Monday, April 18, 2016

Raul Castro's Congress report

This is my fifth post (the others are archived here) on the controversy sparked by the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership's approach to the Seventh PCC Congress, which is now underway in Havana's Convention Centre. Perhaps Fidel will make a surprise appearance at the Congress, as he did last time; perhaps not. His likeness adorns the backdrop as if to suggest he's there in spirit.

Raul Castro opened the Congress with the Main Report, which was broadcast live on Cuban TV and radio and published in Granma. Importantly, the official transcript includes his numerous departures from the prepared script—diversions delivered with characteristic bluntness and good humour. Raul, 84 years young, was lucid, sharp, combative and demanding. He received a standing ovation.

I'll return to the content of the Main Report report when the official English translation becomes available, to avoid duplicating this translation effort. For now, let's see how Raul dealt with the vexed question of the preparatory process for the Congress. Inconsistencies in his account suggest another, more plausible explanation for the absence of a broad public consultation process.

Like the Granma editorial on March 27, Raul made no mention of the PCC leadership's earlier commitment to consult the party membership and the wider public on the draft Congress documents. Nor did he refer to the rumblings of discontent from the party base. He simply stated that:

Unlike the previous Congress, when the draft Guidelines were submitted to a broad consultation with the Party membership, the Communist Youth and the wider public prior to the Congress, after which they were approved by the National Assembly, on this occasion that procedure was not followed, given that what is involved is the confirmation and continuity of the line adopted five years ago regarding the updating of our economic and social model.  
Note that Raul's explanation here for the absence of a broad consultative process does not involve the timing of such a consultation—before or after the Congress, for example—but the leadership's view that the draft documents are compatible with, and merely refinements of, the line adopted at the previous Congress. Yet six paragraphs on, Raul implies that a broad consultation is in fact necessary:

We have conceived that both documents, that is, the Conceptualisation [of Cuba's emerging socialist model] and the bases of the National Development Plan be debated democratically, after they have been analysed in the Congress, by the Party membership and the Communist Youth, representatives of the mass organisations and broad social sectors, with a view to enriching and improving them. 

There's a logical inconsistency here. The Central Committee can't have it both ways. Either a broad consultation is necessary or it isn't. If it isn't, because the Seventh Congress won't overturn the political line of the Sixth, then why hold a consultation after the Congress? And if it is in fact necessary, then wouldn't it have been far more democratic to hold it prior to the Congress? Convening the Congress prior to the consultation is putting the cart before the horse.         

Raul continues:

To this end, we ask the Congress to empower the incoming Central Committee to modify [the Congress documents] on the basis of the consultation process and to approve the final versions, including the corresponding amendments to the [updated Sixth Congress] Guidelines that the Congress may approve.

The Central Committee has argued that the Seventh Congress is a continuation of the Sixth, held five years ago. A more cogent argument could be made that the post-Congress consultation process that Raul projected in his report will be, or at least should be, effectively a continuation of the Seventh Congress. This suggests that the appropriate mechanism for deciding on the wording of the final drafts of the Congress documents would be to recall the 1000 Congress delegates, rather than cede the higher powers of the Congress to the Central Committee.

It seems that the real reason for the lack of a broad consultation process prior to the Seventh Congress is not that the Central Committee regarded such a consultation as unnecessary. As recently as its Tenth Plenum on February 23, the Central Committee reiterated its commitment to a broad consultation (which will now take place, belatedly, sometime after the Congress). The likely explanation is implicit elsewhere in Raul's Congress report, where he stresses the complex and protracted nature of the drafting process that took place behind closed doors.

Raul reported that work on the Conceptualisation document began soon after the Sixth Congress and has involved no less than eight drafts. Meanwhile, work on the economic and social development plan to 2030 began four years ago. It was initially hoped that a complete draft would be ready for the Congress, but due to its "great technical complexity" what is being debated by the Congress is only the bases of such a document. A complete, final version is not expected till 2017.

As late as December and January, the Central Committee redrafted the Congress documents on the basis of some 900 opinions and suggestions submitted by Central Committee members, Raul reported. By January, it would have been too late to launch a public consultation process like that which preceded the Sixth Congress, which spanned three months from December 2010 to February 2011. Obama's impending visit may have been another factor that loomed large in the Central Committee's deliberations. How much might it distract and disorient?

The Central Committee could have postponed the Congress to allow for a broad consultation process, but evidently decided against it. In his Congress report, Raul said that holding the Congress on April 16-19, exactly five years after the previous Congress, complies with the PCC Statutes in this regard. It also fulfils Objective No. 17 of the First National Party Conference, which states that the five year interval should be adhered to (there was a 14 year interval between the Fifth and Sixth Congresses). Yet arguably, not postponing the Congress to allow for a broad consultation clashes with Objective No. 1, which states that the PCC's activist base should play a "decisive" role in the "discussion and adoption of the party's most important decisions".

If, as the Central Committee suggests, the Conceptualisation of Cuba's emerging socialist model is just the theoretical expression of the Guidelines, which are more a set of concrete objectives than a programmatic vision statement, why then has it taken the PCC leadership five years to draft it? Here we enter the realm of speculation. It seems likely that the PCC leadership has tried to reconcile, behind closed doors, quite different conceptions of the new Cuban socialist model that is aspired to (see the Introduction to my Master's thesis 'Statist Utopianism and the Cuban Socialist Transition'). These divergent conceptions had to be reconciled if the leadership were to present a more or less coherent programmatic vision to the party as a whole—rather than strive to involve the party as a whole in developing that vision from the outset over the five years since the Sixth Congress. Leaving the realm of speculation, opting for secrecy over transparency has reduced the vast majority of PCC members to the role of spectators rather than participants in the Seventh Party Congress.

In his Congress report, Raul stressed the cardinal importance of the Conceptualisation document:

The principal objective of this document is to clearly set out the key features of the [Cuban socialist] model [that is aspired to], in such a way that it serves as a theoretical and conceptual guide to the building of socialism in Cuba, in correspondence with our own characteristics and efforts, taking as its basis the history of the nation and of the revolutionary process, the national culture, the internal conditions and the international situation as well as the experiences of socialist economic and social development in other countries. The principles that underpin the Conceptualisation are based on the legacy of Jose Marti, Marxism-Leninism, the thought of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, and the work of the Revolution itself.

Raul then elaborated on the post-Congress process of refinement and adoption:

As I said earlier, the theoretical and practical complexity of this draft document and its importance for the future suggest that it should not be approved in the framework of this Congress. What we propose instead is that the delegates continue the debate and adopt this draft in principle, so that it may serve as the basis of [a] profound and democratic process of analysis by the membership of the Party and the Communist Youth, as well as by broad sectors of our society. The results of this debate will then be presented for final approval by the Central Committee. In other words, for the reasons I have explained, to continue discussing it in the municipalities, and with the democratic participation of the Party as a whole, the Communist Youth, representatives of the mass organisations, etc., with the aim of concluding its elaboration and with the Central Committee being empowered to approve it. It would then be presented to the National Assembly, the highest institution of state power and the one with the authority to grant it legal status.

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