Monday, January 24, 2011

Translation: Continuity and political change (4)

Here is the fourth and final instalment of my translation of "Cuba fifty years on: Continuity and political change" by Havana University's Carlos Alzugaray Treto. The other instalments are archived here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3Norman Girvan has compiled a nice PDF version of the complete translation here, with permission from the author and Temas. The Spanish footnotes in the original are below each translation. As usual, you can access the Spanish text by clicking on the post title.

As I said in the introduction to the first instalment, this is, in my opinion, a superb summary of the Cuban Revolution at this critical juncture and a grounded analysis of the changes, both economic and political, that must be made to Cuba's socialist model if the Revolution is to endure in the post-Fidel era that is taking shape. Published in late 2009, it was written before the announcement of the date for the PCC's 6th Congress in April this year that coincided with the publication of the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines, that are the subject of grassroots debates in the PCC, workplaces and neighbourhoods in preparation for the Congress. 

One weakness of Alzugaray Treto's analysis, worth drawing attention to, is that more could have been said about the significance of the opening of Venezuela's Bolivarian socialist revolution and the importance of the Cuba-Venezuela alliance for the future of Cuba's socialist project. Another weakness, it seems to me, is his uncritical appraisal of the Chinese leadership's claim that they are building socialism in China, albeit with "Chinese characteristics" (such as the fact that there is no barrier to multi-millionaire Chinese capitalists joining the so-called Communist Party). 

Such illusions in the Chinese "road to socialism" are widespread in Cuba, largely for the same reason that most Cuban revolutionaries once looked to the Soviet Union for inspiration: given the necessity for the PCC leadership to maintain excellent trade and diplomatic relations with the Chinese regime — which has its own geopolitical reasons for supporting revolutionary Cuba against US imperialism unrelated to fomenting the global proletarian revolution — little real information about the social and ecological costs of China's rampant capitalist development or leftist critiques of this process are readily accessible to most Cubans. What the inner circles of the PCC leadership really think about China's trajectory is unknown and can only be speculated, for obvious reasons.    

It would be to misread Alzugaray Treto's comments on China as saying that Cuba should copy "the Chinese model". Indeed, he explicitly warns against this and there are other caveats too, such as the need to take into consideration "the criticisms that have been made by the left". What he suggests Cuba can learn from China and apply, specified in five points, would not amount to the restoration of capitalism in Cuba; Cuba's political and social order would remain essentially different from that of China. It should also be noted that Alzugaray Treto's advocacy of a deepening and a decentralisation of Cuba's socialist democracy would help safeguard Cuba against precisely such a drift towards capitalist restoration. 

In his summary, he reaffirms the noble objective at the heart of the Cuban Revolution: the cultivation of a new human being, less alienated and egoistic, a fuller and freer expression of the human personality in its harmonious interrelation with humanity and the rest of nature on this fragile Earth — an objective that is not remotely shared by Beijing's ruling elite. Finally, the geopolitical realities of Cuba, a small post-capitalist society just 150km from the imperialist monster to the north, leave no room for a "Chinese road". Either the Cuban Revolution renews itself with the help of Venezuela's Bolivarian socialist revolution and the other progressive forces on the planet, or the flame of revolution is extinguished and Cuba returns to its former status of a US neo-colony. Now more than ever, the Cuban Revolution needs our understanding and our solidarity.   

I invite readers of this blog to comment if you wish, by submitting a comment below this post. 

Cuba fifty years on: Continuity and political change (Part 4)

By Carlos Alzugaray Treto, Havana University

Temas, October-December, 2009

Translation: Marce Cameron

In this way, [Raul Castro] invited all the citizens to discuss even the question of socialism and the ways and means of building it. In February 2008, he recalled that at the University of Havana [on November 17, 2005] Fidel had made the following self-criticism: "A conclusion I have come to after many years is that among the many errors we have all committed, the most important error was believing that someone knew how to build socialism."[33] Then, in December of that year, Raul returned to this theme in his comments to the National Assembly in the following terms:

"Are we building socialism? Because to be honest, I also say that, as well as these problems that we're analysing regarding the new Social Security Law, we work little, we work less. This is a reality that you can verify for yourselves in any corner of the country. Pardon the frankness of my words, you don't have to agree with what I'm saying. I share these ideas first and foremost to provoke us to think, not only yourselves, compañeras and compañeros deputies, but all of our compatriots, the whole country. Some are personal judgements that should not be understood as immutable. They are things that we have a duty to study and debate profoundly in an objective manner, which is the only way of continuing to approach the most convenient formulas to move forward with the Revolution and socialism [emphasis added by author]."[34]  

This invitation to disagree and dissent, including with regard to his own views, reiterated what he had said in relation to controversial ideas raised during debates around the draft Social Security Law:

"The process of studies and consultations with all of the workers that will begin next month in September, prior to the approval of the Law by the National Assembly in December, will serve to clarify all of the doubts and will provide an opportunity to express any opinion. Everyone will be listened to attentively, whether or not their views coincide with those of the majority, as has happened with the opinions coming out of the process of reflection on [my] speech of July 26. We don't aspire to unanimity, which would be fictitious, on this or any other theme [emphasis added by author]."[35]

In his reflection on the necessity for [decision-making] processes that are ever more democratic during his acceptance speech on his election as President, he did not exclude the PCC:   

"And I added that if the people are firmly united around a single party, this party must be more democratic than any other and with it society in turn, which after all, as with any human work, can be perfected, but this is undoubtedly a just society, and within it everyone has the opportunity to express their opinion and, more important still, to work to make reality what we agree on in every case."[36] 

A little earlier, in December 2007, during his summary of the conclusions of the process of national deliberation around his speech of July 26 of that year, he had stressed the need for all PCC or government leaders to stimulate the broadest debate and deliberation among their subordinates:

"This process ratifies something fundamental: those who hold a leadership position must know how to listen and create a propitious climate for the others to express themselves with absolute freedom. This is something we need to incorporate into the work style of every leader, alongside the orientation, the criticism or the appropriate disciplinary measure. Our people receive information in many ways and we're working to perfect these and eliminate the harmful tendency to triumphalism and complacency, to ensure that every compañero with a certain political or administrative responsibility reports in a systematic way on what they are responsible for with realism, transparently, critically and self-critically."[37]    

Another theme that is stressed in the speeches and interventions of Raul Castro is that related to institutionalisation. This is a matter of particular importance given the cumulative malaise from the effects of bureaucratism, inefficiency and cases of corruption. As was demonstrated with the dismissals of highest-level leaders [the secretary of the Council of Ministers, Carlos Lage, and the foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque] in March 2009, excessive secrecy on the part of cadres and leaders in a climate of institutional weakness is a breeding ground for the practices of influence-peddling and moral hypocrisy. Strengthening institutionalism is a priority task in the present circumstances.

Thus, once elected President, Raul Castro asked for and was granted by the National Assembly the authorisation to modify the governmental structure:   

"Today a more compact and functional structure is required, with a smaller number of organs of the central state administration and a better distribution of the functions they carry out. In summary, we have to make the work of our government more efficient [...]. Institutionalism, I repeat the term: intuitionalism is an important support for this decisive proposal and one of the pillars of the invulnerability of the Revolution in the political terrain, which we must work to continually perfect."[38]   

These proposals around the importance of institutions and their efficiency, which cannot be separated from their legitimacy, run counter to the generalised view that the best way to struggle against the bureaucracy is the subversion of institutions and their substitution by informal mechanisms for decision-making and implementation. The reality is that the undermining of institutions inevitably leads to the loss of legitimacy of the system as a whole. Hence the choice of a policy that obliges those who lead and comprise institutions to conduct themselves within the framework of legality, and to assume an attitude of democratic responsibility subject to the social control of subordinates and citizens. No system of vertical supervision from the top down can be more effective that popular control.

One aspect that has not been dealt with sufficiently and in a public manner, although it has been debated in more private and semi-public forums, is the role of the social sciences in the present conjuncture. In the context of the call to dialogue that has characterised the speeches of the Cuban president, stimulating ever more and better empirical studies of Cuban social reality, and bringing together Cuban social scientists — whose commitment and prestige is recognised — to participate in the popular consultation on the basis of their professions and specialities is a necessity of the moment. Two initiatives would seem decisive: a national conference of the social sciences and giving free reign to the constitution of national associations of sociologists and political scientists, as is now happening in other branches of science and with economists and historians. On the other hand, what is needed is the cultivation of a social science with "committed autonomy" that would facilitate the development of its core work.                          

The press and the communications media in general should play an important role. The deficiencies of the media have been criticised repeatedly, by there has been very little improvement. For example, Cuba must be one of the few countries that stands out for its scarcity of daily opinion pages [in the press]. We live in a world in which the use of information and digital technology via the internet is  increasingly prevalent and useful. It would be impossible to conceive of a prosperous and developing society in which these media do not play their necessary roles as transmitters of information and propitiators of dialogue, debate and deliberation. The right to access the internet is becoming, little by little, commonplace. In Cuba this is insufficiently recognised. While there are technical difficulties, the reality is that there is no policy of stimulating the use of these computerised information techniques in all social life, as is needed. Beginning with the Youth Computer Clubs [that provide free access to email and Cuba's intranet, a restricted version of the internet, and training] and the University of Information Sciences, even the existing controls on internet usage are outdated and prejudicial.

In conclusion

Cuba finds itself at a crossroads in which changes within continuity will have to be introduced. These changes are already underway and are reflected in measures and pronouncements of the new government led by Raul Castro. This will mean, inevitably, a transformation of Cuban society, both economically and politically. The Party Conference [now scheduled for sometime in 2011, after the 6th PCC Congress in April that will focus on economic policy] will be obliged to respond to the set of problems discussed here, and others. It is not a question of denying the gains achieved under the leadership of Fidel Castro, but of making the necessary adjustments and transformations. This obliges us to make use of the different spaces [for deliberation and debate] that are available and create others as needed to give a response to the following questions:

1. What are the bases for the construction of a just society in harmony with the ideals of socialism? The contradictions between the distinct forms of property [socialist state, cooperative and private]; between centralisation and decentralisation; between moral and material incentives; between the development of the productive forces and that of revolutionary consciousness will have to be resolved. What Cuban history has demonstrated, and that of other [post-capitalist development] models, is that hyper-centralisation, the underestimation of the laws of the market [i.e. of the need to combine social planning with subordinate market mechanisms], the inadequate handling of the relationship between different kinds of incentives and the undervaluing of efficiency and the development of the productive forces, leads to blind alleys and does not promote the formation of the new human being [a reference to the socialist personality, free of the egotism and alienation of individuals under capitalism, associated with the ideas and example of Che Guevera in the 1960s]. If it is true that there are evident dangers in the unrestricted use of market mechanisms, ignoring the necessity for [economic] progress and prosperity for the citizens, collectively and individually, does not solve this problem. As Jose Marti said: "But, given human nature, one must be prosperous to be good".                     

2. How to strengthen and perfect democracy? Cuban society needs a strengthening and development of the democratic forms it has created. The absence of Fidel requires the search for new ways to strive for consensus. Introducing the concept of deliberative democracy, together with a perfected notion of participation, through which leaders and cadres would not only be responsible to their superiors but would be obliged to discuss the reasons for their decisions. This would make more real and effective the citizens' input in decision-making, always in an informed and reasoned manner. This is the path that will make it possible to overcome some of the present deficiencies of the system. But this requires that more and better information is available to the citizenry and the creation and promotion of the necessary public spaces for dialogue, debate and deliberation.*

33. Citado por Raúl Castro Ruz, «Discurso en la sesión
constitutiva...», ob. cit.

34. Raúl Castro Ruz, «¡Y a trabajar duro!», ob. cit. (El énfasis es
mío. C. A.)

35. Raúl Castro Ruz, «Trabajar con sentido crítico...», ob. cit. (El
énfasis es mío. C. A.)

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

37. Raúl Castro Ruz, «¡Y a trabajar duro!», ob. cit. (El énfasis es
mío. C. A.)

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

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