ON CUBA: Talking About the Party (II)

Dialogue between different generations will just be a good wish as long as the Party and the rest of the institutions it guides do not achieve an environment conducive to respect and trust, to discussion, criticism and ensuring a truly participatory and democratic style in decision making.

By Rafael Hernández
March 31, 2021

Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews.

Earlier I pointed out that the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) was not founded to take power, but to defend the revolutionary order from above, which had faced since 1959 a spiral of violence imposed by its discontents; a civil war that radicalized the process and polarized the whole society.

Those tensions survived the huge internal insurgency supported by the United States, defeated in 1965 when the Party was formed, a few weeks after 42,000 US marines landed in Santo Domingo, less than 500 kilometers east of Guantanamo.

Born in a context marked by paramilitary actions from the North, the blockade and international isolation, its first Congress in 1975 represented, among other things, the celebration for having prevailed, in spite of everything. That survival had high costs, which only a documented and fair-minded history could reestablish.

Another great difference between the PCC and the other communist parties was its methods of membership incorporation. The bitter experience of sectarianism in that first unitary organization, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) between 1961-1962, gave way to the construction of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution (PURS) on new bases. Although its rules established that the organization approved or rejected the entry of its aspiring members, the primary rule that differentiated it from other Parties in the world was the mechanism for entry, based on a public discussion on each aspirant and the endorsement of “the mass”, as it was then called.

The first step to enter, both in the PURS and later in the PCC, was an assembly where the collective proposed and voted on the exemplary workers. It is worth noting that exemplarity implied much more than supporting the Revolution. In addition to defending its policies, it was necessary to work very well and without limiting oneself to working hours, to join the militia, the reserve Armed Forces, or some form of defense at work centers or neighborhoods; to participate in the mobilizations, especially agricultural work, during weekends or months.

It also required constantly “improving oneself”; a term that arose in an era inaugurated by the Literacy Campaign (1961), which implied attending general education courses, labor qualification, languages, or any other activity aimed at acquiring knowledge. In addition, the exemplary person had to maintain fraternal relations with their compañeros, including those who performed the humblest tasks, which entailed not only good treatment but also solidarity, cooperation and support, both inside and outside the workplace.

Regardless of the [place in the] hierarchy of the proposed nominee, everyone could express their criticisms about the elements mentioned above, as well as about their moral and civic conduct, in the same assembly of exemplary workers or by addressing the Party in private. The assembly of exemplary workers also evaluated how critical the nominee was of the problems of the workplace and the country; and how capable they were of identifying their own defects. Finally, the assembly voted on whether or not the aspirant was worthy of being evaluated by the Party to join its ranks, that is, if they were truly exemplary.

From that point on, the aspiring militant had to submit, for the Party’s evaluation, a detailed biography, with the places where they had lived, the schools they had attended, employment history and the beginning of their social and political activities. This was needed in order to facilitate an anonymous inquiry about every moment of their previous and current life, with neighbors, classmates and workmates, people who accompanied them in crucial moments of the Revolution. In the jargon of the time, this biography was known as the “cuéntametuvida”.  [“tell me about your life”]

To get an idea of that examination of consciousness and its intimate meaning – alien to a totalitarian culture – read Las iniciales de la tierra (1987), by Jesús Díaz, written in its first version in the wake of the 1970 harvest. The structure of this novel, originally titled Biografía de un militante, corresponds exactly with the “cuéntametuvida” (tell me your life story) filled out by Party aspirants.

The author, who had joined the Party in August 1969, and with whom I shared intellectual and literary interests in the Philosophy Department of the University of Havana between 1970 and 1972, transmits in its pages, with high artistic fidelity, the human meaning and feelings associated with joining that Communist Party.

According to a classic of political science such as Maurice Duverger, there are mass parties and cadre parties. This basic classification does not distinguish them by the number of their members, but by their structure and functions. For example, the U.S parties -the Democrats and Republicans- emerged as electoral currents within the political elite, and based on financing, resource management and mobilizing apparatus, are classified as “cadre parties”. The European socialist parties would be among those of the masses, considering their support, representation and social base of workers.

According to the Bolshevik conception of an organization of professional revolutionaries, Duverger placed the communists in a particular variant of the category of cadres. However, once in power, Lenin himself had proposed to incorporate people from “below”, both in its ranks and in its Central Committee, where their voices could be heard.

Although the Cuban political organizations that waged war against the dictatorship did not identify themselves as Leninist (except for the Popular Socialist Party), their insurrectional combat structure would not be the same as the one that required to maintain the new order established by the Revolution, and to provide it, not only with cadres, but also with a broader and more representative social base.

From its origins, and with the passage of time, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) supplied cadres to the new State. Without space to comment here on what a cadre meant at that time, I only note that for Che Guevara, who devoted much time to why and how to train them, it was not precisely a bureaucrat or an apparatchik. Che characterized the cadre, in 1962, as “a creator, a leader of high stature, a technician of good political level, […] an individual who has reached sufficient political development to be able to interpret the great directives emanating from the central power, make them their own and transmit them, capable of perceiving the “most intimate desires and motivations” of the people; “always ready to face any discussion, […] with their own capacity for analysis, which allows them to make the necessary decisions and practice creative initiative in a way that does not clash with discipline”.  

As part of the institutionalization of the political system, which Ché already foresaw as essential for Cuban socialism, the Party would outline its organic structure between 1975-1976, in a way very similar to the current one. That structure, which begins where the Party’s nuclei and grassroots Committees end, joined by rank and file militants and goes up from the municipalities to the auxiliary apparatus of the Central Committee, which is composed of professional cadres. [that is, the auxiliary apparatus, not the CC, is composed of professional cadres].

These were formed into departments parallel to the areas of the State and the government: industry and construction, tourism, transport and services, agriculture and food, education, sports and science, international relations, culture. There was also some specific to Party activity such as organization, training, promotion of cadres, ideological, propaganda, schools of cadres, PCC press, among others.

So, when Cuban say “the Party”, they may be speaking in particular of one of the three bodies, different from each other and, strictly speaking, also from the historical leadership: the rank and file militancy, in the first place, the organizational structure and the auxiliary apparatus, in second place; and in third place, the Central Committee and the Political Bureau.

Obviously, to derive the composition, functioning and specific problems of each one from the PCC Statutes, or from a critique of Article 5 of the Constitution, would be like trying to decipher the knots of the political system and its institutions through scholarly glosses to the constitutional text.

In a study on the demographic structure of the institutions of power in Cuba, published a few years ago, I referred to the composition of the Party at its different levels, from a sociological approach. In the brief space of this article, I will limit myself to commenting on some problems in its organic functioning.

The top leadership of the Party itself has criticized the functioning of the organization. Raúl Castro, who will soon cease to lead it, has been the one who has called for the acceptance of differences and diversity of ideas, not when it is specially called for, but as a rule; and to banish the old mentality, founded on dogmas and obsolete approaches.

Among the main deficiencies pointed out are the superficiality and formalism of the political-ideological work, the use of methods that underestimate the cultural level of the militants, inflexible agendas handed down “from above” without taking into account the diversity of the society in which they live, the large number of anniversaries and formal commemorations, with rhetorical speeches without real content, which only provoke disgust and apathy among the members. This structure suffers from a lack of creativity and links with citizens, bureaucratic management methods, and loss of authority and exemplarity, caused by negative and even corrupt attitudes.

It is also necessary to point out that the bodies in charge of guiding communication do not manage to conceive messages that reflect the heterogeneity of a society where older adults coexist with young people who knew socialism [only] in its version of the Special Period.

Contrary to what is repeated, those under 40 years of age not only have a higher level of schooling, but also carry with them an inherited political culture much more complex and critical than that of their parents and grandparents. Instead of dialoguing with them, they are stigmatized because they do not respond to a paternalistic and tutelary pedagogy.

This dialogue will still be only a good wish as long as the Party and the rest of the institutions it guides do not achieve an environment conducive to respect and trust, to discuss, to criticize and to ensure a truly participatory and democratic style in decision making; in order to exercise its role towards civil society organizations, respecting their democratic and autonomous functioning.

A goal still to be fully achieved continues to be the use of information and communication technologies. These are not only to promote science and economy, but also ideological activity. In addition, there is strengthening popular control and confronting impunity, family and gender violence in neighborhoods and communities, not only and especially with law and order, but with political resources that go to their roots.

It is up to the PCC to develop policies against all prejudices -racial, gender, anti-religious, sexual orientation, etc.- that limit the rights of people in the performance of public and political positions, or in organizations and armed institutions. It is also incumbent upon it to facilitate the active participation of intellectuals and artists in a climate of understanding and freedom.

If the criticism above has been taken from the Party documents (such as the First PCC Conference in January 2012), the proximity of the VIII Congress would facilitate a deeper reflection on its role in a new socialism. To put it in the words of Raúl Castro, if we are to have only one Party, it must be the most democratic, starting with its own ranks, where everyone has the right to criticize and no one is exempt from being criticized.

Now, what does it mean to be the Party of the Cuban nation? Is defending the national interest the same as defending the interest of all those born here? Since there is no unlimited democraticity, what are the limits of Cuban democracy? How to determine them?

It would be worthwhile to stop here, in order to continue. 

By US-Cuba Normalization Committee

Organizing Committee, International and Nationwide Conference for the Normalization of US-Cuba Relations.

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