democracy and self-management in cuba

Guillermo Almeyra outlines an alternative to the Cuban government’s plans to slash 20% of the workforce and privatise parts of the economy in order to deal with the crisis.

Predictably, the global crisis – together with the criminal US economic blockade – is now taking an even heavier toll on Cuba, reducing levels of tourism and remittances sent home by Cubans abroad.The growing difficulties of the Venezuelan economy, as well as the aggravation of climactic disasters, are also factors we have to consider when looking at how to save the island from economic abyss.

Cuba is a country which has been in deep crisis for more than 20 years – a whole generation – and which has no real change nor encouraging signs on the horizon, merely a hard struggle for survival, which besides is led by the same system and the same leaders who have helped create the current disastrous situation and do not know how to escape it.

To escape this crisis, which has been worsened by the global crisis but which has been developing for the last two decades thanks to causes particular to Cuba, will require the whole strength of the population, drawing on its creative capacity, culture and knowledge. But it must itself be the protagonist in decision-making, the master of its own destiny, with objectives of equality and an inclusive and creative participatory system. In a word, Cubans must no longer be subjects of the system but rather full citizens. Their desires, consciousness and socialist ambitions must be mobilised not in the form of empty old slogans but rather the pursuit of democracy and self-management. There should be direct and collective rule by the island’s citizens, not by the state as an apparatus which exists above society and seeks to control it.

There has been no previous discussion of the current measures to recover from the crisis, which allow the selling of 99-year leases of properties in Cuba to foreigners, when Cubans themselves cannot buy them; or the decision to build a large number of 18-hole golf courses (open only to foreigners), a massive drain on water and resources, at the same time as the total abandonment of the slightest subsidy for the unemployed and free funerals and burials.

The National Assembly has not discussed it: this body only meets after decisions are made in order to rubber-stamp the decisions of the Communist Party hierarchy.

No congress of the Communist Party has discussed it: these conferences are endlessly delayed, because this one party that exists, including the best and worst of the Cuban bureaucracy, is fused with the state apparatus, shares exactly the same objectives as this apparatus and is subordinated to it, and there is not the slightest control of the party-state’s leaders.

The so-called trade unions have not discussed it: instead of being the voice of the workers as against the state apparatus (supposedly the property of the workers), they are simply part of the state bureaucracy. This is so much the case that they are unable to speak out against the loss of significant and long-standing social rights, pass judgement on the state’s policies or develop proposals or counter-proposals based on democratic workplace assemblies.

Surely these government measures should be discussed in every workplace, in every district, in every village community? Surely they should be listening to the views of those who will have to suffer the consequences, and be putting a bit of elbow grease into recovering the situation?

The crisis is an opportunity for change. In stead of solely relying on some imagined increase in tourism or deluxe investment projects, why not discuss which investment is today necessary and where private investment must be tolerated, for instance in food production and distribution?  Rather than centralising further power, why not decentralise and give more decision-making and organisational power to the local level, in a horizontal manner, putting resources and transportation in the hands of the workers? The struggle against bureaucracy does not only mean reducing the number of redundant or unproductive functionaries or absurd regulations, but rather a fundamental change in passing information and decision-making power to the citizens, who are currently tied together as workers, service users and consumers in the hands of the bureaucracy.

Democracy, self-management, planning based on local areas and workplaces and freedom of expression, dissent and information, are indispensible to avoid the population falling into a demoralising and apathy-producing resignation about the decisions sweeping down from the heights of the state like hurricanes.

We must repeat: the Chinese or Vietnamese road is not realisable in Cuba, not only for demographic, historical or cultural reasons, but also because this outcome could only lead to the complete opening of the country to capital and the intervention of the United States, which after eliminating what is left of the revolution would abandon its sanctions and introduce massive investment.

Cuba was never socialist, even if it fought to advocate the building of socialism on the island and elsewhere in the world. But its democratic, anti-imperialist and national-liberation revolution was very important for the island and the continent. Even if this is now stagnant and has failed after not having become deeper, and instead is now retreating, it continues to be the sole guarantee of the country’s independence and the basis of the political consensus which the government still maintains, particularly among the older generations who remember the past and do not want to turn back the clock.

It would be suicidal to bury the remnants of this revolution in order to attract investment. On the contrary, it must be reanimated with a major reform on the basis of democracy, free organisation, the elimination of autocracy and bureaucracy and the maximum extension of the power of working people.

5 thoughts on “democracy and self-management in cuba

  1. In general, I think this article offers a reform perspective for a non-existent radical-democratic wing of the Cuban state bureaucracy, involving accommodation to “private investment”. It is not a perspective for the Cuban proletariat to attack their own state, smash it, and establish capitalism – but that is what is needed.

    The whole rhetoric is about “reanimating” the “remnants” of “the revolution”, as if some thread connected Castro’s putsch and real communist revolution. I also question what this “political consensus” is, and whether any such thing exists at all.


  2. @ c0mmunard

    “It is not a perspective for the Cuban proletariat to attack their own state, smash it, and establish capitalism – but that is what is needed.”

    Eh? Is The Commune a communist group, or a self-managed ‘shock doctrine’, pro-capitalist group?!!


  3. Quite evidently, the best hope for Cuba in the real world would be that a participatory social movement opened up political and economic democracy on the island, fought of the creeping privatization program of the bureaucracy, maintained the best elements of state provision, and used relations with various other states like Venezuela to support. Demanding much more than this in the context of Cuba’s isolation, would mean outright capitalist restoration and subservience to the United States.

    And additionally, it seems apparent that building on the romantic dream of the Cuban revolution, rather than repudiating it altogether as c0mmunrad suggests, would much more likely carry through resilience against capitalist restoration than would demanding a tabula rasa approach, of which there are no apparent social dynamics to support.

    A dose of realism is sometimes necessary.


  4. c0mmunard’s reference to the ‘need to establish capitalism’ is obviously a typo and he means socialism/communism.

    The problem is the current lack of such social movements in Cuba as could bring any desirable changes about, even at an incipient level. The other option is to advocate the bureaucracy cede power as to let such movements come about, without advocating neoliberal reforms, the path the bureaucracy is currently going for.

    I am yet to see a pro-Castro defence of the reforms. The Morning Star contented itself with a dull/meaningless Reuters/AP type statement with no editorial comment.


  5. yeah, it was a typo. And quite why I’m being less realistic that anyone else is totally unclear. The perspective in the article is totally, 100% impossible – at least what I’m saying recognises that.


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