The history of the revolutions that occurred during the 20th century, of those identified as, or that became “socialist,” always seems to be a struggle for their own survival. It almost always takes a path against gravity and in which it regularly has to justify everything.
The history of the Cuban Revolution is not exempt from this reality. At the same time, it has been shown, like others, in the logic of a process that feels the need to dispute within itself the past, the role of leadership and the person leading political processes, the purposes of the process, its social foundations and its need to break away from itself.
These questions appear as “secondary” when needs dictate more concrete discussions. However, they are parts of the whole. It cannot be fully understood or explained if other questions that inquire about the process itself, about the functionality or convenience of its foundations or historical postulates, are not answered at the same time.
Problems in agricultural production, deficits in political participation, state management of enterprises, channeling and ways to manage people’s demands, among many other points, can only be answered in depth if they are answered together with other questions of greater depth that question the political, economic, philosophical and cultural foundations of the existing model of society.
Cuban Voices talks on this field of topics today with Yassel Padron Kunakbaeva, master in Bioethics, specialist in the Cuban Ludwig Foundation, blogger, activist and Marxist researcher.
For some time, Cuban society has been transformed socially and economically, and demands of various kinds are visualized by various sectors. Is the design of the Cuban State capable of absorbing and managing these demands?
It did not take a great observer to realize that the Cuban State, heir in its institutional design of the Soviet model, had a very limited capacity to incorporate and offer effective responses to the demands arising within society. The most recent events, unfortunately, only confirm that perception.
Faced with a set of specific demands, which not only have an objective character, but also find their own way of expressing themselves, this State has a very limited group of options to which it can resort.
The maneuver always consists in reducing the whole process, both the reception of the demand and its response, to a purely administrative sphere. What is never raised, from the point of view of the State, is the possibility of offering a political response that implies the explicit recognition of the existence and substantivity of a public sphere that is built beyond the institutions.
No opportunity is given to any solution that goes through opening the field of political representation, in such a way that said demands reach a mediation within the State. The expedient, so much in the post-1959 political tradition, of calling for the direct participation of the people in solving problems, through social organizations, is not even used seriously.
Being fair, it is necessary to say that during the time of Fidel Castro, political responses were offered to the demands that arose from the bosom of society. Of course, these always passed through the mediation of his charismatic leadership, and through the very way he had to intervene in the institutional apparatus, often bypassing its own mechanisms.
However, what has come since then has been, on the one hand, the progressive diversification of Cuban society and, on the other, the reduction of the State to the level of a bureaucracy that basically offers bureaucratic answers to any problem that is presented to it.
What is your opinion on the intensification of sanctions against Cuba that took place during the Trump administration in the midst of this crisis aggravated by the pandemic and its consequences on the country?
I have no doubt about the inhumane nature of the sanctions against Cuba. The fact that the bulk of these measures have remained without being eliminated or made more flexible during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a sign that those who promote them are willing to reach the highest criminal peaks in order to meet their political goals.
It is important to learn from moments like this, as well as to put memory to good use. It cannot be overlooked that the political forces that defend the blockade are the same ones that most zealously proclaim themselves champions of freedom, and that they seek to play a leading role in the future of the Cuban nation.
Now then, there are several things to say regarding the consequences of the sanctions in the context of crises of all kinds that the archipelago is experiencing. It is evident that these sanctions have caused society to be subjected to extreme tension, and that contradictions started being dynamited, leading to social conflict.
However, it would be a serious mistake on the part of the authorities to put all the emphasis on the role of sanctions, in order to find justifications. In reality, external factors can never provoke a social process if there are no internal conditions conducive to its development.
It would be ideal for Cubans to be able to ventilate their conflicts without external interference, but the truth is that there are no pure processes or perfect conditions. Historical events do not happen when they should happen, but when they happen. Therefore, what’s urgent is to dedicate all efforts to the management of internal problems, despite and counting on the sanctions.
The current socioeconomic dynamics generates changes in the class or sectorial composition of Cuban society and its dynamics of inequality. How do you see this problem and its possible solutions?
On the one hand, I consider that the social diversification of Cuban society is inevitable and to a certain extent healthy. In part, it is the consequence of abandoning the paradigm of an egalitarian society, which in its endeavors never managed to completely eliminate asymmetries and diversity, but did prevent society from taking advantage of an important part of the advantages of a mercantile economy.
The unfolding of mercantile relations, as well as the increased connection with the capitalist world-system, will inevitably lead to a more diversified society that is also threatened by inequality.
The problem with this in Cuba is that the opportunities to participate in the most innovative and dynamic sectors of the economy have always been, at each stage, concentrated in relatively few hands.
Instead of prioritizing measures that facilitate a society-wide liberation of the productive forces, and that contribute to the development of a strong internal market, the trend has been towards monopoly or oligopolistic usufruct of a few lucrative lines, which is not synonymous with productive, by small sectors that have accumulated privileges.
The trend is, therefore, towards an economy in which a small contingent of one-eyed people reigns over a country of the blind. The result is the formation of oligarchic groups, which thrive partly within the same bureaucratic-business structures and partly within the not-so-young, but still opaque, private economy.
In this context, economic inequality is not only the product of market dynamics, but also of the exclusive and parasitic relationships established by these neo-oligarchic groups, which makes it much more difficult to confront it.
The only feasible path would be in the general empowerment of the working classes in Cuba, in such a way that they would be capable of exercising social control over the organization of production and the distribution of wealth at the social level.
The development of inequality, the formation of poverty pockets, the precariousness of work, are problems that will accompany Cuban society for a long time. One way of dealing with it is with welfare policies by the State, which, we already know, is quite far from being an ideal path.
Another is that the poorest can have direct access to the means of production, to form part of the economic process. To guarantee the possibility of both means, there must be a socialist public power, or what is the same, an empowered working class, with the political capacity to place the interests of the poorest above any sectoral interest.
In an economic and social context of the current complexity, what space does social criticism have?
I believe that when it comes to social criticism we are, as in so many other aspects, in a period of transition.
We intellectuals had a group of representations about what it meant to do social criticism in Cuba, but the passage of time has made us come out of many bubbles. There are phenomena, some old but for some reason they were part of an otherness, and others completely new, to which you can no longer turn your back on.
It is time to recognize that criticism is exercised from different places of reality, which includes different political positions, generational differences, and a multiplicity of platforms that by themselves condition the nature and scope of the message. Depending on the actors, different levels of commitment to the truth, professional rigor or militancy may be found.
Regarding the political position, three main ways of exercising this criticism could be defined: 1) one that is exercised from a relationship of closeness and loyalty to institutionality, based on the commitment to a certain way of understanding the Cuban socialist project, the State, the nation and the homeland, which only allows its fulfillment with the concurrence of the currently hegemonic political forces; 2) that which is exercised from non-loyalty or opposition to the current institutional framework, but committed to a certain way of understanding the Cuban socialist project, the State, the nation and the homeland; 3) that which is exercised from the radical opposition to the Cuban State, committed mostly to the anti-communist imaginary and willing to make concessions in nationalist and patriotic terms.
A focus point of renewal when it comes to social criticism has to do with the generational factor. The discursive codes in which the Cuban State operates continue to be largely those of a man educated in 20th century ideas of respectability. In that sense, many of his older critics speak the same language. But something very different happens with a part of the youngest who join civic life, who come to it with the tools and codes of a fiercely postmodern, digital, libertarian, inclusive and queer world. For this new generation, the Cuban State becomes such an analog and old-fashioned entity that it ceases to make sense.
The latter is linked to the other great transformation, which is related to platforms. Digital media and social networks have radically changed the ways in which social criticism is made in Cuba. It can be said without fear of being mistaken that traditional spaces, the books, printed magazines, meetings between intellectuals, cultural events, etc., have lost much of their specific weight in the face of the increasingly growing impact of digital media and social networks.
An influencer’s phrase can have a far greater immediate impact than a publication in a peer social science journal. However, I venture to say that we are still at the close of great changes.
Recent events show that the trend is for criticism and social protest to invade public spaces. It will not be tomorrow or the day after, but the day will come when the street and the city itself, in symbiosis with their virtual correlates, will be the spaces in which that criticism that previously remained within four walls is directly expressed.
Today there is a great debate about the foreign financing of projects aimed at subversion in Cuba. How to understand this phenomenon in the Cuban political, economic and social context?
Funding by the U.S. government for projects aimed at subversion in Cuba is a fact. It is a fragrant and continuous violation of the sovereignty of the Cuban nation and of International Law. The mere existence of this financing calls into question the legitimacy of a wide swath of opposition organizations and media hostile to the Cuban government. There is not much more to add regarding this.
However, it may be useful to draw attention to the fact that the financing argument has lost its effectiveness within the Cuban imagination, to the point that it is already counterproductive for the government itself to continue appealing to it as the only rhetorical defense.
The accusation of “mercenarism” has worn off, precisely because it has been overused. It is like in the story of “the wolf is coming”: once you have accused over and over again everyone of mercenarism, without nuances, without exceptions, without making an in-depth analysis, you lose credibility in front of all those who expect something more than cheap propaganda.
We have reached a point where important sectors of the population assiduously consume the information offered by that area of the media aimed at subversion against the Cuban government, and they will not stop doing so, even if they are convinced that they are paid.
It is useless to accuse the enemy of cheating in the middle of the battle, if in the end it is the one that wins. What is imposed is to place, as a media, communicative and political offer, a higher message, which convinces by its own virtues.
It would seem that the journalistic discourse has substituted, to some extent, the legal processes in the case of accusations about ties of persons or entities with subversion projects and “regime change” against Cuba. What is your opinion on this problem?
When real trials are replaced by media shows, it is an expression that there is no legal framework that is really applicable in the case in question. Cuban laws relating to crimes against State Security, which could be applied in these cases, have difficulties in their compliance that are external to the purely normative.
In the first place, because there is an international community that condemns Cuba’s application of these laws, not without an appreciable dose of double standards. Second, because by not establishing based on that same legal framework what would be the spaces for the legal exercise of dissent, these laws have a great problem with legitimacy.
They are perceived both inside and outside of Cuba as overused norms that can be used at discretion against any form of dissent, so their application generates great resistance.
Conclusion: the government is looking for alternatives to try to resort to these laws as little as possible, which is why we have to suffer on television journalists who only know how to talk about mercenarism, and who always have the situation “under control.”
What do you think are the most complex challenges regarding Cuban socialism at this time?
It is worth stopping to analyze the existential challenges that the general historical situation presents for Cuban socialism, understanding this as a political movement that had the peak of materialization of its project in the Cuban Revolution.
Today the forces that, both inside and outside the island, oppose any future that includes socialism are more powerful than ever. It is therefore not absurd to think of scenarios such as that of a violent anti-communist restoration, or that of an arrangement between the most reactionary elements on both sides of the confrontation. Cuban socialists must assume the possibility, and prepare for the eventual consequences, that the socialist project will lose the privileged position it has had in the national political landscape for sixty years.
However, Cuban socialism also faces challenges that we could call intrinsic, that is, associated with the constitutive features that it adopted throughout its historical development. It seems to me, in this sense, that the greatest problem is found in the way that socialism understands the State and its relations with all instances of civil society, as well as the place of dissent and pluralism within the framework of the political system.
There is no doubt that an important contingent, surely the largest, of those who vindicate socialism in Cuba, are those who consider themselves “Homeland or Death” revolutionaries and are loyal to the government. The problem lies, however, in that defense.
These revolutionaries defend the Revolution, but they can do it conservatively: they are defenders of the State, which in Cuban conditions is equivalent to being defenders of the government. Many times they adopt typically conservative valuation schemes, that is, patriarchal, class, racist and nationalist in the bad sense. Thus they come with various disadvantages to the cultural struggle with their liberal and postmodern enemies, and with those who might have common ground, such as critical socialists.
The socialist transition in a society, originally thought of as a path to communism, must in any case be a process of successive cultural revolutions. It is, therefore, a matter of persisting over and over again in the subversion of social relations, of overcoming everything that is rigid and stagnant in a past of domination to establish liberating relations.
This being the case, a process that is thought of as transition cannot turn its back on the concept of transgression. There is a close relationship between subversion and transgression: modernity itself has been characterized by a profound process of subversion of social relations, whose cultural reflection has been in part the enthronement of transgression.
Certainly, within capitalist societies, transgression does not always lead to a genuine rejection of capitalism’s deep logic of domination. On the contrary, it is often reabsorbed and neutralized. In the context of postmodernity, which is the cultural apotheosis of transgression, it is still much easier to direct the sting of the latter against simple targets, such as that monological “rational monster” called the nation-State, or those doctrinal bodies called meta-stories, than against something as evanescent as the fetishism of merchandise.
However, my point is that, in the context of a global society destined to postmodernity, the nation-State is a remnant reality that eventually becomes culturally sterile and indefensible. I believe that a society in real search of socialist horizons must be able to metabolize more transgression, and no less, than a late capitalist society; that is, because the subversion of social relations is supposed to be the engine of its development. Then, the cultural core of such a society, in a context like the one we live in, cannot be in the nation-State, much less in the conservatism associated with it.
To sum up, the most important intrinsic challenge of Cuban socialism is to overcome its statist vocation.
This is understandable, of course, since Cuba is a Third World country, in which it was first necessary to achieve national liberation and full independence. However, the time has come to move on to the next page. It makes no sense to continue betting all the cards on the current State and government that embodies it. The enemies of Cuban socialism place all their hopes on civil society and towards it they direct all their work. They also count on the state bureaucracy to degenerate into a class that is in itself reactionary and corrupt, incapable of defending any liberating project. The only way for socialism would be to re-socialize, that is, to rebuild again from the bases of civil society.
It seems more and more clear to me that a historical dilemma is taking shape in which it will be necessary to choose: one of the two things will have to take a backseat, the defense of the State or the defense of socialism. If the State is chosen, it may be saved, but perhaps socialism will be lost permanently.