Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 December 2008
This article seeks to explain why such a wide range of Cuban cultural producers have opted to remain on the island and work ‘within the revolution’, despite all the notorious problems caused by state censorship, political persecution and material shortages. It accounts for the importance of culture to the legitimacy of the revolutionary government; suggests that the regime has drawn effectively on the long-established significance of culture in Cuba's radical tradition; and illustrates the extent to which the government has backed up its rhetoric of commitment to culture for all with a sustained policy of support for institutions, organisations and events across the island. The main argument is that culture has been a key element – perhaps the only successful element – in the revolution's attempt to implement an alternative model of modernity that was distinctive not only from the Western capitalist version but also from that promoted by the Soviet Union.
Este artículo busca explicar por qué un rango tan amplio de productores culturales cubanos ha optado por permanecer en la isla y trabajar “al interior de la revolución”, pese a todos los notorios problemas causados por la censura estatal, la persecución política y la escasez material. El ensayo señala la importancia de la cultura en la legitimización del gobierno revolucionario y sugiere que el régimen se ha apoyado de forma efectiva en la importancia largamente establecida de la cultura en la tradición radical cubana. También ilustra el grado en el que el gobierno ha respaldado su retórica de compromiso de una cultura para todos con una política sostenida de apoyo a instituciones, organizaciones y eventos a lo largo de la isla. El argumento principal es que la cultura ha sido un elemento clave –posiblemente el único elemento exitoso– en los intentos de la revolución por implementar un modelo alternativo de modernidad que fuera distinto no sólo de la versión del capitalismo occidental sino también de aquél promovido por la Unión Soviética.
Palabras clave: Cuba, cultura, política cultural, modernidad, sociedad civil, descolonización
Este artigo busca explicar por que uma gama tão ampla de produtores culturais optou por permanecer na ilha e trabalhar “de dentro da revolução” a despeito de todos os notórios problemas causados pela censura do estado, pela perseguição política e pela pobreza material. Ele explica a relevância da cultura para a legitimidade do governo revolucionário, e sugere que o regime conseguiu atrair para si a importância de longa data da cultura na tradição radical de Cuba. Ele ilustra até que ponto o governo sustentou sua retórica de comprometimento à cultura para todos com uma política contínua de apoio às instituições, organizações e eventos por toda ilha. O principal argumento é que a cultura é um elemento-chave – é possivelmente o único elemento exitoso – na tentativa da revolução de implementar um modelo alternativo de modernidade, distinto não somente da versão capitalista ocidental mas também daquele promovido pela União Soviética.
Palavras-chave: Cuba, cultura, política cultual, modernidade, sociedade civil, descolonização.
1 Antonio Gramsci, ‘Marinetti the Revolutionary’ , in Gramsci, Selections from Cultural Writings, David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (eds.) (London, 1985), pp. 49–51, p. 50.
2 See Index on Censorship, 1989, no. 3, which contains an article ‘Cuba 30 years on’, pp. 11–21. For the broader impact on culture (especially theatre) of official policies against homosexuals during the 1960s and 1970s, see playwright Abelardo Estorino's account in John M. Kirk and Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Culture and the Cuban Revolution: Conversations in Havana (Gainesville, FA, 2001), pp. 58–9; also Lourdes Argüelles and B. Ruby Rich, ‘Homosexuality, Homophobia and Revolution’, Signs, 9 (1984), pp. 683–99. There is also valuable information in the annual Amnesty International reports on Cuba. On the effects of censorship and strategies for evading it, see Seymour Menton, Prose Fiction of the Cuban Revolution (Texas, 1975) and Linda S. Howe, Transgression and Conformity: Cuban Writers and Artists After the Revolution (Madison, 2004). For an account of the experience of one leading writer and film-maker who stayed in Cuba until the early 1990s, see Lilliam Oliva Collmann, Jesús Díaz. El ejercicio de los límites de la expresión revolucionaria en Cuba (New York, 1999). For a brief survey of exile literature, see Rafael Rojas, ‘The Knots of Memory: Culture, Reconciliation and Democracy in Cuba’, in Bert Hoffman and Laurence Whitehead, eds., Debating Cuban Exceptionalism (New York, 2007), pp. 165–86.
4 For a general critique of this phenomenon, see George Yúdice, The Expediency of Culture: Uses of culture in the global era (Durham, NC, and London, 2003).
5 Throughout this article I understand ‘culture’ as the arts, rather than in the anthropological sense of a way of life or, as has often been case in studies of Cuba, as political culture. Tzvi Medin, Cuba: The Shaping of Revolutionary Consciousness (Boulder, 1990); Julie Bunck, Fidel Castro and the quest for a revolutionary culture in Cuba (University Park PA, 1994); Jorge Domínguez, Order and Revolution (Cambridge, MA and London, 1978), chap. 12 ‘Political Culture’.
6 Fidel Castro, ‘Palabras a los intelectuales’ (Havana, 1961). All translations are mine unless otherwise stated.
7 The words became virtually talismanic, an almost ritual citation. It is beyond the scope of this article, but a close analysis of the many ways in which this statement has been interpreted, appropriated and ironised in a variety of contexts, both official and unofficial, would reveal much about the history of Cuban culture under the Revolution. Roberto Fernández Retamar makes some interesting points in ‘Cuarenta años después’, La Gaceta de Cuba, 2001, pp. 47–53.
8 An oft-quoted statistic is that in 1958 one million books a year were published in Cuba, in print runs of one or two thousand copies, whereas by 1977 some 24 million books were published, with print runs of five thousand to 80,000 copies each Francisco López Segrera, ‘Notas para una historia social de la cultura cubana’, Temas, no. 5 (1985), pp. 5–16, p. 12. See Pamela Smorkaloff, Readers and Writers in Cuba: A Social History of Print Culture, 1830s–1930s (New York, 1997), chap. 5 for a full account of the history of Cuban publishing.
9 For accounts of the notorious Padilla affair, see Lourdes Casal, El caso Padilla: literatura y revolución en Cuba. Documentos (Miami, 1971) and her chapter, ‘Literature and Society’, in Carmelo Mesa-Lago, ed., Revolutionary Change in Cuba (Pittsburgh, 1971), pp. 447–69; Index on Censorship, Summer 1972 (special issue entitled Cuba: Revolution and the Intellectual, The Strange Case of Heberto Padilla); José Yglesias, ‘The Case of Heberto Padilla’, New York Review of Books, 3 June 1971, pp. 3–8; Padilla's own memoir, La mala memoria (Barcelona, 1989); and the recollections of others close to events in Kirk and Padura Fuentes, Culture and the Cuban Revolution, esp. pp. 29–33, 84–8, 116–7 and 128.
10 Reynaldo González, editor of the magazine Pueblo y Cultura, who later rebelled against what he called ‘sloganism’, remembered the early 1960s ecstatically as a time when ‘everything was new. Including us. We were discovering [everything around us] and we were discovering ourselves. We were making [things] and we were making ourselves. We were beginning to breathe an air that we wanted to make our own, shaped by us. Joy and strength in life […]’, in Revolución y Cultura, 2006, no. 1, p. 48. For another intellectual's account, see Leonardo Acosta, ‘Pueblo y Cultura y Revolución y Cultura: Dos números envueltos en el misterio’, Revolución y Cultura, 2006, no. 2, pp. 50–5, p. 50. See also the recollections of 1 January 1959 published by leading Cuban writers on the twentieth anniversary of the revolution, in La Gaceta de Cuba, no. 174 (Jan. 1979), pp. 6–9. For the wider impact of the government's culture-for-all policy, see Mona Rosendahl, Inside the Revolution: Everyday Life in Socialist Cuba (Ithaca and London, 1997), especially the testimony of one peasant woman, who was born in 1947 and so started secondary school just after the revolution: ‘They taught us everything, everything. […] They wanted to cram all culture into our heads, just like that, in one stroke. The century of ignorance that made us so backward, they wanted to take that away in no time’ (p. 131).
11 ‘Dictámenes’ of the Second UNEAC Congress, in La Gaceta de Cuba, no. 162 (November–December 1977), pp. 11–15, p. 12.
12 Constitución de la República de Cuba, Departamento de Orientación Revolucionaria del Comité Central del Partido Comunista Cubano (Havana, 1976), pp. 12, 30; and Constitución de la República de Cuba (Havana, 1992), pp. 2, 19.
13 Kirk and Padura, Culture, pp. 10–11. Rodríguez said: ‘I believe that the 1970s were in fact kinder than the 1960s’ and when reminded of the leading figures who had been marginalised in the 1970s (including José Lezama Lima, Virgilio Piñera and Antón Arrufat), he accepted the point but noted that it applied more to writers than to ‘those who sing, dance and produce cinema’. ‘Personally’, he added, ‘I think the 1960s were a more difficult period, among other things because it was the time when the class conflicts in the country reached their peak. And it was a class struggle to the death. The mountains of Cuba were full of counterrevolutionaries, there was the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the Missile Crisis.’
14 Acosta, ‘Pueblo y Cultura’, esp. p. 54. Acosta was editor of Revolución y Cultura from 1974 to 1978.
15 Apart from Kirk and Padura, Culture, see Emilio Bejel, Escribir en Cuba: Entrevistas con escritores cubanos 1979–1989 (Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, 1991); ‘From Cuba’, special issue of boundary 2, 29:3 (Fall 2002) and ‘Bridging Enigma: Cubans on Cuba’, special issue of The South Atlantic Quarterly, 96:1 (Winter 1997).
16 Silvio Rodríguez, in Kirk and Padura, Culture, p. 11.
17 Haydée Salas, ‘Sobre la efectividad de la medición socio-económica en la actividad teatral’, Temas, no. 5, 1985, pp. 17–33.
18 Arturo Arango, ‘Algunas objeciones’, Temas, no. 19, 1990, pp. 73–7, p. 77; Kepa Artaraz, ‘El ejercicio de pensar: The Rise and Fall of Pensamiento Crítico’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 24:3 (2005), pp. 348–66.
19 Judith A. Weiss, Casa de las Américas: An Intellectual Review in the Cuban Revolution (Chapel Hill, 1977).
20 These assumptions are not always explicitly stated but underlie many criticisms of Cuban cultural policy, e.g. Black, Georgina Dopico, ‘The Limits of Expression: Intellectual Freedom in Postrevolutionary Cuba’, Cuban Studies 19 (1989), pp. 107–41Google Scholar; and Rojo, Antonio Benítez, ‘Comments on Dopico Black's “The Limits of Expression: Intellectual Freedom in Postrevolutionary Cuba”’, Cuban Studies, 20 (1990), pp. 171–4Google Scholar.
21 For a short Cuban analysis, see López Segrera, ‘Notas’.
22 Rafael Hernández, Looking at Cuba: Essays on Culture and Civil Society (Gainesville, 2003).
23 Andrew Salkey, Havana Journal (Harmondsworth, UK, 1971).
24 Salkey, Havana Journal, p. 110.
25 Jorge Luis Acanda, preface to Hernández, Looking at Cuba, pp. vii–viii.
26 Sujatha Fernandes, Cuba Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary Cultures (Durham NC, and London, 2006), esp. pp. 2–3. Carollee Bengelsdorf has also argued that ‘Cuban civil society was never absorbed by the state in a manner parallel to Russia’. See her book The Problem of Democracy in Cuba: Between Vision and Reality (Oxford and New York, 1994), p. 179. For the most recent work, see Alexander I. Gray and Antoni Kapcia, The Changing Dynamic of Cuban Civil Society (Gainesville, 2008). Also relevant is Damián J. Fernández, Cuba and the Politics of Passion (Austin, 2000), which explores the politics of informality in Cuba.
27 Fernandes, Cuba Represent!, p. 8. See also ‘Enfoque: Modernidad y sociedad civil: una revisión’, Temas, no. 46, abril–junio 2006, pp. 3–75.
28 Tony Kapcia, Island of Dreams (Oxford, 2000); Ada Ferrer, Insurgent Cuba (Chapel Hill, 1999); and Alejandro De La Fuente, A Nation for All (Chapel Hill and London, 2001). On Martí: Mauricio A. Font and Alfonso W. Quiroz, The Cuban Republic and José Martí (Lanham and Oxford, 2006); Lillian Guerra, The Myth of José Martí (Chapel Hill, 2005). See also Louis A. Pérez, Jr., On Becoming Cuban (Chapel Hill, 1999) which emphasises the ubiquity of US values as a feature that both helped to define a Cuban alternative and to reinforce it.
29 Constitución, 1976, p. 11. These words were retained in the revised version of 1992.
30 Fidel Castro, ‘History Will Absolve Me’, from Fidel Castro and Régis Debray, On Trial (London, 1968), pp. 9–108, pp. 28–9 and esp. p. 66 for teaching and learning metaphors.
31 Constitución, 1976, p. 12. Also retained in 1992.
32 For a recent statement of this idea, see Osvaldo Martínez (an economist): ‘socialism is the absence of the exploitation of people by other people, the practice of a high degree of social equity, the most extensive possibilities for access to culture, founded on access to education and the greatest possible development of science and technology’. Cited in ‘Sobre la transición socialista en Cuba: un simposio’, Temas, nos. 50–51 (abril–septiembre 2007), pp. 126–62, 133.
33 Hernández, Looking at Cuba, p. 44.
34 Hernández, Looking at Cuba, p. 45. Some of the frustration felt by Cuban intellectuals may be an outcome of the fact that they have been prevented from playing a role that historically they had reason to expect. One of the most acclaimed plays staged in Havana over the last few years was Vida y muerte de Pier Paolo Pasolini (a translation of the work by French playwright Michel Azama). Much of the appeal of the work lay in its portrait of an intellectual who ‘never ceased to struggle like a crusader for his hopes and ideas’. Amado del Pino, ‘Dirigir es un estado diálogo’, Entrevista con Carlos Celdrán (theatre director), Revolución y Cultura, 2004, no. 3, pp. 22–6, p. 26.
35 There was a natural fit between pre-revolutionary, anti-imperialist revisionism and post-1959 official versions of national redemption through revolution. The evidence suggests, however, that even though the regime certainly did appropriate revisionism to its cause, it was also more eclectic in its borrowings, drawing even on conservative historians. See Miller, Nicola, ‘The Absolution of History: Uses of the Past in Castro's Cuba’, Journal of Contemporary History, 38:1, 2003, pp. 147–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Quinn, Kate, ‘Cuban Historiography in the 1960s: Revisionists, Revolutionaries and the Nationalist Past’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 26:3 (July 2007), pp. 378–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
36 Armando Chaguaceda, ‘Nada cubano me es ajeno: notas sobre la condición ciudadana’, Temas, nos. 50–51 (abril–septiembre 2007), pp. 118–25, p. 120.
37 Russell H. Fitzgibbon, The Constitutions of the Americas (Chicago, 1948), p. 237.
38 Constitución, 1976, p. 30 (retained in 1992). Famously, this Constitution guaranteed freedom of style but not freedom of content: ‘artistic creation is free so long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution. Forms of expression in art are free’, Article 38 d), p. 31.
39 Fidel Castro, La primera revolución socialista en América (Mexico City, 1976), p. 140.
40 Cintio Vitier, ‘Lo cubano en la poesía’ , cited in Abel Prieto Jiménez, ‘La cultura cubana: resistencia, socialismo y revolución’, Cuba Socialista, no. 2 de 1996, pp. 2–11, 2.
41 Prieto Jiménez, ‘La cultura cubana’, p. 5.
42 For a fascinating retrospective discussion, see Jorge de la Fuente, ‘Sobre la joven intelectualidad artística’, Temas, no. 19, 1990, pp. 59–71, esp. p. 68.
43 Che Guevara, El socialismo y el hombre [en Cuba] (Montevideo, 1965), p. 15.
44 Roberto Roque Pujol, ‘Las funciones del complejo de dirección del trabajo cultural’, Temas, no. 6 (1985), pp. 17–35, 18.
45 Guevara, El socialismo, pp. 18–19.
46 For a collection of official statements on Cuban cultural policy, see Política cultural de la Revolución Cubana: documentos (Havana, 1977). For a recent discussion, see the interview with Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture, ‘Cuba Reminds Many Intellectuals of What They Ceased to Be’, Cubanow – The Digital Magazine of Cuban Arts and Culture, http://www.cubanow.net/global/loader.php?secc=10&cont=culture/num29/01.htm [accessed 06/02/07].
47 Fidel Castro, ‘En la clausura del primer congreso nacional de educación y cultura’, 30 April 1971, in Fidel Castro, Discursos (Havana, 1976), 2 vols., vol. I, pp. 139–60, p. 151.
48 See the recollections of 1 January 1959 published by leading Cuban writers on the twentieth anniversary of the revolution. La Gaceta de Cuba, no. 174 (January 1979), pp. 6–9.
49 John A. Loomis, Revolution of Forms: Cuba's Forgotten Art Schools (New York, 1999).
50 Cited in Kirk and Padura, Culture, p. 46.
51 ‘Sobre la transición’, Temas, nos. 50–51, p. 131.
52 Jaime Sarusky, ‘¿Qué hacer? con la música popular cubana’, Revolución y Cultura, 2004, no. 3, pp. 27–33, p. 28.
53 Roberto Fabelo, in Kirk and Padura, Culture, p. 135.
54 See the reports of the Second UNEAC Congress in La Gaceta de Cuba, no. 162 (November–December 1977), esp. Nicolás Guillén's ‘Informe central’, pp. 7–11.
55 Nahela Hechavarría Pouymiró, ‘La seducción del instante. Un siglo y media de fotografía documental en Cuba, 1840–1990’, Revolución y Cultura, 2004, no. 2 (abril–junio), pp. 36–45, 43. See also Tim B. Wride, Shifting Tides: Cuban Photography After the Revolution (Los Angeles, 2001); and Barry Dawson, Street Graphics Cuba (London, 2001).
56 David Craven, The New Concept of Art and Popular Culture in Nicaragua since the Revolution in 1979 (Lewiston NY, 1989), p. 242.
57 There is quite a lot of work on the Cuban film industry; a good starting point is Michael Chanan, Cuban Cinema (Minneapolis, 2004). Research into theatre and music has recently begun, much of it carried out by Cuban academics and published in Cuban periodicals. On recent developments in music, see the collection of articles, ‘Música hecha en Cuba’, spread over two issues of La Gaceta de Cuba: noviembre-diciembre 2006 and julio-agosto 2007. See also Robin D. Moore, Music and the Reovlution: Cultural Change in Socialist Cuba (Berkeley CA, 2006). On theatre: Amado del Pino, ‘Actores estrenando el siglo. Escena cubana del XXI’, Revolución y Cultura, no. 3, 2005, pp. 48–52, in which he identified the 1990s as a difficult decade for theatre, partly because many actors moved into the more vibrant film and television industries, but was more optimistic about the 2000s. Abelardo Estorino talks about government policy towards theatre in his interview in Kirk and Padura, Culture. On film, rap and visual arts, see Fernandes, Cuba Represent!. On visual arts: Revolución y Cultura, 2004, no. 3; and Gary R. Libby, Cuba: A History in Art (Daytona Beach, 1997).
58 ‘Dictámenes’ of the Second UNEAC Congress, La Gaceta de Cuba, no. 162 (noviembre–diciembre, 1977), pp. 11–15, 12.
59 Martin Carnoy, with Amber K. Gove and Jeffery H. Marshall, Cuba's Academic Advantage. Why Students in Cuba Do Better in School (Stanford, 2007), p. 29. The policy was effective at attracting and retaining good teachers until it became possible to earn far more than a teacher's salary by working in the tourist trade. See also Richard Fagen, The Transformation of Political Culture in Cuba (Stanford, 1969).
60 Carnoy, Cuba's Academic Advantage, p. 29.
61 Carnoy, Cuba's Academic Advantage, esp. p. 15.
62 Sheryl L. Lutjens, The State, Bureaucracy, and the Cuban Schools (Boulder, 1996).
63 Lutjens, The State, pp. 30–1.
64 Nicolás Guillén, ‘Informe central’, La Gaceta de Cuba, no. 162 (Noviembre–Diciembre 1977), pp. 7–11, 10.
65 Hernández, Looking at Cuba, p. 119. On the literacy campaign, see Richard R. Fagen, Cuba: The Political Content of Adult Education (Stanford, 1964), which analyses the contents of the main manual used, ‘Alfabeticemos’, and Fagen's The Transformation.
66 Silvio Rodríguez, in Kirk and Padura, Culture, p. 5.
67 Quoted in Sarusky, ‘¿Qué hacer con la música popular cubana?’, p. 29.
68 Nancy Morejón and Abelardo Estorino, in Kirk and Padura, Culture, pp. 116 and 58, respectively.
69 See, for example, Temas, nos. 50–51 (abril–septiembre 2007), special issue on Transiciones y postransiciones; also Arturo Andrés Roig, ‘El humanismo y el antidogmatismo del Che Guevara’, Contracorriente, no. 8, 1997, pp. 29–33, 29. For a theoretical critique of the idea that culture could be confined to the superstructure, see Gonzalo Carnet Riera, ‘El contorno económico de la cultura artística’, Temas, no. 17, 1989, pp. 47–72.
70 ‘Ideología y ideales en la Revolución cubana: Mesa redonda’, Contracorriente, no. 10, 1997, pp. 120–42, 129.
71 All quotations in this paragraph are taken from Armando Hart Dávalos, ‘Hacia el siglo XXI. Fuentes necesarias’, Cuba Socialista, no. 3 de 1996, pp. 2–14.
72 Nicola Miller, Reinventing Modernity in Latin America: Intellectuals Imagine the Future, 1900–1930 (New York and London, 2008).
73 Graziella Pogolotti, ‘El centenario de un fundador’, Revolución y Cultura, 2004, no. 4, pp. 59–60, 59.
74 The terms are from Reinhart Koselleck, ‘“Space of Experience” and “Horizon of Expectation”: Two Historical Categories’, in his Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (Cambridge MA, and London: 1985), pp. 267–88; for the argument that the Cuban government was successful in imposing its grand narrative, see Davies, ‘Surviving’.
75 ‘Dictámenes’, La Gaceta de Cuba, no. 162, p. 12.
76 In Kirk and Padura, Culture, p. 179.
77 Roberto Fernández Retamar, ‘The Enormity of Cuba’, Boundary 2, 23:3 (Fall 1996), pp. 165–90, 181.
78 Fernandes, Cuba Represent!, p. 26.
79 For example, see Rinaldo Acosta's review of Mikhail Bakhtin's Problemas literarios y estéticos, in Temas, no. 12 (1987), pp. 165–73, in which he welcomes Bakhtin's ‘profoundly dialectical and historical’ approach, contrasting if favourably with ‘certain contemporary tendencies to examine the phenomenon of intertextuality by dehistoricising it and emptying it of ideological significance’ (p. 173).
80 Rosendahl, Inside the Revolution, pp. 166–7.
81 Abel Prieto Jiménez, ‘La cultura cubana: resistencia, socialismo y revolución’, Cuba Socialista, 1996, no. 2, pp. 2–11, p. 5. The contributions to Cuban history and culture of various previously ignored groups, such as women, Afro-Cubans and labourers, have indeed been investigated by Cuban researchers and brought into the national narrative. The many complaints that can be found in periodical literature over the last ten to fifteen years that none of this has gone far enough are in themselves indicative of a widespread commitment to cultural inclusiveness. For example, Luisa Campuzano, who has done a great deal to establish the significance of contributions from women writers throughout Cuba's history, lamented in 1997 that the revolution still lacked women narrators, a fact which she attributed, in part, to a continuing reluctance within Cuban society to embrace difference. Luisa Campuzano, ‘Cuba 1961: los textos narrativos de las alfabetizadoras – Conflictos de género, clase y canon’, Unión, Revista de Literatura y Arte, no. 26, 1997, pp. 52–8, esp. p. 58, fn. 38. Kirk and Padura's interviewees included only two women, Alicia Alonso and Nancy Morejón, reflecting women's under-representation in the cultural field as a whole.
82 Smorkaloff, Readers and Writers in Cuba: A Social History of Print Culture, 1830s–1930s (New York, 1997).
83 Hernández, Looking at Cuba, p. 9.
84 Hernández, Looking at Cuba, p. 14.