Cuba: Notes on socialist democracy, by Dario Machado Rodriguez

Photo by Roberto Suarez.

[For more analysis and discussion on the economic reforms in Cuba, and assessments of the sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, click HERE.]

Introduction by Marce Cameron

June 12, 2011 -- Cuba's Socialist Renewal, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Generation R is an new bilingual blogin Cuba launched by pro-revolution Cuban university students. It's their answer to Generation Y, the blog of Yoani Sanchez, a Havana-based counterrevolutionary whose diatribes just happen to be translated almost instantaneously into over a dozen languages by her "fans" overseas. You can check out the English version of Generation R here.

Dario Machado is a well-known Cuban revolutionary intellectual and a member of the Cuban Communist Party. In this commentary first published on May 7, 2011, in Spanish on the pro-revolution Cubadebate website, Machado takes up a key challenge of Cuba's socialist renewal: harnessing the enormous and largely untapped potential of Cuba's mass media to achieve a better informed and more participatory socialist democracy. As Machado points out "dissent, change, reform, conflict, market, a state based on legality, etc., are words that within a language, a political culture and a socialist ideology such as those of the Cuban Revolution have a totally different meaning to that ascribed to them by the press at the service of the transnational corporations".

The sixth congress: notes on socialist democracy

By Dario Machado Rodriguez, translated by Marce Cameron

A few days ago the sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba concluded. It left in its wake a growing cautious optimism among the great majority of the citizens who responded once more to the call of the Cuban communists, thus confirming not only their confidence in the role that this political organisation can play in the indispensable transformations in Cuban society in a changed and changing world, but also confirming the socialist impetus of Cuban society.

The popular participation in the analysis of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution was not an inertial response, not a formal participation. It was an expression of the most important thing that has changed in Cuba since the 1959 revolution: the culture of the people, the consciousness achieved by a society which comes to grips with problems, trusts in its own forces and understands that only by preserving unity can Cuba maintain the principal conquests achieved by the people.

But unity itself is only a premise, in the same way that however much the Guidelines are an expression of the critical thinking of Cuban society regarding the necessary changes, if these changes are not carried out then they remain just another document. A viable economic model is necessary. An efficient, unique, made-to-measure suit for our country, for its conditions and premises, for its necessities, aspirations, customs, political principles, history and culture.

The framework for the popular debate was also clearly understood by the people: this is nothing other than the beginning of a series of other transformations that will continue in the economic sphere but which will also touch on fundamental aspects of the political and juridical organisation of the country.

A long-awaited congress

The sixth congress of the Cuban Communist Party has been perhaps the most hoped-for congress by the great majority of the population, accustomed as they are to their regularity and given the particular circumstances in which this one has taken place. Given its transcendental nature, the sixth congress is comparable in importance to the first congress in 1975 and the Fourth in 1991.

When as in Cuba, due to particular historical and political circumstances there exists a single political party, this can only be and act as a democratic institution if it includes in its strategic vision and tactical leadership the whole people, the last line of defence in the struggle against opportunism of all kinds.

If it is the sole party and if the constitution enshrines its right to be the leading force in Cuban society, there will be cases in which people want to belong to it in order take advantage of its prestige and its constitutional mandate and not exactly to uphold its prestige with their own conduct and commitment.

The numerous occasions in which the party has carried out a popular consultation to renew and consolidate consensus have not all been the same. They have not had the same quality, nor the same importance or transcendence. Among the most outstanding were the debate on the draft [socialist] Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, the debate on the documents of the first congress [in 1975], that which preceded the Fourth Congress [in 1991], the worker's parliaments of 1991 and that which has just concluded on the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution, which were approved by the sixth congress with the massive and indisputable backing of a millions-strong popular participation.

It's worth recalling that the process of drafting of these guidelines took into account the results of a very broad and enriching discussion of the text of President Raul Castro's speech of July 26, 2007, in which the need for structural changes to Cuban society was recognised.

Absence in the media

The virtues of the most recent preparatory debate, however, were dulled by how little the content of these debates was reflected in the country's media. They carried so little of this debate that what was reported only served to highlight its absence.

The publication of the Guidelines for the second stage of analysis by the people took information already mediated and summarised by those who drafted the document, but what was lost was the educational value, the clarifying function and the ability to provide balance through the timely reporting of the viewpoints of the people.

In the main report to the 6th congress [delivered by Raul Castro] the party's position on information policy was reaffirmed, one of those documents that had been put to sleep for eternity in desk drawers. Recognition of the grave error committed in not taking advantage of the enormous potential of the Cuban communications media to enrich the subjectivity of the citizenry through the open discussion of the problems is the first step towards rectifying these problems.

Obviously, this won't be easy. Among the powerful internal forces that must be confronted in order to continue the revolutionary project is that of spurious interests and opportunism that gets in the way of the necessary transparency regarding to awareness of the most important things that are happening in society. The first secretary of the central committee of the party [Raul Castro], who had reiterated in the closing speech to the sixth ordinary period of sessions of the seventh legislature of the National Assembly of People's Power [in December 2010] that he would be a staunch advocate of putting an end to secrecy, expressed it in the following way in the main report:

"The Cuban media in its various formats should play a decisive role in the pursuit of this goal with clarifications and objective, continuous and critical reports on the progress of the updating of the economic model so that with profound and shrewd articles and reports written in terms accessible to all, they can help build in our country a culture of awareness about these topics.

"In this area of work it is also necessary to definitively banish the habit of describing the national reality in pretentious high-flown language or with excessive formality. Instead, written materials and television and radio programs should be produced that catch the attention of the audience with their content and style while encouraging public debate. But this demands from our journalists that they increase their knowledge and become better professionals even if most of the time, despite the agreements adopted by the Party on information policy, they cannot access the information in a timely fashion nor contact the cadres and experts involved with the issues in question. The combination of these elements explains the rather common dissemination of boring, improvised or superficial reports. "Our media has an important contribution to make to the promotion of the national culture and the revival of the civic values of our society."

What is certain is that the Cuban press is still dragging is feet when it comes to reflecting the real country and is not at the level of the advanced culture achieved by the people, in particular its political culture. Just because the press doesn't give adequate treatment to the country's problems doesn't mean that that they aren't discussed; they are discussed by the people in everyday conversations and often in spite of the imprecise and distorted information provided by the media.

An inseparable facet of this new process of rectification of the Cuban Revolution is the intention to achieve a journalistic and communications practice through the media that is a democratising element in the life of the country, by placing in the hands of the citizenry, in a straightforward way without sterile paternalism and distortions, the information to which they are fully entitled, awareness that will enrich their subjectivity and make their participation more efficient.

The party of all Cubans

The existence of a single party is not a condition of existence of the socialist transition, and neither is the existence of several. What is an indispensable condition is democracy and participation, in which the will of the people is carried out, in which the people are the political subject and what is done is done for the people.

The debate on the Guidelines confirmed an organisational, ideological and political principle of the party's work among all Cubans: if we have a single party then this is the party of its militants and of the other citizens, it is the party of all the people. If someone who is opposed to the ideology and the political principles of the party and the socialist revolution expresses their views with full freedom in the party's call to debate, the process could hardly be more democratic, because it offers space for all opinions, those that are revolutionary and socialist and which have been the majority in Cuba since 1959 and those that are not. In the main report to the 6th congress, Raul Castro gave the example of 45 opinions freely expressed in the debates that advocated allowing the concentration of property ownership, in other words for private initiative to breach the socialist frontier.

It would be impossible to conceive of a society of solidarity and social justice in which the logic of its economic reproduction is that of unlimited individual accumulation of money and power. The defenders of capitalist ideology talk about the inevitable failure of socialism, precisely because it does not give free reign to individual enrichment through the labour of others, but their political culture enables the great majority in Cuba to understand with sufficient clarity the consequences of not placing limits on private property. Because of this these isolated and minority views did not prevail, but the overwhelming majority of viewpoints addressed the necessary and urgent structural transformation of the Cuban economy and society based on socialist principles.

But what is fundamental regarding the political work of the party and the need for a profound change in mentality is that expressed by Raul Castro: "...while there tended to be general understanding of and support for the content of the Guidelines, there was not unanimity and this was precisely what we needed if we really wanted a democratic and serious consultation with the people".

Unanimity and false unanimity

Unanimity is not impossible, it can be achieved after a certain lapse of time, in specific circumstances and regarding concrete aspects of social life, but unanimity is neither daily nor permanent, it is conjunctural, exceptional. What occurs daily is differences of opinion and conflict of opinion. One of the indispensable aspects of the change in mentality is rooted in precisely this: the recognition of differences, the diversity of opinions and of their conflict, for which it is necessary to banish triumphalism, the bucolic mentality of accommodation to bureaucratic inertia, intolerance towards different views, even those radically opposed [to our own], and to learn to carry out a dialogue, to resolve differences and conflicts through negotiation, which implies recognising ourselves as equals rather than as superior to others.

his is the root of socialist democracy, which in no way harms political unity, nor discipline, nor does it imply making concessions of principle. What's more, everything that happens in Cuban society has to take place within the framework of the country's socialist constitution and according to the laws of the republic, and the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) must be the guarantor of this, that is precisely its fundamental role as the vanguard organisation of Cuban society. Whoever is unprepared for this urgent change in mentality will be — as a friend of mine is fond of saying — "waiting for the bus where it doesn't stop". The construction of a socialist state based on legality requires a different emphasis on the relationship between the individual and society.

Steps in this direction have already been taken with the necessary changes in legality that accompany the rectification of the economic model [such as the relaxation of some of the restrictions on self-employment — translator's note], which together with the required changes in methods and styles of political work will allow us to advance in the necessary, efficient articulation of the four fundamental aspects of the socialist transition: the socio-economic, the organisational, the legal and the political-ideological.

This articulation that has its own dynamic must be as harmonious as possible, and given that socialism is a society that is constructed consciously, it is a task that requires the timely adoption of the changes that are needed in each moment, as well as anticipating them as far as possible. This is what is meant by the Cuban president's call to "be alert, keep our feet and ears to the ground".

Fearing neither words nor changes

Only one who is not genuinely revolutionary can fear changes and words. The construction of a socialist state based on legality is the natural political-legal counterpart to the socioeconomic changes that involve the recognition of the role of the market and the corresponding changes in the characteristics of the relationship between the individual and society. "The state", said Raul Castro on December 18, 2010 [in the National Assembly], "regulates its relations with the individual, but the state does not have to involve itself in anything to do with regulating the relations between individuals..."

This is precisely the task of the [PCC's] legal working group of the permanent commission for Implementation and development [of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines adopted by the PCC Congress in April], which as Raul Castro explained in his main report to the congress, "will coordinate with the corresponding entities, with strict adherence to institutionalism, the modifications that are required in the legal sphere to accompany the updating of the economic and social model, simplifying and harmonising the content of hundreds of ministerial resolutions, legislation and decree laws and at the same time will propose, at the appropriate time, the introduction of the pertinent amendments to the Constitution of the Republic."

The relationship between the above and the individual citizen is evident in the following paragraph:

"Without waiting for everything to be worked out, progress has been made in the legal regulations associated with the purchase and sale of housing and cars, the modification of Decree Law No. 259 expanding the limits of fallow land to be awarded in usufruct to those agricultural producers with outstanding results, and the granting of credit to self-employed workers and to the population at large."

Commodity exchange, and the psychology of the exchange of equivalents that it reproduces in society, demands the full recognition of personal property, without the latter being converted into capital — into private property in the means of production and service provision and the exploitation of alienated labour that multiplies itself to the point where it dominates over social property — because this would be the inflection point that would allow free reign to the market. We must hold up a shield against the osmotic pressure of surrounding capitalism without which the healthy development of society in the socialist transition would be compromised, recreating a deep social cleavage followed by the absorption of Cuban society into its capitalist surroundings, and with it the loss of independence, of the social justice conquests and of the ability of the nation to construct its own social project.

This is also the reason why we cannot talk about socialism without a new way of conceiving wellbeing that educates people about healthy consumption [rather than capitalist consumerism — translator's note], solidarity, the internal equilibrium of society and of society with nature, with the environment. The above relates to the indispensable role of education, of values, of ethics in the society in transition to socialism, of socialist ideology as social armour against the continual siege of capitalist ideology, with its psychological weapons, with the consumerist temptation, with individualism and its deceitful freedom that now enjoys a more favourable substrate in a Cuban society with the opening up of a greater space for market relations.

This concept of wellbeing does not at all mean that the enjoyment of all the goods that society produces should be egalitarian, but it does imply essentially a rejection of consumerism and egoism. The society of the socialist transition must recognise the right (unequal, as with all rights) of people with different qualities, aspirations and social contributions to receive individual benefits from society in proportion to their contribution to society, which implies that the limits of individual, personal [i.e. non-capitalist] property cannot be set bureaucratically, but can only be defined by consensus with thee participation of all the citizens, always on the basis of a socialist principle: everything that one receives on the basis of honest work, one's contribution to society, is ethical.

During the transition to socialism it is ethical to receive more if you contribute more. What is not only morally impermissible but also economically non-viable is that one does not receive from society according to one's social contribution, be it more or less. Because of this, those who are more capable, more responsible and who carry out work of greater complexity and that requires more expertise, ability and experience cannot distinguish themselves from the other members of the collective on the basis of a meagre remuneration, bureaucratically defined, that is way below the real importance and value of their contribution, which has only resulted in demoralisation and the erosion of consciousness regarding individual responsibility, as well as discouraging initiative and the desire to advance and develop oneself, not only for purely self-interested reasons but above all in terms of ethics [that is, the desire to develop oneself as a useful member of society — translator's note].

The change in mentality also demands a more conscious approach to individuals exercising their right to participation in all spheres of social, economic, political and cultural life, and the consequent rejection of the authoritarian and dogmatic vision according to which everything that is said or proposed must be "naturally" understood and accepted by the citizen.

The market still has a positive role to play in the social process, and in my view it will do for a long time to come. It will have an organising role in relation to the prevailing psychology of the exchange of equivalents. In effect, markets are a product of socialism [i.e. of the transitional society], though they have a different content in that they are bound by the framework of the plan and exist within the framework of a vigilant socialist superstructure. The exchange of equivalents that the market involves is still necessary and will continue to be so for a long time, since it lies at the foundation of the existence of the [socialist] state beyond the necessary defence of sovereignty and the national space within which it exists.

The society in the transition to socialism is a society in which merit plays a decisive role, but in relation to the distribution of what society produces, as in many other respects, this cannot depend on the arbitrary decisions of people [i.e. "the bureaucracy"] who decide what is meritorious and what is not, determining remuneration on this basis. Labour and its results have a dimension that transcends their strictly economic meaning, having also a moral dimension. Whoever achieve better results for having anticipated, organised better, planned better, must be remunerated through the normal functioning of the socioeconomic metabolism of the society in transition to socialism, regardless of what anyone may think of this.

But we cannot acknowledge the role of the market and not have a corresponding legal framework that allows the accumulation of personal [i.e. individual, non-capitalist] property, as long as it is the fruit of efficient and honest work that is carried out within the framework of legality and on the basis of the popular will. What is taking place in the country is a profound and necessary reform that is revolutionary in its content and projections because it is aimed maintaining the socialist course, diverging from capitalist inertia. Dissent, change, reform, conflict, market, a state based on legality, etc., are words that within a language, a political culture and a socialist ideology such as those of the Cuban Revolution have a totally different meaning to that ascribed to them by the press at the service of the transnational corporations, and this prejudices more than a few short-sighted people towards the rejection of these terms, leaving them to be the private property of capitalist ideology.

The sixth congress and national unity

The building of socialism in Cuba does not take place in "laboratory" conditions, nor in conditions of acceptance by the developed capitalist world and the hegemonic north-centric powers of the right of the Cuban people to to have and maintain their chosen political system, enshrined in its constitution. What happens is the exact opposite. Half a century of socialist transition in Cuba has also been a history of repeated propaganda, psychological, political, diplomatic military and sabotage attacks and a genocidal and relentless economic war that has weighed down continually as a colossal brake on the realisation of the socio-economic development potential of the country. The mere fact of sustaining the socialist path in a predominantly capitalist world is a feat that could only be assumed by a dignified and cultured people.

The unity of the nation is and will be the key to being able to confront, with all and for the good of all [a phrase of Jose Marti], these enormous external challenges, but also the powerful internal forces that are embodied in those that have no interest, desire nor ability to carry through the urgent transformations.

"We are convinced" — said Raul Castro — "that the only thing that can cause the failure of the Revolution and socialism in Cuba, putting at risk the future of the nation, is our inability to overcome the errors that we ourselves have committed during more than 50 years, and the new ones that we may fall into."

Clearly, all those who would benefit from the collapse of the Cuban socialist revolution would wish that Cuba wages the political and ideological struggle on their ground and on their terms, with which they themselves do not usually comply, imposing as a standard for Cuban society a pure, idyllic model of democracy that naturally nobody will ever achieve.

The defence of the revolutionary project is a duty for those who have given their own lives generously and for we ourselves, together with all of the people, which have confronted the dangers, privations and scarcities, have passed every test and have won every right, while having strengthened their critical conscience, their political culture and their ability to prevail.

The sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, genuine fruit of the democratic participation of the citizenry, was able to rebuild consensus within Cuban society, strengthening unity within diversity and opening up a new perspective of work and struggle for the future that is well worth the effort. It brought everyone together to work for the proposed objectives, above all the youth that will be able to find a space within which to fuse their individual life-projects with the objectives of society as a whole. This is the power of consensus, the power of socialist democracy.

[This above translation first appeared at Cuba's Socialist Renewal, a site edited by Marce Cameron to "open a window to the English-speaking world on the debates and changes taking place in Cuba and provide a space for discussion and debate among supporters, however critical, of the Cuban Revolution". Cameron is an activist with the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society (ACFS) and president of the Sydney University Cuba-Venezuela Solidarity Club. To follow or to receive email updates from Cuba's Socialist Renewal, click on the link.]