Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Comment: Raul Castro's National Assembly speech

Raul Castro gave a brief closing speech to the National Assembly on August 1. Earlier, the Assembly had voted unanimously to approve the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution, on the recommendation of the Sixth Communist Party Congress in April. 

This means that the Guidelines are now state policy. In his speech, Raul said that a special National Assembly commission has been established to "oversee the process of updating the economic model" and that one of its tasks would be to "draft the integral theoretical conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist economy", which "will require much time and effort".

The Guidelines are not a theoretical document but a practical one. While there are references to key principles, such as the socialist distribution formula "to each according to their work" and not allowing the concentration of productive property ownership, there is no coherent theoretical framework and no discussion of the historical experiences and lessons that underpin the Guidelines. 

Presumably, this is because the PCC leadership felt that the most important thing was to strive for consensus on what needs to be done, on a set of tasks and objectives that chart a course towards a new Cuban socialist-oriented economic model, and that an overly theoretical document may well have muddied the waters rather than served clarity at this stage. In the unfolding of the renovation process, the sequencing and timing of the revolutionary leadership's initiatives, including those related to consensus-building, are paramount.  

On the other hand, the PCC leadership has not ignored the theoretical and historical questions involved. Raul took up some of these issues in the main report to the Sixth PCC Congress in April, as well as in other speeches. Neither have the theoretical issues and historical lessons been absent from the public debate, as can be appreciated from the translations of commentaries published on this blog. Yet an "integral theoretical conceptualisation", as Raul puts it, is still a pending task. 

There are several reasons why such a document is needed. 

For Cuba's revolutionaries, it would further the process of striving for clarity and consensus on the broad outlines of the new model that is beginning to emerge. By drawing on the theoretical and practical legacy of revolutionary Cuba's own rich experience of building socialism over the past five decades, as well as those of other socialist revolutions past and present, it could help safeguard the renewal process from the danger, inherent in allowing greater scope for market mechanisms, of a pragmatic drift in the direction of capitalist restoration. It would arm Cuba's revolutionaries ideologically in the face of such pressures. 

At the same time, a clear theoretical justification for the renovation process could also help guard against the opposite tendency, that is, for the renovation process to lose momentum because of unjustified fears, cynically exploited by those in the administrative apparatus that want to preserve their fiefdoms and illicit privileges derived from corruption, that any concessions to the market imply the abandonment of "socialism".

In his August 1 speech, Raul had this blunt message for such officials: "We shall be patient but also persevering in the face of resistance to change, whether conscious or unconscious. I warn you that bureaucratic resistance to the strict fulfilment of the Congress decisions, which have the massive support of the people, is futile."

Finally, such a document would be part of the legacy of the historicos, Fidel's and Raul's generation of revolutionaries, to the newer generations of revolutionaries who will have to carry through the renovation process and put their own stamp on it. It would also be of great value, and no doubt of great interest, to revolutionary socialists internationally, as well as to the Cuba solidarity movement.

Yet the need for theoretical clarification is far from the most pressing challenge confronting the renovation process. As Raul stressed on August 1: "The greatest obstacle which we face in terms of implementing the decisions of the Sixth Congress is the psychological barrier created by inertia, resistance to change, pretence or double standards, indifference and insensitivity, a barrier which we are obliged to surmount with constancy and firmness, starting with Party, state and government leaders in the various national, provincial and municipal bodies."

He concluded that "without a change of mentality, we will be incapable of carrying out the changes needed to guarantee the sustainability or, what amounts to the same thing, the irrevocability of the socialist character of the political and social system enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic." 

Key to this change in mentality is respect for differences of opinion: "All opinions must be discussed and when a consensus is not reached, the differences will be raised before higher bodies authorised to make decisions. Knowing Cubans and given its importance, I repeat: all opinions must be discussed and when consensus is not reached, the differences will be raised before higher bodies authorized to make decisions and, moreover, nobody is entitled to prevent this."

An official translation of Raul's August 1 speech is here. It's a short speech that's well worth reading in full.


  1. ' ... an "integral theoretical conceptualisation", as Raul puts it, is still a pending task ... such a document is needed.'

    Does this mean the Cubans have recognised the need for such a document and put it on the to-do list, or that you personally believe it is necessary?

  2. Both. Raul has announced it and I think it will be a necessary complement to the Guidelines.


If you're not signed in with one of the accounts listed in the drop-down menu select "Anonymous" and include your name, or a pseudonym, in the comment. If you have suggestions for improving the blog or its content please email Marce Cameron. All the usual norms of posting etiquette apply. Comments must be respectful in tone, consistent with the blog's aims and relevant. Comments will be moderated accordingly.