Cuba and the cultural war: Diário Liberdade interviews Enrique Ubieta at Havana

This is an interview with Enrique Ubieta, a philosopher and currently the Director of Cuba Socialista, the theoretical and political journal of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) – established by Fidel Castro in 1961.
This interview has been carried out in the Cuban capital city by Maurício Castro, for Diário Liberdade, in December 2017.
Enrique Ubieta is a philosopher and he is currently at his fourth year as the Director of Cuba Socialista.

Good afternoon Enrique, thank you for welcoming us at your place.

Good afternoon.

We would like to speak with you about several breaking issues, about the Cuban reality and about the cultural war, which you have written several books and you have been working about within a variety of projects during the last years.

How would you feel about starting by explaining what is it about?

When we talk about “cultural war”, instead of “ideological war” or “political war”, it is because the concept of “culture” is broader, as it certainly includes the ideological and the political dimension.

Systems reproduce themselves by means of the values they are continuously creating and re-defining. Those values are, in the end, cultural values. There are cultural foundations on the projections of the citizens’ living expectations, on what the society wants to do, which is consumerist within the capitalism. Somehow, capitalism prioritizes what I use to name as “the culture of having”. It does not mean that people living into the capitalism that prioritize “the culture of being” doesn’t exist; people that prioritize what they want to be in their lives, beyond their possessions or the objects they are able to accumulate.

The concept of “success” in capitalism is engaged to “having”, though. Someone could be very smart and provide high contributions to society, but she or he won’t capture the attention of relevant magazines, nor will be “vendible” as a successful human being unless he/she manages to simultaneously amass a big amount of money.

When you speak about an actor, you will usually say: “He’s a great actor: he gets that money” or “He’s the highest paid actor in Hollywood”. To assess if he is playing a second-rate role is out of the mind-set… just the amount that the actor earns is rated.

In the other hand, there could be another actor that earns much less, in spite of being able to play a very thorough character from Shakespeare and being a formidable performer – but not a relevant figure of the society as far as he doesn’t break the barrier of a high salary. This is what “the culture of having” is: it is a consumerist culture, for the capitalism needs to sell, sell and sell. Once and once again, it needs to create a system where people cannot go without that, a system where they have a permanent compulsion to buy. Such a consumerist model ends with the natural environment, devalues the human being and enslaves us.

Socialism, as an alternative culture that we are trying to build, prioritizes “to be”, but not at the expense of underestimating or ignoring that people must live comfortably and keep a lifestyle that fits what the deliver to society…

To meet their needs…

Indeed to meet their needs. If someone feels cold and hungry, it becomes hard to be in high spirits.

That’s for sure, but at the same time the essential is not what you possess, but what you are as a human being, with your virtues and imperfections, but appreciated on the grounds of those virtues and imperfections – what you give to society in the end.

Such is, in my opinion, the core of the “cultural war”, which I stress as not being just art or literature: it’s much more…

The way of live…

The way of live, the expectations that every citizen has about being happy, about being a successful man or woman. Such is the difference that determines the “cultural war” and the one that ultimately determines the success or defeat of an alternative system.

We have been in your country for several weeks and our feeling is that “the culture of having” is somehow penetrating. We’ve seen longing for consumerism – more even than for consuming – among young people: for instance, you start to see the same brands as at any European city, the way they use their spare time, the music…

Note that when you got into the plane, you didn’t move through a membrane bringing you to a different historical time. Both you and we are living at the same historical time. We are trying to build a “counterculture” – as the “culture of being” is still a counterculture in Cuba.

Cuba is geographically an island, though it is not an island when it comes to its relations with the rest of the world. To say that Cuba lives in isolation is false. We have grown up watching American movies, watching the best cinema in the world, actually.

The dominant culture in the world is the culture of the dominant class: the culture of capitalism. It is the culture performed when we watch TV, the culture that tourists coming to our country perform… but there is an intention to foster our people to chase higher aspirations.

My comment was in the sense to ask if you feel that there is an offensive, or if you find a cultural orientation in part of the aggression that imperialism has performed against your people along the last decades. What is the relevance of the unavoidable penetration of the so-said “western” consumerist habits? What is the role of those habits in the aggression and how do the Cuban revolutionaries face them?

There are two elements comprised into the aggression: one is consubstantial with the capitalism. The system reproduces itself and it doesn’t care about the orientation that its values adopt against one or another country.

Capitalism has its own cultural Mecca. Its Mecca is Hollywood, the Latin Grammy awards, professional sport, leagues, European professional football… It all gives shape to a “star system” and everything is rated according to that system. A succeeded man or woman is screened basically according to the money they earn and what they represent in terms of image. Then, that person is feasible to become a vendible item, something to worship, as far as she or he is economically successful and, at the same time, wears in a precise way – which leads another people to buy clothes from those brands. And then he or she marries another so-called “successful” person with the same qualities, and they become a happy couple – that could divorce a month later, but it doesn’t matter: there’s a huge buzz around the marriage.

That’s the first component, the one of the system that reproduces itself in a permanent natural way. It’s reproduced so much and in such a sophisticated way that nor just the products reach our country, but even our TV presenters reproduce those values, as far as they think that they are fashionable.

Having said that, a range of production directly aimed to Cuba exists as well. That is more specific, as there is an intention to destroy the Cuban Revolution.

Who are the main addressees of such production? The very first of all, the young people are. But it is not because they are supposed to be ideologically weaker. The point is that the result of the fight will not be determined among the old fellows, but among the young people.

The future, isn’t it?

That’s the future. Hence, of course we must pay more attention to them. Young people are incited to rebel… but which rebellion, for there isn’t bigger rebellion than revolution?

Note the contradiction: the great power exists, and the revolution was a great rebellion against it. You need to form a small counter power for rebellion: this island. However, the young men and women born here within, that haven’t lived directly under the great power, could think that the power to fight is our small counter power. So they could fight the small power while becoming dependent and submissive to the great power: the capital.

I’ve been lately talking to some people, some of them politically active, who admit to be concerned to keep young people involved, to make them understand that a new generation is needed to guarantee the future you were talking about.

Up to what point is such commitment falling?

There is no way for we can measure the fall. I find some trends, or symptoms, that suggest us that we need to pay attention; although such symptoms are natural, for the revolution can’t keep a state of euphoria for 50 or 60 years.

I think that there is always and everywhere a revolutionary avant-garde. If there is a country without that, then they are fucked up…

Some people think that Fidel Castro’s contemporaries were all of them ready to die fighting. In reality, Fidel and the attackers of Moncada were a small handful of people. The rest of their coetaneous were dancing in the Carnival at the same precise moment that they were shooting in Moncada.

What I mean is that there is always an avant-garde which example wins the majority over. They even trigger and foster the virtues that masses inherently have.

I find very important to know that the young revolutionary avant-garde – which does exist and is utterly ready to occupy their place in History – must be strengthened, developed and filled with energy.

Related to that, broader though, there is the following question: we are talking about “Cultural War”, about the relevance of paying attention to the basic needs of the population so we can speak about culture and aspirations beyond them. But we know about Cuba that it has a dependent economy, it is a peripheral country, suffering even today major material scarcity – as any other country out of the centre of the capitalism – and where profound contradictions are arising. Socialism should be the management of wealth and plenty but not of scarcity – as it ended up to happen in the bigger part of the countries where social revolutions succeeded during the 20th century; so up to what point – and that is a classical discussion within the revolutionary left wing – is it possible to replace material scarcity by the subjective factor?

It is a paradox when compared to the classic model, which foresaw that capitalism’s own contradictions at the point of its productive abundance would lead to the production and management of wealth by the majority. But it happened in countries when that was impossible, and Cuba stages something about that…

Few days ago we were chatting and you told me “You, revolutionaries of the world, do not hold the right to ask the Cuban people for more sacrifices”.

You are right. I will try to express it differently: what I want are the Cuban people not to sacrifice themselves by going back to Capitalism. What we propose when we talk about defending the revolution come hell or high waters is to avoid the mirage of the return to capitalism as a solution for poverty, for it would be the solution for the poverty of a small handful of individuals, but it would mean the increment of inequality and poverty for the vast majority of Cubans… that is what we must avoid no matter the cost.

Additionally, we are indebted to History: too many people gave away their lives as to allow ourselves to lay down such a valuable achievement.

I certainly believe that we cannot reach full socialism – communism – in just one country, especially in an under-developed country as Cuba is. However, we have made very big progress.

Yes, I notice that when I compare with my last visit…

The outlook for Cuba today is completely different. We are not standing at the same point we were in 1959.

Many things can be done and we cannot keep waiting for the “optimal” moment in History. Instead, we must drive it: History does not evolve naturally, it needs to be compelled.

Do you find important as well that other peoples of the world can progress following that same direction within the immediate future? Cuba is an example for humankind, but new victories are needed.

Right. And we do our part by our own resistance, firstly.

It is not a resistance in the sense that we want to remain into poverty, but in the sense that we are fighting against the misery that lies ahead of us, trying to provide the best possible future for our children.

In the other hand, though, when we practice internationalism, when our physicians go to Africa they’re proving that solidarity is possible if there’s a state with a political purpose that backs it.

In Latin America there have been leftist and social democratic movements, and the Cuban example made progress possible for many Latin-American countries even though they are still far of what we have reached.

Therefore there is a progress, sure.

Lately, we have been following through the internet a debate about the feasibility in Cuba of the so-called “centrism” – something like an intermediate position to keep the achievements but still move towards an imitation of something like the “Sweden model”… In short, a proposal with high doses of idealism, as it expects to bring the North-European reality to a country within an economically dependent region.

I don’t like the word “centrism”. It has been used for some people in order to place themselves at that segment. We have recovered it sometimes during the discussion just because they were using it, but the word itself is not a definition for anything. It is actually an euphemism.

It is often used in Europe as well to name the right wing.

As a matter of fact, it is a mask. It is impossible to take both the best from capitalism and the best from socialism. Of course it is not that there are not elements from capitalism within socialism, nor even that we sometimes do not use elements from capitalism. In fact, socialism is not a stage of arrival – and we cannot say that we are living within the socialism, but in a socialist process under construction. We are not at any finish, but it is a way starting from capitalism; hence indeed there are elements from capitalism! The point is where are you heading to.

The best of socialism is that it is a way to somewhere else. There is nothing stable within socialism, as everything is perishable as a process under construction.

And what is the best of capitalism?

The best of capitalism is also the worst of capitalism. There is a highly efficient productivity, but on what grounds? It is based on the reserve army of labour, the exploitation of the Third World –Roberto Fernández Retamar speaks about developed countries which are at the same time “under-developers”: they lead other countries to under-development.

Thus, what is the best of capitalism? Is it technology? Things like those I’ve seen in Central-America happen; for instance: a luxurious hospital had been built to give assistance to the Nicaraguan contra-revolution; next to the hospital people were dying because of the most basic diseases… Capitalism cannot live without those contradictions, they make part of it.

Therefore, there is not “the best of capitalism” nor “the best of socialism”. The “best of capitalism” is the chance to go ahead in the way to surpass it.

Last question: as a Galician, I can’t avoid myself to ask you about the following issue. Cuba is for us – additionally to its fight to build socialism – an example of fight for sovereignty. In reality, it was born from a long war of independence against Spain. What is your opinion about the self-determination of the European peoples?

It is a basic principle to be respected by any revolutionary. So did Lenin. Note that it was not anything within Marx and Engels’ scope – despite the positive consideration given by Engels, same as Marx… However, for Lenin as the leader of a country backwards that was an Imperium – comprising colonies, subordinate countries… – it was a major issue.

To acknowledge the right to self-determination, is a basic principle to be supported by any revolutionary. The class exploitation has one expression on the system of national oppression; that’s to say that there are elements of the national oppression which reflect capitalist oppression in a different level.

Did you know that Che Guevara wrote that the ultimate contradiction of those times was not the fight between socialism and capitalism – as supposed at that time – but the fight between exploited countries and exploitative countries? Note that dimension. The fight between exploited countries and exploitative certainly proves the predatory existence of capitalism.

Therefore, we go back to capitalism and the ultimate contradiction is once again the need to overcome it. Those were not the terms used at that time, which actually were those of the “socialist bloc” and the capitalist world, as if that was the ultimate contradiction.

I do not find possible to free the oppressor if the oppression has not been ended. The apparent freedom of the oppressor could exclude the (apparently!) oppressed; the real emancipation of the human being implies the freedom for all the oppressed though. That’s why the oppressed ones are usually much more radical, in every sense.

Thank you very much for attending us here at your home. I hope this interview will be useful both for Galiza and for anyone else who wants to watch us anywhere in the world.

Regards!

It’s my pleasure!

Diário Liberdade
Categories: Cuba, De interés, Entrevista