Cuba: Three premises to save the revolution when Fidel dies

By Heinz Dieterich

1. Fidel sets the task: November 17, 2005

On November 17, 2005, at the University of Havana, Fidel warns about the danger of the Cuban Revolution ending up like the Soviet Revolution. To avoid this, he sets a task: “What are the ideas or levels of awareness that would make it impossible for a revolutionary process to be reversed?”

This is an invitation to world debate, a call for the solidarity of reasoning. But world solidarity does not understand it so. It is shocked when the commandant who for almost fifty years has affirmed that the revolution is invincible, that “Socialism is immortal and the party eternal”, suddenly publicly declares the opposite. It is an epistemological earthquake: the commandant of certainty, of conviction in the final victory, reintroduces dialectics into the Cuban official discourse without warning, preambles or roundabouts. He is applying dialectics to stagnation, as Bertolt Brecht would say.

Shocked and unbelieving, world solidarity does not react to the commandant’s call: does not provide the ideas Fidel asked for, keeps silent and, in some cases, wipes out the speech from public debate fora. This is a logical and human reaction, because the mere thought of Fidel’s passing fills our hearts with grief. But objectively speaking this reaction is an act of what Herbert Marcuse called repressive tolerance, a tolerance that hurts the cause the commandant is advancing.

2. The foreign affairs minister demands: ‘Pay attention’ to Fidel’s call

On December 23, 2005, the talented minister of foreign affairs and Fidel’s former personal assistant, Felipe Pérez Roque, calls our attention to Fidel’s speech. Before the Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular or Cuban parliament, he stresses: “We must pay great attention to Fidel’s call at the university, to that phrase never pronounced publicly before in the history of the revolution: the revolution can be reversed, and not by the enemy that has done everything to bring about that reversal, but by our own mistakes”.

3. The minister’s three barricades of revolutionary defence

Felipe outlines three policies (“premises”) to save the revolution when the death of Fidel “creates the void that cannot be filled by just one person and has to be filled by all of us together as one people” and asks future leaders to act from this very moment in order to avoid the possible return of capitalism.

1. Preserve the moral authority of the leaders by means of personal example without privileges. 2. Maintain the support of the majority of the population, “not on the basis of material consumption but by ideas and convictions”. 3. Avoid the emergence of a new bourgeoisie that “would again be, if allowed to emerge, pro-Yankee, pro-transnational … Let us not be naïve … the determining factor is who receives the income: the majority and the people or the transnational pro-Yankee oligarchic minority … the issue is who owns the property, the people or the corrupt minority that bows down to Yankee imperialism.”

4. Would these three armours save the revolution?

The first proposal of the foreign affairs minister is obviously correct and necessary. It remains to be seen whether the future structure of the Cuban political system allows for it. On the second demand, referring to the dialectics of the spiritual and the material, we must consider Lenin’s dictum that the stability of a dominant class, in this case a ruling class, cannot be separated from its capacity to solve “the task of production”. Let us focus the following item on this matter.

5. Ethics, consumption and knowledge

The central idea expressed by Fidel in November and now by Felipe is that the loyalty of the people to their leadership and their historical project must emanate primarily from ethics (values, ideas and convictions) and not from consumerism. So defined, the dialectical unity of opposites in the Cuban reality is not adequately expressed. The correct opposition would be: ethics and consumption, not ethics and consumerism.

For any given period there is, as Marx explained, a historically determined measure of consumption for the worker expressed, in terms of the process of valorisation of capital, in the variable capital. This measure of consumption determines, essentially and in a stratified way, the quality of the material life of the people. Today, the dominant pattern of consumption in the globe is that of the middle classes in the First World and, although it is still unreachable for the majorities, it exerts an irresistible attraction—so much so that many people risk their lives to get to those countries.

The idealistic ethics that followed Platonic obscurantism, reinforced on a daily basis by Catholic moralistic hypocrisy, ignores such consumption—the material sensuality of the flesh—as a “value”. For revolutionary socialism and for science based on the binomial composition of matter-energy of the universe, all ethics must be materialistic-dialectical and inevitably consider reproduction, the pleasure and sensuality of the material as an integral part of the human condition. And in fact, the majority of humankind acts empirically on such a pattern. For them, to reach the quality of life historically determined is a value as strong as or even stronger than certain moral values or “spiritual virtues”. Dialectically, the material becomes its opposite, the spiritual.

Because the pattern of consumption and of popular culture nowadays is predominantly a universal pattern, not a national variable, the clash in Cuba is between the universal pattern of First World middle class consumption—which reaches the population yearly via two million tourists and daily via the us movies on tv—and the standard of living allowed by the level of productive forces and the redistribution system in the country.

Under such circumstances, an ideological awareness campaign may reduce certain superfluous consumptions, but access to the internet, health, education, social and geographical mobility, adequate individual or collective transportation, certain forms and places for entertainment, for sexual encounters etc., as well as certain formal freedoms are part of the historical pattern in place in present day Latin America, and no educational campaign can neutralise this pattern.

Therefore, to vaccinate with ideology the young people against the essential elements of the life pattern they consider fair and necessary will be effective only in a minority. It would be more fruitful to identify such elements and initiate an intense public debate, primarily with the youth, which are the neuralgic point, although not the only alarming sector (!!), a debate of the type of the workers’ parliaments of the ’90s and reach a consensus on a currently feasible consumption pattern.

To appeal to revolutionary discipline and ethical values under Cuba’s present circumstances, to be in the image of Fidel or Che, is not going to change the general picture, because the objective situation does not support such rhetoric. For most, it would be more efficient to discuss democratically the alternatives of consumption, for example whether they prefer more hospitals or transport or housing, private consumption etc., and the means to reconcile such patterns with the real possibilities of the country.

More education, knowledge and information are not antidotes for consumption. The more inputs of such nature are given, the more awareness and subject are generated. And more subject means inevitably a greater wish for democracy. Democracy in all senses—formal, social, participatory—which becomes, just like the historical “fair and necessary” consumption, a fundamental value of human praxis. A value the government must attend to and provide answers for so that it does not generate a resistance the system cannot absorb.

From technological and cognitive cybernetics, we know that a detected system problem may be fixed (post festum) with proportional regulations, be they integral or differential. More efficient, of course, is the preventive normalisation that is possible in statistically detectable events. Both requisites exist in the case of Cuba. The dramatic calls by Fidel and Felipe refer to preventive regulation, to the need for taking measures before the death of Fidel; and the attitudes of the Cuban population are the statistically measurable events.

6. The decisive issue: property and economic surplus

The minister of foreign affairs is right when he defines economic surplus as decisive for economy. But its determination must be widened: who receives the surplus is no more important than who decides how it is received. This issue of economic democracy is a taboo for bourgeois elites but a key element for the performance of socialist economies. For as long as the majorities are factually excluded from the decisions on the use of surplus (investment, consumption, national budget, payment of the external debt etc.) they will not really care whether it is the state, the transnationals or the gringos who keep it.

As in the false dilemma of “ethics versus consumerism”, the statement that the decisive element is whether the people or the transnationals receive the income or possess the means of production distorts the true dialectics of the opposites. Most of the Cuban surplus product is not received by the transnationals but also not by the majority: it is received by the state. And this is the key to the problems of theft and black market denounced by Fidel.

Productive property in Cuba is essentially in the hands of the state, not in the hands of the majority. If it were in their hands, the majority would protect it, because common sense shows that nobody steals from himself. The fact that it is stolen or mistreated has a clear reading: state property is perceived by many as an alien or anonymous property that can be privatised by means of theft. For as long as this remains so, it will be very difficult to put an end to corruption and robbery, as the case of China indicates. Consequently, the socialist economy idea of altruistically producing for all becomes unachievable.

The perception of state productive property as something alien, similar to capitalist property bound to privatisation, is confirmed daily by the fact that people have no real incidence on its use. In the market economy, essentially, property means the right to alienate economic assets. Be it good or bad, this does not exist in Cuba. But the worker does not determine the benefit—the surplus—of this property either, and therefore the property is not his. As he is neither the proprietor nor real owner of the individual or collective productive property, the direct producer does not protect it.

7. The danger of the new bourgeoisie

A new bourgeoisie “would again be, if we let it emerge, pro-Yankee, pro-transnational,” says Felipe. This hypothesis deserves consideration. In Cuba a big bourgeoisie should not be allowed and need not be allowed, because the state already takes its place regarding economic functions. The innovation-production-marketing complex of, for example, biotechnology performs the functions of a transnational enterprise (competition, innovation, capital) together with the contents of an economy more humane than capitalist economy.

The lingering problem is the petty bourgeoisie, i.e. small market production. Let us remember Lenin’s warnings about this social class, but let us also remember: a) at a given historical moment he had to launch the nep (New Economic Policy) with the certainty it would be possible to control bourgeois tendencies by means of the enormous monopolistic power of the Soviet state; b) nowhere in the world has the state been able to offer adequate quality services in, for example, gastronomy; c) no state has been able to provide the cities with the diversity of small businesses, shops, subcultures etc., that gives them life, something particularly relevant for tourism economies; d) the political-economic control of this class can probably be achieved through the tax and judicial systems; e) in lafta’s [Latin American Free Trade Area] global economy, the guarantee of the economic reproduction of the small entrepreneur can be offered only by the state through protectionism and subsidies. This is a fundamental reason for fedeindustria in Venezuela to support the Bolivarian process and for the small farmer and Latin American entrepreneur to support alba [Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America].

In summary: the situation of the petty bourgeoisie in the ussr under Lenin was totally different from the situation of the Latin American petty bourgeoisie today, and it would have to be studied concretely to learn whether or not it should be tolerated and to what extent.

8. Not the least decisive issue: the political superstructure

In June 2002 Felipe had discussed the same topic before the same audience. At that time he concluded that in the eventual absence of the commandant, the defence of the revolution meant the defence of the one-party system, the centralised economy, political unity and the preservation of the armed forces. To maintain a one-party system is probably vital for as long as the imperialist aggression lasts, but equally vital is to give it a real cybernetic nature if they wish to prevent the project from having an end similar to the ussr and the gdr.

9. Lenin, the one party system and cognitive cybernetics

Lenin, who formulated the concept of the democratically centralised party, knew, of course, that every lasting political leadership must ensure three symmetrical flows of information and real debate: a) among the sectors of the vanguard or the top echelons of real power, for instance of the political bureau and the central committee; b) between these decision-making centres and the informative and political elites in the country who, in theory, are the mid-level cadre and the members of the party; c) between the vanguard, the mid-level cadre and the masses. This cybernetic or feedback quality is essential to optimise the practice of any cybernetic cognitive system such as the state, the party or the human being.

In praxis, particularly under Stalin, the necessary equilibrium between democracy and verticality, between symmetrical and asymmetrical communication and power structures, was replaced by verticality. The Moscow trials were the rites of passage (signal of a transition) of the new vertical party and the public warning of the disappearance of democracy in the ussr; they were the secular equivalent of the Inquisition pyres in America, whose ashes indicated the price of dissent under the new order. Rituals of personality submission such as “criticism and self-criticism” served the role of humiliation as the clerical confessional had, and the political police reports defined the quality and life expectancy of the citizens.

In this way, Stalin generated the institution and political culture of conformism, which liquidated the public institutionality and culture of pre-socialist societies, from the Greek agora to the literary clubs of the French Revolution. In fact, the public strategic debate of the bourgeois system, a constituent part of the system, disappeared from the existing socialist superstructure with fatal consequences for socialist evolution. This gave the bourgeois political superstructure a functional superiority for the optimisation of decisions. This can be exemplified by the war in Iraq. The great debates on the possible withdrawal from the conflict take place in the us Congress, on television, in the most important newspapers of the country, the New York Times and the Washington Post, and in the universities.

In existing socialism, such a public domain is non-existent. Strategic debates take place behind closed doors in the highest echelons of the party. Then the official position is reported to and discussed by the lower levels of the party. Finally it is disseminated among the majority through the media and tv round tables.

The majority are excluded from the strategic constituent debate and what they get to see on tv are tactical discussions or mere repetitions of the official view, always offered by the same journalists. Differently from what took place during the wonderful experience of the workers’ parliaments, the citizen becomes an observer of the political-economic process, not a protagonist.

10. The vital question for the Cuban Communist Party

The question of whether to maintain a multiparty or a one-party social leadership system is secondary simply because any of the two forms will fail in its evolution if it loses its cybernetic capability. The real question is therefore: how can we guarantee the vanguard or cybernetic character of the leadership systems we call state and party?

The quality of any regulation system depends essentially on two parameters: a) its sensitivity, that is, the time it takes to discover or acknowledge a deviation from the programmed value of the system (Sollwert) and b) the time the system needs to correct the deviation (Istwert). Both parameters determine the dynamic behaviour of the system, in this case the party-state, and depend in turn on the quality and quantity of the measurements of the system (i.e. opinion polls/surveys) and on the relative power of the different trends and fractions within the ruling class, for example, the revolutionary trend, the social democratic, the technocratic etc.

When in his November speech Fidel asked why Cuban economists had not realised how unwise it was to maintain the sugar sector after the downfall of the ussr, he was referring to parameter “a”. But the real answer is to be found in parameter “b”. If the Cuban economists failed to find the flaw in maintaining the sugar sector, it means they lack professional training and common sense. Begging the pardon of my colleagues, this seems to be an unreal supposition. It is more likely that they did not speak because the Cuban superstructure does not allow for a public strategic debate that would have been the right place to discuss the proper warning.

Another example of parameter “b” may be taken from the Bolivarian revolution. During the Bolivarian government the great landowners have murdered more than 130 farmer leaders, and not one of the intellectual or material authors of these murders is in jail. How long can the correction of this counter-revolutionary “deviation” and violation of a state of law take before the revolution loses credibility and power in its alleged war to the death against latifundia?

Felipe’s question is vital as long as it receives a material answer, not a formal one; a strategic answer, not a tactical one. If the single party does not recover its dialectics or the cybernetics intended by Lenin and levels of public strategic debate with the masses are not reinstated together with the public transparency of its interactions, it will not be in a position to defend the revolution when Fidel dies.

The minister of foreign affairs understands clearly that the cybernetics of the party is the key to the future. When in his speech he explained why Cuba has not fallen as the ussr did, he quoted García Márquez. “The explanation is that Fidel is at the same time the head of government and the leader of the opposition.” Felipe added, “He is the main non-conformist with what has been done, the main critic of our work, and this gives a special character to our process”.

Thus the life or death political question for the Communist Party is: What system of institutional dialectics will replace the personal dialectics of Fidel?

January 1, 2006

[Heinz Dieterich is a German political analyst living in Mexico. This is a translation by CubaNews of an article that first appeared in Rebelión. We have slightly adapted a version edited by Walter Lippmann.]