Revolutionary Cuban Culture in Review: Theories, Tensions, Triumphs, and the Struggle for Universal Social Change

Article excerpt

Abstract

The article, in essence, reconsiders revolutionary Cuban cultural policy, focusing on what many have come to perceive as a highly contested issue: the revolution's theoretical perception and practical decree in terms of 'expressive freedoms'. The biggest challenge, conceivably, that confronted and continues to plague Cuba's cultural leadership, has been to carve out a clear path that defends the revolution at all costs against Western imperialist offensives, and allows full expressive rights to artists, writers anal intellectuals. Despite this 'dilemma', for the most part Cuba's cultural policies, goals and strategies positively enriched the nation's intellectual, educational and artistic levels. Moreover, despite the presence and perils of doctrinaire elements in Castro's regime, leading cultural figures sought to oppose the rise of socialist realism, Stalinism's widely contested mode of cultural expression. While Cuba's radical cultural workforce does not explicitly seek to uphold or endorse the revolutionary regime per se, it is apparent that, on its own terms, it is intimately aligned with the quest to pursue universal social change.

Keywords: Castro, Che, Cuban culture, Cuban Revolution, Stalin, Trotsky

INTRODUCTION

Contemplation of revolutionary Cuba habitually, or inevitably, evokes consideration of the island's cultural dimension. Cuba's distinguished cultural philosopher, Armando Hart Davalos (2005), who held the post of Minister of Culture for some 30 years, contends that the revolution's successes and survival, in effect, can be attributed to the island's deeply rooted cultural practices.

At this remarkable juncture in the history of the small, secluded socialist state, this article offers a brief overview of what it deems some of the more significant aspects circumscribing revolutionary Cuban culture. Set in two parts, the first inspects the roots, implications and implementation of revolutionary Cuba's cultural policies--an undertaking that expands on the author's previous writings (see Kronenberg 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2011).

Regarded in certain critical circles as 'controversial', if not 'contentious' (see Cantor 1999; Knapton 1995; Moore 1988; Retamar 1989; Taber 1997; Wald 2001; Whitefield & Tomayo 1996; Wohlforth 1961), the revolution's theoretical perception and practical implication regarding 'free expression' are amply portrayed in Fidel Castro's official (historic) standpoint on the rights, tasks and mission of writers, artists and intellectuals in socialist construction (see Castro 1961). In this regard, the article focuses on instances of heightened cultural control and controversy, and leading officials' responses thereto. It is held by some that, since Cuba professes to be a communist community, this implies, quite robotically, that free speech is violable, that writers, artists and intellectuals are compelled or coerced into trumpeting party orthodoxy. Given the limitation of space, this article does not delve into the myriad of uncertainties framing this particular issue. Nevertheless, it endeavours to offer a sincere yet scholarly retort to rash perceptions habitually clouded in neoliberal half-truths, myths and outright fallacies (see Kronenberg 2009). Against this background, Part II of the article offers a brief account of contemporary Cuban cultural practitioners' actual role, purpose and, more so, successes in the revolution, as demonstrated within their own ranks and in their actual work. In this instance, the article briefly surveys the Cuban expressive arts scene over the course of the revolution, up to the period heralding the revolution's golden anniversary.

I. CULTURAL POLICY

Ideological currents

Notwithstanding the passing of close on 50 years, and apart from the change in revolutionary guardianship in recent times, Fidel Castro's Words to intellectuals (1961) represents to this day the revolution's most instructive and definitive doctrine on cultural expression. …