Response to a Misinformed “Left” Critique of Cuba

Recent months have seen a resurgence of articles about Cuba, spurred in no small measure by the transfer of leadership from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl. Opponents both hard and soft line openly discuss “transition” as if it were a given that Cuba will soon become some kind of capitalist society. Those who are preparing to dance in the Orange Bowl as soon as the word arrives that Fidel has passed (the word has come several times already but proved false) even hope to return to the good old days when Cuba was a virtual colony of the United States. Sometimes lost in all this noise from Cuba’s enemies is the fact that the left attacks Cuba too. Often these two lines of criticism display the same kind of errors, usually based on ignorance or deliberate distortion. One case would be Paul D’Amato, Managing Editor of International Socialist Review, whose article “Cuba: Image and Reality” (ISR, Jan.-Feb. 2007, 38-49)1 shows no more understanding of the historical process in Cuba than do Bush’s firm allies in Miami.

D’Amato’s diatribe breaks down into several parts. One, sectarian infighting with the Workers World Party and Sam Marcy; two, a whirlwind tour of the revolutionary process from 1952 to present; and three, an all-out criticism of present Cuban institutions leading to the conclusion that Cuba is far from a socialist state (pp. 47-48). In the process he becomes so tangled as to say that one should oppose the US blockade of Cuba but that its lifting would lead back to colonization. If this were true, any real friend of Cuba would struggle to uphold the blockade!

Our concern in this short comment is not points one and two above, but rather the final one. In fact, D’Amato is correct in asserting that the Cuban Revolution was not the product of a mass workers’ uprising nor even of a mass peasant mobilization. Rather, it was the work of a relatively small cadre around the 26th of July Movement in alliance with other broad sectors of Cuban society (students, some workers and peasants, middle sectors, etc.). Be that as it may, and despite its strong impact on how things developed after the fall of Batista in 1959, what is important for us here is the current situation.

D’Amato’s article is filled with factual errors and lacks understanding of how Cuba’s socialist institutions function. One example of this is his treatment of representative government, called People’s Power (Poder Popular). D’Amato misrepresents the nature, purpose, and mechanisms of Cuban democracy and fails to understand how it differs from so-called democratic regimes under capitalism. Cuban sociologist Juan Valdés Paz notes that citizen participation in capitalist countries is largely limited to elections. Under socialism it is defined by participation in government and involvement in government decisions. Whereas the former stresses competition and rivalry, the latter is defined by consensus and consultation.

The description of Cuba as “democracy without substance” (p. 43) fails to take into account that municipal and provincial assemblies, while lacking legislative powers (which fall under the purview of the National Assembly), monitor and control all economic, social, educational, and health-related activities within their territories. They appoint and oversee administrators, elect judges, root out corruption, formulate economic plans and budget proposals, initiate and carry out policies, and act on citizen complaints and suggestions (planteamientos). Through semi-annual meetings with municipal delegates, constituents have direct input into decision making. Under the socialist theory of mandat impératif, the municipal delegates must attempt to resolve all planteamientos, with the assistance of groups of delegates at the neighborhood level called the People’s Councils (Consejos Populares), which also mobilize constituents and provide opportunities for citizen involvement in resolving problems.2

D’Amato also misreads elections and the role of the Cuban Communist Party (Partido Comunista Cubano or PCC). At no level is the PCC involved in candidate selection, since it is not an electoral party. Municipal assembly delegate candidates are selected by constituents in neighborhood meetings in the electoral districts, and by law there must be between two and eight candidates. Candidates for provincial assemblies and the National Assembly are selected, after extensive consultation with constituents, by candidacy commissions led by union leaders and on which, contrary to the ISR article, the PCC has no representation. They are submitted for approval to the municipal assemblies and then elected by the voters. Never (as claimed on p. 43) were only 55% of the National Assembly deputies elected. What D’Amato is probably referring to is that up to 50% of the National Assembly deputies are also elected municipal delegates. When the author complains that voters can vote for all or some of the candidates, he fails to understand what slate voting means, as prevalent in, for example, union elections in the US.3

The fact that the National Assembly meets in regular session only twice a year does not make it a “rubber-stamp body” (p. 43). To claim so ignores the varied sources of legislative initiative and the role of National Assembly commissions which meet regularly all year round and where most of the legislative work gets done. The Agrarian Cooperative Law of 2002 provides a typical example of the Cuban legislative process. The initiative behind the law and first draft came from the National Association of Small Farmers (Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños or ANAP). It then went for revisions to governmental ministries and various professional groups. After several drafts, the National Assembly commission on productive activities led discussions with National Assembly deputies and cooperative farmers in the provinces, which resulted in major changes in the draft law. At no point did President Castro become involved nor did the PCC run the show. Further, the changes gave something to all parties involved; no one imposed upon the other. For example, following demands made by farmers and their National Assembly deputies, revisions were made regarding the legality and ownership of existing housing on cooperative land, state aid, marketing of surplus production, and distribution of profits.

The authors D’Amato cites to support his arguments are, predictably, mostly opponents of the Revolution: Samuel Farber, Marifeli Pérez-Stable, and Carmelo Mesa-Lago to name a few. Obviously he takes their word regarding Cuba without bothering to investigate further. One also wonders if the author has ever been to Cuba to see for himself, always a wise thing to do before pontificating. He also states that since Cuba has not reached what he considers to be socialism (“Socialism is the self-emancipation of the working class or it is nothing.” p. 48), the Revolution cannot be socialist. This kind of idealistic ahistorical mindset rejects any notion of process. Clearly the Revolution was not born socialist and it has some distance to go before achieving that goal. If one reads the frequent criticism and self-criticism in Ignacio Ramonet’s recently published book-length interview with Fidel Castro, it becomes clear that Cuba’s socialist development was impeded not only by ferocious US-led imperialist opposition, but also by real mistakes made by real human beings inside Cuba. For example, as Fidel observes to Ramonet, Cuba would not have survived without the Soviet Union, but the adoption of the Soviet model without consideration for local conditions proved to be a major error (see esp. Ch. 17). The important question, however, is the direction in which things are moving. What differentiates Cuba from other countries claiming the socialist mantle is the process which builds on the history and tradition of the Paris Commune and the 1905 and 1917 Soviets, as well as on the theories of Rousseau, Marx, Engels, and Lenin, with changes marking its own path.

Notes

1. Online at www.isreview.org/issues/51/cuba_image&reality.shtml

2. For case examples of the system at work, see Peter Roman, People’s Power: Cuba’s Experience with Representative Government (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

3. Peter Roman, “Electing Cuba’s National Assembly Deputies,” European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, 82, April 2007.

4. See Peter Roman, “The Lawmaking Process in Cuba,” S&D #38, July 2005.

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