Go to Cuba!

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A society governed by the assumption of equal rights and dignity among all citizens produces, to some extent, different subjectivities from those produced by the logic of capitalist societies

Yes, I have already been “invited”, not very kindly, to go and live on the Island. Whoever shouts this at a left-wing opponent thinks he is doing the most serious offense imaginable. I am writing this article to clarify that, in my case, I am not offended by anyone who “kicks me out” from here to Cuba, just as I am not offended by anyone who sends me to hell. I respect whores, even if the lady who gave birth to me, dear mother, never had that profession. Come to think of it: it's always harder to offend a person on the left. In general, we are not prejudiced against a number of things that bullies use in an attempt to undermine our self-esteem. I think I would only be offended if someone called me a… Bolsonarist.

Even so, I want to explain myself a little before people ask me why a middle-class Brazilian psychoanalyst decided to write about aspects of life in Cuba.

Psychoanalysis is a technique for investigating the subject: the joint work between the analysand and the analyst seeks to integrate into consciousness the formations of the unconscious responsible for the symptoms and sufferings that motivated the demand for analysis. The premise, on the analyst's side, is that at the origin of the formation of symptoms are repressed representations of guilt, conflicts and, above all, desires. We don't repress all our fantasies: only those that could tear the image of perfection that we try to maintain in front of others and, above all, in front of the mirror.

But Freud did not limit his investigation to subjective material obtained in the office. He also devoted some very important essays to the analysis of social phenomena. I quote the best known, out of order. The inventor of psychoanalysis wonders why there are wars[1]; or what factors cause the characteristic uniformity of the behavior of the masses[2]; what produces anguish in so-called civilized men[3] and, in the case of the most daring and imaginative among them, the origin of the incest taboo[4].

It was the philosophers of the so-called Frankfurt School who highlighted the importance of this investigative partnership between psychoanalysis and social theories. The best-known examples are Adorno's essay on the Cultural Industry and Walter Benjamin's series of articles on life in Paris.[5] including the magnificent essays on Baudelaire's poetry. The latter, by the way, were published in the Frankfurt social studies journal, refused.

Unforgivable refusal, in my view. Adorno and Horkheimer were already refugees in the United States, while Benjamin struggled to survive in Paris under imminent German occupation. No, such refusal was not the cause of his suicide, on the border between France and Spain, when he was trying to escape the risk of a second capture, this time by the Nazis (he had already been in a French concentration camp during the Vichy regime). . But the rejection of his last essays, whose set is called Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century – and which includes an extraordinary chapter dedicated to Baudelaire – aggravated the penury of the most talented member of the Frankfurt School, who already lived in Paris in near poverty. During the occupation of Paris, Benjamin joined a group of other Jews in trying to escape across the Pyrenees towards Spain. When they finally reached Port Bou, the border was closed. With all his strength and hope exhausted, Benjamin took the poison capsule that he carried with him at night in case he was captured by the Germans. In the morning, the border reopened. Walter Benjamin's body was buried in the small French village cemetery.

What a long introduction, the reader will say. What would the Frankfurt philosophers and Benjamin's disastrous fate have to do with the provocation of the Brazilian right by sending the president's opponents to Cuba?

In fact, this brief essay will give me a few more friendly recommendations for ending my days on the Island. I clarify that the evocation of the Frankfurtians is given because they were the ones who dared the intellectual gesture of including elements of psychoanalysis in their attempts to investigate society, its functioning, its ills. In this article, the brief observations of a psychoanalyst who visited Havana[I] are authorized based on this Frankfurtian principle. I am not the right person to analyze the political situation on the Island, but I am sensitive to the evidence that changes in the conditions of the social bond – such as the premise, difficult to fulfill, that we are all equal in dignity and rights – produce transformations in the subjectivity of citizens.

The few days I spent in Havana together with many Brazilian writers invited to the 2005 Book Fair[6], made me realize that, yes: if the conditions that regulate the social bond are transformed, subjectivity is also transformed. In Havana, I had the joy of observing some of the effects that the paradigm shift – from individualism to collectivism – had on the social bond. A society governed by the assumption of equal rights and dignity among all citizens produces, to some extent, different subjectivities from those produced by the logic of capitalist societies.

No, reader: I do not omit or forget the walls in which Fidel executed dissidents. Are the stupidity and brutality inherent to all tyrannies really necessary to maintain a society based on socialist ideals, in a world almost entirely capitalist?
So, what will become of Cuban socialism after the death of Raúl Castro, the much less charismatic brother than Fidel – who, after his death, immortalized himself as a symbol of the ideals of the revolution?

I dare to suppose that what is left of the ideals of the revolution in Cuba does not depend so much on who occupies the place of the main political leader. They are an achievement of the Cuban people. Nor am I sure that these ideals need to be forcibly stagnated. They are alive among the inhabitants of the island. Said the driver who took us from the airport to the center of Havana: “I think that many things could change without compromising socialism”I want to bet that the Cuban people will take charge of these transformations without destroying the basic assumptions of socialism. This bet is based, first of all, on the observation of the progressive sociability maintained, by their own free will, among the members of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST). Many of its values ​​were inspired… in Cuban society.

Paradigm Shifts

The most obvious difference, for those coming from a country where the market economy prevails, is the change in the relationship with time. On the streets of Havana, Cubans do not seem to run after the alien paradigm – that is: societies organized under the pressure of hyper-productivity, the incessant race to get ahead of others and, today, the continuous acquisition and replacement of new goods and technologies quickly overcome by the calculation of planned obsolescence. This one that also makes us feel obsolete, if we don't run all the time after the "news".

Cubans do not seem to be “running [to] seek their place in the future”, as in Paulinho da Viola’s samba[7]. They are still trying to solve the problems created by their revolution, without having interlocutors in other countries to exchange experiences.

I don't know if it's correct to call this temporality, lived with less haste, pre-capitalist. Perhaps it is a temporality that touches ours, without ever meeting with it. But, unlike ours, it is also a consequence of the permanence of the subjective and social impact of its revolution. It would not be fair to say that Cubans are stuck in the past, but rather that the past provides them with a strong reference to who they are. Before they say that this happens because the people of Cuba have nothing else to be proud of, they are wrong. No one disputes or ironizes the feeling of national identity of the French, which is also based on a revolution that took place almost two and a half centuries ago. Let us imagine, then, how current the triumph of the 1953-59 revolution is for Cubans. This one that the older ones still remember having witnessed. This one that has to be defended daily, against the North American threat.

“Missing” billboards in Havana. There is socialist propaganda, which turns out to be pretty discreet. Some will say: liar. However… what is more misleading: believing that a new car is the path to happiness, that everything is better with Coca Cola or… that “our strength is our ideas”? I would say that the desire expressed in socialist propaganda points to the possibility of an ethics many times better than the logic of exclusion and the ethics of permanent rivalry that feed the consumer drive in capitalism, where a person's value is measured by number of people she managed to leave behind.

Thus, the billboard that visitors find when disembarking at Havana airport does not advertise a new car model or a luxury hotel:

"At this moment, in the world, millions of children sleep in the streets. None of them are Cuban".

It would just be an advertising, sentimental appeal - if it weren't true. Children in the streets, only when they go from there to here. It is beautiful to see Cuban children, when leaving school, in uniform, lining up to buy ice cream at the famous Copélia. The price of ice cream in Cuban pesos is affordable for them. We tourists willingly (not all) pay the highest cost that allows for the most equal distribution. But there are also children who approach us asking if we can present them with… a Bic pen! This is not poverty: it is embargo. There is a lack of Bic pens and many other things in Cuba.

The stupidity of the Castro family's tyranny is the counterpart of the stupidity of the richest country in the world that commands the embargo against trade with Cuba. But despite the poverty that is not misery, I think we don't have to compare Cuba with Brazil, but with Haiti. Without socialism, Cuba would be like Haiti.

We don't have to compare the population of Havana with that of the Brazilian middle classes, but with that of our favelas. The case is that the poor residents of central Havana are exposed to the eyes of tourists, while life in our favelas takes place far from the neighborhoods that the middle class frequents. But Havana's poor are not left to their own devices. There are schools for your children, there is free medical care, for everyone. The social fabric has not degraded, as it does here. Cubans know that their children will graduate and will not starve, and that they themselves will not be helpless in old age.

This gives social life a kind of relaxation, a more disarmed way of communicating with the stranger, who is unknown to us in the land of “each man for himself and God for all…” or God for those who were already born above others. Of course, all this makes the stupidity of the dictators even more revolting, as they do not trust the consolidation of socialist values ​​among the Cuban population.

These are spontaneously updated by the behavior of Cubans who, in their poverty, do not feel inferior to tourists. Just as they don't seem to care about posing as superior to their countrymen.

Here, I report three episodes in which readers will have to examine the Freudian assumption that subjectivity is also affected by the conditions of the social bond. A society that creates mechanisms to promote equality – both in terms of rights and resources – develops feelings of dignity in its citizens. Although the island's economy depends heavily on tourism, Cubans did not strike me as subservient to their visitors, who come from richer countries. Those who, in Brazil, the servants usually call "bosses".
The first episode was narrated to me by Emir Sader, who lived as an exile in Havana during the Brazilian dictatorship of 1964-85. Emir was working on his doctoral thesis. In the land adjacent to the room he was trying to study, a group of manual workers were listening to loud music. Emir went to the window and gently asked: Please, compañeros, les pido que bajen el volumen de la música. I'm working...

To which the workers responded, naturally and without any rancor (which the poor try to hide by having to obey unpleasant orders from “from above”): We also!

And give him salsa, rumba, boleros...

The embargo also affects tourists, who do not always have plenty, for example, at the hotel breakfast. In a more egalitarian country, the rule that “the customer is always right” does not apply. The hotel waitresses treated us with no special deference. The fruits for breakfast, which in Brazilian hotels are abundant to the point of being wasted, there – just imagine – are not wasted, because … they run out! Yes, there is little plenty in Cuba, for those who are used to it. Perhaps, what is not left over for the tourist is what allows no child, in addition to not sleeping in the open air, also not to go hungry. Faced with the impossibility of fulfilling any request, the employees do not try to deceive us because they are not afraid of us.

Hay más papaya, senorita?
It's over!

Also she was upset that the fruits were gone. Only he wasn't afraid to tell me that. She didn't try to bullshit me by saying or seeing in the kitchen” and then disappearing from my sight.

The Havana Book Fair is in February. When I traveled, I didn't realize that even in the Caribbean there is winter. I took light dresses, sleeveless shirts, no long pants. I had to go into a store to buy something warmer. The air conditioning was on at the coldest setting. I asked the seller to turn it off, or at least warm up the air a little. He didn't pretend to answer my request, as do so many salespeople in Brazil who enjoy the chill of the air conditioning and don't want to be hot because of the customer. He answered me sympathetically, without any resentment, as if he were facing an equal:

Qué lástima: no puedo, señora. I feel a heat!

This is not a sociological text. What I reported are small field observations that reveal a significant difference in paradigm in relation, at least, to Brazilian society – in which nobody says “no” to those who have money. In which the poor, at best, avail themselves of the bracelet jeitinho – the same as the bourgeoisie uses to justify to the employee why he cannot register. The assumption of equal rights, active in the social imaginary (even when defrauded by some authorities) confers a relaxation in relations between strangers. I went into a bank to exchange dollars for Cuban pesos; the queue was huge and seemed chaotic to me. Every time someone saw an acquaintance up front, he left his seat to talk to him. It looked like Brazilian malandragem. I thought that my turn would never come. Nobody would complain about the queue jumpers? Of course not, and I soon understood why: every time one of them left his seat to talk to an acquaintance at the front, he declared aloud: “last one”! The “arranged” was that you could leave the queue as long as you returned to the end of it. By the way, it worked. Later, at a large meeting on the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of the MST, I noticed that this free but responsible attitude in the queues had been adopted by the comps.

Years ago, at a carnival in Salvador, we would all end the night in one of the few restaurants that stayed open until morning. In the hallway on the way to the bathroom there was a wooden bench where it was common to see someone sleeping. I asked an employee if this was the bank for drunk customers. He told me no: those who took turns sleeping there were themselves, when they couldn't take the 24-hour shifts during Carnival any longer. I asked if it was worth it: the boss should pay double, right? “No ma'am, he can't pay us more! Here we help him, but when there is a problem he also helps us. When my colleague's wife was about to give birth, do you believe he took her to the maternity hospital in his car?”.

This is the way of Brazilian cordial domination. It works, not because it mitigates the helplessness of workers, but because it takes advantage of this helplessness. We should be the ones saying “Go to Cuba!” for Brazilian employers. In the hope that, who knows, they might learn something there.

*Maria Rita Kehl is a psychoanalyst, journalist and writer. Author, among other books, of Resentment (Boitempo).

Originally published on Portal Major Card.


[1] “Why the war?” Letter to Einstein, 1932.

[2] Mass psychology and analysis of the ego, 1921.

[3] Civilization's Discontents, 1930.

[4] Totem and Taboo, 1912-13.

[5] “Paris, the capital of the nineteenth century”.

[6] Brazil during the Lula era was honored at the Havana Book Fair in 2005.

[7] “Closed Signal”.

[ i] Brazil was the country honored by the Havana Book Fair, in 2005. Boitempo publishing house sent several authors to give conferences there – among which I was honored to include myself. My conference was about the two concepts that participate, with different and more concordant meanings, in psychoanalysis and in critical theory: Fetishism and Alienation.

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