Monday, January 31, 2011

Translation: Bureaucratism, from rule to exception

The "updating" of Cuba's socialist economic model must swim against a tide of passive resistance from much of the bloated administrative apparatus commonly referred to in Cuba as "the bureaucracy". One of the objectives of the rationalisation of the state-sector workforce now underway is to reduce the numbers of such administrators to a minimum. Changes of personnel and of work attitudes are also needed, along with the simplification of absurdly complicated administrative procedures. 

Bureaucratism, from rule to exception

By Felix Lopez

Granma, January 30, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Sixto Martinez fulfilled his military service in a barracks in Seville. In the middle of the courtyard of this barracks there was a stool. Next to the stool, a soldier stood guard. Nobody knew why...the guard did it because he did it, night and day, every night, every day, and generation after generation the officials transmitted the order and the soldiers obeyed it. Nobody ever doubted it, nobody questioned it...And so it went on until someone, I don't know whether a general or a colonel, wanted to know the original order. He had to dig deep in the archives, and after much poking around, he found out: thirty-one years, two months and four days ago, an official had ordered somebody to stand guard next to the stool, that had been recently painted, so that nobody would think of sitting on the fresh paint.          

Thus the Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, describes the long reach of the ghost of bureaucratism in the Book of Hugs.     

Luckily for those who live in Cuba, our Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) know how to find their own antidote against this evil that we have not been able to eradicate from the social environment.

The FAR have been pioneers in organisation, planning, in the [socialist state] Enterprise Improvement program and in establishing payment according to work results, economic practices that fly light-years away from the bureaucratic habits encrusted in many areas of the economy, and that some always viewed with animosity in order to avoid being demanding, taking responsibility and the obligation to comply [with what is required].       

The "stool duty", converted into an image of bureaucratism, is a history of the absurd that reminds us of the recent publication in this daily of the letter of a reader*, as important and opportune as the most thorough journalistic investigation, that related the surrealism of his "vicissitudes to obtain a self-employment licence in Moa [a town in Holguin province]". The letter of Holguin resident G. Gomez Fuentes exposes how a functionary asked her for documents that were not required according to the current legislation regarding self-employment. And her reaction to Gomez Fuentez's application: "(...) I asked the compañera if she knew what [Minister for Economy and Planning] compañero [Marino] Murillo had said about this, and her response was that I could forget about Murillo."

This unfortunate response is a kind of X-ray of a mindset, very common, of ignorance regarding legality; it also reflects the damage being done by certain Creole [i.e. Cuban] bureaucrats by obstructing, diluting and complicating a series of measures and solutions that are being implemented as part of the updating of the Cuban economic model.      

Some do not want to realise that in this country nobody will be allowed to act in violation of the laws, norms and resolutions which everyone is obliged to comply with.   

And despite everything that has been said, there are still many who do not understand that this process [of updating Cuba's socialist economic model] must be accompanied by a change of mentality, of work practices and of vision at all levels, from those who lead an activity through to the functionary who staffs a bureau or a window, and who becomes the face (pleasant or harmful) of an idea, a measure, a solution or an important project.      

Gomez's letter triggered a chain of reflections on this matter. Carlos Rodriguez said that "as well as not complying with the regulations and laws appearing in the Official Gazette, the example of what happened in Moa highlights how there are functionaries that far from helping, they hinder the work of reorganising the economy and society". Basilio Garcia warned that "there are many bureaucrats and technocrats that have still not realised that we are in times of changes. They continue to be stuck in their routine, lagging behind, putting the brakes on development and undermining the morale of those who want to fight, advance and triumph."

There are still those who turn a blind eye to the new scenario that's being constructed for the economy and Cuban society. Some because they have bureaucracy in the blood, inoculated as if it were a deadly virus. Others because it doesn't suit them to change the system of red tape, delay, impunity, and the "fine" or "bite" [i.e. the charging of illegal fees] required for any procedure so as to ensure a happy ending.  

And there are those who enjoy their eight hours a day of being executioners [a metaphor], making life miserable and embittering everyone who tries to climb the Golgotha [Biblical reference to the hill where Jesus was crucified] of licences, permits, authorisations and every kind of procedure and paperwork that sustains the existence of a parasitic plague in the heart of the public administration. The rest — those who work well, who deliver happiness and sustain our optimism — should become the rule rather than the exception.  

In his speech to the National Assembly on December 18, compañero Raul [Castro] insisted that "it is necessary to change the mentality of the cadres and of all the compatriots to face the new scenario that is beginning to take shape. It's simply a matter of changing erroneous and unsustainable concepts of socialism..." Would the bureaucrats understand the message they've been sent by the Second Secretary of the [Communist] Party when he referred to the necessity for a change of mentality?     

For Basilio Garcia, behind every irresponsible bureaucrat or functionary there is a leading cadre that allows this type of conduct: "We have to continue unearthing these pessimists and opportunists, for whom the only thing that matters is that they have a more comfortable life; and go about substituting them with people who are trained and have the desire to do things well. Any human collective is teeming with such people, we just have to find them and give them the opportunity. Clearly, for this to happen we also have to banish from our minds the practice of canonising cadres; that is, whatever you do, you are always a cadre [i.e. someone who is supposed to act responsibly]."         

In its pursuit of improvement, Cuban society in turn clamours for the shaking off of the ballast of bureaucracy, this ancient invention through which one shies away from personal responsibility in the moment of making decisions; this "pedestal" upon which some choose to live their minutes of glory and show off their quotas of power, tiny as they may be. Let's recall that poetic definition of Roque Dalton and we'll understand him better, because we have no other choice but to convert the exception into the rule:

The bureaucrats swim in a sea of tempestuous boredom
From horror at their yawns, which are the first assassins of tenderness
They end up with poisoned livers
And are found dead clinging to their telephones
With yellow eyes fixed on the clock.    
*Vicissitudes to obtain a self-employment license in Moa, Friday January 21, p.11.  

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Debate: China, Cuba and socialism

[Tom Whitney, a reader of my blog from Maine in the US, asked if I'd encourage readers to sign on to a new petition urging Obama to free the Cuban Five. Here is a link to the petition.]

One of the aims of my blog is "to provide a space for discussion and debate among supporters, however critical, of the Cuban Revolution to sharpen our understanding and, hopefully, to inspire our ongoing solidarity." Most of my posts have been original translations introduced by brief comments, and I intend to maintain this balance of content. With the next post I'll resume my translations.

Below is my reply to Fred Feldman, a US Cuba solidarity activist and former member of the US Socialist Workers Party, who responded to my own comments on China in relation to Cuba (in two recent blog posts here and here) on the CubaNews e-list. I asked Fred's permission to republish his comments here in full, followed by my reply, but he declined, because he feels that such a debate does not belong on this blog and that my reply, which quotes from his comments, is adequate. I respect Fred's wishes so if you want to read his full comments, here they are at CubaNews. My reply, originally posted to CubaNews, has been edited for clarity. 

Fred prefaced his comments as follows: "I have been very impressed with the Cuba's Socialist Renewal website created by Marce Cameron, a devoted supporter of the Cuban revolution. It is a tremendous source of information and inspiration, and continually thought-provoking, about the difficult process Cuba is going through. Nonetheless, I think a couple of the recent posts have shown a tendency to shift gears, bringing in another country which supposedly we must correctly evaluate to determine the situation in Cuba. Not the United States, which influences and pressures Cuba in countless ways, but CHINA."

Debate: China, Cuba and socialism

By Marce Cameron, in reply to Fred Feldman <>       

I'd like to thank Fred Feldman for his comments on my blog, which are constructive criticism and most welcome.

Firstly, I'd like to reassure Fred that is not my intention to turn "Cuba's Socialist Renewal", which is about Cuba, into a blog about China. Nor is it my intention to engage in gratuitous China-bashing. The question of China is relevant to my blog, it seems to me, only in so far as it relates to Cuba's socialist renewal, since the aim of the blog is to sharpen our understanding of the debates and changes unfolding in Cuba.

China has a bearing on these debates and changes in two important ways: economically and politically. Economically, the importance of China is obvious. After Venezuela, China is Cuba's second largest trading partner. Politically, China has an influence on developments in Cuba. How much, and in what direction, is a legitimate subject of discussion and debate.

Why? Because China is viewed by some leftists, in Cuba and elsewhere, as an example of a socialist-oriented society that other countries that aspire to build socialism should seek to emulate. Of course, nobody would suggest that Cuba should try to copy "the Chinese model" exactly, if for no other reason than China and Cuba are two different societies. After uncritically assimilating elements of Soviet bureaucratic "socialism", the Cubans are wary of copying anybody else's model. 

On the other hand, there is no question that Cuba can learn something from China, as it can from any other society. The question is, what? If Cuba emulates China in allowing more space for small-scale private and cooperative initiative then no harm is done, in my opinion, to Cuba's socialist project. But what about the privatisation of large-scale state-owned enterprises? Or the 2002 decision to allow capitalist billionaires to join the Chinese Communist Party?

Neither of these are being contemplated in Cuba, as far as I'm aware, for obvious reasons. But given that Fidel and the rest of the PCC leadership are obliged to publicly laud China's success as a socialist-oriented society and something of a model for Third World development — regardless of whether or not they actually believe this to be true — advocacy from within Cuba for China's pro-capitalist policies, rather than just those policies that coincide with the needs of Cuba's socialist renewal, is effectively encouraged.

That China is building capitalism, rather than socialism, seems clear to me, and I don't understand why recognising this is such a big deal for some Marxists. The state is capitalist, defending and advancing the class interests of the Chinese capitalists. A very strong argument could also be made (though this is beyond the scope of my blog) that the Chinese economy is no longer post-capitalist, but capitalist. As for China's ideological contribution to socialism, there is none. I can think of only four reasons, none of them compelling, why leftists might mistakenly cling to the idea that China is still somehow, despite everything that has happened during the past two decades, socialist (meaning socialist-oriented): (1) ignorance of basic facts regarding China's political regime and social order; (2) the world looks less unpleasant that way; (3) as an overreaction to imperialist China-bashing, especially in the US; (4) Fidel says China is socialist.

In my introductory comments to my translation of Carlos Alzugaray Treto's "Cuba: Continuity and political change", I pointed out one possible — and entirely legitimate from the standpoint of revolutionary statecraft — reason why the PCC leadership publicly lauds China's impressive economic growth rates as having something to do with socialism: revolutionary Cuba's need to maintain excellent trade and diplomatic reasons with China. I pointed out that this was also the case with the Soviet Union in decades past, and that China's capitalist ruling class has geopolitical reasons, unrelated to furthering the international proletarian revolution, for seeking to support socialist Cuba against US imperialism. Any serious discussion of the relationship between the Cuban Revolution and China today needs to address these points.

There's another possible reason, although less likely in my opinion, for the PCC leadership's public endorsement of China's allegedly socialist trajectory. It could simply be that Fidel and the rest of the PCC leadership are wrong on this question. If so, it wouldn't be the first time, since the Cuban comrades are not infallible. Whatever the case may be, the argument that China is socialist because Fidel says so is hardly convincing. The question can only be answered, for Marxists, by a concrete analysis of Chinese economy and society. This, of course, is beyond the scope of my blog. But given that my blog expresses my own views, as well as those of the Cubans whose works I translate, it seems reasonable for me to comment, in passing, on China as I understand it in relation to the Cuban Revolution.

Now I'd like to clear up some misunderstandings in relation to Fred's comments. He writes: "The website has treated his readers to some pretty unbridled denunciations of China." I said that China is not building socialism. That's not a denunciation, it's a political judgment. Neither did I "present the Kingdom of Bhutan on the Indian subcontinent as a positive alternative to China, at least on the level of economic principles." I said that the Cuban journalist whose commentary I translated did not look to China but to Bhutan for inspiration. With regard to what? Not Bhutan's monarchy, semi-feudal social relations, discrimination against the Nepalese ethnic minority or repression of leftist movements, but something very specific: Bhutan's adoption of an alternative measure of national progress that aims, at least on paper, to take into consideration such things as ecological sustainability and preserving cultural identity, rather than the sole neoliberal criterion of maximising GDP growth.

Fred writes: "Marce complains that the Cuban leaders and rank and file have 'illusions' about China, fed by the fact that after the death of Mao (who had a strongly anti-Cuba policy in the last 10 years of his rule, when China was supposedly authentically "socialist") and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, China moved toward a more and more friendly stance toward Cuba, verging on alliance." 

Maoism was a species of Stalinist bureaucratic "socialism" with Chinese characteristics. Up until about 20 years ago, the Chinese socialist state defended post-capitalist property relations, yet this in no longer the case. Hence my view that China is a capitalist state. Secondly, I did not argue that the widespread view in Cuba that China is socialist is a result of China's trade relations with Cuba. Rather, I argued that such illusions are largely a consequence of the PCC's public endorsement of the Chinese leadership's claim to be building socialism, most likely due to legitimate considerations of revolutionary diplomacy.

Fred asks if I support China against imperialism? Yes, as a matter of principle. China is not an imperialist country, it is a Third World country, for all the hype we hear about China these days. "Marce seems to feel that Cuba-China friendship is a current or potential problem for Cuba, threatening its socialist objectives. He seems to feel that the Cuban people must be educated that China is a counter-revolutionary power that plays a reactionary role in the world. He believes that the Cuban CP, if not the government, must spread the news that China has restored capitalism, and that its successes or alleged successes threaten Cuba with capitalist restoration."

I do not think that China's capitalist state is playing a counter-revolutionary role anywhere other than China, and I have never described China's role in the world as "reactionary". This would suggest that China is in the same category as an interventionist imperialist power such as the US or Australia, but non-revolutionary is not the same as reactionary. I never argued that the PCC leadership should denounce China as capitalist. On the contrary, I argued that in the circumstances it is understandable and even principled for the PCC leadership to not do so, because it's the lesser of two evils. Were Fidel or Raul to come out and contradict the Chinese leadership's nonsense about building socialism in China, it would do nothing to advance the cause of a new proletarian revolution in China, while the economic and diplomatic consequences for Cuba could be serious. Just as in the Soviet era, when Fidel and other Cuban leaders kept much of their real views on Soviet "socialism" to themselves, until the Soviet Union itself began to unravel (Che Guevara was more outspoken, especially in relation to Soviet foreign policy).

"Marce assumes — virtually takes for granted — that China has restored capitalism. Fidel and Raul do not believe so as they have often stated. I want to state here that I do not believe so. I really don't know whether my reasons are similar or different from those of Fidel or Raul." I have formed my own opinion on the basis of reading numerous articles and reports on China. One book I can recommend is "China and Socialism - Market Reforms and Class Struggle" by Martin Hart-Landsberg and Paul Burkett, Aakar Books, Delhi, 2006, 155 pages. It makes a compelling case from a Marxist perspective that China is building capitalism rather than socialism. Also "Socialism and the market: Chinese and Vietnamese roads" by Mike Karadjis, and "Theses on the class nature of the People's Republic of China" by the then Democratic Socialist Party of Australia.          

Fred says that "the world-shaking national revolution in China" has not ended, and that China has retained and defended its sovereignty and independence: "But the national and anti-capitalist revolutions are intertwined. Although the two are not as tightly connected as in Cuba (where the end of socialism means the end of independence, full point) they are still not wholly separable." In my view, there is no revolution in China, there is a capitalist social counter-revolution against the remnants of the post-capitalist planned economy. To say that there is a revolution going on in China, the same revolution that brought the People's Liberation Army to power in 1949, is to confuse the rhetoric of China's capitalist leaders with reality, and they don't even talk about revolution any more, they talk about making money.  

"Marce suggests that there is some secret faction of bureaucrats in Cuba who want to impose 'neo-liberalism' (so that they can become millionaires) — their concepts supposedly borrowed from or offered to or perhaps even demanded of Cuba by China. Does he have evidence of this, besides his belief that it must be true? I have none whatever." If there is a secret pro-capitalist faction in the PCC then I would be unaware of it, and it would be foolish to speculate about the existence of such a faction. If there were a faction and it wasn't secret, then the members of this faction would presumably be expelled for factional activity by the PCC leadership given that, understandably in Cuba's circumstances, factions of any kind are banned. I made no such claim.

"Should Cubans today be sniffing around for potential 'capitalist roaders' or should they be letting everybody speak their minds and not ruthlessly interrogating the "logic" of their positions which are assumed to leads to such and such evil end?", Fred asks. Clearly, Cuba's revolutionaries need to do both. They need to take up Raul's call for free and frank debate and, at the same time, argue against those who propose pro-capitalist policies for Cuba (such as the privatisation of large-scale socialist state enterprises), whether inspired by China or not. China's ruling capitalists are capitalist roaders, and the arguments of those who advocate pro-capitalist "reforms" for Cuba on the basis of China's "socialist" successes need to be refuted. In refuting such arguments, it helps to be able to explain how and why China is not building socialism, but capitalism.

I am not the first to suggest that there are people in Cuba with a pro-capitalist outlook who advocate Chinese-style neoliberal "solutions" to the problems facing Cuba's revolution, or who practice an ethical conduct consistent with Deng Xiaoping's best-known contribution to "socialist" ideology: "To get rich is glorious". Here is an extract from a commentary by the late Cuban revolutionary Celia Hart, daughter of Armando Hart and Haydee Santamaria, two leading figures in the Cuban Revolution. Celia Hart was a PCC member until 2006:

"The Communist Party of China says it is building Socialism .... Chinese private property continues increasing, instead of decreasing. As I have read, China is currently the favourite destination of big capitalists: the country has become a tremendous exporting machine. China's total exports grew eight fold — to over 380 billion dollars between 1990 and 2003. Five hundred of the biggest multinational corporations of the planet have businesses and investments in that country. Besides, in order to mitigate the tension created recently by the massive layoffs by state corporations, 45 million workers in the last five years, Beijing has allowed foreigners to add 450 billion dollars to its economy. Is the socialist market economy a temporary NEP [New Economic Policy: concessions to market mechanisms in Soviet Russia following the civil war under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky]? I don't think so. If the economic power is so strong, how come 58,000 workers launched a strike and they are illegal? Why is it estimated that unemployment affects 23% of the Chinese workforce, about 170 million people affected by privatization, adjustments by State corporations because of their low productivity and population growth? Why is it that the World Health Organization states that seven out of ten of the most polluted cities in the planet are in the People's Republic of China? Could it be that the means became the end? Do Chinese social indices correspond to its economic power? And if the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square happen again, whom should we support? China's Communist Party, just because it is called Communist?

"I can understand that these are manifestations of the current economic situation. I have already explained that Cuba is doing it to some degree. But where is China's antidote? How many Chinese are teaching schools or taking care of the sick on the Asian continent? Where is their anti-imperialist position? That is how my country is different. In Cuba, these two tendencies are struggling against each other, with socialism clearly in the front. In China, the Communist Party invites business executives to become members of the Party."

Note that Hart says that in Cuba, "these two tendencies are struggling against each other, with socialism clearly in the front." Such a struggle between pro-socialist and pro-capitalist tendencies, taking the form of currents of opinion and of ethical conduct rather than factions in Cuba's case, must have some reflection in the PCC. The revolutionary party, which is a party in power, cannot be hermetically sealed off from such pro-capitalist ideas and influences. (Washington's tiny bands of hired "dissidents" have hardly any influence in Cuba). Such influences must be combated ideologically. Hart continues: "We have to grant China that it has become the model of efficiency in the capitalist world. I have no urge, however, to applaud that achievement. China is not experiencing socialist revolution. This is regardless of the fact that China is maintaining correct trade relations with developing nations (or undeveloped, as I should say). But they are still just trade relations." Exactly.

Fred: "China is another huge subject, one of the most complex and inclusive in the world, I have a feeling that you stumbled into this on the assumption that all right-thinking citizens agreed with your assumptions, but this is not true." Perhaps, but we should not avoid this discussion nor prevent it from spilling over, a little, into a blog that aims to sharpen our understanding of the debates and changes in Cuba. "Placing support to Cuba side by side with hostility to China as a single package, and asking that it be accepted as a package, opens up a debate which your site is not strong enough to bear, and has no reason to carry. I suggest that you take your views on China to the Green Left List, often militantly anti-China (not racially but as a reactionary and counterrevolutionary state in their view), and other left lists. But do not make this part of the political axis of your valuable list."

I don't expect readers of my blog to accept any of my comments either individually or as a "package". I hope that readers will consider them on their merits, be inspired to read further and make up their own minds, as I'm sure they will. My blog is not an instrument of Cuban foreign policy and I am not a member of the Cuban Communist Party. I am in political solidarity with the PCC, a relationship that obliges me, among other things, to tell the truth as I see it. I do not think that to support the Cuban Revolution you have to have a correct view of the class nature of the Chinese state.

But it helps, because it allows us to better understand the debates and changes underway in Cuba in their connection with the rest of the world, and understanding is the basis for solidarity. China is not only a big part of this world in which revolutionary Cuba is inserted, it is also a point of reference for Cubans in their own debates over the future of Cuba's socialist project. A point of reference for what? A successful model of socialist development for a Third World country? A successful capitalist restoration? That's the subject of debate in Cuba and elsewhere. I don't see why I, or other supporters of the Cuban Revolution, should seek to avoid this debate or confine it to the Green Left email list, as Fred suggests.

Marce Cameron

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Comment: Cuba prepares for 6th Party Congress

The commentary below has been written for Direct Action monthly, an Australian socialist publication. An edited version will appear in the February issue.

Cuba prepares for Sixth Communist Party Congress

By Marce Cameron

In November, Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, flanked by a large delegation of Venezuelan government officials, visited the Cuban capital, Havana. The purpose of the Venezuelans' visit was twofold: to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the signing of the historic cooperation pact between Cuba and Venezuela, core of the pro-socialist Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (known by its Spanish acronym ALBA), and to review and strengthen economic and social cooperation between the two socialist revolutions. 

At the conclusion of the summit, Cuban President Raul Castro, after joking that he would speak before Chavez because his speeches are always concrete and concise, unlike the person sitting next to him — drawing laughter from Chavez himself and the audience of Venezuelans and Cubans at Havana's international convention centre — announced that the Sixth Cuban Communist Party (PCC) Congress would be held in the second half of April, 2011. The Congress, the first since 1997, will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Cuba's defeat of the US-sponsored mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs and Fidel Castro's declaration, on the eve of hostilities, of the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution.

Raul announced that the Congress would have a single agenda item: the economy. Other discussions and decisions related to the party's leadership role in society and its internal functioning would be deferred to a PCC conference, to be convened after the Congress sometime this year. He also announced the publication of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, a 32-page document detailing the PCC leadership's proposal for "updating" Cuba's socialist economic model. Fidel Castro, retired Cuban President and PCC first secretary, had been the first to receive a copy of the Guidelines, Raul noted as he handed Hugo Chavez the second copy. In his speech, Chavez began by chiding Raul for taking more than half an hour, then praised Cuba for its revolutionary consistency. Commenting on the importance of the economic battle, he recalled Lenin's phrase: "Socialism equals Soviet power plus electrification", by which Lenin meant industrialisation, said Chavez.

That Chavez and other key members of his revolutionary socialist government were present at the public announcement of the PCC's historic Sixth Congress symbolises the importance of Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution to the renewal of Cuba's socialist project, two decades after the demise of Soviet bureaucratic "socialism" plunged the Cuban Revolution into a deep and prolonged crisis known as the Special Period. The crisis has been mainly economic, bringing to mind images of long queues for rationed products, bicycles replacing buses and oxen replacing tractors as the Revolution drew on its wellspring of political consciousness and social solidarity to sustain the core social achievements flowing from the 1959 revolution.
But the collapse of the Soviet Union was not only an economic blow, it was also an ideological blow. In 1989, the post-capitalist societies that had emerged on the basis of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Red Army's liberation of Eastern Europe at the end of World War II and the overturn of capitalism in China, North Korea and Vietnam occupied a third of the planet's land surface. By 1992 the Soviet Union was no more, and imperialism triumphantly proclaimed the "end of history". The old Soviet manuals on "Marxism-Leninism" and their dogmatic certainties were as discredited as the regimes that had spawned them.
Yet socialist Cuba, under the leadership of Fidel and the Cuban Communist Party, stood firm, fulfilling Fidel's pledge that "Cuba will know how to remain the example of a revolution that does not give in, that does not sell out and does not go down on its knees". It was not the end of history, he said, and he was right. It could be said poetically that history was reborn in Venezuela on April 13, 2002, when Chavez was restored to the presidency after a short-lived US-backed coup in a popular insurrection, opening the way for the de-facto nationalisation of Venezuela's oil wealth by the revolutionary government emerging from this insurrection, which in turn signalled the opening of Venezuela's socialist revolution. Thus Cuba's isolation in the Americas came to an end, and the two revolutions joined hands to be wipe out curable blindness in the hemisphere and to share the oil wealth, among other solidarity projects.  

Class character of PCC 

As Cuban diplomat and historian Carlos Alzugaray Treto points out in his essay "Cuba: Continuity and political change" published in the October-December, 2009 edition of the Cuban journal Temas, many leftists outside Cuba do not recognise that the PCC is essentially different to the parties of bureaucratic power and privilege that ruled the former socialist states of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (to which could be added China).

"Despite the fact that the PCC leadership has committed errors that have been recognised and/or rectified", Alzugaray Treto acknowledges, "and that methods and styles of work bearing the imprint of their origins in the Soviet political model still persist — such as the excess of centralism, for example — in reality the Cuban leadership has been concerned with two central aspects: the vanguard character of its militants that must be the first in every political social initiative, and the struggle against manifestations of corruption in its ranks. The honesty, sensitivity and the spirit of sacrifice championed by [Argentinean-born Cuban revolutionary leader] Che Guevara have been, in general, paradigms of Cuban communist conduct and not the privileges and perks of the nomenclatura, as happened under actually existing socialism [e.g. Soviet bureaucratic 'socialism']".

This difference goes to the heart of why Cuba has not succumbed to bureaucratic degeneration and capitalist restoration. Every revolutionary socialist party in power attracts opportunists as well as revolutionaries and there are always problems of bureaucratism, which is a hang-over from capitalism. How rigorously the party, together with the revolutionary working people, can weed out the "rotten apples" from its ranks depends, in the final analysis, on the balance of forces in society between the old capitalist social order that has been defeated — but which presses in from the outside (imperialism) and wells up from within (the survivals of capitalism) — and the elements of the new, emerging socialist order. 

In the Soviet Union from the late 1920s, following the death of Lenin and weakened by civil war, international isolation and the inexperience of the revolutionary leaders in dealing with the new phenomenon of bureaucracy in a worker's state, the rising Stalinist bureaucracy overwhelmed the revolutionaries and, briefly, the rest is history. In Cuba since 1959, the revolutionaries have always had the upper hand, as they do today. During the Special Period, generalised scarcity and legal incomes insufficient to cover all basic necessities have given rise to generalised petty corruption, not only among administrators but among the general population. This, in turn, has contributed to widespread instances of more serious corruption among public officials, creating a social base for pro-capitalist ideas and influences.  

Since opposition parties are banned in Cuba, a necessary defensive measure against US attempts at subversion, such pro-capitalist ideas and influences are inevitably reflected, to one degree or another, within the PCC. In March 2009, for example, Carlos Lage, executive secretary of the Council of Ministers and foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque, were dismissed from their posts for abuse of power. In one of his commentaries, Fidel said that the two leaders had been "seduced by the honey of power". Yet despite such instances of loss of revolutionary morale and abuse of power, the PCC has preserved its character as a selective organisation of the most class-conscious and committed revolutionaries. Any pro-capitalist elements within the PCC are up against a formidable obstacle: a mass revolutionary socialist party led by the historic leadership of the 1959 revolution with some 800,000 members, firm roots in the working class, a heroic tradition of international solidarity from Angola to East Timor and, counting the PCC's predecessors, five decades of hard-won struggle experience.  

As the last congress to be presided over by the historicos, Fidel's generation of revolutionary leaders, approaches, the Revolution looks to new generations of capable leaders to continue the struggle. Many in Cuba would agree with Temas editor Rafael Hernandez: the Revolution “must go forward and leave more and more room for the new generations. Those new generations are demanding capability, a degree of decision over their own ideas, their own problems and criteria about  the meaning of a socialist society. And I think that the socialism of the future is the socialism of the young.”  


In preparation for the Congress, millions of Cubans, both party members and non-members, are participating in grassroots debates on the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines in PCC base committees, workplaces and neighbourhoods. Raul Castro has repeatedly urged a free and frank debate, breaking from past practices of false unanimity and the suppression of differences. "There is no need to fear differences in a society such as ours, where due to its essential nature there are no antagonistic [social class] contradictions because there are not the social classes that would give rise to them. From the profound exchange of divergent opinions come the best solutions, if such exchanges are guided by sound purposes and the viewpoints are expressed responsibly", he said in a speech to Cuba's National Assembly of People's Power in February, 2008. 

Two poles have emerged in the national debate on the future of socialism in Cuba, a debate initiated by Raul Castro soon after he became interim president in July 2006. What could be called the critical renovationist current, led by the PCC leadership, recognises the need for far-reaching changes to Cuba's socialist model in the direction of more public debate, more socialist democracy via the decentralisation of social planning and an opening to small-scale private and cooperative enterprises to boost the overall efficiency of the economy and thus the material wellbeing of the working people — while maintaining the dominance of socialist state enterprises and of planning over the market.

At the other pole are those who fear such changes, either because they have erroneous or obsolete ideas about the socialist-oriented society or because they defend administrative prerogatives and, in some cases, illicit privileges from criticism and initiative "from below". Some would like to see Chinese-style pro-capitalist policies. They will be disappointed by draft Guideline No. 3, which states: "In the new forms of non-state management [of social property], the concentration of ownership in legal or natural entities shall not be permitted"; and by a payroll tax that effectively limits the size of legal small private businesses to 10-15 workers.     

Within the renovationist current led by the PCC leadership there is a spectrum of opinion. The PCC leadership strives for consensus on the key elements of its proposals for the way forward, the economic aspects of which are summarised in the 291 paragraphs of the Draft Guidelines. With no alternative proposal on the table at a national level and the public debates on the Guidelines due to conclude at the end of February, it's likely that the Guidelines, enriched and amended on the basis of the public debates but retaining their core principles and key elements, will be adopted by the PCC Congress in April.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Translation: Debate in a Guantanamo barrio

Here, taken from today's edition of Granma, is a report on a discussion of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines in a barrio (neighbourhood) in the eastern city of Guantanamo, not far from the infamous US naval base of the same name. For those of us trying to understand the debates and changes taking place in Cuba from the outside and from a position of solidarity, the value of this report is that it brings us down to earth from the lofty heights of theoretical debates on the meaning of socialism and how to build it, and what Cuba can learn from other experiences — vital as these debates are in Cuba and elsewhere.  

At the level of the local community, if this and other similar reports are anything to go by, most people's concerns are more prosaic: the price of a jar of marmalade, how much a student must pay to ride to school in a horse and coach, the clinic that has run out of cotton swabs, too few outlets selling non-rationed soap and toothpaste. The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership has proposed a single agenda item for the 6th PCC Congress in April: the economy. Other important discussions and decisions will be deferred to a subsequent party conference, date to be announced, later this year. 

Cynics might wonder if the preoccupation with such things as marmalade and toothpaste reflects a lack of interest in debating the more strategic and theoretical issues involved in Cuba's socialist renewal, and if so, whether the PCC is somehow to blame. Aside from the fact that public debate on theoretical and strategic issues is indeed taking place in Cuba today, as I've tried to convey in other translations, this would be to forget something as basic as a bar of soap: the whole point of socialism is to satisfy the material and spiritual needs of a liberated humanity. Zooming in to the microcosmic level, to an urban community at the mountainous end of a Caribbean island subject to a US economic war — and a US naval base down the road that tortures prisoners — this means, among other things, ensuring that the Emilio Daudinot clinic in Guantanamo has a good supply of cotton swabs. 

The call by the PCC leadership to debate the Draft Guidelines, which run to 291 paragraphs, is aimed precisely at involving all Cubans in the process of rethinking and redefining Cuba's socialist economic model. And, as a roadmap to a reinvigorated socialist-oriented economy, the Guidelines must solve the problem of marmalade.    

Debate centres on prices in a Guantanamo barrio

By Jorge Luis Merencio Catuin

Granma, January 27, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Guantanamo. — Despite what many had expected, the orderly elimination of the ration book [system of distribution of highly subsidies basic goods] was not the theme of the majority of interventions in the analysis of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution in an area of Circumscription [i.e. municipal government electoral district] No. 11, of the Norte-Los Cocos-Confluentes Popular Council, in this city.

Because, as was noted in this neighbourhood debate, the people gain clarity, especially after a profound and detailed explanation of the economic projection — accessible to the entire population after being transmitted by Cuban television and reflected in the press — in the National Assembly of People's Power [in December] that analysed the Guidelines and the proposed updating of Cuba's economic model.

Hence the population, now with more arguments, weighs the pernicious effect on the country's economy and the construction of socialism of maintaining the ration book for a prolonged period, an expression of egalitarianism that benefits equally those who work and those who don't, or who do not need to [e.g. because they receive remittances from family living outside Cuba].

This issue, addressed in Guideline 186, did not however go unnoticed. Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR) members Landelino Garrido and Niurka Columbie suggested that the unrationed sale of soap and tooth paste, at higher prices, should happen in a greater number of establishments to facilitate their acquisition by consumers and to counteract hoarding.

The greatest number of opinions expressed centred on the concern raised by Ramon Prieto Medina about the pricing policy (Guidelines 61-63), in particular "the price rises in some product lines, without any prior information to the public".            

Last October I bought a tin of marmalade at the Ideal La Creacion Market and the other day it cost ten pesos more, said Prieto Medina, and added that for New Year he bought a bottle of Caribe Refino rum for 75 pesos, and 24 hours later its price had increased to 98 pesos.   

It's irrational that the prices change overnight and, worse still, that the consumer discovers this at the time of purchase. The speed of these price increases, plus the lack of information, creates a negative image of retail commerce, of disorder, that anybody can increase prices, he said.       

He expressed his disagreement with the increase from one to two pesos for the cost of a fare imposed by the [horse] coachmen.         

"I think the transport authorities must take the necessary measures to face up to this problem, because a student that has a double session of classes, and who must use this means of transport, has to spend eight pesos daily just to go by coach from home to school and vice versa", added the other CDR member. 
Charging two pesos per trip is a violation by the coachmen, said Manuel Taboni Joubert, a functionary with the National Tax Office in Guantanamo. Such a procedure has nothing to do with the reorganisation of transport called for in Guideline 249.     

Barbaro Ambert explained that the majority of the Cuban people are aware of the difficulties the country faces in undertaking the production of a large number of medications, above all the scarcity of raw materials, but that these limitations do not justify the lack of a cotton swab to heal a wound in a polyclinic such as the Emilio Daudinot clinic.

"This is the result of the disregard of someone, of the poor service that is sometimes provided and that so irritates the population. Everybody agrees with the content of Guideline 143, referring to the upgrading of the services provided by this sensitive sector", Barbaro concluded.

At the end of the meeting the CDR members applauded, in a gesture of gratitude, the [Cuban Communist] Party and the Revolution for keeping the people informed and making them the protagonists of this historical moment.   

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Translation: Sustainable happiness?

In my last post I commented on the illusion, widespread in Cuba today, that China is building socialism. In this noteworthy commentary, Ricardo Ronquillo Bello looks not to China for inspiration but to one of China's neighbours, the little-known kingdom of Bhutan, where they strive for "Gross National Happiness" rather than GDP growth. 

He warns against those inside Cuba who peddle the snake-oil of neoliberal capitalism in a bottle labelled "socialism" — hinting that, unsurprisingly, such neoliberal views are held by at least some in the PCC, most likely administrators with a pro-capitalist outlook who calculate that they might become millionaires if capitalism were ever restored in Cuba. Of course, such elements cannot openly advocate capitalist restoration. And they are up against a formidable obstacle: a mass revolutionary socialist party led by the historic leadership of the 1959 revolution with some 800,000 members, firm roots in the working class, a heroic tradition of internationalism and, counting the PCC's predecessors, five decades of hard-won struggle experience. As Carlos Alzugaray Treto pointed out in "Cuba: Continuity and political change":

Despite the fact that the PCC leadership has committed errors that have been recognised and/or rectified, and that methods and styles of work bearing the imprint of their origins in the Soviet political model still persist — such as the excess of centralism, for example — in reality the Cuban leadership has been concerned with two central aspects: the vanguard character of its militants that must be the first in every political social initiative, and the struggle against manifestations of corruption in its ranks. The honesty, sensitivity and the spirit of sacrifice championed by Che Guevara have been, in general, paradigms of Cuban communist conduct and not the privileges and perks of the nomenclatura, as happened under actually existing socialism [e.g. Soviet bureaucratic "socialism"]. 

Sustainable happiness?

By Ricardo Ronquillo Bello

Juventud Rebelde, January 22, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Postmodern and technocratic humanity is challenged by a "little finger" [small] state between the Asiatic mountains. It stopped measuring development according to the vagaries of the gross domestic product, to do it with something as marvellously carnal and tender as gross domestic happiness.

The more one considers this "eccentricity" of Bhutan, in a world governed by financismo and extreme marketing, the better one sees its connection to what Cuba aspires to in its economic updating.        

According to analysts, the Buddhist leaders and people of this nation try to combine economic modernisation with cultural solidity and social wellbeing. Gross domestic happiness is much more than generalised [economic] growth that favours the poor. Bhutan also asks itself how to combine economic growth with ecological sustainability, how to preserve traditional equality and foster its unique cultural heritage, and how individuals can maintain their psychological stability in an era of rapid change, signalled by urbanisation and an avalanche of global communication.

When dwelling on such considerations, one concludes that few planetary spaces are like Cuba in having a sediment so essentially humanistic as a basis for entrenching such a proposal, since the island awoke on January 1959 to the triumph of an insurrection that placed man, her freedom, hope and happiness, at the centre of things.

This can ensure [the continuity of this project] despite the well-intentioned errors of idealism, one of whose consequences is precisely that of having wanted to redistribute more wellbeing than the economy would allow with its implacable logic, in the end creating disproportions and unmet needs that the reactivation now underway seeks to rectify.

We forgot the venerable Marx in his warnings that the economic basis determines the superstructure; and the readjustment aims to correct this inconsistency with the classics of socialism, because only the broad tree-trunk of the economy allows the enduring growth of the branches of happiness.   

But the strange dream of Bhutan brings other warnings. It does so against those who nourish from within [Cuba] certain ideas of "neoliberal socialism", which have nothing to do with the premises of the updating [of Cuba's socialist model]. Unaware that on the historic corner of 23rd and 12th Streets, in Havana, it was proclaimed almost 50 years ago, on the eve of the fighting at the Bay of Pigs [where the US sponsored a failed mercenary invasion] that Cuba's was a Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble; and because of this, socialist.    

What's more, it warns us against those who try to boil for us bitterer brews as a remedy for errors, masking adverse reactions and side-effects to prescribe it in pharmaceutical tones. By chance, circulating on the internet is one of those analyses that does not tastefully replicate what is said by those who hold the reins of the global misinformation machine.              

It turn out that there is a UN report that recognises the grave social consequences of the change to capitalism in the former USSR and Eastern Europe. Reproduced by a columnist for the magazine Free Thinking, its contents point to the fact that this restoration signified a regression for all the Eastern European countries, both on the economic and social planes.  

According to the UN, the step from a planned to a market economy was accompanied by big changes in the distribution of national wealth and wellbeing, and the figures show it to be the most rapid mutation of its kind ever registered. "This is dramatic and has involved a high human cost." The international organisation stressed that the state-owned economic sectors were sold off at ridiculously low prices and a large part of the powerful economic and industrial apparatus was dismantled. In a matter of years, it specified, the great industrial power that was [Soviet] Russia became a Third World country. The Soviet Union regressed some one hundred years.     

If in the field of economics this is like the Guernica of that model of socialism, the social situation would cause those same Buddhist monks of Bhutan to cross themselves, because the list of calamities is long. The UN refers to the around 150 million inhabitants of the ex-URRS that were plunged into poverty at the beginning of the 1990s. One tenth of the inhabitants of the old [post-capitalist] Eastern Europe are undernourished.

The document points out that for the first time in 50 years illiteracy reappeared, tuberculosis is once again almost at Third World levels, the number of syphilis cases grew substantially and the number of alcoholics doubled in Russia. The UN estimates that the number of deaths in the former socialist countries that can be attributed to new illnesses (that are easily curable) and to violence (war), was two million in the first five years of the step towards capitalism.      

All of this panorama, the article reveals, led to the population oscillating between deception, resignation and indignation. Not even Poland, recognised for having been left the most unscathed by the transition, escaped this. 

In that country, where socialism was never pleasant, 44% of the inhabitants judged the Eastern bloc period to have been positive, while 47% think socialism is a good doctrine that "has been badly applied". Some 76% of Germans agree with the Poles in this regard, and only one in three are satisfied with the way their nation works today, to mention some examples.     

This harsh deception enjoins us, as [Cuban writer and critic] Graziella Pogolotti said recently, to rescue, tempered by the premises of our times and extracting the lessons of our own secular apprenticeship, our stage, valid for the future and for responding to our challenges.    

The Cuba of the economic and social updating, led by the [Cuban Communist] Party and the Revolution, has before it the necessary recasting of its humanism. So as the prestigious intellectual [Pogolotti] explains, more than any other, the national circumstances demand the ascension of this perspective.         

We just have to learn to guide the economy efficiently so that this renewal produces sustainable happiness.   

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Translation: Spectres and the present

This commentary by Luis Sexto needs little introduction. It gives a feel for the mood of the country as it faces up to difficult and disagreeable adjustments to a patchwork of the valid, the harmful and the obsolete.

Spectres and the present

By Luis Sexto

Juventud Rebelde, January 24, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

It seems to me that the greatest risk to Cuban society in its internal circumstances, influenced by those of the world, could be to entrench itself in fear, pessimism or perhaps resignation, all feelings that a psychologist would include among the "spectres of the soul". Some may be offended by this judgement because, they would say, how could we fear or be pessimistic or resign ourselves if we have confronted without trembling nor wavering the hostility, threats and subversive actions by successive US governments.

Of course, nobody would deny such evidence. But the courage [I refer to here], primordial and with everything this implies, and that I have already mentioned, is not about raising weapons, shooting, charging at the enemies of the nation. Physical courage lies outside of the apparent generalisation of fear or pessimism or resignation. For many it would even be a historic privilege to confront a wave of invading "marines". It would be very straightforward for them. Because they would know who they were aiming and shooting at.

Now then, I want to try to reflect in moral terms. And to continue this analysis we'd have to turn to psychology and accept the tendency to persist in habits, to not abandon the known for the unknown, other than when in an act of liberation we take a leap forward. The origins of fear, pessimism and resignation are multiple.

We need to accept that, in effect, a certain part of society fears the possibility that the conquests of the Revolution — which never, in its brief history, has advanced without separating itself from obstacles of internal and external opposition — may be lost.

We agree, what's more, that it is natural that those who have defended the socioeconomic order they installed, and have defended it with good intentions, will be assaulted by pessimism when faced with the fact that our reality is being updated with modifications whose scope or success cannot be foreseen.

But let's allow for the senses in which Cuban society — that aspires to socialism, which is justice and independence — presents a rough characteristic: its complexity. In it is plaited, interwoven, in sometimes absurd alliances, the reasonable with the irrational; the collective with the personal; the success with the error; the ethic with the moral hypocrisy, abidance with indiscipline. It has to be admitted, though it may hurt or perturb us, that Cuba's social organisation has been overloaded with bureaucratism. Thus, certain gazes cannot see what exists but only what they wish would exist. Therefore, our economy will have to be organised horizontally enough that the prevalence of incorrect acts above the law is avoided, and that the excess of will on the part of the administrators, above the view of the workers, is also avoided.

To preserve political independence and social justice we need, then, the indispensable mechanism of renovation, the basic dialectical method that would allow Cuba to become a place where such things abound. This, then, must be understood, and we must understand that a country whose image Raul [Castro in his speech to the National Assembly in December] silhouetted honourably and clearly as one foot over the edge of the precipice, cannot pass this test unharmed without measures that are at times drastic. Drastic measures that must preserve the equilibrium between the urgent and that which can be delayed, the necessary and the optional, that which is possible and that which would be inappropriate. Doubts may be understandable. But, being demanding, fear and pessimism are out of tune with our history. Or resignation, that feeling with which we leave everything to chance, to the wind that pushes leaves or papers around.

I have no illusions: some of my readers will write me off as a dreamer. And if this is true, that is, if I am a dreamer, is this not preferable to being labelled a pessimist, or resigned, or timid? I confess, nevertheless, that sometimes fear does keep me awake at night. Fear that everything of value in my country, its work and its history, could fall into the decadence of those that Ruben Dario called the new barbarians of Attila. These days, on learning of the attack, that became a killing, on a US senator, liberal and progressive, I ask myself if this is the country they propose [for us] so emphatically from the United States?

For now what counts is the present, and also the internal spectres, such as bureaucracy. But the bureaucratic mentality, dedicated to restricting with its all-seeing and misplaced eye, will only be nullified if the workers and socialist democracy raise themselves to the first rank of decision-making through a conscious and rational strategy, without fear, nor pessimism, and much less resignation to things being "always like this and they always will."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Translation: Continuity and political change (4)

Here is the fourth and final instalment of my translation of "Cuba fifty years on: Continuity and political change" by Havana University's Carlos Alzugaray Treto. The other instalments are archived here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Norman Girvan has compiled a nice PDF version of the complete translation here, with permission from the author and Temas. The Spanish footnotes in the original are below each translation. As usual, you can access the Spanish text by clicking on the post title.

As I said in the introduction to the first instalment, this is, in my opinion, a superb summary of the Cuban Revolution at this critical juncture and a grounded analysis of the changes, both economic and political, that must be made to Cuba's socialist model if the Revolution is to endure in the post-Fidel era that is taking shape. Published in late 2009, it was written before the announcement of the date for the PCC's 6th Congress in April this year that coincided with the publication of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, that are the subject of grassroots debates in the PCC, workplaces and neighbourhoods in preparation for the Congress. 

One weakness of Alzugaray Treto's analysis, worth drawing attention to, is that more could have been said about the significance of the opening of Venezuela's Bolivarian socialist revolution and the importance of the Cuba-Venezuela alliance for the future of Cuba's socialist project. Another weakness, it seems to me, is his uncritical appraisal of the Chinese leadership's claim that they are building socialism in China, albeit with "Chinese characteristics" (such as the fact that there is no barrier to multi-millionaire Chinese capitalists joining the so-called Communist Party). 

Such illusions in the Chinese "road to socialism" are widespread in Cuba, largely for the same reason that most Cuban revolutionaries once looked to the Soviet Union for inspiration: given the necessity for the PCC leadership to maintain excellent trade and diplomatic relations with the Chinese regime — which has its own geopolitical reasons for supporting revolutionary Cuba against US imperialism unrelated to fomenting the global proletarian revolution — little real information about the social and ecological costs of China's rampant capitalist development or leftist critiques of this process are readily accessible to most Cubans. What the inner circles of the PCC leadership really think about China's trajectory is unknown and can only be speculated, for obvious reasons.    

It would be to misread Alzugaray Treto's comments on China as saying that Cuba should copy "the Chinese model". Indeed, he explicitly warns against this and there are other caveats too, such as the need to take into consideration "the criticisms that have been made by the left". What he suggests Cuba can learn from China and apply, specified in five points, would not amount to the restoration of capitalism in Cuba; Cuba's political and social order would remain essentially different from that of China. It should also be noted that Alzugaray Treto's advocacy of a deepening and a decentralisation of Cuba's socialist democracy would help safeguard Cuba against precisely such a drift towards capitalist restoration. 

In his summary, he reaffirms the noble objective at the heart of the Cuban Revolution: the cultivation of a new human being, less alienated and egoistic, a fuller and freer expression of the human personality in its harmonious interrelation with humanity and the rest of nature on this fragile Earth — an objective that is not remotely shared by Beijing's ruling elite. Finally, the geopolitical realities of Cuba, a small post-capitalist society just 150km from the imperialist monster to the north, leave no room for a "Chinese road". Either the Cuban Revolution renews itself with the help of Venezuela's Bolivarian socialist revolution and the other progressive forces on the planet, or the flame of revolution is extinguished and Cuba returns to its former status of a US neo-colony. Now more than ever, the Cuban Revolution needs our understanding and our solidarity.   

I invite readers of this blog to comment if you wish, by submitting a comment below this post. 

Cuba fifty years on: Continuity and political change (Part 4)

By Carlos Alzugaray Treto, Havana University

Temas, October-December, 2009

Translation: Marce Cameron

In this way, [Raul Castro] invited all the citizens to discuss even the question of socialism and the ways and means of building it. In February 2008, he recalled that at the University of Havana [on November 17, 2005] Fidel had made the following self-criticism: "A conclusion I have come to after many years is that among the many errors we have all committed, the most important error was believing that someone knew how to build socialism."[33] Then, in December of that year, Raul returned to this theme in his comments to the National Assembly in the following terms:

"Are we building socialism? Because to be honest, I also say that, as well as these problems that we're analysing regarding the new Social Security Law, we work little, we work less. This is a reality that you can verify for yourselves in any corner of the country. Pardon the frankness of my words, you don't have to agree with what I'm saying. I share these ideas first and foremost to provoke us to think, not only yourselves, compañeras and compañeros deputies, but all of our compatriots, the whole country. Some are personal judgements that should not be understood as immutable. They are things that we have a duty to study and debate profoundly in an objective manner, which is the only way of continuing to approach the most convenient formulas to move forward with the Revolution and socialism [emphasis added by author]."[34]  

This invitation to disagree and dissent, including with regard to his own views, reiterated what he had said in relation to controversial ideas raised during debates around the draft Social Security Law:

"The process of studies and consultations with all of the workers that will begin next month in September, prior to the approval of the Law by the National Assembly in December, will serve to clarify all of the doubts and will provide an opportunity to express any opinion. Everyone will be listened to attentively, whether or not their views coincide with those of the majority, as has happened with the opinions coming out of the process of reflection on [my] speech of July 26. We don't aspire to unanimity, which would be fictitious, on this or any other theme [emphasis added by author]."[35]

In his reflection on the necessity for [decision-making] processes that are ever more democratic during his acceptance speech on his election as President, he did not exclude the PCC:   

"And I added that if the people are firmly united around a single party, this party must be more democratic than any other and with it society in turn, which after all, as with any human work, can be perfected, but this is undoubtedly a just society, and within it everyone has the opportunity to express their opinion and, more important still, to work to make reality what we agree on in every case."[36] 

A little earlier, in December 2007, during his summary of the conclusions of the process of national deliberation around his speech of July 26 of that year, he had stressed the need for all PCC or government leaders to stimulate the broadest debate and deliberation among their subordinates:

"This process ratifies something fundamental: those who hold a leadership position must know how to listen and create a propitious climate for the others to express themselves with absolute freedom. This is something we need to incorporate into the work style of every leader, alongside the orientation, the criticism or the appropriate disciplinary measure. Our people receive information in many ways and we're working to perfect these and eliminate the harmful tendency to triumphalism and complacency, to ensure that every compañero with a certain political or administrative responsibility reports in a systematic way on what they are responsible for with realism, transparently, critically and self-critically."[37]    

Another theme that is stressed in the speeches and interventions of Raul Castro is that related to institutionalisation. This is a matter of particular importance given the cumulative malaise from the effects of bureaucratism, inefficiency and cases of corruption. As was demonstrated with the dismissals of highest-level leaders [the secretary of the Council of Ministers, Carlos Lage, and the foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque] in March 2009, excessive secrecy on the part of cadres and leaders in a climate of institutional weakness is a breeding ground for the practices of influence-peddling and moral hypocrisy. Strengthening institutionalism is a priority task in the present circumstances.

Thus, once elected President, Raul Castro asked for and was granted by the National Assembly the authorisation to modify the governmental structure:   

"Today a more compact and functional structure is required, with a smaller number of organs of the central state administration and a better distribution of the functions they carry out. In summary, we have to make the work of our government more efficient [...]. Institutionalism, I repeat the term: intuitionalism is an important support for this decisive proposal and one of the pillars of the invulnerability of the Revolution in the political terrain, which we must work to continually perfect."[38]   

These proposals around the importance of institutions and their efficiency, which cannot be separated from their legitimacy, run counter to the generalised view that the best way to struggle against the bureaucracy is the subversion of institutions and their substitution by informal mechanisms for decision-making and implementation. The reality is that the undermining of institutions inevitably leads to the loss of legitimacy of the system as a whole. Hence the choice of a policy that obliges those who lead and comprise institutions to conduct themselves within the framework of legality, and to assume an attitude of democratic responsibility subject to the social control of subordinates and citizens. No system of vertical supervision from the top down can be more effective that popular control.

One aspect that has not been dealt with sufficiently and in a public manner, although it has been debated in more private and semi-public forums, is the role of the social sciences in the present conjuncture. In the context of the call to dialogue that has characterised the speeches of the Cuban president, stimulating ever more and better empirical studies of Cuban social reality, and bringing together Cuban social scientists — whose commitment and prestige is recognised — to participate in the popular consultation on the basis of their professions and specialities is a necessity of the moment. Two initiatives would seem decisive: a national conference of the social sciences and giving free reign to the constitution of national associations of sociologists and political scientists, as is now happening in other branches of science and with economists and historians. On the other hand, what is needed is the cultivation of a social science with "committed autonomy" that would facilitate the development of its core work.                          

The press and the communications media in general should play an important role. The deficiencies of the media have been criticised repeatedly, by there has been very little improvement. For example, Cuba must be one of the few countries that stands out for its scarcity of daily opinion pages [in the press]. We live in a world in which the use of information and digital technology via the internet is  increasingly prevalent and useful. It would be impossible to conceive of a prosperous and developing society in which these media do not play their necessary roles as transmitters of information and propitiators of dialogue, debate and deliberation. The right to access the internet is becoming, little by little, commonplace. In Cuba this is insufficiently recognised. While there are technical difficulties, the reality is that there is no policy of stimulating the use of these computerised information techniques in all social life, as is needed. Beginning with the Youth Computer Clubs [that provide free access to email and Cuba's intranet, a restricted version of the internet, and training] and the University of Information Sciences, even the existing controls on internet usage are outdated and prejudicial.

In conclusion

Cuba finds itself at a crossroads in which changes within continuity will have to be introduced. These changes are already underway and are reflected in measures and pronouncements of the new government led by Raul Castro. This will mean, inevitably, a transformation of Cuban society, both economically and politically. The Party Conference [now scheduled for sometime in 2011, after the 6th PCC Congress in April that will focus on economic policy] will be obliged to respond to the set of problems discussed here, and others. It is not a question of denying the gains achieved under the leadership of Fidel Castro, but of making the necessary adjustments and transformations. This obliges us to make use of the different spaces [for deliberation and debate] that are available and create others as needed to give a response to the following questions:

1. What are the bases for the construction of a just society in harmony with the ideals of socialism? The contradictions between the distinct forms of property [socialist state, cooperative and private]; between centralisation and decentralisation; between moral and material incentives; between the development of the productive forces and that of revolutionary consciousness will have to be resolved. What Cuban history has demonstrated, and that of other [post-capitalist development] models, is that hyper-centralisation, the underestimation of the laws of the market [i.e. of the need to combine social planning with subordinate market mechanisms], the inadequate handling of the relationship between different kinds of incentives and the undervaluing of efficiency and the development of the productive forces, leads to blind alleys and does not promote the formation of the new human being [a reference to the socialist personality, free of the egotism and alienation of individuals under capitalism, associated with the ideas and example of Che Guevera in the 1960s]. If it is true that there are evident dangers in the unrestricted use of market mechanisms, ignoring the necessity for [economic] progress and prosperity for the citizens, collectively and individually, does not solve this problem. As Jose Marti said: "But, given human nature, one must be prosperous to be good".                     

2. How to strengthen and perfect democracy? Cuban society needs a strengthening and development of the democratic forms it has created. The absence of Fidel requires the search for new ways to strive for consensus. Introducing the concept of deliberative democracy, together with a perfected notion of participation, through which leaders and cadres would not only be responsible to their superiors but would be obliged to discuss the reasons for their decisions. This would make more real and effective the citizens' input in decision-making, always in an informed and reasoned manner. This is the path that will make it possible to overcome some of the present deficiencies of the system. But this requires that more and better information is available to the citizenry and the creation and promotion of the necessary public spaces for dialogue, debate and deliberation.*

33. Citado por Raúl Castro Ruz, «Discurso en la sesión
constitutiva...», ob. cit.

34. Raúl Castro Ruz, «¡Y a trabajar duro!», ob. cit. (El énfasis es
mío. C. A.)

35. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Trabajar con sentido crítico...», ob. cit. (El
énfasis es mío. C. A.)

36. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Discurso en la sesión constitutiva...», ob. cit.
(El énfasis es mío. C. A.)

37. Raúl Castro Ruz, «¡Y a trabajar duro!», ob. cit. (El énfasis es
mío. C. A.)

38. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Discurso en la sesión constitutiva...», ob. cit.
(El énfasis es mío. C. A.)