Fidel and the Problem of Subjectivity

by Yassel A. Padrón Kunakbaeva

‘Hail, Cesar, those who are about to die salute you.’ The loudspeakers multiplied Fidel’s voice along the city streets. It was a popular march, and my generation, those born in the 1990s, paraded together with the other generations of Cubans. We raised our little Cuban flags and repeated the slogans. For us, that march, like the Battle of Ideas, was a way to get a small taste of the revolutionary epic we hadn’t lived through. It was those marches that taught us who Fidel Castro was.

Years later, when I studied Philosophy and learned the Marxist way of understanding the subject category, I reached an immediate conclusion: in Cuba the subject was Fidel. Among the Cuban people, he was the only vortex from which reality was produced. Despite the passing of years, of decades, Fidel remained an unstoppable will. However, the fact that only he was the subject for so many decades has profound implications. How did that affect us Cubans? Was it positive or negative?

In Cuba the subject was Fidel.

The existence and transcendence of the Fidel Castro phenomenon cannot be explained from structuralist neo-Spinozism, which only knows subjects as subjected subjects. No structure was able to subject Fidel; on the contrary, structures collapsed in his path. In order to theoretically approach him, Ernest Bloch’s theory on utopias may be much more useful. According to the German philosopher, there’s always subjectivity where there’s a utopia, where there’s a project, where there’s a foreshadowing of a better future. There’s no need to say that the Comandante perfectly fits this definition: he was always looking ahead, speaking of things we were unable to imagine, on the verge of delirium and prophecy.

The greatest controversy to have existed within Cuban socialism has been the alternative between voluntarism and objectivism. That was the center of the dispute between Che Guevara and Carlos Rafael Rodríguez in the 1960s. How can one get a country’s economy off the ground? Is it done through willpower or by following the course of the objective laws of history? The sugar harvest of 1970 – the peak of voluntarism – failed, and Fidel had to come to the fore and assume responsibility. From that moment on, in a formal manner, the thesis that privileged historical objectivism triumphed. Cuba changed into the lane of the Soviet model.

However, the mere presence of Fidel at the helm of the Cuban revolution meant that objectivism was never able to consolidate its victory. At any time, the Commander in Chief could come up with a new mission, with some crazy dream able to mobilize the masses. The subject character of that man was manifested I such a titanic way that no structure managed to function or gain strength.

It is now possible to say, with hindsight, that a significant part of Fidel’s utopias went unfulfilled. My generation got to see the failures of the Battle of Ideas, the fiasco that social workers turned out to be, the formalism of the oaths of Baraguá, etc. Just walking in the streets of Havana is enough to see how far we are from being a perfect society. And yet, Elián came back home. The Five Heroes returned. Cuba now has a pharmaceutical industry that was born from a dream of the Comandante.

It’s not easy to give a verdict on Fidel and on the quality of his utopias.

Bloch made a distinction between concrete and abstract utopias. Those whose possibility has an ontological basis on the structures of reality are concrete; those which lack such basis are abstract. Today we could say that some of Fidel’s utopias were concrete and others were abstract; however, by making that distinction with hindsight, our theory would be playing the role of Minerva’s owl, which only flies at sunset. It’s really about constructing a theory that can play the role of the red rooster at dawn, and for that, we could study more thoroughly the thought of the tireless prophet the Commander in Chief was.

What we can assert at present is that, due to the existence of Fidel, the role and functioning of structures in Cuba has been considerably eroded. What’s universally proclaimed today isn’t true: that human structures can function mechanically, and that from that mechanism human happiness may arise. No human social structure may exist if it’s not sustained as a project. The healthiest capitalist societies are those which manage to maintain their aura of collective projects. However, we Cubans have had an excess of subjectivity, at a time when the world works with structures that are increasingly complex and objectified. Cubans have probably witnessed one of the greatest irruptions of subjectivity in recent history.

Now that this storm has passed, we have to organize our life somehow.

The fact that Fidel has been the subject for so long also implies that we, the rest of Cubans, have not. More precisely, we may say that the Cuban people were amalgamated with the revolution into a collective subject, a subjectivity of millions of people which condensed around a single man. In the same way that the individual identity of a human being is constructed around a trauma, the identity of the collective subject that is the Cuban people was constructed around the trauma that was the triumph of the revolution on January 1, 1959.

It was as if a man who has long waited for love were suddenly surprised by the woman of his dreams, and she planted a warm, sweet, and long kiss on his lips. The Revolution fulfilled in one sweep the accumulated aspirations of a people; it was a kind of secularized redemption. And that redemption had a name: Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!

Che Guevara offered one of the best analogies to understand the relationship between Fidel and the people: two tuning forks vibrating in resonance. It’s about empathy, the basis for all collective subjectivity. However, that subjectivity wasn’t constructed horizontally, but rather almost entirely vertically; it was built on the model of paternalism. He became the Great Father for all Cubans. Paternalism will always be an ambiguous relationship because it implies authoritarianism, but it also implies love. Many of us didn’t want that father to let go of our hands.

For a long time, Fidel shone as a sun in the sky. His light overshadowed that of any other Cuban. It was a pride to have him among us, but it was also a heavy burden. He has now physically left us. He leaves us his legend and a strange slogan that goes like this: I am Fidel! We’re almost unable to walk without him, and now is the time to walk for those of us who are alive. That slogan should help us realize that we have to be the subject. We certainly need firmer and more efficient structures than the ones we have, but the paradox is that, in order to build them, we need to be subjects. The greatest and final service Fidel could offer us would be the one of dispersing into and be multiplied in all of us.

Translated from the original