Cuba’s revolutionary conscience

For many young Cubans the “revolutionary conscience” is like the faith professed by their parents and grandparents. One may or may not believe in it, but the interest in understanding what it consists of, and its application to the specific moment in which they are living, is seldom raised. Seen in this way, revolutionary consciousness, however beautiful its proposals may be, loses the attributes that guarantee its validity, let’s say its realism and dialectical application.

It is partly the result of deficiencies and aberrations that have occurred in the work of political training. Packaged in a simplistic approach to its contents, the absence of an effective culture of debate and dogmatic criteria in its dissemination, revolutionary consciousness ceases to be a way of thinking and becomes the mimetic repetition of politically correct slogans and actions that end up adulterating its essence.

Opportunism is nested in these behaviors and extremism is the easiest way to get a “revolutionary credit,” which serves in helping to climb to higher positions. The result is that some come to the conclusion that the postulates of revolutionary consciousness constitute a chimera and, at best, they assume it as a bundle of good intentions without footholds in daily practice. The lack of a dialectical approach also limits the capacity of the revolutionary consciousness to adapt to the changes that have taken place on the ground and in the Cuban political subject.

The Cuban revolutionary conscience is founded on anti-colonialism first and later anti-imperialism. Whoever does not satisfy this condition has never been considered a revolutionary in Cuba. The counterpart is summarized in the subordination to a foreign power and the sacralization of its supposed superiorities. There have been no middle terms because the domination model does not allow it, and neither does its rejection.

Thanks to the social and economic reforms undertaken, as well as the political credit inherited from the fight against Batista’s tyranny, the 1959 Revolution had widespread popular support from the very beginning. But the hard core revolutionary consciousness and the most important factor of unity, even among very diverse forces, was the consummation of this historic anti-imperialist movement, whose indigenous theoretical foundation has been Marti’s preaching.

Imbued with this primary objective, the Cuban people mobilized under the leadership of Fidel Castro. But the revolutionary consciousness has also developed in the midst of great internal contradictions related to the diversity of a society subject to enormous transformations that generate disagreements and dissent. In the history of the Cuban Revolution there have been no moments free of endogenous struggles, sometimes very violent, or aggression by the United States, a fundamental inspiration for these conflicts.

In the beginning, it was a revolutionary consciousness forged in practice through monumental tasks and constant military mobilizations that formed strong social and political ties that involved almost all the people, especially the young. This gave a heroic meaning to daily effort and fostered a will capable of living with the self-denial that faced the greatest challenges implied. Those were the times when “calling for sacrifice for others” was not anachronistic.

The expansion of the anti-imperialist movement in the Third World, especially in Latin America, was another factor that stimulated revolutionary consciousness in Cuba. Many young people dreamed of being guerrillas, like Che, and this idea accompanied the Cuban internationalist struggles in various countries. The defeat or degeneration of most of these movements, the changes in the international political pendulum and, above all, the debacle of the European socialist camp and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, were very sensitive blows to the Cuban revolutionary conscience. But having resisted in the new conditions was a success only possible because of the validity and strength reached by this consciousness.

The economic crisis that accompanied this moment, euphemistically called the “Special Period,” dismantled the Cuban egalitarian project and, among other consequences, weakened both the pattern of collective confrontation with problems and the credibility of the socialist model to solve them. Individualistic options, until then uncommon and scarcely accepted, such as private businesses, were then validated as a legitimate resource for a way out of the crisis. This forced a rethinking of the Cuban model, but it was attempted only in a limited way without adequate clarifications in the political discourse, which introduced significant divisions among the revolutionaries themselves. These divisions persist, and are sometimes an obstacle to the progress of the reforms, although there is a greater government interest in overcoming them.

The nature of emigration also changed — identified as the social base of the counterrevolution, a condition that still persists in certain sectors. Based on the circumstances generated by the Special Period, emigration was perceived as a natural result of the crisis and assumed in this way by the majority of the population. This facilitated contacts and the implementation of more flexible and inclusive policies by the government, although there are still misunderstandings and prejudices that limit the integration of emigrants into national life.

In the situation imposed by the crisis and the persistence of North American harassment, the passion that the revolutionary struggle had awakened to focus the attention of many on actions of personal survival, which sometimes contradicted the current socialist model, was weakened. This helped to increase corruption and other social ills, generated political apathy in sectors of the population, and accelerated the erosion of the organizations that had channeled popular participation and commitment, including the Communist Party itself, already affected as a result of the advance of bureaucracy, dogmatism and other defects in the exercise of their functions.  

At the initiative of Fidel Castro, actions were promoted that mitigated the negative impact of the moment and gathered the population around what was called the “battle of ideas,” but his withdrawal from administering the government for health reasons, as well as his subsequent physical disappearance, deprived the revolutionary forces of an extraordinary resource for political cohesion and conditioned the emergence of a new scenario in the national political debate.

Beyond any deficiency attributable to the model or to its leadership by the government, the construction of socialism in Cuba has been a titanic undertaking, not only because of the endogenous difficulties that it has had to overcome, but also because the United States has done everything possible to prevent the unfolding of its potentialities. Not without reason, if we take into account the dimension of its example, the existence of the Cuban Revolution has been perceived as a threat to the imperialist system and an offense to American arrogance, which explains why the U.S. has acted without legal limits or ethical fuss against Cuba for more than half a century.

If we compare it with the first years when the class conflict was evident, now the reasons that drive the opposition are less clear. It is undeniable, though, that the damage done by U.S. policy on a social scale is one of them. Even greater in times of pandemic, when the situation becomes desperate and no government is saved from the political dissatisfaction generated by the situation. Mixed with sometimes justified criticism of government management, in many cases the confusion leads to the Revolution being blamed for the suffering inflicted by its enemies and the victims justifying the perpetrators, which places the political debate with these people in difficult situations and sometimes devoid of all logic.

Confronting U.S. hegemony, whatever its policy, is inherent to the Cuban anti-imperialist project so that the revolutionary conscience has no other option than to start from this assumption. However, it must display all its dialectical capacity and be able to evolve in correspondence with the conditions imposed by this conflict. The radical nature of the project lies in its objectives, not in the methods that are justly and ethically used to achieve them.

Paralyzed by the schemes of the past is a symptom of decadence, however much it seems that everything is the same and it is enough to do or say the same thing. Therefore, in order to act accordingly, a cultured reading of the domestic reality and the political subject that works in it is also imposed. Deploying the scientific potential of the social sciences, as well as freeing society’s information and debate mechanisms from its ties, constitute urgent needs for the formation of a revolutionary consciousness appropriate to the new reality.

Today Cuba’s revolutionary consciousness must find a way to guarantee an effective way to face the economic war and enhance the productive capacity of the country; and in the development of a political culture capable of understanding the complexity of the situations that the nation faces, as well as contribute to the construction of mechanisms for popular participation aimed at inciting a broad sense of freedom and building new consensus. It must also stimulate the criticism against evils that act as a cancer of the Revolution — bureaucracy, dogmatism, opportunism, corruption and mediocrity in public management.

None of this is alien to the preaching of the party and the government. Several programmatic documents have been issued on these matters and they have been discussed with the entire population, and they have even been approved in a national referendum, as was the case with the new Constitution in 2019. The problem lies in ensuring that the doctrinal ideas that guide the policy work, summed up in a call for a “change of mentality,” take shape in practice, and form part of the culture of the people, especially of the leaders and government officials.

Revolutionary awareness must spread taking into account the advances in information technologies and the most modern methods of research and social communication, which excludes the language of the past, devoid of the ability to convince. But it must also be built via concrete practice through tasks that discard formalities and are truly relevant to the country, where young people are not perceived as mere participants, but as its promoters and achievers on many occasions. The revolutionary conscience must be educated in permanent debate, first among those who are not revolutionary, and must include the enemy.

Having resisted the American aggressions has been an extraordinary merit, but the revolutionary consciousness is not designed only to resist, but to transform reality. The success of the Cuban revolutionary project lies in fostering collective intelligence and taking advantage of any opportunity. Ultimately, only the intelligent, in the broadest sense of the word, can be bearers of a true revolutionary consciousness.