Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Translation: Who cannot lose?

Cuba's debate on the future of its socialist project often returns, as in this commentary by Juventud Rebelde columnist Ricardo Ronqillo, to the Marxist classics. On the eve of the Sixth Communist Party Congress — which opens on Saturday with a military parade led by Cuban youth to mark the 50th anniversary of the defeat of the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion and the proclamation of the socialist character of the Revolution — Ronquillo reflects on the all-important question of the revolutionary state.

Who cannot lose?

By Ricardo Ronquillo Bello

Juventud Rebelde, April 10, 2011 

Translation: Marce Cameron

"The only one that cannot lose is the state", says the functionary as if in divine prayer. On the other side of the auditorium the faces can be read like a "poem". These faces project a defiant question: if the only one that cannot lose is the state who, then, will lose — us?

This isn't a made-up story, and neither is the tale of that functionary a fleeting argument in the Cuba that readjusts the course of its socialist vocation.       

There are those who, with the intention of defending the current rectifications and transformations, raise in their speeches a strange wall between the interests of the workers and citizens and that of the state which they chose to represent the sovereignty of their interests and that of their country.

We'll agree that this results in a diffuse and disturbed message in times in which we're adjusting the reach and the role of the state. Our national debate includes, among other dilemmas, what precisely should be the composition and function of this institution, whose origin and attributes were analysed by numerous socialist theoreticians, from Karl Mark and Friedrich Engels — the latter being the author of such a classic work as The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State — to our own times.   

What's certain is that socialist theory and practice with regard to this question have been put to the test for generations. It is agreed that the state is an instrument of domination and power arising in societies with class divisions.    

We revolutionaries would use it during the epoch of transition to communism, at which point it would disappear. In our case, as an instrument of the working majority in the face of bourgeois subversion. Lenin outlined his theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat, while Antonio Gramsci conceived of the complex notion of hegemony, giving the proletarian state educational and ideological superstructural connotations.

The founder of the first workers and peasant's state and the author of such a transcendental text as The State and Revolution dedicated substantial intellectual effort to this question, which he considered decisive.

During a lecture at Sverdlov University on June 11, 1919, Vladimir I. Lenin recognised that the question of the state is one of the most complex and difficult, and perhaps the one about which the most confusion has been sown by the intellectuals, writers and philosophers of the bourgeoisie. "Because it is such a fundamental problem, so basic to all politics, and because not only in such turbulent and revolutionary times as those in which we live but even in the most peaceful, it comes up all the time ... in relation to any economic or political matter ... Every day, for one reason or another, you'll return to the question: What is the state, what is its nature, what is its significance?"  

Similar questions leap over the Russian winter to the Caribbean warmth aboard the tropicalised Cuban Revolution, the first attempt to build socialism in the Western hemisphere.

From its early days this process was pursued by the "ghost" of the question of the state, how it would be structured and how it would relate to the rest of the institutions and the citizens.      

Ernesto Che Guevara gave a response in early 1965 in an essay [Man and Socialism in Cuba] that we regard as one of his most lucid meditations. In a letter to Carlos Quijano, editor of a Uruguayan weekly, Che admitted that the proponents of capitalism often affirm, as an argument in the ideological struggle against socialism, that this social system or the period of socialist construction that we have initiated is characterised by the abolition of the individual for the sake of the state. In his letter he pointed out, among other things, the following:

"This institutionalisation of the Revolution has still not been achieved. We are striving for something new, which would allow the perfect identification between the government and the community as a whole, adjusted to the peculiar conditions of the construction of socialism and avoiding as far as possible the conventions of bourgeois democracy transplanted into the society in formation...We have some experiences aimed at gradually achieving the institutionalisation of the Revolution, but without too much haste. What has held us back most has been the concern that any formal aspect could separate us from the masses and the individual, which would obscure our view of the ultimate and most important revolutionary ambition, which is to see human beings liberated from their alienation."

It's as if Jose Marti were there from beginning to end of this judgement by the Heroic Guerrilla. Because for Marti, "The homeland is for all, everyone's pain, everyone's heaven, and not anybody's fief or chaplaincy..."    

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Translation: A victory for socialism

Bohemia editorial, March 31, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

With its focus on economic policy, the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party will mark a new milestone in the history of the nation and of the Revolution that in January 1959 initiated profound changes in all spheres "for the humble and by the humble", as Fidel said in 1961, and "with all and for the good of all", as Jose Marti proclaimed on the eve of the necessary war [for independence from Spain].

Just as we celebrate half a century since the Bay of Pigs victory, which was also the first great defeat of Yankee imperialism in the Americas, this Congress will have to approve the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the Party and the Revolution, which will be ratified with realism and fidelity to the principles sown and defended up to now — the decision of the Cuban people, led by its political vanguard, to continue building our socialism.    

Cuban socialism was not installed by the victorious divisions of the Red Army, as the Commander in Chief [Fidel Castro] said on December 7, 1989 before the graves of Antonio Maceo and Panchito Gomez Toro in the farewell service for the internationalist volunteers who lost their lives in honourable missions, both military and civilian: "In Cuba, socialism was forged by Cubans".      

In this way we have sustained it until today, it should be added, before reiterating that this is how it will continue to be, since for a small country such as ours — close neighbour of the powerful empire that is always determined to annexe us — socialism is not only dignity and social justice but the guarantor of independence and sovereignty, of the existence and the continuity of the nation.     

This socialism, however, demands not only reaffirmation of intention and will demonstrated in great sacrifices; it must make itself truly sustainable in the global conditions of all manner of crises, of economic insecurity, wars and many other threats arising from the exploitative capitalist social order in times of rapid technological and scientific development and, simultaneously, a crisis on the moral and ethical plane. We must ensure the viability of this socialism in a country with scarce material resources that is blockaded and attacked.         
This sustainability translates not into the pursuit of growth, abundance and irrational and unequal consumerism — as capitalism tries to distort the expression of human progress — but in the search for a genuine solution to the economic problems, in material progress as the basis for socialist policies. We must always be clear on this point so as not to confuse nor deviate from our course.       

The guardian of this process of economic advance, as in other goals, always for the common good, is the people together with the Communist Party as its political vanguard, but also the Union of Young Communists, the mass student and social organisations and People's Power, all the institutions created by the Revolution since its inception; dignified, patriotic Cubans that are the majority.    

The Sixth Party Congress will not only be that which brings together a thousand delegates elected by the base. It was also what we did prior to this gathering throughout the country, discussing the Draft Guidelines in an exemplary exercise of democracy. More than 70% of the population participated in these discussions in more than 127,000 meetings, during which more than 2.3 million interventions were made that enriched and deepened the ideas being debated.
This is how we create our socialism in Cuba. A forge that today necessitates, moreover, that the updating of the economic model be carried through to completion, involving a struggle against very dangerous ills such as bureaucracy and corruption that are alien to and incompatible with the essence of our ideal of a more just society.
After the Congress will come the most complex, arduous and unavoidable task given the great impetus we now need and that we have decided to give ourselves. We must achieve the transformations we have proposed in mentalities and in a more systematic approach. An energetic — and satisfying, if we do it properly — effort to put into practice everything agreed to and mandated by the Sixth Party Congress and the national consensus.  

A great new battle that once again, as 50 years ago at the Bay of Pigs, will end in a victory for socialism.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Translation: Corruption in Cuba

In the commentary below Dr. Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa, a Cuban authority on the penal system, takes up the question of corruption in Cuba in response to a commentary by a retired Cuban psychiatrist, Dr Fernando Barral, titled "A sociological approximation to the problem of corruption in Cuba". I decided to translate de la Cruz Ochoa's response because of its brevity and the fact that the author is authoritative. 

Comments on the contribution of Dr Fernando Barral on corruption in Cuba 

By Dr. Ramon de la Cruz Ochoa, President, Cuban Society of Penal Sciences of the Cuban Union of Jurists

Temas magazine website, June 25, 2010

Translation: Marce Cameron

The contribution of Dr Fernando Barral has the merit of calling attention to a theme as important as that of corruption. However, I disagree with some of his statements and I will try to elaborate in a very summary way.    

1. There is no doubt that in Cuba, very little is publicised regarding concrete cases of corruption, but this does not mean that this topic is off the political agenda of the country. We cannot forget the words of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, on November 17, 2005 at Havana University, when he said: "This country could self-destruct, they [referring to the imperialists] cannot destroy it; we ourselves could destroy it and it would be our fault. We invite all the people to participate in a great battle [...] the battle against theft of any kind, in any place". It's not possible to speak in a clearer or more dramatic way against corruption. Although the word corruption wasn't used, we all understood perfectly well what he was saying. It was a very dramatic warning.

2. It's not correct to say that corruption is only known about "by word of mouth" or via indirect sources. We Cuban revolutionaries know that it is a grave reality that confronts our country, that it is a very widespread phenomenon in our society and that it's not only a problem of corrupt functionaries and leaders.                 

3. It is known that there are deficiencies in the mechanisms of accountability, fundamentally in the internal functioning of every enterprise, every institution. We cannot overlook the creation and institutional  strengthening of the Comptroller General of the Republic, nor the work being done for some time by the Attorney General and the organs of the Ministry of the Interior. In recent months the Popular Tribunals have even created courtrooms that specialise in economic crimes, such as those that exist in many countries and that are recommended in studies.        

4. To say that functionaries "enjoy great discretional powers over monetary and material resources" is to completely ignore the regulations that govern our economy. What happened in the 1980s [presumably a reference to the "Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies" launched by the Cuban Communist Party in 1986] and Cases 1 and 2 [the 1989 trials of high-ranking military officers on drug-trafficking and corruption charges] do not support this claim. Also, twenty years have transpired since then, in which much has been done in this area.      

5. To say that the jail terms in Cuba [for crimes of corruption] are benign is totally inaccurate.

6. It's true that corruption is legally defined in some countries, although in most of them it's a doctrinal and criminological definition, not one relating to penal laws. The relevant Cuban legislation — especially that contained in the Penal Code — is very broad, and many think it excessive and overly comprehensive. Legal experts recognise that the Penal Law is an indispensable instrument to combat corruption, but not by any means the most important.          

7.  Excessive punishment and justice without guarantees — as some seem to want — has nothing to do with rationality in the use of penal law. The history of humanity has taught us that its abusive and excessive use is perverse and ends up harming the whole society.

8. I disagree with Dr. Barral's definition of "occupational delinquency", unless it is a very personal interpretation of so-called "white collar crimes", but this is the subject of another debate.     

9. It is undeniable that corruption arouses irritation among the people, but above all certain kinds of corruption [i.e. large-scale or involving high officials]. In the face of other kinds of corruption, in daily life, those that tend to be more socially harmful, there is an absence of social reaction and this is very serious.   

10. It would appear that Dr Barral opposes individual material incentives and other economic mechanisms. He appeals to the words of Che Guevara, said in another historical context and for other realities. In Cuba, labour must be incentivised according to the results and the quality of work. It is necessary to create a sense of belonging [i.e. a sense of individual and collective responsibility for social property and productivity]. I think the immense majority of the Cuban people agree with this, wishing only that it becomes reality as soon as possible.      

11. The role of ethics is very important — I would say decisive — to combat corruption, but neither can one ignore the influence that socioeconomic factors have on the observance of ethical values.

12. In his recommendations, the author talks about political measures and the participation of the masses to combat corruption. However, it should be pointed out that in the base committees of the Cuban Communist Party the issue of corruption is debated systematically. Certainly, on occasion these discussions are formal and superficial and do not go to the heart of problems; but there is also the political will to face up to it.      

13. To say that the corrupt do not go to prison is to ignore reality. Though Dr. Barral may not be aware of it, while acts of corruption are not publicised as much as they should be, those who visit and know the prisons, the training institutions of the Ministry of the Interior, the Attorney General's office and the Tribunals through our professions know that this assertion bears no relation to reality.

14. The author does not talk about the [post-Soviet] Special Period and its impact on the growth of corruption, nor does he mention monetary duality as a propitiating factor. The increase in corruption always has structural causes that he doesn't mention, and neither does he talk about the problems of our economic model which, as President Raul Castro has said, needs a systemic update, not partial, and many of us think this is urgent. Neither does he talk about administrative and legislative measures which, on occasion, promote corruption, the most obvious of which are the housing regulations [that sustain a black market, and associated corrupt practices, in the buying and selling of homes].           

In summary, I consider Dr. Barral's contribution to be useful, but — with all due respect — it needs updating and lacks rigour. 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Translation: The thorn and the countryside

The thorn and the countryside

By Luis Sexto

Juventud Rebelde, March 31, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

The post brought this correspondent the following thorn: "Why don't you and the other journalists, together with the other office workers, go and work in the countryside?" I could respond rudely. But we might understand the reader perhaps thinking that the agricultural insufficiency of the country could be resolved by turning everybody into agriculturalists.

My irate correspondent does not realise that for some years we left behind, for weeks and months at a time, our offices and our writing, even factories, and the problem continued unresolved. With regard to journalism, society also needs the press and culture, and the offices, in order to function and develop harmoniously. Of course, if the unproductive abounds rather than the productive then a harmful imbalance is established. Admitting this, this commentator would reformulate the injunction he received in the following way: Why do certain inhabitants of the countryside not work in agriculture? A survey at the beginning of the 1990s revealed that in agricultural municipalities only one percent worked in agriculture.

From these questions and this data we may begin to think more probingly about the causes of the low level of utilisation of our farmlands. It seems to me that the phobia towards the countryside has been a constant in Cuban history. We can't attribute this evil to the Revolution, which must pay for the sins of so many other people's mistaken ideas and above all for the propaganda of the enemies of socialism. Certainly, we revolutionaries are partly responsible for having emphasised the concentration and centralisation of the land. But for centuries a curse was cast over the countryside. The landowners — both in the colony and the neocolony — never worked the latifundia that they allegedly owned legitimately: they exploited and abused the slaves and the peasants.

Usually, the land was not even seen as an attractive landscape. For a long time we preferred days at the beach to days in the countryside for our holidays. We looked more to the horizon of the sea than to the blue mist of the plains or the mountains. Add in as well the fact that work was the most pressing demand of the rural population according to a survey of the Catholic University Association in 1957. And so the lack of employment opportunities obliged a migration to the cities. The motives were various. Many headed for the capital to avoid the destiny of agricultural labour, or to seek a better life. Then there were also other reasons: what doctors were there, what schools were there in a remote little village or in a poor hamlet ... so for all these reasons, it seems to me, the countryside has dragged a hereditary solavaya [Cuban slang: "Good riddance!"].

Traditionally, we've aspired to become university graduates. One of the writers who best studied our national character, Jorge Manach, wrote in 1930 that among Cubans, regardless of a family's economic circumstances, the "desire to be a professional" predominates; parents, even the poorest, want their children to be "doctors". In my own family, my mother entertained us as children with this dream. In the end, rural life offered very little.

Part of the solution to this conflict is rooted, then, in us accepting that Cuba is essentially an agricultural country, and that the farmer has to be treated as the most important worker in the country, because the food security of the population depends on the farmers, as does the elimination of imports which drain the treasury and add to our shame. "Caramba, look how we import fruits, vegetables, grains", one of these peasants could say; but there are not so many, evidently, that make the land produce, loving it as the root of creation.

So we'll have to begin to consider the agricultural worker — be they a peasant farmer, a cooperative member, a wage earner or the beneficiary of Decree Law 259 [promoting the leasing of idle agricultural lands belonging to the state rent-free on a long-term basis] — as the basic worker in the Cuban economy. And for this, we'll have to link his life to what he cultivates, promoting his well-being and his growing autonomy, that is, the capacity to decide what to do and how to do it, though guided by the national interests. What's more, he'll have to be paid on time, and justly, for what he produces, which must be distributed effectively. Respect generates respect.

Do we perhaps disregard the fact that agriculture cannot be a terrain of bureaucracy but a climate of confidence, safe from paperwork that holds back the necessity and the desire to work? If we ignore this, the countryside may continue to suffer from the "Oh, for the streetscapes of Havana" syndrome.