Friday, January 7, 2011

Translation: By one and all

If you live, as I do, in a capitalist society, in which the essential function of the mass media is to disorient, distract and divide in the class interests of the corporate elite (and to sell advertising space), imagine if you opened the paper and read, over your morning coffee, a commentary like Luis Sexto's below. You'd no doubt stare in disbelief and wonder if, by some magical device, you'd woken up in a kinder, saner society.

Despite material constraints and much room for improvement, the basic function of Cuba's revolutionary press is to orient and inform. Increasingly, it is also to provoke and facilitate the striving for consensus on how to carry through the urgent and necessary renovation of Cuba's embattled socialist project. Such a consensus would be unthinkable in capitalist Australia where the social domination of the capitalist elite rests on the political atomisation of the working people; where meaningful participation in politics has been reduced to ticking a ballot paper once every few years for one or another gang of pro-corporate politicians.

Participation in the construction of a new and better society, the subject of Sexto's profound reflection, is of no interest whatsoever to the staff writers of the tabloids and broadsheets of the capitalist world. All they care about is sustaining the appearance, the fiction, of participation. That the masses believe in the illusion of democracy is what counts. In revolutionary Cuba it's the opposite: what matters is the substance of participation, since without an ever-greater real participation of the broad masses, not only in the carrying out of the tasks of the Revolution but in deciding what those tasks will be, there can be no progress towards socialism.

Sexto's subtle, lyrical prose is difficult to translate. I hope my attempt does justice to the original.         

By one and all

By Luis Sexto
Juventud Rebelde, December 30, 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron
Among the terms in our daily language, this commentator would choose "participation" and its verb, "to participate", as the key words for the coming year. They are very common words. And because of this one could say that they must be restored to their original meaning, which is "to take part". Because not many would be able to give assurance that when we participate, we are truly taking part. To participate, or better, to become a factor in, convinced and ethically committed.      
One of the errors of some humanisms that have allegedly redeemed humanity, converting man into the guest of an Earthly paradise, is rooted, it seems to me, in not having taken into account the subjective dimension of man and his essential inclination towards the passions. It's true that society forms, educates, imposes a relation, but can a society of solidarity, for example, automatically avoid envy, ambition, intrigue, ingratitude or unconformity, indifference or lack of commitment?

It may be that some readers of this column think otherwise. Sometimes, the greatest obstacle to change in the direction of human improvement is that there are ideas that are not accepted that would improve people or society; nor do they attract participation towards collective goals because by themselves, as in a robotic act, they self-correct, they adjust or integrate. Now then, if negative attitudes are part of the subjectivity, along with consent, the acceptance of improvement and its emergencies has a subjective component, right there in the most individual of individuals: the conscience.

And if this is true, then ethics — the ethic of participation — has to be, therefore, the point of departure for improvement. Because ethics, the understanding of why we must act to adjust these principles and norms, or why living in society obliges one to observe certain commitments, is the focus that brings together, organises and gives impetus to solidaristic collaboration, to help to change the circumstances and parameters of others, and in the process to change oneself. This is the dialectical game, complicated and simple: to change changing; to change that, and to change ourselves as well to achieve the result, together with all, of greater improvement.

Cuban history has been sustained by ethics. Without ethics as an integral part and an actor in our revolutionary ideology, the Cuban nation may have been subjected to and ultimately annihilated by colonial and neocolonial corruption. So it does not seem excessive to remember that the transformations that will take place in the Cuban economy, and in other spheres of society, are oriented towards general improvement. And that no process of collective improvement can dispense with the ethical vocation of our history. Which is to say, the aspiration to a perfecting utopia whose concretion in justice and [national] independence has defied storms, privations and armed hostilities.                  

We have to see, it follows, how improving society implies a power of conscience, a "taking part" that would correct the perceptions that may have become deformed in the subjectivity of many of us. Let's address them ethically from within. And then we'll begin to accept that it would be an ignoble attitude to believe that very little depends on me, or that I'll have to continue "struggling" with the tricks of an apparent participation, chameleon-like, feeding the roguishness that would turn me into a leech or a nuisance to my compatriots.

Much, if not all, will depend on each and every one of us. And the sum of individual action, the utilisation that every subject makes of the opportunities open to them, will also influence in the general sense the updating of our society. Updating, that is to say, in the direction of more justice, because the reinforcing of the sides of a strong centre will be more participatory and more effective, though not unipolar. For now, I don't know anything that would convert the complaints and the necessities into deeds and solutions other than conscious participation — and this, transcribed from the dictionary of actions — into an approach in which everyone takes responsibility for themselves and for the country. 


  1. All rather vacuous. Is anyone going to discuss concretely what the proposed changes are?

  2. The proposed changes are outlined in detail in the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, which are the subject of grassroots debates in workplaces and neighbourhoods until the end of February. A link to my translation of the Guidelines is here:


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