The Moral State and the Need for a Political Form

What happened after N27 clearly shows the progress and political maturity of a new generation of Cuban artists and creators. We are talking about something significant since, as some of the most important sociologists of the last century have pointed out, the change of habits and mental frameworks is not only an arduous task when it comes to modifying social forms, but it tends to prolong excessively along generational stages. If a little more than a decade ago episodes like the “war of the emails” (2007) or a performance like “Tatlin’s Whisper” (Tania Bruguera, 2009) took place in the symbolic plane of an inherited imaginary, in 2020 the displacement has taken place against symbolization and towards concrete order. This means that the new generation of Cuban creators is not only interested in insisting on the autonomy of art, but also on the formal conditions that give rise to the illegitimacy of the total state. This state is configured in such a way because of its totalitarian dimension (of Soviet design, with touches of Martian nationalism), as is obvious, but also because it understands the social order from a strictly moral point of view. In other words, one of the decisive effects of N27 is the possibility of building a clear political form against moral absolutism. And, as we know, this absolutization is the very end of politics.

It is evident that this does not respond to a demand that is circulated in a punctual manner, but rather that it demands slow and paused work, which concerns the new capacities for understanding, projection and articulation in a form that must be clear and attractive. This, which is not a normative aspiration, demands an approach that some of the younger creators already have. I am thinking, for example, of the artist Camila Lobón, who at the meeting this November 27 with officials from the Ministry of Culture declared: “The street and the public space do not belong to revolutionaries, but to all citizens born in this country. And you have to understand that once and for all or at least respect it”. Intuitively this reasoning breaks with the Goliard spirit of the total State, since for the State the separation between institution and civil society, people and political representation, is clearly hegemonic and undifferentiated. Nevertheless, we know that all politics has as a condition the separation, because only in this way the conflict can be mitigated without an enemy being catalogued as “inhuman”.

The fact that the Cuban state and its institutional guardians label these young people as “enemies of the homeland” confirms Lobón’s intuition. That is, for the revolutionary moralising reason, politics understood as dissent is nothing other than the production of civil war by other means. Hence the need to produce absolute enemies that cannot be recognized in any political dispute. To insist on the irreducible separation between State and civil society, institution and street, as Lobón suggests, is a firm step towards the consolidation of a political form that disbelieves of moral absolutism. In fact, this is the minimum condition of all republicanism, since separation in politics is more desirable than the calls for unity, community, or the integration of a consensus. And it is more desirable not because it is intrinsically “good,” but precisely because it constitutes the only way in which no instrumentalization of the “good” can be elevated to hegemonic status. In that statement, Lobón questioned the cosmos of the total State, introducing a caesura that, perhaps, will be the start of a true political understanding of reality.

It is worth remembering that this —which is often overlooked in today’s republican-based societies (beyond the crises of current democracy or the exhaustion of the ius reformandi of contemporary liberalism, both secondary political problems)— is not a minor problem in Cuba since 1971. The rise of the total revolutionary state was sustained by a single principle of legitimacy with personalist overtones: the charismatic authority of Fidel Castro as a complexio oppositorum of institutionality. This explains how, after his death, the administration of dissent, the production of absolute enemies, and the escalation of censorship has intensified as compensation for the legitimacy deficit.

But it is no less true that for decades both Cuban dissidents and creators have lacked clear political forms. Historically, this deficit has been twofold. On the one hand, the “intellectual” guild has fallen into the self-deception of thinking that politics is comparable to a war between intellectuals from different sides. And in this way it has not understood that writing novels or essays is not a political form in itself, since, as autonomous forms, these works depend on institutional mediations to produce political effects. On the other hand, it has been thought that practicing politics is synonymous with the elaboration of a militant or “critical” discourse. This is a serious mistake. It is important to remember that political forms have more to do with a look at reality, with an intuitive charisma, with the clarity of the discourse of the elites, with resources to give luster to forms that are attractive to a majority.

I am aware that all of this is easier said than done in the context of the total State. Although my hypothesis of the need for the construction of a political form is nourished by the experience of hermeneutic maturity that has already taken place with N27. It is precisely now that a slow political work to break the impasse should begin. The thinker Jorge Dotti once recalled that the most important problem of a revolution is not how to make it, but how to close it. In other words, the Revolution of 1959 was “carried out” but today it lacks all authority. This time of unpredictability is what demands the reinvention of a political form that will bring that Revolution to an end. That is why a decisive post-November 27 step would be the construction of a political form against a moral state that has lacked a project for long a time.

Gerardo Muñoz. Professor at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania. His most recent books are La fisura poshegemónica (Doblea editores, 2020) and the critical edition of Vendaval en los cañaverales (Linkgua, 2020). @GerardoMunoz87


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