Ninety-seven years ago, on March 18, 1923, the first political generation of the republic was born. It wasn’t first from the biological point of view, or from that of literary history: the intellectual generation of the 1910s preceded it. But a political generation is something different; it must clearly disassociate itself from the manner of working of its predecessors, break with them and find its own course. It must never be continuity. Political generations are not born of continuities.
The instant when young Ruben Martinez Villena, on behalf of fifteen fellow protesters —of which only thirteen would subscribe the subsequently drawn up document—, interrupted an official act of the Women’s Club of Cuba which honored the Uruguayan educator Paulina Luissi, would become a historical event known as the Protest of the Thirteen.
Described as the ‘baptism of dignity’ of that group by Juan Marinello, it was an apparently reformist gesture of disobedience, for it was limited to denouncing the corruption of Alfredo Zayas’s government. However, it signaled the public breaking of the ‘magical ascendancy’ that the generation of generals and doctors exerted over Cuban society, and particularly over its intellectuals. The political monopoly of those who fought in the wars for independence was beginning to be questioned. Four years later it would go into a definitive crisis with Gerardo Machado’s announcement of the extension of powers.
By the mid-1920s, the revolutionaries of ‘95 had grown old, and with them an ineffective rhetoric which drove the country into a dead end. The intellectual youth had to find their own path. The Protest of the Thirteen was its first step.
The generations which have transcended in history —whether literary or political— are the ones who realize that their aspirations, interests, and needs are different from those of their elders; and act accordingly. Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci believed that, at times when the political horizon becomes narrower, contradictions tend to manifest in the cultural and symbolic spheres. That was the case of that generation. Their concerns were cultural, in the broad sense of the word. They would soon turn their backs on academia in fields such as education, visual arts, literature, and music. Academia would answer reciprocally.
Later, they would form the Minorist Group, the Cuban Action Phalanx and other organizations, formal and informal. That intellectual core didn’t have a defined ideological affiliation; however, it would contribute to Cuban politics —in a more or less short time— representatives of all tendencies: communists, Marxists, liberal anti-imperialists, reformists, and also great writers and artists who did not identify with any of those tendencies.
Times change, and controversial issues, interests, and aspirations change with them. The ways and means by which preceding generations are challenged are also modified. But there’s always a sociological model which allows us to verify those splits.
More than a year ago I wrote these words, which I believe are perfectly valid now, perhaps more than when they were written:
‘Bertolt Brecht said that youth has bullet-proof impetuousness, but an optimist which does not tolerate disillusion; and the young voices of today are not the ones who, in the 80s, asked for orders and begged to be told what to do. After so many decades of experiments and regressions, in the midst of a process which is considered to be one of the changes and through media that can no longer be controlled, a generation has emerged which is proposing what should be done. But it must be heard, without prejudice, on equal footing, otherwise we will witness a monologue rather than a dialogue. Those of us who are not their chronological peers, but agree with their ideas, must support them.
‘There are no historical generations; there are generations that make history. The progress of a society doesn’t only lie in continuities; it lies also in changes, and the new generations are charged with that. We must stand with them. Or better, we must be part of them.’
The controversies which now present themselves with a cultural and symbolic appearance among certain sectors of our youth —‘What is art?’ ‘Who is an artist?’ ‘What’s the role of symbols and our relationship with them?’ ‘Is it valid to question historical memory?’ among other questions— are actually issues of a political nature. It’s possible that the way of settling them isn’t shared by all, but closing our eyes to that reality isn’t healthy.
Political office may be delegated; a political generation may not. It will earn its space one way or another. The protestors of 1923 earned a place in history. Today we remember them with admiration.