The Union of Young Communist (UJC) and its Aquilles Heel
Young people, by their dynamism and potential have been one of the most influential groups in Cuban history. During the 19th century, they stood out for their opposition to slavery and their support of national autonomy and independence. In the Republic, they were the principal force in the defense of sovereignty and promoters of civic citizenship virtues as the Protest of the 13s, the Minority Group, the Revolution of 30, struggle for university autonomy, and against the military coup d’etat of 1952 demonstrate. Aligned with the libertarian tradition, youth headed the revolutionary movement that took charge of power in 1959 and in great numbers undertook new challenges.
Five decades later, in October 2009, with the removal of its First Secretary, Julio Martinez, and the naming of his replacement Liudmila Alamo, the Union of Young Communists (UJC) began preparing for its 9th Congress. Its robotic functioning is reflected not only in the faces of its delegates, but also in that each subsequent Provincial Assembly is a faithful copy of the preceding one. Presided over by Jose R. Machado Ventura, (member of the Cuban Communist Party Politburo) and Liudmila Alamo, each assembly presents the same speeches: thousands of military who have requested discharge, thousands others who are inactive, an infinite number of grassroots organizations that are not functional, a marked decrease in the production sector ranks, hundreds of workplaces lacking a basic structure and little disposition for work, learning, and studying.
Three factors explain this outcome. First, the move of the Revolution towards a totalitarian regime and based on a single will, its determination to meet social needs, as well as the absolute control of the State. This made the elimination of civil liberties necessary. Another factor, the undeniable truth that autonomy for civic organizations is like oxygen for living organisms. The third, is that in that civic vacuum, using “social engineering” and based on massive and directed participation, the creation of a young person consecrated to the revolutionary cause was attempted: The New Man, to the detriment of all differing needs, criterion, or interest. Let’s see how the process unfolded.
In January 1959, rather than being restored, the 1940 Constitution was modified to confer upon the Prime Minister the powers of the head of government, and to the Council of Ministers, the functions of Congress–this began an unconstitutional period of 15 years. Immediately after, the prime minister announced a government program that would increase agricultural production significantly. along with the consumer capacity of the peasantry. By eliminating its awful chronic unemployment, Cuba would provide to its citizens the highest quality of life of any country. For this reason, steps were taken to form a one-party system, and to make in its image a similar youth organization that would represent the aspirations of all young people. All revolutionary youth organizations were joined in the Association of Young Rebels, which in 1962 at its First Congress, assumed the name of Union of Young Communists (UJC); the leadership of the Federation of University Students (FEU) was redefined and university autonomy, codified in Article 53 of the 1940 Constitution, disappeared. The Union of Pioneers (April 1961) and the Union of High School Students (August 1962) completed the group of associations charged with incorporating children and youth in the Grand Project.
Resistance and indifference on the part of thousands of young people, as well fashion, beliefs, and preferences contrary to the state’s purpose were repressed beginning in 1965 with internments in Military Units of Production Assistance (UMAP) and through the 1971 Law Against Vagrancy, which established compulsory work for males older than 17 years of age; these were actions in which the UJC had a defining role.
The lack of autonomy–an outcome of the unconstitutional period–became legal with the 1976 Constitution. Article 7 of the Constitution endorsed the following: In its activities, the State depends on the masses and social organizations, which in addition directly accomplish state functions which in accordance with the Constitution and law they agree to assume. In addition to this change, an economic system, with cracks that allowed the “harmful” market and ideas of autonomy to seep in, was introduced. Ten years later, with Perestroika in the Soviet Union representing a direct threat to the revolutionary project, the government took a gamble with the Rectification of Mistakes and Negative Tendencies program, aimed at the continuation of the construction of socialism, maintaining the one-party system, rejecting the market model, and returning to the mobilization of the masses. Despite these measures, the effects of Perestroika were evident in the emergence of informal youth associations in cultural spheres. These groups, like the Paideia Project, questioned the established value system and began to promote public consensus in favor of autonomy initiatives. When these organizations crossed the line of what was permissible, the state began dismantling them.
The UJC lost a great deal of relevance when, during the Special Period, it had to criticize egalitarian practices that the State itself had favored. Now, without support, they had to explain to and convince young people of the necessity of introducing elements of capitalism, including inequality, to save socialism. That is how, despite the 1959 speech, which assured increased production and consumer capacity, the end result was a loss of productivity and the distribution monopoly. The results were immediate, tens of thousands of young people were escaping from the country, among them many UJC militants who, once outside national borders, decided to end their conversions into “The New Man.”
The maximum leader’s words provide an idea of how profound the crisis was. In October 1997, in the Central Communique to the 5th Party Congress he said, “I think now more than ever, more than at any other time, since the present is the most difficult time ever, we need to make a special effort with our youth and in their training, because it is unacceptable for those who will follow their generation to be less than they are.” In December 1998, at the 7th UJC Congress, he affirmed, “We have to transmit our ideas to our youth groups, so they they, in turn, can transmit them to all youth and all people.” And, in November 2005, he denounced the presence of corruption at all levels, the constant thefts in work centers, decline in productivity, labor not working hard, the lack of revolutionary conviction, and the alienation of young people from the political system.
In the face of the failure of the attempt to have the State satisfy all material and spiritual needs, and of having to resort to the methods of capitalism to save the socialist project, the UJC, like a transmission belt, has shown its ineffectiveness before a youth whose aspirations and needs march in a different direction.
Translated by HEFA