Cuba: To Be or Not to Be a Revolutionary
November 30, 2012
HAVANA TIMES — At our last neighborhood meeting to select candidates
before the recent election of a delegate (this was the third attempt
since the two previous meetings were canceled due to the lack of
attendance), one man began his presentation for nomination saying:
"In view of the fact that there are no revolutionaries here…!
He was then interrupted by several people present, all indignant. One
resident even demanded a retraction. Very few of us remained unmoved by
the offense. But I could only but reflect on the enormous submerged
portion of the iceberg.
I can bet that the residents who reacted most violently to the adjective
have never bothered to look it up in a dictionary. But they have seen
the price of being identified with the terrible antonym:
"counterrevolutionary" (with it not having mattered if the person
designated as such was precisely someone who wanted to "change
everything that needs to be changed").
Fear is an effective method of persuasion because what doesn't change
within is held onto, at least on the outside, and the way the soul
reacts to those harsh orthopedics can go on for many years.
The word "revolutionary" is among my earliest memories from school. It
remains linked to the neckerchief and lined formations, to those ballot
boxes they sent us to guard, which where people dropped in pieces of
folded paper. It is tied to the CDR meetings that my sisters and I used
to attend, not because we understood anything of was being talked about
there, but because sometimes a neighbor would play the accordion, a
great show for kids.
That word is connected to the speeches of Fidel on TV (which I didn't
understand), though one of which I remember in particular because my
mother suddenly jumped up in front of the TV, screaming with joy. When
asked what happened, she replied bursting with emotion: "They're going
to start issuing school uniforms that don't need ironing!" You can
imagine what that meant to a housewife who had three daughters and was
expecting the fourth.
Digging deeper into my memory, the word "revolutionary" gradually became
diffuse, lost between white spaces, reappearing between sneers, shrugs
Just three years ago, I met someone who had just published a serious
social analysis on the Internet that they directed to "Cuban
revolutionaries." I asked why she didn't simply expand his invitation to
"Cubans," since that abused "R" word could turn off many otherwise
I told her about what a poet had said to me about the need to drop
certain words emptied by abuse, to let them rest a while and become
recharged in time with their original meaning and depth.
I even told this writer about my experience when I would speak to God,
how I realized the tension a certain term could cause and therefore
decided to replace it. Communication with people then became clearer,
Nevertheless this friend said preferred to use the word "revolutionary,"
with all its risks.
Already by that time I had noted that the epithet was used as a
safe-conduct pass for saying anything publicly. It was invariably the
preamble — either that or its opposite: "I'm not counterrevolutionary" —
like advance warning when making any critique of anything.
This is the conflict of using vivid words to demarcate phenomena that —
because they too are living — are transformed to the point of dying and
need other words to define them.
Being etymologically accurate, what "revolutionary" means, according to
1. (Adj.) Having to do with a political, social or economic revolution
of a nation.
2. One who supports the revolution of political, social and/or economic
3. That which produces a sudden and innovative change.
4. That which causes an uproar (e.g., a revolutionary attitude)
Despite how much people publicly use it, Cuba doesn't have a population
that is outstandingly revolutionary, nor is this obvious when you travel
across the country. What one finds is statism and apathy, qualities
opposed to change and movement.
With all that I've experienced with Cuban institutions (and not just
cultural ones), proposing and achieving noticeable changes is almost
impossible. There's a fierce inertia of conservatism and control
supported by more than candid prejudices.
Of course this obstruction of movement (which denies the very principle
of "revolution") cannot avoid other internal movements, thus creating a
situation that ends up being outrageously visible: decline.
A new aspect of the problem
No matter how much those of us born in Cuba since the '60s were taught
that being "revolutionary" was the highest of quality, I for one had
questions as to whether this was achieved through merit (as with the
Pioneer badges and certificates) or if it was automatically inherited.
Certainly there are born revolutionaries, but they're the exceptions.
Now, being strictly honest, how many human beings have proven themselves
to be "revolutionary" (re-evolutionary?). How many can be revolutionary
in every single aspect that society needs?
By natural law, each generation is more advanced than the preceding one.
Under this premise, a generation that set a precedent for progress is
superseded by the next, which assimilates and optimizes what it inherits.
This is also the undeniable principle of synergy. As the poet Khalil
Gibran said when discussing children: "You can try to look like them,
but don't try to make them be like you, because life doesn't go backward
nor does it stop with yesterday."
Now, what bothers me most about all the verbal iconography and
paraphernalia that developed during my childhood (and with all Cuban
children after 1959) is a basic question: Why is it so important to be
defined as revolutionary?
When one reads the moral foundations of ancient religions and
philosophical systems, you don't find this term. I wonder (here I'll
rule out everything about faith so as not to limit the analysis), if a
person aspires to and sincerely struggles to: not lie (which implies not
deceiving or manipulating), not steal, not kill, earn one's own living,
share with the needy, respect laws and norms and develop one's will and
consciousness, then what does it matter if they're revolutionary or not?
Likewise, in the name of this "revolution" (often overpowering and
confusing, like all social whirlwinds), what was stigmatized was not
only religion but also spirituality itself, along with plurality,
individuality, autonomy and civil consciousness – cardinal aspects for
developing a genuinely revolutionary society.
Paradoxically (and not innocently) the term was used (and still is) to
divide, confront and exclude, thereby perpetuating the denial of its
Someday perhaps, in honor of the truth, the deeper etymology of
"revolutionary" in Cuba will be restored. In the meantime, because
experience always supersedes words, I'll continue associating it with
anger, imposition, hatred… and fatigue.