In 1976, the people of Cuba overwhelmingly approved a Constitution that established a political system based on popular participation. The Constitution established structures of “Popular Power,” where the highest authority resides in the National Assembly of Popular Power. The deputies of the National Assembly are elected by the delegates of the 169 Municipal Assemblies in the country, who are elected in elections with two to six candidates in voting districts of 1000 to 1500 voters. The candidates are nominated in a series of nomination meetings held in each voting district. They are not nominated by any political party, and focus at the nomination meetings is on the leadership qualities of the candidates. The deputies of the National Assembly are elected to five-year terms. As the highest political authority in the nation, the National Assembly enacts legislation, and it elects the 31 members of the Council of State and Ministers, including the President of the Council of State and Ministers, who is the chief of state.
The Cuban Constitution of 1976 also established requirements for consultation by the national, provincial, and municipal assemblies with mass organizations. The mass organizations are organizations of workers, women, students, peasants and cooperative members, and neighborhoods. They meet on a regular basis to discuss concerns of their members, and the discussions range from concrete problems to major global issues. The mass organizations have a participation rate of 85%.
There are other examples of revolutions and movements forming popular assemblies and popular councils: the Paris Commune of 1871, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the German Revolution of 1918, the Hungarian Revolution of 1919, the General Strike in Great Britain in 1926, and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (Grant 1997:61). Popular councils also have been developed in Vietnam (Ho 2007:162-76), and they are being developed today in Latin America, particularly in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador.
Popular assemblies and popular councils are structures of popular democracy. They are fundamentally different from bourgeois structures of representative democracy. Popular democracy is characterized by regular face to face meetings of small groups in places of work and study and in neighborhoods, where the people meet to discuss the challenges and issues that they confront. In such settings, if someone has a confused or distorted conception, those persons with a more informed and comprehensive understanding of the issue can explain further, thus reducing the tendency to distortion and confusion, helping the people to understand the issues. In this process, those with a capacity to explain and with a commitment to fundamental human values earn the respect, trust, and confidence of their neighbors, co-workers, and/or fellow students. It is an environment that gives space to natural and indigenous leadership, and many leaders are able to develop their leadership capacities in the various mass organizations, serving from the local to national level. In Cuba, for example, it is not uncommon to find informed, committed, and articulate persons serving as president of the neighborhood organization for a city block, or as president of a municipal assembly in a small rural town.
In contrast, representative democracy is an impersonal and anonymous process. The people vote, or they select from predetermined answers for an opinion survey, but they do not meet to discuss and to inform themselves. They respond not to arguments, reasons, and evidence presented in face to face conversations, but to slogans and sound bites presented in the mass media, sometimes in the form of political advertising. Representative democracy is a process in which organizations compete, vying to see which political party or particular interest can generate the most support in elections or opinion polls, or better said, to see which party or interest can more effectively manipulate the people, who never meet to argue, debate, and discuss. In such a context, with competing particular interests presenting different and opposed spins and manipulations, the development of a consensus that could be the basis of a constructive national project is no more than an idealistic and naïve hope.
The formation of popular councils is an integral and necessary dimension of a social transformation that seeks a just and democratic world.
August, Arnold. 1999. Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections. Havana: Editorial José Martí.
Grant, Ted. 1997. Rusia—De la revolución a la contrarrevolución: Un análisis marxista. Prólogo de Alan Woods. Traducción de Jordi Martorell. Madrid: Fundación Federico Engels.
Ho Chi Minh. 2007. Down with Colonialism. Introduction by Walden Bello. London: Verso.
Lezcano Pérez, Jorge. 2003. Elecciones, Parlamento y Democracia en Cuba. Brasilia: Casa Editora de la Embajada de Cuba en Brasil.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, popular democracy, popular assembly, popular council, representative democracy, Paris Commune, Cuban Constitution, popular power in Cuba, mass organizations, Arnold August