Sunday, January 23, 2011

Translation: Continuity and political change (3)

Here is the third instalment of my translation of "Cuba fifty years on: Continuity and political change" by Havana University's Carlos Alzugaray Treto. The second instalment is here. The Spanish footnotes follow the translation. Norman Girvan has compiled a nice PDF version of the complete translation here, with permission from the author and Temas.  

Cuba fifty years on: Continuity and political change (Part 3)

By Carlos Alzugaray Treto, Havana University

Temas, October-December, 2009

Translation: Marce Cameron

What happened in the years of the illness and convalescence of Fidel Castro shows that
important changes are taking place in the way of doing politics and in the search for solutions to the challenges identified. This is not only a question of Raul Castro's preference for emphasising collective leadership, and for avoiding the high level of public intervention and the long speeches of Fidel, but of Raul defining and promoting a series of policies that go to the heart of the problems facing the country.

The form in which the transfer of powers took place, in which Raul Castro has put his own stamp on the political style and priorities of government, indicate that between Fidel Castro and himself there is a complete identity [i.e. a coincidence of programmatic views] within diversity. One could conjecture that there is a recognition and mutual acceptance of their respective roles. While Fidel was the visionary who founded and traced out the general lines of development of an independent and sovereign Cuba, Raul has been the guardian who has loyally carried out his role as "protector of the rearguard", as he himself has said. At the same time, by knowing how to step back from his responsibilities and allow his successor to implement the necessary measures according to his own talent, style and orientations, Fidel Castro has guaranteed two things: the continuity of the [Cuban socialist] project in the new conditions, and the success of his successor in being who he needs to be, the figure that will facilitate the transformation of the way of doing politics and of governing Cuba.        

The convening of a PCC conference in the near future, given the impossibility of holding the 6th Party Congress [now scheduled for the second half of April, 2011 — translator's note], should aim to define and consolidate some of the economic and political changes that will guarantee the process of transition within continuity, towards more finished and successful forms of the structuring of society that have been outlined in the principle speeches of Raul Castro since he assumed the top post in the government; but subject to its own process of deliberation which has been convened. The President himself has affirmed the necessity for "collective thinking on the experiences of these years of the Revolution in power", and "to shape, with a view to the future, the policies of the Party in the different areas of our society".[22] 

In these speeches and interventions by Raul Castro there emerges with great clarity the priority given to the principal economic challenge, which also translates into a political challenge: improving the quality of life of the population through increasing production and services. During 2008, after being elected President of the Council of State and of Ministers, Raul reaffirmed the following concepts in two key speeches, the first on the occasion of his election as President on February 24, the second during the first session of the VII Legislature [of the National Assembly] on July 11:

"I reiterate that the priority for the country will be satisfying the basic necessities of the population, both material and spiritual, through a sustained strengthening of the national economy and the productive base, without which, I repeat, development would be impossible. [...] Today it is a strategic objective to advance in a coherent manner, solid and well thought-through, to achieve the recovery of the role of wages and that everyone's standard of living is directly related to their legal incomes, that is to say, to the [social] importance and the quantity of labour they contribute to society.[23]

"For the worker to feel themselves to be an owner of the means of production does not depend solely on theoretical explanations — we have been doing this for around 48 years — nor on the fact that their opinion is taken into account in their workplace activity. It is very important that their incomes correspond with their personal contribution, and the fulfilment by the workplace of the social object for which it was constituted, in other words, achieving the production or the provision of services that have been established [in the plan]. [...] Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights and opportunities, not of incomes. Equality is not egalitarianism. This, in the final analysis, is also a form of exploitation: of the good worker by the worker who isn't, or what is worse, by the idler."[24]      

The achievement of these cardinal objectives implies challenges at the heart of which are debates of great importance for the future of the Cuban socialist model. On December 28, 2007, referring to the necessity to increase agricultural production, the President stressed: "The studies have advanced and we will continue to act on them as rapidly as possible in the circumstances, so that the land and the resources are in the hands of those who are capable of producing efficiently, that they feel supported, are socially recognised and receive the payment they deserve [emphasis added by author]."[25]

Earlier, in his first keynote speech in 2007, on July 26 in Camaguey, alluding to the indispensable improvement in the economic results of the agricultural sector, he affirmed: "To achieve this objective the necessary structural and conceptual changes have to be introduced." The central theme of these words was that of "working with a critical sense and creatively, without stagnation or schemas", for which it would be necessary "to question everything we do in an effort to do it better every time, to transform concepts and methods that were appropriate in their time but which have been superseded by life itself."[26] These ideas have materialised first in agriculture; but hopes have been raised that they will be applied to other productive and service sectors.

Finally, like it or not, there is the implication of posing the relevance for the future of the Cuban process the development model adopted by the Chinese Communist Party leadership, taking into account the criticisms that have been made by the left, but also the evident results in terms of economic development and the generalised improvement of the quality of life of the Chinese people. On November 17, 2008, Granma published an article titled "China continues demonstrating the validity of socialism", in which it emphasised the economic successes of this country and cited the words of Fidel Castro: "China has become objectively the most promising hope and the best example for all of the countries of the Third World."[27]      

Without doubt, in terms of territory, population, economic-social magnitude, historical traditions and cultural identity, the differences between Cuba and China are so great that it would be impossible to copy the development model of the Asian giant. However, in order to achieve the measures proposed, various aspects of the reform process implemented in China are valid for Cuba. In the first place, the priority given to developing the productive forces to achieve socialist ends. Secondly, the adoption of the principle that socialism is constructed on the basis of the specific characteristics of each country. Third, the emphasis on results as a criteria for defining economic policy, as in the famous Confucian phrase of Deng Xiaoping: "It's doesn't matter whether the cat is black or white, what's important is that it catches rats." Fourthly, recognition and utilisation of monetary-mercantile relations through the formula of the "socialist market economy". And finally, the permanent revision of the means and forms adopted, so as to make the indispensable adjustments derived from changes in the social context and of unintended consequences that every course of action inevitably brings with it.[28] 

Applying these practical principles, the Chinese leadership has been able to lift 300-500 million people out of poverty and create a middle class estimated at around 180-200 million people in a relatively short time, which gives the country a significant social stability. Certainly these achievements have not been free of negative elements, but it must be recognised, firstly, that there is no such thing as a perfect society and, secondly, that the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are the first to recognise these difficulties. Given that they observe the principle that everything must be revised again and again, as Raul Castro proposes, the leadership of this Asian country is able to introduce, at any moment, the policy rectifications that are needed.

The other important element in defining the economic policy that the Cuban leadership has decided on tentatively through the principal orientations of Raul Castro relates to the economic, commercial and financial blockade of the US against Cuba. Denouncing the objectives and the pernicious and aggressive character of this policy, the President affirmed in July of 2007:

"We need to involve everybody in the daily battle against our own errors which aggravate the objective difficulties derived from external causes, especially those provoked by the US economic blockade, which constitutes in reality an implacable war against our people and the current administration of that country is especially bent on finding the smallest ways of harming us."[29]

In February 2008 he put this idea in the following terms:

"We are aware of the enormous efforts required to strengthen the economy, indispensible premise to advance in any other sphere of society, in the face of the true war waged by the US government against our country. The intention has been the same ever since the triumph of the Revolution: to make our people suffer as much as possible until we renounce our decision to be free. It is a reality that far from intimidating us should make us grow stronger. Instead of using it as an excuse for our errors, it should spur us to produce more and provide better service, to strive to find the mechanisms and means that would allow us to eliminate any hindrance to the development of the productive forces and the full use of the potential for savings and the correct organisation of work [emphasis added by author].[30]          

As well as encompassing a central element to achieve the economic development of Cuba, the notion that this can be achieved in conditions of the harshest US economic, commercial and financial blockade contains within itself the germ of what could be called the achievement of economic invulnerability. This is particularly importance when we observe the changes taking place in this neighbouring country, weakened by an economic, diplomatic, political and military crisis, and with the installation of the government of President Barack Obama. To be able to affirm that the blockade, although harmful, cannot block the prosperity of the country as a whole, and that its citizens, individually, would snatch away from any administration in Washington that which it has always considered a basic instrument of pressure [i.e. privations and hardship induced by the blockade].    

The political challenges

On the political plane, what has characterised the principle pronouncements of President Raul Castro is a constant call for the deepening of democracy and dialogue, debate and deliberation as irreplaceable instruments for the creation of consensus.        

"There is no need to fear differences in a society such as ours, where due to its essential nature there are no antagonistic [social class] contradictions because there are not the social classes that would give rise to them. From the profound exchange of divergent opinions come the best solutions, if such exchanges are guided by sound purposes and the viewpoints are expressed responsibly."[31]

In his view, not even the fact that the concerns of some citizen could be manipulated by the imperialist propaganda machine should prevent them from being considered:

"We're not going to stop listening to the honest opinion of anyone, so useful and necessary, because of the gibberish that is spouted, so ridiculous sometimes, every time a citizen in our country says something to which these same promoters of spectacle would not pay the slightest attention if it were said anywhere else on the planet."[32]

[Translation to be continued]
22. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Intervención en el VI Pleno del PCC», La Habana, 28 de abril de 2008, disponible en rauldiscursos/index2.html.

23. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Discurso en la sesión constitutiva de la VII Legislatura de la ANPP», La Habana, 24 de febrero de 2008, disponible en

24. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Socialismo significa…», ob. cit.

25. Raúl Castro Ruz, «¡Y a trabajar duro!», Intervención ante la ANPP, 28 de diciembre de 2007, Granma, La Habana, 29 de diciembre de 2007. (El énfasis es mío. C. A.)

26. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Trabajar con sentido crítico, creador, sin anquilosamientos ni esquematismos», Discurso en el acto central por el LIV aniversario del asalto al Cuartel Moncada, Camagüey, 26 de julio de 2007, Granma, La Habana, 27 de julio de 2007.

27. Oscar Sánchez Serra, «China sigue demostrando la validez del socialismo», Granma, La Habana, 17 de noviembre de 2008.

28. Véase Julio A. Díaz Vázquez y Eduardo Regalado Florido, China: el despertar del Dragón, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, La Habana, 2007.

29. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Trabajar con sentido crítico...», ob. cit.

30. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Discurso en la sesión constitutiva...», ob. cit. (El énfasis es mío. C. A.)

31. Ibídem. (El énfasis es mío. C. A.)

32. Raúl Castro Ruz, «¡Y a trabajar duro!», ob. cit.

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