The Tragic Island’s Anagnorisis
The Story of Cuba, a book by Murat Halsted published in 1896, begins with a prescient phrase: “The story of Cuba is a tragedy.” Tragedies often have a pivotal moment of revelation when a character makes a critical discovery; a change from ignorance to knowledge. Aristotle calls these moments, when we grasp things as they are, “anagnorisis.” Oedipus, the tragic hero of Greek mythology has his anagnorisis when he learns that, in ignorance he has killed his father and married his mother. Luke Skywalker has his when he realizes that Darth Vader is his father.
Fidel Castro’s public anagnorisis surfaced in 2010 when in response to a question by journalist Jeffry Goldberg as to whether the Cuban model was still something worth exporting, the older Castro responded: “The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore.” For his part Raul Castro -addressing Cuba’s parliament in the “Year 50 of the Revolution-” reneged on the previous five decades proclaiming that “equality is not egalitarianism.” He then added that egalitarianism is a form of exploitation of the hard working by the lazy.
In the tragedy that is Cuba today, it is clear that the delusion of Cuba as a nation engaged in a transcendental historical endeavor of building a communist society is no longer the national identity. The Castros and their governing nomenclature lack a cohesive socioeconomic identity and seem to have no national idea of whom or what they are, where they belong, or where they want to go. Their objective is simply to remain in power.
Some totalitarian regimes, such as Cuba and the Soviet Union before it, have relied on Marxism-Leninism as ideologies presumably imbued with a higher construct of truth to create environments hermetically sealed from outside information. These regimes, depicting themselves as an expression of the absolute truth, have depended on fanaticism disguised as social science to achieve political goals with abject disrespect for personal freedoms.
In early Fidel Castro’s Cuba, communist ideology conveyed and instructed a sense of purpose that in some ways offered context and meaning to freedom-deprived lives. In that Cuba, it was not tradition, or economic success, or scientific greatness that served as the country’s identity anchor; it was the credibility of an ideology that imparted a sense of destiny. Belief in the creed, and harsh repression produced in the population acquiescence or resigned acceptance in the Platonic formulation that “silence grants consent.” Political loyalty was a matter of fear as well as ideological faith.
In recent decades, the collapse of the Soviet Union, advances in communication technologies, and other factors have conspired to breach the intellectual isolation required to sustain the mysticism of Marxism-Leninism as the inevitable science of history. The magnitude of the communist dystopia has become evident.
In Cuba today, the ideology that served as the country’s identity and sociopolitical glue has been abandoned even by the Communist Party. Over time, Cuban communism has produced a profound disillusionment in the population as well as in the ruling elite. Moreover, central tenets of Marxist ideology such as abolition of private property and equality do not lend themselves readily to doctrinal renovation as the Raul Castro regime is pursuing with its “Perfecting Socialism” ideas. As we witnessed with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the preservation of an ideology- based state becomes very tenuous when the ideology is discredited. The declining ideological convictions of the ruling elite diminish both their governing legitimacy and their political will.
None of this is to suggest that the demise of a totalitarian regime is imminent once it loses its ideology. Other outcomes are possible, but ultimately Cubans will experience a shared anagnorisis and will realize that the cure for what ails them is not external, but internal. They will demand regime change and the replacement of central planning and totalitarian rule with a market economy and democratic participation and institutions. A prosperous future requires a national identity based on the rule of law and not on ideological messianic leadership. Only then, with a new identity anchored in freedom will a new historical era of change come to the tragic Island.
*José Azel is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami. He is the author of the recently published book, Mañana in Cuba.