Cuba, culture and the battle of ideas

By W.T. Whitney Jr.

Published on May 19, 2014

Cuban President Fidel Castro in 2005, while denouncing corruption, asked University of Havana students whether or not they thought Cuba’s revolutionary process would survive. “[T]his revolution can be destroyed,” he said, answering his own question, but not by outside forces. “[T]oday we are the ones who can destroy it.” Cuban leaders presently are insisting that current economic changes will strengthen Cuban socialism. Yet President Raul Castro is suggesting that values and culture will ultimately determine the revolution’s future.

His speech on January 1 marked the 55th anniversary of the victory of the revolution. There are attempts, he said, to “discredit national values, identity, and culture in favor of individualism, egotism, and mercantile interest above moral interest. They deceitfully busy themselves in selling to the very youngest the supposed advantages of dispensing with ideologies and social consciousness so as to induce a break between the historical leadership of the revolution and new generations, and promote uncertainty and pessimism.”

Others are talking about culture. On January 10 philosophy professor Fernando Martinez Heredia devoted a long, detailed speech to the subject. First Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel did likewise, more recently. He was speaking to the 8th Congress of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC).

Heredia is a July 26th Movement veteran. The title of his presentation to the Journalists’ Union was “Revolution, Culture, and Marxism.” He announced that, “Marxism has been almost absent in Cuba for a long time.” The Soviet Union was an unsatisfactory mentor for Cuban socialism, he suggests, for two reasons. One was the “tragic end of the Bolshevik revolutionary process in the USSR in the 1930’s.” The “second ill-fated missed opportunity” came about, because “in regard to changes, the USSR after 1953 failed to go beyond making readjustments in its [own] system, in the arena of European relations, and in political organizations it led on a world scale.”

Another development from that era impinges more directly on national culture. After 1945 “world capitalism was forced to readjust its system in important ways.” One of those changes was “democratization of cultural consumption,” instigated under U.S. leadership. But Cuba’s 1961 literacy campaign itself “transformed … cultural activity and communication,” he asserts.

Agreeing that “the uniting of national liberation and socialism was a great revolutionary achievement,” Heredia suggests that Soviet-style socialism “was unable to serve liberation purposes.” And, “real socialism ought to critique the bourgeoisie’s characterization of modernity.” For Heredia, “economic subjugation to the USSR” led to a “profound bureaucratization of Cuba’s revolutionary institutions and organizations that persisted even after the Rectification Campaign” of the late 1980’s. The Soviet bloc fell and Cuba entered the Special Period, yet “no ideological struggle developed to confront the worldwide discrediting of socialism and defend Cuban socialism.”

“[S]tructured thinking, a basic ingredient of Cuban socialism, was gone. Since then, a great cultural swath has existed in the country that is far removed from the Revolution.” Heredia observes progressive “de-politicization” through which Cubans find “legitimacy in individual activity, the professions, and their offices and groups.” He fears that a supposed “turn to normality” may lead to “conservative middle class ideology.”

“This cancer,” he adds, is a “close relative to another corrosive evil … the enormous consumption of North American cultural products.” This U. S. campaign is directed at “familiarization with the values, bustling about, models of conduct…the famous artists, policies, the entire life and spirit of the United States – without living there or seeking a green card.”

Concluding, he calls for “a new culture different from and superior to that of capitalism.” And, “[W]e must strengthen and develop the alliance between culture and a political power that stays strong and subjects itself to a participative socialist project.” Culture is “a main feature of national life.” He calls for formation of an “inter-generational bloc.”

Speaking on April 13, First Vice President Miguel Díaz Canel was clear: “To maintain the coherence of Cuban political culture is a priority.” He praised UNEAC’s “ratification of the idea that culture accompanies the effort to augment productive forces.” He called for “promotion of authentic values of Cuban culture among the youngest as among teachers, for the sake of enriching everyone’s spiritual life.” He reminded listeners that “imperialism counts mainly on dominating culture and on control of information.” It uses the “entertainment industry and media machinery” to promote “cultural colonization.”

The imperialists target “intellectuals and artists to separate them from all social concern and effort.” Their “motion pictures and theater reflect and exalt the lowest human sentiments, the most perverse and noxious ideas, and every type of immorality.” We must “defend our socialism and its perfection as the only alternative to save culture… The choice is between socialism and barbarism.”

Diaz Canal urges the “artistic vanguard” to “defend our truths without shame and be unafraid of accusations of speaking for officialdom.” He objects to “our publications and social networks giving space to ‘personalities’ who wink opportunistically at the enemy.” He calls for “unity of intellectuals and revolutionary artists” so that “we never leave political culture in the hands of the market.” “The unalienable principle is for political culture to be applied coherently in whatever scenario, state or non-state.”

In the end, explains Heredia, “Colonization of people outlives territorial colonization, and lasts even after cessation of neo-colonial domination.” Havana city historian Eusebio Leal, closing the UNEAC meeting, pointed out that “this nation has had to face, and does face, attacks and aggression. This country, like any true revolution, also has had to overcome its own deviations.”

The Author

W.T. Whitney Jr. grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and now lives in rural Maine.

He practiced and taught pediatrics for 35 years and long ago joined the Cuba solidarity movement, working with Let Cuba Live of Maine, Pastors for Peace, and the Venceremos Brigade. He writes on Latin America and health issues for the People’s World.

Article picture: hoeldino via Pixabay


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