Our adversaries persist in presenting the 1940s and 50s in pre-revolutionary Cuba as a “golden age,” while the reality was one of sharp inequality, deep contradictions, and economic crisis
There are those who persist in presenting the 1940s and 1950s in pre-revolutionary Cuba as a time of prosperity and abundance. This vision appears frequently on digital platforms, in articles directed toward a Cuban audience, or in videos and photo galleries, produced for social media. On this and other media strategies, Granma shared a digital dialogue with Dr. Fabio Fernández Batista, professor of Cuban History at the University of Havana’s department of Philosophy and History*
-Does the fact that the target audience did not experience this era first hand favor the ideological intentions of these messages?
-The operation that seeks to portray Cuba of the 40’s and 50’s as a “golden age” is noteworthy. Identifying the island with Havana and the latter with Vedado and its “skyscrapers” has led some to assume this version as true a story that conceals the full picture of the republican scene in the mid-twentieth century. Without denying the efficiency of the communicative mechanisms used by the promoters of such a discourse, responsibility for the acceptance of these conceptions is ours, to a certain extent. The modeling of a Republican Cuba, only marked by a few shadows, takes its toll on our perspective of the future. The absence of nuances allows an audience always eager for the “latest” to accept a different story, which, moreover, is very well put together from the visual point of view.
Given these circumstances, the key lies in capturing the plurality of scenarios that coexisted in pre-revolutionary society. The contrasts must be made visible, while explaining the contradictions that caused the simultaneous existence of the Havana Hilton and the poverty stricken charcoal makers seen in the documentary El Mégano. Statistics are available to expose this Cuba of brutal differences. Documents such as La historia me absolverá, the Truslow Report, the 1953 Census and the Catholic University Association Survey show the tensions of the time, providing an accurate snapshot of a country trapped by the structural deformation of its economy. When the Cuba of the 40’s and 50’s is studied in depth, it is evident that the plethora of highly publicized public works of that time reveals, in more than one sense, the magnitude of the crisis that the island was experiencing.
Another issue plays a role in the positive reception of this sugar-coated discourse on the final decades of the Republic. The battle between capitalism and socialism that is being fought in our country is clearly shown in the emergence of mentalities and imagery that promote a sentimental connection with the bourgeois past. There are Cubans with no ties whatsoever to the dominant groups displaced by the Revolution, who are reproducing a discourse that defends the restoration of that “prosperous Cuba of yesterday” which, in reality, only exists in their minds. Likewise, the inadequacies of our present, and anxiety about the future, support the human tendency to represent the past “with a sepia tint,” a process that in the Cuban case is enhanced by the existence of a campaign meant to support this view. The construction of a prosperous socialism at this time will serve, without a doubt, as a mechanism to confront this reactionary reading of the nation’s past.
-It can be seen that these contents have gone from counting the number of cars, cinemas and household appliances, to speaking in terms of economic efficiency, in which agriculture, livestock ranching and commerce of that era supposedly met the needs of the entire society.
Is this change in the message related to the escalation of the blockade and its daily impact on Cubans?
-The discourse to dress up the Republic has been adjusted over time. However, the best way to deal with it remains unchanged. Manipulation and distortion can be exposed by going to the sources to demonstrate the weaknesses of a version of history that claims to be accurate. Praising the Republican economy is a bad joke. Any analysis of pre-revolutionary bourgeois thought makes clear the extent of the structural crisis the country was facing and the tremendous difficulties in finding ways to overcome this.
It makes no sense to present comparisons that do not take into account the specifics of the contexts. To counterpoise cold facts and statistical series is not the most coherent way to portray, from a historical perspective, the new directions demanded by the country. The rigor of our analyses and the ability to accommodate nuances will always be the winning formula to expose those trying to pass off their sugarcoated version.
-How do you perceive the media’s insistence on presenting the Cuban Revolution as a period that began and ended in the past, separated from both everyday life and the economic updating and legislative transformation currently underway?
-In the Cuban case, we understand the Revolution as the political project guided by the goal of building an alternative to capitalism, so there is no doubt about its permanence. Other nuances can be pointed out, if we go deeper into the field of social sciences and the definition of this modality of social change that is key to the question.
Our revolutionary project currently faces four major obstacles: external hostility, economic difficulties, constant efforts to fracture political consensus, and the challenges encountered in the practical implementation of the updating of socialism. These emerge as barriers to be overcome. The Revolution must connect the preservation of its historical conquests with efforts to make a reality of new aspirations of prosperity.
The economy constitutes one of the essential fronts to be addressed, to maintain the unquestionable social successes and stimulate more strongly the productive base that can sustain them. Similarly, other dynamics of the nation’s social fabric must be set in motion along paths that take diversity into account. The recently approved Constitution should act as a roadmap for the consummation of a socialist project that, without renouncing history, will succeed in meeting the new demands of citizens.
-The invitation to forget history was part of a strategy that could return, while others already urge us to leave behind the terminology of revolution and counter-revolution, which has been fundamental in Cuban political and historical language. Are these still functional terms?
-The invitation to forget history is clearly a tactic to disarm us. To be historically aware does not mean to live as prisoners of the past, but to maintain a connection with lived experience, to serve as a support in charting the route forward. Although the role of words is often overstated, their value cannot be ignored. Thus, thinking about the political discourse of today’s Cuba is an important task.
Among those who propose a renewal of terminology, two groups can be identified. On the one hand, there are those who defend an updating of revolutionary discourse, in order to connect with the specificity of the times. On the other hand, there are those who, in different ways, are looking to dismantle the discursive scaffolding in order to later advance, like a destructive thunderstorm, over the rest. Within the battle that is being fought in constructive semantics within the country, the use of words stands out as an arena that cannot be neglected.
I consider use of the terms revolutionary and counter-revolutionary to be valid, as long as the plurality of the field they intend to encompass is assumed. What is revolutionary, in today’s circumstances, lies in the defense of an anti-capitalist social project, capable of projecting the subversive essences of the 1959 Revolution toward the best Cuba we can build. On the other hand, the scope of the counter-revolution is defined by efforts to restore the capitalist regime and, with this, the set of exploitative relations that are inherent to that system. I believe that the ideological struggle of our days moves within the above-mentioned framework, without denying the presence of other problems that add a variety of nuances to debates held within the nation.
* The interviewee is the author of Fidel en la tradición estudiantil universitaria – co-authored with Francisca López Civeira – (Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado, La Habana, 2016), and Los caminos de la prosperidad. El ideario económico de las oligarquías criollas de Cuba (Unhic Publications, Havana, 2020).