Author: Yasmani Castro Caballero
Walterio Carbonell, who was born on January 18, 1920, in the territory of Jiguaní in the former province of Oriente, today Granma. He is undoubtedly one of the most prominent Marxist and anti-racist intellectuals of the second half of the 20th century. He studied at the University of Havana, where he became friends with Fidel Castro. In the 1950s he won a scholarship to Paris and there in 1956 he participated in the First Congress of Writers in Paris, along with Senegalese Leopold Sedar Senghor and Martinican Aimé Cesaire, an experience that would mark him intellectually. Besides starring in a publicized incident when hanging a flag of the July 26th Movement on the Eiffel Tower, on the eve of the victory of the rebels on the island. After the insurrectionary triumph of 1959, Carbonell returned to Havana and actively participated in the ideological and cultural debates that characterized the first years of the Cuban Revolution. With a Marxist formation since his youth, he was a deep connoisseur of Afro-Cuban culture and, especially, of the Palo de Monte rites. In 1961, he published Cómo surgió la cultura nacional, an essay of Marxist reinterpretation on the role of black slaves in Cuban history and society.
If we place Walterio Carbonell in a current of thought, without thinking much about it we say that he is a Marxist. He is one of the few blacks who developed an intellectual consciousness affiliated with this philosophical current in Cuba, along with Sandalio Junco, another intellectual who is little known in Cuba and whose influence we can learn from the article “Towards a Black Marxism in Cuba” by Dr. Julio César Guanche. The important thing about his thinking is how he situated Marxism in the analysis of problems that this own current of thought had not conceived of from the beginning as racism. This had also been achieved many years before by the Martinican intellectual Frantz Fanón, with his book “Black Skin, White Masks”. From how the national culture arose, it is a book that needs a better analysis and to be placed within the classics of cultural and philosophical thought in Cuba. The structure of the same one begins a meticulous analysis of our cultural origins where they enter to play the black one enslaved and brought of Africa and the slave Spanish come from the Iberian peninsula. In this relationship, the author analyzes the cultural implications that they have for the emergence of the Cuban thing and therefore the national identity.
It is necessary to emphasize that this relationship between men from Spain and Africa, Walterio analyzes it from his own antagonistic conception. Where is the discriminatory and colonizing view of the slave owner. As an element of the utmost importance to understand the very social imaginaries that have been established since the colonial period and that still have repercussions on those false ideas about Africa, Africans and their descendants in this part of the so-called “new world”:
Africa has become an annoying word for all so-called educated people. It was a kind of Babylon whose name evoked concupiscence in its double sense, lust and appetites for earthly goods practiced by all these Pharisees in the plantations and churches with the children of Africa. They made of the male a good, an earthly thing, object of trade, a merchandise, and of the female, an object of double possession, of possession for work and of sexual possession.
In a second moment he exposes the very weaknesses of the dominant society by stating how its positions are weak and how this same society hypocritically allows itself to be influenced by the very religion and cultural practices of the black people it criticizes. Another element is the colonialist way in which we have understood and analyzed the national history, centering his critics in the idea of having as paradigmatic men Arango and Parreño, José Antonio Saco and José de la Luz Caballero because he considers them inveterate slavers:
It is for all these reasons that the 19th century needs to be revised. Mud gods survive as a reality in the conscience of our revolutionary people. Dark figures, slavers of the worst kind, like Arango and Parreño; tormented slavers like José Antonio Saco and Luz Caballero, enemies of revolutions and democratic coexistence, have been elevated to the category of national gods by historians, professors and bourgeois politicians.
In this part, although I agree with the author, it is necessary to see that his analysis is a little cryptic. Because it is true that it is not necessary to have these men elevated to a national pantheon, but it is necessary to take them into account to understand the historical evolution of Cuban thought and, therefore, of the conception of their nationality. It is good to take Arango y Parreño, Saco and Luz y Caballero in their time because they are the reflection of the historical moment he had to live. Where slavery within society was a normal matter. No matter how much we do and try to criticize them with respect to this issue, the analysis will always be incomplete because men can never be separated from the social historical context in which they lived or were formally involved.
With the ideas that Walterio illustrated to end this chapter, his ethical position on the analysis of the History of Cuba, which was to be had in revolutionary Cuba, is summarized. Because only in that conception can one understand the present and the ideological work to be done among the masses and the future generations that the Revolution was formed. This thought is part of those early ideological debates of the process that the Cuban archipelago lived after 1959, where there was a debate among the different intellectual actors on the acceptance or denial of the republican past and its implications with the colonial one:
And on the other hand, if the conditions prior to 1868 between the slave groups and the Spanish colonial system contributed to form the Cuban nationality, this does not mean that the mentioned gentlemen are nationalists. One thing is the class contradictions within a social system and another is the ideas that men forge around these contradictions. One of the tasks of today’s revolutionary writer is to make our historical past clear. Clarifying our past is one of our great revolutionary tasks in the ideological aspect
According to Walterio, the birth of the national culture passes through the sieve of our history and having as important elements the facts and figures that have shaped that history. But always looking critically at those white men and incorporating the legacy of Africa from the different ethnic groups that came to Cuba as a result of slavery. It is not possible to understand this contribution of the black man and woman if we think that Africa is only one. It is of the analysis of the cultural conflict of these two groups and of the dentists questions derived from the same one, it is that it can understand the emergence of the national culture. As he reflects at the end of the chapter:
And finally, there is no need to confuse the political disputes between the different sides of slavers, with the problems of national culture. I don’t think anyone is trying to rescue the ideological content of this polemic in which one side clings to Spanish colonialism and the other strives to bring our country under U.S. colonialism. These two colonialist positions are enemies of the national fact; they combat the anti-slavery movement, not only the one led by the slaves and the free blacks like Aponte, but they are also enemies of the conspiracies led by the liberal bourgeoisie, like the call of “Rayos y Soles de Bolívar”, in which the poet José María Heredia was involved. Reformers and annexationists, that is, the colonialists in the Spanish way and in the U.S. way, are enemies of every revolutionary movement that puts the slave system in danger and consequently slows down the development of the nation and national culture.
Waleterio considers that all this analysis must be accompanied by the different problems that are beginning to influence culture. This form goes hand in hand with the dialectical analysis of a Marxist thinker like him. It is in this book that one can see his social commitment that was linked to the most dispossessed, but with emphasis on the racial problems existing in Cuba. How the national culture emerged is an essential book of Cuban Marxist thought that has not been sufficiently valued by the Cuban academy. Its importance lies in demonstrating the violence of racial relations and how it has been important in the formation of Cuban culture.
In conclusion, we can situate Walterio Carbonell as one of the Cuban Marxist thinkers with an important stamp that is still unknown and it is in his book of How the National Culture arose where he reaches his highest flight as a Marxist cultural theorist and intellectual. Although it was a book written in the early 1960s, it still has its mark on our reality because many of the problems it raises are still present in current contexts, such as the racial situation involved in culture, a subject so much debated in contemporary Cuba.