The Storytellers of Continuity

Photo: Cubadebate

By Alina B. López Hernández

It’s not the first time I talk about the reaction of Cuban official media to those of us who adopt a critical stance on some of the issues facing this country. In the article ‘Antiguas Costumbres’ (‘Old Habits’), I made reference to the demonization of these people with the label of centrists throughout 2017, in a period or relative political détente brought about by the government of Barack Obama.

I then argued that such a reaction was begotten by the Stalinist sectarianism the Communist Party bore since its inception. That sectarian stance, as Fernando Martínez Heredia said, ‘is a guarantee against all contamination, at the cost of making domestic politics sterile, and it results in a way of thinking which only admits a few previously established certainties, and a permanent need to exclude –along with real enemies– all the “enemies”, the “renegades”, the “deviants”, the “concealed”.’[1]

During the debate of the Constitution project, and because of the visibility this had in digital media, some other slanderous labels were brought up. This time we were new revolutionaries to some, or enemies of the people to the rest. At the time, I wrote the piece ‘Los otros’ (‘The Others’), in which I said:

Used to the struggle against a historical enemy, the representatives of the official ideology have not been able to react to the emergence of a strand of critical thinking that, from their own side, claims a truly dialectic Marxism as its own, demands an effectively participatory socialism and sees the bureaucracy as a more terrible danger than the American blockade.

The rage of the –until very recently– sole owners of the nation’s discourse is evident. They notice that their own analysis, the one they will always use to critically examine the issues of other countries, is also useful to judge the reality of the island. Sometimes I cannot tell whether such annoyance is a symptom of arrogance or of exhaustion, since, as Sun Tzu well said in The Art of War when he referred to the envoys of a military leader: ‘If your envoys show irritation, it means they are tired’.

The article ‘“Progresismo” en Cuba y memorias del subdesarrollo’ (‘“Progressiveness” in Cuba and memoirs of underdevelopment’), by Karima Oliva and Vibani B. Jiménez, published a few days ago by the journal Cuba Socialista, can also be seen as part of the usual discrediting strategy. They may not be members of the PCC, as they stated in an interview with Iroel Sánchez, and they both even live in Mexico and he is a Mexican national; but the journal that takes them in is an acknowledged theorizing publication of the only existing party in Cuba, which is why I consider it an official medium.

In their text, they attach the term progressiveness to any perspective which strays from what they call ‘the free exercise of critical thinking from the revolution’.[2] And so they turn their back on a reality which is awkward and which I described in the paper ‘Intellectuals and their challenges in the present time’:

The island’s intellectuals were simplistically polarized for a long time between those who opposed the socialist revolution and those who unconditionally defended it. Such a scenario has been modified, and in between those extremes there are today multiple schools of thought which agree in their criticism of the bureaucratic socialist model, without renouncing a government of that tendency.

Oliva and Jiménez have taken those multiple schools of thought and fused them together into a single one. Psychologists by trade, they try to establish a sort of single model of political awareness. Something similar was done by psychological anthropology when it stated that cultural models were based on the personalities of different cultures, and that each people had a specific spirit.

But this is something else. The above-mentioned authors needed just one word –progressiveness– to homogenize all enemies: real, potential or hypothetical; fond of the market economy or libertarian socialism; anarchists, social democrats, socialists, anticommunists…

Unity is the rallying word, or better, enemies of all tendencies unite. A single party vs. a single model of adverse thinking. Very simplifying, very comfortable, very opportunistic. Above all, very illuminating about the Communist Party’s attitude regarding criticism. They truly are continuity.

The label, besides, is confusing, since the same term is used by political analysts –some of them internal– to describe a number of governments in the region which are well regarded by the Cuban government, such as the one in Mexico and the recently elected one in Argentina.

Pedro Monreal rightly referred to the methodological error made by Oliva and Jiménez when they provided no evidence whatsoever to support their classification of progressiveness as a school of thought. Therefore, theirs is not an essay but an opinion piece. An essay requires confirmation of theses and here, having failed to analyze a name, a text, an approach, a source; it is just not possible to accept or even understand the point of view put forward by the authors.

Asked by Iroel Sánchez about why they refrained from making such references, Karima Oliva’s answer leaves us even more confounded:

We did not make reference to any specific medium or person because the significant thing we see in them is, precisely, that they are part of what we identify as a school of thought with a number of characteristics within a certain sector. We wanted to focus on characterizing that trend. I don’t believe it’s serious to personalize an analysis which becomes interesting for us precisely as it turns into the analysis of a tendency and not of the work of a specific intellectual…

They missed the trees for the forest. It’s obvious they had no interest in seeing them. After labeling progressives as elitists, they end up by admitting they are just as sectarian and partial. Vibani Jiménez states: ‘Actually, the text is not about the media actors who assume they’re included within progressiveness, constantly presenting themselves as what they’re not. Above all, it’s about those who we identify as colleagues in a common fight for socialism, even beyond borders, to serve honest dialog and serious reflection.’ In short, the text is about progressiveness, yet it’s not about progressives, but rather about their critics.

There’s hardly enough arguments, that’s unquestionable, as it is that the authors are overly conceited. In the above-mentioned interview, Karima Oliva argues something which breaks with any sort of logic: ‘Some quickly took it personally, and they reacted defensively to the text. This, in our opinion, is clear evidence that the trend we are describing exists. We put the scale of their discomfort on a level with the degree of accuracy we reached in describing the phenomenon.’

If we used that same assessment in its reverse value, then there’s quite a significant degree of discomfort in the ideological and political echelons of the Communist Party and its various dependencies regarding critics of any tendency, who, going by Oliva’s peculiar reasoning, must have all the accuracy in the world in our points of view.

Three subheadings divide the article. The first two –‘“Progressive” intellectualism and its points of reference’ and ‘“Progressiveness”, Cuban influencers and profitable intellectual capital’– are lengthy and may arouse greater interest, since they are the ones which propose the existence of the phantom unified tendency. However, the third one: ‘Critical thinking and socialism in Cuba’ –merely three pages long– is the one where the true intention of the text becomes clear.

Let us read carefully these three quotations, in which I have added emphasis to some phrases:

‘In this sense, the assertion of the revolutionary government about the fact that in Cuba there can only be place for continuity and consolidation of socialism in a process of irreversible nature is clear.’

‘It is from continuity that socialist democracy can be consolidated.’

‘And, precisely, it is also the free exercise of critical thinking from the revolution that will allow the vindication of Cuban socialism…’[3]

Once we tear the utility costume which tries to pass the government off as the revolution, we become able to assess that this article, under the guise of novelty, is exactly more of the same. The message is clear: only the rulers and their official ideologues can tell between right and wrong, only they can act as guardians of doctrine.

The lie that the trend of progressiveness, in unanimous cohesion, appeals to the values of bourgeois democracy, tries to conceal the struggle of many intellectuals and citizens for the observance of democracy and the rule of socialist law which were adopted in the very own Cuban constitution.

Freedom of thought, of expression, of demonstration, of movement; non-discrimination for ideological reasons; and, no less important, the conversion of state-own property into truly social property, with the subsequent transparency of public administration, are the reason of constant tension in this country. They are not myths of bourgeois democracy; they are outstanding debts of the bureaucratized socialism we have.

Searching for a narrative common with progressiveness, Oliva and Jiménez became the storytellers of continuity. Personally, I am less offended to be labeled as a progressive than I would be if I were labeled as a merchant of continuity. Continuity is always conservative. We progressives have a better chance.

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[1] Fernando Martínez Heredia: La revolución cubana del 30 (The Cuban Revolution of the 1930s). Essays, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, Havana, 2007.

[2] Op. cit. p. 13

[3] Op. cit., pp. 12 and 13.

(Translated from the original)