The Challenge for Intellectuals

by Esteban Morales (UNEAC)

In April 2010 I wrote that, by then, corruption was already the toughest and most dangerous challenge we had to face; a national security issue. Today we wish to alert to the significance of intellectuals in the midst of the country’s current circumstances. This is an ideological matter of prime importance.

We already explained in a recent article that science is a form of power. Therefore, we shouldn’t disregard its dynamics and much less treat it with anti-democratic mechanisms. The role of our scientists in the struggle against COVID-19 is a brilliant example of how science and government policy must work together.

Cuba is the only country in this hemisphere without illiteracy; it has the highest mean schooling level in the region, including the United States and Canada. If that weren’t enough, about 10% of its population has a university degree, and the level of penetration of its human resources in the field of scientific activity is enviable for practically any country. [1]

That is to say, Cuba has extraordinary potential, if we were able to use it to drive the actions we must deploy in order to apply the economic model, make our economy grow and, what’s even harder, in order to make that change correspond with the social dynamics and change of mentality which are unavoidable.

Within those dynamics, Social Sciences and Humanities have the responsibility of playing a leading role, together with cultural work, for they are the ones closest to politics. However, several phenomena are greatly damaging the role of those sciences and of cultural work in the political dynamics of the country. Among them are:

  • Our Press, with an apparent attitude of distrust and exclusion, generally limits the presence of our intellectuals in the media, transferring their production to alternative spheres, like the intranet or the internet, or to the foreign Press, which only 10% of our population can access. We speak, above all, in terms of the daily news dynamic, which is the most complex, since it participates in the political scenarios in which the country’s daily life develops. We have been able to observe the following difficulties:
  • The relationship between politics and the sciences is still very weak, with a certain intolerance clearly visible whenever something is written or said critically, or which does not conform to the ‘established guidelines’. [2] Of these, consideration is only given to opinions regarding our economy, which are being insistently promoted by the Presidency of the Country.
  • Access to information on sensitive topics is made exceptionally difficult, causing our revolutionary intellectuals to be at a disadvantage in the debate taking place in foreign media and in the press, internet, and academia outside of Cuba.
  • Criticism is promoted (Raúl Castro has explicitly done so), but at the same time it’s restrained. It seems there are two policies: the one promoted by our First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and the one deployed by a bureaucracy firmly established in power, which even runs contrary to the more general political course. [3]
  • There are initiatives deployed by part of the civil society which have brought about the appearance of spaces for debate about our reality, such as Espacio Laical, Temas magazine, Observatorio Crítico, Dialogar Dialogar, UNEAC, etc. But there’s no indication that the ideological direction of the country may promote a relationship with these spaces for debate, or that it may take advantage of their results. The members of the national press barely participate in them, and it would rather seem that these debates exist in spite of not being to the Political Direction’s liking. Consequently, they seem to be carried out in an environment of certain ambiguity, of tolerance and clandestinity. At the same time, some publications, which are not quite the ones labeled as counterrevolutionary, are demonized, though in spite of that they circulate and are read intently by part of our population, and especially by intellectuals, with no intelligent response ever given to their arguments.
  • Our television is not sufficiently using either the potential it has with our country’s intellectuals, so as to debate and clarify the issues of greater interest for the population, especially the domestic ones. Many issues circulate by word of mouth, within the island, but in practice we are giving them away to the foreign press or other media, allowing them to speculate with them and to manipulate the information that goes around in the population. Issues such as the economy, the dynamics of corruption, racial issues, and others, cannot find enough space for debate. Therefore, in the midst of the extraordinary ideological struggle being fought today, we’re left at a disadvantage in having our intellectuals joined by the population. Only on Facebook and the internet, in general, can these issues be found as topics that are treated systematically and in-depth. But, as we know, a significant part of our population doesn’t have the necessary means to access these media.

That is to say, the systematic relationships between the Social Sciences and Humanities, culture, politics, and information, do not work in order to turn that mechanism into what it can actually be: a formidable tool to advance the actions the country must carry out, in the midst of what’s turning out to be its most difficult scenario for survival. Therefore, today, although the main task is to build the New Economic Model and make the economy grow, our challenges are also ideological. Of course, for the mechanism of relationships between politics, science, and information to properly work, certain conditions are necessary which we are yet to meet in the required degree. These include:

  • The need that open and responsible criticism, as our First Secretary has proclaimed, ceases to be little more than a political orientation or a slogan. It should become a permanent manner of political activity.
  • The need that each political and mass organization, beginning with the Party itself, make that orientation of comrade Raúl Castro Ruz a permanent work instrument. Some have said that there can be criticism, only not of the Party. How can that be, if the Party is the main leading force of society and the State, and its action is continually exposed to the opinion of the population?
  • The non-delimitation between the Party, the State and the Government, which puts the exercise of criticism at a sort of impasse, locking politics within a mechanism that makes its critical evaluation and its chances for rectification impossible.
  • The need that the population acquire confidence in the idea that criticism, made from revolutionary positions and in an opportune and transparent manner, can be effective, and that it won’t be demonized or repressed.
  • The need to reject the idea of taking refuge in our individuality and promote all things which enable the full exercise of social responsibility in the face of wrongdoing. This means working with transparency in information, democracy within organizations, absence of impunity and respect for individual opinions, though they may be mistaken, for these are less harmful than those which are kept hidden out of fear.
  • The change of mentality which must also strongly comprise cultural work and that of intellectuals. The latter must feel that they enjoy trust in and high regard of its creating spirit, as well as respect for their freedom of opinion. Otherwise, a struggle is initiated, which ends by separating the vast majority of intellectuals from the path of socialism; and those who aren’t separated, end up losing their capacity to draw the masses. [4]

In all formerly socialist countries of Eastern Europe, the political work with culture and the intellectuals posed a challenge which proved impossible to overcome. The burden of Stalinism, and a policy by the communist parties which turned out to be insufficient for its elimination, ruined socialism’s possibilities of survival. Therefore, economic inefficiency, unproductiveness and corruption weren’t the only culprits of the crumbling. There was also an inability by the communist parties to lead their respective intellectuals, which ended up causing the spiritual collapse of these societies.

[1] In other articles we have said that these advantages imply for Cuba the challenge of how to maintain them, a phenomenon in which the efficiency and flexibility of migration policy play a key role. See: Moncada-Lectores del Mundo, by the author, ‘El suicidio de la Migración’.

[2] See by the author, ‘Ciencia y Política: un dúo complejo’, personal blog.

[3] I have a personal experience in this matter which is very well described in my blog.

[4] Intellectuals are either true revolutionaries who oppose intolerance, lack of democracy and abuse of authority, or end up being opportunists despised by those in their own field.