Cuba: The Left in Government, 1959-2008*

When approaching this topic, it is important to point out what is distinctive about the Cuban case: a triumphant political revolution that remains in power today, that has unleashed a socialist-oriented social revolution, and that has been confronting and resisting US imperialist aggression for nearly five decades. But although its trajectory seems clear, it is worth exploring this leftist government’s political balance-sheet and the scope of its historical experiment. The purpose of the present article, however, is more limited. We shall try to examine in summary form the main features of this historical process with the explicit purpose of contributing to the debate among left movements in Latin America.

1. The Identity of the Left

I begin by asking myself about my own understanding of what is meant by “left.” On the one hand we have the “basic left” (izquierda tópica), which we conventionally define in relation to other social and political forces in accordance with the observer and the context. It’s not “the left,” but instead is “to the left” of “center” and “right.”  We also have the “historical left” – that which has been declared or which declares itself to be the “left” in distinct historical settings examined by a presumably qualified observer.

On the other hand, we have the “substantive left,” which is defined by its position vis-à-vis historical, national and international contexts, as well as by its proposals and its commitment to changing the existing institutional and social order in favor of the vast exploited majorities and oppressed minorities. In this sense, one becomes of the left. This can entail becoming the political vanguard of one’s society, which implies access to power and a strategy for transformation.

One phenomenon unique to leftists who rise to political power and to leftist governments is the emergence – in both a relative and an absolute sense – of “new lefts” within these historical processes, distinguished by their critical stance toward the ruling groups’ errors or deviations from the revolutionary project. In this case, they are only left if at the same time they defend revolutionary power and its achievements in the interest of the people.

These definitions suggest that the nature of the left is not innate or permanent, and those who represent it are diverse, change over time, and are defined by their practices. In fact, one can distinguish, in terms of their numbers and their functions, a social left, a political left, and an ideological left. The social left is the politically active population in which one finds expressed, in varying ways, the interests of the “great majorities”; it can take the form of an organized social movement and/or a political force. The political left consists of the political movements and organizations that attempt to transform existing conditions through parties, leaders and leadership strongly linked to the social sectors whose interests they represent and defend. The

ideological left consists of the diverse actors whom Gramsci defined as organic intellectuals of an alternative order. Among this group are political leaders and intellectuals who contribute to the creation of a revolutionary ideology and a societal project different from that which currently prevails.

It is possible to identify actors belonging to these three leftist categories at various stages in the recent history of the Cuban Revolution. All three have been present over the years, and the actors who emerged from the insurrectional struggle have diversified and multiplied in the revolutionary era. This experience shows that in the revolutionary process, with a substantive left in power, positions further to the left are only possible in relation to specific situations or issues. Thus, certain players may appear at times to hold positions that are further to the left on some issues than on others. This is the case of those who lead or support the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements and promote social equality, but may have positions or practices less committed to the development of democracy, freedoms, and so on.

The resources normally available to the left before and after the taking of power are clearly not comparable. The experience of the Cuban Revolution in both phases shows that its main resources have been: historical legitimacy; the establishment of a popularly based political system; continuing social and political mobilization of the citizenry; and an alternative social project grounded in rising public awareness.1

2. Access to Power

Access to power by the Cuban left, which has historically been comprised of radical nationalist sectors, socialist groups, and the most varied social movements, was historically exceptional, not because of conditions it shared with other societies in the region (as Che argued), but rather because of the exceptional conditions on which the new revolutionary power was built up in less than twenty months, namely:

  • Complete replacement of the preexisting armed forces by armed forces loyal to the revolution.
  • Creation of new institutions and establishment of a new institutional order, particularly with respect to the political system.
  • Purge of the state bureaucracy, local governments, the judiciary, the diplomatic corps, etc.
  • Creation of a system of mass organizations designed to defend the Revolution.
  • Creation of a nationalized sector of the economy.
  • Simplification of the social structure.
  • Displacement of formerly dominant sectors from their positions of economic, political, civil and ideological power.
  • Creation of its own mass media.

The accelerated formation of this revolutionary power made it possible to consolidate national independence, complete the unfinished cycle of republican reforms, and propel a social revolution. In turn, this newly established power enjoyed exceptional circumstances that allowed for its defense and reproduction at the time: first, a political system established on the principle of unitary power; second, unification of the political class with the revolution’s social base, through the creation of a single party which united all revolutionary forces and organizations; third, the continued buildup of forces through expansion and organization of their social base; and fourth, the accelerated promotion and training of leadership cadres in all areas and at all levels.

3. The Revolution of National and Social Liberation

The access to and consolidation of power by a political vanguard, resulting from the combination of the rebel army, the revolutionary organizations and the new leadership, combined with Cuban society’s desire for radical transformation, led to a rapid process of change that allowed the national liberation struggle for full independence and sovereignty to be concluded in a short period. At the same time, and as an inseparable component of this liberation, a profound political, social and cultural revolution enabled the island to resist imperialist aggression and advance in the construction of a non-capitalist society.

This transformative process, which has been going on for almost five decades, had to overcome inherited conditions, external and internal challenges, the weight of the revolutionary tradition, and its own mistakes. Simplifying, we can distinguish different periods according to the prevailing strategies and objectives of each stage, as characterized by their slogans:2

1959-1961: Radical Nationalism. Changes based on nationalist ideology and the goals of the previous republican period.

1961-1965: Foundations of the Socialist Transition. Creation of conditions necessary for the socialist transformation of Cuban society.

1965-1970: Socialism for the Whole Nation (socialismo nacional). Promotion of an organic socialist transition model.

1970-1975: Socialist Integration. International policy based on and framed by the integration of the Eastern European socialist countries.

1975-1985: State Socialism. Implementation of a Soviet-inspired model of socialist transition.

1985-1990: Rectification. Promotion of institutional reforms designed to modify the economic model of the previous period.

1990-2002: Special Period. Implementation of measures to overcome the crisis brought on by the collapse of the European socialist bloc.

1990-1994: Survival. Economic adjustment and liberalization measures.

1994-2002: Recovery. Strategy of recovery from the crisis, via measures increasing economic and political openness and giving absolute priority to social policy.

2002-2007: Battle of Ideas. Promotion of a new model of socialist transition based on a new international economic policy.

These periods share certain common features. They are all based on a non-capitalist or socialist model, a political system under the hegemony of the historic leadership, and consensus of the majority of of the population, and in each period there were great achievements accompanied by some failures. Each was marked from the exterior by the hostile policy of the United States and, between 1961 and 1990, by an evolving alliance with the European socialist bloc and, in particular, with the former Soviet Union.

The major achievements included: securing and maintaining the revolutionary regime, achieving full national sovereignty, abolishing all traditional forms of exploitation, eliminating the bourgeoisie as a class, setting a threshold of universal welfare, developing the forces of production, developing human resources, laying the foundations of participatory democracy, minimizing social inequality, and greatly expanding all forms of creative work and the consumption of cultural goods.3

In the 1990s, the Cuban Revolution faced its greatest historical challenge under the impact of an economic crisis and, to a lesser extent, a social and political crisis stemming from changes in the international system. This gave rise to the so-called “Special Period” and more precisely to the stages of survival and recovery, not yet completed. The socialist option sustained by the Cuban people during that period is undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of the Cuban Revolution.4 Viewed overall, the main features of Cuban society that emerged from that experience can be summarized as:

  • A social formation based on public ownership of nearly all of the means of production, which are administered by the State.
  • A “centrally planned” economy, with a very limited role for the market.
  • Rationing of most social and private consumption.
  • A highly centralized institutional system.
  • A political system led by a vanguard party and structured at all levels through representative bodies, which bring together the powers of State, collective decision-making bodies, and mass organizations. This system operates based on the relative autonomy of its institutions, the strong historical legitimacy of its leadership, the continued mobilization of the people and the features of “democratic centralism.”
  • Little inequality between social groups.
  • A social welfare policy for all, conceived as a civil right guaranteed by the State and covering a broad spectrum of services such as: employment, food security, health, education, social security, sports and recreation, culture, etc. The implementation of this policy has been the core of the country’s broad consensus.

The strategies promoted and/or implemented in each historical period of the Revolutionary process have involved proposals, and to a lesser extent debate, about the transition “model” most appropriate to socialist ideals and national conditions. Even when other models, such as the Soviet model, had the greatest influence, the Cuban experience preserved its distinctive traits, a kind of “socialismo nacional” decisively influenced by the legacy of José Martí, as well as fidelista and guevarista ideas.

Although Cuban society of the 1990s and since 2000 has undergone great changes under the impact of the crisis and the strategies to survive it, the operative “transition model” maintains its political, social and ideological features, but with changes in its economic strategy.5 In fact, the changes in Cuban society, both structural and functional, gave way to an emergent socialist transition “model” different from the previous one and different also from the one adopted by Asian countries at that time.

After the 2001-02 recession, under the slogan “Battle of Ideas,” a new, not-fully-spelled-out model was launched that sets limits to previous liberalizations and takes into account the country’s new and advantageous external conditions. In terms of economic policy, this nascent model is reminiscent of the strategies implemented in the 1960s, based on: absolute predominance of the public sector, minimization of the market, priorities defined by “Programs,” highly centralized economic management, income based on individual work, prioritization of social spending, widespread subsidies, limited consumption in favor of accumulation, rationed distribution, emphasis on moral incentives, etc. To these were added new features such as: accumulation from earnings of the service sector, including technical services; continuation, although minimized, of some of the openings of the 90s; greater emphasis on social policies in public expenditure; productive restructuring of the sugar industry; a reconfigured energy sector; and financial mechanisms such as the circulation of two currencies, hyper-centralized control over foreign exchange, price adjustments, the gradual elimination of rationing, etc. Another continuing trait is the preference for basing international policy on political agreements with other states rather than on world market conditions.

4. Revolutionary Power as Government

To bring about and maintain the needed social transformation, the revolutionary power must constitute itself as a Government, understood broadly as a new institutional order and, more narrowly, as a new political system.

4.1 New institutional order

A new institutional order is needed, as a mediating framework, in order to direct and orient society in the pursuit of its goals. In the Cuban case, the new order evolved in response to circumstances, the assumptions of the political leadership, and the challenges of each period, while preserving its legitimacy, relative effectiveness, and sustainability.

In fact, the Cuban institutional order has gone through successive periods. The current one, beginning in the 90s, has resulted in significant changes, while preserving most of existing institutions and strengthening some that had less importance such as local government, the market, the system of ownership, enterprises, NGOs, churches, cultural entities, public opinion and the family. Despite progress, the Cuban institutional order continues to face numerous challenges related to deviations from institutional norms, decentralization, bureaucracy, corruption, inefficiency, etc.6

The core of this institutional order is the political system, through which the predominance of the political sphere is expressed in the new order of social relations. This system is another instance of governance characterized by: a) constitutional grounding,7 b) “unity of powers,”8 c) representation of majority interests; d) integration of institutions and political, social and mass organizations under the leadership of a vanguard party that is constitutionally defined as “supreme leader of society and the State,” and, e) the “government” as a systemic whole, rather than any of its institutions taken separately.

4.2 The revolutionary state

In a more limited sense, it has been the role of the Cuban State to be the political system’s repository of popular sovereignty, the main agent of the socialization process and manager of the full range of social activities. In its role as Nation-State its responsibility has been to defend national interests vis-à-vis the international system. As Institutional State, or more accurately as the ensemble of state institutions that emerged from the revolutionary process, it has taken on a basic functional structure whose current version can be summarized as follows:

These functions of the State are implemented by various hierarchically structured institutions – organs of representation, of government, of public administration, of the judiciary, and of the armed forces, police, etc. – divided into national, provincial, municipal and district jurisdictions. Centralized decision-making, combined with replication of functions at different levels, gives these institutions a high capacity for carrying out their objectives.

The socialist character of this institutional state is evidenced by, among other things, its extraordinary economic functions:

  • The main economic functions are exercised through a centralized System of Economic Management and Planning (Sistema de Dirección y Planificación de la Economía, SDPE) that is directive in character.
  • The SDPE, with varying degrees of efficiency, implements the priorities of economic and social development, as well as social policy.
  • Public ownership, state administration of almost all the means of production, and control of most of the economic surplus provides the State with necessary resources.
  • Centralization of decisions and resources allows the State to impose its priorities.
  • The State is the main supplier of goods and services.
  • The public sector manages the national economy through its enterprise network, which is subordinate to the government Plan and regulations.
  • The absence of a national market minimizes the influence of market relations in regulating the economy.

4.3 Experience of Governance

Whether referring to the institutional order, the political system, or the State, the leftist governance of the Cuban revolutionary power is based on: a) a program of government committed to socialist goals and social demands, b) a style of government based on collective discussion and collective leadership, c) popular participation.

In practice, and despite the prevalence of these guiding principles, the program has been strongly affected by circumstances and changes of strategy, the collective governance has been limited by the leadership of Fidel Castro, and popular participation has been reduced to campaigns around particular demands or specific implementation of policy.9

On the other hand, all three principles have maintained their full effect on society and/or on the political system even during the most difficult external and internal circumstances.

4.4 Legitimacy

The high level of institutional and political legitimacy that the revolutionary regime has maintained over the course of its history has contributed to its Government and its capacity to govern. This has been, and perhaps still is, its principal resource. If we examine the objective sources of this legitimacy, we will see that they are, among others:10

Historical. A significant number of the leaders were the main protagonists of the insurrection, the construction of the new revolutionary power, the consolidation of national independence and the successful management of the process. The current institutional order emerged from a political revolution.

Ethical and Legal. Political actors are subject to the law and promotion to leadership positions is dependent on exemplary behavior. Institutions are created and operated according to the established legal and constitutional order. Institutions and actors are subject to a developing rule of law.

Revolutionary work. The leaders are receptive to public opinion and respond to social demands. The institutional order is the result of the Revolution’s political, economic and social transformations. Development strategies have been aimed at establishing full social justice.

Democratic commitment. Political and social actors perform their duties on behalf of their social bases. They promote and defend the full range of human rights. They are held accountable and are removable at any time. They are truthful. Institutions are representative or are subordinate to others that are. They are accountable. They ensure participation and are transparent to the public.

Cultural/ideological. There are organic intellectuals – in the Gramscian sense – whose discourse and intellectual work consolidate the hegemony of the working class. Their conduct is authentic, radical and committed. The institutions support a value system founded on social justice, work and solidarity. The institutional order is consistent with national and cultural identity. It promotes the development of a generalized political culture based on patriotism, anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, Third World consciousness and Latin American identity.

The high level of legitimacy has been the result of the sum of its sources more than of any one in particular, all having fluctuated over time. The tendency, spanning generations, has been for all of these sources – ethical-legal, democratic, and ideological-cultural – to become more important in shaping consensus.

This “objective” legitimacy of the Left in government is a resource as powerful as it is necessary; both responsive and bound to grow in the minds and hearts of the governed. The legitimacy of the left is not – and this is the Cuban experience – just a matter of “good government” but rather a question of building a majority consensus based on its merits, its accomplishments, and its goal of a more just society.

5. Current Scenarios

Left forces in government, in Cuba as elsewhere, are strongly influenced in their strategies and governance by the scenarios by face – restrictive on the national level and constrictive on the international level – and by their perception of these scenarios. These scenarios have some permanent features and other new ones, and may evolve more or less favorably at different moments. In the case of Cuba, the scenarios that expressed the great achievements of the Revolution in its first three decades gave way to the worst circumstances in the 1990s, with only a slight improvement in the new century.

5.1 The international scenario

The current international context is that of the globalization of capital, characterized by technical and scientific advances, a deregulated global market, and neoliberal strategies.11 Cuba finds itself with a certain but limited bargaining power and resources for its international reintegration. The central tenet of its international economic strategy is insertion based on political agreements that avoid the free market. At the same time, Cuba remains engaged with all movements fighting for a new international order and for the resolution of so-called “global issues.”

The current geopolitical transition and the United States’ attempts to dominate a weakened international system – decline of international law, an ineffective United Nations, regional conflicts, crises of hegemony, etc. – imply a more risky and uncertain present and future scenario for Cuba’s government. Nonetheless, Cuba’s status in Latin America, its bilateral and multilateral relations, have benefited from the crisis of US hegemony over the region that has resulted in a stronger anti-neoliberal, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist movement, as well as the rise of more or less radical leftist governments.

This evolution of the international and regional system, when the country’s defensive capacity has still not fully recovered from the impacts of the 90s and when the United States has increased its military presence in the region, obligates the Cuban government to give absolute priority to ensuring sufficient objective and subjective conditions to guarantee the country’s security.

In this sense, the greater hostility in the policies of successive US administrations towards Cuba and the absence of a framework for negotiating the dispute makes the conflict between the imperial designs of the United States and the Cuban Revolution the main, strongest and most permanent factor influencing internal and external policies.

In addition, this threshold of security for the independence and sovereignty of the country is also threatened by the ongoing globalization of culture and of mass communications. The asymmetry of powers and resources in this area compels leftist governments in general, and the Cuban government in particular, to develop and defend their societal project and the national and cultural identity of their people.

5.2 National context

The Cuban political scene is characterized by overall governability. Although consensus in support of the government has narrowed and declined, the government still enjoys the support of a demonstrable majority.12 Generational change weighs on the consensus, as the passing of the historical generation cuts into political unity. In fact, the historical leadership has shrunk numerically and Fidel Castro’s health problems led to a succession process that elected Raúl Castro as Head of State and Government in February 2008.

Political unity is expressed in a political system with a great capacity for mobilization and response but that is highly centralized and bureaucratic, which leads to anomie among groups and individuals. The intermeshing of the party and the State weakens the political system as they mix confusedly in the exercise of their respective functions.

Although democratic development continues, restrictions imposed by US hostility and by the bureaucratic tendencies of the political system persist. Such restrictions must be seen as defects and not as democratic virtues.

The economic scenario after the crisis of the 1990s is the result of a successful but incomplete recovery, discernible more at the macroeconomic than the microeconomic level. In fact, despite the national economic recovery and the further development of social policy, consumption levels remain low for the majority of the population. Since mid-2008, the impact of the international economic crisis and the devastation caused by successive hurricanes has led to a sharp drop in GDP and a further decline in consumption. Moreover, the existence of two currencies and inflationary trends undermine the purchasing power of primarily wage-based individual and family incomes.

The demographics influencing the situation are a rapidly aging population and consequently a declining economically active population. Although emigration is much lower than in neighboring countries and is, in part, politically motivated, it is a latent and increasing phenomenon among skilled youth.

The social structure has diversified again. Although the incidence of inequality in Cuba is the lowest, or one of the lowest, of any country in the world, inequality is higher now than in the period before the crisis of the 90s. In fact, up to 20% of the population is living in a relative situation of poverty, even though they are covered by a comprehensive social policy.

Manifestations of social disorder – crime, corruption, prostitution, drug addiction, etc. – that accompanied the crisis of the 90s have been largely reversed, but current levels are still higher than in previous periods. Only certain types of corruption have steadily increased.

Despite conspicuous changes in social subjectivity – greater individualism, increased religious observance, diversification of interests, thwarted expectations, etc. – the dominant value system remains based on patriotic values, social equity and solidarity.

The ideological-cultural context shows a well-educated population, with a large number of university professionals, scientists and researchers that make up a pool of insufficiently tapped human resources. Although access to information and expression of public opinion has risen considerably, it is still insufficient to convey the public’s demands. The means available for mass communication have increased and diversified, although to a lesser extent for images and messages of public interest.

The heterodoxy prevalent in contemporary Cuban thought must confront the latent tendencies of a State ideology, which is supported by a rigid official discourse.

6. The Challenges of the Cuban Revolution

The left in Government faces many challenges that originate not only in the restrictions or constraints of current scenarios, but also in the effort to live up to its own history of great accomplishments and fewer errors and at the same time to attain its social goal. It seems useful to enumerate some of these challenges. But first, we must take note of the priorities declared in Cuba’s official discourse that in a certain way underlie current strategies: “the pursuit of ideological, military and economic invulnerability.”

6.1 International

The first challenge relates to the preservation and defense of the independence and sovereignty of the Cuban nation and state. This requires confronting current trends of capitalist globalization, changes in the international system, the neo-imperialist offensive and above all the historic enemy of the Cuban nation – the great regional and global hegemonic power and main opponent of the Revolution – the United States of America.

Although it is difficult to see any degree of understanding between the two governments given their geopolitical, systemic, and ideological contradictions, the Cuban Revolution’s survival together with the correlation of international forces and US public opinion could eventually bring about a normalization of relations between the two countries. The resultant negotiation process would present a new strategic challenge for the revolutionary government. The new Obama administration may provide this opportunity.

A more general challenge for the Cuban government, strongly influenced by the aforementioned, will be to preserve and even enhance the security capacity of the country in terms of the military, economy, energy, food, environment, etc.  Yet another challenge will be sustaining a pro-Third World, anti-imperialist foreign policy and, in the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, a policy that supports the processes of national liberation and social change in the region.

6.2 Political

Although the eventual passing of Fidel Castro might appear to pose a challenge, the succession will be orderly and legitimate. In fact, Raúl Castro’s interim stint and subsequent election as President proves it.13 In the short run, the challenge is to the role of institutions, especially the Communist Party of Cuba, as a source of legitimacy of future governments, and to its ability to take over the role of arbiter played by the historic leadership, upon the arrival of a new political generation. The biggest immediate challenge is to preserve the unity of the political class and of Cuban society. This unity will be facilitated by a shared agenda and consensus among the different sectors of society.

The arrival of new political generations and the passing of the historic generation will pose the challenge of forming a new generational bloc adequately represented in governing structures, committed to the principal objectives of the revolution and united under the leadership of the Party.

It will also be a constant challenge to sustain majority consensus in a time of slow economic recovery and limited expectations.

A more general political challenge will be institutional reform aimed at decentralization, rationalization, less bureaucracy, greater transparency, and less departure from normal institutional practice. This will be especially incumbent upon the political system and the State, which will face the added challenge to make its decision-making more collective, representative, and bound by rule of law.

As previously noted, a no less important goal will be to maintain, in the short and medium term, the democratic development of the country, making all its institutions more representative and participatory and minimizing current restrictions. The issue of insufficient popular representation and participation could be resolved even in the present circumstances. An important component of this development is the establishment of a socialist public sphere.14

Another political challenge is continuing the successful battle against all forms of high-level corruption and against bureaucratic behavior.

6.3 Economic

The first economic challenge in the immediate future is to normalize the operations of the national economic system, while completing the recovery and balancing sectoral differences. The second is to design a development strategy based on:

• Human development criteria
• A new model of accumulation
• Sustained growth
• A prioritized social policy
• Criteria of efficiency
• Appropriate incentive mechanisms
• Better use of accumulated human potential
• Sustainability

This strategy must be accompanied by a new version of the System of Economic Management and Planning (SDPE) that takes into account and builds on accumulated experience. It will be an immediate priority to reconstruct a system of autonomous enterprises, subject separately to state and social control. This SDPE must redefine the role of planning and of the market in the transitional economic system, promoting a new role for the latter. Of equal priority, although more complex, will be to complete the country’s reintegration into the international economy giving due consideration to the role of the global market, political agreements and autonomous regional integration. This integration should contribute to the island’s technological, energy, and food security.

Another challenge is to ensure that economic growth is felt in the daily lives of citizens and supports social policy, raises consumption, and improves housing as well as the quality of public and community services. But the greatest economic challenge in the medium and long term will be to build a more decentralized, self-managed economic system consistent with the socialist project.

6.4 Social

A primary social challenge facing the country in the medium term will be the economic and social pressure on resources and services due to the growing elderly population, which makes up 20% of the island’s total.

A major goal will be to restore social equality, starting with the complete eradication of poverty. Another will be to incorporate into current strategies the characteristics of a social structure that is more diversified in terms of groups, generations, genders, races and regions. The biggest challenge will be to achieve full integration of younger generations.

In the medium term the changes in public consciousness (subjetividad social) will become apparent, and the challenge will be to reaffirm a revolutionary and socialist identity in future generations.

A last, but no less urgent challenge will be to wage a successful campaign against all forms and degrees of social disorganization: corruption, drug trafficking, gambling, prostitution and other criminal activity. This could influence migratory trends on the part of certain sectors of the population.

6.5 Cultural and Ideological

Outstanding among these challenges is the reproduction of a socially dominant and subjectively incorporated value system that prioritizes patriotic values, equity and solidarity.

Another goal is to develop an ideology of revolution and not a doctrine of State, one that is heterodox and eclectic enough to take into account social diversity, national history and culture, socialist experiences, our political culture and the ongoing “battle of ideas” against capitalism and sectarianism.

It is also a challenge to design and implement a cultural policy that promotes the creation and consumption of cultural goods grounded in universal, identitarian, and humanist values that promote higher forms of consciousness and behavior, including a culture of debate and environmental awareness.

Preliminary Conclusions

The Cuban left in government has been historically exceptional, more due to the character of the established revolutionary power than to its path to government.

This accumulation of powers allowed a dedicated political vanguard to go beyond reforming the capitalist system that made Cuba dependent and to carry out a socialist transformation of society, which relied upon not only on an alternative to dependent capitalism, but also on a power whose legitimacy is objectively founded on the exemplary qualities of the leaders, their ties to the masses, and the participation of the people.

The socialist option, maintained under the most difficult internal and external conditions, has continually been subjected to debate and to the testing of successive “models.” In fact, the debate continues today, encompassing past historical experience even as the Government promotes a new socialist model. Socialist theory, the experience of real socialism, and the Cuban experience itself seem to confirm that while the revolutionary State is a necessity for any anti-capitalist option, socialism is in no way just the State, and a state-run society alone is not socialist transition.

Notwithstanding the achievements of the left in the Cuban government, there remain important goals yet to achieve, mistakes to rectify and challenges to overcome. The departure from the historical stage of the generation that led the revolution poses dilemmas of continuity and change characteristic of all historical experience. While the changes will depend heavily on the Cuban leadership, continuity depends on a society that is much more united and mobilized in the defense and development of Cuban socialism.

The great historical test of the governing left in Cuba will be not just the preservation, but also the further development of its legacy for future generations – in other words, becoming once again the historical exception: a Revolution that does not end.


*This text is an updated version of an article published in B. Stolowicz (ed.), Gobiernos de izquierda en América Latina, Bogotá, 2007.

1. In fact, there has usually been more than one project and this has been a source of division and conflict.

2. The first version of this was published in Juan Valdés Paz, “La transición socialista en Cuba: continuidad y cambio en los noventa,” in Juan Valdés Paz and Mayra Espina, La Transición Socialista en Cuba (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1994).

3. Numerous sources describe the achievements of the Cuban Revolution in various spheres. For the period before the crisis of the 90s, see Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 1989, Havana: ONE, 1990; and for the situation up to the year 2006 see Anuario Estadístico de Cuba 2006, Havana: ONE, 2007.

4. Juan Valdés Paz, “Cuba en el Período Especial: de la igualdad a la equidad,” presentation at the conference “Cambios en la sociedad cubana desde los noventa al momento actual.” FLACSO, Dominican Republic, 2004.

5. The term “transition model” is usually understood to mean the set of strategies proposed and/or implemented that pursue socialist objectives, while the term “socialism model” refers to the society resulting from those strategies. This text refers only to the first.

6. For further information see Juan Valdés Paz, “Desarrollo institucional en el Período Especial: continuidad y cambio,” in Cultura, fe y solidaridad. Havana: Edición Félix Varela, 2005.

7. Ley Fundamental, 1959; Constitución de la República de Cuba, 1976; Reforma Constitucional, 1992; and complementary laws. Also see Hugo Azcuy, “Análisis de la Constitución cubana,” in Papeles, no.14, Madrid: Fundación de Investigaciones Marxistas, 2000.

8. In contrast to the liberal model of division and “balance” of powers, this system is inspired by the classical Marxist tradition and the Soviet experience of power unified in the supreme representative body of the State. Cf. Constitución de la República de Cuba, Havana: Editora Política, 1993.

9. Juan Valdés Paz, “Notas sobre la participación política en Cuba,” in Participación Social en Cuba, Havana: CIPS, 2004.

10. In its broadest sense, “legitimacy” is the capacity of a regime, government, political group or leadership to build popular consensus. Consensus expresses the subjective will of the people. This effect is not arbitrary, but instead objectively influenced by what is called “sources of legitimacy.”

11. Since mid-2008, this scenario has been threatened by a profound economic crisis that originated in the US and other core countries and then spread to the peripheral economies.

12. As has been empirically proven by the results of successive and uninterrupted local and national elections, in the public’s constantly reaffirmed capacity for mobilization, and in public opinion polls carried out by foreign companies such as Gallup.

13. In February 2008, General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz was elected President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba.

14. In socialism, the public sphere is not the liberal notion of a “communicative sphere,” nor the neoliberal notion of “a non-state space,” but rather a place where all social systems converge and contribute. It defines and supports public well-being and while it is a space delimited by the legal order, its powers are determined by popular sovereignty and culture.

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