Events in Egypt remind us that, as Malcolm X once said, "You're living in a time of revolution". Here is the second and final instalment of my translation of Enrique Ubieta's "Revolution or reform in Cuba". For those who read Spanish, Ubieta has a blog, The Unknown Island. Part 1 of the translation is here.
Revolution or reform in Cuba (Part 2)
By Enrique Ubieta
Cubadebate, November 23, 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron
The July 26 Movement's act of liberation was a new challenge to the apparently impossible: stormings of heaven, sea crossings and ghostly landings, and Fidel's words on meeting up with just eight survivors of the Granma landing, who carried seven guns, facing a well-armed war machine and the predictable hostility of the greatest imperialist power on Earth: "Now we've won the war!" From the program sketched out in [Fidel's courtroom defence speech] History Will Absolve Me, through the First Declaration of Havana to April 16, 1961, when the socialist character of the Revolution was proclaimed, events had evolved rapidly. A revolution that grew over from the anti-colonialism of the 19th century to the anti-imperialism of the 20th century was necessarily anti-capitalist. To look for external explanations [i.e. Soviet influence] for the process, or to speculate about the consequences of a more comprehensive reaction from the US government, would be to ignore the nature of the events and their protagonists: it would be anti-capitalist or it would not exist. Fidel explains this in an editorial published in the first edition of the magazine Cuba Socialista in September 1961:
"On April 16, when we accompanied the victims of the cowardly air attack the day before, putting all the national forces on alert, breathing the atmosphere of imminent aggression, on the eve of the battle against imperialism foreseen by everyone, the socialist character of the Revolution was proclaimed. The Revolution did not become socialist on that day. It was socialist in its will and in its defined aspirations when the people [applauded in a mass rally] the Declaration of Havana. It became definitively socialist in reality, in socioeconomic deeds, when it converted the sugar mills, big factories, department stores, mines, transportation, banks etc. into the collective property of all of the people. The socialist germ of the Revolution was already there in the [July 26 Movement], whose clearly-expressed proposals inspired the first revolutionary laws. (...) In a semi-colonial and capitalist social regime such as this there could have been no other revolutionary change but a socialist one, once the national liberation stage had been accomplished".
The compass pointed to the path of Eastern Europe, but our parents looked more to the point of departure — with its pending social tasks and powerful enemies watching closely — than to the hypothetical destination. The command for this embarkation did not come from the Communist Party [i.e. the Moscow-aligned Popular Socialist Party] — very well organised in Cuba and with a heroic history, but too entangled in the wisdom of its time and in immediate tactics — and this party did not bring any navigation charts. [Those in command] were irreverent youths, hairy and bearded, who despised bourgeois norms of conduct and invaded, with their guerrilla boots, the lounges of the defeated bourgeoisie; statesmen who, on being rejected by New York's luxury hotels, threatened to set up camp in the gardens of the UN headquarters or happily accept a room in a modest hotel in the black neighbourhood of Harlem (racial segregation was legal at the time in the US). But these were not politically immature men and women. Fidel, specifically, had conscientiously read works of Marx and Lenin and of history; had in-depth knowledge of the reality of his country, the visible and the latent; possessed a devastating revolutionary optimism (only what is believed to be possible is possible); and was gifted with a rare political instinct.
It was daily life, an accelerated learning curve, that drove forward the Revolution. Its leaders adopted a strict ethical code, expressed from the days of the Sierra Maestra onwards, regarding the treatment of enemy prisoners and the peasants in the surrounding countryside and, later, in relation to the people and international commitments. Despite this, Fidel said five years ago [in a landmark speech at Havana University on November 17, 2005] and reiterated a few days ago, "among the many errors that we have committed, the most serious error was believing that someone knew how to build socialism". But he also said: "What kind of society would this be, or what right would we have to feel happy when we meet in a place such as this, on a day like today, if we did not know a minimum of what must known so that on this heroic island, this heroic people, this people that has written pages [of history] never written by any other in the history of humanity, can sustain the Revolution?" Because it must be said that Cuban socialism never stopped searching, rectifying, starting afresh: each decade meant in some way a new beginning, a new search [for the right path].
It is usually said with bad intent or in ignorance that the aroused masses that accompany a revolutionary process lose their own will. In reality, only a Revolution is capable of transforming the masses into collectives of individualities, only a revolutionary process converts individuals into the subjects, actors, of their own destiny.
The scene in the film Madagascar [a 1994 Cuban film directed by Fernando Perez, not the Hollywood animation] in which the protagonist searches fruitlessly in an aerial photograph of a mass public gathering in a newspaper of the period, convinced that she would find herself in it, is very revealing: this woman was unaware that her face would not appear because she felt herself to be a protagonist of that event, even though she was accompanied by a million Cubans.
Individualised heroism and anonymous heroism are two expressions, sometimes complementary, sometimes in opposition, of a Revolution. A Revolution is the mediating process through which the masses begin to take shape as collectives of individuals. To the degree to which this process is completed or undone, it triumphs or fails. In Cuba, said Che, "this multifaceted entity is not, as is claimed, the sum of elements of the same category (reduced to the same category, what's more, by the system imposed), that acts like a herd." Nevertheless, he continued, "seeing things superficially, it may seem that those who speak of the subordination of the individual to the state are right; the mass carries out with matchless enthusiasm and discipline the tasks set by the [revolutionary] government (...)". And he put forward a working hypothesis that is truly revolutionary: "What is difficult to understand by those who have not lived the experience of the Revolution is this close dialectical unity between the individual and the mass, where both interrelate and, at the same time, the mass, as an ensemble of individuals, interrelates with the leaders".
One of the strengths of Cuban socialism has been this multiple relation: the mass and every individual as a part, on the one hand; and the mass as an ensemble of individuals and their principle leaders, on the other. Let me give an example that is often used for its exemplarity: the government could have decided to send sugar to the Chilean people during the [Salvador Allende] Popular Unity period; but Fidel addressed a million Cubans who drove forward the Revolution with their presence in the Plaza [of the Revolution, Havana], and he asked them: are each one of you in a position to donate a pound of the sugar that you receive via the ration book to the Chilean people? The immense majority of those present raised their hands in a sign of approval. Each citizen, individually, as would happen by agreement between neighbours, donated part of their small quota of sugar to a sister people. The Economic and Social Policy Guidelines that will be debated and approved by the upcoming [6th] Congress of the [Cuban Communist] Party will be discussed in every workplace and neighbourhood in the country. Not for the first time, since this has been a common practice in our revolutionary history.
As an authentic Revolution, Cuba's was never seen as — and neither could it be, as some would have liked — an internal affair: it was the First Free Territory of the Americas and, in essence, a link in the world Revolution. For the first time in history, the internationalist vocation of a revolutionary state was conducted not according to the budgets, prejudices or interests of a more developed country towards less developed countries or regions. Cuba raised itself to viewing its brothers of misfortune as equals; from poor to poor, from ex-colony to colony. And it survived, beyond the so-called "big brothers" of [Eastern] Europe: today the Cuban Revolution is older than these states were when they crumbled.
Cuban internationalism is practiced as a duty, not as a favour. It shared doctors, teachers, soldiers, guerrilla fighters. For this, it was accustomed to receiving solidarity with gratitude, convinced that it did not receive a gift, but fair treatment. Fidel as a statesman founded a new practice of internationalism, outside of any geopolitical interests, that nurtured revolutionary humanism but rejected any ideological pretension — or the evangelising of the revolutionary doctrine — save for that which emanates from example, as Che would say. The communist International sent its emissaries, undoubtedly heroic, all over the world on "evangelising" missions, similar in character though different in their propositions to that of the Catholic or Protestant missionary.
The Cuban doctor does not talk about politics, cures rich and poor alike, neoliberals and communists, children and delinquents; she can even collaborate with the health authorities of fascist governments if this saves lives, as happened in Somoza's Nicaragua in the days following the  earthquake; or with the [health] institutions of states with which Cuba does not have, and nor does it pursue, diplomatic relations. In 1991 came the collapse [of Soviet bureaucratic "socialism"]: of the horizon, of the revolutionary way, for those that always swim with the current, of fairer commercial relations. The US blockade closed all doors and turned out the light, both literally and metaphorically. Thousands of Cubans went to work each day by bicycle, with a wife and small child perched on the bicycle frame, postponing many life projects that seemed feasible. In times of momentary disorientation, our Revolution nevertheless kept alive the small flame that averted its freezing over.
Cuban socialism reoriented its efforts to the preservation of the most basic conquests. Even when, in 1998, when the word "internationalism" seemed forgotten, it sent its medical guerrillas to Central America and Haiti and thus initiated a new era of solidarity collaboration. That year also saw the electoral victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the beginning of a new age of constitutional revolutions in Latin America. Cuba's hard battle for survival and its defence of the principles of socialism and internationalism made possible this eventual collective renaissance.
Is Cuban socialism a thing of the 20th century? Is there a socialism of the 21st Century that relegates it to the past, to academic study? Has Cuban socialism failed? More than 20 years after the collapse of the others, Cuba readjusts its economic model, searching for ways to make use of its forces, essentially human [i.e. Cuba's well-educated and skilled workforce] in a hostile world, and in different revolutionary circumstances. Is the concept of Revolution obsolete? I'm not going to recall the Fidelista definition [a reference to an excerpt from Fidel's May Day 2000 speech: "Revolution is having a sense of the historical moment, it is changing everything that must be changed... "] which is located essentially on the ethical plane. In one sense, Cubans seem more focused and earthly now, but our written dreams and our colossal achievements remain intact; this is a Revolution that made the impossible possible in a small country of the Third World, permanently subjected to an economic blockade and a media war: with First World indices of health and education, Cuba established guidelines for the relations between its leaders and the masses, between the revolutionary Party [i.e. the Cuban Communist Party] and the people.
The updating of [Cuba's socialist] economic model is not a reform; in the history of Cuba, as we have seen, Reform leads to a rupture between the ethical and the just. "The country will have more", Fidel has reiterated [in his November 17, 2005 speech at Havana University], "but it will never be a society of consumerism, it will be a society of knowledge, of culture, of the most extraordinary human development conceivable, development of culture, of art, of science (...) with a fullness of freedom that nobody will be able to prevent. We know this, we don't even have to proclaim it, though we should remember it".
Cuba has created a more diverse society because it has enriched its individuals; it's million professionals, its population with a minimum ninth grade level of education is the greatest of its conquests. Capitalism rewards individualism; socialism has not always known or been able to fully unleash, in the social interest, the potentialities of the individual. Cuba's updating of its economy promotes these possibilities. It would probably be out of place to debate here so-called guevarismo or the precise relationship, useful and just, between material and moral incentives in a country without [abundant] resources. We live in a qualitatively different period, and revolutionaries would cease being revolutionaries if we did not overcome old stereotypes. In this real world, which must be changed, every revolutionary tactic and strategy must be such that it leads to the fundamental objective of changing this real world. No strategy or tactic that leads to disunity could be considered good", Fidel has reiterated recently. The capitalist economic and social model has failed, and Cuba rejects the consumerism inherent in the capitalist mode of production.
Cuba is demonised for not having been able to prevent the resurgence of prostitution, although the solution implied, [of a return to] capitalism, would lead to its massive growth. Cuba is accused of not being able to contain certain unjust social differences, and the capitalist solution would widen these differences, make them deeper, more unjust and irreversible. Every doctor or sports trainer who deserts is the victory of "normality" in the face of the dream of a solidaristic society. But the desertion (someone's renunciation of their presumed "abnormality") is presented as an abnormal, extraordinary deed. The Cuban that deserts is not defined according to their personal interests — as is normal in this world — but as an expression of a political position. The images transmitted from Cuba [by the pro-imperialist corporate media] brag about the dirty and emaciated corners of the city, in the poorest fringes of a society strangled by a blockade. The beautiful spaces are considered false or manipulated. It does not matter that the "dirty" spaces would be normal — and because of this, hardly of interest — in other Latin American cities. The Cuban normality must be destroyed, so that Cuba is as normal as other countries of the Third World. Above all because Cuba does not allow, nor will it, the most important definition of "normality": that of the "free market" (a concept with which the [capitalist] media manipulate the meaning of democracy and freedom).
I think that in conclusion, it is not possible to achieved the desired [social] justice on the basis of poverty, and that somehow the countries of the Third World must raise themselves up together. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), founded on the experience of Cuban internationalism, offers an incipient answer [to this challenge]. There are no socialist models, but there are principles and a unique horizon: that of anti-capitalism. I believe that Cuban socialism, far from being a 20th century project, is one of the 21st century; and that humanity will resume its "craziness", most beautiful and therefore most necessary, when the conditions exist for its universalisation. Meanwhile this small island of Utopia will not flinch in its commitment to develop and share its achievements.