Saturday, July 16, 2011

Luis Sexto: Horizontal socialism

As a rule I post only what is unavailable elsewhere, i.e. my own translations and commentaries. Here is a rare exception. I've just returned from visiting family in Melbourne and will resume my translations shortly. This perceptive commentary by Cuban journalist Luis Sexto was first published on the bilingual Progreso Weekly website in both Spanish and English under the heading, "Back to the bench or keep bumbling".

As usual, Sexto's perceptive observations reveal much about the internal dynamics of the renewal process. Sexto's judgement that "the best ideology is not one that promises paradise but that builds it" sums up nicely the principled pragmatism of those who strive to carry through the renovation that has begun. As I've argued elsewhere, the basic line-up of forces is the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership together with genuine revolutionaries within and outside the PCC against conservative elements, particularly those entrenched in the administrative apparatus, that resist change. To prevail in the face of such resistance requires nothing less than the dismantling of much of what Cubans call "the bureaucracy" and the simultaneous deepening of participatory socialist democracy, above all in the sphere of economic management. 

As Sexto says, "whoever does do not change his mindset and stands as an obstacle to horizontal socialism, that is, democratic and productive socialism, will have to stand aside or be displaced." The "old man" does not appear to be a reference to Fidel Castro, but to those Cubans with a conservative mentality who are an obstacle to "horizontal socialism". 

Back to the bench or keep bumbling

By Luis Sexto, Progreso Weekly website, July 12, 2011

Translation: Progreso Weekly

HAVANA - At a recent debate organized by the journal Temas (Topics) in Havana on politicization and depoliticization in Cuban society, one of the listeners asked this reporter, who was part of the panel, the meaning of the double standard. I answered with a title by José Ingenieros; it means “simulation in the struggle for life.” He countered, saying he could define it with less bombast: It is the divorce between the leaders and the led, he said.

Better to explain it as the divorce between economic structures and the aspirations of citizens, I replied. Because, ultimately, leaders and officials act as people inserted in a certain order that eventually affects human behavior. And I say this without subtracting responsibility from those who take advantage, for their own benefit, of the dogmatic and bureaucratic nature that conditions so-called real socialism.

The double standard, then, is a result of an excess of politicization that, counter to the renewal process, insists on prevailing over the consciences so that the double standard (to say what you don't think and think what you don't say) may continue as a kind of distortion of politics and ethics.

Politics, among many meanings drawn from the theory of state and law, is related to the art or science of governance. So, the political attitude of the citizens must be to accept and support the program of the ruling party and work for its fulfillment or freely criticize its inconsistencies.

So far, however, politics has been understood by us as a kind of ritual, a repetition of slogans that evaluates the commitment of people. That kind of “super ego” that hangs over people's conscience has been, in essence, the work of a total ideologization of human actions.

So, when the Government and the Communist Party today ask cadres and functionaries, even ordinary people, to change their mindset, they are proposing to change the way to deal with society, relationships, the economy, politics and law, and light a fire under “the old days,” an allusion to the people burdened by experiences and reflexes that prompt them to act and speak “as I did” or “as I said before.”

Everything in Cuba today is a renewal, a negation preceding a rebirth conditioned by the needs and certainty of the present. But habit and the interests twisted in so many years of ruling, rather than governing, refuse to fall away. And the committed observer appreciates the divorce – since we started talking about divorce – between the corrections and the solutions that are adopted, the doctrine that is disseminated and the application (somewhat reluctant and tortuous) of the project of economic upgrading that, of necessity, must pass through a reformulation of attitudes and political activism.

It would be a fateful mistake for us to forget that the survival of the ideals and achievements of the revolution, including the socialist objectives, is crystallized and entrenched in our national unity. And that it will have to coalesce within diversity and be protected by effective constitutional and legal rights.

Raul Castro seemed very confident, and spoke clearly during the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party, when he stated that national unity, so often invoked and needed in the past 50 years, is formed by the conjunction of believers, atheists, Freemasons, santeros, whites, blacks and mestizos, of all the Cubans who, seen through a glass made clear by reason and goodwill, may not be overlooked or discriminated against or privileged by their beliefs or philosophies, or by their higher or lower economic status or social prestige.

But who can change, through persuasion, the prevailing views of a state apparatus that is bureaucratized even to the manner of dress, and that, in influential numbers, is accustomed to raising its hand in token of consent, and then submitting a problem to every solution, because it feels its power is threatened if the land is divided, or if private workers or cooperatives proliferate, or if each citizen freely decides to attend or not the union meeting or the street rally, or guard duty for the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.

What would happen, for example, if an institution were to include, among the requirements for working or enrolling in a school or university, a vow "not to profess any religious beliefs and to commit to hold the post unconditionally,” i.e., to remain there forever?

Wouldn't that institution try to delegitimize the discourse of the country's president and secretary general of the ruling party? Viewed with a critical mind, these practices would negate the true revolutionary humanism, and their extreme demands would generate a double standard. Who could stop anyone from saying that they're atheists and then lighting a candle to St. Lazarus at home?

Who doesn't know that unconditionality to men and institutions keeps freedom stuck to the ceiling and that, faced with any adverse circumstance, any questions or desire, the individuals thus imprisoned can resort only to suicide or defection?

I believe that this rejection of the declared political will to leave behind what is outdated and failed, what has been the cause of poverty, emigration or depoliticization, is a contribution of those who refuse to believe that the best ideology is not one that promises paradise but that builds it. It does not create problems but solves them in harmony, without pressure.

Cuba is still manageable, however. It does not function in chaos, despite the appearances that are magnified by enemies and minimized by friends. And this writer, in contact with hundreds of compatriots in the archipelago, can assure you that the reserves of ethics and genuine commitment are valuable enough to merit emerging to the light. The proof: Cuban society remains standing and tranquil.

But “the old man” will have to stand aside, no matter his age, because I know young people whose thought is as rigid as the lighthouse on El Morro. And we will have to accept that whoever does do not change his mindset and stands as an obstacle to horizontal socialism, that is, democratic and productive socialism, will have to stand aside or be displaced.

Cuba's main problem, as I see it, is synthesized in a baseball analogy: those who grew used to batting toward third will have trouble batting to first when tactical circumstances demand it. And the manager's book will pass sentence: back to the bench, this game is not for you.

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