemingly unrelated. It will be necessary to acknowledge a determining historical circumstance: Cuba established its Republic in Arms, machete in hand, and delivered the defining blow that constituted Cuba as an independent nation, at the very same moment when, just 90 miles from its coasts, US imperialism was being born and developed. The radicalism of the José Martí’s thinking, and in turn that of Fidel, as the former explained in his last letter, is a response that to that unshakeable fact.[i]
The external obstacle facing Cuban independence is not reducible to a conflict of interests with one or two or even multiple North American governments; that is to say, it is not just a bilateral conflict between the US government and the Cuban government, even though the main obstacle to our development is the extraterritorial commercial, economic and financial blockade inflicted upon us by the United States. The fundamental confrontation is with transnational capitalism – that is the structural enemy – because we chose the path of national sovereignty and social justice. There will be no peace. It is a war that knows no ethical norms and in which there are no possible protocols or resolutions for peaceful coexistence that are not already based on force and compliance.
Never before has the blockade been so flagrantly responsible for the death of Cuban citizens in such direct and palpable ways. Previously, these deaths seemed to be only statistics, summations of “abstract” losses that some people acknowledged and others cynically denied. Death, of course, swallowed unsuspecting rafters on the high seas, or children and adults in hospitals, deprived of much needed medicines. But those deaths seemed to be the result of personal decisions or incurable diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic, its spiralling numbers of infections and deaths, spreading steadily over time and seemingly having the capacity to touch any neighbour or family member with its unpredictable finger, increases fear and frustration; a predicament undoubtedly exacerbated by human errors, by the tiredness of the men and women who work day and night to save lives in hospitals and outside of them, or due to bureaucratic confusion, especially in the face of the insufficient availability of artificial respirators, oxygen balloons, beds or antigens.
The stranglehold of the blockade has tightened; it thwarts the acquisition of resources and supplies, of raw materials for the manufacture of medicines, of every dollar that can contribute to meeting the needs of the people, of the fuels necessary for life. The war is total. The country’s precarious resources are redirected to the health sector (respirators are manufactured, vaccines and antigens are created and produced) and to the production and purchase of food. But the transnational press and its small satellites blame the government for being inefficient. The dispute is not about truth, it is about power. The existence of discontent in sections of the population most affected by the economic strangulation (pandemic + intensified blockade), could be assumed to be a natural reaction, and although it is the intended purpose of our aggressors, the outbreak of protests is not the direct consequence of these conditions. The pandemic and the growing and sustained material difficulties have also generated a spontaneous movement of solidarity amongst our citizens, which resulted, for example, in the arrival of hundreds of volunteers from all our provinces (students, professionals, artists, self-employed people) in the city of Matanzas when it was the epicentre of the disease and it seemed to have been completely overwhelmed.
Could a small country with limited resources in a state of rebellion (that is, at war with the forces of transnational domination) achieve material prosperity? I think so, but it is essential to define the concept of prosperity from the perspective of socialist culture. It cannot be forgotten that capitalism is the world’s one hegemonic culture, and that what we call socialist is just a counterculture without a stable economic position in the global market. East Germany was obliged to compete in consumer goods with the West, and, even though the East German standard of living was very high – not only in relation to countries with weaker economies – it failed in that endeavour. Consumerism (a very different term from consumption), the result of an essentially capitalist relationship between human beings and objects that is necessary both for the economic growth of that system and for the reproduction of its values, ended up imposing its unattainable and contradictory norms upon socialism. Prosperity in Miami terms is not only unattainable in the context of a war of transnational interests: it is also undesirable for Cuba’s national project.
For decades transnational capitalism – whose visible head is the United States – has worked to dismantle the unity (consensus) of the Revolution. I will be rightly told that the reality resulting from the so-called Special Period reopened and exacerbated latent inequalities in Cuban society and that the resounding fall of the so-called socialist camp damaged socialist discourse and blurred its horizons. Fidel was aware of this and in the second half of the 1990s he launched two crusades, apparently alien to each other but actually intertwined, which, beyond the realms of theory, returned the ideology of the Revolution to its true centre: of the humble, by the humble, for the humble. I am referring to the Battle of Ideas internally (the rescue, carried out by young people, of the most disadvantaged by personal and social circumstances) and Cuban medical internationalism, a tradition of the Revolution that was reaffirmed in the new conditions. The Battle of Ideas did not rescue young people by offering them material improvements, but by giving their lives meaning, and allowing them to leap from the margins of society to social prominence.
As for medical internationalism, I dare say that its effects were conceived more inwardly than outwardly, although ultimately revolutionary, socialist solidarity does not conceive of borders. Its meaning was more ideological than economic. Both projects took up the practice of solidarity, which is the heart of socialism in its long and permanent process of achieving total justice. Both programs sought to rekindle the revolutionary vocation through the youth leadership. At the turn of the millennium, between 1999 and 2000, I lived with Cuban doctors and nurses from the Comprehensive Health Program in Central America; these internationalists received barely 50 dollars a month and were located without material comforts in the most remote areas of each country. The mission was taken on with pride. In recent years, the Henry Reeve Brigades have relaunched that quixotic spirit which has never dissipated through all the multiple missions scattered around the world and which has always meant differing things to all members of the medical contingent. From the first great mission in Pakistan, through the heroic fight against Ebola in West Africa, but above all, due to its magnitude and significance, during the COVID-19 pandemic these last two years, the Henry Reeve Contingent embodies the revitalizing sense of the revolutionary ideology conceived by Fidel.
Imperialism needs to dilute the ideology of the Revolution – especially since the physical passing of Fidel – because in the Cuban case it is precisely that revolutionary ideology which functions as the knot that seals unity. In the second half of the1990s, imperialism tried to fracture and discredit the links between Marxism and the Cuban tradition of thought, especially with the legacy of Martí. But in the new century imperialism concentrated its full-frontal attack on communism. Here I will directly invoke the dialectical analysis of the Cuban philosopher Rubén Zardoya Loureda: “In a general way, we can say that ideology is a process of foundation (in the dialectical sense of laying the foundation) of certain social ideals. There is ideology there, and only there, where social ideals are put into play, where social ideals are produced, circulated and consumed. When we speak of ideology, we speak of social genesis and realization of ideals, of confrontation and struggle of ideals or, in the same way, when we speak of reality as it is expressed in ideals, tends towards ideals or departs from them, when it is contrasted with them.”[ii]
I will cite two paradigmatic efforts of the international imperialist strategy:
a) To reverse the ideological impact of the Cuban doctor, turning it into a mere commercial transaction in the media, in which the health worker ceases to be a hero by instead becoming a “slave.” That is, imperialism strives to annul the revolutionary’s exceptionality as a new man-woman, who is willing to save lives at the risk of their own and without a profit interest, and to insert the Cuban medic instead into the world of buying and selling and to relativise them with the rest of their colleagues across the world, as more poorly paid and economically disadvantaged examples of that profession. The imperialist assault on Cuba has never solely been about delimiting our possible economic gains – and this is the really key thing to understand: for the enemy, it is more important that it seems that everything is to be thought of in terms of financial losses and gains.
b) To devalue revolutionary sport and oppose it to professionalism – in which some of our athletes can become millionaires – to convince ourselves that the latter is superior and that it was a mistake to have distanced ourselves from it and above all, that Cuban sporting triumphs, in the amateur bubble, were a propaganda illusion of the revolutionary government. In both cases – more in the second than in the first – those enemy campaigns found naive or malign defenders within our society. In my opinion, the mobilization of the Cuban brigadistas of the Henry Reeve Contingent in our own country has been very positive, because it breaks with the false concept that there are two solidarities, one external and one internal.
The intention of de-ideologizing Cuban youth, which, as I have said on other occasions, is nothing more than a re-ideologization in the opposite direction, runs through intellectual circuits in three ways:
1. The reactivation of the ideological fault lines that preceded the unity of the Cuban revolutionaries, those surpassed or petrified by the triumph of Fidelista synthesis, all of the defeated currents (for example, anti-communism), and those who joined the new vision, qualitatively different from all of the rest. In this sense, the period of intense ideological struggle that preceded the formation of that unity is praised as a moment of maximum creativity. By way of a demonstration of the falsity of this thesis, read Iván Giroud’s sobering book, La historia en un sobre amarillo. El cine en Cuba (1948–1964), which has recently published by the ICAIC;
2. The interpretation of dialogue or of unity as the place of the convergence of all ideologies, without the pre-eminence of any one of these. It is argued that the current diversity of Cuban society requires the acceptance of all ideological currents, as well as a multi-party system. Let us remember that, out of all the many ideologies there are, it is only Marxism that is radically anti-capitalist. At this point, the attacks are focused on the Communist Party – the object of permanent demonization – which constitutionally governs the destinies of the Homeland. It is necessary to understand the regional context, where efforts to build anti-capitalist pathways are based more on ideologically diverse political agreements than on a unitary ideological construction like the Cuban one. This is mainly due to the fact that these regional experiences arise from bourgeois, multiparty elections, and that, despite the revolutionary steps, they remain bourgeois democracies, at least in a formal way. The fact that many theorists and former militants lost faith and have actually renounced the overcoming of capitalism cannot be ignored either, even though their discourse continues residually to appeal to anti-capitalism;
3. The effacement of the ideological. Ideology framed as a dogma to be surmounted, as an obstacle or hindrance from the past that purportedly prevents the acceptance of pragmatic solutions. The people do not need “speeches”, but food, they say, as if the forms of production and distribution of food, in any country and in any historical moment, did not respond to certain models of society. As if ideas, ideals (goals, horizons) were not articulated in words; as if revolutionary ideology could exist only in words, with its back turned to practice.
The enemy strategy is clear: blur the revolutionary act by emptying it of content, in order to confuse the demobilized youth. Raised fists, hunger strikes (or simulations of them), paid “mothers” dressed in white like the dignified Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, recycled slogans. I offer you this recent example: a group of bejewelled women, gathered on a street in Miami, carry posters in support of the presidential candidate of the Peruvian Right, and chant: “Peruvians united, will never be defeated.” They compare the non-existent San Isidro Movement (whose representatives praise imperialism), with the powerful Black Lives Matter movement (which is opposed to that very Yankee imperialist system), but BLM, wisely, did not fall into the trap of equating those who violate the national symbols in Cuba and call for the invasion of their homeland by the United States Army with those who desecrated the flag and the anthem of US imperialism to protest against the invasion of Vietnam or more recently, against the murder of African Americans by the police.
The imperial counteroffensive now accuses the leaders of the left of fraud and corruption – which usually of course happens with the leaders of the right – subjecting them to trials where truth and lies overlap. They lie purposely when they speak of the disappeared in Cuba. They enlist the unwary, people both good and ignorant, when they ask for the repression to end in the country (not in Colombia, not in Chile, not in the United States!). The left and the right are presented as the same. We have been told, with unusual cynicism, that we live in the age of post-truth. A young counterrevolutionary, faced with the incontestable evidence that his little leader was simulating a hunger strike (while the European Union and the United States were clamouring for his life), replied: “I don’t care if it’s a lie, I’ll keep saying it’s true.” On the 11th of July, in Cárdenas, a girl who participated in the counterrevolutionary demonstration responded to a Party official, who had asked her whether she was receiving money for her activities, in the following way: “Yeah, so what? You are also getting paid.”
A lot has been written recently about the increasingly intense and coordinated use of new technologies for cultural penetration, the constructions of attitudes and opinions, of counterrevolutionary consensuses and alliances, the invention of realities and the propagation of deliberately elaborated lies, the coordination and the conduct of the protesters by the agencies of imperialism. The study of what happened before, during and after July 11th is revealing. However, I prefer to leave to others the important topic primarily concerned with the forms used in that campaign; rather I am focused on addressing its contents.
What are the demands? What is meant by that term? I heard some abstract slogans like “freedom”, or “Homeland and life” (which is actually only the first part of the slogan “Homeland or death”, if you pay attention to the fact that after Homeland there is no “and” but an “or”), some gross obscenities about the Cuban government and its leaders, but no demands. I was also able to listen to and follow those members of the group that gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture on 27th November – not all were artists – whose leadership was quickly taken over by figures with recognized ties to official or para-official entities of the US government. In this case, with a little more elaboration, there emerged the desired re-ideologization wrapped in claims of a liberal-bourgeois character, one of these being truly unusual (and which capitalism has never practiced against itself): that the overthrow of the socialist model is to be allowed without interference. So much so, that those who asked for a dialogue then fled from it when they were summoned. I insist on this, for those who underestimate the necessary defence of revolutionary ideology; in recent years, the country’s mobilizing capacity has weakened while policies that prioritize individual initiative were applied, and liberal ideology advanced in some sectors of society. The so-called demands by these groups are marked by that ideology. It is ridiculous to speak of popular empowerment, if a class consciousness is not manifested in those truly affected by poverty, the blockade and the pandemic. We accept dialogue within the framework of the socialist Constitution (the leading party, Marti, Marxist, Leninist and Fidelista ideology), which was voted on and endorsed by an overwhelming majority of Cubans. Nobody will be subjected to ideological tests for this.
Revolutionary ideology cannot be understood as discourse, and it could never be hidden in abstraction. If the imperialist strategy is to empty the revolutionary slogans and symbols of content, ours is to protect and grow those contents. And here it is up to us to look inside ourselves, to rescue the Fidelista gaze that builds a horizon of prosperity different to that of the exploiters. This horizon has to be ambitious, since the smaller and the more constricted the waters become, and the rowers will fail to fulfil their function: our goal is total justice, even though we know that it is a utopia which is only partially achievable. If this horizon is not undertaken as a collective vision, then each individual will follow their own course, accommodate their own expectations, take care of themselves. To achieve this, it is necessary to build and rebuild consensus, over and over again, because reality spontaneously weaves its own logic, and the reproductive machinery of the bourgeois imaginary wraps it in cellophane. We revolutionaries do not administer factual consensuses, we build our own. To save and rescue the most vulnerable, that was the slogan of the Battle of Ideas, and it will be necessary to reaffirm it once more without concessions.
In an interview in 2017, regarding the criticism of centrism, I was asked if the Economic and Social Guidelines of the Party, then just recently approved, were centrist. The question included one of the most widespread confusions of the last twenty years. I replied that the condition of any political program was determined by its meaning: in this case, the opening of a development path for anti-capitalist socialism under exceptional conditions – a single country, small and poor, battling against US and world imperialism – and that objective would serve as a compass for the necessary adjustments. The compass is not the adherence to letter of the law in some manual or in any other text approved in a congress; the compass, as Fidel always said, and Raúl has repeated, is the people. As Raúl confirmed in Santiago de Cuba on 1st January 2014: “Closely linked to these concepts of strategic scope, truly strategic for the present and future of the Homeland, is the phrase spoken by Fidel from this same balcony almost exactly 55 years ago today, with which, due to eternal validity of his words, I wish to conclude my own remarks. I quote: ‘The Revolution comes to victory without compromise with anyone at all, but with the people, who are the only ones to whom it owes its victories’. Fifty-five years later, on the spot, we can proudly repeat: The revolution remains the same, with no commitments to anyone at all, only to the people!”. Of course, it is not about doing everything that “people” say or think (we already know how states of opinion are manufactured in the world, how we repeat prefabricated opinions as if they were our own), which is usually what a small group claiming to be “the people” say. To be with the people is to be part of them.
The essence of a revolutionary government is not defined in the art of governance. This is a requirement, but it is not the result of balancing measures that respond to specific situations. We must not forget that we skirt a precipice, along a narrow path – while it is not possible to cross the mountain – and that everything conspires to make us fall: the natural wind and a paid army of wind blowers. There is no guarantee that we will not fall apart, only the collective strength of our people and the full identification with the humble can prevent it. It is the path we must travel. Economic growth by itself does not define the final triumph of that journey. We must mobilize the masses, give prominence to young people, redeem in our actions the ideology of the Revolution. What happened on 11th July in Cuba does not contain a “turning point” in national political practice, as those who can no longer distance themselves from the bourgeois-liberal concept of democracy wish, but it can be, beyond its obvious planning and monitoring from Washington, a jolt of the compass, which reminds us where to look. I think there is awareness of this, and for that reason, now, we are stronger.
SOURCE: Alma Mater 2 Sept 2021. With thanks to Brenda Murillo, cubanoypunto.wordpress.com
Translation: Aaron Kelly
[i] In his last letter (to Manuel Mercado, 18 May 1895) José Martí foresaw how ‘brutal’ US imperialism would seek to impose its dominion over the entire continent and annex all nations to its own self-interest, famously writing: “I have lived in the monster and I know its entrails; my sling is David’s”. You can access a full transcript of the letter at: https://www.counterpunch.org/2006/05/19/letter-to-manuel-mercado/
[ii] For the full, illuminating discussion of the ideology of the Cuban Revolution and this particular contribution, see: https://www.pvp.org.uy/2020/01/02/la-ideologia-de-la-revolucion-cubana/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Enrique Ubieta Gómez is the editor of Cuba Socialista, the theoretical magazine of the Central Committee of Cuba’s Communist Party. He was also editor of La Calle del Medio, a monthly magazine of cultural debate, from 2008 to 2017. He is a member of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).
Born in Havana in 1958, Ubieta was managing editor of the student newspaper Chispa at the Lenin Vocational High School. He joined the Union of Young Communists in 1975. After graduating in 1983 from the University of Kiev, Ukraine, he taught philosophy at the José Martí Teachers Institute in Camagüey, Cuba. From 1994 to 1999 he was director of the Center for the Study of José Martí. Ubieta has been a member of the Communist Party of Cuba since 1986. He has received numerous awards and distinctions.
From April 1999 to March 2000, he visited some of the most remote areas of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Haiti, reporting on the work of Cuban volunteer doctors and nurses who provided medical care after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. From that experience he wrote the 2002 book La utopía rearmada: Historias de un viaje al Nuevo Mundo (Utopia rearmed: Report on a trip to the New World).
From June 2005 to March 2006 he traveled throughout Venezuela to report on the efforts—which involved thousands of Cuban medical volunteers—to expand health care to workers and peasants in Venezuela in what became known as Mission Barrio Adentro (Into the neighborhood). Drawing on that trip he wrote Venezuela rebelde: Solidaridad vs. dinero (Rebellious Venezuela: Solidarity vs. money).
He wrote Red Zone: Cuba and the Battle Against Ebola in West Africa based on his experiences as part of a reporting team to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone along with interviews with many of the medical workers involved in the fight against Ebola there.