Cuba exemplifies the interdependence of the struggles for national liberation and socialism in the imperialist epoch. The Spanish-American war for control over Spain's colonial possessions at the close of the 19th century, including Cuba and the Philippines, was the first imperialist war, and Cuba's socialist revolution was the first in the Western hemisphere. To understand the debates and changes underway in Cuba today it's helpful to go back to the roots of the Cuban revolutionary tradition, which combines the radical humanism and anti-imperialism of Jose Marti with the scientific socialism of Marx, Engels and Lenin. Many others, of course, have also contributed to this rich and enduring tradition, among them Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
Enrique Ubieta is a well-known Cuban journalist and writer. Recipient of Cuba's Distinction for National Culture in 2002, he is the author of numerous books on Cuban history and politics. He founded and edited the magazine Contracorriente from 1995 to 2004, and now edits the new Cuban magazine La Calle del Medio, a "publication of opinion and debate". I hope to post translations from its pages soon. Meanwhile, here is the first instalment of a fine essay by Ubieta that views the present changes in light of the historical tension between annexation to the US and independence and socialism, among other themes.
Revolution or reform in Cuba (Part 1)
By Enrique Ubieta
Cubadebate, November 23, 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron
In a few month's time the Cuban Revolution will celebrate its first half-century of having declared itself socialist. There was a revolutionary tradition in the country that went back to the origins of the nation: the vital necessities (economic) of the population born in the colony — of the slaves, of course, of African or Asian descent, at times the majority, but also the Creole, daughter of the Spanish islands and peninsulas — could only be satisfied on the basis of ethical suppositions. For as long as these necessities did not set in righteous moulds, the sentiment for independence was not yet forged. The first act in the wake of independence was inevitably one of justice: the liberation of the slaves.
The homeland engendered a rare identity of the ethical and the useful. Jose Marti would speak two decades later of "the utility of virtue". When it fell to him to organise the new war, he spoke not of the nation — a concept tainted by its metropolitan usage, and by its racial overtones — but of the homeland, which was, he said, humanity. And, paradoxically, he did not create an Independence Party but one that was called, simply, Revolutionary.
An important quality, profoundly revolutionary, animated the thinking of Marti: a cultured man of refined sensitivity and an extraordinary scientific understanding, Marti rejected the vulgar materialism, ultimately idealist, of positivism to which many of his peers adhered. There was in Marti something of a "crazy", indomitable man who rejected almost instinctively the passive compliance with social "deeds": if the phrase turned into graffiti by an anonymous hand in a Paris street in the 68th year of the following century had an antecedent — the one that asked us if we were realists, and if we would do the impossible — it was perhaps the political realism of the 19th century Marti.
In one of my essays I have proposed a conceptual differentiation between the "must be" and "can be" of Marti; the first concept ignores reality in all of its facets — the visible, the factual, and the possible, the latent — to hang onto an ideal that is not ratified in practice, and to artificially adjust reality to the model; the second starts from the existence of different possibilities latent in society, all of them real though not completely manifest, and from the certainty that the realisation of any of them can and must be impelled in a conscious way. The positivists gathered data in the name of science and in the words of Marti, with a verb of his own invention, they "insected for the concrete"; in contrast, he asked us to think of the flight of the condor, in which intuition participates as a way of knowing. The positivists were essentially reformists; Jose Marti was a revolutionary.
What does this have to do with Cuban socialism? Ariadne's thread can only be used to trace the past, never the future; the present can still lead to different futures. To say, as its enemies allege, that the Revolution has invented a teleological history is a bad trick. Leaping over simplifications and textbook schemas, always present, the Cuban Revolution has a solid historical tradition. So much so that some counterrevolutionary ideologues proposed in the 1990s the existence of two main lines [of national development]. On the one hand, annexation or autonomy in 19th century Cuba and in the 20th, dependent capitalism that would end up adhering to neo-annexationist or neo-autonomist postures, beginning with the first white aristocrats in whom justice and class interests had not yet melted, and ending with the present Cuban-American bourgeoisie in which justice and class interests will never find common ground. On the other hand, what they called anti-modern, utopian — in the derogatory sense — anti-capitalism, in which Marti and Fidel are unreservedly and justly united.
In Cuban history these two conceptions acquired an oppositional sense, exclusionary: the founding Revolution [i.e. the war of independence from Spanish colonial rule], which gave birth to the homeland, and the conservative Reform, tool of a submissive, anti-national elite. The revolutionary spirit required national independence; the reformist, dependence. The late 19th century autonomists that clamoured for the imperishable hispanidad of Cuba, when the only alternatives were annexation by the US or complete independence, opted for the former.
In an unpublished letter dated September 3, 1899, addressed to the annexationist Cuban-American Jose Ignacio Rodriguez — preserved in the archives of the Library of Congress in Washington — the president of the Cuban Liberal Autonomist Party, Jose Maria Galvez, wrote in a conspiratorial tone: "Complete independence is the illusion of the day, fomented by the "patriots" and cherished by the mulatto mob. It should dispelled before demonstrating that annexation must be achieved in any case, in the same way that for all Catholics every road leads to Rome. I believe I've said this to you before, and I repeat it now: all those with something to lose, those who aspire to acquire and the Spanish masses in general, hope for annexation". In any event, if you want to look through the keyhole at the historical reconstruction that would accompany a victorious Cuban counterrevolution, take a peek at present-day [ex-Soviet bloc] Eastern European societies.
But the revolutionary tradition in Cuba had also taken the path of Marxism in the first half of the 20th century. Important Cuban intellectuals such as Mella, Martinez Villena and Marinello, to cite just three, were party leaders; others were collaborators or sympathisers of the Party. From the Cuban workers and students came an impressive group of brilliant martyrs and leaders, more or less close ideologically to the socialist ideal. The revolutionary upsurge of 1959 — preceded by the upsurge of 1933, which lacked a centrifugal force that could pull together its diverse components — united everyone this time: the differences and sectarianisms were swept aside by the course of events, and the few who were incapable of overcoming old rancour or the yearning for leadership [rather than recognising the actual leaders of the movement] disappeared from the historical tapestry.