My grandmother, a first grade teacher in a public school in Cabaiguán, used to get Bohemia magazine. I got used to reading it, from back to front, starting with the graphic jokes. The only thing I jumped was the section where Jorge Mañach, Herminio Portell Vilá and other prominent intellectuals wrote, because at the age of 10 I did not understand or was interested in the topics they were dealing with.
That intellectual journalism, which addressed all types of issues, is not very common among us today. Every time someone tells me that the average reader or the average viewer does not understand or is not interested in these topics, that they are too complex or sensitive, or that they are not prepared for political analysis, I wonder if they are talking about an island and a world inhabited by 10-year-olds.
Analyzing the political situation is not the same as stating the Cuba that the very diverse Cubans imagine or want. Although I also have one, I have limited myself here to commenting on the complexity of a consensus shared by these diverse Cubans, which does not consist of “almost unanimous support,” but rather of a social base with contradictory common sense, tensions and disparities aggravated by the crisis, as would be normal anywhere. Confusing the scale of the consensus with that of blood oxygen, such that a support of 97% indicates a “healthy” state, and a “barely 80% or 75%” indicates “seriously ill,” would be a joke anywhere.
Based on that mixed-up consensus that sustains the system right now, I attempt to examine the political situation based on three subjects: the new political opposition, the new government, and the new U.S. administration.
No matter how new they may be, these actors and that conflict are not understood outside of history, without links with the past, with factors of power, structures, institutions, and without the interaction of opposing interests between two States, that of Cuba and that of the United States. However, it is essential to identify what these actors bring with them and differentiate them from their predecessors, their own problems, and especially, their particular context. Understanding them with a sense of this historical moment, of the fundamental change of circumstance that characterizes it, instead of thinking of them as islands that repeat themselves, as a famous Caribbeanist would say. Without discerning these, their own problems, in relation to the conflicts they face and with current Cuban society, it is not possible to reason about the political field, beyond ideological antinomies — as common sense tends to do.
Criticizing some postulates of this common sense that circulate in the media and even in intellectual discourse does not require getting philosophical or even having read Gramsci. Just put them to the test.
The following are an example. “This political system has no chance of change, because it is dominated by a Leninist scheme.” “The Party-State is a block from top to bottom, immobile and immovable.” “National reconciliation depends on the political will of the government to dialogue with the opposition.” “The Catholic Church is a particularly gifted actor in mediating that reconciliation.” “We are living black years for freedom of expression.” “The dissidence of the artists responds to the lack of freedom of the union and the closure of cultural policies.” “Young people have deserted the camp of the Revolution, and they want to go live abroad.” “The disappointment of the poor and blacks with socialism has made them the social base of the opposition and its new leadership.” And so on.
In the substratum of almost everyone is the question of democratic functioning and citizen participation. To address it, it would be necessary to consider not only the so-called direct democracy mechanisms — street demonstration, plebiscite, etc. — or voting every five years, but above all, systematic participation in decision-making, policy control, channeling of opinion public, dialogue with the government. Is such participation possible without a more democratic system, including the Party itself?
A few days ago, in an open letter to Cuba’s President, a Spanish Jesuit reproached him about why he had not just recognized the total failure of the Revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Some have not noticed that in 2022 it will be 30 years of the reform to the Constitution that erased the concepts of dictatorship of the proletariat and vanguard of the working class. And that this year marked three decades of the elimination of religious beliefs, as contradictory with Marxist and Leninist ideology.
I wonder if anyone presumes that being a private entrepreneur disqualifies them from holding positions or joining the Party. And that publicly criticizing Party policies by some militant makes him commit a flagrant violation of democratic centralism.
All the concepts underlined above are in the decalogue of Leninism. To that list of heresies, it would be necessary to add others, considered incompatible with ideology by previous political education. For example, the end of the teaching of atheism in schools, the introduction of a constitutional article that allows families headed by same-sex couples, the dismantling of the compulsory study-work system in secondary education, freedom to reside abroad without losing their citizenship rights, etc. Perhaps the current problems of the Party are not precisely those attributed to a certain Leninism.
On the contrary, some Bolshevik practices could inspire greater democracy in Cuba. Let’s say, the struggle of the rank and file, the Soviets and the unions to control the bureaucracy; the legitimacy of discrepancies in its ranks, such as the Workers’ Opposition; the application of a New Economic Policy (NEP) with a market and mixed economy; the encouragement of systematic debate below and above; the possibility of exposing in Pravda the criteria of all the militants, not just some.
Legitimizing democratic changes in the Party, here and now, could consider what Raúl Castro himself said almost ten years ago: “If we have sovereignly chosen the option of the single Party, our responsibility is to promote greater democracy in our society, starting with setting an example in the ranks of the Party.” So the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) is not above the reforms, nor is it just a leading subject in their application, but also the object of a policy that calls for “changing everything that must be changed.”
Although we know that politics is not contained in speeches, the struggle to turn those words into reality has more support today than ever. What, however, is the yardstick to measure that democratization? Recognizing, dialoguing and negotiating with political organizations such as those that predominate in the Cuban opposition, on the island and in exile? An alternative question, consistent with the very Constitution of the system: is it desirable for a socialist system to accommodate a “loyal opposition” (defined by its purpose to improve the system, not to liquidate it)?
Interviewing a group of subjects with institutional responsibilities seven years ago, this question produced dissimilar answers.1
A former president of the National Assembly supported “the parliamentarization of society,” “the constant discussion,” in factories and collectives, “of problems and the proposals to face them,” not the “manipulation of dissent in more or less loyal ‘oppositions’.”
An acting General Secretary of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) affirmed that “a dissent among revolutionaries is very necessary.” “In Cuba we still do not know that [loyal] opposition, because the people financed by a foreign government to overthrow the Revolution can only be called mercenaries.” And she added, “I don’t think we have reached the ideal democracy either…. I don’t rule out any formula for more socialism.”
A popular educator from a religious NGO opined: “It is necessary to make clear the points that are not in negotiation; that is, what to be loyal to.… There is the loyalty to the principles of social equity, personal and national dignity, sovereignty, socialization of power, the economy and happiness; loyalty to the popular power exercised by the people. If the bet is on these [principles], loyalty to political forms becomes more flexible, since it would be the government that would enforce those principles.”
An academic jurist defined it as “an opposition that complies with everyone’s law, that does not intend, through intolerance, to demand tolerance from the State; that does not use banners of exclusionary and inhumane ideologies, that respects public order and the regulations that we have given ourselves in a democracy, that is loyal to the rule of law, and therefore itself is essential.”
A People’s Power delegate in Marianao replied: “We have to give possibilities to this type of opposition; the one that does not agree with the things that are badly done, and that can propose how to solve them…. If it is in good faith, opposing things that do not give results helps to improve the socialist system, which is ultimately the people…. Sometimes we criticize those who say the truth, and we consider that they have political problems, but what these people want is to see results.”
An acting president of a cultural institution called it “an antinomy. Because it is really opposition if it shows a certain level of organization, if it constitutes an alternative to the established powers. A revolutionary who opposes” a particular policy “is not an opponent; he’s just someone who disagrees.”
The editor of a Catholic magazine said that “action must be taken to improve the system established by consensus and not to eliminate it…. Those who have other ideological preferences must accept it with humility, but without ceasing to contribute their criteria and projects, although made available to the realization of the interests of the people. Thus we could enjoy a socialism capable of integrating, even, ideological diversity…. An opposition that…to achieve its political purposes…, allies itself with foreign powers…, that has organic ties with national or foreign bodies in charge of promoting subversion, which does not take care of the sovereignty of the country or social harmony would not be loyal.”
The difference in nuances within the institutions of the State and within civil society is not only noticeable in these interviews, but also between their visions then and those now, in some particular cases.
A dozen years ago, in an official Cuban media, I mentioned the question of the loyal opposition: “Will Cuban socialism be able to admit in the future, together with a renewed democratic institutionality, a decentralized system, a non-state sector, also a loyal opposition, within the system itself? That is not a question for U.S. congresspeople and European parliamentarians, but for Cubans who live their future on the island.”
Curiously, while the Catholic magazine Espacio Laical celebrated the concept some time later, to the point of convening an event in 2013 where it was debated, the editorialists of Cubaencuentro considered it a crude ploy, “a padlock,” behind which the hairy ear of the ruling party disguised as “liberal loquacity” stuck out, aimed at “refreshing” the totalitarian discourse.
They seemed to ignore that those who coined it, in the mid-19th century, did not conceive it as a formula to “seize power” or change the British system, but to make it more politically effective and broaden its consensus. They did not seek precisely to “consent” to the dissenters, but to incorporate them into the complex task of governing. Which explains why the U.S. party democracy never assimilated it, given its staunch 200-year-old bipartisanship.
I have expanded on this point because it illustrates the gap of a national reconciliation that some dream of solving in one leap. It also shows criteria within the Revolution, below and above, that endorse a realistic democratization. Rephrased seven years later, that question would read today like this: to what extent would a policy aimed at expanding consensus, that integrates the loyal opposition to the political space, be congruent with the new style of government? And it could be added: is it in the national interest that this loyal opposition within the system, in favor of a more democratic socialism, be an option for those who advocate for change, instead of leaving them out, and that some end up being carried away by the anti-communist opposition?
I can see a reader who is already wondering: And what would the United States do? To comment on it, a third round would be needed.
1 “Hacer política socialista: un simposio,” interviewer Daniel Salas, Temas # 78, April-June, 2014.