The Cultural War in Cuba.


The culture of being and the culture of having.

By Enrique Ubieta

There are two manners of understanding the relations between persons and objects that express what we call, on one part, the culture of the being and, on the other hand, the culture of having.

I have travelled the country and talked to many students about these subjects and observe this space, not only because it is called by the Asociación Hermanos Saiz but also because it offers the possibility of addressing a heterogeneous public that I don’t know, and could be from any sector of society.

I have always been asked to talk about subversion, let me clarify the concept in function of my work; it is the battle of ideas or the struggle of the ideological environment that I tend to focus on, above all, in cultural fields. I believe it is more to the point to talk of the cultural war established within the construction of an alternate society and the general offensive produced these last years to take advantage of a biological goal of an historic generation made by the Revolution, the rise to power of new generations.

I am referring to a cultural war – I want to stress this point – because I understand that the concept includes the ideological and political and some more points that I find essential. It is not a simple struggle for power: it is not a war between persons who are in favor or against a government. It is about a war between persons who are in favor or against a system that also implies cultural perception of the world, a manner of understanding the concept of happiness, both in personal life as the collective one. So then what they want to change is our mind. They want Cuban society to change its way of thinking, its ideals, its hopes; they want to build a process of gradual changes of the minds of the Cuban who lead us without the need to produce a fall of the government towards capitalism.

I am referring to two manners of understanding relations between persons and objects expressed in what we call, on the one hand, the culture of being and, on the other hand, the culture of having. What I understand of culture is having a form of life ruled be laws of consumerism – no consumption – that makes us slaves of objects because these objects establish the value of the person, of their worth, their importance, the level of success achieved in society. In a culture where the origin of money does not matter. You can have a lot because you won the lottery or inherited it or because you stole it and have not been arrested or because being an actor in a bad picture but with high box office success: if you have a lot you are an important person. In other words, being falls to a lower level in comparison to having. And having entails at the same time an exhibition of what you have. You are no one if you don’t show it because people cannot appreciate what you have as a mark of your value in society.

In Cuba when we talk about speculation, a term that has nothing to do with exhibitionism (because popularly it is used as a synonym) we refer to the predomination of culture of having in some persons There is an Arab proverb that Forbes magazine places among the ten richest men in the world and one who plated his personal plane in gold – I suppose he calculated correctly so that it doesn’t fall from the sky –; what is different is there between one person who is not crazy to one who is obsessive, simply someone of a system that needs to show the world how much he has because it establishes his worth while the other one sitting in my block in the Colon barrio of Centro Habana has three gold chains around his neck?

The difference is obviously in the amount of money but there is no difference in the intention because we talking of the same action within a system of values of a culture of having. That is to say I am worth three gold chains and am not more worthy because I have a plane plated in gold.

Of course socialism does not mean that people do not have. That would be absurd and a society could not still exist without a reasonable consumption that leads to a better standard of living that means somehow personal progress. All this is correct and socialism cannot deny it, on no account. But if we propose to comply – and we know that the current Cuban society does not comply – with the principle of to each according to his capacity and his work. In this case, it places in first place what one is (what he gives to society) and, therefore, what he deserves in exchange for his work.

In the Cuban society of today we have an inverted pyramid. Precisely the Guidelines aim to place the pyramid in its rightful position and that persons earn according to their contribution and that this profit be sustained in what the people are, in fact.

This seems very general and perhaps high brow. I think it is the basis of what we understand to be a confrontation between the culture of capitalism and culture of socialism, as an opposite alternative in life. I stress this because there are persons who somehow discard this contradiction and at the end are caught up in it. What we are today in Cuba and what we are trying to build today is part of a national tradition, of a national thought but also a concept of alternative life to capitalism.

When we are told you have to be “normal” has taken 50 years of the Revolution to be normal. I always ask …what do they want? When they say we should be normal? What do they mean by that?

Normal in the world is consumerism, normal in the world are the crushing laws of the market and I don’t want to be normal.

I do not want this country to move backward. I believe in the great victory of Cuba not being normal in a world where social injustice and indifference are normal. Then Cuba is going on a different road, on an alternative road that intends to stay afloat in an extraordinary hostile world because it is a world designed by the capitalist hegemony.

When asked: What predominates today in Cuba, culture of capitalism or socialism? I have to begin by saying that culture of capitalism is a culture that predominates in the world, it is a culture sustained on the material basis of capitalism.

Socialist culture is a project in construction and that implies, obviously, that we are consumers of capitalist culture and that, in addition, we reproduce it. We fall in the trap of reproducing capitalist values with television programs that we make and, also, in films or in literature. Because socialism is not an arrival port. Socialism is a change by which we decide for negation and surpassing that of capitalism.

It is a contradiction between two systems that is not reduced but intensified in the long road of surmounting. I give you a very current example: the subject of corruption, something that our enemies point to constantly and that we also point to it in Cuba because it is totally a contraction of the system. Corruption hurts us, surprises us and makes us think that it is “our” serious problem and what it is, is a cancer for socialism; corruption is not visible in capitalism because it is inherent to it; it does not destroy capitalism, but us it does. Corruption is not the result of socialism; it is proof that capitalism still blossoms in our society. Socialism presupposes a social and higher individual ethics and implies a much higher individual demand.

Another cultural sphere that I believe important is historical memory. We live in a country where the large majority of the population was born after the Revolution. It means that we are building an alternate society to one we did not experience and of which we have no personal experiences. The young people who assume a fundamental position in the country are the ones who will have to lead the revolution without even having at their side the last generation who lived in capitalism, in the midst of a highly intense cultural war. Because there is no project for the future that sustains a tradition, that does not look to the past, or instead, an interpretation of the past. I am very respectful of the scientific instruments of historical studies that I think are very important but at the same time, I do not cease in reminding that all interpretation – history is not merely a continued re interpretation of the past – it leads to a specific future in which each new era re-interprets the past in function of a future project. In Miami, you know, there is a monument to the heroes of Playa Girón, in other words to the mercenaries who disembarked in Bahía de Cochinos as they say while there is not one for the milicianos who defended the country against the invasion. Those are the heroes of this project; what I mean to say is that there is no project of society in which those mercenaries and those milicianos are at the same time heroes: each society has its own. They are a function of the project for the future.

I always recall this anecdote: once I was helping my uncle to build a change in his house and I came across a woman who imagined she was living under capitalism in Cuba and offered my uncle an apartment “with a garage” but, who knew the apartment she was offering? I told her it did not have one because that garage had been declared a national monument because José Antonio Echeverría had hidden there with the attackers of the Presidential Palace and Radio Reloj in1957. That woman stepped back with a smile on her lips and answered: But sir, José Antonio Echeverría is only important for this government but in the future no one is going to remember him. I thought that statement so offensive that I began to argue but then I understood that she did not know what she was saying. Because the heroes of a capitalist Cuba will not be Julio
Antonio Mella, nor Villena, or José Antonio Echeverría, or Jesús
Menéndez, Frank País, Ernesto Che Guevara. That the pantheon for the heroes will be another. That is why we revolutionaries are asked to be obsessive with the truth because all revolutions need it. It begins with alphabetizing the population, begins demanding that the population study – that we rescue and place all personalities of history in the same place would be hypocritical. It is true that in time we have explained historical events mechanically and that the victory of our heroes is grand, precisely, because our villains were not stupid or cowardly like it seems at times in the description of the events. But there are no ecumenical pantheons. When one visits Eastern Europe and observes that all the heroes of socialism, their own and others were stripped from their pedestals you understand how hypocritical those demands were. Who would be the heroes of that capitalist Cuba so desired by them? Trashy heroes. Already in progress is a history: Batista the benefactor”; Che Guevara “the killer”.

But there is another way of reconstructing history and it is through an emotional manner: they want to sell us false images of the 50s as if it had occurred in an era of festivity, of enjoyment: they sell us a Havana filled with lights, bars, nightclubs, of happiness and then, of course, came the worse: as aid in the song by Carlos Puebla (interpreting it literally): “and the Commandante put a stop to the diversion”. They want to make us believe that the 60s were years of sadness, of darkness. It is an opposition that does not function rationally but on an emotional level and is supported by external political elements because in the whole world there is a certain fashion, a tendency to recover the architecture, the images of the 50s because they were years in which United States capitalism had a certain economic stability. That decade became a myth that is taken up today in the midst of the violent economic crisis. But Cuba arrived marred by the confrontation between two systems, by a clear division of epoch marked by 1959. And we have the idea planted that we must recover the idols before 59. Each little piece of Havana as it was before 59; as if it were our real tradition and I want to warn that Cuba has lived more years in Revolution than it did in neo colonial times. Some intend to substitute the names of streets or stores – that the people identify with their current names; I don’t refer to names that were never accepted – by what it had during the first half of the 20th century.

I want it understood that today we need a debate, a discussion, as never before. I want to insist on this also. Because the cultural war can only be won with a debate. It is only possible to win it with the construction of critical views. By the capacity of people – mostly young people – to distinguish what is good and what is bad. There is a large exposition of these material moments; there is a shifting around of information that has nothing to do with what the state produces and distributes. The new technologies introduce this possibility. There are video clips, for example, such as the Yakarta and Chacal. “They are crazy” and excellent for a class of what we are saying. In this video the signers have handfuls of bills and throw them up in the air; they are surrounded by beautiful naked women, enjoying power that money buys.

That video was not broadcast on television, but it spread throughout the country and many young people saw it. The television is a place that has to establish hierarchies and responsibilities for what it offers. You can paint any barbarity in your house and no one forbids it but you cannot ask a gallery to show it.

We have to educate the critical capacity of these young people. A critical capacity that allows them to see it all – and I think that young people should see it all and know how to distinguish – and that has to be internalized in the base committees, in the FEU brigades, in the collectives of professors. I believe that a teacher of secondary level must see youth series broadcast on the TV before dinner. U.S. series very well made that reduce the values of a culture of having and should talk with these young people about these series, not to challenge them but to offer another view, other arguments that increase the capacity of reception of their students. The teachers can do much in this direction.

Comments during the debate.

I love this kind of debate. It allows a means to rethink many things, adjust them and affirm them. It is a debate that is always useful for everyone. I don’t agree completely on the phrase that we have changed nothing (about the press) and I believe there is a process in evolution. The world of free information, of the large transnational companies, is the one that constructs schemes of thought that constructs views. It is not interested in the truth; it is interested in the construction that sustains the credible, work with the credible and constructs a general condition of opinion.

Socialism in the world arose in underdeveloped countries in conditions of total war. And for a long time the idea prevailed that these countries were trying to create an alternate culture, to establish a sort of shield; to protect themselves from the misinformation of the so called free press. That we inherited also. At the point we are in we may think that we are protected by a shield when in truth we have no shield. Today these new technologies allow the system of constructing an anti social mentality that introduces capitalist values is in the street, reproducing, and talking with the people. We have to confront this form of culture from a critical debate. The only thing that saves us the formation of critical thought capable of distinguishing that it is not merely a sum of knowledge since there are persons who know very much and are easily contaminated with any stupidity. This critical capacity does not arise from a special knowledge but a special training deriving from debate. This debate must be in the base committees, in the FEU groups, etc.

What is a criticism? I insist on this because there is a tendency to de- idealizes it. I believe that there must be a means of distinguishing between revolutionary criticism and counter revolutionary criticism. I refuse to homogenize, to avoid using names when talking about criticism. If there is something that continues to be certain is whether said by a revolutionary or a counter revolutionary. But criticism is not a statement. A counter revolutionary and I can coincide in saying that there is corruption and prostitution in Cuba and we are beginning with a specific fact but a criticism is more than a statement. And the truth is constructed from two fundamental facts: its history – that is to say, all truth has a history framed in an internal logic – and its solution, its implicit project of solution. This is a very specific point where we differ. If Yoani Sánchez says that there is corruption in Cuba and mentions a specific case of corruption and then says that corruption is inherent to socialism and we must move towards capitalism to save the country from corruption he is promoting a colossal lie. Because corruption is inherent to capitalism. And if he says that there is prostitution and then goes on to say that prostitution is a result of socialism, of the construction of an alternate society … no, if there is capitalism prostitution is institutionalized. It becomes a Mafia totally held up by the system. That is when criticism acquires a revolutionary content or a counter revolutionary content.

I believe that truth is always revolutionary and only revolutionary criticism is true. Counter revolutionary criticism always ends up being a lie that manipulates the concept of truth.

What makes a critical conscience? I often try to separate from statistics that are handled with fanciful science in the country. I distrust statistics. I like to repeat the famous phrase by Martí When he spoke in Tampa of the spirit of Revolution existing in Cuba and someone recently arriving said that he could not breathe that spirit in the Island. Martí answers: but I am not talking of the atmosphere, I am talking of the subsoil.

Instead, I want descriptions of atmosphere; I believe that all reality is what is visible and what potentially could be, from our convictions and views of the world. When I speak of these subjects I do not do it confronting the institutions. I would want Cuban television to be better – although it is better than what is commonly transmitted in the world – and I try to do something however little because I don’t work in television but I move around in universities where I discuss my ideas and where I can move about socially. I make a difference between the actions of institutions – that undoubtedly must be pressured – of the individual responsibility that each of us has. I am fully aware of the need to prepare a consumer, an educated reader. The damage of the special period and the plans of the enemy is that the revolutionaries at the time did not build ourselves generationally. But that will not stop me at all.

I think that the language of violence is a counter revolutionary language. Violence is counter revolutionary. The enemy wants us to believe that violence is the result of revolutionary action. They talk of the “violent” revolutionary left and “democratic” left is allegedly a peaceful left, conciliatory. It is true that the revolutionary left that I do not fully adhere to, is violent while the right tries to justify a violence that implies injustice and makes inoperable other forms of struggle that is not violent. But I do not support a violence that is not my future for life. Violence makes me take actions that are not what motivates me in life. Revolutionary violence is a response to counter revolutionary violence. There is a form of recovery of a reconciliatory idea. I agree with it if it is in socialism. What happens at times is that reconciliation is understood as a surrender. It happens when a Cuban artist goes to Miami in peace, in good will and goes on television and tries to be peaceful, apolitical and ends up crushed because it is not a television made for any kind of peace. It is made for cultural war, of values that is truly a war between socialism and capitalism. That is why it is not good to recall also that we are at war. When a revolutionary says that he is not political, he is misunderstanding the concept: the revolutionary does not make politics if he intends to occupy posts, he is betting his life on the transformation of the world in favor of truth, beauty and justice. That is what is meant to be a political revolutionary regardless if he occupies state or party responsibilities.,



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