The Curious Case of an Honest Bureaucrat

Photo: Granma

By Mario Valdés Navia

Few times have the words of a deputy minister stirred thought so much in Cuba as the ones published by Martha Mesa Valenciano last August 8. The attitude of ‘keeper of the faith’ adopted by this official −with a dogmatic spirit worthy of the National Council of Culture during the Quinquenio Gris (Grey Five-Year Period)− has brought about a wave of repudiation in the social networks. Her mistake was to commit an unforgivable sin for a bureaucrat in her trade: honesty.

Ever since bureaucracy blossomed in the nascent USSR and found in Stalin the leader who elevated it to the highest levels, bureaucrats adopted manners of behavior which have barely changed in a century. One of them is strict subordination of the lower levels to the higher ones (verticality), which implies knowing how to adapt, being pliable to superiors, not going around proclaiming your own ideas.

Therefore, the trade of a bureaucrat requires, as a sine qua non condition, a certain plasticity of character. That’s a hard feature to find in a true intellectual, as university professors should be. These people must be kept under strict control, but in such a way that censorship is indirect, rather a self-censorship, not a crude prohibition.

Bureaucracy as a school of thought has well-defined characteristics: mechanistic behavior, lack of creativity, routine, obedience, impunity, inertia, corruption, a system of patronage, apathy and excessive secrecy. That’s why bureaucrats learn not to ever speak the truth with a loud and clear voice.

Stalin himself never appropriated a theory of his own, but instead introduced his ideas with the name of Marxism-Leninism, so his concepts and those of his acolytes were received as continuity of the ideas of Marx and Lenin under new historical conditions.

In fact, the socialist bureaucracy is usufructuary of the decision-making structures. Great transformations, tasks which involve all the people, investments of everyone’s capital and positions in domestic and foreign policy which affect the fate of the entire nation are agreed upon and decided by the upper echelons of the bureaucracy. Actually, they −the ones who know− usually think for the people, of whom they only expect acclamations and praise.

They abhor doubts, errors, contrary opinions, and even contradictions. Therefore, generally speaking, bureaucracy mistrusts the intellectual sector and only reluctantly tolerates it. As a principle, it bunches together the bearers of critical and novel ideas and labels them as dissident, subversive, renegade, nonconformist, hypercritical, soft, sniper, centrist, etc.

That’s why a good bureaucrat never speaks in a personal capacity, but always as the representative of general causes: the people in general/communism/history/the revolution/the interests of all the people/the mass of workers/the revolutionaries of yesterday, today and always/the women/the farmers/the children and youth…

All the mechanisms of socialist cultural power are engaged in order to establish bureaucratic hegemony. Theseideological apparatuses turn bureaucratic hegemony into the shared way of life for all social groups by means of cultural reproduction exercised in authoritarian education, spineless media, a centralized party and pro-administrative unions.

Bureaucracy fears the power of the word. That’s why the Cuban communists’ tradition of famous speakers −from Mella to Fidel− was cast into oblivion. The school subject of Oratory was eliminated from Party schools, and the vibrant examples of it from years past were replaced by dull texts, always read out and previously revised, rectified and approved by the organizers. This is also where the current anxiety about the uncontrollable social networks comes from.

Today, Cubans are tasked with figuring out the question left us by Einstein about the socialist society: ‘How can individual rights be protected and how to ensure a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy?’[1]

The deputy minister responds brazenly: no way; they will have civil rights on paper; intellectuals can only be out-and-out defenders of the decisions of the high bureaucracy, without criticism and with permanent optimism.

But all of us who have ever suffered a personal setback in facing bureaucratic power and have ended up licking our wounds to keep ourselves going, bearing the scars of the encounter, know that the experience is not without its charm. It reminds us, permanently, that such a hegemonic regime is not the free and democratic society we have fought so hard for throughout the centuries, and that the anti-bureaucratic revolution is yet to be fought.

Contact the author at: mariojuanvaldes@gmail.com

[1] In ‘Why Socialism?’, Monthly Review, New York, May 1949, in http://www.rebelion.org/opinion/030618einstein.htm#

(Translated from the original)

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