A Drop of Pessimism

By Yassel A. Padrón Kunakbaeva

Not long ago I was reading Egor Hockyms article entitled La nueva izquierda (The New Left), published in this very platform. I must say that, while I read it, I felt a current of pessimism flowing under the surface of my conscience. It’s not that I disagreed with the proposition of the text, quite the contrary; I could wish nothing more than to see the crystallization of a left-wing movement like the one Egor describes. The problem is that I couldn’t help but think about all which conspires against such a thing happening.

Eight years ago, I was a young university student with political and social concerns. At the time, there was already a massive level of apathy and frivolity at the university. However, I met many young people with left-wing ideas, who were interested in and willing to create cultural projects with a liberating view. Those were the times when we read Gramsci, Fernando Martínez Heredia and the La Joven Cuba blog, when we sat down in G Avenue or at the Malecón to fix the world, and discovered how hard it is to sustain a project against the power of bureaucracy. Back then, we knew how to criticize the government while simultaneously celebrating positive change and defending the Revolution.

There’s not much left of that. Now young people with concerns in the university are directly attracted by projects devoted to the world of show business, or which ideologically distance them from the more radical views we have inherited. What’s gaining ground by leaps and bounds is the postmodern mentality, even in the University, which for a long time remained a stronghold of genuinely revolutionary thought.

The left-wing people I know from those days, or whom I met afterwards, hardly maintain the same positions. Life has taken some of them down different paths; they have started up businesses or have emigrated, which has driven them away from activism, or –in the worst of cases– it has caused them to renounce their former ideas. The ones who remain active, some of them younger than I, are mostly split in two groups: those who have chosen discipline towards the system and self-limitation in their criticism, and those who have made their criticism stronger, to the point of nearly becoming part of the opposition.

Polarization has defeated the new left, at least in this first round. There are very powerful reasons for that to have happened. In the world we live in today, the great powers have become terribly Marxist (and this is an irony of very dark humor); they have learned that it’s all about the economy; it’s the source of all life. Whoever controls the money and the means of production, that is, whoever owns the source of life, gets to impose hegemony on thought. That’s why, in the case of Cuba, the two economic forces in conflict –the government and its external enemies– have done everything in their power so that only those who carry the ideas they promote may thrive and reproduce.

Intellectuals who have trained in the use of tools for symbolic production are human beings who need to eat and wear clothes, who have aspirations. If they are young people, they will also wish to create a family. Those who contend for Cuba’s fate from their power have made good use of this reality. The government demands absolute discipline from those who have access to its limited resources and aspire to build a career within its structure. The ones who finance projects from the outside may have various interests, but the vast majority expects you to reproduce the globalized common sense: they don’t care about financing anti-imperialism.

There are other factors, perhaps more related to present situations. The crusade against centrism marked a watershed for many young people of my generation. I would dare to say their initiators were partially successful. They managed to stigmatize social democracy and the alternative left, as well as their promoters, in the eyes of many. In contrast, those crusaders against centrism earned the label of advocates of officialism and Stalinism, something they may not have found too pleasant.

From that crusade against centrism, two new classes of leftists appeared among the Cuban youth. One has assumed fidelity to the system as its trademark, and regards with suspicion anything that comes from the alternative media, while preferring to assemble around relatively safe topics, such as international issues. It’s interesting to see how representatives of that trend have burst into the social networks, and many mistake them for cyber-militants, when that’s not always the case.

The other one is a left focused on pluralism, advocacy of the rule of law, ecology, LGBTIQ+ rights, etc., which has gradually lost its anti-imperialist edge and discursively gets ever closer to the traditional reactionary opposition. It’s a trend that struggles for many just causes –I share many myself– but which deep down gives me the impression of lacking content. What bothers me is that, in that growing school of thought, opposition to the government causes blindness against the colonizing platforms coming from up north.

All the die are cast for Cuba’s future, and so far no one intends to allow space for exploring other forms of socialist construction, perhaps with more citizen participation. Decisions are made at Revolution Square and at the White House, and such violent economic war and social control strategies are used that, from a distance, Gerardo Machado seems like an old-fashioned and naive good guy.

Of course, I don’t mean to minimize the role of the people. Without the people, we can’t be saved. How necessary it is to have a left-wing social transformation, towards popular control, towards popular democracy! But in this polarized context, pursued by many from the inside and fostered by the American administration, not much progress will be made by alternative means.

We need to prepare for a new round of the new left. To my mind, the first thing we must do for that is realize that the most important change happening right now in Cuba is a generational shift in the power structure.

For decades, the model of socialism we knew was constructed by the generation that made the Revolution. Now, for the first time, the generation of my parents, which is Díaz-Canel’s, will have the opportunity to build its own model. Thus, it’s a thousand times more likely that, in the near future, changes will be made ‘from the top down’, rather than from the bottom up. Changes made from the top will generate new circumstances and tensions that will have an influence on the whole of society. We are approaching a new period, not necessarily one that is good, just or prosperous, but a new one.

A new left conformed mainly by the ‘grandchildren of the Revolution’ must have a sense of the historical moment, and exert pressure so that the ship may move in one direction or another. It should find its own voice and moment. Only then will it be able to play its corresponding role in history, like many previous and future generations.

Contact the author at: yasselpadron1@riseup.net

(Translated from the original)