Yet again, the bells have tolled for “the end” of socialism in Cuba. Mouths surely salivated on the balconies of empire—and beyond the sea, whether near or far, that separates this island from the rest of the world—and in not a few gutters as well. Those who confuse the Caribbean with the Baltic in their reading of Cuba joyously retweet images of Berlin or Prague, from those days of collapse. What they do not know is that the Cuban Revolution cannot desmerengar (a fidelismo signifying collapse) because it was never made of meringue. Not because it has not been sweet, but rather because the revolution has also tasted bitter fruits that, to date, we have known how to turn into strengths.
Those who came out to protest against the state and socialism in Cuba on July 11, 2021, were of the people. We can even say that many belong to the part of the people that has suffered most from the effects of the crisis provoked by the pandemic, the blockade, the new U.S. sanctions, and the desperate and inadequate public policies that we have to manage in the midst of so many shortages and accumulated problems. It is also this part of the people that has been most disadvantaged by the inevitable rise in social inequalities wrought by the advance of market reforms that have lacerated and segmented our society. We dare say that these many inequalities, sometimes veiled, but always felt and so detrimental to social justice, have produced a disconnect. A disconnect between those who chanted “Patria y Vida” (“Country and Life”) in the streets and the revolutionary project. And this disconnect, which sooner or later results in a certain feeling of abandonment, of political and economic orphanhood, has turned into bitterness and even hate.
If we evade this complexity, if we simply see them as “criminals” or “marginals,” if we decline to understand the processes of marginalization and fail to acknowledge the debts toward the humblest within our society, we will never understand what happened on that Sunday.
This most marginalized sector of the people—at least in Havana—was mobilized by the political agenda of the counterrevolution, which knew how to catalyze its discontent and present its desires as pro-capitalist. Unsurprisingly, those who protested out of “hunger” not only looted food, but also high-end appliances to satisfy their long deferred consumerist anxieties and to construct the life they had learned to imagine and desire in the absence of any effective counterweight from a different and emancipated culture.
There was spontaneity and things did snowball during the events of July 11, but only those who care little for the truth can possibly believe that this came totally “out of the blue.” Yes, there was spontaneity, but there was also a political and intelligence operation, executed by actors who perfectly understood the real agenda. Does anyone by any chance see the sudden concern for Cuba shown by various “influencers” as purely coincidental? The same could be said of the mayor of Miami’s petition, the coordinated social media campaign, and the simultaneous timing of these actions
Nevertheless, it is a mistake to speak of a “soft” coup and non-conventional war as the sole causes of this reactionary revolt. Such a limited viewpoint would saddle the revolutionary bloc with an (in)convenient fatalism—that is, seeing these tragedies as inevitable. It could also encourage the belief that we are merely facing a problem of state security.
If what happened was just a problem of state security, then those who believe—or who would have others believe—that what occurred on July 11 was a confrontation between the people and the state would be right. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On Sunday, July 11, there was no confrontation between the people and the state as an entelechy, though more than one theorist wasted ink pretending to prove otherwise. What happened was a confrontation between two fractions or parts of the people, between two projects. On the one hand, there was the part that succumbed to the agenda of those who have always sought to force surrender through hunger and need, and is now ready to renounce sovereignty and socialism because their understanding is that there is nothing left to win. On the other hand, there are those not willing to renounce either the revolutionary project, constructed over generations, or the legality of the democratically approved socialist constitution, or indeed the emancipated society it imagines in its future, beyond the existing state, heir to the revolution, with all of its shortcomings. Those who believe that only the military, leadership, and holders of freely convertible currency have reasons to defend socialism are very mistaken. Millions of people in Cuba today are not willing to lose a peaceful society, a project of social justice and national dignity, a revolution that, far from content with its historic gains, is instead bound to forge new paths.
Certain ideologues of liberal restoration propose the urgent formation of roundtables for dialogue between the forces of the counterrevolution and the revolutionary bloc—by which they only mean the state.
Perhaps, they see this as a chance to get a piece of the pie in the context of an open and public dispute. Oh, how far their balconies are from the streets! In the real streets, the demonstrators showed a total lack of interest in dialogue. Instead, their program, which consists exclusively of destroying socialism, is irreconcilable with any deepening of social justice. Moreover, intoxicated by the euphoria of dissolution and destruction, they were unable to discern the shadow of a budding intervention or their probable misery in a Cuba totally devastated by capitalism. Ultimately, these demonstrators were the pawns of a program that is not their own.
In the 2000s, in the face of the alienation and marginalization generated by the hardest years of the crisis in the 1990s, Fidel Castro launched the Battle of Ideas. In this process—later disdained by some who spoke only of its flaws, having totally lost sight of its meaning—thousands of young people in marginalized areas, like those whose faces peopled the photos of July 11, were able to study or reenter the labor force.
That is when university access became truly universal and not reserved for the select group of those who pass exams and receive a “study permit.” Art teachers, social workers, and all instructors dedicated themselves to recovering and rebuilding a different general culture—for all. This effort enabled Fidel to raise the self-esteem of young people, especially among the most disadvantaged, and succeed in reconnecting them with the revolutionary project.
In so doing, Fidel restored part of the social fabric of the revolution, which has sought to be of the humble, by the humble, and for the humble. Without the Battle of Ideas, what we experienced on Sunday might have occurred a decade ago. In times like these, many revolutionaries have Fidel in their thoughts, and not only because of that now legendary episode in August 1994 (when thousands of Cubans went to Havana’s Malecón to express their frustration with the government and the Special Period), although for that reason too. Fidel is in our thoughts because nobody knew better than him how to turn reversals and multiple defeats into new paths and victories. If we Cuban revolutionaries, we Cuban communists, want to succeed, we cannot leave our sights fixed on what was or retrace beaten paths. If we want to succeed, we must return to Fidel—that is to say, we must return to the future.