A cool socialism (II)
Author: Félix López
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Why does socialism seem more concerned about ideology than about aesthetics?, young Alexander asked, his question undoubtedly originating with his concept of a cool socialism: a just, nice society, estranged from capitalism’s “every-man-for-himself” laws and free from any ugliness, sloppiness, vulgarity, mediocrity, bad taste and boredom for good measure. To young people, “being cool” means hip, fashionable and graceful, the kind of synonym Alejandro chooses for his life.
Let’s come to the grips with his poser. The praxis, to be sure, ended up leaning to the ideological side, but I think the idea of favoring ideology over aesthetics never entered the mind of the socialist theoreticians or the letter of the classics. Lenin, for one, warned us that disseminating ugliness and annoyance was by no means good revolutionary communication. A case in point is Cuba, where plays, movies, books and museum exhibitions became real crowd-pullers following the democratization of culture and seeing a worker enjoying a classical ballet or a scientist shaking her hips like one possessed to the rhythm of a popular band is no longer surprising.
Cuban culture is the perfect example that most people want socialism free of any gaudiness. Many of us brag about the criollo, Martí-oriented and Caribbean nature of our Revolution without overlooking the benefits and influence –both positive and negative– of the Krim TV sets, the Moskvich cars, the Hanka and Danka cartoons, the incomprehensible jokes of Ferdinand the Clown, and the “proletarian chivalry” clichés. Or the avalanche of luggage bursting at the seams with bad taste that our relatives in Miami are bringing here as we speak. Or the blue jeans with golden dragons embroidered on the pockets that a Cuban state purchaser –a très unchic one, by the way– brings from overseas to supply our department stores.
Alejandro, make no mistake: Marx and Lenin dreamed about one thing, but the final outcome after the [mis]interpretations was another matter altogether. Let me give you one example: in the months following the triumph of the Russian revolution, the avant-garde currents were deemed a natural complement to revolutionary policy. Constructivism flourished in the visual arts, while poetry and music praised all non-traditional and modernist forms… until one day that the illustrated bureaucrats let their criticism run free, saying that impressionism, surrealism, Dadaism, cubism and other modern styles were full of subjectivist principles –which crashed head-on with dialectical materialism’s objective aspirations– and ruled it was “bourgeois art”.
That’s how the curtains of cultural diversity were drawn and socialist realism came on stage, aesthetic flaws and all, convinced that only the topics touching on politics and the working class were worth the effort. Then the USSR exported it most other socialist states, where the doctrine took on various degrees of significance… only to see its eagerness to describe people’s simple life –with Maksim Gorky’s work as one major exponent– become swamped in a dogmatic and exclusionist vision of socialism that eventually harmed the mission of its culture.
It’s a commonly held, albeit wrong, belief –often used as a justification– that a poor, underdeveloped country can’t afford to think about aesthetics when it has so many other fish to fry, namely to feed, shelter and clothe its population. A comfortable economic and financial situation makes everything easier, I have to give you that, but at the same time I flatly refuse to second such ode to misfortune. My grandma used to say something became a canon at home: “Poor but honorable; patched but clean”. Our greatness lies in surmounting that crest of hardship and being different.
In my previous comment I asked: “How much longer do we have to wait until our builders, food service workers and everyone else in charge of making people’s life happy rather than miserable become steeped in the excellence we have achieved in research, sports and culture?” Well, here’s another question: how did we manage to remain immune from the unsightly contamination of socialist realism and even oppose it with a recognized movement of graphic designers, filmmakers with a soul of their own and protest singers who leaped over the bureaucratic censors and became a poetic monument to Cuban culture?
Luckily, we don’t have to go out in search of the answer. Cuba has every reason to take pride in its indigenous culture, its own creations, and its people’s commitment to the Revolution and boldness to conquer the bureaucrats’ Golgotha and inherent ability to come up with a problem for every solution. Dialectics, participation, authenticity and our criollo cleverness… those are the best antidote to sloppiness, banality and laziness. Aren’t the New Song Movement’s lyrics cool or what? Who says Cuban baseball or the way [110-meter hurdles racer] Dayron Robles runs are not cool? How to deny that the children of La Colmenita are not cool on stage? So why should we deny Alejandro the chance to make our socialism cooler?
Coming back to the opening question above, I call attention upon something we have neglected. We all know that socialism in our Island is essentially just, friendly and remarkably human. It’s the wrapping what we have to solve yet, a problem not always dependent on solvency, as we’re also haunted by subjective ghosts. But it’s not too late to ward them off, though. Let’s stick a moral bill on every ugly, rundown and forgotten spot of our environment which says: “Wanted: creativity, solutions, gall, good ideas, diligence, shame, devotion and, why not, plenty of cool.
(To be continued…)