Monday, April 11, 2016

Granma editorial on Congress concerns

This is the third of a cluster of translations on the controversy sparked by the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership's approach to the Seventh PCC Congress, which gets underway on April 16. The first two translations in this series are here and here.

On March 27, the same day Francisco 'Paquito' Rodriguez went public with his Open Letter to Raul Castro, Granma newspaper, which is published under the editorial guidance of the PCC's Central Committee as its official publication, responded to rumblings of discontent from the party's activist base with the following unsigned editorial. As usual, readers submitted comments, 37 of which appear at the foot of the online version. We'll return to these comments in a future post. 

The editorial's purpose is to explain and justify three decisions of the Central Committee or perhaps its executive body, the Political Bureau: to not involve the party membership as a whole in the elaboration of the Congress documents; to not go ahead with a public consultation on these documents, which was also foreshadowed by Raul Castro on at least two occasions; and to not make any of these documents publicly available prior to the Congress.

The editorial is noteworthy both for what is says and for what it doesn't say, or doesn't mention. Its line of argument may be summarised as follows. 

First, it points out that holding the Seventh Congress on April 16-19 embodies strict fulfillment of the party's Statutes, which state that congresses are to be held every five years except in the event of war, natural disasters or other exceptional circumstances. This is a procedural rather than a political argument. There was a 14 year interval between the Fifth Congress in 1997 and the Sixth in 2011. 

The second and core argument is that a party-wide or public consultation on the Congress documents is unnecessary, because such a public consultation process was held five years ago and the decisions of the Sixth Congress are still being implemented. So the Seventh Congress will effectively be a continuation of the Sixth. In denying the membership as a whole (and the wider Cuban society) the ability to participate in the elaboration of the Congress documents, the party leadership is exercising the mandate it received in the late 2010 to early 2011 consultation:

... rather than launch a new society-wide debate process in the throes of implementation, we need to finish what we have begun, continuing to carry out the popular will expressed five years ago and advancing along the course set by the Sixth Congress.

The principled objection to this argument is simple and, I think, irrefutable. Shouldn't it be the party as a whole—through a delegate election process in which delegates are elected on the basis of platform documents made available to the entire membership—that decides whether the Seventh Congress will be a continuation of the Sixth, rather than a Congress in its own right?

The editorial argues that because only 21% of the 2011 Congress Guidelines have been implemented to date, the Seventh Congress must necessarily be a continuation of the Sixth. Yet that same statistic could be wielded in favour of a profound reflection by the party as a whole on the viability and desirability of the course set at the Sixth Congress.

The editorial seems to suggest that the draft programmatic vision document—the conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist model—is just the theoretical expression of the content of the Guidelines. If so, then why has it taken so long for the party leadership to come up with such a document? Perhaps because the Guidelines, as a set of concrete objectives more than a programmatic road-map, open the door to not one but several distinctly different socialist models.

They leave unresolved the vital question posed in 2011 by Havana University planning specialist Oscar Fernandez Estrada, who asked in a footnote:

From the traditional state socialism that characterises Cuba today, is it moving towards a more decentralised state socialism? An Asian-style [i.e. Vietnamese or Chinese] market socialism? A self-managed socialism of the Yugoslavian variety? To the so-called participatory socialism of the 21st century? There is an urgent need for a debate aimed at a consensus on the key features of the vision of the future society. (See the Introduction to my Master's thesis 'Statist Utopianism and the Cuban Socialist Transition'—Marce Cameron)

That urgent and necessary debate has now happened, but behind closed doors. Its outcome will be presented to the Seventh Congress as a fait accomplit. Unable to seek a mandate for alternative resolutions from the party's activist base, which has not seen the Conceptualisation (or any other) document, delegates will have little choice but to vote for whatever the leadership has proposed.

Another argument also cuts both ways. The editorial stresses the protracted nature of the drafting process, noting that some documents took longer than anticipated. Yet this leaves the Central Committee vulnerable to the suggestion that it could indeed have postponed the Congress for just a few months in order to allow for a public and party-wide consultation process.

The editorial claims that the Congress delegates, elected democratically by the Party's grassroots, "represent the Party membership and the Cuban people as a whole". That's a dubious assertion, because neither the party membership nor the Cuban people as a whole have seen the documents that these delegates will be asked to vote on. How, then, can the delegates be said to represent them in any meaningful political sense?

The only basis for electing delegates in the absence of one or more platform documents is personal merit and representativeness in the purely sociological sense. Thus the editorial notes the percentages of women and youth delegates. Likewise, it stresses the breadth of expertise drawn on in the party leadership's elaboration of the Congress documents. Impressive though this may be, the underlying message is surely pernicious: "Trust us and trust the experts".

Finally, what this editorial doesn't say is equally striking. No mention is made of the Central Committee's previously stated intention to organise a party-wide and society-wide consultation on the draft Congress documents, nor does it explain when and why it was decided to not go ahead with the consultation. That leaves the 'when' and the 'why' open to corrosive speculation.        
Less than a month till the Party Congress

Granma editorial

March 27, 2016

Translation: Marce Cameron

The Seventh Party Congress will convene on April 16, on the 55th anniversary of the proclamation of the socialist character of the Revolution and exactly five years after the opening of Sixth Congress. It will continue the work of the Sixth Congress and that of the First National Party Conference [in January 2012].

The Seventh Party Congress is less than a month away. It will begin on April 16, marking the 55th anniversary of the proclamation of the socialist character of the Revolution and exactly five years after the opening of the Sixth Congress, and conclude on April 19. It will thus comply, strictly, with one of the Objectives (No. 17) adopted by the First National Conference: uphold the interval between Congresses that is established in the Party Statutes.

On February 29, Granma carried a detailed report on the process of electing the Congress delegates, and reported the following day on the initiation, in all provinces simultaneously, of the consultation meetings on the documents that will be submitted for debate at the Congress.

The Granma editorial board has received, through various means, concerns of Party activists (and non-members) who question the reasons why, on this occasion, no public discussion process has been planned, such as that carried out five years ago on the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines.

The fact that opinions or doubts on this issue are being expressed is not at all reprehensible, even less so when they come from people who are genuinely concerned about the work of the party and the destiny of the country. On the contrary, this is a reflection of the democracy and participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism we are building. Raul Castro himself, in closing the the First National Party Congress, made an appeal to “foster a climate of maximum confidence and the creation of the necessary conditions at all levels for the most inclusive and frank exchanges of opinions, both within the [Party] and in its links to the workers and the population (…)”.

It has been a tradition (or rather, a political right that has been conquered) that, throughout the history of the Revolution, the people have always been consulted on the big decisions. In the 1960s, the First and Second Declarations of Havana were adopted [by dint of mass demonstrations] in the Jose Marti Plaza of the Revolution, as well as in Santiago de Cuba with such popular participation. The overwhelming vote of the immense majority [of citizens] gave our republic a socialist Constitution. And during the harshest years of the [post-Soviet] Special Period, the Workers Parliaments, throughout the length and breadth of the country, confirmed that Cuba would continue to be an eternal Baragua [translator's note: an allusion to a historical event that evokes Cuban defiance in the 19th Century war of independence from Spain].

Fresh in the memories of all of us is the exemplary way in which the first draft of the 291 Guidelines, which were published on November 9, 2010, were discussed. Over three months (from December 2010 to February 2011), they were debated by the whole population in 163,079 meetings with 8,913,838 participants. There were 3,019,471 contributions to these debates, which were grouped into 781,644 opinions, all of which were analysed in detail. As a result, 94 paragraphs were unchanged (32%), 197 were amended or incorporated into others (68% of the remainder) and 36 new guidelines were added. The 311 resultant guidelines were discussed initially in the provinces and then in the Congress sessions by the delegates and invitees. Two new guidelines were added and 86 (28% of the 311) were amended. This is how the final 313 guidelines took shape, as a genuine expression of the popular will that was ratified, after the Congress, by the National Assembly.

The Congress agreed on the means to avoid its decisions being shelved. It recommended that the Government set up a Permanent Commission for Implementation and Development [of the Guidelines] which, without diminishing the role of the Central State Administration Institutions, would ensure the coordination and integrality of the complex process of updating the [Cuban socialist] model. The Congress also tasked all levels of the Party with controlling, impelling and demanding compliance with the adopted Guidelines.

Since then, both the Central Committee and the National Assembly have analysed the implementation of the Congress decisions twice annually. These evaluations have received ample media coverage, as have the meetings of the Council of Ministers, where policies to ensure the implementation of the Guidelines are approved.

It clear from the outset that it would not be easy [to implement the Guidelines], because this is not a laboratory experiment but fundamental changes at the level of society as a whole, based on the inviolable premises of avoiding the shock therapies of the capitalist countries and not abandoning anyone to their fate. All of this against the backdrop of an international economic crisis and the omnipresent, malicious [US] blockade.

In his Main Report to the Congress, CompaƱero Raul [Castro] warned of the difficulties that lay ahead: “We are convinced that the task ahead of us in this and other matters related to the updating of the economic model is full of complexities and interrelations that touch, to one degree or another, on every facet of society as a whole. Given this, we know that it is not a question of one day nor even one year, and that it will take at least five years for the implementation to unfold with the necessary harmony and coherence...”.

Indeed it has. The balance sheet of what has been achieved in the past five years shows that 21% of the Guidelines have now been implemented, while 77% are in the process of implementation. The other 2% (five guidelines) have not been carried out for various reasons. We must take into account the fact that an important part of the most complex transformations began to be implemented in 2014 and 2015, and are only now beginning to bear fruit.

Given all this, rather than launch a new society-wide debate process in the throes of implementation, we need to finish what we have begun, continuing to carry out the popular will expressed five years ago and advancing along the course set by the Sixth Congress. Accordingly, the Seventh Congress will take place after the evaluation meetings of the Party's base committees, as well as those of the municipal and provincial Party Committees. The reports presented in the provinces were published in full in the local press, and their contents were debated by hundreds of collectives nationwide.

The documents that will be taken to the Congress are the result of a collective elaboration in which dozens of functionaries, economic and social science researchers and professors participated. They were analysed in the advisory Scientific Council of the Implementation Commission, which comprises more than 130 highly qualified specialists.

The documents were later discussed in the Central Committee Plenums in December and January, having been refined by successive approximations. The observations and proposals made by the members of this party leadership body were taken into consideration in the new versions of each of the six documents that were then subjected to profound scrutiny in the [provincial Party leadership] consultation meetings that took place, simultaneously, in all of the provinces.

Present in these meetings were the thousand Congress delegates, proposed by the grassroots elected democratically, which represent the Party membership and the Cuban people as a whole. Women make up a large proportion (43%) of the delegates, and while it is logical that, as a rule, women and men who have accumulated considerable experience are elected to participate in an event of this nature, among the delegates are 55 young people under 35 years of age.

Also attending the consultation meetings were more than 3500 invitees, who also made proposals to enrich the documents. Among them were the deputies to the National Assembly, representatives of the Central State Administration Institutions, university professors, researchers from scientific institutions, local leaders of the mass organisations [translator's note: e.g. the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, Federation of Cuban Women], representatives of our civil society, religious leaders, students, peasants, intellectuals and artists. Not all invitees were Party members.

One of the documents assesses the progress of the economy in 2011-15. Another assesses the implementation of the Guidelines. A third document updates the Guidelines for the period 2016-20.

The fourth document, of great theoretical importance, is a conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist economic and social development model. The fifth is the economic and social development Programme to 2030. Both documents focus on the country that we aspire to: they set out the nation's economic and social strategy, and the tactical means to achieve this aspiration is precisely the Guidelines and their implementation. The basis of these documents is the content of the Guidelines approved by the Sixth Congress, and they reflect the Guideline's continuity and development. They do not, then, depart from the path set out on. They take what was consulted on and discussed [prior to the Sixth Congress] with the whole of the Party, and with the people, to the next level.

The sixth document assesses the degree to which the Objectives approved by the First National Party Conference in January 2012 have been fulfilled. In general the evaluation is positive, and the document projects their continued implementation.

One can imagine the complexity of the elaboration of these documents, which in some cases took longer than initially expected.

The documents are closely interrelated. They analyse what has been achieved to date, what remains to be done, and orient to the future in the socio-economic and political-ideological spheres. They cannot be viewed as static documents: they will be debated in the Seventh Congress and, like their predecessors, will have to be submitted to periodic evaluation.

The Seventh Congress will continue the work of the Sixth and that of the First National Party Conference. It will allow for the path ahead to be sketched out with far more precision, so that our nation—sovereign and truly independent from the triumph of January 1, 1959—may build a prosperous and sustainable socialism.   

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