Cuban Communist Party congress: Talking about the party

By Rafael Hernández. Introduction and translation by Walter Lippmann.

May 22, 2021  — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from CubaNews — The Cuban Communist Party’s VIII Congress, held in Havana in April 16-19, 2021, found the island confronting perhaps its greatest challenges since the revolutionary government came to power in 1959. Washington’s multi-faceted blockade has been intensified more than ever before, and the Covid-19 pandemic struck a cruel body blow to the island’s tourism economy, its principal source of foreign hard-currency income.

As the island’s sole political party, the PCC has faced a seemingly endless array of problems. Its historic leadership, lead by Raúl Castro, was stepping aside to make room for a new generation raised in and products of, Cuba’s revolutionary system.

Beginning on the eve of the congress, and concluding after the congress concluded its decisions, Rafael Hernández, shared a series of detailed observations for the online journal OnCuba. He looked at the origins, evolution and development of the PCC, including how it was formed, its evolution and development. These considerations can and will help the attentive reader to better understand the PCC, and some of the challenges it faces as an organization.

The author of these articles, Rafael Hernández, is the director of the Cuban journal TEMAS (Themes). He is a political scientist, a graduate of El Colegio de Mexico, and UNAM. He has published more than a dozen books and 200 essays on Cuba-US relations and Cuban politics and society. A few of them in US academic publishing houses. The series was original published in OnCuba, a Miami-based publication, but wasn’t translated there. Links to the Spanish original of each of the five articles can be found at the bottom of each one.

Outgoing PCC First Secretary Raul Castro presented a sobering look at the challenges faced by the country. It’s very long, but is essential reading to understand the thinking of leadership. At the end of the congress, Miguel Diaz-Canel, replacing Raúl as head of the party and state, presented an assessment of the PCC’s tasks and perspectives. Here they are:

Central Report to the Eighth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba Full text of the presentation by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, April 16, 2021

Díaz-Canel: “Among revolutionaries, we Communists go to the fore” Full text of speech by Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and President of the Republic of Cuba during the 8th Party Congress, April 19, 2021, Year 63 of the Revolution

Finally, let me add that I’m very grateful to Rafael Hernández for assistance with this translation.

Talking About the Party (I)

Reducing the socialist revolution to the protagonism of a party or an ideology does not help to understand its complexities and problems.

By Rafael Hernández

March 17, 2021 — I believe that I am not making any revelation when I say that ours does not resemble, neither in its origins, nor in its primary rules for becoming a member, nor in the historical circumstances that surrounded it, any of the living or dead communist parties.

The lack of a history to explain it is one of those gaps, among the many with which today’s society demands information and knowledge,  for the Revolutionary process. In case of doubt, conduct your own survey and ask: Which organizations considered socialism as a political project before 1959? What political strategies did they adopt to achieve it? When and how was the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), which governs today, founded? Where did those who were part of its leadership come from? What ideas did they have about communism and socialism?  With these five questions, there is enough to explore a plain where many are slightly lost [Cuban slang for “not having any idea about anything].

I can think of other issues, perhaps even more enigmatic: How many of its members called themselves communists five years before the PCC was founded? What did they think and say about some other Communist parties in sister countries [‘other socialist countries”]? Why wasn’t the meeting where it was constituted its first congress? How can it be explained that it was held only 17 years after the beginning of the Revolution and 10 years after it was founded? Did it maintain its original seal when the “Soviet influence” predominated in Cuba? How did it go from identifying itself as the vanguard of the working class to the vanguard of the Cuban nation? At what point did it stop advocating the “dictatorship of the proletariat”? What is its role, as the “superior leading political force of society and the State,” which “facilitates the simultaneous action of the generations that are the protagonists of the Revolution,” in a democratic socialism?

The political culture that originated this Party -on its way to its VIII Congress in a few days- does not come mainly from the Bolshevik tradition, or from the Long March of the Chinese peasants against the Japanese and the Kuomingtang, but above all from the two main Cuban revolutions, one organized in New York and Tampa, to fight for independence, and the second arising from the insurrection against Machado and fought in the streets of Havana in the 1930s. In dealing with the strategic problem of alliances and their difficult framework, this revolutionary political culture contested the type of domination established by the U.S. and its allies on the island, different from that of a decadent empire, submerged in deep and semi-feudal backwardness, as in Russia and China.

As it is known, the culture of the Cuban left was influenced by legacies as diverse as the Mexican and Russian revolutions, varieties of socialisms, communisms, anarchisms, European and American social movements, Latin American and Caribbean radical nationalisms, whose complete inventory does not fit among the iconic images that preside over the commemorative events. However, the political practices of José Martí and Antonio Guiteras, more than any other, were the main artery of that culture. It was not built from the proletariat or the worker-peasant alliance, but on a subject identified as “the people,” that is, a specific set of groups, social strata and very mixed traditions of struggle. Also, from a practice of national liberation, through armed struggle to overthrow a dictatorship, and to advance, from power, a program of reforms aimed at changing an unjust and dependent social order.

The extent to which these reforms would unleash a conflict, which, in a few months, escalated to the level of a bloody civil war, with the active belligerence of the United States, was not foreseen in the platforms of any of the revolutionary organizations, and perhaps not even in the most intimate dreams of their leaders, who would end up coming together as one, 30 months after the triumph.

On the way, and so early that it was almost natural, there was the illegalization of those parties that collaborated with the dictatorship’s elections in 1958. Above all, there was the deactivation of a Congress where the established political parties competed for positions through elections that were suspended indefinitely, without anyone seeming to care much at the time, and which deprived them of their basic functions in the previous political system.

Surprising as it may seem today, those parties, including the Autenticos and the Ortodoxos, opposed to the dictatorship, were left on the sidelines, while people went out to do politics in the streets. Most of those people could not remember when exactly they ceased to exist.

The de facto suppression of the established armed forces, and their replacement by the Rebel Army that had defeated them on the battlefield, gave way, from the first months of 1959, to the merger of the commands and troops of all the political organizations that fought the dictatorship. In addition to bringing those organizations together in the same military structure, two and a half years before they were merged into a single political body, this replacement of the army produced a transcendental change in the actual functioning of the old state.

Nothing less than the armed forces, that backbone of the old regime, would be uninstalled, to put it in the jargon in fashion today. No wonder Fidel Castro, who was neither the president nor yet the Prime Minister, was from the beginning the Commander-in-Chief of those newly installed forces, made up of “the uniformed people,” as his head of state liked to say, a smiling Camilo Cienfuegos, who at 27 was not, however, the youngest guerrilla commander.

I have always been intrigued by the line that separates, according to some textbooks, the “agrarian and anti-imperialist” period of the Revolution and the “socialist.” I say this precisely because all that radical transformation in the functioning of political power noted above, including that of the parties, occurred even before the Agrarian Reform Law of May 1959 triggered conflict with the Cuban and American upper class, even when the Revolution had almost unanimous support, except for the Batista supporters who had fled to Miami and the Dominican Republic.

How the structure of power and the prevailing social order in Cuba in the 1950s could have admitted an “agrarian and anti-imperialist revolution” without it entering from the beginning into the radicality of a real social revolution only makes sense for the codes of that Marxism-Leninism, and in the hypothetical revolutionary scenarios that the Comintern manuals enunciated.    

Numerous authors have investigated the Cuban left before 1959, and some of its main problems, differences and conflicts. To narrate it as a well-tuned band, or to simplify it in a straight line connecting the first Cuban Marxists with the Communist Party of 1965 does not help to understand anything of our history. When it comes to political movements, their main interaction was not expressed in the ideological contents of their speeches, but in their concrete political strategies.

For example, when Fidel Castro, before the Granma [landing], characterized the 26th of July Movement as “the revolutionary apparatus of Chibasism,” he was not distinguishing it so much from the Communists, but above all from the Ortodoxo party, politically “impotent and divided into a thousand pieces,” incapable of fighting against the dictatorship.

To illustrate with another example, what separated Joven Cuba (JC), the organization founded by Guiteras in 1935, and the Communist Party of the time, was not adherence to a socialist goal. “In order for the organic organization of Cuba as a nation to achieve stability, it is necessary that the Cuban State be structured in accordance with the postulates of Socialism,” begins the JC Program.

The difference at the outset, when adopting an insurrectional strategy, was concrete political action, which predetermined the type of power at the head of the revolution from the beginning. When it clarified that socialism is reached “by successive preparatory stages,” of which that Program only outlined the first, it was assigning to the “stages” a completely different meaning from those established by the Comintern.

So, to characterize Guiterismo as “revolutionary-democratic” or just “anti-imperialist,” and not as the strategy that opened the road to the socialist revolution in Cuba, through the revolutionary movement that overthrew the Batista dictatorship and initiated the revolution in a continuous manner, illustrates that difference and its meaning. It is not something as simple as different “means” for the same “ends,” but a whole strategic conception of making revolution. 

Considering these differences, among the revolutionary organizations and within each one, is not aimed at retrospectively blaming any of them for their mistakes, lack of vision or schematism at the time, but to understand our history as different from a fairy tale or a horror movie, as Tyrians and Trojans are accustomed to characterize it. Among other things, because it also allows us to appreciate the merit of a policy of dialogue that contributed to bringing together very divergent currents, which were deeply suspicious of each other.

Reducing the socialist revolution to the leading role of a party or an ideology does not help to explain its complexities and problems. To imagine that the restoration of the unfulfilled promises of the 1940 Constitution, or any other program of laws or legal constructs created by the organizations that opposed the dictatorship, as if they were the script of the process would be to believe that the circumstances in which the radical social and political changes proper to a social revolution occur are enclosed in a plan of reforms, however important they may be. In any case, the revolution had already manifested itself as a political power even before the first major economic reform had been adopted, by being able to impose itself on the vested interests in the established political order.

The differences within the Cuban left were not limited, of course, to the ways to reach government or take power. If, before 1959, the Ortodoxo Youth even inscribed the word socialism on its banners, and if the program of the old Communist Party, renamed the Popular Socialist Party, could have been confused today with social democracy, these affinities did not necessarily prepare them for coexistence. Quite the opposite turned out to be the case.    

Of course, there were Stalinists in this story almost from the beginning. In fact, they were there before the revolutionary parties decided to unite, and not just collaborate. Although sectarianisms were not limited to a single organization, the one that provoked the crisis within the first unitary political organization, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI in Spanish), was the one brought about by a group of Stalinists who were suspicious of all revolutionaries who were not old communists. In spite of the fact that the PSP warned, in its self-critical VIII Assembly of August 1960, that “the joint action of the organizations is the guarantee of unity and the advance of the Revolution,” the ORI, constituted only two months after Playa Girón, were run aground by sectarianism almost from their foundation.  

Finally, as is known, what contributed decisively to uniting the various organizations and their respective internal political currents was not precisely the deliberate, voluntary and conscious adoption of a Leninist model. Beyond the intelligence within the revolutionary leadership, and the coupling of a policy of negotiated unity, the main impact was the siege of a formidable counterrevolution, backed and tutored by the US. The siege of its enemies pushed more for unification in a single party than for a shared ideology among the revolutionary ranks.

If you reread the above, you can understand that when parties like the PSP agreed to dissolve, in the summer of 1961, and declared that “we merge today in the integrated revolutionary forces, on the march towards the construction of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba, “they were not entering the Walhalla of perfect harmony or the frozen realm of totalitarianism, as characterized by Tyrians and Trojans, but in a process of change towards a new political system, different from Stalinism and Maoism, and which was not then and later free of contradictions, divergences and even conflicts.

Not having a critical history of that political system and its complexities leaves a vacuum, which is often filled with doctrinal packages, of one sign and another. Both of them are closer, by the way, to the schemes of the Comintern than to political sociology. This convergence is crystal clear when, for example, when some regular contributors to the Spanish daily, El País state that “it was not in January 1959, but in April 1961, when the construction of Cuban totalitarianism had at hand all its necessary elements.”

From this perspective, the social conflict was not brought about by interests and factors of power, but by ideology, and cultural representations, such as those of an enemy “that had to be national and foreign at the same time, a monster in which the evil of the empire and the vileness of the traitors could merge.” This parallelism between apparently exclusive visions, brought together in an approach that replaces historical analysis with literary phrases, and the logic of a social revolution by what philosophers call a teleology (of good or evil) confers a curious code of kinship, not at all by accident. 

To deal with plurality within the ranks of that Party; to lead the transformation of the political system, not only as a subject, but also as an object of change; to be a mirror of society and its problems; to look inside and be inspired by that original political culture, seem to be requirements of the historical moment, and of the reconstruction of its meaning. How to do it, at the height of today’s Cuba, requires both realism and imagination.

Source : Hablando del Partido (I)

Talking About the Party (II)

Dialogue between different generations will just be a good wish as long as the Party and the rest of the institutions it guides do not achieve an environment conducive to respect and trust, to discussion, criticism and ensuring a truly participatory and democratic style in decision making.

By Rafael Hernández

March 31, 2021 — Earlier I pointed out that the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) was not founded to take power, but to defend the revolutionary order from above, which had faced since 1959 a spiral of violence imposed by its discontents; a civil war that radicalized the process and polarized the whole society.

Those tensions survived the huge internal insurgency supported by the United States, defeated in 1965 when the Party was formed, a few weeks after 42,000 US marines landed in Santo Domingo, less than 500 kilometers east of Guantanamo.

Born in a context marked by paramilitary actions from the North, the blockade and international isolation, its first Congress in 1975 represented, among other things, the celebration for having prevailed, in spite of everything. That survival had high costs, which only a documented and fair-minded history could reestablish.

Another great difference between the PCC and the other communist parties was its methods of membership incorporation. The bitter experience of sectarianism in that first unitary organization, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) between 1961-1962, gave way to the construction of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution (PURS) on new bases. Although its rules established that the organization approved or rejected the entry of its aspiring members, the primary rule that differentiated it from other Parties in the world was the mechanism for entry, based on a public discussion on each aspirant and the endorsement of “the mass”, as it was then called.

The first step to enter, both in the PURS and later in the PCC, was an assembly where the collective proposed and voted on the exemplary workers. It is worth noting that exemplarity implied much more than supporting the Revolution. In addition to defending its policies, it was necessary to work very well and without limiting oneself to working hours, to join the militia, the reserve Armed Forces, or some form of defense at work centers or neighborhoods; to participate in the mobilizations, especially agricultural work, during weekends or months.

It also required constantly “improving oneself”; a term that arose in an era inaugurated by the Literacy Campaign (1961), which implied attending general education courses, labor qualification, languages, or any other activity aimed at acquiring knowledge. In addition, the exemplary person had to maintain fraternal relations with their compañeros, including those who performed the humblest tasks, which entailed not only good treatment but also solidarity, cooperation and support, both inside and outside the workplace.

Regardless of the [place in the] hierarchy of the proposed nominee, everyone could express their criticisms about the elements mentioned above, as well as about their moral and civic conduct, in the same assembly of exemplary workers or by addressing the Party in private. The assembly of exemplary workers also evaluated how critical the nominee was of the problems of the workplace and the country; and how capable they were of identifying their own defects. Finally, the assembly voted on whether or not the aspirant was worthy of being evaluated by the Party to join its ranks, that is, if they were truly exemplary.

From that point on, the aspiring militant had to submit, for the Party’s evaluation, a detailed biography, with the places where they had lived, the schools they had attended, employment history and the beginning of their social and political activities. This was needed in order to facilitate an anonymous inquiry about every moment of their previous and current life, with neighbors, classmates and workmates, people who accompanied them in crucial moments of the Revolution. In the jargon of the time, this biography was known as the “cuéntametuvida”.  [“tell me about your life”]

To get an idea of that examination of consciousness and its intimate meaning – alien to a totalitarian culture – read Las iniciales de la tierra (1987), by Jesús Díaz, written in its first version in the wake of the 1970 harvest. The structure of this novel, originally titled Biografía de un militante, corresponds exactly with the “cuéntametuvida” (tell me your life story) filled out by Party aspirants.

The author, who had joined the Party in August 1969, and with whom I shared intellectual and literary interests in the Philosophy Department of the University of Havana between 1970 and 1972, transmits in its pages, with high artistic fidelity, the human meaning and feelings associated with joining that Communist Party.

According to a classic of political science such as Maurice Duverger, there are mass parties and cadre parties. This basic classification does not distinguish them by the number of their members, but by their structure and functions. For example, the U.S parties -the Democrats and Republicans- emerged as electoral currents within the political elite, and based on financing, resource management and mobilizing apparatus, are classified as “cadre parties”. The European socialist parties would be among those of the masses, considering their support, representation and social base of workers.

According to the Bolshevik conception of an organization of professional revolutionaries, Duverger placed the communists in a particular variant of the category of cadres. However, once in power, Lenin himself had proposed to incorporate people from “below”, both in its ranks and in its Central Committee, where their voices could be heard.

Although the Cuban political organizations that waged war against the dictatorship did not identify themselves as Leninist (except for the Popular Socialist Party), their insurrectional combat structure would not be the same as the one that required to maintain the new order established by the Revolution, and to provide it, not only with cadres, but also with a broader and more representative social base.

From its origins, and with the passage of time, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) supplied cadres to the new State. Without space to comment here on what a cadre meant at that time, I only note that for Che Guevara, who devoted much time to why and how to train them, it was not precisely a bureaucrat or an apparatchik. Che characterized the cadre, in 1962, as “a creator, a leader of high stature, a technician of good political level, […] an individual who has reached sufficient political development to be able to interpret the great directives emanating from the central power, make them their own and transmit them, capable of perceiving the “most intimate desires and motivations” of the people; “always ready to face any discussion, […] with their own capacity for analysis, which allows them to make the necessary decisions and practice creative initiative in a way that does not clash with discipline”.  

As part of the institutionalization of the political system, which Ché already foresaw as essential for Cuban socialism, the Party would outline its organic structure between 1975-1976, in a way very similar to the current one. That structure, which begins where the Party’s nuclei and grassroots Committees end, joined by rank and file militants and goes up from the municipalities to the auxiliary apparatus of the Central Committee, which is composed of professional cadres. [that is, the auxiliary apparatus, not the CC, is composed of professional cadres].

These were formed into departments parallel to the areas of the State and the government: industry and construction, tourism, transport and services, agriculture and food, education, sports and science, international relations, culture. There was also some specific to Party activity such as organization, training, promotion of cadres, ideological, propaganda, schools of cadres, PCC press, among others.

So, when Cuban say “the Party”, they may be speaking in particular of one of the three bodies, different from each other and, strictly speaking, also from the historical leadership: the rank and file militancy, in the first place, the organizational structure and the auxiliary apparatus, in second place; and in third place, the Central Committee and the Political Bureau.

Obviously, to derive the composition, functioning and specific problems of each one from the PCC Statutes, or from a critique of Article 5 of the Constitution, would be like trying to decipher the knots of the political system and its institutions through scholarly glosses to the constitutional text.

In a study on the demographic structure of the institutions of power in Cuba, published a few years ago, I referred to the composition of the Party at its different levels, from a sociological approach. In the brief space of this article, I will limit myself to commenting on some problems in its organic functioning.

The top leadership of the Party itself has criticized the functioning of the organization. Raúl Castro, who will soon cease to lead it, has been the one who has called for the acceptance of differences and diversity of ideas, not when it is specially called for, but as a rule; and to banish the old mentality, founded on dogmas and obsolete approaches.

Among the main deficiencies pointed out are the superficiality and formalism of the political-ideological work, the use of methods that underestimate the cultural level of the militants, inflexible agendas handed down “from above” without taking into account the diversity of the society in which they live, the large number of anniversaries and formal commemorations, with rhetorical speeches without real content, which only provoke disgust and apathy among the members. This structure suffers from a lack of creativity and links with citizens, bureaucratic management methods, and loss of authority and exemplarity, caused by negative and even corrupt attitudes.

It is also necessary to point out that the bodies in charge of guiding communication do not manage to conceive messages that reflect the heterogeneity of a society where older adults coexist with young people who knew socialism [only] in its version of the Special Period.

Contrary to what is repeated, those under 40 years of age not only have a higher level of schooling, but also carry with them an inherited political culture much more complex and critical than that of their parents and grandparents. Instead of dialoguing with them, they are stigmatized because they do not respond to a paternalistic and tutelary pedagogy.

This dialogue will still be only a good wish as long as the Party and the rest of the institutions it guides do not achieve an environment conducive to respect and trust, to discuss, to criticize and to ensure a truly participatory and democratic style in decision making; in order to exercise its role towards civil society organizations, respecting their democratic and autonomous functioning.

A goal still to be fully achieved continues to be the use of information and communication technologies. These are not only to promote science and economy, but also ideological activity. In addition, there is strengthening popular control and confronting impunity, family and gender violence in neighborhoods and communities, not only and especially with law and order, but with political resources that go to their roots.

It is up to the PCC to develop policies against all prejudices -racial, gender, anti-religious, sexual orientation, etc.- that limit the rights of people in the performance of public and political positions, or in organizations and armed institutions. It is also incumbent upon it to facilitate the active participation of intellectuals and artists in a climate of understanding and freedom.

If the criticism above has been taken from the Party documents (such as the First PCC Conference in January 2012), the proximity of the VIII Congress would facilitate a deeper reflection on its role in a new socialism. To put it in the words of Raúl Castro, if we are to have only one Party, it must be the most democratic, starting with its own ranks, where everyone has the right to criticize and no one is exempt from being criticized.

Now, what does it mean to be the Party of the Cuban nation? Is defending the national interest the same as defending the interest of all those born here? Since there is no unlimited democraticity, what are the limits of Cuban democracy? How to determine them?

It would be worthwhile to stop here, in order to continue. 

Source : Hablando del Partido (II)

Talking About the Party (III)

Diversity and representation

By Rafael Hernández

April 14, 2021 — We cannot determine today how the republic would have been born or what would have happened to the Cuban Revolutionary Party, had Martí survived. What we do know is that his art for understanding and alliances between such diverse actors in pursuit of independence was a precedent to unite the political forces that conquered revolutionary power, and consolidated them, despite their differences, in the same Party.

To the distinctive features I have already mentioned with respect to other communist parties, I will add three that also differentiate the Cuban one, often overlooked in this happy world of digital networks where everything is “known.” It never received directions from Moscow. Its Marxism was focused on anti-colonial and national liberation alliances (other than armed struggle). It has survived a dangerously close superpower, which forced it to create a defense and security apparatus, and blames it for not admitting an opposition sponsored by itself [Washington]. The latter differentiates it, let us say, from the Communist Party of Vietnam, where opposition groups and media are imprisoned, and with which the US and its allies maintain the best relations. 

This Party has not been equal to itself. Among the requirements for joining its ranks that I mentioned earlier, relations with émigrés, including close relatives, and religious beliefs were also disqualifying. In a very long speech to the party members in 1979, Fidel Castro explained the reasons for no longer considering those emigrants as enemies [1]. The IV Congress (1991) would agree not to “deny admission to the Party to a vanguard revolutionary because of his religious beliefs”. Naturally, many militants, educated in atheist Marxism-Leninism and in the idea that all those who left had sided with the enemy, accepted the new policies, but not always, in their inner self, assimilated them.

In the Central Report to the 1975 Congress, the working class was mentioned 34 times and the Party as its vanguard 6 times. The 1976 Constitution would define it as “the organized Marxist-Leninist vanguard of the working class” (Art.5). However, the Resolution on the Statutes of the IV Congress, fifteen years later, characterized it as a party “of the Cuban nation,” as well as “Martiano, Marxist and Leninist,” instead of “Marxist-Leninist,” a concept belonging to the Soviet manuals and officially adopted until then.

When the 1992 reform incorporated this new formulation, it seemed as if almost nobody, inside or outside, had noticed. Perhaps because we were in the free fall of the Special Period; or because by then it was obvious that the workers’ party condition had not propped up the “popular democracies” of Eastern Europe and the USSR. Perhaps it was because the 1992 reformers, in the spirit of continuity with the Cuban revolutionary ideology, decided not to call attention to this reformulation, along with the suppression of references to the USSR, among other substantive arrangements to 43% of the articles of that constitution.

The historical narrative of the process tends to ignore the fact that we have gone through very different policies at each stage. These included government teams and “prime ministers” (or their equivalents), as successive administrations elsewhere might be. In addition to the ideological changes noted above, there have been changes in economic policy, conceptions of democracy and approaches to its functioning, application of cultural policies, national security and defense strategies, as well as the emphasis on foreign policy and the architecture of international alliances.

Without space in these notes to illustrate each one, I will limit myself to pointing out the very different ideas and practices that presided over each economic cycle:

From a first decade (1959-68), in pursuit of a model different from the Soviet and Chinese ones, and never fully implemented, which would allow almost 60 thousand small and medium-sized enterprises to still be private, some of them very well in sync with the dominant state sector.

This was followed by passing through a Management and Planning System patented in the USSR (1975-85).

Then a “rectification of errors and negative tendencies” (1986-91) of this system, interrupted before establishing a new one.

Then, a package of emergency measures (1993-96) to overcome the crisis of the Special Period, almost unchanged for more than ten years of uncertain recovery.

This continued until the beginning of a program of structural reforms called Updating the Model (2011), which produced nothing less than another conceptualization of socialism, economic guidelines and a new Constitution.

In this last, a mixed economy model is advocated, property relations are substantially modified, the private sector and the market are legitimized, and the most radical decentralization of the system is proposed -almost everything still pending implementation. 

While perhaps some economist friends would argue that in none of these cycles did the state cease to rule the economy, ordinary citizens could probably recall the sensible differences of each in their daily lives. I leave it to the followers of the theory of generations to explain how all these cycles could have taken place with the same “historic leadership,” whose last representatives are on their way out.=

To compare the composition in the ranks and leadership structures of the Party, and to analyze how they have evolved and what the changes mean, I prefer to wait for the VIII Congress to pass. I will limit myself now to pointing out that the transformations in its composition mirror those experienced by Cuban society in the last decades.

According to the figures of the VII Congress, the Party had 670,000 members, 13% less than five years before. Added to the 405,830 of the UJC (2012), they were still a very high number with respect to the population and other political parties where it is enough to register, according to those figures in Cuba, out of every 4.5 people of working age 1 is a PCC militant. In its occupational structure, professionals had been the most represented sector (41.6%), above leaders and workers. A quarter of these professionals, equivalent to 11.1% of the total number of militants, were teachers.

Of every 6 members of the PCC, 4 were under 55 years old (2 ½ under 45); 1 between 55 and 60 and 1 over 60. The Central Committee (CC) of the PCC elected at the VI Congress (2011) had an average age of 57, and that of the VII (2016), had decreased to 54. The rejuvenation policy lowered the average age of the top leaders in the provinces to 52 (2018), five less than that of current President Díaz-Canel.

Women were 39% of the Party’s militancy, but 52% of the UJC. In the current CC, they are 42%; and in the Political Bureau (PB), they increased from zero or one, to 4 since 2016. Non-whites in the ranks, as well as in the Political Bureau, represent 35%, the same proportion as in Cuban society, according to the last Census. In the CC, they are 31%, of which the majority are black (16.6%).

The entry of five new members to the Political Bureau at the VII Congress had already lowered the average age from 70 to 63. This PB was the first one where the positions by professional profile (9) -defense, economy, diplomacy, public health, science and technology- exceeded those of career political leaders (8).

Among these political cadres, 5 had led in the provinces, and 3 joined the PB under Raul’s command. Contrary to what is repeated, more military personnel did not enter, but left, and those who remained were already there before Raul’s command. This pattern, which leads provincial leaders of the PCC and the People’s Power to the highest national level, is also part of his legacy.

Probably, this pattern will be maintained in the leadership bodies to be elected by the VIII Congress. The number of women and non-whites, as well as provincial leaders, will increase. Very surely, the age of the Political Bureau will decrease again: the outgoing First Secretary will soon be 90 years old, and the incoming one will have barely turned 61 when taking office. If the number two were a non-white woman or a provincial leader, known for their popular roots, everything would fit.

A friend of mine says that he doesn’t care about the age, color, profession, or even gender of those who lead, as long as they adopt intelligent and effective policies. I don’t know how many people think this way. Still, even if its implications for equality of access and opportunity among diverse groups were to be overlooked, the proximity of profiles between militancy, leadership and society is by no means irrelevant, if only as a point of linkage between the society and its political institutions.

Throughout my life, I have known many Party militants, and not a few leaders, from the local level to the CC and the Political Bureau, including the historical generation. Although I can identify common traits among many of them, their diversity is more revealing to me. Let us say that it would not be difficult to find two Party militants with ideas more different from each other about socialism, its problems and how to solve them, than any Democrat and any Republican with respect to the system of the North.

One of these militants could affirm, for example, that such differences weaken the unity necessary in a Party “of steel,” which assures sovereignty and independence, confronts the internal and external enemy, by force if necessary, and serves as an example to the younger generations. The other would say that, for a democratic socialism, public debate of these differences strengthens a Party that should be flexible, adapt to the historical moment, and apply political solutions to political problems, instead of the simple use of force.

My two militants, who could be 35 or 70 years old, would agree on many other things: the Party could promote a better citizen democracy; sovereignty, social justice, equity and human dignity are non-negotiable. Our system, with its flaws, surpasses any capitalism. However, the two might disagree even more if I asked them what to do in economic policy, how to discuss and legislate in the National Assembly, what are the limits of expression in art, or what they think of the Party-oriented media. Probably, both could cite the historic leadership to support their arguments.

If socialist policy generates judgments like those of my two militants, shouldn’t they be expressed in the Party press? If that policy claims to channel the dissent of society within the framework of established institutions, and if these, in order to remain unique, should be “the most democratic in the world,” should not a legitimate space be provided for a loyal opposition, within the socialist ranks, even if it disagrees with certain policies?

In an increasingly diverse society, thinking creatively about the continuity of this unity would contribute to place – to paraphrase Cintio Vitier – “the devices at the center of the flower.”



1 Speech by the Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro Ruz, Meeting of information to cadres and militants of the Party, Karl Marx Theater.” February 8, 1979, Versiones Taquigráficas del Consejo de Estado, quoted in Cuba y su emigración, 1978: Memorias del primer diálogo, Elier Ramírez Cañedo. Ocean Sur, 2019.

Source: Hablando del Partido (III)

Talking About the Party (IV)

On the VIII Congress that has just concluded.

By Rafael Hernández

April 20, 2021 — The congress that has just ended was announced as the one of continuity and unity. And so it was.

Raúl Castro had warned five years ago of his decision to retire. Three years ago, he proposed that, despite the fact that the positions of president and secretary of the Party held for decades by Fidel would remain separate, that President Miguel Díaz-Canel would take over the leadership of the PCC in 2021.

As is classically the case among many observers of Cuban politics, it would seem that none of this was taken, once again, seriously; nor did it prevent all sorts of scenarios from being constructed. For example, that he wasn’t really leaving; that he was going to be inherited by some other “Castro;” that the old guard wasn’t retiring either; that the critical situation was pushing Cuba into the Chinese or Vietnamese model; that the state sector was going to be raffled off. So, for some observers, it seemed that now it was the turn of privatization. Naturally, these predictions were not supported by any of the documents of the Model Update (2011), such as the Conceptualization (2016), much less the Constitution (2019). 

Indeed, the resolutions approved by the Congress do not undo the progress made during the year and a bit of pandemic regarding the legitimacy and consolidation of the private sector. Much less do they justify the predictions about the self-employed being used once again to solve “the most serious problems” and then condemned to “anathema.”  Instead, the Resolution on the Conceptualization of the model reiterates “recognizing and diversifying the different forms of ownership and management appropriately interrelated,” as well as “the decentralization of powers to territorial levels, with emphasis on the municipality as the fundamental instance.”

The Central Report indicates that “the market must be regulated, but through the use of non-administrative” or indirect methods; and we must “ensure that the unsatisfied demands of our population constitute an incentive for national producers,” and “provide them with greater incentives for work and innovation.” None of this leaves out non-state producers.

As I noted elsewhere, the roadmap under the perfect storm of the pandemic, cumulative crisis and intensifying gridlock under Trump, has been, since July 2020, the Economic-Social Strategy to Address Covid-19 (EES), especially mentioned in the Report. This expands to more than 2000 the number of permissible self-employment activities and relaxes the rules for their exercise, in addition to reiterating the agreement on SMEs [Small and Medium Enterprises].

The Report’s emphasis on limits to the private sector is clearly explained to be correcting “those who dream of capitalist restoration in the country and mass privatization of the people’s property.” While reiterating the stated policy of not privatizing domestic trade, nor authorizing private commercial importation, assurances were also given that there would be no reversal of stated commitments.

Bank deposits in MLC and CUP were again guaranteed to savers, as well as cash in the hands of the population, and foreign and domestic entities; as well as the commitment to pay the debt to creditors who negotiated its restructuring due to maturity, as soon as the economy recovers.

Continuity is also confirmed in the concept of “continuing to rejuvenate administrative and party positions.” Although many commentators continue to repeat the mantra that Raul was ruling within a circle of only “octogenarian generals,” the Political Bureau lowered its average age from 70 to 63 at the VII Congress, which established an age limit of 60 for joining this body.

However, this Congress of continuity has brought about some things not exactly foreseen.

For example, it started by announcing a considerable revision of the main document of the economic reforms, the Economic and Social Guidelines. This revisionism, which was not announced by the new leadership of the PCC, but by the same Raul Castro who proposed and defended it in previous congresses, eliminated one-third of the guidelines, modified 60% of the total, added 18, and left only 17 intact. Although we cannot know for sure without having read it, I wonder if, say, a novel by Leonardo Padura were to be modified in this way by its Spanish editors, would we still call it “a version” or would we say that it is a new one?

Although the Central Report does not applaud any sector of the national economy, it extends exceptional recognition to scientists, who have achieved the pharmaceutical industry and vaccines against COVID. Science, along with culture, hardly appeared in the first version of those Guidelines (2011).

Those objections to the implementation of the Guidelines concern, of course, the commission in charge of putting them into practice, not only for its shortcomings, but for having “exceeded its attributions with respect to other agencies of the economy.” That is a good example, with the permission of my economist friends, of a problem not associated with the proper macroeconomic vision or the sequence of measures, but with the use of power and its concentration in a single command, that is, with politics strictly speaking.

The Report directly blames the State and government cadres in charge of implementing the recent Task of Ordenamiento, for their excesses and clumsiness with prices and other measures, and for resisting the agreed-upon policies. Anyone who has heard or read Raul Castro’s speeches knows that this criticism of the bureaucracy is nothing new.

He also blamed the deficiencies and slowness in foreign investment policy, as well as in the extension and use of the private sector, on “prejudices” – what in Cuban political jargon is often called “subjective factors” – as opposed to material conditions that limit the implementation of a policy. Finally, this is the first time that a PCC document at that level refers to “remittances from Cuban citizens abroad” as a component of the economic outlook: “sales in MLC were expanded to other products, including food, with the objective of encouraging remittances that Cuban citizens abroad make to their relatives.”  

What Raul’s Report says about the performance of the economy pales, however, in the face of his assessment of the ideological sector. As I mentioned before, the level of critical analysis with which the agreements collected in the First Party Conference (January 2012) characterized the problems of ideological work had been the most systematic and comprehensive that could be remembered since the Rectification policy (1985-1991). “It is not enough to do more of the same,” are his words to address the topic in the Report. He questions it for orienting the media according to old schemes, for exercising “triumphalism, stridency and superficiality.” And he concludes by calling for “a profound transformation.”

In fact, to put it in Cuban, the hard blow for the errors in the application of price policy on the part of the leaders are blamed on “an inadequate social communication policy and the publication of incorrect approaches in several of our press media,” which gave rise to the far-fetched idea of putting everything back in the libreta [ration book].

In spite of what Article 5 of the Constitution says, the question of the role of the Party in the Cuban political system, in practical terms, remains among the unresolved problems, according to the outgoing Secretary-General. “To go beyond the supplanting and interference in the functions and decisions that correspond to the State, Government and administrative institutions -we have been repeating that for more than 60 years and, really, it must be said that very little is fulfilled.”

I do not have space to talk here about other continuities, such as foreign relations, the confrontation with the US-sponsored opposition, the relevance of defense and national security, the olive branch to the Biden administration (“a respectful dialogue, for a new type of relations,” without “concessions in sovereignty and foreign policy”), social representativeness in the leadership bodies. 

New leadership of the PCC

Going from top to bottom, the Political Bureau (PB) was recomposed, as expected, but also with some unforeseen changes. Out went 47% of the members, including all the historic members, starting with Raúl, the second secretary, José Ramón Machado Ventura, who had been in the Bureau for 46 years, and Ramiro Valdés, the only Cuban leader who has been in and out of the PB more than once, for a long time in civilian functions. 

Two other military officers also left, both of them in the leadership of MINFAR, and very popular, especially for their performance in the Angolan war. The only military officer who remained in the BP, where he was before Raul took office in 2008, the current Minister of the FAR, was now joined by three others: the head of MININT, the president of the MINFAR Business Administration Group, and the retired general who has been secretary of the Council of Ministers since Raul’s government. 

In addition to this replacement, the person in charge of the Guidelines Commission and two women (both mulattoes), one a provincial cadre of the PCC and the other a rector of university institutions and an expert in information technology. In the new BP, there is only one woman, also a provincial leader of the Party; and as expected, the Prime Minister. In this BP of 14 members, with three seats less than the previous one, five are new. 

The most unusual aspect of this new leadership, however, is not numerical, but the absence of the position of Second Secretary. The tasks of the previous one, related to organization and cadres, fell again to a physician, the youngest of the previous BP, but now with the rank of member of the Secretariat, not number two. The other two replacements in the Secretariat, composed only of men, were two young men, the Ideological Secretary, who previously directed a newspaper, was ambassador to Venezuela and rector of the diplomatic academy [Rogelio Polanco]; and the Economy Secretary, a former ideological secretary of the UJC and leader of the PCC in a municipality of Havana [Joel Queipo, a nuclear physicist!]. It is not clear which of them will be in charge of the International Relations Department -or if it disappears, given the presence of the Foreign Minister in the BP.

A quick look at the new Central Committee (CC) also reveals continuities and discontinuities. There are, as always, all the main leaders of the PCC in the provinces, among them five women. But only ten members of the Council of Ministers and three deputy ministers; that is, the majority of the cabinet is absent – among these, Culture, Foreign Trade, Transportation, etc.

In the previous CC, both the military and the intellectuals of culture and higher education had already reduced their weight from 14% to only 9%. In this new, reduced CC, the military are 10.4%. However, there is no writer, artist, intellectual or representative of any cultural or social science institution – except for a young historian. There is, however, a large representation of researchers in the natural sciences, especially those in the health and medicine sector.

Finally, to know how the social composition of the PCC ranks has changed in the last five years, precise figures would be needed. According to the Central Report, they have grown again, after having been reduced by 13%, according to data from the previous Congress. Today there are more than 700,000. These data could also be useful for a dispassionate analysis of Cuban politics, a rarity in these times.

Source: Hablando del Partido (IV)

Talking About the Party (V) and final

Is this Party capable of conducting reforms as a continuous process of correction and adjustment, and at the same time, self-reform?

By Rafael Hernández

April 29, 2021 — A friend of mine, with whom I engage in long-distance dialogues, says that truth is not to be tested and rights are not to be plebiscitee. If I understand correctly, then, justice is not voted; that is, what is just does not depend on the judgment of the majority, which can sometimes support very unjust things, as human history teaches.

Let’s say, for example, the sum of all those who discriminate against others for any reason – skin color, gender, sexual orientation, religious faith, social class, educational level, age, disability, region, etc. – could be more than 50% of all of us. That majority would not have justice on its side, even if they possibly believed it, and would even be offended if someone suggested otherwise. So if an investigation were to show that they exercise prejudice and discrimination against others, the majority might nevertheless be suspicious of that truth, despite all the evidence. In other words, the truth is not what the majority thinks either.

Do justice and truth have anything to do with democracy? Probably, if we took a poll, the majority would recognize them both, and also equality and freedom, as conditions for a democratic system. But I suspect that if we were to ask right now what is the order of priority of these conditions for a genuine democracy, 1) to be fully equal and 2) to be fully free, the latter would win out. It would be worth inquiring, just to see if we are really as we think of ourselves. In any case, even supposing that the truth is not tested, there is no doubt that it is investigated, and even discovered.

Although it may give the impression of a philosophical or theoretical disquisition, I am only trying here to get to a concrete political question: can a single party, to which the majority does not belong, be functional to a democratic system, and do better than the many parties in a capitalist order? Although impossible to discuss as it deserves in such a short space, this problem underlies many comments about the PCC that have circulated in recent days.

To begin with, does it make sense to compare the Cuban Party with others? Let’s say, those of Mexico. Unlike Cuban militants, those affiliated to the Mexican ones can register without having an endorsement, nor undergo an exemplary assembly at their workplace, nor go through a meticulous selection process, up to the granting or not of militancy. The entrance into those parties, directed above all to win elections, is more accessible for the majority of Mexicans than for us the PCC.

In spite of these and other big differences, which I pointed out before, the question of the representativeness of the population in the parties is comparable, since in both cases they not only maintain command structures, but also ranks, which can be measured. For example, in the case of Mexicans, the data (2019) show affiliations in the main political organizations: PRI (2 million 65 thousand), PRD (one million 200 thousand), Morena (467 thousand), PAN (250 thousand). In total, 3,982,000; or in other words, 3.11% of the Mexican population residing in the country (128 million). Naturally, since those under 18 years of age and those not registered for other reasons do not vote, this calculation should be made on those who can. Let’s say, right now, two months before the Mexican elections, the affiliates of these four parties add up to 4.2% of all registered voters (95 million). As is evident, if the degree of consensus that a party achieves were measured by its number of affiliates, none of the Mexicans could ever win the elections.

Calculated on the basis of the electoral roll (9,292,277, in 2019), the militancy of those over 16 (voting age in Cuba) in the political organizations, PCC and UJC, represents 7.5%; and if compared with the economically active population (4,515,200), it reaches 15.5%, or what is the same: out of every 13 of the members of this population, 2 are militants in one of the two organizations. Reasoning that this is a small minority, because it does not include the majority of the population, ignores the fact that nowhere do political parties attract to their ranks as active members (not the same as voters) that kind of majority. Reducing the votes for socialism as a system to that militancy also fails to explain the complex fabric of consensus nor the new political factors in its dynamics since 2018 – new government, new Constitution, historic leadership changeover, deepening of reforms, etc.

To a large extent, that Constitution and its public discussion have been a kind of outlet, a point of equilibrium of the interwoven national consensus that characterizes Cuban society today. Among my jurist friends, judgments abound on the significance of that Magna Carta as a great frame of reference, a mirror to correct the course, and a barrier to prevent adverse circumstances and other contingencies from derailing the course. However, it would be an excess, as well as an illusion, to consider it a magic mirror, with all the answers to the real problems of society and the system, and to its political practices.

If constitutions were that magic mirror, according to Singapore’s multi-party constitution, the same party (and the same family) would not be governing, with the approval of “the international community,” since 1955; nor in Malaysia, since 1957; nor in Cambodia, since 1979. Not to mention other constitutions closer to home, where the same party, not exactly communist, ruled for 70 years, or where the same two have been representing We the People for more than two hundred years. Nor would that mirror explain how it is that the constitutions of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea admit several parties.

Judging the amount of democracy of a system on the basis of party competition, rather than grassroots representation and interaction with the citizenry, seems trivial with respect to the idea of “government of the people.” If that “government of the people” is not reducible to the act of voting or consultation, nor does democracy spring from a dozen undemocratic parties, then under what conditions can a single party foster citizen democracy?

Addressing that problem, even incompletely, would bring us closer to the Cuban political situation on its own terms, rather than looking at it as a reform that will never come to pass, simply because it will not. Some observers argue that the very idea of a single party in charge of reform is nothing more than an oxymoron. This approach, built more on the literary metaphor of the eternal return than on the study of relevant cases, suffers from three deficits: 1) judging the system by what it is not, that is, what it lacks to reach capitalism; 2) eagerness to characterize the unequivocal signs of its imminent collapse for the last 30 years; 3) inability to anticipate what has happened during all this time.

Analyzing the question of the Party’s representativeness, besides the social composition of its ranks, requires understanding its role in the political system as a whole. Indeed, if it is “the superior political force,” which does not supplant the others, but guides them, it must contribute to the representative and democratic functioning of the organs of state power, in the first place, the system of People’s Power. In addition, there are the unions, youth, women’s and agricultural producers’ organizations, in the sense that they really defend their interests. Finally there’s the support to all all groups which, outside these organizations, suffer discrimination in today’s Cuban society.

It is also up to the Party to ensure that the emigrant citizens [those living abroad] have a representative mechanism, which does not rely on foreign policy, but on an institutionality that embodies citizens’ rights, such as the National Assembly. As well it must contribute so that heretics do not suffer stigma, nor end up in ex-communication or worse, but that their dissent can be cultivated and used as a source of renewal of doctrine, according to the lessons that heretics like Luther and Calvin left in Christianity.

Of course, it is their task to deal with the opposition, something very different from dissent, but not an irremediable, homogeneous and cohesive block. And to do so with political means, not merely to apply law and order. Although the study of the social composition of that opposition does not reveal, as some suppose, that it is the voice of the poor or of the blacks in the barrios, it does show that it involves diverse people, not all of them intractable. “What would become of the Revolution if it had not won for its cause the adversaries…?” recalled Fidel Castro in a speech to the PCC militancy, to explain to them the new policy towards emigration, in 1979. “There is a long tradition of the Revolution in the struggle to capture adversaries. ” [1]

If the basic democratic question is the participation of the people, can a single party not only promote consultation and mobilization, but also expose policy-making to citizen action, and ensure that citizens can participate in controlling them through society and its institutions?

There is no shortage of questions: Is this Party capable of conducting reforms as a continuous process of correction and adjustment, and at the same time, self-reform? Is it capable of not only becoming aware of its problems, but also of eradicating them? Where are the points of resistance to change? What are the main problems of the Party’s organizational culture? What are the characteristics of the cadres and the rules of operation? What is the political education of a communist militant today?

In the first part of this series, I noted that this sum of subordinate minorities that made up the majority were the social base of the Revolution and of the socialist consensus. There was the solid base [e.g., the good people, the vanguard workers] as it was said before, of the Party. Then, it was relatively easy to distinguish the vanguard, not only above, but also below. It was enough to propose them: “the best to the Party.” Now, what is the content of the notion vanguard nowadays? Is it possible that it means the same thing? Who are its members?

When Raul Castro was president, he once stated that the economic policy of the Update would not succeed without decentralization. If decentralization is not confused with the deconcentration of power structures, and if, as Martí called them, the “habits of command” to govern, the verticalism and the lack of dialogue with citizens at the local level are not maintained, then it is a redistribution of power, that is, a political change.

According to this logic, the road to economic development would pass through local empowerment, which is where the real participation of citizens does or does not take place, and where lies, as the Apostle says, “the salt of democracy.” To guarantee this profound political reform of the system, without fear of those words or of transiting a passage into the unknown, is also up to the Party.



[1] Speech by the Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro Ruz, Meeting of information to cadres and militants of the Party, Karl Marx Theater.” February 8, 1979, Versiones Taquigráficas del Consejo de Estado, quoted in Cuba y su emigración, 1978: Memorias del primer diálogo, Elier Ramírez Cañedo. Ocean Sur, 2020, p. 38.

Source: Hablando del Partido (V y final)