I began this series with Francisco Rodriguez's Open Letter to Raul Castro and Esteban Morales' earlier commentary on the Seventh Congress. The significance of these two interventions is that such pointed public criticisms of the PCC leadership by such prominent PCC members whose party loyalty is beyond reproach, are rare. Responsible party members, especially well-known and widely respected ones, don't make such criticisms lightly. They would feel a heavy obligation to weigh up the likely consequences of such criticism for the party and for themselves.
For example, as Rodriguez acknowledges in his Open Letter, one must allow for the very real possibility that the party leadership may be better placed to judge the wisdom of what is urged, in this case delaying the Congress to allow for a public consultation process. If political principles clash with political expediency then the party leadership may be confronted with a genuine dilemma. On the other hand, the PCC leadership is—of course—far from infallible. Beset by great difficulties on all sides and by new challenges, from Obama's shift to 'soft power' subversion to a generational leadership transition at the highest level, a lapse into old habits that die hard, such as the very secrecy that Raul Castro has repeatedly denounced in recent years, is perhaps understandable.
It is nonetheless disturbing.
On March 27, Granma editorialised on the rumblings of discontent from the PCC base. As usual, readers submitted comments to the online version, 38 of which appear at the foot of the editorial. Most touch on the controversy, and all but a few of these are expressions of that discontent among the PCC's grassroots. A Granma reader identifying themselves as 'Leandro' points out that:
This would be the only Congress held to date in which core matters dealt with by the Party are not discussed with the whole population, at a time when in my judgement we need more consensus. What's more, it's one of the last Congresses to be led by the historic generation and this would set, I believe, a bad precedent for the future leaders, who would feel they have the right to hold Congresses without popular participation.
The Granma editorial makes no mention of the leadership's earlier commitment to hold party-wide and public consultations on the Seventh Congress draft resolutions. 'Leandro' reminds readers that:
On December 20, 2014, in the closing session of the Fourth Ordinary Period of Sessions of the Eighth Legislature of the National Assembly of People's Power, General Raul Castro said: "Next year we will initiate the preparatory activities for holding the Seventh Party Congress in April 2016, prior to which there will be a broad and democratic debate with the Party membership and all of the [Cuban] people on how the implementation of the [Sixth Congress] Guidelines is progressing". On February 23, 2015, Cubadebate website published a report on the Tenth Central Committee Plenum in which an assurance was given that "... the Seventh Party Congress will be held in April 2016. Consequently, from now and during the first quarter of the year, municipal and provincial Party assemblies will be held, Party functionaries and members will be briefed, a popular consultation will be carried out and the final versions of the [Congress] documents will be processed and approved."
'Leandro' notes that among the six resolutions to be put to the vote of Congress delegates are the 'Conceptualisation of the Cuban Socio-Economic Model of Socialist Development' and the 'Economic and Social Development Programme to 2030—Vision of the Nation, Strategic Axes, Objectives and Sectors'. "Given their importance, these matters should, in my judgement, be submitted to popular opinion", 'Leandro' concludes.
Another Granma reader, PCC activist Arturo Menendez, thinks the necessary deepening of Cuba's socialist democracy should have begun with a party-wide and public consultation in the lead-up to the Seventh Congress. The fact that such a consultation was last held five years ago is precisely the point, he adds in a second post: "The context has been changing, the world's complexities have deepened, we face new challenges now and ahead of us. There is much to be gained from the broadest discussion and analysis with the Party as a whole and with all of the [Cuban] people."
Reader 'Alzugaray' (perhaps the same Carlos Alzugaray whose essay, 'Cuba: Continuity and Political Change' I translated here) responds: "Thanks. Very descriptive information. But the question remains: why not publish the documents so that we can all see them and at least follow the Congress discussions? There's still time to remedy this deficiency".
Cuban philosopher Jose Ramon Fabelo, who participated in a panel discussion on work in Cuba that I translated here, concurs:
The Party Congress in Cuba is the Congress of the Cuban nation and people. Those who participate in it as delegates are only our representatives. But for those delegates to be able to fulfil this function properly, they must have at their disposal the opinions of those they represent: party members and non-members, the people in general. That there may be continuity with respect to the previous congress is no justification for not discussing the materials of this new congress with the people, with society as a whole, the historical subject whose mission and destiny will be discussed by the congress. The conceptualisation of our economic and social model is not a task for experts and social scientists alone. What should distinguish our theory is its inherent connection with revolutionary practice, and the grand subject of this revolutionary practice is the whole people, a people more than capable, thanks to the Revolution itself, of being also the subject of its own theory. Holding the congress on the date decided on (exactly five years after the previous one) should not take priority over the need to ensure its success in terms of the Revolution's social bases themselves. The most important congress is that which takes place in the streets and workplaces of revolutionary Cuba. Let's not pass up the opportunity to give another lesson in democracy—genuine democracy, Cuban style—to Obama and all those who want to throw their discredited models in our faces. Let's immediately publish all the materials, let's organise for them to be debated by all of our people. Let's hold the Congress when we've created the conditions to do it in the best way possible: without delay, yes, but without failing to do any anything that a true congress of the Cuban nation demands. That is my proposal.Like Fabelo, Ernesto Estevez Rams stresses the question of representation. How, he asks, can the delegates be said to represent the PCC membership when the vast majority of party members are unaware of the content of the draft resolutions? He then poses the question in terms of democratic centralism:
It's not convincing. I understand all of the context that the article explains, but that context does not justify the lack of consultation at the base level [of the PCC]. One could use the same argumentation about context to defend [the need for] the consultation. In particular, as a Party member and a citizen, I want to be able to read and express my opinion before the approval of a document that conceptualises the economic and social (and by extension, political) model of my country. I also believe I have the right to read and express my opinion on the [economic and social development] plan to the year 2030 before it is adopted. ... The delegates are, by definition, representatives of those who elected them. This is at the heart of the democratic centralism that, we should not forget, has two sides. The congress is one of the most important democratic moments of the PCC, when our delegates express their opinion and decide, with their vote, in the name of those who elected them. Thus their opinion and vote in the Congress is not that of themselves as individuals, not those of the leadership bodies. It should be and must be the opinion and vote that reflect the consensus of those that elected them from the grassroots. How can they be elected delegates, defend the opinion of their electors on such documents, if their electors have not had access to them and therefore cannot reach agreement on what the delegate should argue for? The decision to not consult is a significant regression in terms of democratic participation and it feels like a dangerous precedent, for which there should be no attempt to compensate after the fact. Let's learn from the errors of the ex-Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party. All party members should zealously uphold the democratic side of centralism, so that democracy operates in the right way and doesn't end up being held hostage to centralism, albeit with the best of intentions. We must continually strengthen the democracy of our party so that it is the guarantor of the Revolution, in so far as it is the democratic reflex of the revolutionary vanguard of our society.