Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Translation: Raul's unpublished Congress remarks

During the opening session of the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in April, Raul Castro delivered the Main Report on behalf of the PCC Central Committee. 

As can be seen in the official telecast of the Congress proceedings, at several points during his address he departed from the prepared script. Some of these parenthetical comments are noteworthy, in my opinion, for their importance, candour and clarity.

Since these additional comments do not form part of the official report adopted by the Congress, they do not appear in either the Spanish text of the Main Report or the official English translation of this document.

Here are my translations of a selection of these comments, taken from YouTube clips of the telecast in Spanish. To give context for each of these comments, I've prefaced them with an extract of the preceding text of the official English translation of the Main Report.

In the first of Raul's remarks below he hammers home his determination to demand the implementation of the Congress decisions. In the second, he touches on the distortion of Lenin's conception of the complementary but distinct roles of the revolutionary party and the socialist state it leads in the Soviet Union after Lenin's death. 

In the third, he makes an explicit reference to the predominance of "the dominant class", the working class, in the highest body of the Cuban state, the National Assembly of People's Power. In the final comment, he urges delegates to not raise their hands mechanically "without knowing what you're voting for", alluding to the fact that this has often happened in the past. 

Raul Castro: selected unpublished remarks during Main Report to Sixth PCC Congress

Marce Cameron


[W]e feel it is advisable to remember the orientation included by comrade Fidel in his Central Report to the First Party Congress, nearly 36 years ago, about the Economy Management System that we intended to introduce back then and failed due to our lack of systematization, control and discipline. 

He said "… that the Party leaders but foremost the State leaders turn its implementation into a personal undertaking and a matter of honor as they grow more aware of its crucial importance and the need to make every effort to apply it consistently, always under the leadership of the National Commission created to that end…,” and he concluded: “…to widely disseminate information on the system, its principles and mechanisms through a kind of literature within reach of the masses so that the workers can master the issue. The success of the system will largely depend on the workers' knowledge of the issue.”


I won’t tire of repeating to you from this podium what you’ve heard me say on various occasions: that in this country, in this Revolution, almost all, if not all, of the most important things have already been said. So I say little, and I’ll continue saying little. [Long pause] But, in line with the responsibilities that the people have conferred on me through their National Assembly and the Party Congress, I will simply demand that my orders and orientations be carried out according to the directives of the corresponding leading bodies. [Prolonged applause]
(Source: YouTube clip 15 minutes 02 seconds)


The first thing we should do to correct a mistake is to consciously admit it in its full dimension but the fact is that, although from the early years of the Revolution Fidel made a clear distinction between the roles of the Party and the State, we were inconsistent in the follow-up of his instructions and simply improvised under the pressure of emergencies. 

There can be no better example than what the leader of the Revolution said as early as March 26, 1962, by radio and television, explaining to the people the methods and functioning of the Organizaciones Revolucionarias Integradas (ORI), which preceded the Party. He said “…the Party leads, it leads through the entire Party and it leads through the public administration. An official must have authority. A minister must have authority; a manager must have authority and discuss as much as necessary with the Advising Technical Council (today, the Board of Directors), discuss with the working masses, discuss with the Party cell, but it is the manager who makes the decision, because it is his responsibility…” This orientation dates back 49 years.

There are very well defined concepts that, in substance, remain completely valid regardless of the time that has passed since Lenin formulated them, almost 100 years ago, and they should be taken up again, bearing in mind the characteristics and experiences of our country.


...since Lenin formulated them, almost 100 years ago, with absolute clarity. If in the years following his death all of this was distorted, we’re not obliged to copy these errors. We have to think with our own heads and come to our own conclusions about this. Because the characteristics of no two countries are identical. In our own small country, you yourselves are exceptional witnesses to the fact that in many ways, each province is distinct from the others, though naturally the law applies equally throughout the country.
(Source: as above, 35:59)


In 1973, dur
ing the preparations of the First Party Congress, it was defined that the Party must lead and supervise with its own ways and means, which are different from the ways, means and resources available to the State for exercising its authority. The Party’s guidelines, resolutions and provisions are not legally binding for all citizens; it is the Party members who should abide by them as their conscience dictates since there is no apparatus to force or coerce them into complying. This is a major difference about the role and methods of the Party and the State. 


... Because the state has its [National Assembly], where an expression of the dominant class [i.e. the working class] predominates. So it elaborates its laws for the benefit of the dominant class. And when someone doesn’t comply with these laws, the police take them to the courts where they face a prosecutor, and the accused are tried, judged and condemned; then the police come along and take them to prison.
(Source: as above, 38:46 )


Comrades, the idea is to forever relieve the Party of activities completely alien to its nature as a political organization; in short, to get rid of managing activities and to have each one do what they are meant to do.


... This is easy to say. Now we’ll see how this fight goes, how we wage this struggle. Fraternal struggles, let’s be clear. Naturally, those of us who agree with this here [gesturing to his speech notes] think we’re going to win. And when I say “with this here”, this depends on you approving it. If you don’t, so be it. We’ll discuss it democratically and in depth, as we’ve already done in part [i.e. during the pre-Congress debate]. And I’d like to point out in this departure from the text of the official report – which was approved by dozens and dozens of compañeros, including the Central Committee – the responsibility that we have, the thousand delegates here, above all for this document that we’re going to adopt. Don’t raise your hands mechanically without knowing what you’re voting for. I don’t defend this or that idea. I orient, I advise you to think, and to always get to the bottom of things, [beyond] the superficial.
(Source: YouTube clip 3:02) 

Translation: The economy, and the economist?

Here, Juventud Rebelde columnist Ricardo Ronquillo Bello takes up the role of the economics profession in the "updating" of the Cuban economic model. 

How to harmonise the political and social objectives of the Cuban Revolution with the striving for labour productivity growth, the wellspring of human social progress for millennia? Where does the pursuit of economic rationality become an end in itself rather than a means to an end? These are difficult questions that Cuba's revolutionaries are grappling with today.   

I've also translated selected comments by readers as they appear on the Juventud Rebelde website.

The economy, and the economist?

By Ricardo Ronquillo Bello,

Juventud Rebelde, November 26, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

We won’t have an updated economy if we don’t respect economists. Cuba is obliged to not only transform the former, but to dignify the latter.

Hardly anything we propose regarding the structural, and even moral, reconfiguration of the country in the economic arena will be possible if this “column” – in the way that Jose Marti used this word – is unable to take its rightful place, without the encumbrance of the old traumas and put-downs, in the process of change.

On the eve of this November 26, the day dedicated to economists, I recalled how a prominent National Economics Award recipient and respected lecturer in the field confessed to me that his children didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. They’d been silent witnesses to the “bruisings” that were part and parcel of his profession.

This very Cuban “bruising” transcended insufficient incomes and their material and spiritual consequences for the family or the individual. Those of us who, through our profession, were aware of the dilemmas of the Cuban economists and accountants, know that the deepest wound was the marginalisation that their work – along with their studies, analyses and opinions – suffered within Cuba’s socioeconomic framework.

It seemed that the aggravation of our failings in this area at all levels was proportional to the degree of ignorance of their specialty. All this led to the absence of real participation and leadership in the identification and resolution of the problems of the economy, from the most immediate to the most structural.

Perhaps we need to recognise that in some cases we’ve had a lot of meetings, but we’ve barely listened [to economists]. Otherwise, there’s no explanation for why – in a society structured in such a special way as Cuba’s and with such diverse spaces for the airing of opinions – the economic mismatches ended up imposing themselves on the latter.

Surely, as referred to in an extensive and in-depth report by our Juventud Rebelde colleague Alina Perera, “participation” is a word that is heard frequently, yet in reality it is poorly understood or rarely fully utilised, even though it seems to embody many of the magical combinations we’d fervently get caught up in as we continue to weave the fate of the nation.

As a distinguished analyst in this field would affirm, we’ve passed up opportunities to create a propitious atmosphere for constructive reflection and creative input, which must go hand in hand with taking our plans for social development back to the drawing board. If these spaces for reflection and debate are cultivated, yet certain institutions have such narrow rules that they don’t allow for the channelling of thinking, this creates a disconnect between the scope of the objectives and what can be accomplished.

Quite simply, to the extent to which some procedures become routine, people lose interest in them, when ideally they would feel that these procedures are necessary because something really is at stake.

The circumstances of the updating [of Cuba’s socialist-oriented economic model], including the broad national debate that shaped it, favour a new form of consensus-building between the technical and the political visions, so that the right point is found between radicalism and equilibrium, as Jose Marti brilliantly wrote.

It would be inconsistent with the postulates of flexibility and keeping our ears to the ground of the updating to disregard opinions based on years of experience or solid and well-founded studies, while obstacles that rarefy the desired atmosphere of economic wellbeing – and that the transformations underway seek to clear away – prevail or become entrenched.

Ideally, we wouldn’t have to ask ourselves why a technical workforce as impressive as that trained by the Revolution didn’t work the miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes. Should we not hope for this from the 80,000 members of the National Association of Cuban Economists and Accountants that we have today?

It does not seem that ardour is lacking among these professionals, since they’ve arrived at this November 26, on a date so radically Guevaran*, involved in very diverse ways in the implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution.

But to participate in [the management of social] property means abandoning a certain instrumental and mobilisation-oriented vision. To boost the pride of the Cuban economist and accountant, as well as involving them, to have them present or expressing opinions, means to continue solidifying their illustrious position of influencing decisions.

*Ernersto “Che” Guevara served as industries minister and national bank president in Cuba’s revolutionary socialist government in the early 1960s.


Comment No. 2 by “Pepe”:

In my opinion, the self-criticisms for the decline in the influence of the economists in rectifying the decisions that have created the situation that the country finds itself in don’t apply so much to the economists themselves, but to those who have had the responsibility for defining economic policy. I don’t think you need a university degree to understand what is negative, discouraging and absurd about these decisions. Nor do I understand why it has taken 50 years to begin to discuss these things. There are a pile of things that demonstrated for a long time that they weren’t going to advance the country economically. There’s no doubt that there has been the political will to improve in the areas of education and public health. But with an efficient economy, despite the external blockade, I think the standard of living of Cubans today would have been much higher if the economic policies had been rectified along the way, eliminating everything that had been shown to be wrong. Finally, I’d say: “better late than never”.

Comment No. 3 by “Toyo55”:

Of course the economists must feel “bruised” in an environment where the economy isn’t governed by any of the laws they studied and others that they verified, but by a command and control voluntarism that has nothing to do with this science. Luckily for them and for everyone we’re now beginning to see the changes and their results.

Comment No. 4 by “Sophia”:

To understand in a more practical and realistic way the point of the comment above, I’ll say this, when the top leadership of any society doesn’t make possible the required economic participation in the big and small executive decisions, there will be an accumulation of negative implications for the development of the economy itself, something that is really incomprehensible in a country where the government has trained a notable technical workforce in professions related to the economy. With the new policy of President Raul, steps are being taken to recuperate the economy. In my view this will take several years.

Comment No. 5 by Fidel Garcia:

Certainly there will be no relaunching of an economic model without a professional approach to its redesign. So the work of the economists is vital as a science. The economy is not sociology, it isn’t culture, it’s not politics, it’s not ideology, it’s that: the ECONOMY. If the economic responses place the ECONOMY at the centre of decisions, we’ll achieve better results and our economists will be less “bruised”.

Comment No. 8 by “Davo davo”:

The economy cannot be placed above politics, otherwise we’d end up with neoliberalism. The indignados who protest all over the world don’t do it out of rebelliousness or as a hobby, but because they have no choice. OK, now if politics is done without any basis in economics then everything goes to ruin, there's the squandering of resources and constant ups and downs, social apathy when it comes to finding solutions, the list goes on. Everything we’ve worked on in terms of economics during the past few decades has been pushed aside and even marginalised, this is the reality.

Comment No. 9 by “Dariem”:

An excess of politics and too little economics, this is something that has characterised us for the past 50 years, so no wonder what has happened has happened. Many of our “cadres” have no idea about the economy and many are leading sectors about which they have no idea, because they’re not economics graduates, but are in charge because they’re “politically suitable”. Meanwhile, nobody pays attention to the economists nor the experts in the various branches, and the bureaucracy corrodes everything. The ideas that enter the heads of certain bureaucrats are implemented without consulting experts, while the proposals of qualified people fall on deaf ears because they’re not part of the leadership team. I hope they come to their senses and correct all these deformations in our current economic model.

Comment No. 14 by “JuanCriollo”:

It has become a habit in these forums to take advantage of any topic or opportunity to lash out at our social system. I ask myself how naive we are when we try to paint everything in a bad light, when we know everything is nuanced. Some talk as if in 50 years only mistakes were made in our economy, somebody says in a comment above that the laws of the science of economics are violated. The situation today hardly resembles that of 20, 30, 40 years ago. Therefore we cannot judge today the decisions that were made back then. Mistakes have been made and we’ll continue to make them, above all if the desire is to transform a country the way ours was transformed, and above all because the people who began the transformations were inexperienced and the required knowledge comes from this transformation. I don’t justify or sanctify anything, I just remind them that thanks to how things have developed, many of us who criticise and express opinions here exist today. It’s good that we criticise, it’s necessary, more than necessary it’s indispensable, but let’s do it in an objective manner, let’s point out the error and the corrective action. And please, those who recommend the “traditional” economic recipes, take a look at what’s happening in the world where these recipes are always applied, and ask yourself why there are so many indignados today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Comment: Cuba strives for socialist renewal

This is the first in a series of articles on the debates and changes in Cuba written for Australia's Green Left Weekly. The series will examine the socialist renovation process thematically. Green Left takes a break over the Christmas-New Year period, so the next instalment will be published in early 2012.

A link to the article on the Green Left website is here.   

Cuba seeks socialist renewal

Green Left Weekly No. 905, November 28, 2011

By Marce Cameron

Fidel, Raul sing the Internationale at Congress close
The Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), held April 17-21, coincided with the 50th anniversary of Cuba’s historic defeat of the US-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs and Fidel Castro’s proclamation of the socialist character of the Cuban Revolution.

When Fidel, 85, made a surprise appearance at the Congress closing session, many of the thousand delegates were overcome with emotion as aides helped him to his seat next to President Raul Castro.

Fidel, who retired from the presidency in 2006, makes very few public appearances. His participation symbolised the continuity of Cuba’s socialist project.

“Cuba is changing,” respected Cuban journalist Luis Sexto observed in August 2009, “and it changes so that it may remain socialist”.

He added: “Cuba, rigid for many years, shakes off the starch that immobilised it to change what is obsolete ... without compromising the solidity of the Revolution’s power.”

Political scientist and editor of Cuba’s Temas magazine, Rafael Hernandez, told the London Financial Times: “[The Congress] endorsed for the first time a fundamental change in the political and economic model.”


The Congress approved a policy document, the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines. It was substantially modified on the basis of an unprecedented popular debate, involving PCC members and non-members, in the lead-up to and during the Congress.

President Raul Castro told the Congress the debate had been “a truly extensive democratic exercise” in which “the people freely stated their views”.

The Guidelines were endorsed by Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power in August, which established a special commission to oversee its implementation and to draft, in Raul’s words, “the integral theoretical conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist economy”.

Raul told the Congress that given the depth, scope and complexity of the projected changes, they would take “at least five years” to implement. This would be done “without pause but without haste”.

He had bluntly warned the National Assembly in December: “Either we rectify or our time of skirting the precipice will be over, and we will destroy ... the efforts of entire generations.”

Raul said Cuba must abandon “erroneous and unsustainable conceptions of socialism [i.e. the socialist-oriented society] that have been deeply rooted in broad sectors of the population over the years as a result of the excessively paternalistic, idealistic and egalitarian approach instituted by the Revolution in the interests of social justice.”

The Guidelines foreshadow a new Cuban model of socialist development. This is emerging, slowly but surely, as Cuba’s revolutionary leadership initiates reforms that make inroads into a patchwork of errors, obsolescence, crisis-driven improvisation, bureaucratic inertia and the legacy of the post-Soviet “Special Period”.

The Guidelines are prefaced with a quote by Fidel: “Revolution means having a sense of the historical moment; it is changing everything that must be changed.”

They also feature one by Raul: “The economic battle constitutes today, more than ever, the principle task and the main ideological work of the cadres, because the sustainability and preservation of our social system depend on it.”

In a departure from Soviet-inspired orthodoxy — ossified into dogma in the minds of many Cuban revolutionaries— and a return to classical Marxism’s conception of the transition from capitalism to socialism, the Guidelines project a mixed economy with an expanded role for self-employment, small businesses and cooperatives.

There would be greater scope for market mechanisms, subordinated to the dominant state enterprise sector and central planning.

Planning and the market

Cuba’s post-capitalist economy underpins its sovereignty and social justice. Were Cuba to renounce central planning, it would mean handing over the country to the Cuban bourgeoisie based in Miami.

Cuba would revert to a US neo-colony with levels of poverty and social inequality comparable to Nicaragua or Honduras.

Were this tragedy to befall Cuba’s working people the vengeful counterrevolution would exact a terrible retribution, just as the colonial and imperialist powers have punished neighbouring Haiti for centuries for the “Black Jacobin” Revolution of 1791.

The challenge is to harmoniously combine the advantages of central planning with those of small-scale private and cooperative initiative, without resorting to the privatisation of social property and its inevitable sequel — a far deeper social divide than the one based on access to convertible currency, corruption and the black market that has emerged during the Special Period.

To prevent the emergence of a Cuban capitalist class that would conspire with its counterparts in Miami and Washington to restore capitalism, Guideline No. 1 states: “The socialist planning system will continue to be the principal means to direct the national economy.”

Guideline No. 3 affirms that “in the forms of non-state management [of social property] the concentration of property by juridical or natural persons shall not be permitted”.

The emphasis on small-scale private and cooperative enterprise is a necessary, and long overdue, correction to the near-absolute dominance of socialist state ownership and management of the economy — and the hyper-centralisation of decision-making that stifles individual and collective initiative.

Centralised management of such things as local bakeries, and well-intentioned but counterproductive bans on such things as people buying and selling their own homes, have necessitated a vast, unproductive administrative apparatus with a strong tendency to corruption amid the hardships of the Special Period.

Cuba is not ruled by a totalitarian bureaucracy — the revolutionaries have the upper hand in the Communist Party and the state — but it bears the imprint of its former Soviet benefactor, which still casts a long shadow over Cuba.

Its malign legacy, above all a substantial layer of corrupt administrators with capitalist aspirations, is a formidable obstacle to Cuba’s socialist renewal. In November 2005, Fidel warned that corruption could destroy the Revolution from within.

Raul is leading Cuba’s revolutionaries in the Revolution’s life-and-death struggle to overcome administrative resistance to the implementation of the Guidelines and to dismantle, or reduce to the unavoidable minimum, “the bureaucracy”.

“I warn you,” Raul said in August, “that bureaucratic resistance to the strict fulfillment of the Congress decisions, which have the massive support of the people, is useless”.

Special Period

The reforms aim to pull Cuba’s post-capitalist economy out of the deep structural crisis caused by the demise of Soviet bureaucratic “socialism” in the early 1990s.

The Soviet bloc had accounted for 85% of Cuba’s foreign trade. Its disintegration caused the Caribbean island’s economy to contract by 35%.

Cuba’s economic relations with the Soviet bloc were based on preferential terms that shielded Cuba from the capitalist world market’s systematic exploitation of the Third World.

During the 1970s and '80s, this underpinned the highest living standards in Latin America and the twin pillars of Cuba’s relative social equality: world-class free health care and education.

As the Soviet bloc reverted to capitalism, US imperialism intensified its economic blockade of Cuba in the hope that hunger and despair would lead to an uprising against the socialist government and US-backed “regime change”.

Not for the first time, the imperialists underestimated the Cuban Revolution. Thanks to the Cuban people’s political awareness and stoic resistance, it has weathered the storm with its social achievements battered but largely intact.

Above all, Cuba has preserved its sovereignty and the cardinal achievement of the 1959 revolution: political power in the hands of the working people.

The opening of the socialist revolution in Venezuela has broken Cuba’s isolation and delivered vital moral and material reinforcement. The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela is that of two sister socialist revolutions whose paths are converging, as Chavez’s revolutionary government builds up a socialist state sector through expropriations and Cuba reverses the 1968 “Revolutionary Offensive” that expropriated urban small businesses.

Yet this mutually beneficial relationship won’t by itself reinvigorate Cuba’s socialist project.

It has become obvious over the past decade that the configuration of concepts, structures, methods and mentalities that allowed the Revolution to weather the harshest years of the Special Period has become an obstacle to it exiting this crisis period — that is, to resuming the building of socialism.

[This is the first in a series of articles on the debates and changes in Cuba.]

Translation: Alfredo Guevara at Catholic forum

Alfredo Guevara, whom I've introduced to readers in a previous post, was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Cuban Catholic Church magazine Espacio Laical on October 29. 

In recent years there has been a warming of relations between the Cuban government and the Catholic Church. In the Main Report to the Sixth PCC Congress, Raul recalled Fidel's words in a meeting with Catholic priests in Chile in 1971: “I tell you that there are ten thousand times more points of agreement between Christianity and communism than there are between Christianity and capitalism.” Raul added:

"[I]t is necessary to continue eradicating any prejudice that prevents bringing all Cubans together, like brothers and sisters, in virtue and in the defense of our Revolution, be them believers or not, members of Christian churches; including the Catholic Church, the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, the evangelicals and protestant churches; the Cuban religions originated in Africa, the Spiritualist, Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist communities, and fraternal associations, among others. The Revolution has had gestures of appreciation and concord with each of them."

He also explained the background to "the recently concluded process of releasing counter-revolutionary prisoners, those that in challenging and distressing times for our homeland have conspired against it at the service of a foreign power.

"By sovereign decision of our government, they were released before serving their full sentences. We could have done it directly and taken credit for a decision that we made conscious of the strength of the Revolution. However, we did it in the framework of a dialogue based on mutual respect, loyalty and transparency with the senior leadership of the Catholic Church, which contributed its humanitarian efforts to the harmonious completion of this action. In any case, the laurels belong to that religious institution. [...] With this action we have favoured the consolidation of the most precious legacy of our history and the revolutionary process: the unity of our nation."

For its part, the Catholic Church has welcomed the changes initiated by Raul's government and urged it to go further, faster. While the Vatican is very far from a communist institution, Espacio Laical does not campaign for the restoration of capitalism in Cuba. What it does do is give voice to critical viewpoints, from both the left and the right, that are rarely if ever encountered in publications such as Granma and Juventud Rebelde. Evidently, this is tolerated by the PCC leadership. 

Phil Peters observed on his blog The Cuba Triangle"Our standard image of Cuba does not include independent publications explaining to the government that its actions are falling short. The magazines Espacio Laical and Palabra Nueva, along with other publications and activities of the Cuban Catholic church, are pushing the Cuban policy debate forward. Some articles are analytical, others opinionated, and all tend to support the editorial line that reform will benefit the Cuban people – so let’s get on with it."

In the discussion that followed Alfredo Guevara's speech at the Espacio Laical forum, Guevara was asked a question by Esteban Morales, a respected Cuban academic expert on US politics and race relations in Cuba. Morales was "separated" from the PCC – a disciplinary measure one step short of expulsion – after he published an April 2010 commentary titled "Corruption: The true counter-revolution?", in which he warned:

"Without a doubt, it is becoming evident that there are people in positions of government and state who are girding themselves financially for when the Revolution falls, and others may have everything almost ready to transfer state-owned assets to private hands, as happened in the old USSR...[There are] corrupt officials, not at all minor, who are being discovered in very high posts and with strong connections – personal, domestic and external – generated after dozens of years occupying the same positions of power."

Morales launched a successful appeal, and his full PCC membership was reinstated in July.

Alfredo Guevara's comments at Espacio Laical forum 

Espacio Laical Supplement No. 152, November 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

(Extract of question and answer session)

Orestes Rodriguez: A few years ago I was in Pinar del Rio, invited by the [Cuban Catholic Church magazine] Vitral, and spoke to a Catholic economist about my intellectual interest in workplace democracy, which I understand to mean the power of the workers to decide how to organise the process of producing goods and services, and also their ownership of the results of their work.

I said to him at the time that in the case of Cuba, it was much easier to establish workplace democracy because it’s easier to convert the property of nobody [i.e. of the social state] into the property of the work collective than would be the case with private property. She told me she thought the opposite was true. I didn’t ask he what she meant by “the opposite”. What I thought she was saying was that workplace democracy would be easier to achieve on the basis of private property. This seemed to me a little ineffectual, to lose 50 years of a [socialist] process, but over time I came to the conclusion that the property of nobody is really the property of bureaucrats who have the power to decide over everything that happens in the workplace. So now I’m doubtful, and I’d like to ask you if you think that expropriating the bureaucrats is more difficult than expropriating capitalist owners?  

Alfredo Guevara: I just want to say this: I’m not a syndicalist. I don’t think we’ve achieved socialism. We dream, some of us (I’d like to say that the Church is on our side) of building the foundations for socialism. The Vietnamese are very cautious. They say: we’re heading for socialism, they never say that they’re a socialist society. We in Cuba have achieved some things and not others. I won’t repeat what has already been said, but we defeated the omnipotent power of a very complex bourgeoisie. When we speak of the bourgeoisie we condemn it, but there are nuances, because among certain elements of this bourgeoisie of ours there were nationalist sentiments, in the best sense. That is, of resistance to imperialism etc. Some of them even participated in the Revolution, though this is still not acknowledged. But on the whole they were just a subsidiary, in the period of the insurrectional struggle, of neo-colonial US imperialism. This is my opinion, I respect any other viewpoint.

We defeated this bourgeoisie. Many things transpired, I'm not going to refer to the Church, I’d like to leave this till later. We expelled imperialism. We should recall that very long and emotional speech that Fidel gave about the nationalisations, a speech that has even featured in films. We defeated the army. We’re not Venezuela or Ecuador. There are many other differences, but here there is no dominating neo-colonial bourgeoisie, there aren’t the [capitalist] banks, imperialism was defeated, etc. From then on we were beseiged.

But Cuba’s circumstances are different [today]. Here, as I’ve said two or three times, what’s possible is possible. The resistance to the newly possible comes – as you said, but I don’t think completely fairly – from the bureaucracy. But the bureaucracy isn’t the government, nor is it even the state. The bureaucracy is a state of society, it has arisen from society. We must defeat it, it must be banished, they’re not the typists or the record-keepers. They’re the managers, the mid-level personnel, the ones with power. They’re the ones who don’t want to lose a clapped-out Lada, the 20 litre petrol allowance and, before it was done away with, a week at the beach. This is the bureaucracy that is capable of resisting and that must be defeated.

We don’t have to take state power, this bureaucracy doesn’t own the state. I’m sure, I’ll say it here, that the revolutionary leadership is capable of eradicating this bureaucracy that you say is the owner of the farmland or the workplaces. We don’t have to seize any property from them. We have to reeducate the consciousness (I don’t think the bureaucrats will be reeducated) of the entire population to be able to defeat them. I told you that I’m not a syndicalist. No, I don’t support anything you said. I’m a supporter of basing ourselves on reality. This reality is not the Soviet reality, nor anybody elses’. It’s a new reality that’s going to give us lessons.

In the case of the countryside it’s already beginning. There, property is already being revolutionised [through the massive leasing of state-owned farmland to agriculturalists], the participation of the peasant farmers, who are workers, etc. And the only thing that enthuses me is that I see – without having detailed information, but enough, because I know some rural inhabitants very well – that when a difficulty arises, when the farmers start to arc up, the problem is rectified. Sooner rather than later it is rectified. Things are extended, etc. This is what I believe, what I feel, it’s an attitude that delights me. We have to change everything, little by little, or rapidly. I prefer rapidly…but on the basis of real experiences, not any theory, nor any ideology. In the political and economic spheres, ideologies are almost always dead letters. We have to try things out and solve things starting from reality.


Esteban Morales: Many thanks, Alfredo. As always, your lecture was thought-provoking and stirred feelings. You said something that seems extraordinarily important to me, that I’d like you to expand on. Evidently, war has been declared in Cuba on a number of difficulties and problems that we face, against bureaucratism, against the problems that have to do with corruption, against problems that have to do with something Raul Castro said on one occasion that made an impression on me: that we thought we could live without working. Recently, compañero Raul said something else that struck me: our main enemy is neither imperialism nor its collaborators in Cuba [but our own errors and weaknesses]. This struck me, because I was there when compañero Fidel Castro spoke at Havana University in November 2005 [when he warned that the Revolution could destroy itself from within], and it seems to me this is a big battle, that we’re up against not only those dimwits to the north and their collaborators, this is a great all-encompassing struggle. This struggle to change the mentality…I’d like you to expand on this a little more. If I understand it correctly, I see it as a great battle that we have to wage not only “down below” but also at the highest levels. Thank you.


Alfredo Guevara: I believe that you (gesturing at Esteban Morales) have had recent experiences that are surely instructive...

I feel that we have to do more, and I was responding to you indirectly in my earlier comments. I think that the top leadership (of course we're still talking about decisions at the highest level) has to unshackle things a bit more, get things moving. I said that in my view, there has to be a re-education of consciousness. I think we have to convince the citizen that he or she is a citizen. There’s been so much passivity, so much transmission... The criticism I’ve made, and it’s not the first time I’ve said it, nor have I chosen this this occasion to do it, I’ve done it everywhere, always, also in letters to Fidel and to Raul on occasion: get rid of the transmission belts*, my God! Whether its a political or a social organisation, it can’t be a forest of transmission belts. It has to be something more alive. [...]

One day I said to [National Assembly speaker Ricardo] Alarcon as a joke, actually I said it to his adviser Miguelito, but in front of him so he’d hear it: Hey, everything can be solved very easily. Instead of so many laws and decrees that have to be ditched and substituted for others, let’s pass just one – everything that is prohibited would be legalised, and then society would begin to function.

*Here, Guevara is referring to the way that organisations such as the Union of Young Communists (UJC), the trade unions etc. function more as transmission belts for directives “from above” than as conduits for initiative “from below”  translator's note.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Translation: A phone call from Fidel

Now for something different. A few days ago the communist youth daily Juventud Rebelde published the following account of Fidel's conversations with a group of journalism students from Havana University, as related by the students themselves. 

Admirers of Fidel, myself included, can take heart from what this exchange reveals about the man in his 86th year. There can be little doubt that he's still in possession of his formidable mental faculties – not to mention his irresistible charm and wry humour  and that his passion for social justice burns as fiercely as ever, a flame that his enemies have tried in vain to extinguish.

We cannot understand the Cuban Revolution yesterday, today or tomorrow without understanding the phenomenon of Fidel. It seems to me that this account bears out my judgement that:
While there has never been a personality cult in Cuba, Fidel’s influence among many of his followers transcends politics. More than a political leader, Fidel is a spiritual leader in the secular sense. (Cuba's Socialist Renewal, p. 25)
This can be seen in the way these students relate to Fidel. Beyond respect, he elicits awe and reverence. It's difficult for anyone who hasn't been a partisan of a socialist revolution like Cuba's to empathise with these sentiments. Isn't this simply a creation of state propaganda? No, that would be far too cynical, as the most intelligent and well-informed of the Revolutions' enemies have long understood. 

A socialist revolution is more than a system, a social order. It is also a just cause, a noble crusade, and it seems to be a law of history that just causes throw up one or a few leaders who embody them. Fidel is an example par excellence in our times. Fidel symbolises a dream and a struggle that belongs to many millions of Cubans and their supporters around the world.

A phone call from Fidel 

By various authors, 
Juventud Rebelde, November 19, 2011 

Translation: Marce Cameron

On Sunday October 9, Juventud Rebelde published “Strange disconnection”, a report by students from the Faculty of Journalism about the problems associated with the use of the new technologies in the universities. The last thing they imagined was that this would lead to one of the biggest surprises of their lives.

During the past few d
ays, some of my friends have been annoyed with me because they’d heard from others about something that, they tell me, I should have told them myself. They’re probably right. I’ve tried to explain away my attitude with words such as discretion, lack of time, etc. But the truth is that I preferred to keep quiet about it because if I told the story, they’d surely think I was joking. On Sunday October 9, Juventud Rebelde published “Strange disconnection”, an article written by students from the Faculty of Journalism, one of which was me, about the problems associated with the use of new technologies in the universities. The following day I was surprised to receive an unexpected phone call. 

“Good afternoon, is that Luisa Maria?” 


“Hold on, I’ll put you through...” 

“Luisa, it’s Fidel.” 

These three words left me petrified. Was it really Fidel on the other end of the line? Fidel! I couldn’t be sure. I cannot recall precisely what happened in the minutes that followed. But I do remember that he told me he was calling about the article “Strange disconnection”: “I thought it was very good, very critical, especially because you’re able to criticise yourselves, the students.”

At the beginning of the conversation he stressed his interest in the problem discussed in the article, namely the use of technologies in the universities and students' needs. He commented on the new information and communications technologies in society today and recalled the efforts that have been made in Cuba over several decades so that the country wouldn’t be left behind, despite the difficult conditions. Nevertheless, Fidel told me, we know that unfortunately the state of many of the higher education institutions is not the best, “so I want you to tell me what the situation is, I want to listen to you, and for you to tell me how you see things as a student. Go on, over to you.”

What to say? Of the thousand ideas that besieged my mind, where to begin? Three or four seconds of silence elapsed, after which at the other end of the line I heard a gentleman say: “Go on, don’t be nervous, tell me the first thing that comes to mind”. I began – where else? – at the beginning.

“Look, Comandante, the situation regarding technology in the universities is not the best. At present there are very few computers given the demand for their use. We students have a lot of learning activities that require the use of computers. What’s more, those we have are very obsolete and tend to break down often.”

Then he interrupted me, as he would on innumerable occasions, to ask: “How many students are there in the country? How many computers are there? What do you use the computers for most often?” There was a whirlwind of questions. He asked about the cost of the computers, of associated devices such as printers and scanners, of the quality of the equipment we have, among other related questions. So we ended up talking about gigabytes, RAM memory, hard discs, microprocessors. At one point in the conversation el Comandante commented on the importance of technology in keeping ourselves informed about world affairs. I think this is one of his latest obsessions.

“The people cannot live without knowing what is going on in the world. Do you think it’s possible to live calmly without knowing about the disasters that are happening all over the planet, the war in Libya, the great strikes. And we don’t have any TV programme dedicated to talking about these things. There’s the Hilo Directo (Direct Line) section in Granma. I’m going to read you what they published today.”

He read all the headlines for today, Monday October 10, then asked: “Do you think this is sufficient? No, surely not? The people need to know much more”. We spoke a lot about the international situation, which concerned him greatly, then returned to the topic of computers. He asked about my compañeros:

“Tomorrow, around this time, will you be meeting? Because I’d like to talk with all of you.”

“Yes, Comandante, we’ll be together all day.”

“OK, so we’ll talk tomorrow. Thanks very much for your time.”

“Thank you for calling.”

“See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow.”

The following day, Tuesday October 11, at 3pm, we were all in my lounge room. We couldn’t decipher what Fidel had meant when we said “around this time”, if we’d talk with him now at 3.30pm or afterwards at six. I need hardly explain that every time the phone rang we all jumped and there was a stony silence. 

The minutes ticked by slowly. Around 5.50pm we began to worry and wonder if he’d ever call. At six on the dot: Riiiiiiinnnnggggg! It was him again. By the look on my face my friends understood that the call had finally arrived. Very informally, Fidel asked me what was happening. I told him we were all here, ready to talk, and that the others were aware of our conversation the previous day. I also told him about some new information that we’d gathered together. 

He had also checked up on many things, and he told me one-on-one that we’d talk about the cost of computers, about why it’s better to use the computer labs than laptops. One thing led to another and somehow we got around to talking about agriculture. “Did you know” – he said – “that I’ve been compiling information on crops of great economic value that can contribute to the nutritional levels and the health of our people.” He spoke in detail about the agricultural situation of our country and of the world. I listened, and it seemed like I was hearing an expert on the agricultural problems of today. Once again I was astonished. Fidel certainly knows all about this topic. I still haven’t been able to absorb the experience of these days, and I probably never will.

When we ended our conversation I remembered being a child, a socialist Pioneer. In those days, in which life seems an adventure, I had the privilege of attending the Third Pioneers Congress held in 2001. In the plenary session, el Comandante was there all day with us, listening attentively to what we, some kids who had barely begun life’s journey, had to say. He gave a terrific speech as we were accustomed to. I’ve never forgotten the final moments: his happy eyes, those of a proud father, his firm hand waving goodbye and that beaming smile. I had tears in my eyes and I feared it would be the last time I’d see him in person. But no, life has many surprises!

He wanted to know everything in great detail

For any Cuban youth, conversing with the Commander in Chief Fidel Castro, as well as being an honour, is also an immense pleasure. Especially when the conversation is about a topic of great sensitivity for university students, such as the importance of the new technologies in our education and our capacity to make use of them, in an underdeveloped country such as Cuba, as much as we need to.

If we add to this the importance of an internationally recognised personality such as Fidel taking an interest in something that, for generational reasons, he hasn't had much to do with, then the experience is unique. This world of gigabytes, networks, software and hardware that is part of daily life for those who have grown up with this technology is a novelty for those who, like Fidel, grew up with and were educated with large encyclopaedias, books and typewriters.

Listening to him was like having him there in front of me and while it may seem strange, I felt as if we’d spoken many times before. It still seems incredible that he called me by name, Ana Lidia, which made me laugh every time, and that we spoke about things that affect the Cuban people in daily life and in particular the new generations. He wanted to know everything, right down to the smallest detail.

How can we make the most of the available resources, how do we do our class work and what do we use the Internet for? A flurry of questions. We barely managed to respond. At this point I recalled the many times I’d seen Fidel on TV asking questions, and more questions. I never imagined that one day I’d be in this position. But despite the stress, we were able to convey our most immediate concerns to him, the real deficiencies and the vicissitudes we deal with in educating ourselves as professionals that can keep pace with an ever-more digital world.

We also spoke about the vocational interests of Cuban journalism students, and he was surprised to learn how frequently we meet to work as a team despite living all over Havana. “Hey, La Lisa, Alamar, Parraga and Vedado are very far from each other!”

Suddenly he changed topic: he was concerned about the Cuban people's lack of information on international politics. He asked about the impact and usefulness of programmes such as Dossier, hosted by the Venezuelan journalist Walter Martinez, and others included in the selection of programs of the Caracas-based channel Telesur that are shown daily on Cuban TV. He then commented on the need to take up vitally important issues such as agriculture in the Cuban press. It was then that he referred to research being done by our scientists to identify food alternatives in accordance with the environmental situation and Cuba’s economic conditions.

Ever curious, his comments were as sharp as ever. With the vision for the future that he has always had, Fidel was interested once more in national and international topics and the everyday needs of those who, day after day, attend university classes to become Cuban professionals.

On the Hill of the Cross

Great news! When I left for the Faculty on Tuesday October 11, I never imaged what was about to transpire. Not even in our dreams would we have hoped for this.

We couldn’t wait to finish our classes. We had to arrive as early as possible at Luisa’s house. The corner of 23rd Avenue and F Street was packed with people and I had no idea if the traffic would ease any time soon, so we separated – Ibis and Anita hitched a ride, Luisa would wait a little longer while Hector and I decided to walk there (from the corner of 23rd Avenue and F Street to the corner of 15th and 24th!).

At six he called. This time there was no doubt that at the other end of the line was Fidel, our Comandante! Sharing ideas with us, a team of rookie journalists, still students. My turn came, and during the first few minutes of the conversation I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up the dialogue, but the warmth of his voice was so down to earth and I felt so comfortable that time could have stretched like a rubber band. For his part, Fidel also enjoyed the exchange: “I’m very pleased to be able to converse with fifth year students who will soon graduate and begin their professional lives as journalists”.

So perhaps the occasion was conducive to tackling a very wide range of both domestic and international topics during our phone conversation, though we also touched on personal matters:

“And you, Nadia, where are you from?”

“From Holguin, Comandante.”

“But what part?”

“The city centre, close to San Jose park.”

“There was an important dance event held there a little while ago.”

I perceived that he attached great importance to being well informed. Given this, he doesn't limit himself to the news and the mass media but makes use of every possible source of information at his disposal. He asks, comments, suggests, makes value judgements and is capable of directing his attention to distant places without missing the smallest of details. Like compatriots living abroad, we refer to a symbol of our city, the Hill of the Cross.

Having taken the stage, his questions never end: “How many times have you climbed it? When was the last time? How long does it take you to get to the top?” He even asked very specific questions in an effort to hone in on the answer he wanted. “It’s a high hill, how many steps are there? There must be around 500...”.

Then he’s interested in where we’re living, the Lazaro Cuevas residential college on F Street and 3rd Avenue in Vedado. Then he tries to locate it, referring to landmarks and calculating distances. According to the directions, he places it in the student district and maps out a possible route to the Faculty. He suggests this little walk would be good exercise for me. But his tone hints of reproach when I explain to him that most students catch the P2 bus to the University, just a few blocks away.

Later on in the conversation, he makes a proposal that takes us back to the beginning: “If you walk from the college to the University and then you go up the Hotel Colina, it’s almost as if you’ve climbed the Hill of the Cross.”

Comandante, I don’t think I have to go so far because I walk up the stairs of the college every day.”

“On what floor do you live?”

“The 13th.”

“So you should be happy, because those on the second floor don’t get any exercise.”

We laugh. Since then, every time I walk up those stairs I remember his words and I smile, as happened when we spoke.

Fidel is always thinking about the future

A serious tone, familiar and deliberate. This was the first thing I heard when I could barely understand his words. A captivating and cordial voice. What to say? What to do? I was amazed and emotional, glued to my seat, short of breath. “How are you Comandante?” was the only coherent phrase I managed to articulate.

But within a few minutes the tension receded and it was as if we were taking up an old conversation that we’d left unfinished some time ago. He asked me: “Well now Ibis, where do you live?” It was incredible that Fidel knew where Parraga [a Havana locality] was, that he laughed at how distant it was and wanted to know the bus routes between here and there! And I admired still more his ability to tackle everything from the big issues to everyday occurrences, those of the daily routine.

Then I heard a distant rustling of papers and I imagined him seated in front of a big table cluttered with papers and books. His voice changed to a more serious tone. He told me that he was reading about Mexico and he was worried about the high indices of violence in that country, because they were rising every year and the situation was beyond the ability of the authorities to control. He also referred to the constant migration of entrepreneurs from the countryside to the cities, especially [Mexico City’s] Federal District; and the grave consequences this could have for the country’s economy.

We also spoke of how these scenes of violence are common in a number of Latin American countries. A note of alarm could be heard in his voice when he pointed out that thousands upon thousands of people die as a result of criminal activities such as drug trafficking. But his anxiety was not confined to the problem, it went beyond it to the quest for solutions. I think Fidel is always thinking about the future, in a holistic way, and struggling so that this thought is transformed into deeds that benefit the masses.

To speak with Fidel was like conversing with a part of our history (and when I say our, I mean all of Latin America). I believe that I now truly understand the meaning of that phrase so beloved of [Sandinista movement co-founder] Tomas Borges: I now know that “all the glory in the world can fit into a kernel of corn”. 

We’ll see each other soon

In my head, images of my whole life began to flash by, as in a film – the placed I’d been to, the things I’d done – as I reached out to take the phone. Finally, it was my turn!

We all looked at each other. The images didn’t stop. I saw myself as a naval fitter and turner, a tyre repairer, fumigator, bank clerk and, suddenly, everything froze upon hearing his voice! So familiar. The same voice that generations of Cuban have listened to for decades...

“Hello Hector, how do you feel?”

Comandante, I’m emotional, because I never thought I’d speak with you.”

To which he responded with this wise craftiness:

“Ahh, well! I never thought I’d speak with you...”

I had to burst out laughing as you do when a friend tells you a joke. And there was Fidel, el Comandante, the man of a thousand battles, on the other end of the phone, concerning himself with and asking me about things in my life about which not even I have any qualms: he wanted to know if I watch TV, and when. However, he was mostly interested in the topic of the Cuban Five, about which we spoke at length. Perhaps many will not understand and may even criticise my astonishment, this stubborn amazement that erased from my mind ideas, questions and concerns that I would have liked to share with him. But then it’s not every day that one receives a call from the historic leader of their country. With great tact, and indicating that our chat was drawing to a close, he said:

“Well, I’ve taken up a lot of your time today...but don’t think you’re going to escape from me.”

“Don’t worry Comandante, we’ll see you soon.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

Translation: A bureaucrat? Me?

Here, the ever-candid and perceptive Luis Sexto examines Cuban society as a doctor would a patient. He diagnoses the illness of bureaucratism and warns that the replacement of individuals, necessary as this may be, treats only the symptoms. He prescribes "the decentralisation of the economy" as an antidote to "the opacity and sterility" of excessive administrative prohibitions. 

I've also translated the first four comments by readers in response to Sexto's commentary as they appear on the Juventud Rebelde website. 

Cuban journalist Luis Sexto
A bureaucrat? Me?

By Luis Sexto, Juventud Rebelde, September 22, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

Clearly the bureaucratic mentality isn’t an abstraction. Rather, it is a conduct, an approach, an attitude towards people and things. And if we tried to be more precise, and therefore more correct, we’d say that it’s a swelling of the public function of the bureaucracy. Like a social illness that is acquired structurally.

On the “medical” plane, one would have to ask some basic questions: what is bureaucracy? What do we know about the vocation of the bureaucrat, a word whose usage those who are not bureaucrats demand and those who are protest. About bureaucracy, we know that it exists because it’s necessary. No society can detach itself from “the body of public functionaries”, as the dictionary defines its first meaning with great justice. The problem begins when this becomes a caste, with its members seemingly disconnected personally, though attached precisely to one and the same narrow, rarefying and rarefied vision: bureaucratism.

This sickness, according to my “clinical manual”, consists of certain extreme ideological characteristics, certain sores in the ethical fabric and, above all, a tendency to curl up in one’s shell, snail-like, to the point of affecting the conscience; so that one day the suffer will no longer be able to discern the difference between right and wrong, honourable from dishonourable, truth from lies, the useful from the useless. And above all – in its most pernicious manifestation – it ends up nonchalantly substituting the interests of the community for the interests of all those who fill out and sign paperwork, give instructions or administer collective wealth...

I know: all this has been spoken about, yet I have no other recourse than to attend to the case at hand. I’d been preparing for this in my notebook. Just imagine: would this “doctor” refuse to treat a patient just because he treated another person with the same condition beforehand? It seems to me our country must subject bureaucratism to public scrutiny. And I'm not talking about the bureaucrats. Because if these were to be replaced – though we'd have to apply the forceps or scalpel to he or she who errs frequently – I’d like to point out that while the individuals may change, if the conditioning structures remain intact then this remedy will only eliminate, for a while, the symptoms. 

From this conclusion, which is readily apparent, it follows that we must recognise the urgency of understanding the need for and supporting the decentralisation of the economy and of social services. Perhaps many small entities will then be able to become strong pillars of the central structure, the socialist state, whose old role of accumulation in both the vital sectors as well as those of lesser importance prevented it from exercising its core function: taking the pulse of society [rather than trying to run it] in those sectors that are more distant from the centre. 

So, of course, every point, every service was constructed as a vertical replica of the great centre: to pass down the rules. Those lower down the chain had a double mission: to receive from above and at the same time continue passing down the instructions, so that the chain would begin to twist itself up for lack of democratic control. And with the twists came the labyrinths, the clerical retreat into one’s shell and the glut of service windows and forms and, above all, so much impunity as if to amend the law and to apply it, or not, as convenient.

But let’s not kid ourselves. I wrote this paragraph in passing because I set out to convey the conviction that our society is determined to shake off the obsolete structures. And if I’ve referred to the inevitable transformation of that part of the social order that fosters the bureaucratic mentality, I include, as a basic antidote, the strengthening of socialist democracy. Do we not believe that our democracy has suffered from the opacity and sterility of the bureaucratic prohibitions?

This equation, therefore, has to be turned on its head: rather than the bureaucracy controlling democracy, let democracy monitor the bureaucracy. To achieve this we’ll have to rehabilitate the half-clogged channels of horizontality, and the Peoples Power institutions will have to watch over, alert, criticise and denounce, so that the necessary verticality is less prone to something or someone becoming corrupted and distorting our efforts and our aspirations for improvement. Because if we don’t defend them from within, they could be snatched away from us from without.

Comment No. 1 by “Pepe” 

We’ve been talking about bureaucracy for almost 50 years, yet it has grown like the marabu bush* in the countryside. To get rid of this evil, or to at least reduce it to the indispensable minimum, we have to change everyone’s perception of reality, from the most humble citizen to the highest levels of leadership. In my opinion, if there had been a true self-critical spirit this evil wouldn’t have persisted for so long. When thousands of directives and prohibitions are issued, when it’s all about controlling everything, from a large enterprise to a simple newsstand, it’s inevitable that people are going to be employed to carry out these functions, and that many of these people are going to take advantage of their position to obtain privileges at the expense of society through becoming corrupt or corrupting others. 

When, in order to access certain food items, a pregnant woman, a sick person, a child or an elderly citizen must get such a simple procedure approved by having it signed and stamped by various institutions, it’s inevitable that this is going to create an indecipherable thicket of administrative entities, which end up acting as an immense spider web in which the economy and services get entangled. Let’s get rid of everything useless and we’ll see how the economy, on the basis of everything else, develops, and this will render unnecessary hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats who could dedicate themselves to production or services. This is the opinion of someone whose greatest desire is to see our country prosper and for it to become an example for the rest of the world to follow.

*Marabu is a tropical thorn scrub that has overrun large areas of farmland in Cuba – translator's note.

Comment No. 2 by “kirenio81” 

There is bureaucracy in Miami just as there is in Havana, or anywhere else in the world. It’s a necessary evil that governments need in order to run the state. The situation in Cuba is worse, because its dependence on bureaucracy is much greater given that almost all the means of production and services are state property. This creates an enormous parasitic body that restrains any economic development, whatever the inconveniences it causes the citizens and themselves, who are part of the citizenry.

Comment No. 3 by Alfredo Viamonte Marin 

I agree Luis, particularly with the last sentence of your commentary. The bureaucracy corrodes and hollows out the structure just like termites, gradually and without making any noise, and this does more harm to us than 100 blockades all at once because it fortifies the internal blockade: you can’t do that, this is incorrect, this is not permitted, that isn’t legal, NO to this, NO to that, NO to the other. But in my modest opinion, to cast aside the obsolete bureaucratic structures it’s necessary to decentralise and separate out the three powers: legislative, executive and judicial. For as long as these are one and the same, as they’ve always been, we’ll never win this Cuban fight against the demons.

Comment No. 4 by Carlos Gutierrez 

I’ll repeat it here to see if anyone listens to me, because a little while ago they censored my comment on the same topic. In that ill-fated attempt to help the Revolution I basically said: (1) Bureaucratism has become an obstacle between the government and the people to the implementation, as they wish, of laws and other general directives. (2) This capacity to “adjust” general directives has given bureaucratism such power that it is almost impossible for either the government or the citizenry to confront it. (3) On the basis of this power, corruption thrives. (4) You can’t combat something that has no clear delineation. Nobody has been able, or had the audacity, to define a bureaucrat so we’d be able to point the finger at them. (5) Despite the repetition of many slogans during the past 50 years there isn’t, as far as I know, a single law for punishing the bureaucrat as there are, for example, laws for the punishment of absence from the workplace or theft. For as long as we can’t identify and punish the bureaucrat, he or she will keep laughing at our infantile and never-ending campaigns against bureaucratism. Bureaucratism, as the endemic evil that it is in Cuba, will only disappear when the causes that gave rise to it disappear, the first of which is excessive centralisation with its consequent hyper-control. I hope this humble reflection has more luck than its predecessor. Saludos.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Translation: Awakened dreams

In this Juventud Rebelde commentary Luis Sexto ends with a poetic flourish: "Dreams are awakened by the insomnia of necessities." In other words, Cuba's economic difficulties spur revolutionaries to think outside the box and even dream a little. If hyper-centralisation doesn't work, what might? What role for worker participation in management? What scope for cooperatives?

In What is to be done?, Lenin, in a delightful passage, reminds us of the importance of dreaming:

“We should dream!” I wrote these words and became alarmed. I imagined myself sitting at a “unity conference” and opposite me were the Rabocheye Dyelo editors and contributors. Comrade Martynov rises and, turning to me, says sternly: “Permit me to ask you, has an autonomous editorial board the right to dream without first soliciting the opinion of the Party committees?” He is followed by Comrade Krichevsky; who (philosophically deepening Comrade Martynov, who long ago rendered Comrade Plekhanov more profound) continues even more sternly: “I go further. I ask, has a Marxist any right at all to dream, knowing that according to Marx, mankind always sets itself the tasks it can solve and that tactics is a process of the growth of Party tasks which grow together with the Party?” 
The very thought of these stern questions sends a cold shiver down my spine and makes me wish for nothing but a place to hide in. I shall try to hide behind the back of Pisarev.  
“There are rifts and rifts,” wrote Pisarev of the rift between dreams and reality. "My dream may run ahead of the natural march of events or may fly off at a tangent in a direction in which no natural march of events will ever proceed. In the first case my dream will not cause any harm; it may even support and augment the energy of the working men.... There is nothing in such dreams that would distort or paralyse labour-power. On the contrary, if man were completely deprived of the ability to dream in this way, if he could not from time to time run ahead and mentally conceive, in an entire and completed picture, the product to which his hands are only just beginning to lend shape, then I cannot at all imagine what stimulus there would be to induce man to undertake and complete extensive and strenuous work in the sphere of art, science, and practical endeavour.... The rift between dreams and reality causes no harm if only the person dreaming believes seriously in his dream, if he attentively observes life, compares his observations with his castles in the air, and if, generally speaking, he works conscientiously for the achievement of his fantasies. If there is some connection between dreams and life then all is well." 
Of this kind of dreaming there is unfortunately too little in our movement. And the people most responsible for this are those who boast of their sober views, their “closeness” to the “concrete”.
Awakened dreams

By Luis Sexto, Juventud Rebelde, November 3, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

I hope most readers would agree with me that the antiseptic task of changing a certain predominant mentality in Cuban society requires, among other things, a space and an attitude: debate. It doesn’t seem likely that we’ll pass from opacity to clarity through slogans, exhortations or incantations.

There are more than enough opportunities for debate. Because while they are not usually tangible, they are more or less visible, audible or “readable”. They are heard once in a while on the radio and TV or are read in this newspaper or that computer screen. Among the opinions expressed, those that defend the forms that we must largely transform still display their belligerence. This is logical: the old mentality will not cede its territory without resistance. Is it not true that when we’re about to try a new dish prejudice obliges us to grimace, or that we don’t listen to the gastronomic objections of a silly child?

Experience tells us that what’s difficult is acting in order to change. And debate is also difficult. Sometimes one reads things with viewpoints or ideas that are worthy of consideration, but the tone, the language, bursts forth like artillery fire that thunders from the opposing side. OK, in short, I note that the role of the state in our society is discussed. Recently, in spite of all the criticism of errors and tendencies regarding the extremely centralised state that is responsible for all economic, social and political activity, I read a letter to the editor that insists on defending the old all-encompassing role of the state.

For my part, I also defend the state as guardian of our socialist aspiration; watchman over our social justice; preserver of independence. But I express another viewpoint when a mechanical equivalence is established between the “statisation” and the socialisation of property. The difference is apparent. In certain capitalist countries the railways or the oil industry or other sectors are state-owned, and this doesn’t mean they are socialist. It seems we must examine this aspect to grasp what we’re proposing, all of us who believe, at least, in what our history commands: social justice as the sun of the moral world, and independence, that is, the absence of foreign interference or submissive lackeys as the guarantor of the purity of our light, of our land. Our destiny as a nation.

I don’t believe that the way to achieve socialist abundance – that is, full social justice – is to propose once again a paternalistic and controlling state. Social property, as I understand it, is that which makes the worker a co-owner of the means of production. Real co-owners. And that provides every member of the work collective with the opportunity to work for their wellbeing without gifts or fraud. With the voice and vote to decide on the means to secure their livelihood, without which the director of the enterprise has no managerial power*. Perhaps that which most closely approaches democratic perfection would be the community itself electing or approving enterprise directors. As a theory, this could prove to be true.

Others take the idea of social property to the extreme: the handing over of all the means of production to the workers. But there are types of social property that require a developed material base**. Does Cuba have this? In all this debate we’d have to concur that de-contextualised theory, detached from the circumstances, tends to cause indigestion. Perhaps, following a rational theoretical line adjusted to reality, and not to virtual reality, we must do, for now, what’s possible. And for this, the authoritarian mentality engendered by excessive centralisation will have to be allowed to go bankrupt. Some have felt comfortable making decisions without taking people into account. I won’t be going overboard if I reaffirm my view that, in certain places, decisions are being taken that not only ignore the opinion of the electors, they compromise the safety of the inhabitants of the sugar mill town, the village or the municipality.***

In the end, I’m not alarmed. We’re engaged in a constructive, regenerative debate against outdated habits and concepts in the midst of certain exhausted structures. We have, therefore, a unique opportunity to think, debate and act amid the necessary and inevitable differences over how to do it or where we’re headed. The word “dream” is not an economic term, yet dreams are awakened by the insomnia of necessities.

*Here, Sexto seems to be saying that without worker participation in management, state enterprise directors have no real power because they respond only to directives from higher up the administrative chain of command.

**If dilapidated state enterprises are handed over to the workers to manage as cooperatives, where are they going to get the investment funds needed to modernise them? The challenge is to harmonise central planning, subordinate market mechanisms and worker participation to spur labour productivity growth.

***In Sexto’s commentary “The good and the bad” he gives the example of a town of some 6,000 inhabitants that no longer has an ambulance.