A cool socialism (I)
Author: Félix López
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Amid the wide assortment of comments caused by the quotation from Che Guevara in my previous installment (*) was an unexpected, if pleasant, surprise. Alejandro, a friend of mine’s teenage son, called to ask me three questions: “If the founders of socialism ended up straying from their course, how come we cling to it even more? Why does socialism seem more concerned about ideology than about aesthetics? And, if not socialism, what do we have left?”
Truth is, I hung up the phone in astonishment. Alejandro is about to turn 16, and I know for a fact he doesn’t have his head in the clouds. Be that as it may, I was struck dumb, because we often take it for granted that they don’t care about these topics or about politics, or worry that they will never grow fond of what their parents built. Big mistake! Alejandro is a faithful reflection of a reality that can be collective of necessity: our debates today won’t be any more to the point if we push aside our teenagers and youths, strip them of their right to argue and deny them the chance to participate that they expect to get from us.
It’s with great pleasure that I answer Alejandro’s questions, and I’ll start with “the founders of socialism”. Most of us have been brought up in the [almost geographic] belief that Eastern Europe –and particularly the former USSR– is the cradle of socialism, and therefore came to the conclusion that those who once raised the socialist banners were the same ones who set that ship adrift and gave up an ideal born to make up for, and become an alternative to, the capitalist system.
But in his questions, brief as they are, a historic error comes to light. It may be true that this social system was conceptualized there, but we can’t overlook the fact that there were previous experiences of socialist coexistence. In South America, for instance, we had the so-called reservations of the Jesuits, who lived in Paraguay and its neighboring regions between 1609 and 1767, when the Catholic Monarchs expelled the Society of Jesus from their South American colonies.
The Jesuits had committed an unforgivable “sin”: they took the Indians out of the jungle, trained them in agricultural techniques and craftsmanship, and taught them to read and write, not without respect for their Guarani language. Instead of the whip, they used music as an educational tool. That’s how European instruments from that time like the flageolets, drums and harps arrived in such distant lands and joined the rhythm of the maracas the Guarani shamans moved to during their sacred dances.
That its colonies were being home since the early 17th century to a state where they looked at what we now know as socialism was utterly unacceptable to the Spanish Crown. That’s what Paraguay was at the time, a land of collective work, discipline, prayers, solidarity, learning and music. The first of such towns was San Ignacio Guasú, established in 1609 and soon followed by another forty missions along the banks of the rivers Paraná, Uruguay and Tape. By the mid-eighteenth century, according to historian Justo Fernández López, around 150,000 were already living in them.
Each mission made up a town, built around a great square and managed by a town council. There was also a church, a school, workshops of various arts and crafts, and a hospital. Surrounding them were lands devoted to intensive farming, where every native worked in a specific plot as well as in a collective field. Their economy was organized as a function of community work, and trade took place on the basis of reciprocity among the members, whether local or from other towns.
A deeper look into Latin American history we’ll reveal further –and more recent– genuine expressions of a creative and anti-dogmatic socialism. One example: Julio Antonio Mella, the young founder of Cuba’s Marxist-Leninist party, made it clear it was not his intention to reproduce here the Bolshevik experience and, at the same time, made a prophetic warning: the Party needed thinking human beings, not domesticated ones. He was not even 21 years old yet and was already speaking of a socialist revolution, only in the Cuban style.
And long before Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa plotted the route toward the 21st Century Socialism, another young man, the Peruvian José Carlos Mariátegui, had stated: “Socialism in America will be neither a replica nor a copy, but a heroic creation”. If we talk about creation, then there can’t be just one kind of socialism, much less one owned by someone. It has been proved in practice to be a diversified system daring enough to be different in different places.
That’s why I’m correcting Alejandro, who is wrong to assume that there was only one type of socialism which ceased to exist on the day that a crane knocked down the last of Lenin’s statues in Moscow. At any rate, here we are, clung to our socialism, the one with its roots in Martí and Latin America. An “always perfectible” socialism, as singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez put it: “Without giving up dreaming and wishing a better society with better human beings, but from the perspective we have today, not the one indicated by the pioneers of socialism”.
This being said, let me tell you that in my conversation with Alejandro I also learned that all around us there are youths whose grasp of history overpowers the gaps in their knowledge when it comes to conceiving a picture of the system they want to have. Alejandro knows how to be a fair critic, voicing his disagreement with ideas of his own and never disowning the society where he lives. However, when I asked him which system he likes better, he immediately chose the path of creation with great self-assurance: “I like a cool socialism”. A “model” we’ll leave for the next article.
(*) “Socialism is young and therefore flawed”, Chapucerías, Granma, 31.08.09