Updating the Cuban Political Model: For a Systemic and Democratic-Participatory Transformation

By Emilio Duharte

The Cuban socialist project is in a period of transition. This transition is unfolding in conditions dictated by an underdeveloped economy, a persistent domestic economic crisis even though the economy is in the process of recovering, and hostility on the part of successive U.S. administrations. With the Barack Obama administration, some expectations of change arose. The agreement to re-establish diplomatic relations announced on December 17, 2014, and the steps toward rapprochement that have followed are opening a qualitatively different era in these relations. They represent opportunities but also great challenges for Cuban socialism. Re-establishment of diplomatic relations does not mean normalization of relations in general. Two great obstacles remain, both of which should be the subjects of coming negotiations: lifting the economic and financial blockade against Cuba – known euphemistically in the United States as an “embargo,” though many specialists judge it to be a full economic war against the Cuban nation – and return of the Cuban territory illegally occupied by the US naval base in Guantanamo, which has in addition been converted into a prison for terrorists or supposed terrorist suspects. There are two other unresolved problems that are very sensitive for Cuban society: illegal radio and television transmissions from the United States against Cuba, and programs intended to destabilize and subvert the Cuban constitutional order, to which US administrations continue to devote millions of dollars even now.

Thus it remains to be seen whether there will be a substantive modification of traditional US policy – interventionist, hegemonic, and often aggressive – and a building of new relations based on respect for the independence, sovereignty, and free self-determination of the island. Besides the external difficulties facing the process of political transition – a complex of necessary changes within the socialist system1 – there are a set of unfulfilled goals and self-generated mistakes of different eras of the Revolution in Cuba,2 which exist alongside the colossal social, cultural, and political achievements of the Cuban project.

In the continuity of the process of socialist construction, the system needs to permanently strengthen its legitimacy and rebuild consensus through constant improvement of the socialist economic, political, social, cultural, and ideological system, which will require new transformations in the country.

The economic and political reforms3 carried out in Cuba in the 1990s contributed to this process and affected the entire system. Here we will emphasize only two of them: 1) economic reforms that eased the crisis and guaranteed the survival of the Revolution in spite of the US blockade and internal errors in economic policy, and 2) structural and functional changes instituted to give greater authority to the assemblies of People’s Power (the municipal and provincial governments, and the national legislature). Of the political changes, the most important was the institution of free, direct, secret voting by the entire population to elect the delegates to the provincial assemblies and the deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP). The ANPP deputies ratify lists of candidates for the Assembly President, Vice President, and Secretary, and for members of the Council of State, including its President, drawn up by the National Nominating Committee (Constitución de la República de Cuba 2010: articles 69-75); hence the significance of that political reform.

The end of the 20th century and the opening years of the 21st were marked by the implementation of reforms, with their attendant ups and downs. The years 2006-08 were marked politically by the passing of power from ex-President Fidel Castro to a group of major leaders of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the Cuban state, led by Raúl Castro. This process has been characterized by changes in both style and method in government and, more generally, politics. The Seventh ANPP,4 constituted in February 2008 as a result of that January’s general elections, ratified the members of the new Council of State5 and Raúl Castro as its President.

Since that date, the government’s political discourse has focused on the need to create a new consensus within the country. Raúl Castro’s speeches between 2007 and 2010, setting out the priorities of his administration, sounded that theme. In the domestic sphere, changes were made in government structure and functioning and in the promotion of new figures to high-level positions, processes that continue today. In the world arena, Cuba is gaining more and more recognition; it now has relations with all the countries of Latin America, enjoys near-unanimous support in the United Nations for the annual resolution opposing the US blockade, and is fully re-integrated into hemispheric bodies and events.

Within the complex of legitimizing reforms are the necessary political reforms. So far, since the preparations for the Sixth Congress of the PCC (April, 2011), state and party figures and documents have dealt almost exclusively with the updating of the economic model. But this must be accompanied by an updating of the political model and also the social, cultural, and ideological ones, in order to guarantee the comprehensive nature of the processes of revolutionary transformation. The goal of this article is to offer a critical look at the main political events in Cuba between 2010 and 2015 and at the prospects for change, so as to contribute to a comprehensive analysis and implementation of reforms that will strengthen the process of improving socialist democracy, legitimacy, and national political consensus.

Updating the Cuban model: Toward a more comprehensive approach and greater popular participation

The meaning of the term “updating of the economic model” is subject to debate, but the goal of this paper is introduce the issue of an indispensable comprehensive approach to changes in today’s Cuba, with an emphasis on the political.

Cuban society in the period 2010-15 has been affected by two major political events: the Sixth Congress of the PCC (April 16-19, 2011, after a preparatory phase begun in 2010) and the First National Conference of the PCC (January 28-29, 2012, with a preparatory phase following the Congress).6

The Sixth Congress was of great importance for several reasons:

  1. It was held after a gap of more than twelve years since the previous congress.7 The decision to hold this gathering was important as an act of political rectification and, above all, so as to collectively consider the experiences of the Revolution in power and to politically plan future changes.
  2. It was preceded by a national political discussion – with broad citizen participation – that examined the “Draft Guidelines for the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution.” That discussion took place in all the base-level organizations of the PCC and the Young Communist League (UJC), the mass organizations (labor, peasant, student, women’s, and neighborhood organizations), workplaces (all enterprises and institutions throughout the country), and communities. Specific proposals led to modification of 68% of the draft document. All this partially confirms the aptness of one of the prior recommendations – met with a certain degree of criticism – about how this important party event should take shape (Duharte 2008: 121-131).
  3. The Guidelines approved by the Sixth Congress (PCC 2011) and the ANPP propose 311 economic and social reforms. Many of them are now underway. Others are subject to the process of drafting and approval of specific policies and the laws and regulations that will provide legal support and orientation. Nonetheless, the Seventh Congress of the PCC should carry out an evaluation of the progress of these reforms and propose necessary corrections.
  4. The reforms approved by the Congress break with a number of dogmas. One of these relates to the theoretical and political approach toward property in socialism and in Cuba. The reforms expand cooperative forms of production (social, but not state-owned). They authorize the growth and development of new forms of management, as well as small-scale private property that is compatible with socialism and that allows individual citizen initiative to begin solving many problems – problems that the state has often been inefficient in addressing and is not likely to be able to solve in the short or medium term. Of course, this is still a process in its early stages. The state needs to guarantee these small businesses the necessary market in which they can acquire all the equipment, inputs, and products they require; there is also need to develop a technical and popular culture to support these undertakings.

Although this is not stated explicitly in the political discourse around the reforms, many of them represent, in practice, continuations of the rectification measures of the 1980s in response to errors of the ‘70s and even to aspects of the so-called “Revolutionary Offensive of ’68.”8 There is a possibility that, in the future, mid-sized enterprises and businesses may be created in the cooperative or private sectors or under other new forms of management so as to strengthen the country’s economy. The expansion of the non-state economic sector does not necessarily mean a privatization of social property. Rather, it implies the true recovery of an idea – still applicable – in the spirit and letter of the classical Marxist notion that a basic trait of socialism is social property over the fundamental means of production. This was never foreseen as total socialization, such as later occurred in various socialist experiences. Similarly, the Cuban state could today concentrate on increasing the efficiency of those fundamental means of production – making them truly the property of all the people – and in the preservation and improvement of the major conquests of the Revolution in health, education, social security, culture, science, etc., rather than devoting time and resources to activities that the non-state sector could take care of.

This process – although essential in Cuba’s concrete conditions – clearly does not have an easy road to travel. There are many prejudices, limitations, and contradictions in the analyses and visions of the issues involved. The economic-political view of property under socialism continues to be a topic of great debate. Cuba today needs to deepen its study of the relationships among three issues: socialist economy, individual well-being, and private initiative. There is an urgent need to find ways to increase production, services, and salaries – phenomena that, dialectically speaking, ought to march in step. As José Martí said, “To be good is the only way to be happy. To be cultured is the only way to be free. But, given human nature, one has to be prosperous to be good” (Martí 1884: 289). Material well-being is, without a doubt, one of the essential attributes of socialism, but with the rationality that this implies, not unchecked and unsustainable consumerism. Material well-being must be a means to prosperity, not an end in itself.

  1. A crucial decision on the part of the Congress was approval of the “Resolution on improvement of the bodies of People’s Power, the Electoral System, and the Political-Administrative Divisions” (PCC 2012a: 41-42). Although lacking specific details and, so far, the necessary grassroots discussion, this resolution expresses the party’s political will to carry out studies, evaluations, and concrete practical-political actions in order to clarify the authority of local assemblies of People’s Power, the powers and relationships of the assemblies (governing bodies) at each level of government and those of their administrative councils at municipal and provincial levels, to revise the political-administrative divisions (the country’s geographic division into municipalities and provinces), to make improvements in the electoral system, and to modify related laws and regulations to adapt them to current Cuban reality.

The Sixth Congress instructed the party’s Central Committee, after having done the necessary work, to present recommendations in this regard to the ANPP. However, greater legitimacy would be conferred by a degree of popular participation in the implementation of the Resolution, which implies participation in the design of rules and policies.

  1. Inside the country, the Guidelines have been discussed in polemical and contradictory fashion, within which at least four different positions can be distinguished so far. On one hand it is clear (although as far as I know no sociological studies involving polls, questionnaires, or rigorous interviews have been published) that a majority of the population supports the Guidelines, seeing in their efficient implementation a hope for resolving fundamental problems related to earnings, food, housing, transportation, greater access to information and communication technologies, elimination of old prohibitions without the emergence of new ones (which in practice happens), and more. On the other hand, a sizeable sector of the population views the changes with skepticism, judging them to be neither substantive nor profound, nor feeling that they provide any secure guarantee of conditions for personal development; this tendency does not see the Guidelines as anything new, though it also does not reject them. Then there are certain sectors that distrust the Guidelines for a different reason, seeing the changes as a return to capitalism; to a certain extent, this tendency does reject them. Finally, a relatively small group does not want to see reforms that rectify and correct socialism, but wants instead radical changes leading to the collapse of the socialist regime and establishment of neoliberal and neoconservative capitalism. Of course, within those four positions there are variants and nuances that reveal the complexity of today’s Cuban social and political fabric.
  2. Internationally, the Sixth Congress contributed to strengthening the country’s image as a society that is not static, that is moving toward higher forms of development, and that is carrying out a transformation based on socialist improvement and greater citizen freedoms; this is a factor in legitimacy. Of course, neoconservative international forces do not grant any credit to this process and opt for criticizing it and continuing to press for the dismantling of socialism in Cuba.
  3. In general, the implementation of the Guidelines is continuing, and the majority of the population is participating – with more or less enthusiasm – in the economic and social transformations under way.

Are the foundations, content, and proposals of the Guidelines political or not? Of course they are. The center of attention is economic and social, which is legitimate and appropriate. Those are the realms provoking the most concerns and demands among the Cuban population; that is where the pursuit of solutions to the continuing economic crisis and social problems of the country should be concentrated. Some of the social problems have been left, to a degree, “for later,” something that may also be corrected. But it is clear that what is at issue is public policy, where the decisions about development, stagnation, or regression to the past are, in the final analysis, in the hands of the state and particularly of the government and the ANPP. All the issues dealt with at the Sixth Congress, especially the content of the Guidelines, are political in nature: they involve – or should involve – the national parliament (ANPP), the actions of government and civil society, political participation, decision making, economic and social policy, and more.

According to Karl Marx, all economics is political. No economic decision is exempt from a political background. For some of Marx’s successors, no economic problem can be resolved without a correct political approach, given the inverse active effect of politics on economics. For the Cuban researcher Fernando Martínez Heredia, winner of the 2006 National Social Science Award, “socialism uses wages and other categories that come from capitalism, but it does not submit to these. And it should never use them without the security offered by the authority of revolutionary people’s power over the economy.” (Martínez 2012) Clearly, this authority should not insist on a purely technical approach or, worse still, a technocratic one, toward the transformations underway. Rather, it should treat them as, above all, as a political issue, which means recognizing the role of the state as an effective power and valuing the idea that a consensus of the broadest sectors of the population is more and more important to decision-making, which implies maximum participation and support by Cuban civil society.9 And this civil society is continually more active, creative, revolutionary, diverse, and critical.

The second very important political event in the period under analysis was the preparation for the First National Conference of the Party and then the holding of the conference itself on January 28 and 29, 2012. This process began with the publication on October 14, 2011, of the Draft Basic Document for the party event, which was debated by the membership of the PCC and the UJC. The result was the approval of a new political document, “Work objectives of the Cuban Communist Party approved at the First National Conference,” which expressed the consensus achieved.10 What are the most important aspects of that event?

  1. The National Conference is an entity envisioned in party statutes, with a rank below that of the party Congress, but it had never been utilized before. Its occurrence in early 2012 to discuss issues related to the some of the country’s necessary political changes gave it added value.
  2. The Conference ratified a group of principles and values fundamental to the activity of the “Party of the Cuban nation.”11 Among these stand out democratic centralism,12 collective leadership, individual responsibility, national unity around the single party (understood as the party of the Cuban nation) and the Revolution, active popular participation, the permanent confrontation of corruption as socialism’s domestic enemy number one and a change in mentality so as to struggle against dogmas and obsolete judgments, and for diversity of ideas and concepts.
  3. A total of 100 objectives for party work. These are intended to concentrate the party’s activities on resolving the fundamental problems and deficiencies of the system and confronting new challenges. They refer to an analysis of the functioning, methods, and work style of the party, its political and ideological work, its policies regarding cadre (leaders), and the relations of the party with the UJC and the mass organizations.

The analysis that follows will present a selection of the most novel of these objectives, put forward some ideas about how recommendations for change have been reflected in these objectives and in the transformations now underway (though it is still quite early to evaluate results), and suggest the objectives’ relationships to proposals for possible new political reforms.

A basic goal approved by the Conference was to “guarantee that … the bodies and base organizations of the Party … should deal, as priorities and systematically, with issues related to the implementation and fulfillment of the Guidelines” (PCC 2012b: objective No. 3). This tenet seeks continuity and connection of the main political events in which the future of the country is being discussed and establishes a commitment on the part of the entire party to implement the economic and social reforms essential to the survival and development of the Cuban Revolution, bettering the material and spiritual well-being of individuals. “Eliminate from the Party’s methods and work style the [practice of] interference with and supplanting of functions and decisions that belong to the Government and administrative institutions” (objective No. 5). This implies respect for the authority of leaders and the leadership bodies in making decisions according to their responsibilities. It addresses an old problem that has not been solved by any socialist experience. While it presents a great challenge for the party, the government, and Cuban public administration, it must be resolved quickly as part of the strengthening of political institutions and legitimization of the party itself, the state, and the entire political system.

An objective of extraordinary importance is: “Promote gradual replacement of the cadre in leading posts, establishing term limits and age limits according to the functions and complexities of each responsibility. Limit terms [in state and political institutions] to a maximum of two consecutive five-year periods for the most fundamental posts” (objective No. 76). This reflects the necessary practice of periodic turnover and rejuvenation of all the components of the political system and all the leadership posts (Duharte 2010: 435). Its implementation needs to be well designed, because its formulation in the First Conference is somewhat ambiguous, leaving unclear how it ties in with another objective – “selectively rotate leaders among administrative posts, government ones, and political organizations” (objective No. 80) – as well as the total time anyone should spend in leadership posts, the mechanisms of nomination, or the definition of “fundamental posts.” New laws and regulations will have to clarify these matters.

A key goal is to “maintain the established timetable for holding Party Congresses” (objective No. 17). A decision not to do so, the Conference agreed, should be made only in exceptional situations and via democratic procedures. This issue is of great importance because it refers to restoration of a political norm that is the basic principle of party democracy: respect for the authority of the Congress as the top leadership body of this political organization.

Several objectives underline the need to tighten the permanent tie with the masses, to consult them in the process of recruiting and admitting new party members, and to encourage their participation in decision making and the implementation of projects that stimulate their initiative. These are strategic objectives, fundamental to improving the political system and authentic democracy: the people must feel themselves to be real “owners” and active participants in the most important decisions, not merely to be “consulted” or “mobilized” or to “attend” meetings and assemblies.

There are a number of other objectives along similar lines: “Transform the UJC’s approach to youth organizations and movements so as to have a more flexible character and new methods” (objective No. 89). “Create mixed nuclei (base organizations that include members of both the PCC and the UJC) in centers where there are few members of the youth organization or where this is deemed appropriate to strengthen political and ideological work” (objective No. 32). Update the missions of the mass organizations. The party should relate to them without formalities; respect their interests, opinions and proposals; be transparent with them; and guarantee their participation in the tasks of strategic importance for the country or specific geographic areas.

Such proposals will improve youth and adolescents’ attitudes toward the youth organization, break with the excessively “closed” character of the party, and give it the opportunity to more directly integrate the younger generation into its work. They will also reform the structure, functioning, and leadership bodies of the mass organization to match current realities, because some of them have stagnated or succumbed to inertia; at the same time, these organizations need to acquire more autonomy and creativity, in accord with belonging to a civil society which must keep on renewing itself and becoming more authentic.

Another group of objectives aims to combat prejudice against people who carry out various kinds of non-state economic activities, as well prejudices based on race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, geographic origin, and other factors, so these do not lead to any form of discrimination or limit the exercise of people’s rights. The importance of this issue is obvious.  Some of these aspects are now traditional among citizen demands. But the reference to non-state economic activity – a previously taboo topic – is something relatively new, to which the objectives devote special attention and which requires intense work by the party and state to eliminate such prejudices.

There is a crucial objective that reflects an old demand of Cuban society that has not yet been met to a significant degree: “develop social research, sociopolitical studies, and studies of [public] opinion; make better use of research results in decision making, in assessing impacts on all sectors of society; work especially on the conceptualization of the theoretical foundations of the economic and social model” (objective No. 65). These goals will be impossible to reach if the intention is not sufficiently institutionalized; there must be a public policy of promoting such research, offering adequate moral, material and financial support, and overseeing a closer and more harmonious relationship between social science and politics, between scientific results and the formulation and making of political decisions. In analyzing proposals before making decisions, it is critical to respect a multidisciplinary and comprehensive approach. It is not always recognized that a proposal, for instance, related to economic phenomena and processes requires that its designers include specialists not only from that field of knowledge but also from sociology, political science, law, anthropology, philosophy, ethics, esthetics, psychology and other branches of knowledge, or people with comprehensive knowledge of this group of academic disciplines. Additionally, sociopolitical and public opinion research efforts carried out by the party should establish closer ties with universities and social research centers; specialists from those institutions can both aid the research and be enriched by it. Some modest changes in this direction are visible and constitute a good indication that a set of recommendations made by the Cuban social science community has found some reflection in the speeches of President Raúl Castro and in the outcomes of the Sixth Congress and the First National Conference of the party.

These two big events have fundamentally shaped current Cuban political life. It is important to continue to encourage the implementation of their decisions. Other phenomena are also having important influences on Cuban life, such as the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, with its attendant opportunities and threats, as well as uncertainties produced by the maintenance of the US economic and financial blockade and the subversive actions oriented and financed from outside. Additional events taking place in the Arab world, in Europe, and in some countries of Latin America have also been utilized by anti-socialist opposition forces, domestic and foreign, with the hope of provoking social explosions in Cuba and changing the country’s political system by force.

The Sixth Congress considered proposals for solution of several important questions – traditional in socialist debate and still unresolved – and has given its preliminary answers expressed in an ambitious strategy of socioeconomic change. The objectives approved by the First National Conference begin, to an extent, to respond to popular aspirations but at the same time they deal with goals very tied to the internal life of the party and its relations with other organizations. They do not give sufficient attention to proposals for possible changes in other components of the political system; they leave unanswered political demands like those briefly reflected in the above-mentioned Resolution of the Party Congress and other demands not yet on the agenda of Cuban public discussion.

To discuss and debate only the economic sphere is a risky procedure. The Marxist concept of the determinant role of the economy remains valid. But the active influence of politics on the economy is also key: no economic problem can be resolved without a correct political approach. It will be said that the Guidelines approved at the Sixth Congress are important policies, and that is true, but they aren’t the only ones needed. The integration of economic, political, social, cultural, ideological, academic, and scientific work into a single set of transformative actions cannot be postponed any longer. In mid-2015, the still-indispensable process of popular discussion of change in the political system has not yet begun; this can be viewed as something of a delay.

The Guidelines offer us the “what”: but not the “how”; their implementation demands the design and execution of concrete public policies and specific laws, which also require consensus if they are not to go astray. The Objectives also need to be made more concrete, more precise, and they still leave some basic political and ideological-cultural problems untouched. It would be presumptuous to think that the “experiments” of Artemisa and Mayabeque,13 in and of themselves, are going to resolve the problem. There too, one finds vagueness, misunderstandings, simplifications, deficiencies and faults that suggest the need to rethink some formulations and practices.

New spaces for discussion are emerging – many outside the “officially” recognized institutions and organizations. Social networks, websites, electronic bulletins, papers at academic conferences, letters, recommendations, and questioning now flood our minds via multiple pathways. Opinions along these pathways range from arguments and proposals in favor of more democratic and humane revolutionary transformation of Cuban society; to resistance to those same reforms, including the economic ones; to options that, from a liberal, neoliberal, or neoconservative perspective on politics and democracy, propose to dismantle the socialist system in Cuba. Ignoring all this does not help the socialist project. Neither does abandoning any of these spaces.

It is most important and advisable to extend the national political debate just as the past party congress did during its period of preparation, which can be seen as one of the most important experiences of Cuban political-participatory practice of all time.14 But what is transcendent and heroic – following Che’s thinking and spirit – must become the everyday, must become systematic action. Hence the need to know and take into account the feelings of diverse sectors of the people about the range of subjects related to the political system.

Throughout the population, there are specific proposals that should be considered. Therefore, it is important and necessary that the framing and making of political decisions should not be limited to the high level bodies of the party and state apparatus. The propositions should be the result of broad consultation with the largest possible number of members of all political and mass organizations, of intellectuals and representatives of various social groups, of researchers, and of the people in general. This would strengthen the recognition, credibility, and acceptance of the process of change. It would better prepare the population for the cultural war15 that will only grow more intense, and would reduce still more the possibility of the country becoming a breeding ground for the subversive strategy of world imperialism.

This is to say that the level of broad popular participation, which was not promoted during the discussion of the Basic Document of the First National Conference,16 but was in the case of the Guidelines of the Sixth Congress, should now be enlisted for the new changes the country requires. Given that the Sixth Congress (2011) focused on economic reforms, this could mean that the Seventh Party Congress (April 2016) should review implementation of those changes, take on new and necessary political reforms, and seek greater comprehensiveness in the country’s transformations, with real and effective popular participation in making the most important decisions – not only microsocial ones, but also at the macro level.

In my opinion, the preparatory phase of the Seventh Congress ought to initiate a new movement of national political discussion which would culminate – after the recommendations that the Congress offers – in a special session of the ANPP that would finally decide on implementation of the recommendations that achieve consensus as the right ones for today’s Cuba. President Raúl Castro put forward the idea of a popular consultation, which was established in the plan of action approved by Tenth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party (February 23, 2015). But it is important that this should follow the inspiration of the most important examples of democratic political participation; that it should not be just a formal consultation nor unfold under excessive tutelage by leaders and officials. It would be advisable to submit some decisions to a popular referendum, a mechanism foreseen in Cuba’s socialist Constitution which can be used more broadly in these processes for the making of key decisions such as approval of a new electoral law, which would confer more legitimacy on the process of transformation. In any case, this is not a time for breakneck speed, but neither is there any room for stagnation or fear of the risks from which no process of making political decisions is ever exempt. What we must continue to learn is how to manage the risk.

Possible new systemic-political reforms

Proposals for possible new reforms in the current stage of socialist transition include the following main ideas:

  • More decentralization in economic, social, political, and cultural administration, stimulating maximum autonomy and creativity on the part of the masses, and especially on the part of Cuban municipalities
  • Strengthening of response to the social and individually differentiated demands of the population, accompanied by a consistent and definitive break with egalitarianism, which is not synonymous with equality or social justice.17
  • Creating more stable and lasting mechanisms of economic, legal, social, and political protection for the population.
  • Steady increase in the political role of workplace collectives (groups of workers) as pillars of the democratic-participatory system, which would lead to complementing the principle of geographic representation with one of labor representation.
  • Continual strengthening of political institutional structure, rectifying its dysfunctions, and increasing efficiency in the functioning of the state, especially the government. This presupposes a number of other imperatives: Keep the revolutionary institutions from being supplanted by parallel mechanisms that undermine popular confidence in those institutions. Make the composition and functioning of assemblies more rational and efficient, significantly reducing the number of provincial delegates and national deputies; reduce to the bare minimum, or eliminate if possible, the number of ministers and other heads of government bodies and institutions who today have conflicts of interests between their roles as overseers and actors; involve more delegate and deputies in such functions, and increase the number of delegates and deputies that work full time in these roles and receive a salary, according to the particularities, needs and complexities of specific regions; improve the work of the standing committees in such a way that they do not replace the necessary comprehensive analysis that should come from the assemblies meeting as a whole, so as to guarantee new and more creative contributions from the assembled representatives of the people; appropriately institutionalize and enforce constitutional assurances about the public character of the sessions of the assemblies up to the national level. Consider the creation of an appropriate and functional institution of constitutional oversight.
  • Improvement in forms, means, and mechanisms of the population’s participation not just in elections but in the framing and making of strategic decisions and the proposing and approving of the main laws, without formalities or interference or excessive tutelage by leaders, officials, or political organizations.
  • Steady increase in the real authority and power – still meager at this point – of municipal and provincial delegates and national deputies.
  • Expansion and improvement of periodic accountability processes (rendición de cuentas) not only of delegates and deputies but of all elected representatives, including all leaders (elected or not) of state institutions and of party, youth, and mass organizations; they should render account of their activities to the corresponding representative bodies and to the population.
  • Creation of political-juridical mechanisms – including a corresponding entity, body, or institute – to guarantee real transparency and access to information as a first phase of accountability, in accord with socialist objectives. This would contribute to the definitive neutralization of the “excessive secrecy” and formalism that hinder the activity of many Cuban institutions and organizations.
  • Strengthening and systematization of the periodic renewal of all components of the political system and turnover in all offices (elective or not); the dimensions of such renewal and turnover should continue to grow.
  • Improving the electoral system, which implies: expand mechanisms of direct election; correct the makeup and functioning of nominating committees; further democratize procedures for compiling and modifying the lists of candidates, so as to make these procedures more open; perhaps increase, during the general elections, the time between election of municipal delegates and voting for provincial delegates and deputies, or consider the appropriateness of extending the terms of the municipal delegates to five years; tighten links of provincial delegates and deputies with the areas they are elected to represent; increase opportunities for base-level delegates to be integrated into provincial and national legislative bodies by raising their stipulated share of such seats to much more than 50%; and other proposals.
  • Developing a democratic culture of debate, discussion, and deliberation.
  • Improving mechanisms of internal democracy in the Communist Party and in its influence on the whole political system; improving its style and methods of work, making them more visible, effective, humane and participatory. Some possible new electoral mechanisms within the state could also be applied to the party, the youth organizations, and the mass organizations. The party should organize constant discussion and debate, popular oversight over its entire structure, and accountability meetings of all its leaders with the base-level party nuclei and the people. As a result, its leading role as the Party of the Cuban nation will be strengthened.

The updating of the political model will allow the Cuban population to feel that they are participants and leading actors in the changes, so that they may contribute to the changes with greater consciousness, enthusiasm, and honesty – alongside another factor which must not be forgotten, which is the strengthening of the process of Latin American integration and Cuba’s more fruitful participation in the international system. The goal is for the coordinated, effective, and legitimate activity of all revolutionary political and social actors to more forcefully integrate proposals “from below” (decisions coming from the grassroots level) with initiatives “from above” (leadership by the party or government) so as to strengthen the socialist character, the people’s unity, the continuity of their power, and national sovereignty and independence. All of this – in other words, the transition to socialism – can only be made irreversible if socialist political power can be enhanced. And that power, in turn, can only become truly irrevocable if it is permanently legitimized through, above all, the promotion of ever-broader, more active, direct, systematic, creative, real, and effective participation by the population in the formulation of proposals and making of the country’s most important political decisions and if, through this process, the country can achieve the satisfaction of individuals’ ecologically sound, rational material and spiritual needs, the greatest possible social justice, and a growing development of true democracy. That is the only way to fulfill and make viable the idea of prosperous, sustainable, and irreversible socialism in Cuba.

Translated by Dick Cluster

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  • Martí, José. 1884. “Maestros ambulantes”. La América (May) New York. Reprinted in “Nuestra América”. Obras Completas. Vol. 8. Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
  • Martínez Heredia, Fernando. 2012. “Situación actual de Cuba y sus perspectivas”. Keynote speech, XVII Encuentro Nacional de Solidaridad con Cuba, Oaxaca, Mexico, March 14. www.cubadebate.cu.
  • 2011. Partido Comunista de Cuba. Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, aprobados en el VI Congreso. www.cubadebate.cu,
  • 2012a. Partido Comunista de Cuba. Documentos del VI Congreso y de la Primera Conferencia Nacional del Partido, Havana: Editora Política.
  • 2012b. Partido Comunista de Cuba. Objetivos de Trabajo aprobados por la Primera Conferencia Nacional, 29/01/2012. www.cubadebate.cu.
  • 2012c. Partido Comunista de Cuba. “Resolución de la Primera Conferencia Nacional acerca de los objetivos de trabajo del Partido”. In PCC, Documentos, Havana: Editora Política, n.d. See also www.cubadebate.cu.

Notes

1. The term “political transition” in this context dovetails directly with the concept of the “period of transition from capitalism to socialism” expressed in classical Marxism. Viewed in relation to the question of power, the state, and the political system, this is the “political transition to socialism,” a concept in current use in Marxist and some non-Marxist writing.

2. As stated by President Raúl Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party: “Whatever we approve in this Congress cannot suffer the same fate as the previous agreements, most of them forgotten and unfulfilled.” (Castro, R. 2011; official English translation from Cubadebate,
http://en.cubadebate.cu/opinions/2011/04/16/central-report-6th-congress-communist-party-cuba/)

3. The term “reform” is used here in the sense of classical Marxist theory, not as the opposite of revolution but as a rectifying element, a correction of the socialist course.

4. [Translator’s note: Spanish “VII Legislatura de la ANPP”. The reference is to successive five-year terms since the first elections to this body.  I am adopting US-style usage, as in “the 113th Congress.” – DC]

5. The Council of State (Consejo de Estado) is the body that represents the ANPP between legislative sessions and issues decree-laws, which must later be presented for parliamentary approval.

6. The stress on Communist Party events stems from article of 5 of the Socialist Constitution, which declares that the PCC is “the highest leading force of society and state” (see Constitución de la República de Cuba 2010). Thus, it is important to clarify the relationship between party and government in Cuba. This is an extremely complicated affair, because it includes such issues as: unity of power, single-party system, independence of the state, the above-mentioned constitutional precept, and more. Theoretically the party makes recommendations to the organs of government while those institutions are responsible for final decisions and actions on fundamental issues. But in political practice, communist parties (whether in Cuba or in previous socialist experiences) have never been fully able to separate their functions from those of the state; often the party has supplanted the state and assumed power over state institutions. Although many see the solution to this problem as one of adopting a multi-party system, many others seek the solution in strengthening the real power of public institutions and representatives vis-à-vis the power the party has concentrated in its organizational structures and in certain leaders. This means returning real power to the system of People’s Power, while the party concentrates on political mobilization, ideology, and influencing all the actors of the system toward the achievement of socialist goals. There is a need for a thorough review of the party status implied by the cited constitutional precept, and for a study of internal structures and functions of the party organization and its relationships with all the other components of the political system. The electoral system is a clear example. The laws still do not establish how the PCC should act as a non-electoral party that, although it theoretically does not nominate candidates, does in fact directly involve itself in approving nominations, such as those for members of the Council of State. In any political relationship, what must be reaffirmed is the principle that the Constitution and the laws should be the highest authority, and no organization or individual leader should be beyond or above them.

7. The Party Congress is highest body of the PCC, and party statutes call for congresses every five years. Between congresses, the Central Committee is the highest party authority. The Plenum of the Central Committee is the periodic assembly of all the members of the Committee; it meets at least twice a year and has the power to elect the Political Bureau, the First and Second Secretaries, and the Secretariat of the Central Committee, and to make other decisions. The Political Bureau is the highest party authority between plenums. The National Conference of the party (there has been only one) may meet between congresses to discuss important affairs in the life of the party at the national level.

8. The revolutionary offensive of 1968 was a government action that, as a measure of Revolutionary self-defense, pursued the goal of preventing counter-revolutionary and terrorist activities financed or carried out by small private businesses. It also resulted from a dogmatic concept of that era about complete socialization of the means of production in socialism. This was further complicated by the specific circumstances of Cuba in the 1960s, under permanent siege by domestic and foreign forces intent on bringing down the system, and affected by errors of idealism recognized in the main report to the First Congress of the PCC (1975), among which were the intent to skip stages of development – so-called “premature socialism.” All of this violated the objective economic laws of social development; to some degree, these errors came from copying foreign models. They led to a radical decision of almost total socialization in accorded with the “Marxist” canons (or dogmas) then in vogue. Practically all the small private businesses in the nation’s cities and towns were taken over by the state; the only exceptions were small peasant farms and a small sector of transport owners.

9. “Cuban civil society” is understood in the Marxist sense, not as something opposed to the socialist state, but rather as range of political actors who are critical of the operation of that state yet, at the same time, active participants in the construction of a socioeconomic, political, cultural, and socialist alternative that is anti-hegemonic, anti-neoliberal, and, in sum, also socialist. A definition of this type may be problematic and subject to debate; still, in my view, such a definition must overcome the rigid and categorical mass-media viewpoint created and imposed by power-elites, especially in the US and the European Union, according to which Cuban civil society is limited to political opposition to the socialist government. That perception is, in fact, regarded by some specialists as having little to do with an authentic Cuban civil society, but rather with seeking a political society of opposition to the Cuban state.

10. With the participation of all the base organizations and party leadership bodies and UJC, numerous proposals emerged that modified the majority of the initial goals listed in the Base Document and added five additional ones (PCC 2012c. See also,
www.cubadebate.cu.)

11. The concept “party of the Cuban nation,” adopted at the Fourth Congress (1991) has not received the necessary attention nor been well understood by many. This is a perspective of deep political and ideological significance that sees the communist organization not as the party of a single class or an ideology restricted to a certain view of the world, but as the representative of the interests of the broadest popular sectors and the entire Cuban nation, and an ideology of the Revolution shared by all those who support patriotism, sovereignty, national independence, equality (not egalitarianism), national unity, anti-imperialism, and an authentic socialism that is renewed, creative, and appropriate to today’s world needs and the particularities of Cuba. From the point of view of renewing Marxist ideology, one would have to add the achievement of the greatest possible social justice and satisfaction of individuals’ material and spiritual needs, with the rationality implied by the necessary sustainability of the socialist system.

12. The principle of democratic centralism should be part of a culture of debate, discussion, and deliberation; its practice in the Cuban experience needs to be reviewed. As the prominent Cuban social scientist Aurelio Alonso, winner of the 2013 National Social Sciences Award, has observed, the Leninist formula of “democratic centralism” for the exercise of power should not enshrine a notion of the centralist part being for decision-making and the democratic part being for supporting. Rather, its meaning should be that every centralized action is subject to what has been democratically decided (Alonso 2007) through, naturally, the necessary deliberative process. Other authors prefer to use, instead of “democratic centralism,” such concepts as “centralized democracy,” putting the democratic component in the foreground (Anaya 2013).

13. The “experiment” to be carried out in the new provinces of Artemisa and Mayebeque (formerly the single province of Havana, lying outside and around the capital city) was adopted by the August 2011 session of the Seventh ANPP. Its goal is to reform Article 117 of the Constitution of the Republic, and it consists of two phases. The first involves separating the leadership of the People’s Power administrative councils from that of the provincial and municipal assemblies in these two provinces. The second phase will involve examining the results and assessing the value of generalizing the experiment throughout the country. In the July 2014 legislative session, the ANPP approved a proposal by the Council of Ministers to extend the process for an additional two years, until December 2016. (Granma digital, July 6, 2014)

14. The most important previous experiences, in my view, were the following: the 1975-76 process of discussion and referendum on the new Socialist Constitution; the 1991 national political discussion around the Call to the Fourth Party Congress (which already contained proposals for political and economic reforms); and the development of the parlamentos obreros (workers’ assemblies) in 1994. These assemblies took place in all organizations, enterprises, and institutions across the country; the ANPP considered the content of these discussions in its process of seeking consensus on the main economic reforms of the 1990s. After the large national discussion and the documentation of its contents and results, a new session of the parliament was convened to approve the consensus reforms.

15. The concept of “cultural war” in this context refers to the type of confrontation between the US and Cuba that has emerged now and will be reinforced in the future due to a change in methods used by the US government to achieve ideological-cultural penetration in Cuba and to support groups opposed to the system. This intent has been clearly expressed since December 17, 2014, by President Barack Obama and other US officials.

16. The discussion of the Basic Document did not involve the entire people – as was done with the Guidelines – but only the members of the PCC and UJC. Although this decision was not much explained (some said it was because the Conference would center its attention on the internal life of the party, which is not completely true and is legitimate only up to a point), it could be re-thought in the future, so that no action will cast doubt on the PCC being the “Party of the Cuban nation” nor weaken its legitimacy in the eyes of the various social sectors.

17. “Equality” refers to norms for distributing scarce social goods (a function of the political system) and for parity in the treatment of individuals; it does not mean that everyone receives the same share, but rather that the same norms for distribution are applied to everyone impartially. “Egalitarianism,” on the other hand, is an erroneous view of equality that excludes individuality; it is a socioeconomic, political, and cultural tendency that supports an apparently equal treatment and assignment of goods for all, rejecting differentiated distribution of resources to specific sectors and individuals on the basis of the quality, quantity, and complexity of their work and their contributions to social wealth. In other words, it undervalues and, indeed, negates the Marxist principle of distribution according to work. A critique of this unequal and unjust egalitarianism, or course, does not reject the observation of another principle: distribution of funds for social spending, the need to subsidize specific sectors or groups rather than products – what some call social investment. “Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of opportunities, not of incomes. Equality is not egalitarianism. The latter is, in the last analysis, another form of exploitation…” (Castro, R. 2008). The relativity and incompleteness of “equality” leads me to conclude that the best definition of the goal of socialism could be “the greatest possible social justice.”

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