The Cuban Revolution in the epoch of neoliberal globalisation

Resolution adopted by the nineteenth Congress of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party, January 2001

I. Cuba as social alternative and bastion of resistance against imperialism

1. Four decades after its triumph over the Batista dictatorship, the Cuban Revolution stands out as a critical point of resistance to US imperialism and neo-liberal globalisation. Its continuing survival after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist bloc is witness to its vitality and profound legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of the Cuban people—it is their revolution. Its refusal to die, despite all forecasts, has exploded the propaganda about Cuba being a simple satellite of the Soviet Union. What Cuba has to say now wins a larger hearing and broader sympathy, such that Washington has to devote more time and effort to its propaganda offensive against the revolution.

2. Despite its condition as a small Third World country, the criminal US blockade and the inevitable decline in living standards brought on by the economic collapse of the early 1990s, and despite the traumatic disorientation caused by the collapse of the “socialist camp”, the Cuban Revolution shows how a people can achieve national self-determination, dignity and a sense of collective and individual worth. Through a planned economy and the institutions and mass organisations of the revolutionary state, Cuba has begun the process of transforming the mass of producers and citizens into the real creators of their own destiny. The question posed is: if the Cuban people, beset by difficulties for 40 years and target of unremitting US hostility, can set the foundations for a humane and fair society, what could be achieved in richer, bigger countries and—by implication—on a world scale?

3. No country of comparable income level can boast anything like Cuba’s gains in the fundamental aspects of social, human and environmental development. The central principle of Cuban social policy is to guarantee as every citizen’s democratic right access to an adequate diet, health care, education, employment, housing (preferably owned by the occupant), leisure, sport and welfare within the framework of a society that becomes progressively more just and humane. A bare summary of advances from 1959 to 1999 bears out the revolution’s achievements:

  • Infant mortality has fallen from over 60 to 6.4 for every 1000 live births, a rate lower than for many advanced industrial countries;
  • Life expectancy has increased by more than 20 years to reach 74 years for men and 76 years for women, the highest of any Third World country and again comparable to that of many First World countries;
  • Inhabitants per doctor have fallen from 1355 (in 1962) to 175 (one-fifth the number per doctor in the UK);
  • Illiteracy has fallen from more than 40 per cent to 3.8 per cent;
  • Average years of schooling have risen from less than three to nine years;
  • University graduates have risen from three to twenty-five per cent of the population over ten years of age;
  • Housing rents, which used to absorb over fifty per cent of income, have disappeared, with most homes now being owned by their occupants;
  • Agricultural land, seventy-five per cent of which used to be in the hands of eight per cent of landowners, has been nationalised, 250,000 peasants receiving title to land they previously worked for landlords;
  • Unemployment, which used to affect up to twenty-five per cent of the work force between sugar harvests, has fallen below five per cent;
  • Women, who made up twelve per cent of the work force before 1959, now account for forty-two per cent, and are sixty per cent of technical workers. The heritage of machismo, while still not eliminated, has retreated a long way before the country‘s comprehensive legislation supporting women’s equality and rights;
  • Racial discrimination has been outlawed and, despite some revival during the recent years of enforced exposure to the world market, has to all intents and purposes been eliminated as an organic feature of Cuban social life;
  • Forest coverage, which had fallen to fourteen per cent of the island by 1959, has risen to twenty-one per cent, while the environmental damage inflicted by thirty years of industrialisation at all costs has begun to be reversed through comprehensive programs of repair and recovery. Environmental sustainability has now been entrenched as a goal of the revolution;
  • Culture, which used to be dominated by US output, has drawn on the country’s rich variety of national traditions to produce literature, art, music and cinema of unparalleled quality;
  • Sport, from being a pastime of the moneyed elite, has become universally available, and Cuba’s sporting achievements are a source of pride for the country and Latin America as a whole.

4. The gains of the revolution also have an intrinsic ethical dimension. The victory of 1959, the culmination of a struggle which first exploded with the 1868 uprising against the Spanish colonial power, represented an enormous explosion of popular pride and self-confidence that only a true revolution can bring. It represented the triumph of the values of the Cuban revolutionary tradition, embodied in its heroes and martyrs like Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Antonio Maceo, José Martí, Máximo Gómez, Julio Antonio Mella, Carlos Baliño, Antonio Guiteras, Eddy Chibas and many more. These values are: an intense patriotism born of centuries of sacrifice against the colonial and neocolonial yoke; a profound feeling of solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world (which has over the years generated the Cuban people’s examples of self-sacrificing aid to countries in the front line of the struggle against imperialism, like Nicaragua, Angola and Ethiopia); and a fundamentally egalitarian and humanist ethic that rebels against the massive inequalities and injustices of capitalism and underpins the revolution’s socialist choice. These values have been entrenched in the country’s constitution and its system of People’s Power and through ongoing massive popular mobilisations against attacks on its sovereignty.

5. The revolution has also proven capable of abandoning discriminatory or mistaken positions. The best example is the change in its treatment of homosexuality, towards which prerevolutionary Cuba exhibited all the prejudices of machismo. Although the revolution originally continued to regard homosexuality as a deviation to be “treated” in special institutions and work brigades, the Cuban government progressively moved to repeal legislation that was discriminatory against gays and lesbians. The result is that, while homophobia is far from eradicated and de facto discrimination still exists, it is now recognised that the sexual orientation of individual citizens is no concern of government, the law or the country’s mass organisations. In similar fashion, a policy of interning hiv sufferers in special institutions was later abandoned.

6. Yet Cuba’s capacity to defend and extend the gains of its people is under permanent assault. Not only is economic recovery hostage to continuing foreign investment and acceptable world prices for the country’s principal exports, but Cuba, like every Third World economy, also has to operate in a global economy marked by excess capacity, ever increasing competitive pressures and worsening terms of trade. Moreover, besides facing the US blockade, Cuba remains the only post-capitalist economy in Latin America and is hence the target of the suspicion and often outright aggression of Latin American elites beholden to Washington. This state of affairs means that it is truer now than ever that the biggest relief that besieged Cuba could obtain would be a successful popular revolution in one or more countries of the continent. This would reverse the US’s “pacification” of the Central American revolutionary movements of the early 1990s and give a strong morale boost to the Cuban people.

7. The international outlook of the revolution has always been in harmony with its revolutionary domestic policy, and the crisis of the 1990s has not led the “first free territory of the Americas” to abandon its internationalist principles and practice. However, since the end of the Soviet bloc brought an end to Cuba’s internationalist missions in support of national liberation movements, Cuba is compelled more than ever to fight on the ground of winning global public opinion to its side. The loss of Cuba’s Soviet and Eastern European “rearguard” also makes it vital for Cuba to seek alliances and support wherever there is rebellion against the impact of neo-liberal globalisation, not only among the more traditional candidates of the oppressed and exploited Third World (the “South”) but among the new anti-globalisation movements of the imperialist “North”.

8. Cuban championing of the impoverished majority of humanity against a world order structured to allow the imperialist “North” to continue exploiting and policing the underdeveloped “South” is a vitally important aspect of this struggle. Its political guidance of the G77 group of nations has helped consolidate a more united bloc of resistance around such issues as debt and market access to the advanced industrial economies. Fidel Castro’s speeches denouncing the wars and crimes of the US and NATO against Iraq and Yugoslavia as well as his exposures of the imperialist powers’ new strategic doctrines (which seek to override national sovereignty on the grounds of the struggle against “terrorism”, drugs, the possession of weapons of mass destruction and “defence of human rights”) are a powerful indictment of imperialism’s military terror machinery.

9. Through its proposals around debt cancellation and a new global trading regime, Cuba has also helped put the economic institutions of the world order, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, in the dock and on the defensive. Cuba continually stresses the gains in lives and living standards that could be achieved by diverting resources from military expenditure and profligate consumerism to health, education and welfare. Its call for the abolition of the IMF and World Bank and its proposals for the reform of the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations, as well as specific initiatives such as the imposition of a one per cent Tobin Tax to fund development of the South, are the sort of practical measures needed to underpin a just world order. In providing doctors, nurses and educators to countries across the Third World and in providing training and education facilities in Cuba itsel—all on a scale many times greater than any First World country—Cuba also sets a shining example of true internationalism.

10. Washington’s policy towards the Cuban revolution remains what it has always been—to eliminate the Castro leadership and to show that any revolution in its “backyard” is doomed to fail, as “proven” by the examples of Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. The determination of the Cuban people to defend their revolution and the refusal of the Cuban leadership to compromise on support for popular struggles mean that there can be no question of any type of peaceful coexistence between Washington and Havana. The principal factor is not the weight of the counter-revolutionary Miami lobby in US domestic politics (overridden in the Elián González case to avoid exposing Washington’s anti-Cuba policy even more than occurred) but Cuba’s role as an example, as a social alternative that has put an end to capitalist rule. Thus, even though certain sections of US business (the farm lobby, computing) would gain from an end to the economic war against the island, the overall interests of us imperialism dictate maintenance of the blockade, which all objective accounts show to have inflicted massive damage on the Cuban economy and people ($181 billion according to the damages claim of the National Assembly of People’s Power).

11. The blockade is not, as some liberal opponents claim, a “mistake” by a US government that doesn’t understand its own interests and whose removal would supposedly free the Cuban people to overthrow the “dictator” Castro. It is a vital weapon in a US counter-revolutionary strategy that is composed of five interrelated elements: (1) terrorist acts, economic sabotage, biological war and even military attacks; (2) an intensified economic war, which includes the Torricelli Act (1992), the Helms-Burton Act (1996) and a campaign to dissuade investors from doing business with the island or buying Cuban exports; (3) incitement of Cubans to leave Cuba illegally through the provisions of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants automatic residency rights to Cubans reaching us territory; (4) a campaign of financing domestic dissidence in the name of “building civil society”; and (5) a propaganda and disinformation war implemented in violation of international law through 24 radio transmitters and Television Martí.

12. While Washington has not totally abandoned the military option that failed so ingloriously at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón), its main target today is the hearts and minds of the Cuban people battered by the economic crisis of the 1990s. The message is that the removal of Castro would bring the glittering benefits of US consumerism and “freedom”. At the same time, US imperialism looks to defeat Cuba on the battlefield of human rights by forcing the Cuban government to respond to its assaults and provocations by adopting more repressive measures against internal “dissidence”, crime and corruption. Every such reaction by the Cuban government, such as the 1999 Act for the Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy, is immediately “spun” as further proof that Cuba is an increasingly repressive dictatorship. In this Washington is supported by European social democracy, which, while opposing the more brutal elements of US policy, fully supports the propaganda war against Cuba’s “lack of democratic rights” in United Nations bodies and backs the central US surrender terms for the revolution—a multiparty political system, “independent” unions and “free” elections.

13. However, attacking Cuba on the grounds of human rights leaves imperialism vulnerable to counterattack. The resolution of the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party (1997), “The Party of Unity, Democracy and Human Rights that We Defend”, was a detailed rebuttal of imperialist attempts on the legitimacy of the revolution. Its core message is that there would have been no human rights, national sovereignty and dignity, and social gains without the revolution, that the key lesson of Cuban history is that division within the revolutionary and patriotic camp has always enabled the US imperialists to triumph, and that the revolution continues to develop its own values and forms of participatory socialist democracy, which are a hundred times more democratic than the farce of US money politics. On the three key battlefronts—within Cuba, within the US, and before world public opinion—Cuba has also successfully exposed the hypocrisy and brutality of the US, which in UN General Assembly votes can now muster only Israel as a supporter of its criminal blockade. The utter hypocrisy and double standards involved in us preaching about human rights, when it supports the princes of Saudi Arabia and the emirs of Kuwait and imprisons and executes its own citizens in unprecedented numbers, leaves Washington without any moral high ground whatsoever in relation to Cuba.

14. In the field of human rights, the Elián González kidnapping showed to millions of people around the world which part of the greater Cuban nation is the more trustworthy custodian of the human rights of a defenceless little boy. The Cuban people and government’s mass appeal to the decent instincts of the bulk of North American people forced Washington to rescue Elia´n from the clutches of the Miami mafia and return him to his father and homeland. For the first time since 1959, it was no longer the case for millions of North Americans that the “Castro dictatorship” must automatically be in the wrong—a major loss of political ground for Washington.

15. The reports of various human rights agencies on the Cuban justice and prison system typically score the “lack of independence” of the judiciary, the existence of crimes of opinion, the death penalty, the absence of a non-official media and the presence of “prisoners of conscience” in Cuban jails. With few exceptions, these reports never mention the economic and social impact of Washington’s forty-year aggression against the island nor the fact that many “prisoners of conscience” were directly involved in acts of sabotage and terrorism against the revolution. They rarely acknowledge Cuba’s ongoing attempts to build a prison system based on the principle of rehabilitation. Most of all, they never engage with the Cuban view of human rights, which starts with the right of every citizen to the material and social underpinnings of a decent life that free them from the desperate struggle to survive, a gain only the revolution has made possible. Thus, while defence of the revolution involves restrictions on democratic rights, and mistakes and avoidable injustices are always possible, it should never be forgotten that the revolution (the “people under arms”) is more democratic than the most liberal of capitalist states and that, as with any revolution, the main cause of such restrictions is the need to deny footholds to an aggressive counter-revolution determined to win back its power and privileges.

16. As far as its single party system is concerned, Cuba takes its stand on any nation’s sovereign right to adopt whatever institutional arrangement most accord with its traditions, while not ruling out changes to that system in the future. However, under present conditions of concentrated imperialist aggression—and especially given outright US support for the “rights” of the former capitalists expropriated by the revolution—the replacement of the Castro leadership of the revolution by another party cannot take the form of the creation of a “healthy workers state” and even less of a “social market economy” run by “third way” social democrats. As matters stand, the only feasible alternative holders of power in Cuba are the corrupt Miami mafia and their US backers. In the words of former Political Bureau member Carlos Aldana: “A party represents an option for power. In our country, there is only one option bidding for power against the Revolution, and that’s the counter-revolution. A multiparty system means legalising what the US hasn’t been able to do with blood and fire; it meöans creating a party of capitalism, representing US interests in Cuba ... If, one day, the objective circumstances change, and a multiparty system no longer necessarily means the appearance of a counter-revolutionary party, then we could take up the conversation again.”

17. To counter imperialist aggression, the Cuban leadership has skilfully exploited divisions among the capitalist powers, and has also sought to take the lead in giving regional institutions and arrangements as anti-imperialist a character as possible. Hence Cuba’s drive to avoid a future Latin America Free Trade Association from becoming an extension of NAFTA; its championing of the demands of the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking world against US cultural hegemony; its support for independent regional financial and development institutions as steps along the road to models of Caribbean and Latin American integration which can act as counterweights to the overwhelming power of US and European imperialism; and its support for the euro as a competing world currency to the dollar. Through such initiatives the revolution has increased its breathing space by building a range of alliances—even with the Catholic Church—on such issues as the peoples’ right to development, social justice and national sovereignty.

18. None of these initiatives has entailed the sacrifice of revolutionary or progressive movements in other countries—unlike the former Soviet leadership, which sought to buy peaceful coexistence with US imperialism by, for example, refusing to supply revolutionary Nicaragua with the arms it desperately needed to win the war against the contras. Nor does the Cuban leadership seek to manipulate the domestic policies and practice of the parties of the Latin American left to help it achieve influence with Latin American bourgeois governments. Cuba has long been criticised by many on the left for such issues as its silence about the 1968 massacres of students in Mexico City, its endorsement (critical) of the Soviet bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia in the same year, as well as Castro’s presence at the 1988 inauguration of corrupt Mexican President Salinas de Gortari. These stances were basically dictated by Cuba’s dependence on Soviet economic assistance, as well as by the fact that Mexico alone of all Latin American countries refused to break off diplomatic relations with Cuba at Washington’s behest. Had the Cuban leadership intervened openly in such cases, it might well have placed the survival of the revolution at risk without being in any position to strengthen the position of the radical and revolutionary forces in struggle in these countries.

19. Nor should the Cuban leadership’s restraint or public silence on important issues of world politics be mistaken for assent. For example, Havana’s disagreement with the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan was communicated privately but insistently to the Soviet leadership, as were its fears that glasnost and perestroika were being conducted in a hasty and reckless way that would provide enormous opportunities for counter-revolution. In other controversial cases, such as Havana’s support for the Chinese government crackdown against the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989 and the 1981 suppression of the Polish Solidarity movement, the Cuban government was acting on the mistaken conviction that such movements were intrinsically anti-socialist from the outset, probably supported by the main imperialist centres, and that the Polish and Chinese leaderships were, for all their errors and bureaucratic methods, defending socialism. Even here, however, the Cuban position always stressed the fact that such rebellions could have become possible only because of the indifference of the party leaderships involved to the concerns and criticisms of the masses.

20. One crucial reason why the US is determined to destroy the Cuban Revolution is that it has never undergone bureaucratic degeneration, unlike the former Soviet Union, nor was it in the hands of a bureaucratic elite from the outset, as in the case of China. “Left” criticism of Cuba has typically confused such a qualitative shift to a regime of bureaucratic reaction with the various symptoms of bureaucratisation—corruption, waste, incompetence, privileges, elitism, arrogance, arbitrariness, restrictions on democratic rights, lack of accountability and growing mass indifference to politics. Cuba (just like the Soviet Union in its early years) has certainly had to suffer from many of these problems. However, nobody can point to anything resembling the final victory of a self-sufficient elite standing above the working masses and pursuing its own separate interests and privileges, along the lines of the Stalinist “Thermidor” of 1925 to 1933. Quite the contrary: bureaucratic political factions were defeated in 1962 and 1968 (the two Escalante cases), and while bureaucratisation certainly spread between 1970 and 1986 as the Soviet economic model was introduced, this did not lead to bureaucratic usurpation of political power. Rather, it helped trigger the Rectification Process, launched at the 1986 Third Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), an important moment in the revolution’s ongoing battle to defend its radical, egalitarian ethic and improve its forms of socialist democracy.

21. Despite the severe hardships to which the collapse of the socialist camp has exposed them, the mass of Cuban working people do not resemble the atomised, demoralised and cynical working peoples of Eastern Europe of the 1970s and 1980s. The latter were fed up with the hypocrisy of their “socialist” leaders and deaf to the socialist message and its values. Fidel Castro is not Leonid Brezhnev, and the PCC is not a party of privilege and social and bureaucratic advancement, but rather a selection of the most committed and self-sacrificing representatives of the Cuban people. The basic reason that Cuba has survived the “collapse of communism” and the economic and ideological traumas it produced on the island is because that vanguard has kept the allegiance of the mass of working people.

II. Cuba’s struggle for survival after the ‘end of communism’

22. Cuban economic growth in the years 1959 to 1989 (3.1 per cent annually) was well above the average for Latin America and laid the basis for a steady rise in living standards and the general level of culture and education of the people. It allowed the definitive elimination of the plagues of pre-revolutionary Cuba—illiteracy, disease, low life expectancy and all-round poverty, inequality and racial and gender discrimination. It produced a huge increase in social mobility for the poorest Cubans, creating a mass national-patriotic, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist consciousness. New industries were built, old ones expanded and mechanised, and science and technology developed, especially in the health and pharmaceutical sectors.

23. However, the main source of Cuba’s growth and partial industrialisation, like that of all its partners in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), was basically extensive—the addition of ever-increasing amounts of machinery and labour to the productive task, but at low and declining levels of productivity. This type of growth, especially when combined with Cuba’s form of specialisation within the division of labour of the socialist economic bloc, did little to reduce its vulnerability to fluctuations in export prices and rises in world interest rates—by 1984 Cuba’s combined deficit with the capitalist and socialist economic blocs had reached its highest point ever. The adoption of the Soviet system of planning (the Economic Management and Planning System—SDPE) led to a generalised belief that purely economic mechanisms could resolve all major tasks. Important social investments like housing and child-care centres were abandoned on the grounds that they represented “unproductive” expenditure; economic imbalances grew (for example, domestic food production capacity slumped as food imports soared); the sugar industry showed disappointing results for the level of investments poured into it; specific industries continued to suffer from backwardness and neglect; and the application of science and technology to production lagged—all factors producing a highly distorted and inefficient investment process. The system of economic management was also full of distortions, most of all in the area of payment systems and fake labour norms (three-quarters of bonus arrangements were really scams). Economic calculation was reduced to a caricature, firm management was increasingly dysfunctional, the administrative apparatus seemed to expand of its own accord (there was, for example, a 150 per cent increase in non-production staff between 1970 and 1985), and worker participation languished. Taken together, these symptoms revealed a growing divide between the worker and social property, between the individual citizen and society, and between the individual as producer and as consumer.

24. This state of affairs, described by Fidel Castro as threatening the very soul of the revolution, led to adoption of the Rectification Process in 1986. Its main goals were to overcome wasteful bureaucratic planning, replace the import mentality with a search for domestic solutions, improve investment efficiency by avoiding Soviet-style “giantism”and by speeding up the application of lead technologies such as genetic engineering, biotechnology and microelectronics; cut back on consumption; promote integrated planning; and boost social and infrastructure investment. Among the methods proposed were the revival of voluntary work and “microbrigades” and the use of the armed forces and their equipment to carry out model production projects. Most of all, Rectification, carried out under the banner of a revival of the thinking of Che Guevara, was a social and political project that aimed to reharness the commitment of the Cuban people to the task of socialist construction. It was not envisaged as an emergency measure, but as a qualitative change in Cuba’s way of building socialism.

25. Rectification could achieve only mixed results before the collapse of the Soviet bloc—between 1987 and 1989, national income per capita and labour productivity continued to fall. However, the main cause of continuing stagnation was not the Rectification Process, but external pressures—an accelerated decline in the country’s terms of trade, the decline in supplies of Soviet petrol for re-exporting and the cutting of foreign loans due to the country’s default on debt repayments. The project also presupposed a degree of central planning that the 1989-93 crisis made unsustainable, and its introduction was compromised by being largely in the hands of cadres who had been responsible for the previous system. The main gains lay on the social-political side. Wholesale sackings of incompetent and corrupt managers took place under worker and union pressure; the media of the mass organisations took the lead in denouncing corruption, scams and bureaucratic inefficiency; union action stopped a bureaucratically implemented price rise on essential commodities; individual workers and local communities took the lead in “dob-in-a-bureaucrat” campaigns; private farmers’ markets were shut down because of popular outrage over the profiteering; and there was an influx of younger, better trained cadres into positions of responsibility. As a result there was a series of spectacular cases of high officials defecting, combined with a new modesty (and rearguard resistance) on the part of important sections of the bureaucracy trained in Soviet-style paternalistic methods. In this way, Rectification became an organic part of the social and political method of the revolution, which could confront the trauma of the 1990s economic collapse with greater moral and material resources than would otherwise have been the case.

26. The Special Period in Time of Peace was an emergency survival plan to hold on to the fundamental gains of the revolution in a time of enormous crisis: between 1989 and 1993 output fell by thirty-five per cent, trade by eight-five per cent; investment collapsed, and Washington further tightened its blockade. The trauma was heightened because the COMECON system had entrenched a twofold overvaluation of Cuban labour relative to that of the advanced capitalist world: not only was the COMECON unit of account, the transferable rouble, overvalued against the dollar, but the Cuban peso was overvalued against the transferable rouble. Thus when the COMECON economic system collapsed and national Cuban prices had to align with world prices, the real comparative value of Cuban labour, currency and income were exposed. This process re-established in everyone’s eyes Cuba’s reality as an underdeveloped economy facing all the problems of accumulation, but with the material and moral resources acquired through 30 years of building socialism to still make development a thinkable target for a people imbued with revolutionary spirit.

27. The initial survival plan of the Special Period banked on a revival based on making exports in new sectors like biotechnology and medicine the motor of growth while still preserving key features of Rectification (a ban on the private farmers’ market and on the holding of dollars, a tightly controlled inflow of foreign investment). However, by mid-1993, with the black market accounting for nearly half of economic activity, the leadership had little choice but to abandon this approach. Fidel Castro’s July 26 speech of that year explained that the construction of socialism had necessarily to be put on hold while doing everything to maintain the basic gains of the revolution. The “crisis of the rafters” (balseros) in 1994 confirmed this assessment.

28. The Fourth Congress of the PCC (1991), preceded by 80,000 meetings across the country, had already begun to develop the emergency Economic Reform for the Special Period. Its main features were a shift in the mix of property forms, with cooperative, mixed and private property (especially joint ventures with foreign capital) expanding at the expense of state industry. This trend was most marked in the countryside, where non-state property—grouped principally in the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPCs)—rose from 25 to 67.5 per cent of agricultural land between 1992 and 1996. State industry still predominated but had itself to diversify through forming legally autonomous state enterprises and breaking down the unsustainable “giant” firms that had relied for their inputs on imports from COMECON partners. However, the most profound change—one that has had repercussions throughout the entire economy—lay in the different relationship between central planning and the market: the bigger role for the market demands an increase in control and surveillance by state instrumentalities and mass organisations as well as new ways of exercising control from the centre. This was particularly so because decentralisation of decision-making both within the state bodies and geographically had the potential to allow local or sectional interests to override those of society as a whole. Other features that flowed from the changed property and planning-market mixes included: an end to the state monopoly of foreign trade; reform of the workings of state enterprises with the aim of introducing new systems of management, administration, financing, incentives and worker participation; firm responsibility for financial resources used and strict deadlines for repayments of debts; the creation/restructuring of a specialised banking system; and the development of indirect and flexible instrumenöts of economic regulation and control through the taxation and finance systems.

29. The economic reform has begun the immense tasks of hauling the Cuban economy out of crisis and setting the foundations for intensive growth. Since 1994, the year of the turnaround, GDP growth has averaged 4.1 per cent, the recovery has spread to almost every sector (exceptions: cattle and sugar); debt as a proportion of GDP has declined; the state budget deficit has been brought to less than three per cent of GDP; the money supply, while still excessive, continues to fall; the peso has fallen from around 150 to one to twenty to one in relation to the us dollar; labour productivity has risen twelve per cent in five years; and the unit cost of producing sugar has fallen by eighteen per cent. A new progressive income tax system is beginning to function. There has been a small increase in wages (thirteen per cent), living standards and working conditions, but much remains to be done. Matters have reached the point where Cuba is now being accepted as less of a credit risk by international financiers, with commercial loans at fifteen to twenty-two per cent interest being replaced by long and medium-term loans at lower rates. Joint ventures and investment in mining, tourism, oil exploration and refining, agriculture, perfumes, rum, beer, agriculture and engineering have enabled paralysed and underutilised productive capacity to be set in motion, earning foreign exchange, creating tens of thousands of jobs and providing tax income. This revival has been achieved without any support from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or teams of international economic experts.

30. Despite the trauma of the years 1989 to 1994, the Special Period also brought more lasting gains to Cuba’s project of socialist construction. Probably the most important of these were in those areas where Soviet industrialisation methods had wreaked havoc with the environment—in large-scale agriculture, housing construction and energy production. Making a virtue of necessity, but also calling on scientific and technical expertise that had begun to be built up in the 1980s, Cuba carried out the world’s biggest ever conversion to organic and semi-organic agriculture in these years, as well as launching experiments and pilot schemes in a whole range of environmentally benign methods of developing building materials and generating energy. At the same time, Cuba has finally abandoned its program—dangerously anti-environmental—of nuclear power.

31. The underlying reason for the revival has been the continuing support of the Cuban people for the revolution, their abnegation and stoicism, and their conviction that only a socialist austerity plan—a program of shared sacrifices and commitment and not a purely technocratic operation—could restart the economy. Such was the basic message of the special “workers’ parliaments” attended by three million workers in 1994 to develop practical measures and methods for making the Economic Reform work. It has been the intersection of this sort of mass input with the government’s policies of spreading the pain equally while maintaining the basic gains of the revolution (health, education, the food ration, seventy per cent of wages for unemployed or displaced workers) that has guaranteed the social order, discipline and political stability essential to success. The careful preparation of the reform and the involvement of work collectives was also necessary to avoid the destructive “crash-through-or-crash” approach of the Gorbachev economic program. In the words of a specialist analysis of the PCC’s Ñico Lopez Higher Institute: “It is not possible to pass suddenly, in an uncontrolled way, to a decentralised mechanism. A massive breakdown of the enterprise system could be produced because of the lack of resources at hand for its functioning on a self-financing basis. This would in turn produce a substantial reduction in state budget income, with large negative repercussions for social expenditure. Unemployment would be massive and practically uncompensated and there would be a sharp breakdown of traditional ties between enterprises. All that would create a chaotic state of affairs in economy and society and would put an end to the Cuban Revolution.”

32. However, the costs of economic revival have been high. In purely economic terms, dollarisation has created a double economy and a whole gamut of false incentives that run against social priorities and the needs of the overall plan. The incentive to pilfer resources from the peso (basically state) economy and resell them at a huge profit in the dollar economy is enormous, and means that state resources flow into these sectors as through a permanently open tap. Since the dollar economic circuits are also those presently making the biggest contribution to growth (tourism generates fifty per cent of foreign exchange) and investment funds for renewing state industry are wanting, this imbalance is set to continue. Fifty per cent of UBPCs continue to lose money, and the sugar industry, still essential for sustained growth, continues to stagnate and/or face rock-bottom prices on the world market. Inequality is growing rapidly, as the gap widens between Cubans with access to dollars and those stuck with pesos. Moreover, much of the excess money supply originally generated to maintain basic social services at the depth of the crisis in 1991-94 has ended up in a small number of bank accounts—another boost to inequality in a country used to equating socialism with income equality. Socially, the Special Period has had the unavoidable effect of increasing the burden of domestic labour for women, as time spent in queues and looking after children has increased. Amidst generalised want, corruption and petty crime have inevitably revived.

33. Cuba now faces anything between four and nine years of further growth before output and income are restored to 1989 levels. While not excluded, such a growth rate is vulnerable on many fronts. Planning itself has to achieve a much higher degree of complexity and flexibility due to the existence of various types of property, the use of the market mechanism, money duality, the scarcity of foreign exchange and the difficult problem of prioritisation caused by increased demands on scarce material and financial resources. Energy price rises can further open up the chronic gap in the country’s current account, making it even more dependent on foreign capital inflows and remittances from families abroad. While the state sector still predominates and the central aim of the leadership is to raise its efficiency to that ruling in the “new economy”, this must remain a long-term perspective so long as investment funds are in short supply. In the short term, the demands of efficiency mean that the relative weight of the state sector will shrink further, exacerbating double economy problems as increased autonomy and self-financing remain a powerful incentive to regionalism and “looking after number one”. Moreover, many of the “easy” measures (one-off price rises and efficiency gains, restarting of unused capacity) cannot be repeated, and this in a global economic universe marked by intensifying competition. Finally, Cuba’s commitment to some basic norms of social and environmental justice prevents it from winning the “race to the bottom” against the capitalist countries of the Third World, while Cuba’s defence of its sovereignty prevents it from entering into many sorts of international trading arrangements (such as the successor arrangements to the former Lomé Accords).

34. Against all these pressures, Cuba can continue to look to economic cooperation with capitalists eager for profit opportunities in some sectors like tourism, while development of the oil industry would significantly ease the constraints on economic development. However, solving the problem of the conversion from extensive to intensive growth above all requires Cuba to continue to develop its scientific and technological base, begun in areas like biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, and showing potential in environmentally sustainable alternative technologies. This will require a much higher level of investment and much greater foreign currency earnings than is presently the case. This will not be easy to achieve, and here too, in the strictly economic sphere, a successful revolution in another Latin American country would make the best contribution.

III. Revolutionary politics in a period of siege

35. The enforced economic reforms of the 1990s have produced a rapid differentiation within Cuban society. While it still makes sense to speak of el pueblo cubano in counterposition to US imperialism, the 1990s have accelerated the tendency for different, and often conflicting, class interests to emerge. On the one hand, surreptitiously pro-capitalist elements are to be found within some sections of state industry most engaged with foreign capital and among the wealthier peasant farmers and self-employed. On the other, the working class itself has become more variegated, according to the particular circuits of the economy in which workers are engaged. In this process, the “new rich” have become more influential and the working class more fragmented. A nascent town-versus-country conflict has emerged, with individual rural producers seeking high prices for their produce on the parallel markets pitted against the bulk of the working class, for whom the libreta (ration book) covers only about eighty per cent of basic needs and who must necessarily “top up” in these expensive markets.

36. Inevitably, the social base of the revolution has narrowed. It could not have been otherwise, given the sharp fall in the standard and quality of life, the increase in inequalities in a society used to identifying socialism with equality and state provision, the diversification of “social actors” as a result of the liberalisation measures, the disappearance of the European socialist camp and bankruptcy of Soviet-style “Marxism” to explain any or all of this. A political, theoretical and ideological vacuum has been created, and demands for change proliferate, particularly with regard to the economic system, but also the political and legal systems. Recent surveys conducted by the Cuban Institute of Philosophy reveal that half of those interviewed placed hopes for a better future not in the social and political system but in individual effort: thirty per cent of respondents said that capitalism would allow better opportunities for such effort to succeed. At the same time, however, an overwhelming majority still treasured the independence Cuba had won as a result of the revolution, a sentiment that was reinforced by Cuba’s victory in the Elián González case.

37. However, the rise in such moods and sentiments does not mean that capitalist restoration, carried out on the basis of widespread cynicism as in Eastern European, must come sooner or later. Here, as always, the fighting spirit and socialist commitment of the masses and their leadership are the vital factors. Survival will be determined by economic results, but the most important factor in determining these will be popular participation in the leadership of the social process and the political creativity of the leadership in finding counters to the corrosive and atomising impact of the economic reform. Specific measures, such as the introduction of a sharply progressive income tax and encouragement of workers in the tourist industry to donate their tips to social funds and thus “spread the gains”, also have an important role to play. In addition, the crisis could not and cannot be confronted without a carefully and closely articulated series of reforms of all the organisations that make up the Cuban political system, from the PCC, the mass organisations through to new “social actors” like Cuba’s NGOs. The decision of the leadership to open up the broadest possible debate in the run-up to the Fourth Congress of the PCC represented clear acknowledgement of this truth and the determination to confront it. Indeed, the fact that the Congress call for open debate at first left everyone stunned and worrying about how much they could and couldn’t say was evidence of how much such a debate was needed.

38. The general approach of the Cuban leaders to the challenge of combining political and economic reform has been formed by their analysis of the experience of reforms in the former socialist states of Eastern Europe and the USSR. For Cuba these exposed not only the weaknesses of their political systems and narrowness of their social base, but also the mistakes involved in trying to carry out rapid reforms in the economic and political spheres simultaneously. By contrast, the Cuban interpretation of reforms in China and Viet Nam is that they have shown the viability of economic reforms carried out under the same political regime. Since overcoming the crisis requires measures that involve a high economic and social cost for the population, as well as the erosion of established social relations at a time of increased vulnerability vis-à-vis the US, the first and foremost condition for overcoming the crisis is the maintenance of national unity. Any specific reform measures have to enjoy consensus and not undermine the capacity of the people to mobilise in defence of their own interests and the established social order.

39. Revolutionary politics therefore face two constraints in Cuba. On the one hand, the revolution cannot survive without maintaining popular participation. This requires the masses to have the ability to discuss, be informed, give their opinion and in some way decide about alternatives. In particular, the greater the restrictions on popular access to reliable and truthful information, the lower the capacity for participation, the greater the risk of apathy and indifference. On the other, given Cuba’s condition as a besieged fortress, democracy has to be “guided” to one degree or another, with emphasis placed on the defence of the values and traditions of the revolution and appeal made to the unbreakable will power and spirit of sacrifice of its vanguard. Restrictions on democratic rights are unavoidable if the internal space for counter-revolution is to be kept under control. Where the needs of one imperative clash with those of the other, the fate of the European socialist bloc and the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua tends to reinforce the Cuban leadership’s adherence to the latter orientation. In the words of the PCC’s Fifth Congress Resolution: “History has dramatically demonstrated that when the people lose political power they lose everything”.

40. It is no answer to this concrete political predicament to invoke the general political truth that socialism requires an expansion of democratic rights compared to capitalism or that the future of the Cuban revolution requires, as many Cuban revolutionists themselves affirm, a deepening democratisation of the political system, or that every act of repression or curtailment of rights comes with a political price. The question is always: which political reform, how and when? And it should always be remembered that any restrictions on democratic rights Cuba is forced to introduce do not change the fact that Cuba’s commitment to fulfilling the basic social rights of all makes it more democratic than the most liberal capitalist state.

41. In this context a thorny issue in Cuba is the degree of information, debate and difference that can be safely accepted within the public media. The ban on counter-revolutionary propaganda aside, Cuban media have typically oscillated between mediocre safe reporting and expressions of “official optimism” and vigorous exposure of corruption and incompetence, accompanied by a more faithful reflection of the debates that have always raged in Cuban society at large. At times the Cuban leadership has had to step in to spur the media to greater candour and boldness (most recently to be seen in coverage of the angles and debates around the Elián González case); at other times writers and researchers have been dismissed from their posts on charges such as “defaming the revolution”. Even party research institutes such as the Centre for Studies on America (CEA) have been restructured because, in the opinion of the leadership, they have conciliated too much to the apparently neutral, but politically insidious, orientations of US academic “Cubanology”. The need to maintain a basic consensus in the face of us aggression again plays the determining role, even as the Cuban leadership stresses its understanding that the revolution cannot develop antibodies to US ideological and cultural aggression by maintaining Cuban society in a “germ-free” environment. But whatever opinion supporters of Cuba’s revolution might have over this or that case of repression, the most important contribution they can make to enabling the growth of a more plural political and cultural life on the island is through building solidarity and thus helping weaken the root cause of such symptoms—US imperialism’s criminal blockade.

42. Over the years, the leadership of the revolution has proven capable of meeting the challenges involved in advancing along the road to Cuban society’s proclaimed goal—the progressive development of popular self-government—and this when facing a 40-year long blockade and in permanent rivalry with the enticements of US “culture”. On the other hand, however, it is legitimate to say that it has at times erred in unnecessarily restricting democratic rights and paid an unnecessary price—in terms of suppressing “early warning systems” about policy and chilling essential debate—for so doing. For example, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the real crime of French agronomist René Dumont, accused in the early 1970s of CIA connections, was to have been right too soon about “giantism” and “statism” in agriculture, and that if he had been listened to Cuba would have saved a lot of wasted resources and human effort. By the same token, however, the revolution has shown the ability to learn from experience, such that the counterposed positions in the economic debate of the 1960s (between Che Guevara and Charles Bettleheim and others) have been transcended in a sophisticated analysis begun under Rectification and now underpinning the present Economic Reform.

43. The same holds for the development of the country’s political institutions. In its early years the revolution lacked structured forms for mass participation and decision making (workers councils, etc). The basic features of this state of affairs, the historically given starting point for socialist construction in the Cuban case (and hence key evidence for some sectarians that the revolution was “deformed from birth”), was analysed by Che Guevara in his famous article “Man and Socialism in Cuba”. Guevara pointed out first that there is an evolving relationship between “the people, an as yet unawakened mass that had to be mobilised, and its vanguard, the guerrilla, the thrusting engine of mobilisation, the generator of revolutionary awareness and militant enthusiasm”. However, Guevara stressed, “this mechanism is obviously not sufficient to ensure a sequence of sensible measures; what is missing is a more structured relationship with the mass”.

44. This “more structured relationship” between awakening mass and conscious revolutionary vanguard cannot be sucked out of the revolution’s thumb, especially in countries of the Third World. Here, Guevara notes, “the struggle for liberation against an external oppressor, the misery which has its origin in foreign causes, such as war, whose consequences make the privileged classes fall upon the exploited” provide the raw material of revolution. At the same time, however, “underdevelopment and the customary flight of capital to ‘civilised’ countries make impossible a rapid change without sacrifices”. For Guevara, the key weapon against reversion to capitalist consciousness and values is education, but “the existence of two principal groups [vanguard and masses] is an indication of the relative lack of development of social consciousness. The vanguard group is ideologically more advanced than the mass; the latter is acquainted with the new values, but insufficiently. While in the former a qualitative change takes place which permits them to make sacrifices as a function of their vanguard character, the latter see only by halves and must be subjected to incentives and pressures of some intensity; it is the dictatorship of the proletariat being exercised not only upon the defeated class but also individually upon the victorious class.”

45. Guevara stressed that this state of affairs can only be temporary. “To achieve total success, all of this involves the necessity of a series of mechanisms, the revolutionary institutions … The institutionality of the Revolution has still not been achieved. We are seeking something new that will allow a perfect identification between the government and the community as a whole, adapted to the special conditions of the building of socialism and avoiding to the utmost the commonplaces of bourgeois democracy transplanted to the society in formation (such as legislative houses, for example).”

46. After the failure to achieve the 10 million ton sugar harvest (zafra) in 1970, the high point of voluntaristic and militaristic methods that had been growing since 1967, “institutionalisation” became a central concern of the Cuban leadership. In his August 23, 1970, address to the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), Fidel Castro said: “We have scores of problems at every level, in the neighbourhoods, in the cities, and in the countryside. We must create the institutions that give the masses decision-making power on many of these problems. We must find efficient and intelligent ways to lead them deliberately forward to this development so that it will not simply be a matter of the people having confidence in their political organisations and leaders and their willingness to carry out tasks, but that the revolutionary process be at the same time—as Lenin wished—a great school of government in which millions of people learn to solve problems and carry out responsibilities of government.”

47. Between 1976, the year of its extension to the whole of Cuba, and 1991, the Cuban institutional system of People’s Power (Poder Popular) remained basically the same. Combined with the adoption of the country’s constitution, it established a system of government in which the most committed and conscious members of the working class would become the people’s representatives. Based on a high representative-to-population ratio and a restructuring of the country’s administrative set-up, it established an electoral system, a structure of state bodies and formal channels through which people could push their suggestions and pursue their complaints with government at all levels. Elected representatives (“delegates”) received no privileges (except that of working harder), were obliged to report to their electors on a regular basis and could have their mandates revoked by their constituencies.

48. Towards the end of this period, however, especially as Rectification took hold, it emerged that the country’s political institutions were getting out of alignment with the changing aspirations and needs of an increasingly educated society, and this in three broad senses: (1) The number and reach of the functions carried out by the state system had not only achieved a disproportionate weight within society but set limits and controls on other institutions and social groups, “statising”, institutionalising and politicising society at large; (2) the fact that the vast majority of economic activity was carried out by the state sector obscured the dividing line between the economic and the political systems, and (3) the extension of the political system into every nook and cranny of society obscured the boundary between political space and the private, personal space of individuals. At the same time, the centre of discussion and decision making within the People’s Power system had shifted from the assemblies themselves to their executive committees, and the People’s Power representatives had become little more than petitioners, dispute settlers for their constituencies and uncritical endorsers of decisions made by expert commissions. The work of the executive committees themselves was poor.

49. In 1992-93, after the Fourth PCC Congress had subjected the institution to a thorough critique, the system of People’s Power direct elections for provincial and national representatives replaced their election by municipal representatives. At the same time, the candidacy commissions (responsible for proposing and selecting citizens to stand as national and regional representatives from amongst the municipal representatives and the population at large) were henceforth to be presided over by the trade unions and not the PCC. These reforms have meant that all candidates have to be elected by at least fifty per cent of the popular vote and that mass scrutiny of potential candidates becomes more intense. Other reforms included: public hearings by the various commissions of the National Assembly; extension and development of the People’s Councils (Consejos Populares), bodies which had originally been elected from among municipal representatives to force through solutions by achieving intra-bureaucratic coordination locally; and the elimination of the assemblies’ executive committees and their replacement by Councils of Administration. These reforms were already “in the wings” at the end of the 1980s, but the Special Period accelerated their implementation.

50. Debate continues in Cuba as to the adequacy of these changes. Certainly the People’s Councils were an important step forward in self-government and in overcoming the passivity and formalism that had begun to mark the assemblies. The People’s Councils proved a more active method of resolving the problems of their constituencies because they involved the entire population, and were empowered to coordinate all government instrumentalities, mass organisations and work centres operating in the area. More importantly they helped bring about a change in popular mentality, with people more inclined to look for solutions themselves through their People’s Council, rather than “demanding that they be solved” by the assembly. As a result, both real self-government and the sense of self-government improved, even in the depth of the 1990-93 crisis, and in July 1992 the councils were written into the constitution and their functions spelled out in relation to the People’s Power organs. Of particular importance is the fact that through the People’s Councils, work collectives have the potential to become involved in government.

51. However, new forms can always lose their real democratic content and become “one more government body”. More precisely, the People’s Councils can become the victims of their own success in solving practical day-to-day problems. Under the impact of the crisis, these continue to press in from all sides, such that the longer run need to involve and train the people in self-government is being sacrificed to their use as “mobilisation fodder” in solving crisis situations. Jesús P. Garcia Brigos, a former People’s Power representative for Havana, comments that the style of mobilisations that was “perhaps an adequate realisation of the principle of participation in other historical periods today has become, more than a failing, a right and proper roadblock to the development of the social process. Thus, what might in immediate terms be a positive result, creates styles and methods which ... alienate the ordinary citizen from the business of social government.” The dangers to the system basically come from three sources: (1) the fact that the People’s Councils were born as an undefined emergency operation to fill in the widening gaps in a system with strongly bureaucratic, top-down traits; (2) the fact that Popular Power delegates are basically complaint servers, problem solvers and bearers of bad news can make for mass passivity and apathy towards all areas of government; and (3) the fact that the attention of the country and its media is overwhelmingly on solving immediate problems and the “success stories” of this or that council, rather than on their success in drawing citizens into the work of self-administration.

52. The debate over the People’s Councils is but one part of an ongoing discussion over how to improve Cuba’s participatory democracy in the present phase. For example, when the question is asked as to what other measures are needed to further develop the embryonic potential of the People’s Councils as organs of popular self-government, the following proposals are often raised: giving delegates sufficient training and time so as to be able to participate competently in decision making; increasing the powers, responsibilities and resources of the People’s Councils; and strengthening the role of the constituency delegate, the head of the People’s Council.

53. As matters now stand, the organs of Popular Power are finding difficulty in attracting sufficiently skilled personnel; the Councils of Administration that replaced the executive committees are also drawing life out of the assemblies; municipal representatives elected to higher bodies have only two and a half years to “get the hang” of the system, and many have dropped out of the work because of difficulties in combining it with normal working life; and the change to direct elections of representatives at the regional and national level has disappointed popular expectations. For many Cuban commentators, further reforms are needed to draw labour collectives, peasant producers and the expanding circles of self-employed directly into the work of government. They point, for example, to the fact that the structures of People’s Power were unable to focus the creativity and richness of analysis that emerged in the workers’ parliaments held across Cuba in 1994.

54. Such discussions also bring the evolving role of Cuban mass institutions, in particular the Cuban Workers Union (CTC), into the spotlight. In this relation, the demand for their “independence” from the state, raised by some on the left in the advanced capitalist world, is at best misplaced and, at worst, part of the armoury of the counter-revolution. At issue is not some measure of “independence” but the real role that these institutions play in mobilising their constituencies, defending their interests and drawing them into the organised life of the revolution. The capacity of the mass organisations to mobilise Cuba’s people in defence of their own interests has always been a critical measure of the vitality of the revolution. In past periods, as in the discussions during the Rectification and especially before the Fourth Congress, the mass organisations came in for severe criticism for their top-down methods, paternalism and routine. On the other hand, the Elián González case gave the mass organisations of Cuba’s young people (university students, secondary students and pioneers’ organisations) the chance to prove that they could rouse the most sceptical section of Cuban society into action—a test they passed with flying colours. As a younger generation of leaders takes the helm in Cuba, the life of the mass organisations—and of the Union of Young Communists—is also reviving, despite ongoing difficulties.

55. In all discussion of Cuba’s continuing attempts at improving its state institutions and mass organisations, it should always be kept in mind that there cannot but be objective limits to the development of socialist democracy in a Third World country under present-day conditions. The socialist (and Cuban) ideal of advance towards ever increasing levels of mass self-government (the “withering away of the state”) depends on achieving an ever higher general level of productivity in the economy. That is to say, the lower the level of productivity, the greater the battle for production, the longer the working day, the less time and energy are available for the business of administration and self-government. Thus there will always be a limiting situation where, no matter what particular form of working-class self-organisation is attempted, it cannot deliver the content of participatory democracy. The point to grasp, however, is that throughout its history the Cuban leadership has always tried in every given objective situation to find the best way to deepen participatory democracy.

56. The organisation that underpins and provides political orientation to the interrelated process of advance remains the pcc, and what guarantees its intervention is the clarity of its strategic line and the honesty, intelligence and spirit of self-sacrifice of its cadres, along with their closeness to the concerns and thoughts of the mass of ordinary Cubans. The PCC’s capacity for renewal and its attention to the quality of its membership have been vital during the present period of siege. Membership standards are guaranteed by a rigorous process of nomination, vetting and endorsement based on the candidate’s present workplace and past record. Moreover, membership carries no privileges nor access to soft jobs or an easier career path. Members who fail to meet these standards are weeded out. While much party discussion still goes unreported in Cuba’s media, it is clear that the resolutions of the Fourth and Fifth Congresses were based on an unprecedented degree of internal debate. The strongest stress within the party in the 1990s has been to make sure, once and for all if possible, that the PCC focuses its energy on being the ideological and political leader of society and people, and that, unlike in previous periods, it leaves the running of the economy and the state to the cadres elected or appointed to that job. This has becoming increasingly urgent given that “relinking” with the capitalist world market has opened the flood gates to an influx of capitalist values and attitudes.

57. The PCC’s ongoing ban on organised internal factions, a heritage of its past but also reinforced by the need to maintain unity in the present difficult circumstances, has a contradictory impact. On the one hand, it presents society at large with a united approach from its social and political vanguard and better enables the party to defend itself against those elements who are seeking to convert it into a launching pad for capitalist restoration, but it also inevitably makes it harder for party discussion to become a “school of self-government” for Cuba’s people as a whole. Here again, the question is not one of timeless models, but which measures are required when. In the present phase, one of the important points of reference of the Cuban leadership is Lenin’s writings on the role of the party at the time of the New Economic Policy in the Soviet Union, with the stress going on its role as guarantor of the revolution in the midst of a hostile and difficult social environment. On the other hand, as the Fifth Congress resolution also underlines, unity is not unanimity—the principle of democratic centralism remains in force.

58. Essential to the authority and conviction that the party carries with the mass of Cuban people has been the role within it of the historic leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro. Castro’s capacity to analyse the politics of complicated and threatening situations, to judge the form and timing of the intervention needed and to expose the motives and manoeuvres of Cuba’s imperialist opponents has been unique. Fidel Castro has also been the personification of the revolution, in many senses: as the figure who embodies Cuba’s revolutionary continuity from the days of the struggle against the Spanish colonial power and Martí’s fight for independence through the battles against the dictator Machado to the triumph of 1959; as the inspiring leader in moments of open threat or crisis (Bays of Pigs, Mariel); as the embodiment of the ethical spirit of the revolution (a strand of thinking that begins with Martí); and as the figure who reconciles in one discourse Cuban patriotism, revolutionary internationalist humanism and socialism. In this sense, Fidel Castro is not replaceable. However, Castro has also succeeded in building new generations of revolutionary leaders, such that he has already equipped the Cuban Revolution with the leadership needed to carry on its struggle in his absence.

IV. The Cuban Revolution, rebuilding the socialist movement and the DSP

59. In its 1983 resolution The Cuban Revolution and Its Extension, the Democratic Socialist Party (then Socialist Workers Party) wrote: “... we must recognise that we are part of the same movement as these [Cuban] comrades—the world revolutionary Marxist movement, the genuine world communist movement—and act accordingly. We must seek to maximise at every point our fraternal political collaboration with these comrades, to seek out and emphasise the points of agreement we have with them, and to subordinate our differences with them in order to achieve maximum possible collaboration. Without ignoring or blurring over the differences we do have, we should nevertheless not make a priority of polemicising with them on these differences.”

60. The political reasons that gave rise to that stance are even more valid today. Firstly, because the collapse of the Soviet and Eastern European states is provoking common reflection about the lessons of that collapse for the task of renewing the socialist movement. Secondly and more importantly, because a new movement against capitalist globalisation is on the rise, and Cuba has a very important and multifaceted role to play within it. In terms of a practical program of demands against the institutions and blights of the world system, Cuba’s set of proposals, as outlined by Fidel Castro at the G77 Havana summit in April 2000, is clearly inspired by the principle of making the North pay for the decades of plunder it has committed against the South. Here Cuba stands to the left of the movement, in contrast to all those forces (mainstream NGOs etc) who are looking for ways to “civilise global capitalism”. Its proposals are radical, simple and bold, but feasible, beginning with the cancellation of all Third World public debt and encompassing proposals such as differential petrol prices for the South (for the full text see Fidel Castro, Neoliberal Globalisation and the Third World). Numerous other initiatives undertaken by Cuba, such as the Meetings on Globalisation and Problems of Development, also help to further develop practical programs and campaigns for development for the majority of humanity struggling to survive in the South.

61. For the newly emerging generation of anti-capitalist activists, the example of Cuba is equally important because it can help spread the understanding that in the longer term there can be no “alternative to neo-liberal globalisation” that is not socialism. The Cuban Revolution has not only demonstrated this through its history and achievements, but also serves as an example of how this struggle can be advanced in all spheres in today’s world. For example, the PCC makes an important contribution to the (re)construction of the revolutionary movement internationally through such initiatives as helping found the São Paulo Forum as a broad gathering of the Latin American left and potential builder of continent-wide anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist solidarity. This is an important asset for the peoples of Latin America and the Latin American and the world socialist movement. PCC analyses of the evolution of contemporary capitalism and the tasks of the communist and socialist movement also form an important reference point. The PCC is thus becoming an increasingly important element in the fight to reconstruct the world revolutionary and communist movement, not in the sense of providing a guiding centre or new set of gurus, but as an irreplaceable store of decades of experience in the theory and practice of the anti-capitalist struggle. No other revolutionary party is placed to play this role today.

62. Cuba’s leadership role in the struggle against neo-liberal globalisation therefore demands the closest support, solidarity and attention from socialist and anti-capitalist forces in all countries. Not only is the struggle to end the criminal US blockade a duty for all revolutionaries and democrats, but this practical effort should also be combined with two other tasks: to join in Cuba’s mission to “globalise ideas”—its ongoing campaign of exposure of the imperialist world system and its values—and to understand the revolution and its evolution. The Cuban experience demands the closest study of revolutionaries everywhere, not as a timeless “answer” to the search for a post-Soviet “model of democratic socialism”, but simply as a priceless example of how a revolutionary people and its leadership have been able to confront life-and-death challenges when under siege from an aggressive imperialism intent on their destruction. Addressed in this spirit, the Cuban experience can feed positively into the (re)building of the revolutionary movement in other countries, fortifying them through a process of rising mutual solidarity, sharing experiences, and debate.

63. Thus solidarity with Cuba is an integral and important aspect of the struggle against the global neo-liberal status quo. Any victory against US imperialism’s drive against Cuba and any strengthening of Cuba’s capacity to resist will be a direct victory for working people everywhere. In the immediate term, the core task of the solidarity movement is to make Washington’s criminal blockade politically unsustainable. This means not only getting out the truth about the damage it has done to the Cuban people over the last four decades, but also destroying the political justification for the blockade—Cuba’s alleged lack of democracy. In getting out the real story of Cuba, solidarity activists will also be strengthening the socialist cause generally by making a widening circle of people aware that there is an alternative to imperialism’s “unipolar world”. In addition, in going beyond solidarity with Cuba to becoming conscious participants in the socialist movement themselves, activists will be further strengthening both Cuba and the socialist movement.

64. A recent work of the PCC’s Ñico Lopez Higher Institute states: “Although we cannot give a complete and finished definition of socialism, we can certainly keep its basic concepts clear so as not to go off course: predominance of social property and conscious and planned leadership by the PCC, the socialist state and the mass organisations, with a view to promoting economic development, material and spiritual well-being, the social development of men and women, social justice and socialist values through the broad participation of the Cuban people who, as Martí sought, transform themselves through this process into a new people”. This perspective corresponds fully to that of the Democratic Socialist Party, which stands in full solidarity with the Cuban Revolution, its values, goals and leadership. The DSP commits itself to accomplish everything in its power to extend solidarity with and knowledge of Cuba. We fully understand that, in supporting the Cuban people and their revolution, we are also helping the cause of socialism in Australia and our region.