Sunday, May 1, 2011

Comment: Cuba reconceives socialism

The dust has settled from the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and reactions are circulating in cyberspace from all quarters, some better informed than others. It's amusing to note that at least one foreign news agency reported that Fidel was present for the singing of the national anthem at the close of the Congress. Fidel was there, they got that right, though it wasn't the national anthem but the communist Internationale that had nearly a thousand delegates, overcome with emotion, holding hands and swaying to the melody.

The best informed and most interesting commentaries on the Congress are those of Cuban commentators living on the island who are sympathetic to Cuba's socialist project and who, because they don't shoulder heavy PCC or state responsibilities, are free to do what Cuba's revolutionary journalists have been urged to do by Raul Castro: speak their minds and tell it how it is, responsibly of course. In the main report to the Congress, Raul called on Cuban journalists to "definitively banish the habit of describing the national reality in pretentious high-flown language or with excessive formality". In other words, more real journalism please and less self-congratulatory propaganda. 

Those of us who write about Cuba from outside the country from a position of solidarity should also adopt this approach. As the Cuban Revolution changes, so do the requirements of solidarity. It's no longer enough, for example, to point out that Cuba has free health care and education. People want to know why universal rationing and subsidies are disappearing, why half a million state-sector workers are to be made "available" (the Cuban euphemism) in a first stage of rationalisations, whether Cuba is following the Chinese road to capitalist restoration. 

The best way to approach such understandable doubts and concerns is to acquaint oneself with the internal debate in Cuba, much of which is publicly accessible in the internet age, and draw one's own conclusions. My own conclusion is that Cuba is on the path of socialist renewal. A renewal process that embodies a reconception of socialism — or, to be more precise, of the socialist-oriented society — that junks both idealistic errors and the discredited Soviet manuals on "Marxism-Leninism" in a return to classical Marxism's conception of the transition from capitalism to socialism, in the concrete conditions of Cuba today. But more on this in another blog post.

As expected, the Congress adopted the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines. The final draft, which was substantially modified on the basis of the public debate and further amended by the Congress's five working commissions, has yet to be published. Given the importance of this document it seems to me that a balanced assessment of the outcome of the Congress and the pre-Congress debates must await the publication of the final version of the Guidelines. While it has been reported that more than two thirds of the guidelines were modified in the final draft as a result of the public debate and some 30 new guidelines were added, we don't know which ones were modified, how much, and most importantly, in what direction. Some things are known. For example, Raul noted in the main report that Cubans will soon be able to buy and sell their homes and cars.

If the Guidelines adopted by the Congress are not translated into English then I'll translate them and publish them on this blog as soon as they become available in Spanish. In the meantime, I'd encourage readers who haven't already done so to read the official English translations of Raul Castro's opening and closing speeches to the Congress and, if you have the time and the interest, the following commentaries from Cuba. All are candid, well informed and offer valuable insights and reflections. All have been previously published in English. Over the next few weeks I'll endeavour to compile, translate and post a selection of other such commentaries which have not been translated. 

Interview with Ricardo Alarcon, President of Cuba's National Assembly of People's power 
Twenty Years Are Really Something, by Luis Sexto, Cuban journalist
The Congress's Political Balance, by Jesus Arboleya, Havana University
Raul Castro, the First Secretary by Fernando Ravensberg, BBC Mundo Havana correspondent

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