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UPDATED: Controversy sparked by Cuban Communist Party leadership's approach to 7th Party Congress, Raul Castro's Congress report

 

Cuba's President Raul Castro addresses the 7th Cuban Communist Party Congress
in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, April 16, 2016

 

Introductory notes and translations by Marce Cameron[1]

 

April 17, 2016 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Cuba's Socialist Renewal blog — The Seventh Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) began on April 16. The cluster of translations published below relate to the controversy surrounding the preparations for this congress.

 

In contrast to the six previous congresses, neither the vast majority of the PCC's 600,000 or so members, nor the wider Cuban society, have been consulted on the content of key programmatic and strategic documents that will presumably be approved by the one thousand Congress delegates that have been elected by the party's grassroots committees. What's more, only the delegates themselves, plus National Assembly deputies and some 3500 consultants, such as high-level PCC cadres and academic experts, have been given access to the draft documents, which have not been made public prior to the Congress.

 

Precedent aside, concerned PCC activists have pointed out that the PCC's Central Committee had foreshadowed both a discussion among the membership and a wider public consultation on the content of the Congress documents, leading to an expectation among the membership that such a debate would take place. As late as February 23, the PCC daily, Granma, noted (in a report on the Central Committee's Tenth Plenum) that pending preparatory tasks included municipal and provincial party assemblies and "a popular consultation" on the documents.

 

Open letter to Raul Castro: Postpone the Seventh Party Congress till July

 

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, also known as 'Paquito', is a PCC activist based in Havana. On his personal blog he describes himself as a disciple of Cuba's national hero Jose Martí, a communist, an atheist and gay. He is also an academic, a journalist for the Cuban trade union confederation's Trabajadores newspaper and a prominent gay rights activist. As a gay rights activist, he is said to be close to Mariela Castro, Raul Castro's daughter, who heads Cuba's National Centre for Sex Education—an institution that under Mariela's leadership has lent itself to the struggle against homophobia. It is translated from Rodríguez Cruz's blog

 

* * *
Havana, March 27, 2016
Year 58 of the Revolution

 

To: Compañero Raúl Castro Ruz,
First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party

 

It is now two months since I first raised my concern—mostly within the Party, as is my right as a Party activist—regarding the preparatory process for the Cuban Communist Party's Seventh Congress, which is scheduled for April 16-19.

 

In essence, my dissatisfaction is founded on the lack of discussion of the key Congress documents—which are still shrouded in secrecy—in both the grassroots Party committees and among the rest of the citizenry. I have publicly expressed my view that this constitutes a backwards step in relation to previous political processes.

 

To date, not only have I not received a direct or persuasive response to my concern, but I have received, through various channels, opinions and support from other people, Party members and non-members alike, who share my dim view of this process.

 

Moreover, I am aware of at least one municipality in Havana where this topic was discussed seriously by the local Party secretaries. However, it is not my intention to speak on behalf of anyone, because I do not really know how widely my concerns are shared. In any case, the Party and you yourself have taught us that concerns of citizens, even those of only one person, can, should and must receive all the attention and analysis they deserve. With this in mind, not long ago I made a concrete proposal in my local Party committee: postpone the convening of the Seventh Party Congress till July 24-27.

 

This postponement of only three months would allow for the key Congress documents to be discussed by the Party membership as a whole, as well as with the rest of the citizenry, during April and May. This would still leave June to process the discussion, study it, improve the documents and incorporate proposals.

 

It is a strategic advantage that the documents are already known to the one thousand Congress delegates and to the National Assembly deputies, as well as to hundreds of Party leaders in their various intermediate-level leadership bodies. Those who have seen the documents could prepare and lead this grassroots analysis, and do so quickly and in depth.

 

There is no doubt a debate such as this, broad and participatory, would allow for the refinement of such programmatic documents and would confer on the Congress, and its decisions, even greater legitimacy on the basis of a wider social consensus.

 

I understand that this could complicate things in terms of practicalities, but you yourself have often insisted that we must proceed 'without haste, but without pause'. It is true that I do not have all of the information that the leadership of the Revolution has at its disposal; yet I see no reason to rush so decisive a political process for the future of our country if its preparation has not yet reached maturity.

 

Finally, I ask you and the Party leadership to forgive me if I have gone about this in the wrong way by making public this suggestion. If the Party considers this an inexcusable breach of discipline, then I am willing to shoulder responsibility for it.

 

My modest intention here is to try to convey this concern to the Party leadership without intermediaries, and to perhaps contribute to sparking a debate on this question among the rest of the Party activists and in Cuban society as a whole, when so little time remains—less than a month—before the date initially set for the Congress.

 

In doing all I can to convey this serious concern to you, I am also keeping my word. I made this promise to a fellow Party activist, an experienced comrade with an impressive revolutionary biography. With heartfelt words and revolutionary fervour, he had been looking forward to a more grassroots-oriented Congress of his lifelong Party.

 

Revolucionariamente,

 

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz
Communist Party activist

 

The kind of Congress many of us wouldn't have wanted

 

Esteban Morales Dominguez is a prominent and prestigious Cuban intellectual. He is an authority on US-Cuba relations and, especially, race relations in Cuba. He is also a PCC activist and one of Cuba's most outspoken intellectuals, very much in the tradition of the late Alfredo Guevara.

 

In June 2010, Morales' membership of the PCC was suspended—one step short of expulsion—for warning, in a candid commentary, that high-level corruption (and not US-sponsored 'dissident' grouplets) was the real counterrevolution in Cuba. In doing so, he was merely echoing and expanding on Raul Castro's own such warnings as president, and complying with his repeated appeals for Cuban communists to speak their minds. Morales appealed the suspension by his PCC municipal committee, and was eventually reinstated by the party's appeals commission after receiving numerous public gestures of solidarity.

 

Here, Morales expresses his disappointment at the way the Seventh PCC Congress is being organised. One senses his fury behind the acerbic bite. The article has been translated from Cuba Says

 

* * *

Havana, February 14, 2016 — For months I've been asking for the Congress documents. Especially given the contribution we've all made towards the “Conceptualisation” [of Cuba's emerging socialist model]. Yet we've received no information at all. In the same way that they have informed us that the discussion process is moving forward, we grassroots party activists will have no information other than that published in Granma or, at the end of the day, what we are told about the Congress decisions.

 

I certainly regard it as unfortunate, to put it mildly, that we, the party base, will have to inform ourselves about the documents given the procedure adopted.

 

I ask myself: How democratic is our party? Have we advanced? What about everything that the highest leadership of the party has so often reiterated about changing the methods and styles of party work? If the work methods are going to change, then I assume it will be to advance—rather than to regress, as I believe is happening to us now.

 

Not long ago, I said in a meeting of my party branch that the way we were going, this would be a “Bottled Congress”, since only those present would drink from it. Now I'd say: “It'll be a Congress of Cadres” [i.e. of party officials rather than ordinary members].

 

What are the circumstances that have led us to hold a congress such as the one we're going to convene? Was it a question of principle to do it in April [i.e. exactly five years since the last Congress]? Could we not have waited a few more months so that the activist base as a whole would have an opportunity to read and express opinions on the documents, before they go to the Congress? I must say that I see no justification whatsoever for us committing the 'grave political error' of convening a Congress without the mass of grassroots activists—which I consider to be the real party—having access to the documents to be approved by the Congress in order to discuss them. Have we given up on being a Leninist party? I am yet to hear anyone tell me that.

 

I think the consequences of convening a congress in this way are not going to be wholly positive. The activist base is indignant, and rightly so. Undoubtedly because we've regressed in terms of party democracy, because we've disregarded the activist base, which struggles and grapples with our daily difficulties; which has given its all and even its blood for this country, this Revolution and our party.

 

It's not that we can't feel represented by the very large delegation that will be at this congress. I think they all deserve to be there. But the activist base also has the right to participate in the congress. Not as delegates, which would be absurd; but as voices which, from the remotest corner of the country, would have wished and still desire to see these documents, to read them, think about them and express opinions on them in order to enrich them. Not to receive something already decided on, which they cannot make any changes to. I don't believe there would be even one grassroots party activist who could feel pleased with how this congress will be [organised]. Maybe it's a subjective judgement on my part, but my broad and continuous contact with Cuban society—as an intellectual but also as a common citizen, going to the produce market, riding the bus and walking around Havana, talking with many people on the street, every day—tells me this.

 

An important mass of revolutionaries, people who are intelligent and capable, selfless, will participate in this congress. There will be much revolutionary spirit and much merit embodied in this congress. But outside it, there will also be hundreds who could have felt that the party has confidence in them, however humble they may be, to do what will be done at the congress, which is to decide the destiny of our country. That's something we all have the right to. Otherwise, what is the point of us being Party activists?

 

Granma editorial on Congress concerns

 

On March 27, the same day Francisco 'Paquito' Rodriguez went public with his Open Letter to Raul Castro (see above), Granma newspaper, which is published under the editorial guidance of the PCC's Central Committee as its official publication, responded to rumblings of discontent from the party's activist base with the following unsigned editorial. As usual, readers submitted comments, 37 of which appear at the foot of the online version. We'll return to these comments in a future post. 

 

The editorial's purpose is to explain and justify three decisions of the Central Committee or perhaps its executive body, the Political Bureau: to not involve the party membership as a whole in the elaboration of the Congress documents; to not go ahead with a public consultation on these documents, which was also foreshadowed by Raul Castro on at least two occasions; and to not make any of these documents publicly available prior to the Congress.

 

The editorial, which has been translated from here, is noteworthy both for what is says and for what it doesn't say, or doesn't mention. Its line of argument may be summarised as follows. 

 

First, it points out that holding the Seventh Congress on April 16-19 embodies strict fulfillment of the party's Statutes, which state that congresses are to be held every five years except in the event of war, natural disasters or other exceptional circumstances. This is a procedural rather than a political argument. There was a 14 year interval between the Fifth Congress in 1997 and the Sixth in 2011. 

 

The second and core argument is that a party-wide or public consultation on the Congress documents is unnecessary, because such a public consultation process was held five years ago and the decisions of the Sixth Congress are still being implemented. So the Seventh Congress will effectively be a continuation of the Sixth. In denying the membership as a whole (and the wider Cuban society) the ability to participate in the elaboration of the Congress documents, the party leadership is exercising the mandate it received in the late 2010 to early 2011 consultation:

 

… rather than launch a new society-wide debate process in the throes of implementation, we need to finish what we have begun, continuing to carry out the popular will expressed five years ago and advancing along the course set by the Sixth Congress.

 

The principled objection to this argument is simple and, I think, irrefutable. Shouldn't it be the party as a whole—through a delegate election process in which delegates are elected on the basis of platform documents made available to the entire membership—that decides whether the Seventh Congress will be a continuation of the Sixth, rather than a Congress in its own right?

 

The editorial argues that because only 21% of the 2011 Congress Guidelines have been implemented to date, the Seventh Congress must necessarily be a continuation of the Sixth. Yet that same statistic could be wielded in favour of a profound reflection by the party as a whole on the viability and desirability of the course set at the Sixth Congress.

 

The editorial seems to suggest that the draft programmatic vision document—the conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist model—is just the theoretical expression of the content of the Guidelines. If so, then why has it taken so long for the party leadership to come up with such a document? Perhaps because the Guidelines, as a set of concrete objectives more than a programmatic road-map, open the door to not one but several distinctly different socialist models.

 

They leave unresolved the vital question posed in 2011 by Havana University planning specialist Oscar Fernandez Estrada, who asked in a footnote:

 

From the traditional state socialism that characterises Cuba today, is it moving towards a more decentralised state socialism? An Asian-style [i.e. Vietnamese or Chinese] market socialism? A self-managed socialism of the Yugoslavian variety? To the so-called participatory socialism of the 21st century? There is an urgent need for a debate aimed at a consensus on the key features of the vision of the future society. (See the Introduction to my Master's thesis 'Statist Utopianism and the Cuban Socialist Transition'—Marce Cameron)

 

That urgent and necessary debate has now happened, but behind closed doors. Its outcome will be presented to the Seventh Congress as a fait accomplit. Unable to seek a mandate for alternative resolutions from the party's activist base, which has not seen the Conceptualisation (or any other) document, delegates will have little choice but to vote for whatever the leadership has proposed.

 

Another argument also cuts both ways. The editorial stresses the protracted nature of the drafting process, noting that some documents took longer than anticipated. Yet this leaves the Central Committee vulnerable to the suggestion that it could indeed have postponed the Congress for just a few months in order to allow for a public and party-wide consultation process.

 

The editorial claims that the Congress delegates, elected democratically by the Party's grassroots, "represent the Party membership and the Cuban people as a whole". That's a dubious assertion, because neither the party membership nor the Cuban people as a whole have seen the documents that these delegates will be asked to vote on. How, then, can the delegates be said to represent them in any meaningful political sense?

 

The only basis for electing delegates in the absence of one or more platform documents is personal merit and representativeness in the purely sociological sense. Thus the editorial notes the percentages of women and youth delegates. Likewise, it stresses the breadth of expertise drawn on in the party leadership's elaboration of the Congress documents. Impressive though this may be, the underlying message is surely pernicious: "Trust us and trust the experts".

 

Finally, what this editorial doesn't say is equally striking. No mention is made of the Central Committee's previously stated intention to organise a party-wide and society-wide consultation on the draft Congress documents, nor does it explain when and why it was decided to not go ahead with the consultation. That leaves the 'when' and the 'why' open to corrosive speculation.

 

* * *

 

            Less than a month till the Party Congress - Granma editorial

 

March 27, 2016 -- The Seventh Party Congress will convene on April 16, on the 55th anniversary of the proclamation of the socialist character of the Revolution and exactly five years after the opening of Sixth Congress. It will continue the work of the Sixth Congress and that of the First National Party Conference [in January 2012].

 

The Seventh Party Congress is less than a month away. It will begin on April 16, marking the 55th anniversary of the proclamation of the socialist character of the Revolution and exactly five years after the opening of the Sixth Congress, and conclude on April 19. It will thus comply, strictly, with one of the Objectives (No. 17) adopted by the First National Conference: uphold the interval between Congresses that is established in the Party Statutes.

 

On February 29, Granma carried a detailed report on the process of electing the Congress delegates, and reported the following day on the initiation, in all provinces simultaneously, of the consultation meetings on the documents that will be submitted for debate at the Congress.

 

The Granma editorial board has received, through various means, concerns of Party activists (and non-members) who question the reasons why, on this occasion, no public discussion process has been planned, such as that carried out five years ago on the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines. The fact that opinions or doubts on this issue are being expressed is not at all reprehensible, even less so when they come from people who are genuinely concerned about the work of the party and the destiny of the country. On the contrary, this is a reflection of the democracy and participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism we are building. Raul Castro himself, in closing the the First National Party Congress, made an appeal to “foster a climate of maximum confidence and the creation of the necessary conditions at all levels for the most inclusive and frank exchanges of opinions, both within the [Party] and in its links to the workers and the population (…)”.

 

It has been a tradition (or rather, a political right that has been conquered) that, throughout the history of the Revolution, the people have always been consulted on the big decisions. In the 1960s, the First and Second Declarations of Havana were adopted [by dint of mass demonstrations] in the Jose Marti Plaza of the Revolution, as well as in Santiago de Cuba with such popular participation. The overwhelming vote of the immense majority [of citizens] gave our republic a socialist Constitution. And during the harshest years of the [post-Soviet] Special Period, the Workers Parliaments, throughout the length and breadth of the country, confirmed that Cuba would continue to be an eternal Baragua [translator's note: an allusion to a historical event that evokes Cuban defiance in the 19th Century war of independence from Spain].

 

Fresh in the memories of all of us is the exemplary way in which the first draft of the 291 Guidelines, which were published on November 9, 2010, were discussed. Over three months (from December 2010 to February 2011), they were debated by the whole population in 163,079 meetings with 8,913,838 participants. There were 3,019,471 contributions to these debates, which were grouped into 781,644 opinions, all of which were analysed in detail. As a result, 94 paragraphs were unchanged (32%), 197 were amended or incorporated into others (68% of the remainder) and 36 new guidelines were added. The 311 resultant guidelines were discussed initially in the provinces and then in the Congress sessions by the delegates and invitees. Two new guidelines were added and 86 (28% of the 311) were amended. This is how the final 313 guidelines took shape, as a genuine expression of the popular will that was ratified, after the Congress, by the National Assembly.

 

The Congress agreed on the means to avoid its decisions being shelved. It recommended that the Government set up a Permanent Commission for Implementation and Development [of the Guidelines] which, without diminishing the role of the Central State Administration Institutions, would ensure the coordination and integrality of the complex process of updating the [Cuban socialist] model. The Congress also tasked all levels of the Party with controlling, impelling and demanding compliance with the adopted Guidelines.

 

Since then, both the Central Committee and the National Assembly have analysed the implementation of the Congress decisions twice annually. These evaluations have received ample media coverage, as have the meetings of the Council of Ministers, where policies to ensure the implementation of the Guidelines are approved.

 

It clear from the outset that it would not be easy [to implement the Guidelines], because this is not a laboratory experiment but fundamental changes at the level of society as a whole, based on the inviolable premises of avoiding the shock therapies of the capitalist countries and not abandoning anyone to their fate. All of this against the backdrop of an international economic crisis and the omnipresent, malicious [US] blockade.

 

In his Main Report to the Congress, Compañero Raul [Castro] warned of the difficulties that lay ahead: “We are convinced that the task ahead of us in this and other matters related to the updating of the economic model is full of complexities and interrelations that touch, to one degree or another, on every facet of society as a whole. Given this, we know that it is not a question of one day nor even one year, and that it will take at least five years for the implementation to unfold with the necessary harmony and coherence...”.

 

Indeed it has. The balance sheet of what has been achieved in the past five years shows that 21% of the Guidelines have now been implemented, while 77% are in the process of implementation. The other 2% (five guidelines) have not been carried out for various reasons. We must take into account the fact that an important part of the most complex transformations began to be implemented in 2014 and 2015, and are only now beginning to bear fruit.

 

Given all this, rather than launch a new society-wide debate process in the throes of implementation, we need to finish what we have begun, continuing to carry out the popular will expressed five years ago and advancing along the course set by the Sixth Congress. Accordingly, the Seventh Congress will take place after the evaluation meetings of the Party's base committees, as well as those of the municipal and provincial Party Committees. The reports presented in the provinces were published in full in the local press, and their contents were debated by hundreds of collectives nationwide.

 

The documents that will be taken to the Congress are the result of a collective elaboration in which dozens of functionaries, economic and social science researchers and professors participated. They were analysed in the advisory Scientific Council of the Implementation Commission, which comprises more than 130 highly qualified specialists.

 

The documents were later discussed in the Central Committee Plenums in December and January, having been refined by successive approximations. The observations and proposals made by the members of this party leadership body were taken into consideration in the new versions of each of the six documents that were then subjected to profound scrutiny in the [provincial Party leadership] consultation meetings that took place, simultaneously, in all of the provinces.

 

Present in these meetings were the thousand Congress delegates, proposed by the grassroots elected democratically, which represent the Party membership and the Cuban people as a whole. Women make up a large proportion (43%) of the delegates, and while it is logical that, as a rule, women and men who have accumulated considerable experience are elected to participate in an event of this nature, among the delegates are 55 young people under 35 years of age.

 

Also attending the consultation meetings were more than 3500 invitees, who also made proposals to enrich the documents. Among them were the deputies to the National Assembly, representatives of the Central State Administration Institutions, university professors, researchers from scientific institutions, local leaders of the mass organisations [translator's note: e.g. the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, Federation of Cuban Women], representatives of our civil society, religious leaders, students, peasants, intellectuals and artists. Not all invitees were Party members.

 

One of the documents assesses the progress of the economy in 2011-15. Another assesses the implementation of the Guidelines. A third document updates the Guidelines for the period 2016-20.

 

The fourth document, of great theoretical importance, is a conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist economic and social development model. The fifth is the economic and social development Programme to 2030. Both documents focus on the country that we aspire to: they set out the nation's economic and social strategy, and the tactical means to achieve this aspiration is precisely the Guidelines and their implementation. The basis of these documents is the content of the Guidelines approved by the Sixth Congress, and they reflect the Guideline's continuity and development. They do not, then, depart from the path set out on. They take what was consulted on and discussed [prior to the Sixth Congress] with the whole of the Party, and with the people, to the next level.

 

The sixth document assesses the degree to which the Objectives approved by the First National Party Conference in January 2012 have been fulfilled. In general the evaluation is positive, and the document projects their continued implementation.

 

One can imagine the complexity of the elaboration of these documents, which in some cases took longer than initially expected.

 

The documents are closely interrelated. They analyse what has been achieved to date, what remains to be done, and orient to the future in the socio-economic and political-ideological spheres. They cannot be viewed as static documents: they will be debated in the Seventh Congress and, like their predecessors, will have to be submitted to periodic evaluation.

 

The Seventh Congress will continue the work of the Sixth and that of the First National Party Conference. It will allow for the path ahead to be sketched out with far more precision, so that our nation—sovereign and truly independent from the triumph of January 1, 1959—may build a prosperous and sustainable socialism.

 

  

Granma readers respond

 

This series began with Francisco Rodriguez's Open Letter to Raul Castro and Esteban Morales' earlier commentary on the Seventh Congress. The significance of these two interventions is that such pointed public criticisms of the PCC leadership by such prominent PCC members whose party loyalty is beyond reproach, are rare. Responsible party members, especially well-known and widely respected ones, don't make such criticisms lightly. They would feel a heavy obligation to weigh up the likely consequences of such criticism for the party and for themselves.  

 

For example, as Rodriguez acknowledges in his Open Letter, one must allow for the very real possibility that the party leadership may be better placed to judge the wisdom of what is urged, in this case delaying the Congress to allow for a public consultation process. If political principles clash with political expediency then the party leadership may be confronted with a genuine dilemma. On the other hand, the PCC leadership is—of course—far from infallible. Beset by great difficulties on all sides and by new challenges, from Obama's shift to 'soft power' subversion to a generational leadership transition at the highest level, a lapse into old habits that die hard, such as the very secrecy that Raul Castro has repeatedly denounced in recent years, is perhaps understandable. 

 

It is nonetheless disturbing.

 

On March 27, Granma editorialised (see above) on the rumblings of discontent from the PCC base. As usual, readers submitted comments to the online version, 38 of which appear at the foot of the editorial. Most touch on the controversy, and all but a few of these are expressions of that discontent among the PCC's grassroots. A Granma reader identifying themselves as 'Leandro' points out that:

 

This would be the only Congress held to date in which core matters dealt with by the Party are not discussed with the whole population, at a time when in my judgement we need more consensus. What's more, it's one of the last Congresses to be led by the historic generation and this would set, I believe, a bad precedent for the future leaders, who would feel they have the right to hold Congresses without popular participation.

 

The Granma editorial makes no mention of the leadership's earlier commitment to hold party-wide and public consultations on the Seventh Congress draft resolutions. 'Leandro' reminds readers that: 

 

 
On December 20, 2014, in the closing session of the Fourth Ordinary Period of Sessions of the Eighth Legislature of the National Assembly of People's Power, General Raul Castro said: "Next year we will initiate the preparatory activities for holding the Seventh Party Congress in April 2016, prior to which there will be a broad and democratic debate with the Party membership and all of the [Cuban] people on how the implementation of the [Sixth Congress] Guidelines is progressing". On February 23, 2015, Cubadebate website published a report on the Tenth Central Committee Plenum in which an assurance was given that "... the Seventh Party Congress will be held in April 2016. Consequently, from now and during the first quarter of the year, municipal and provincial Party assemblies will be held, Party functionaries and members will be briefed, a popular consultation will be carried out and the final versions of the [Congress] documents will be processed and approved."

 

'Leandro' notes that among the six resolutions to be put to the vote of Congress delegates are the 'Conceptualisation of the Cuban Socio-Economic Model of Socialist Development' and the 'Economic and Social Development Programme to 2030—Vision of the Nation, Strategic Axes, Objectives and Sectors'. "Given their importance, these matters should, in my judgement, be submitted to popular opinion", 'Leandro' concludes.

 

Another Granma reader, PCC activist Arturo Menendez, thinks the necessary deepening of Cuba's socialist democracy should have begun with a party-wide and public consultation in the lead-up to the Seventh Congress. The fact that such a consultation was last held five years ago is precisely the point, he adds in a second post: "The context has been changing, the world's complexities have deepened, we face new challenges now and ahead of us. There is much to be gained from the broadest discussion and analysis with the Party as a whole and with all of the [Cuban] people."

 

Reader 'Alzugaray' (perhaps the same Carlos Alzugaray whose essay, 'Cuba: Continuity and Political Change' I translated here) responds: "Thanks. Very descriptive information. But the question remains: why not publish the documents so that we can all see them and at least follow the Congress discussions? There's still time to remedy this deficiency".

 

Cuban philosopher Jose Ramon Fabelo, who participated in a panel discussion on work in Cuba that I translated here, concurs: 

 

The Party Congress in Cuba is the Congress of the Cuban nation and people. Those who participate in it as delegates are only our representatives. But for those delegates to be able to fulfil this function properly, they must have at their disposal the opinions of those they represent: party members and non-members, the people in general. That there may be continuity with respect to the previous congress is no justification for not discussing the materials of this new congress with the people, with society as a whole, the historical subject whose mission and destiny will be discussed by the congress. The conceptualisation of our economic and social model is not a task for experts and social scientists alone. What should distinguish our theory is its inherent connection with revolutionary practice, and the grand subject of this revolutionary practice is the whole people, a people more than capable, thanks to the Revolution itself, of being also the subject of its own theory. Holding the congress on the date decided on (exactly five years after the previous one) should not take priority over the need to ensure its success in terms of the Revolution's social bases themselves. The most important congress is that which takes place in the streets and workplaces of revolutionary Cuba. Let's not pass up the opportunity to give another lesson in democracy—genuine democracy, Cuban style—to Obama and all those who want to throw their discredited models in our faces. Let's immediately publish all the materials, let's organise for them to be debated by all of our people. Let's hold the Congress when we've created the conditions to do it in the best way possible: without delay, yes, but without failing to do any anything that a true congress of the Cuban nation demands. That is my proposal.

 

Like Fabelo, Ernesto Estevez Rams stresses the question of representation. How, he asks, can the delegates be said to represent the PCC membership when the vast majority of party members are unaware of the content of the draft resolutions? He then poses the question in terms of democratic centralism:

 

It's not convincing. I understand all of the context that the article explains, but that context does not justify the lack of consultation at the base level [of the PCC]. One could use the same argumentation about context to defend [the need for] the consultation. In particular, as a Party member and a citizen, I want to be able to read and express my opinion before the approval of a document that conceptualises the economic and social (and by extension, political) model of my country. I also believe I have the right to read and express my opinion on the [economic and social development] plan to the year 2030 before it is adopted. ... The delegates are, by definition, representatives of those who elected them. This is at the heart of the democratic centralism that, we should not forget, has two sides. The congress is one of the most important democratic moments of the PCC, when our delegates express their opinion and decide, with their vote, in the name of those who elected them. Thus their opinion and vote in the Congress is not that of themselves as individuals, not those of the leadership bodies. It should be and must be the opinion and vote that reflect the consensus of those that elected them from the grassroots. How can they be elected delegates, defend the opinion of their electors on such documents, if their electors have not had access to them and therefore cannot reach agreement on what the delegate should argue for? The decision to not consult is a significant regression in terms of democratic participation and it feels like a dangerous precedent, for which there should be no attempt to compensate after the fact. Let's learn from the errors of the ex-Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party. All party members should zealously uphold the democratic side of centralism, so that democracy operates in the right way and doesn't end up being held hostage to centralism, albeit with the best of intentions. We must continually strengthen the democracy of our party so that it is the guarantor of the Revolution, in so far as it is the democratic reflex of the revolutionary vanguard of our society. 

 

Raul Castro's Congress report

Raul Castro opened the Congress with the Main Report, which was broadcast live on Cuban TV and radio and published in Granma. Importantly, the official transcript includes his numerous departures from the prepared script—diversions delivered with characteristic bluntness and good humour. Raul, 84 years young, was lucid, sharp, combative and demanding. He received a standing ovation.

I'll return to the content of the Main Report report when the official English translation becomes available, to avoid duplicating this translation effort. For now, let's see how Raul dealt with the vexed question of the preparatory process for the Congress. Inconsistencies in his account suggest another, more plausible explanation for the absence of a broad public consultation process.

Like the Granma (above) on March 27, Raul made no mention of the PCC leadership's earlier commitment to consult the party membership and the wider public on the draft Congress documents. Nor did he refer to the rumblings of discontent from the party base. He simply stated that:

Unlike the previous Congress, when the draft Guidelines were submitted to a broad consultation with the Party membership, the Communist Youth and the wider public prior to the Congress, after which they were approved by the National Assembly, on this occasion that procedure was not followed, given that what is involved is the confirmation and continuity of the line adopted five years ago regarding the updating of our economic and social model.

       Note that Raul's explanation here for the absence of a broad consultative process does not involve the timing of such a consultation—before or after the Congress, for example—but the leadership's view that the draft documents are compatible with, and merely refinements of, the line adopted at the previous Congress. Yet six paragraphs on, Raul implies that a broad consultation is in fact necessary:

We have conceived that both documents, that is, the Conceptualisation [of Cuba's emerging socialist model] and the bases of the National Development Plan be debated democratically, after they have been analysed in the Congress, by the Party membership and the Communist Youth, representatives of the mass organisations and broad social sectors, with a view to enriching and improving them. 

There's a logical inconsistency here. The Central Committee can't have it both ways. Either a broad consultation is necessary or it isn't. If it isn't, because the Seventh Congress won't overturn the political line of the Sixth, then why hold a consultation after the Congress? And if it is in fact necessary, then wouldn't it have been far more democratic to hold it prior to the Congress? Convening the Congress prior to the consultation is putting the cart before the horse.

         Raul continues:

To this end, we ask the Congress to empower the incoming Central Committee to modify [the Congress documents] on the basis of the consultation process and to approve the final versions, including the corresponding amendments to the [updated Sixth Congress] Guidelines that the Congress may approve.

The Central Committee has argued that the Seventh Congress is a continuation of the Sixth, held five years ago. A more cogent argument could be made that the post-Congress consultation process that Raul projected in his report will be, or at least should be, effectively a continuation of the Seventh Congress. This suggests that the appropriate mechanism for deciding on the wording of the final drafts of the Congress documents would be to recall the 1000 Congress delegates, rather than cede the higher powers of the Congress to the Central Committee.

It seems that the real reason for the lack of a broad consultation process prior to the Seventh Congress is not that the Central Committee regarded such a consultation as unnecessary. As recently as its Tenth Plenum on February 23, the Central Committee reiterated its commitment to a broad consultation (which will now take place, belatedly, sometime after the Congress). The likely explanation is implicit elsewhere in Raul's Congress report, where he stresses the complex and protracted nature of the drafting process that took place behind closed doors.

Raul reported that work on the Conceptualisation document began soon after the Sixth Congress and has involved no less than eight drafts. Meanwhile, work on the economic and social development plan to 2030 began four years ago. It was initially hoped that a complete draft would be ready for the Congress, but due to its "great technical complexity" what is being debated by the Congress is only the bases of such a document. A complete, final version is not expected till 2017.

As late as December and January, the Central Committee redrafted the Congress documents on the basis of some 900 opinions and suggestions submitted by Central Committee members, Raul reported. By January, it would have been too late to launch a public consultation process like that which preceded the Sixth Congress, which spanned three months from December 2010 to February 2011. Obama's impending visit may have been another factor that loomed large in the Central Committee's deliberations. How much might it distract and disorient?

The Central Committee could have postponed the Congress to allow for a broad consultation process, but evidently decided against it. In his Congress report, Raul said that holding the Congress on April 16-19, exactly five years after the previous Congress, complies with the PCC Statutes in this regard. It also fulfils Objective No. 17 of the First National Party Conference, which states that the five year interval should be adhered to (there was a 14 year interval between the Fifth and Sixth Congresses). Yet arguably, not postponing the Congress to allow for a broad consultation clashes with Objective No. 1, which states that the PCC's activist base should play a "decisive" role in the "discussion and adoption of the party's most important decisions”.

If, as the Central Committee suggests, the Conceptualisation of Cuba's emerging socialist model is just the theoretical expression of the Guidelines, which are more a set of concrete objectives than a programmatic vision statement, why then has it taken the PCC leadership five years to draft it? Here we enter the realm of speculation. It seems likely that the PCC leadership has tried to reconcile, behind closed doors, quite different conceptions of the new Cuban socialist model that is aspired to (see the Introduction to my Master's thesis 'Statist Utopianism and the Cuban Socialist Transition'). These divergent conceptions had to be reconciled if the leadership were to present a more or less coherent programmatic vision to the party as a whole—rather than strive to involve the party as a whole in developing that vision from the outset over the five years since the Sixth Congress. Leaving the realm of speculation, opting for secrecy over transparency has reduced the vast majority of PCC members to the role of spectators rather than participants in the Seventh Party Congress.

In his Congress report, Raul stressed the cardinal importance of the Conceptualisation document:

The principal objective of this document is to clearly set out the key features of the [Cuban socialist] model [that is aspired to], in such a way that it serves as a theoretical and conceptual guide to the building of socialism in Cuba, in correspondence with our own characteristics and efforts, taking as its basis the history of the nation and of the revolutionary process, the national culture, the internal conditions and the international situation as well as the experiences of socialist economic and social development in other countries. The principles that underpin the Conceptualisation are based on the legacy of Jose Marti, Marxism-Leninism, the thought of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, and the work of the Revolution itself.

Raul then elaborated on the post-Congress process of refinement and adoption:

As I said earlier, the theoretical and practical complexity of this draft document and its importance for the future suggest that it should not be approved in the framework of this Congress. What we propose instead is that the delegates continue the debate and adopt this draft in principle, so that it may serve as the basis of [a] profound and democratic process of analysis by the membership of the Party and the Communist Youth, as well as by broad sectors of our society. The results of this debate will then be presented for final approval by the Central Committee. In other words, for the reasons I have explained, to continue discussing it in the municipalities, and with the democratic participation of the Party as a whole, the Communist Youth, representatives of the mass organisations, etc., with the aim of concluding its elaboration and with the Central Committee being empowered to approve it. It would then be presented to the National Assembly, the highest institution of state power and the one with the authority to grant it legal status.

Endnotes

 

[1] After a hiatus of more than a year, during which I have been grieving the tragic death of my beloved comrade and partner of fourteen years, Maria Voukelatos, I feel ready to return to my translations and commentaries. Maria would have wished me to do so. In taking up this blog again I honour and cherish her memory, especially her commitment to Cuba's communist cause.

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