Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Translation: An opinion on the Cuban press

To carry through the urgent renovation of Cuba's socialist project, Cuba's revolutionaries must harness the untapped potential of the country's mass communications media as a tool for socialist construction. An excellent summary of the achievements and challenges is the following commentary by Felipe de J. Perez Cruz, President of the National Association of Historians in Havana. 

This commentary is insightful not only because of its in-depth analysis of the Cuban media in relation to the renewal process, but because it touches on the reasons why Soviet Stalinism crumbled at the beginning of the 1990s. The Cuban view, or views, of this process and its underlying causes should be of interest to socialists everywhere. 

In the opinion of de J. Perez Cruz, "The more the counterrevolutionary process that led to the disappearance of the USSR and the socialist bloc is studied, the more we convince ourselves that its triumph was not in the dismantling and disqualification of history, politics and the socialist society in themselves, but in how the machinery of imperialist ideological subversion coordinated its attack on the objective weaknesses — subjectivised at the level of consciousness and mass social psychology — that really did exist in the party and the bureaucratic system, in the privileges of the governing elite, and in the unsatisfied demands [of the masses]. This includes the bombastic and apologetic press that characterized the communications policy of self-proclaimed 'real socialism'."

The Spanish original is accompanied by footnotes to references, which I've included in the translation for those that read Spanish.   

An opinion on the Cuban press

By Felipe de J. Perez Cruz, President, National Association of Historians, Havana website, June 6, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron
In Cuba today, two dissimilar political processes are taking place simultaneously. The Sixth Communist Party (PCC) Congress continues in the working out of how to implement the [Economic and Social Policy] Guidelines approved in every sector and work collective. The recent 8th Plenum of the National Committee of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) resolved to "overcome mediocrity, boring and tedious practices that contribute nothing and achieve an acute, enjoyable, investigative, analytical and critical journalism."[1]  

The Plenum brought journalists together to participate in a profound discussion of the problems and responsibilities of the sector during the preparatory process for the PCC National Conference called for January 28. I think this is an excellent proposal if it is accompanied by a fluid interaction with what society thinks and demands.       

The Cuban press

Our press has the merit of being truthful, of never lying. It's a noble press in an international journalistic context in which, with few exceptions, falsity and manipulation seem the norm. This is a privilege we enjoy, and it's not a gift of good fortune: it's due to the work and the ethics of the professionals and workers of this sector.      

The men and women of journalism maintained the vitality of the country's main media outlets in the most difficult and complex moments of the [post-Soviet] economic crisis when there was a lack of paper, the technology suffered from lack of spare parts and investment and fuel shortages meant that we only had brief periods of electrical supply. Back then the revolutionary press called for unity and resistance, a journalism that emulated the dispatches of war correspondents writing from the trenches. The numbers of pages and print runs of newspapers and magazines were reduced and a good part of the sector was absorbed by agriculture, production and defence.

The Revolution has always paid special attention to the sphere of information, its professionals and workers. It never ceased training the next generation of journalists and communicators in the seven university faculties that teach these courses nationwide, and as soon as the country began to leave behind the depths of the crisis sustained investments were made in the technological basis of the sector. The national computerisation programs gave priority to this sector, to the editorial collectives and to individual journalists. The technological base of the journalism sector is substantially superior to that of specialists in the education, science and economic sectors.

The training of a sector of professionals and workers with a revolutionary tradition, sustained commitment, a proven ability to overcome gigantic technological difficulties — in which new generations have emerged that in principle must be better educated than the preceding generations, and that have been privileged in recent years with solid investments in the sector — should be highly positive. However, the reality is that if our press does indeed maintain its undeniable revolutionary values, every day the people and the PCC leadership become more dissatisfied with majority of the publications and journalists. I agree with the self-criticism of UPEC president Tubal Paez when he says that in general, our journalism lacks elegance, ingenuity, charm, grace, spark, humour and ideas that fascinate, attract and engage.[2]      

The demands for improvement

The demands for the transformation of the press to bring it closer to reality, for it to be more analytical, more proactive and to reflect in a more objective and balanced way what is really happening in the country are not new. Commander in Chief Fidel Castro insisted on the need for a press in the spirit of Marti and Lenin, on various occasions, in meetings with journalists, in congresses and PCC analyses.          

Now the demand for a quality and effective press has been placed on the order of the day with the proposals of Comrade Raul Castro, first PCC secretary and president of our country. In the Main Report to the Sixth PCC Congress held April 16-19, Raul called on the media to leave behind, definitively, the habit of triumphalism and shrillness in addressing the national reality. The First Party Secretary urged journalists to create works that through their content and style capture attention and stimulate discussion.          

Nobody doubts the decisive role that the revolutionary press is called upon to play through clarification and objective dissemination, constant and critical, in the building of socialism. The press is indispensable in the development of socialist political culture, the culture of accountability, of debate and informed dialogue. It is above all a collective educator and must do this without sterile didacticism, respecting the intelligence of the superior social being forged by the Revolution. 

The evaluation of objective and above all subjective difficulties is well advanced. It's inconceivable that most of the time journalists have difficulty accessing information in a timely manner, in the face of insurmountable functionaries who violate the right of the people to be informed, and that blockade the free exercise of the social mission of revolutionary journalism. For no few compañeros of the sector, the lack of communication and information explains the dissemination of material that is sometimes boring, improvised or superficial.

There's no point repeating the speeches of Fidel and Raul on these and other themes, and that the cadres who are directly responsible refuse to comply with or obstruct in practice the will and the political orientation of the country's leadership, its democratic essence and the responsibility it holds. In the opinion of Tubal Paez, they have a negative influence when it comes to old styles and methods which must be eradicated, and that to some extent discourage very good professional desires.[3]

These problems weigh heavily on the sector and its results, but the question in my opinion is not reduced to the matter of cadres with misguided attitudes, functionaries that refuse [to comply with the PCC leadership's directives] and bureaucrats that blockade or obstruct.

I think it's very easy to find a culprit in the visibility and the responsibility of a functionary. Our socialist democracy is conceived, designed and constitutionally empowered so that those who are led, decide: a manager can do things or undo them to the extent they are permitted to do so by their administrative and/or political subordinates and by their revolutionary [i.e. PCC or communist youth organisation, the UJC] base committees.

We know that voluntarism and authoritarian styles of leadership have their complement in the philosophy of avoiding problems and accommodating to what is easy, evils that in recent years have contaminated the spheres of work and intellectual activity. And if the press suffers from boredom, it's because some of the professionals and workers that must transform it have conformed and accommodated to the worst schemas of inertia. "The good journalist", says Tubal Paez, "cannot be obliged by anyone to be boring, greasy, mediocre, superficial or careless in what they do, unless they really are such a person".[4]

The decisions of the PCC on information policy cannot continue to be flouted, and this cannot be resolved by Raul and the comrades in the Party leadership. This is a political and ideological struggle in the heart of the press work collectives, in every one of the newspapers, magazines and news programmes. This is the arena of a revolutionary struggle, of exigency and education of the management councils [of the publications], the cells and committees of the PCC and the UJC, of the trade union and the base associations of the UPEC.        

Looking within

It's my view that in the face of these obstacles the press publications and their professional
staff have achieved varied results. In general we don't see evidence of the sector "looking within" and the reason for this lack of introspection. I've observed how sectors of public opinion — in the capital and other provinces — see as exceptional those newspapers, magazines and news programmes that do satisfy their expectations. We have in the national and regional publications compañeros who are singled out by the people for their solid work. These are very experienced journalists, but there is no lack of good examples among the new and very new promotions who have recently graduated from the universities.

Public opinion sees a difference between the dynamism and quality of radio journalism compared with that of the other media. There are TV channels with news shows of notable quality and an excellent use of local talent. There are newspapers and news programmes that have been able to multiply, via the possibilities of the internet, what they offer their audiences, but it seems to me that with similar technological and professional potential the majority maintain a pale and minimal web presence. The impact of various personal blogs of companeros from the press is known, but many others languish in cyberspace due to lack of new content. Fortunately other sectors of Cuban society, in particular university students, are in the vanguard of a vigorous movement of revolutionary bloggers.              

The general appeals and criticisms don't do justice to those who, despite the obstacles, march in the vanguard. Specifying with knowledge and arguments what is done well promotes the discipline of quality and appeals to the conscience of the revolutionaries.     

Faced with the polarised results that we see, we need to know what those who are directly involved think and do. The views of Tubal Paez that I quoted were published widely in the Cuban press. Without doubt they express a serious self-criticism [of the Cuban press] that incites controversial debate. I waited for several days to read the commentaries and positions that would be expressed by the compañeros of the press in response, but at the time of writing my expectations have not been met. Must we wait for what is said and agreed to in the assemblies of the UPEC? Why not express them in the press itself, in response to such strident criticism as that made by the president of this organisation?   

The need to boost the professionalism and knowledge of our journalists has been stressed, but such a formulation does not satisfy the breadth of the questions which, for those of us outside the profession, flow from the deficiencies of journalistic work, the handling of information, the domination of one or another journalistic genre and the indispensable work of specialised journalism.     

I think that the imbalance that many of us perceive between the quantity and quality of the international information compared with the national is not explained solely by the existence of a certain policy of information priority. What's also lacking is knowledge and the study of the Cuban reality and, above all, journalistic styles hat are as bureaucratic or more so than the bureaucrats themselves. There are no few examples of facile and worse schematics.

The coverage of activities generally concentrates on what those who preside over an event say, quoting what they said in their opening or closing remarks, photos or film footage are taken of this person and then some more photos or a pan from the ground up and this is where the job of the journalist ends, who then hurriedly moves on to another "newsworthy" event. What really happens, what the ordinary protagonists say and do, are unimportant.

The journalists who cover the opening and the conclusion, who follow the chiefs and not the people who make history, solve everything by expanding on a quote from what the person in charge said. Before their eyes is the marvel of the news in which its protagonists aren't seen. Since they "don't have time" to stay and participate in the event, they alienate us from what is most valuable, which is the pulse of the concrete subjects of the event, their sentiments, ideas and contributions. Such a superficial view impedes the practice of a journalism of opinion that weighs up what transpires and takes sides. This weak praxis also has it unavoidable consequences of professional impoverishment, whether desired or not, of those that practice such schematic styles of journalism.

I know of news coverage in which the journalist arrives on the scene without having even the remotest idea of what took place. The argument that they were sent by their editors without knowing what they were going to cover speaks volumes not only of the irresponsibility of these editors; it also has as its counterpart the individual ethic of accountability and respect that every professional should ask of themselves.

The journalist that follows the scent of reality, that discovers and broaches themes, that investigates and with shield on arm emulates those who battle giants, is a rare species, almost extinct. Could this be solely due to the work schedule, cluttered with tasks already drawn up in detail? Does it have something to do with this or that editorial line? 

Specialised journalism doesn't dig deep enough. We ask ourselves why the sports journalists exercise criticism — of both merit as well as mistakes and nonconformism — of the National Institute of Sports and its directors, of the director of a provincial agency, a baseball team, about the performance of this or that technical team, yet rarely is the same done in relation to public health, education, the economy and the material output of an entity, with a minister, the director of a hospital, a school or a factory.    

Sports journalism is not without room for improvement, but the first thing that meets the eye is the high level of professionalism of the majority of companeros involved, from the esteemed veterans to the novices. They know what they're talking about and can discuss with the sport's managers and specialists what they disagree on. Do their journalistic colleagues in other sectors and branches have this training and this willingness to debate which we're so grateful for?   

Undoubtedly, a personal rapport and frequent contact with the cadres and specialists responsible for this or that issue is vital. Even more indispensable may be individual study, self-preparation, a systematic reading of the topic in question. The broad general knowledge and cultural level of the journalist, independently of what they report on, is a requirement that must be continually developed, and those most responsible for this are the journalists themselves.  

Almost the same

I'm convinced that if tomorrow the problems of bureaucratic control were resolved, and if there were access to and communication with the heads of entities, cadres and functionaries, we'd still be very far from the revolutionary press that we need. It would be better informed by the state and government institutions, but it would lack the decisive vision and the rich contradiction of civil society.      

Raul Castro and the PCC leadership's insistence, in the process of the Sixth PCC Congress, on considering the value of each and every one of the opinions expressed [in the public debates] confirms a willingness of socialist democracy that was unknown in the practice of the communist parties that came to power in Europe and Asia in the 20th century, whose tradition was centred on a schematic overestimation of the collective viewpoint — essentially that of the state and the party — over individual opinion. How can we express and develop the right that has been conquered, our freedom as subjects in and of the Revolution, if we do not take this participatory path traced out by the Sixth Congress? Such a profound and decisive party praxis is an invitation to reflection and a change of mentality. It's an essential key for theoretical debate and the perspective for how to do our journalism.

When is the press going to pay attention to the need to privilege in its work the intelligence, experience and the empirical evidence of our humble and wise citizens? Who can affirm that in Cuba everyone agrees or that we go along with the responses or approaches of the managers and those responsible for this or that entity or state or government agency? When are the disagreements and debates within the revolutionary camp going to emerge in the media?         

Is the press not interested in the precise data that our workers, technicians and economists have about the problems of production and the economy, the data and the statistics produced by science and that aren't necessarily incorporated into the official statistics, the qualitative studies, the projections about the beautiful realities that we have, and also the spots and ugly growths that we suffer?   

When are our journalists going to facilitate — or better, lead — a series of debates and critiques that go to the heart of society without us having sufficient spaces to inform, specify, clarify, agree and rectify? Why lose the press as a public square for our self-education in the socialist morality and civility of saying and sharing what we think?

Faced with indolence and silence, I'm among those who prefer to share an appraisal, to convince or be convinced of an erroneous or imprecise judgement. I know that this preference is shared by many companeros, as revealed in the success of participation and its acceptance in the Granma letters to the editor pages [initiated in early 2008].    

Real dangers

The Cuban press faces not only constructive and educative tasks. Daily, almost hourly, our society is bombarded by the gigantic machinery of global capitalist propaganda. In the chinks of our deficiencies, in the constant misrepresentation of the reality of the country, campaigns aimed directly at subverting us politically, culturally and ideologically are armed, which also aim to discredit the revolutionary project, fracture international solidarity and isolate us.     

The dangers we confront in the ideological, political and cultural struggle are real and to underestimate them would be unpardonable and irresponsible. Today and for a long time to come, the noble mission of journalism will be a substantial part — unavoidably — of the ideological arm wrestling between the enemy [news] services which try to impose an agenda of lies, and our revolutionary press. They impose on us a media war, psychological aggression and their dirty work [i.e. subversive activities sponsored by the US government]. And the Revolution cannot be too naive in the face of such powerful and heartless enemies.

I understand the justified protective measures we must take, and I'm aware of the fair concern of many compañeros. However the need to defend the spiritual life of Cubans does not justify closing ourselves off from the necessary changes; it imposes precisely the need to carry through these changes as a key part of the strategy for victory. We have to explain, reassure and demonstrate the strength we possess, and therein lie the opportunities for the Revolution to prevail in the press and in all spheres.            

The reality of a besieged fortress leads to the "siege" mentality, and this is precisely the fear that the most intelligent architects of the anti-Cuban aggression try to turn to their advantage, those who talk of combining the continuity of the military-economic pressure — hard power — with building bridges, of subversion and ideological-cultural penetration: "soft power". 

We walk a path, if we're talking about the press, that is unprecedented in the building of socialism. The historical experiences in this regard, in the countries that have attempted revolutionary socialist processes, have only definitively marked out the extremes: bureaucratic control of the press or a liberal opening that is essentially anti-socialist and counterrevolutionary.    

What immediately comes to mind is the painful experience of so-called glasnost — transparency — in the context of the process of treachery [to the socialist cause] that the Soviet rectification or perestroika became. This is a reference point that shows  us the capacity for ideological-cultural dismantling that the subversive agencies — the CIA and its emulators within the so-called intelligence community of the US and NATO — and its methods of coordination and multiplication of the gigantic propagandistic machinery of transnational imperialism.        

It's not enough to appreciate the results of the irresponsibility and political adventurism of the Soviet leadership at the close of the 20th century. The key problem, of practical value, is to reveal the source of imperialism's effectiveness in the 1980s, after the persistent failures of its sieges and aggression during the 1970s. 

The more the counterrevolutionary process that led to the disappearance of the USSR and the socialist bloc is studied, the more we convince ourselves that its triumph was not in the dismantling and disqualification of history, politics and the socialist society in themselves, but in how the machinery of imperialist ideological subversion coordinated its attack on the objective weaknesses — subjectivised at the level of consciousness and mass social psychology — that really did exist in the party and the bureaucratic system, in the privileges of the governing elite, and in the unsatisfied demands [of the masses]. This includes the bombastic and apologetic press that characterised the communications policy of self-proclaimed "real socialism".

With regard to weaknesses and threats, we have to identify our differences, as long as we also acknowledge our strengths and opportunities. In contrast with the Soviet experience, the course of the Cuban Revolution during the final decade of the last century and its arrival in the present century corresponds to a very different objective situation and political-moral setting.          

Cuban realities

Cuba understood in time — even before perestroika emerged on the scene in the Soviet Union and raised hopes — the need to initiate its rectification of errors and negative tendencies, to criticise and resolve the most serious problems, above all ideological, that were incubating themselves via the mechanical copying of the model that was already deteriorating in the USSR. As we know, not everything was resolved. We lacked time for the maturation, through decisive transformations, of many of the things we objected to, but the fundamental principle of carrying out necessary and possible changes within socialism [i.e. the socialist-oriented society — translator's note] was firmly established.

The impacts and consequences of the economic crisis and the stepping up of the policy of blockade and subversion by the US government reinforced old problems and created new conflicts, yet despite this we were able to save the Revolution. The line of march decided on by the 1991 Fourth PCC Congress and ratified by the Fifth Congress in 1997 allowed for the preservation of socialism and its principal conquests, made possible by the massive support of all patriots, of the immense majority of the population.  

The area of the class struggle in Cuba today is the most complex that it has had to confront in the revolutionary process of the past half century. The weaknesses are connected to the old and yet-to-be-overcome, as well as to "the new" and not necessarily progressive that has been incorporated from the deterioration suffered [during the post-Soviet Special Period — translator's note] and the growth of market relations. The weaknesses include organisational and political expressions of the Soviet model that urge the negation of dialectics, with manifestations of the social conduct, morality and bourgeois corruption inherent in the capitalist mode of production, whose existence we will never conform to.   

Those who entrench themselves in the siege mentality — and worse, those who cower full of pessimism — do not understand that in serenely reading the complexity of the conjuncture they begin the defense and the offensive struggle of revolutionary ideology and politics. The Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution approved by the Sixth PCC Congress confirm this.  

In the mature Revolution that we have today there are sufficient strengths to deepen the rectifications and advances needed by the economy, society and the press that we're attending to without giving ground to bourgeois ideology and imperialism. The Revolution has multiplied ethics and the revolutionary spirit of the nation in terms of knowledge and culture. The Cubans of today have given — and offer daily — proof of their wisdom cultivated by revolutionary politics. This reality constitutes and characterises the revolutionary social being and is the most solid bulwark of socialism.

The struggle for ideological-cultural hegemony — well defined by Antonio Gramsci — is a pedagogical relation between the class contenders, and we can take up this challenge fully. We have enough leadership experience and clear ideas. Fidel made it clear half a century ago the breadth and the limits of the ideological struggle in Cuba: "Within the Revolution everything, against the Revolution, nothing."[5]   

Within the Revolution, not all of us react and think with the certainty that is needed in each moment. Those who don't agree with us on certain policies, those who are confused by hyper-criticism and ultraleft revolutionism, the pessimists, those deceived by enemy propaganda, must always be treated with respect, attention, persuasion and education. The directors and functionaries who are sickened with voluntarism, authoritarian and sterile centralism, the bureaucrats who obstruct are also our compañeros, and we can't forget this. There is still much harmful intolerance among us and, ultimately, the Revolution doesn't make us angels but men and women amid different visions, interests, contradictions, mistakes, successes, partial mistakes and partial successes. 

What is against the Revolution, no matter how hidden it may be, surfaces sooner or later.
The antisocial nature of administrative corruption is not resistant to debate. The thief hidden in the leadership structures and in the bureaucracy is nothing more than a delinquent. The leap to the counterrevolution has no ethical justification, it lacks the most minimal historical or cultural awareness. The reduced fauna of anti-patriots, anexationists and mercenaries on the payroll of imperialism confirm, in their nauseating nature, the reality that I affirm: we face a battlefield that we know well, against individualism, egoism and treachery. A terrain that has has always been disputed and where in each moment we've been able to achieve victory.      

The press has much to offer in the creation of new spaces for pedagogical revolutionary construction, for ideological combat, counter-propaganda and the denunciation of the anti-Cuban campaigns and operations. I for one am fully confident of the capacity of the communications media professionals and workers to be and do what the needs of the revolutionary struggle in Cuba demand. It would be unjust not to recognise those who have insisted on doing this for a long time, and those who break the inertia and the barriers to join this struggle.

Footnotes [as in the Spanish text]

[1] Resolución final del VIII Pleno del Comité Nacional de la UPEC,, Lunes, 23 de mayo de 2011

[2] Miguel Torres Barbá: Frente al espejo: la prensa apuesta por ser más atractiva, AIN, Viernes, 13 de Mayo de 2011.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Fidel Castro Ruz: Palabras a los Intelectuales, 30 de junio de 1961

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