Socialism (and hope?) Reaches the U.S.: Kshama Sawant

I remember thinking at some point in time, while I wrote or said something in the same way I’m doing it now — off the cuff and improvising most of it — that the political state of things  was changing in real and tangible ways. Whomever I was with at the moment reminded me that I was delusional, or perhaps even drunk, to actually think that the Occupy movement could mean anything significant for the political landscape of the world – least of all in the U.S. of A. I didn’t budge, but I did see his point: the ‘alternatives’ that people, including the ones at Occupy, demanded were never really articulated in a determinant way, that’s at least what we could gather from the news; we always got a version where they were always danced around, and flowered with terms like “social reform,” “bridging the gap between the rich and the poor,” and other pretty but substantially empty phrases.

And while some of the protesters and occasional journalist, did admire the style of the late Bolivarian leader, Hugo Chavez, and  of other of the new-century Revolutionaries spreading through South America like wild-fire (some would say), they did so from a distance, never really wanting to drink the Kool-Aid themselves, but wanting to see what it did to the brave-ish-foolish ones that did. But today I found out that some — at least one — seems to have taken a step further, however brave or foolish it may be.

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Kshama Sawant, an economics teacher, former Occupy activist and self-denominated Socialist, according to Democracy Now, was elected to the Seattle City Council on Monday, January 6. Some articles on the net are estimating that this is the first Socialist elected to office in over 100 years. Wikipedia — for whatever it may be worth — says Anna Louise Strong, a radical progressive, was the last far-left person to be elected to office in Seattle in 1916 (School Board). I expect I’ll find out a little more when I get a chance to sit down and actually dig into it, because it’s early and I didn’t expect to get into any of this heavy stuff at this time, without at least preparing my nerves or even a morning coffee.

But so be it. It’s very clear to me that whatever this could actually mean in the future, it certainly got the Washington-crowd out of bed with a jolt this morning, like a cattle-prod to the testicles when you least expect it. And I don’t mean just the politicians — because if it is just another smoke-screen after all, as I suspect some others may be suspecting, then that type of human-machine-dog hybrid that inundates Capitol Hill certainly knew about it — but just the good ol’ civilians; the unsuspecting ones (that sounds like a good movie title). And if rednecks keep up with news, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were already up in arms, planning to ‘take back their country from the reds’ — though I would be surprised if they read the news. In any event, the point is that Kshama Sawant, the Seattle City Council wearing “the badge of Socialist with honour,” has certainly raised some eyebrows.

Now, the thing about it being a smoke-screen is not that farfetched, at least to jaded, or perhaps enlightened, or even unstable (depends where you look at it from) people like me. I wouldn’t put it that far past anyone in that state, or even remotely embroiled in politics, to concoct some bizarre plan to distract from the myriad other issues crumbling on top of them like a house of cards made of heavy and jagged marble (high unemployment rates, Guantanamo, drones, scandals, the overall stalemate in Congress, debt in the trillions, etc.). But it’s way too early to seriously assume that. And if I did, I’d be no better than that individual that was telling me Occupy and other such movements didn’t really mean anything.

I’ve met many people like that — hell, most people I meet are like that. At most, they sympathize with some ideas and call them well-intentioned and idealistic, but unrealistic at their core. These, I think, may very well be the same people that equate “conviction” with “stubbornness,” and “neutrality” or “objectivity” or “open mindedness” with being a fart in the wind, carrying the stench of an expulsed gas to whatever corner the stronger winds may carry them. I recall Thompson’s phrase in Fear and Loathing: “All energy flows to the whim of the Great Magnet…” I guess even a fart is energy, and the Great Magnet certainly doesn’t have to be benevolent, and often, as with most Gods in the religious/mystical history of the world, certainly not free of Greed, Insecurity and an ironically misplaced sense of Self-Importance.

In any case, I’ve always refused to be that person, and it’s always taken a bit more than wind to move me, even when it’s towards the warmth it’s moving me. Now it’s time to see what this Kshama Sawant can really do. She ran on a ticket to raise minimum wage to $15/hour, and Democracy Now reports that Seattle Mayor, Ed Murray, is planning to raise city employees’ wages to just that. “Meanwhile, voters in the nearby community of SeaTac recently increased the minimum wage for many local workers to $15,” the article continues. “The vote suffered a setback when a judge ruled last month that the raise does not apply to workers at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the area’s largest employer. That ruling has been appealed. Murray and Sawant are being sworn in today with record crowds expected at City Hall.”

In this excerpt from a transcript of the interview with Democracy Now, Sawant captures what I think is the bigger significance of all this to the average person, whatever the emerging truth may be down the road:

Today’s inauguration really is an absolutely historic moment for working-class politics, and to understand—to really feel the moment that this is a turning point in the history of the United States…. this is all an indication that the people in this country are extremely frustrated and angry and outraged at the status quo…the fact that we have been victorious in this grassroots campaign is really an indication that people are ready to start moving forward, moving into struggle. And so, the real question is: How are we, on the left—how are we going to take up this responsibility of organizing the vast numbers of people, especially young people, for whom there is no future? And how are we going to present those alternatives? (emphasis added).

[Democracy Now Interview]

And there it is. Like the old ‘proverb’ says — or perhaps just a dumb saying we say all the time — now we just have to wait. Of course, we won’t do it with our arms crossed or thumbs up whatever orifice we can first find. Hopefully, we will be ‘waiting’ while really we are moving forward with it all: Writing more about it in the mainstream news; exploring what makes the difference between one or another state, or country; supporting and growing grassroots movements; having real discussions, even (and particularly) in newsrooms, about sincerely exploring what results similar domestic and international movements have done and could do, etc. This is no time for being a fart in the wind, but a Bastion of Change!

ECUADOR: FLYING HIGH WITH CORREA

Overwhelming Change: “Nothing Can Stop Us Now!”

My eyes filled with tears the first time I saw the video of NEE-01 PEGASO – Ecuador’s first space satellite – playing the Ecuadorian National Anthem in space. The images of the Earth from 900 km above gained a new profound meaning as the notes struck a melancholic chord in me, taking me back to the early years of elementary school, when we’d stand in line every Monday morning, singing along to that fantastic tune booming behind the poles where flags waved.

But it wasn’t necessarily the memories that moved me, particularly because back then I didn’t notice any of that. It was an overwhelming realization that the mess of a country I left behind almost 15 years ago to never look back has advanced in ways I never thought possible.

Since President Rafael Correa was first elected in 2006, the nation has taken great strides forward, most notably reclaiming political stability in a country that had seen 10 presidents thrown out in explosive popular revolts in less than a decade. The rates of reduction of poverty (one of the best in the region) has also been a major cornerstone of the so-called Christian Socialism the government has identified itself with. But that was expected…at least by me. The government is doing precisely what its mandate is, and needs no more accolades than knowing it has the support of an overwhelming majority of the nation’s population (If I recall correctly, Correa just won the election with over 65% of the votes). That’s not to say that it’s perfect, but its mandate is not to be perfect; it is to pull a nation out of the seams of hell.

So when I saw the video of the satellite carrying that tri-colour flag through space, the magnitude of the transformation that the country has undergone was simply overwhelming. That, I had not expected. I was completely moved with pride. Pride of having been born in a country that, after all it went through – after being recognized internationally only for its corrupt leaders and indigent levels of poverty – had finally been blessed with a leader that had vision.

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The Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency (Agencia Espacial Civil Ecuatoriana (EXA)) is the “first space agency in the history of Ecuador,” and was founded in 2007 with the aid of the State through the Ecuadorian Air Force, according to its website. It is planned for 10 years and will see three ambitious phases implemented, including the first Ecuadorian astronaut in space, the first landing on the moon and the first satellite, the latter of which has been achieved.

Ronnie Nader is leading the program, and is Ecuador’s first astronaut, receiving his training in 2007 in the Russian Federation “on the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center…designed to train a scientist to perform research during short term suborbital space flight,” reads the website.

The EXA joined the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) in 2008 – “the world’s leading space advocacy body with 246 members…across 62 countries,” according to the IAF website. It also joined the Guinness World Record book for the “youngest human being ever to fly in microgravity, the RIM-G, a system allowing almost any person to fly micro-gravity without being sick, opening the door for thousands of Ecuadorians to the marvels of 0-(gravity) and to a new set of research opportunities.”

NEE-01 PEGASO, the satellite, which was launched from China on April 26, since Ecuador does not have a launching station, is tiny (1.2kg, 10x10x10cm), but was nevertheless able to transmit images and data from space for seven days, before it was hit by the debris of a Russian satellite on May 23.

It’s main mission is to study the environment in space in order to be able to build bigger and better satellites.

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The idea that kids I grew up with and new generations could watch images of space delivered by their very own satellite, right at home, is astounding. Of course, many of them may have to go to public libraries, or the homes of kids who can afford computers and internet…but the possibilities are slowly emerging.

Ecuador is no longer a nation characterized by rampant corruption and poverty. Though the West may continue to denigrate Ecuador’s government, suggesting that it is authoritarian and a dictatorship, just as it does with other nations in full Revolutionary Motion, such as Venezuela and Cuba, to name a couple only, the undeniable jumps forward that this tiny Andean nation has made in the last seven years, is simply awe-inspiring.

People in Ecuador are seeing something they have not in a long time: the splendour of possibilities, and the results of having a government with integrity and genuine aspirations of progress.

…It was knowing all of this, that brought tears of utter pride and joy to my eyes…

HOME: THE PROTOTYPE OF THE COMMUNIST COMMUNE

The Cardinal Rules

It’s become apparent to me that by faithfully following the Marxist-Leninist maxim of “From each according to his ability, and to each according to his need” –  and doing it so naturally, to boot! – my Home has come to resemble a Communist Commune/Community.

Everyone here contributes all that they can, whatever their skill and/or level of ability may be, and we all contribute through our own accord. That voluntarism, more importantly, applies to everything, even to the level of ability and skill that we want to put forth; in other words, whatever our individual trade may be, we individually – though with the strength of that entire human-network behind every decision – strive to excel at it. No decision, though in fact taken wholly individually and resolutely, is made in the name of one person, or of some interests over others, or without the consideration of the entire network – even our two dogs! Everything is debate and argument in the best sense of the word; everything is a consultation over and consideration of the ultimate goals, purposes and repercussions for everyone. But most importantly, above absolutely any other consideration – the very Essence of our Commune: Our Manifesto, as it were – is the thought of whether or not we, as individual ambassadors of our Home-Base – our own Anthill – are acting with the utmost integrity, with the most transparent sense of dignity, and with pervasive, unmasked and blunt sincerity…ALWAYS and FOREVER!…Sacred Principles violated FOR NO ONE! Not even God!

Moreover, everyone is free to take as much as they need or want. There are absolutely no restrictions, and yet, not one person dares or even enjoys falling victim to the predatory hands of excess. No one takes/buys/spends more than they really need, and whatever they want, is only within the confines of what they needed it in the first place. And curiously enough, everyone adamantly insists that the other “take more”, whether it be food, money, time, or any other thing under humanity’s shared blue skies, or within our own, womb-like abode. We never seem to be in dire need, simply because we never seem to go beyond them in the first place. Thus, there always seems to be abundance, as our very souls are seldom afflicted with true need or, worst yet, with true excess.

And it is interesting, once again, the “natural” way in which all this comes – and the way it all feels – even though it has all been learned: learned from the time we could barely walk; learned from the time when we were Knights inside our very own Kingdom, in the throes of childish ecstasy and innocence; learned throughout our young lives, through the years of school, sleep-overs and personal awkwardness; learned at every corner and instant of our lives, as the cardinal rule, that life was much sweeter when the sun’s warm and tender rays hit you, than when you’re accosted by millions of jewels; learned that the less that I had, the more I really gained; and learned that the only way to really gain that authentic enrichment, was to share from the little or the lot that I had, with he who didn’t have at all, or with he who had a little less; and learned, in my adulthood, that all those years when they were telling me those things to the point of redundancy, to the point of saturating my nerves, to the point of instilling angst and resentment towards them, was all so that it would now feel natural to do it, and, likewise, feel repulsive to do otherwise.

And yet, as with life, which so often seems naught but a paradox in itself, we also learned to have our little claws always sharp, albeit hidden – or rather tucked – under our inviting paws. We learned – as we were taught with the utmost poignancy – that precisely because we were to extend our paws to absolutely everyone who was in need of it, there would inevitably appear those who aspired to bite them, if not completely chop them off at the wrists. Yes, we were taught that with the responsibility of helping he who needed it and, at times, even he who wanted it, also came the resolute and absolute right to defend that spirit and that fight with everything, even with our lives! Particularly in a home where it’s doors are always opened to absolutely everyone, our guards, we were taught, should always be up.

We learned that peace and sharing were the Key to a happy life; and that strength of character and the resoluteness to defend it with violence where necessary and, more appropriately, against whom dares attack it, were the Locks to the doors. And curiously, it was in Nietzsche that I found the two sentences to express a lifetime of learning: “The lonely one – [free from all material wealth and pain] – offers his hand too quickly to whomever he encounters,” he says. “[But] [t]o some people you may not give your hand, only a paw: and I desire that your paw should also have claws.”

Not long ago I found it expressed again, but this time in a popular song by a hip-hop group called Calle 13, where they say, much like we were taught as kids: “No le tengo miedo a las confrontaciones/Porque yo me crié con invasiones/Y como las hormigas si tengo mala suerte/Defiendo mi hormiguero hasta la muerte” (Loosely Translated: “I’m not afraid of confrontations/Because I was raised amid invasions/And like Ants if misfortune should befall me/I’ll defend my Anthill till Death herself Calls me”).

However, despite that militant nature and constant vigilance over our own little Revolutionary Gains, the very coveted and seemingly evanescent virtues like Harmony, Peace, Love and Fulfillment are always constants, never variables. And though the building may be shaken by violent winds from time to time – by the “invisible hands that ben[d] and [torture] us the worst”, as Nietzsche puts it – the core of the structure remains as real as the sun’s daily rise. But, perhaps we have an advantage, because more than jewels, green-backs or vacation get-aways into the various oases around the world, satisfaction in our life consists on the harmony of the system; on its self-fulfillment; on its perpetuation of itself. As I see it, as long as the Sun continues to rise, our days will be bright, even the nights; even the unavoidably dark times that life cannot be without…The Sun always seems to shine inside our home.

The Individual Within the System

Moreover, in regards to our family dynamics, more specifically about our individuality within this seemingly enveloping organism/system – and much like the revolutionary guerrilla fighter Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara points out in one of his works about the New Socialist Man – I’ve noticed that we have not only not ceased to be individuals – lost our personalities, as if to say – but we’ve, in fact, gained much fuller ones, much sharper ones, much more creative ones that, while being entirely unique in each one of us, nevertheless naturally converge with the goals of and expected repercussions upon the entire system. In other words, though we are wholly different as individuals – with our own likes and dislikes, habits, hobbies, interests and even vices – our course of action in everyday-life seems to naturally opt for the most harmonious results for the home. Thus, we seldom have fights (though seldom does not mean never, and that is precisely due to the fact that some differences are simply irreconcilable, and thus, sometimes a clash occurs; however, the clash is no more – and goes no further – than the immediate parameter of that specific issue, then it is dead and over forever; it is all, in fact, quite therapeutic).

The most obvious example of this is between my brother and myself. Anyone that meets us and knows us for more than a couple of hours will readily admit that we are of extremely opposite temperaments: whereas I am more impulsive with my decisions and in my general behavior, perhaps even somewhat ‘neurotic‘ (quite like my dad), my brother is as calm and laid-back as a leaf floating through the air, though precisely knowing where its going to land (quite like my mom). Moreover, our artistic talents and hobbies differ a great deal: he is a musician who learned to play the guitar and drums almost instantly, as if he had always known how to do it, even though he had begun rather late, and yet, he does it extremely well; I, on the other hand, only remit myself to banging on the drums, mostly to let out some of that neurocity, but my real talent and interests are in writing.

These obvious differences – particularly in our temperament – have indeed led us through quite different ways at times, giving us each a different and unique set of obstacles to overcome and circumstances to deal with; we’ve likewise had different taste in women, different kinds of fights with our parents and friends (even different kind of friends), even different vices (though we may sometimes not admit them as vices but rather as hobbies). In any case, the point is that, though we have at times appeared to walk through different ways, at the end of the day, we have both – as well as our parents – traveled inside the same forest. And ultimately, it seems, in this time we’re living of apparent awakening – a time when it appears that we have all opened our third-eyes – we effectively have individually, though simultaneously, emerged from the forest at the other side, fully aware of our individual trek towards our communal future.

Communism, it seems, has seeped into my home.

The Home Must be Revived

Therefore, as I see it, the first point of departure for the type of Socialist Education that is to build the individual that will not only be receptive to but the protagonist of the communist world, must come even prior to formal schooling; it must come from the Home. As such, we must find projects that aim at restrengthening the real essence of family-values, the core of what is to become the Communist Society: a Free, Selfless, Creative, Moral and entirely Harmonious Community.

ARTILLERY FOR THE MIND: ON THE “VANGUARD”

PART I – COMPARING THE GREATEST DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD

This was another thing that until recently simply didn’t click. To be fair, the terms are all better understood when as a base – a foundation – a premise – we consider that the new Socialist State is to be Created. The lack of this understanding is in no small part why some of these concepts, such as ‘The Vanguard’ and especially the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat,’ have been misinterpreted and misunderstood by the general public, myself included, given that the terms are analyzed under the very same framework that is trying to be revolutionized/changed.

If we think of applying these terms utilizing the exact same tools of the previous system – the Bourgeois Democracy, with all its pillars, balances of checks, parliamentary chambers, jargon, etc. – then some of these concepts will understandably be met with resistance, ambivalence and, at the very least, misinterpretation.

As for me, however, now that I’m convinced of this fact – that the new society must be started from anew – the term Vanguard makes a lot more sense.

To explain what I understand by this concept, I think I want to first gloss over – very superficially – the structure of the regular presidential process applied in the United States, supposedly the freest and most democratic country in the world.

Though they do, indeed, hold elections every four years where a new candidate (or incumbent, if it’s his first term) from either of the two parties – Democrats or Republicans – are elected to be president of the country for a maximum of two terms, this fact simply doesn’t seem like a comprehensive enough yard-stick to measure, evaluate and eventually deem a system a Great Democracy. Then to go on and use the same dwarfed yard-stick against countries that don’t have presidential elections, such as Cuba, for instance, and deem them Dictatorships is – it goes without saying – ludicrous.

Let me explain.

The running candidates in the U.S.’ presidential elections always seem to be a rotation of all the former governors, senators, representatives, ambassadors and, at least from what I could tell from these past elections (2012), even leading business men. I think the only position where someone from the “common citizenry” (not a known politician moving up in ranks or being appointed) can aspire to reach is that of mayor. Then, of course, after enough time and with discipline, perseverance and adherence to the rule of law, he/she can aspire to move up in the ranks…or so the story goes. Of course, it is expected, as is anywhere else in the world, that the person who aspires to run for mayor will be someone who has been involved in the community, who knows what the problems are in his community and who has a more or less developed understanding of what it will take to solve said problems…of course, again, so goes the story.

Yet the corruption, mismanagement, discrimination and simply lack of functioning at the mayoral level in most of the major U.S. cities is not something that I am creating because I am against that system; it is a truth that has been documented by the mainstream press time and time again. The fate of the real common citizenry the people: the laborers  the truck drivers, the shop-keepers, the nurses, the factory-workers, the taxi drivers, even the professional/middle classes, who also are suffocating under the pressure of that tiny 1% at the top – it seems is destined to be at the hands of the most savvy businessman that can squeeze his way in.

PART II SHEDDING THE OLD SYSTEM: PARTICIPATORY – NOT REPRESENTATIONAL – DEMOCRACY

In the Creation of the New Socialist State, every remnant of the old system must be shed, or, at least, as much as possible. But this doesn’t mean succumbing to a dictatorship.

As new nations continue to, as Che has written somewhere, “fall off of the weakest branches of the Imperial Tree,” either through Liberation Struggles or Revolutions of a social nature (even if not necessarily of a socialist nature), the movement and the struggle itself is, at all moments – during the actual armed guerrilla war, or the peaceful movement, or even after victory, in the oceanic depths of a nation seemingly isolated from everything, but really only far away from every vestige of the old society as the new society begins its birth – led by a group of people who’ve been ideologically, physically and mentally trained for such a task; they are led by the Vanguard.

While many people understand the concept that the guerrilla war or even the peaceful movement has to indeed be led by a group of people better trained to do so, the thought that the same group should have any influence on the reconstruction of the political, social and economic atmosphere of the nation seems disparate if not entirely backwards to them. But perhaps it isn’t properly understood that after victory, the group, which in the first place was formed by the People, has not a Controlling Role per se, but rather one of Impulse, of Movement, of Pushing the masses forward, or even Pulling them where necessary.

In Cuba, the Guerrilla that began as 80-something men somewhere in Mexico, was formed of people, among them Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, that had never had any military training prior to the experience. Some of them had fired guns and were avid marksmen, but most were laborers, peasants and even professionals from the common citizenry (Che was a doctor, though Argentinean), that had literally taken up arms to take back their nation from Imperial Domination. Though they received some military training in Mexico, they were leading a fight mostly on Ideology…and a whole bunch of fucking courage, of course!

As the fight went on in the thick jungles of the Sierra Maestra, the Guerrilla that had began as 80-something men started to swell as the fighters began educating the peasants they found isolated and spread throughout the mountain, forgotten – or rather, neglected – by Batista’s Dictatorship, which had funneled the booming economy to the very top, leaving most of the people as forgotten peasants in the mountains and impoverished, illiterate, sick, hungry, nearly zombie-like bodies in the rest of the cities throughout the country. And education, at that time, didn’t necessarily mean in terms of ideology, for the revolution, at that time, still had not taken up Socialism as its goal, though as the fight went on, more communist, socialist, and left-wing groups joined the fighting both in the mountains and the cities. Education was literally Education: peasants in their 40s, 50s, 60s and so on, had, for the first time, learned what their names looked like on paper, and that they themselves could do it. They were taught their own history – that of the Latin American continent – and why their land and family were often abused – in every sense of the word – by thugs from the government.

Well, as the fighting goes on, as the people from the cities and the mountains see the legitimate goal of the revolution and begin joining them, the Vanguard itself begins to expand. At this moment, it still comprises the fighting groups, but after Victory and, more specifically, after Fidel officially announces a year after they’d won, in 1961, that they’d led a Socialist Revolution and were now, in effect, a Socialist State, the group would comprise elements directly from the common citizenry.

Now, it is true that the president – who at least nominally continues to be Fidel Castro – is not elected and that, in fact, the position was simply inherited by his brother, Raul Castro. So it is here that begins what needs explaining, though to most people, entirely convinced of the backwardness of “socialism,” it may sound like justifying. But let me give it a try anyway.

To create a new state, every vestige of the old one must be shed. In the attempt to do so, the Revolutionary Government must, as Castro did, abolish everything and every vehicle through which supporters of the old system could again slither their way in, to infect it from within the political-judicial sphere, like a goddamn cancer. He abolished Congress and did not allow any of the people who had participated in the previous rigged elections to participate in government.

Now, though I’m not 100% knowledgeable of the entire political system in the island, I do know that they have a National Assembly whose 614 members are not only elected by the public, but half of the members are comprised by nominees from youth/student groups, women groups, trade unions and members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are a little more than 8 of the 11 million Cubans living there. Then they go on to choose the members of the other legislative/executive bodies, who are in charge of passing/proposing laws, ratifying them, executing them, etc. There is no need, now, to get into the semantics of the political structure itself.

The Vanguard, which as we’ve seen began with the Guerrilla Fighters in the mountains, then grew with the peasants and common citizenry that joined the fighting, now, after Victory, begins looking for more and more people to join it. And how? By looking for the people that are choosing to open their eyes, or people who are legitimately giving themselves willingly (and understanding exactly what it means to do so) to the task of creating a new society. Going into detail would take a lot more analysis, but let’s just look at a couple of ways.

PART III – REAL COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Firstly, with more than 8 of the 11 million citizens voluntarily joining the so-called Committees for the Defense of the Revolution – in every neighborhood of the country  – it is clear that “People Power” is indeed more than just a term. Critics of the system say that this is essentially a “secret police” that monitors every activity, and every minute detail of peoples’ personal lives, tattling on the ones that are plotting against government or who simply are dissidents. This is the loss of freedom they woe. However, the roles of these bodies are much more than simply monitoring, though it has never been denied that one of those is indeed to monitor for counter-revolutionary activities.

Castro himself has been quoted saying of their purpose: That they exist “In the face of Imperial Aggression, we’re going to implement a system of collective vigilance…so that everybody knows who lives on every block, what they do on every block, what relations they have had with the tyranny, in what activities are they involved and with whom do they meet.” (Context is imperative here. The quote comes from CNN, so I will always question its entire veracity, but nevertheless, it does sound like Castro; however, it was said in 1960, at the very top of the tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, and when the former was actively and militarily trying to topple the revolution and infiltrate its ranks. Moreover, also placing this quote in the context of the creation of a new society with a selfless mentality, where we are as much in tune with other people’s lives and needs as we are with our own, this type of “collective vigilance” can be understood as the typical – and necessary – effort to increase community involvement, participation and identity, where neighbors aren’t just individuals living beside each other, alienated from each other’s lives but for a “hi” in the morning and a “hi” at night, but rather they are members of a neighborhood – which itself is a member of a society – where everyone’s efforts affect everyone else.) But there’s more to their purpose, which directly links with the need for a Vanguard and, even more importantly, for the need of specific type of people to join the Vanguard.

The criteria that is looked for in candidates that are nominated to be members of the National Assembly, who in turn will elect, among themselves, members to go on to form the Council of State, is, above all, merit, patriotism, ethical values and revolutionary history. Now, though to some that may sound like a bunch of bull, consider what the 8 million members of these neighborhood committees are involved in doing, most notably in regards to social activities that get people to work together and disaster relief.

From Wikipedia, citing information from National Assembly of People’s Power as well as the above mentioned CNN article:

“Its defenders note that [the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution] have other important responsibilities…these include arranging festivals, administrating voluntary community projects, and organizing attendance to mass rallies. Proponents also emphasize that CDR helped to put medical, educational, or other campaigns into national effect and that, being organized on a geographical basis, they also act as centers for many who do not work in farms or factories and hence include a large proportion of female membership. The CDR’s also take an active role in vaccination campaigns, blood banks, recycling, practicing evacuations for hurricanes, and backing up the government in its fight against corruption.”

Indeed. In Global Justice: Liberation and Socialism, which I quote again below, Che describes an occasion at the beginning of the revolution where these type of community efforts were exemplified in the people.

The following passage describes both the type of attitude that is trying to be harnessed in the new society, and the final goal. I quote:

“At other opportunities in our history, the total commitment to the revolutionary cause was repeated. During the October Crisis, on the days of the Floral Cyclone, we saw exceptional acts of valor and sacrifice realized by an entire people. Finding the formula to perpetuate that heroic attitude in every-day life is one of our fundamental tasks from the ideological point of view” (34).

PART III.I – SIDE-NOTE ON DETRACTORS

Just for the sake of some objectivity, I want to very briefly address some points that detractors criticize.

It reads in Wikipedia:

“However, a 2006 Amnesty International report noted CDR involvement in repeated human rights violations that included verbal as well as physical violence.[5] Critics also contend that the CDR’s are a repressive tool, giving the government a heads-up about dissident activities on the micro-local level, by tattling on the non-compliant.[1] They identify CDR’s as “one of the lead entities responsible for the wave of repression sweeping through Cuba,” most recently, the brutal beatings and detention of 75 members of the Ladies in White in Havana in 2011 and 2012.[6][7]

First: Amnesty International is enraged at alleged “verbal as well as physical violence,” and therefore is constantly condemning the “dictatorship” in Cuba and its “human rights abuses.” Yet they say absolutely not one single word when violent attacks by cops towards women, minorities, youth, (peaceful) protesters have been CLEARLY AND EMPIRICALLY DOCUMENTED time and time again in the United States. I do not intend this to be a “if you do it, why can’t we?” argument; I say it simply to point out the illegitimacy and injustice of an international body that claims to be non-partisan while defending human rights, yet turning a blind eye to the obvious abuses in any country that has not rattled the status quo. It is simply a matter of ILLEGITIMACY, HYPOCRISY AND INSINCERITY. Thus, to me, going by the information provided by Amnesty International regarding human rights abuses, is as objective as using the Bible – the very book I question – as empirical/objective evidence of the existence of God.

Second: “Critics say it is a tool for giving a heads up to the government about dissident activities on the micro level by tattling on the non compliant.” Two things to say about this: One is that once it is established that a new society is in creation – that the task has been embarked upon by the masses (MAJORITY) – any non-compliance automatically means the wish/fight to keep the old one alive, therefore being counterrevolutionary, therefore being illegal. Period.

But, second, to those who feel the weight of that sentence to be too heavy, let me just paraphrase what someone else said: The U.S. has the FBI, which is comprised of federal government agents monitoring absolutely every single person’s email, phone calls, etc., with a file on everybody! It is so commonly known, that even in movies and sitcoms, the FBI’s all-seeing-eye is often parodied. Cuba may have something similar, though it is comprised of people – not government officials – who have accepted the new task of creating a new society. Moreover, the CDRs have additional, more important roles, as was mentioned above.

Detractors also mention brutal repression “sweeping through Cuba.” In an article (http://www.wbez.org/blog/achy-obejas/2011-10-20/ladies-white-cubas-shame-93335), it is written:

“The Ladies in White came about after what’s referred to as Cuba’s Black Spring, those months in 2003, when state security agents descended on dissidents like a series of flash floods. We’d hear the racket in the neighborhood in the wee hours, get up, sneak a peek out the door and see the street blocked; somebody’s house was getting sacked.

“Eventually, the government condemned 75 men and women to sentences that went up to 30 some years, the evidence against them technologies such as computers and cells that weren’t legal on the island then, payments from abroad for articles and interviews, the eyewitness reports of men they’d thought were comrades in arms and turned out to be government spies embedded in their midst.

“One of the condemned men was Hector Maseda, an independent journalist and leader of the unofficial and thus illegal Cuban Liberal Party”

From my point of view, if those certain computers and cells were illegal, then you are committing a crime, right? That’s how it works? When people do something they feel shouldn’t be a crime but get punished – are they being repressed or punished for committing a crime? Here in Canada, recreational weed is illegal, though I, as a chronic user, certainly don’t see why it should be and even advocate for the opposite. However, if I am caught smoking a joint by a cop, whether I believe it unjust or not, the fact remains that I am breaking the law and that I will have to deal with consequences. Period.

“Payments from abroad for articles and interviews”? In a time when it is known that the U.S. is trying to topple the Revolution (which it continues to do)? To “pay” for interviews? What kind of journalist from “abroad” – whatever country that may refer to – pays for interviews and articles? No self-respecting journalist does this. It goes against every ethic of the profession. Plus it is penalized, even here in Canada. In fact, when I read that sentence in the article, something actually clicked: Oh, I thought. So that’s how they get all their “misinformation” which they feed to the American public about the “hardships,” “volatility” and “repression” in Socialist Island: Buying News…

Lastly, someone may argue that the sentences were too long. Too long??! They are counter-revolutionaries trying to undo/undermine/sabotage (through every avenue, even lies/illegal ones) the efforts thus far made at creating a new system in order to return to one which they know kept the majority of the population oppressed, hungry, homeless, illiterate and sick. At the very best, they are simply looking out for their own interests, unable to cope with the social movement in the country and unable to lock arms with the masses that are indeed moving forward; at the very best, in other words, their self-interest causes them to choose to walk alone, away from the masses (the MAJORITY). So, in my opinion, let them rot! Thirty years is not enough! But perhaps that is why I am not the leader of a nation; I may be too harsh; too impulsive; not wise enough; not diplomatic enough, who knows.

Even so, later on, brokered through Cuba’s Catholic archdiocese with the Cuban and Spanish governments, early releases were granted. “Most of the freed men chose to leave the island, to settle in Spain and the U.S. as part of the arrangement.”

What a surprise. Where else would they go??

PART IV – IDEOLOGICALLY ADVANCED

Anyway, back to the Vanguard.

As more people from the common citizenry continue to excel in the previously mentioned camps, namely merit, patriotism, community involvement, heroism, volunteerism and, of course, ideological prowess, as part of their routine life as either members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or even outside of it (though apparently the majority are in it), the Vanguard continues to grow.

Those more ideologically advanced – the ones that understand the Marxist-Leninist Theories of the Construction of Socialism – as well as the ones that have the more meritorious qualities, such as volunteerism, heroism, community involvement, what have you, are the ones in charge of helping the rest of society reach the same level of culture and to then go on climbing together (note the contrast to competition, where the winner – the more advanced – does not have any obligation to help the “losers” reach the same level). This is part of the Direct Education that Che believes is essential in the formation of the new Man, and calls “Auto-Education.”

I quote from Socialism and Man, itself a part of the short anthology, Global Justice: Liberation and Socialism (Pg. 39).

“In our case, direct education acquires a much greater importance. The explanation is convincing because it is true, not filled with subterfuges. It is exercised through the educative apparatus of the State in terms of general culture, [technique] and ideology, through such organisms as the Ministry of Education and the divulgation apparatus of the State. Education then is absorbed by the masses, and the new type of advocated attitude turns to habit; the masses continue to make it their own, and pressure those who still have not educated themselves. This is the indirect form of educating the masses…

“But the process is conscious; the individual constantly receives the impact of the new social power and perceives that it isn’t totally adequate for him. Under the influence of this indirect education, he tries to accommodate himself to a situation he feels just and whose very own lack of development has impeded him from doing so until now. He auto-educates.

“In this period of construction of socialism, we can appreciate the new man that is being born. His image is not yet finished; it couldn’t be, since the process marches parallel to the development of new economic ways.”

And it is through this socialist education that the new Vanguard swells in numbers of members, pushing forward from behind, and pulling from the front, all of the people who have yet to accept the creation of the new system, or who need help understanding the steps to be taken, or who consciously move forward with them, though still not sure of the final goal. Ultimately, as the numbers continue to increase to engulf the entire population, the Vanguard ceases to exist as every member becomes consciously a New Man. This, of course, is Communism.

I quote again, from page 39 and 40.

“Not counting those whose lack of education makes them opt for the solitary path, towards the auto-satisfaction of their own desires, there exist those who, even inside this new panorama of a unified march, tend to walk isolated from the masses that accompany them. What is important is that they daily go on becoming more and more conscious of the necessity of their incorporation (integration) into society and, at the same time, as engines of the same.

“They no longer march alone, through skewed roads toward distant aspirations. They follow their Vanguard, constituted by the Party, by the leading laborers, by the leading men and women who walk linked to the masses and in tight communion with them. The Vanguard has its view fixed on the future and in its prize, but this isn’t perceived as something individual; the prize is the new society where men and women will have different characteristics: the society of the Communist Man.

“The path is long and full of difficulties. Sometimes, due to taking the wrong route, we’ll have to take steps backwards; other times, due to walking too fast, we’ll lose sight of the masses; on occasions where we go too slow, we’ll feel the breath of those stepping on our heels. In our revolutionary ambitions, we try walking as fast as possible, opening paths, but we know that we must feed from the masses, and that they, in turn, will only be able to advance if we encourage them with our example.

“Notwithstanding the importance given to moral stimuli, the fact that there exists a division between the two principal groups (excluding, of course, the minority fraction of those who do not participate, for whatever reason, in the construction of socialism), indicates the relative lack of development in the social consciousness. The Vanguard group is ideologically more advanced than the masses, who know of the new values, but insufficiently. While in the first group (vanguard), a qualitative change is produced which allows them to sacrifice themselves in their leading roles, the second group (masses) only sees halfway forward, and must therefore be subjected to stimuli and pressures of a certain intensity; it is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat imposing itself not only over the defeated class, but also, individually, over the victorious one.

“All of this begs, for its total success, the necessity of a series of mechanisms – the revolutionary institutions…”

GRATITUD EN TIEMPOS DE CAMPAÑA

(English translation at the bottom)

Por Pancho Arce Chiriboga

Ya… Este proyecto que nos ha levantado la esperanza, que nos ha ayudado a reconocernos con el resto de Hispanoamérica y a mirar altivos y muy de frente al mundo, que nos está edificando un país moderno y funcional encima de lo hermoso de nuestra geografía  y lo fascinante de nuestra diversidad étnica, va por al menos otros cuatro años… Nuestros candidatos triunfantes y amables nos han agradecido profusamente porque con nuestros votos es que ahora son victoriosos, pero aunque sean ellos personalmente vencedores en la contienda electoral, el triunfo es también de nosotros.

Nuestros compañeros que pronto asumirán la inmensa responsabilidad de continuar la  forja de la mejor sociedad que ahora vislumbramos, también han cumplido con la cortesía de agradecer a quienes ofrecimos mayores o pequeños aportes a sus campañas, y bien que así sea, pero en realidad, lo que todos hemos hecho no han sido favores personales a los candidatos, ha sido el cumplimiento de nuestra muy personal e ineludible responsabilidad en la medida en que nos ha sido posible en la construcción de esta nueva patria NUESTRA.

Es necesario que, a riesgo de herir susceptibilidades, hagámonos entender que si bien la obligación más notable es de aquellos compañeros que ocupan cargos públicos, ya sea por elección popular o por designación o por concurso, en parte porque perciben una remuneración, en otra parte porque asumimos que tienen más capacidad para el ejercicio de esas funciones, pero principalmente porque nos han hecho creer que sienten un compromiso con nosotros y con este proceso que respaldamos, la responsabilidad es tan nuestra como de ellos.

Entonces, cuando nos agradezcamos por las tareas cumplidas como deber, hagámoslo a nombre de los beneficiarios de nuestra humilde o gloriosa lucha, hagámoslo a nombre de la causa que nos anima, hagámoslo por el pueblo, por la patria, por la humanidad…

La única manifestación de gratitud indispensable y trascendental es entonces el cumplimiento sin excusas de ese compromiso, lo demás no pasa de ser cortesía elemental y en el peor de los casos un protocolo con muy poco de sinceridad. Hay quienes sin haber alzado la voz, ni proferido una palabra soez, ni tener a su haber un exabrupto en toda su vida, traicionan, hacen todo el mal que pueden y roban recursos y esperanzas.

Lo que les damos al dar nuestro voto no es un obsequio ni es un favor, les encomendamos con carácter de obligatorio, una tarea difícil, una lucha encarnizada, un maravilloso deber a nuestros compañeros para que nos ayuden a cambiar la historia, a crear un sistema justo, una sociedad feliz (¡Qué honroso privilegio!).

Gracias a ustedes también compañeros por asumir tan grande pero hermosa responsabilidad. Ahora, a romperse el alma por la patria (Léase, LA GENTE), y cuenten con que también nosotros cumpliremos con nuestro DEBER irrestrictamente desde nuestra familiar trinchera.

******

Gracias, Pancho, por esta hermosa redacción.

Hasta la Victoria Siempre!

*******

Gratitude in Campaign-Time

Written by Pancho Arce Chiriboga

Translated by Fernando Arce

Alright…This trip which has thus far painted such a hopeful future for us, which has helped us re-identify ourselves with the rest of Hispanic-America while giving us the strength and dignity to face the world head-on, that is chiseling a modern and functional country with a beautiful geography and fantastic ethnic diversity to enrich it — this great trip is set to last at least another four years. Our triumphant and grateful candidates have thanked us deeply, for it was with our votes that their victory became possible. But even though the electoral race and political office is now theirs, the real victory is for all of us to share.

Our comrades — who are to assume the immense responsibility of deepening the forging of one of the best societies that we could have ever envisioned — have thanked all of those who’ve in any capacity helped the campaign. However the gesture, while certainly not unnecessary, remains beside the fact that our actions have not been personal favors for the candidates, but the righteous execution of personal and indelible responsibilities that link us to the task of constructing our new Country, in whatever capacity is possible.

At the risk of wounding susceptibilities, it is necessary to understand that if indeed the highest degree of responsibility rests on the shoulders of our comrades who now occupy public offices, be it through popular election, appointment, or lottery — partly due to their remuneration, partly because we assume they’re better equipped for such positions, but principally because they’ve managed to prove their commitment to us and to the process we represent — then the responsibility is as much ours as it is theirs.

Therefore, when we thank ourselves for the duties which we have properly carried out, let’s do it in the name of the benefactors of our humble and glorious fight; let’s do it in the name of the cause that ignites us; let’s do it for the People, for the Father-Land, for Humanity.

The only manifestation of that indispensable and transcendental gratitude can thus only be the unapologetic and dutiful execution of that commitment. Anything more than that can be chalked off as a fundamental courtesy; in the worst of cases, only an insincerely executed protocol, for there exist those that, without having ever raised their voice, ever uttered a profanity, or ever had an unhinged emotional outburst in their life, nevertheless betray, pillage and plunder all of our resources and hopes.

What we give them along with our vote is neither gift nor favor. We commend to them a difficult and obligatory task – a fierce and betrothed fight; a wonderful duty handed to those comrades that have agreed to help us change history and create a just system and a happy society…What an honorable privilege!

We thank you as well, dear comrades, for assuming such immense though beautiful responsibility. Now it is time for you to give your soul for the Father-Land (Read, LA GENTE). And you can continue to count on us  executing our DUTY, faithfully and unfettered from our ever so familiar trench.

Nueve de Octubre – UN ARTÍCULO ESCRITO POR CARLOS MANUEL ÁLVAREZ

ARTÍCULO ORIGINAL: Nueve de octubre.

Cuando yo nací, el Che Guevara ya estaba muerto y su retrato había aparecido en la portada de la revista Life. Hay, ciertamente, pocos rostros tan impresionantes como los rostros de este hombre. Contadas imágenes o palabras provocan una compresión y un sobrecogimiento semejantes a los que sobrevienen con esas fotografías en las que siempre, sea en una posición u otra, en este o en aquel país, como un secreto que no resiste más, se deja ver la estampa misma de la sugestión.

Perdonen la confidencia, pero yo he llegado a su persona desde los terrenos más pueriles, desde las situaciones menos épicas. En caso de que quieran decir algo, ¿qué es lo que dicen los rostros del Che? ¿Hacia dónde, por ejemplo, miraba aquella tarde de 1960 en que Korda lo tomó desprevenido y lo incrustó con fiereza en todas las banderas y todos los pulóveres del mundo?

Los sucesos de La Coubre complementan las connotaciones dramáticas que por sí solas se desprenden de su cara, y hacen que olvidemos algo. El Che observaba los cadáveres, el mar de cubanos rabiosos, el hecho consumado y sin retroceso, el hombre envuelto en el vertiginoso remolino de la historia, el paso del tiempo, las víctimas como causa, pero también como azar, y así, sin que hayamos reparado nunca, la inmanencia le viene porque no mira la guerra con la gravedad o la cercanía de los estadistas, sino con la gravedad o la cercanía de los poetas. El Che era el Che, y era, además, Byron.

Hoy no. Hoy es otra cosa. Y esa condición oblicua no es exactamente la que prende en los eternos rebeldes, en las descafeinadas barricadas contemporáneas, en los adolescentes incendiarios. Los héroes corren dos riesgos gravísimos, siempre latentes. Primero: el hecho de sobrevivir a su propia heroicidad. Segundo: el hecho de no sobrevivirla. Primero: el hecho de que se les mitifique en vida. Segundo: el hecho de que se les mitifique en muerte. Todos los mitos son malos arquetipos de mitos anteriores, los cuales, a su vez, fueron reproducidos sobre el mito de Prometeo, tan falaz.

Los grandes hombres no son grandes hombres. Sus actos íntimos son comunes. Sus actos públicos y sus actos históricos también. Pero tampoco son sujetos de esquina. (No dejen, estudiantes, que los engañen con ninguna de estas farsas.) El Che recorre el continente en moto, y no podía sospechar, tan muchacho como era, que ese viaje era un viaje sin retroceso, un trayecto sin fin. En primera instancia, recorrer Latinoamérica es una acción natural que muchos otros han hecho antes y después.

El Che no sabrá nunca que terminará en México y, por más que se lo haya pensado madrugadas enteras, no sabrá tampoco cómo es que cae en la Sierra Maestra, y después en La Habana, y luego en la ONU, y más tarde en el Congo, y Europa del Este, y de nuevo La Habana, y casi finalmente Bolivia, y por último la muerte, y con la muerte el símbolo que es. Así como otros entran al ruedo del crimen, o de la diplomacia, o del aburrimiento, en algún momento el Che Guevara entró al ruedo de las epopeyas. Un ruedo, en esencia, igual a los demás. Si el crimen cambia la vida de unos pocos, la diplomacia la vida de nadie, y el aburrimiento la vida personal, las epopeyas cambian la vida de millones de personas, y esa es, visto así, la única diferencia, puramente cuantitativa.

Sin embargo, hay otro rasgo distintivo: el rasgo poético. Que no se define en los hechos, sino en el pensamiento. No se define en subir al Granma, sino en la decisión de subir al Granma. No se define en irse a Bolivia, sino en convencerse de que es imprescindible irse a Bolivia, y que para ello tan solo se cuenta con lo que cuenta el resto. Es decir, un cuerpo y un ideal (todos tenemos un ideal, por mezquino que sea). Que tus actos individuales tengan una finalidad colectiva es la verdadera distinción de estos hombres. Entender el destino de la humanidad como tu destino. O darle, en suma, esa explicación.

Lo que hace héroe al héroe es la completa disposición hacia empresas que rebasan sus límites físicos de sujetos normales. Lo que los hace sujetos normales es que a pesar de subordinar la realidad a pretensiones impensadas por el resto, no pueden hacer otra cosa que iniciar las revoluciones de cero, paso a paso, casi inconscientemente, con la misma inexplicable y ordinaria secuencia que alguien comienza un libro, o planifica un atraco, o termina una casa. ¿En qué momento justo los héroes se convierten en héroes? En ninguno. No hay, a pesar de las efemérides, momentos justos. Los héroes se convierten en héroes en el momento que se explican poéticamente. ¿Qué hay, pues, más épico que un poeta? Pero también, ¿qué hay más absurdo?

El asesinato del Che marca el fin de una época, y no deja de ser un acto ejecutado por un rapaz subalterno, un gatillo llevado hacia atrás por un don nadie. Cuando se mitifiquen las ideas, siempre tan férreas, y no los hechos, siempre tan manipulables, entenderemos a plenitud esa aparente contradicción.

La retórica pública establece un orden falso, lleno de imprecisiones y alarmantemente vacío de luminosos detalles. Tres mínimas escenas hacen que para mí el resto de la vida del Che adquiera las connotaciones que supuestamente se pide que tenga. Las tres son en los meses finales de su vida.

La primera cuando le dice a Aleida March, antes de irse para Bolivia, que eso es lo único que le puede dejar, lo único íntimamente suyo. ¿Qué? Una cinta con su voz, donde se escucha un poema de Vallejo y otro de Neruda. Pensemos en todo lo que el Che ha vivido, pensemos en el hombre que se ha ido convirtiendo, en todo lo que ha viajado y en toda la política internacional que ha hecho. Y pensemos luego en cómo lo único íntimamente suyo son esos versos escritos por otros, a esas alturas escritos por nadie.

La segunda ya en Bolivia, en plena guerrilla, cuando se aparta y trepa en un árbol y se roba tiempo para revisar un libro.

Y la tercera, escena que no aparece en ningún lugar, y que no es la fotografía bíblica con ojos entrecerrados de la revista Life, son esos segundos finales en los que el Che yace amarrado en un piso de tierra, de una casa presumiblemente de adobe, sucio, barbudo, en el corazón de la selva sudamericana, definitivamente por el suelo sus utopías, segundos en los que el mundo lo ha dejado solo, segundos en los que no recibe los aplausos de la Asamblea General, segundos durante los cuales nadie marcha por ninguna ciudad con su rostro en ninguna bandera, segundos en los que nadie llega y paga unos dólares y dice hágame el favor de tatuarme al Che Guevara, segundos en los que adelgaza considerablemente, pero no sufre hambre, segundos en los que sueña, en los que se vuelve intermitente y duro como una roca, en los que ni siquiera descubren sus huesos, en los que su guerrilla ya no existe, en los que piensa en Rosario o en sus hijos o, tal como aseguró, en Cuba, aun cuando no sepamos si en verdad lo hizo, segundos en los que sabe que va a morir a manos de vulgares soldados y sabe además que no existe ninguna escapatoria.

Nada de esto lo he aprendido en los oradores de devoción gratuita. El Che es el único muerto que no me parece muerto, pero que duele como si lo acabaran de rematar.