Since the late 1990s, with the renewal of the Third World project of national and social liberation (see various posts in the category Third World), humanity has been in the midst of the Third World War. It is a war between two competing global civilizational projects. On the one side, there is the imperialist project, which entered in the 1980s its neoliberal stage. It is led by the United States, the major nations of Western Europe, and Japan; the transnational corporations; and the international finance agencies. It places profits over people, and it promotes the concept of limited states, maintaining that the market should rule. It seeks to preserve the basic structures of the neocolonial world-system, with its material benefits for a small proportion of humanity. On the other side is the project of popular socialism, led by socialist and progressive governments of the Third World, including Cuba, with the cooperation of China and Russia. Its leading nations are in the vanguard not of a proletarian revolution, as envisioned in classical Marxism, but of a popular revolution, in which leaders and mass participation emerge from all popular classes and sectors. The popular socialist project maintains, in opposition to the limited-state thesis of neoliberal imperialism, that the state must play a central role in the economy, by formulating plans for the economic and social development of the nation, by regulating the economy, and as owner of major economic enterprises. Popular socialism believes that all governments have the obligation, first, to defend the social and economic rights of all of its citizens, regardless of class background, race or ethnicity, or gender; and secondly, to protect the natural environment and to seek a sustainable form of development. The popular socialist project further maintains that all nations have a sacred right to sovereignty, thus standing against the imperialist project and the basic structures of the neocolonial world-system. For the last twenty years, the governments that have been leading the socialist/progressive initiative have been trying to construct in practice an alternative world-system based on cooperation and mutually beneficial trade among nations and on solidarity among peoples.
The Third World War is not a nuclear war, as we often imagined it would be. It is principally a battle of ideas, and Fidel declared it such a few years ago. But the conflict also includes the use of economic sanctions, military actions, and violent local gangs. The future of humanity depends on the outcome of this global conflict.
In the midst of the unfolding Third World War, the above-mentioned critical socialist current is an enemy within socialism, undermining the capacity of the socialist nations to offer their examples as the basis of a viable possible future for humanity. By distorting the reality of developing socialist projects, the critical current seeds confusion and division among peoples everywhere. I imagine that in most cases these “critical socialists” are sincere victims of idealist conceptions of socialism, which lead them to imagine that the harmonious world that socialism envisions can be constructed in a generation, even though the socialist governments must pursue the fulfillment of the socialist promise in the context of a capitalist world-economy. However, in other cases, the advocates of critical socialism may be indulging in egoism, oriented to attracting attention to themselves in the ongoing debates. In still other cases, they may be deliberately attempting, for whatever motive, to undermine the global socialist project. But regardless of why it emerges, the critical socialist current is a menacing threat to the socialist project.
The other day, I had a conversation with a young Cuban, who appears to me to pertain to the critical socialist tendency. Among the various points with which we disagreed, one had to do with the Cuban Constitution of 1976. I maintained that the Cuban Constitution establishes the National Assembly of Popular Power as the highest authority in the nation. He, on the other hand, citing Article 5 of the Constitution, maintained that the Constitution establishes the Communist Party of Cuba as the highest authority in the nation. This is not a minor point, for the resolution of the question is central to an understanding of another question, namely, is Cuba democratic?
I would like to provide the reader with some context for the debate. The Cuban political process has been developing in a form integral to the evolving praxis of the Cuban Revolution. Its current political structure is based in the insight and moral commitment of a charismatic leader, who possessed authority because of his exceptional gifts, recognized among the people. With awareness of the ultimate limitations of rule by one person, there emerged in the 1960s an effort to form and educate a vanguard, a group of informed and committed revolutionaries comprising perhaps 15% to 25% of the people, which would lead the people in the development of the socialist project. The vanguard was institutionalized in the Communist Party of Cuba, formally named as such in 1965, culminating a process of unifying the various revolutionary organizations that had begun during the revolutionary war of 1957-58. Even though the Party comes from the people, it is not elected by the people, because it is a vanguard party, and the members are recruited by the Party itself. So other structures had to be developed to represent the people.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Cuban Revolution developed two kinds of structures to ensure the representation of the people. The first was the creation or expansion of mass organizations of workers (in all fields, including professional and agricultural), students, women, farmers, and neighborhoods. Among other things, these organizations elect at the base delegates to higher levels, who elect in turn delegates to even higher levels, so that through a series of indirect elections the provincial and national leaders of each of the mass organization are chosen. The second structure is Popular Power, which constitutes the actual structures of the state. In local elections in voting districts of 1000 to 1500, the voters elect from among two or three competing candidates that have been nominated by neighborhood residents in a series of nomination assemblies. The elected delegates form 169 municipal assemblies, which in turn elect both the delegates of the fourteen provincial assemblies and the deputies of the national assembly. The national assembly is the highest legislative organ, and it elects the thirty-one members of the Council of State, which is the executive branch of the government.
There are links between the mass organizations and Popular Power in important moments. When the municipal delegates elect delegates and deputies to the higher assemblies, candidacy commissions submit proposals of candidates. Similarly, when the deputies of the national assembly elect the Council of State, proposals are presented by the candidacy commissions. Who are the members of the candidacy commissions? They consist of representatives of the mass organizations, chosen by the mass organizations themselves to fulfill this function. So in the indirect elections to the higher assemblies, both the elected delegates of the municipal assemblies and the representatives of mass organizations play central roles. There is another important link between Popular Power and the mass organizations. Namely, in the debates with respect to any legislation, the committees of the national assemblies are required to invite spokespersons for the mass organizations.
The Cuban Constitution of 1976 establishes the constitutional foundation for this Cuban revolutionary approach to the decision making process, involving the Party, assemblies of Popular Power, and mass organizations. The Constitution establishes the Party as the leader of the nation and the people and their socialist revolution. At the same time, it establishes structures for the popular election of delegates and deputies to the assemblies, which have full constitutional authority to elect the executive branches and to enact legislation. The Constitution establishes a fundamental duality: the Party leads, and the delegates of the people decide.
Accordingly, Article 5 of the Constitution affirms the Communist Party of Cuba as the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation and as the highest directing force of the society and the state, organizing and orientating the common efforts toward the high ends of the construction of socialism (Lezcano 2003:47). It may appear at first glance that this article grants to the Party the highest authority. But let us look further. It does not give the Party the authority to nominate candidates or to elect delegates, deputies, and members of the Council of state; nor does it give the Party the authority to pass laws or to elect the executive branches. These functions are given specifically to the people and to the delegates of the people. Article 5 recognizes the authority of the Party as the nation’s vanguard, which has the duty of organizing, orienting, educating, persuading, and convincing, through the power of the spoken work and of example.
Meanwhile, a host of articles grants specific areas of authority to the National Assembly. Among them are:
Article 69. The National Assembly of Popular Power is the supreme organ of power of the State. It represents and expresses the sovereign will of all the people.
Article 70. The National Assembly of Popular Power is the only organ with constitutional and legislative authority in the Republic.
Article 73. The National Assembly of Popular Power, on constituting itself for a new legislature, elects from among its deputies its President, Vice-President, and Secretary.
Article 74. The National Assembly of Popular Power elects, from among its deputies, the Council of State, composed of a President, a First Vice-President, five Vice-Presidents, a Secretary, and twenty-three additional members. The President of the Council of State is the head of State and head of government. The Council of State is responsible to the National Assembly of Popular Power, and it submits explanations of all of its activities.
Article 75. The powers of the National Assembly of Popular Power are:
B. To approve, modify, or repeal laws. . . .
C. To decide on the Constitutionality of laws, decrees, and other general dispositions;
D. To revoke in their entirely or in part decrees that have been emitted by the Council of State;
E. To discuss and approve national plans for economic and social development;
F. To discuss and approve the State budget;
G. To approve the principles of the system of planning and direction of the national economy;
H. To agree to the monetary and crediting system;
I. To approve the general guidelines of foreign and domestic policy;
J. To declare a state of war in the event of military aggression and to approve all peace treaties;
O. To elect the President, the Vice-Presidents and the other Judges of the Popular Supreme Court;
T. To study, evaluate and adopt pertinent decisions concerning the reports submitted by the Council of State, Council of Ministers, Popular Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and the Provincial Assemblies of Popular Power (Lezcano 2003:58-60).
However, the Cuban Constitution of 1976, in naming the Communist Party of Cuba as the vanguard of the nation, established a privileged position for the Party. In doing so, the Constitution was reflecting the necessities of a socialist project in the capitalist world. In the context of hostility and aggressive action by the imperialist powers, the people must be united in defense of themselves and their sovereignty. The unity of the people is necessary, so there must be a structure for leadership of the people
As long as the Party enjoys the respect and support of the majority of the people, a great majority of the deputies of the National Assembly and the members of the Council of State will be Party members, even though this is not legally or constitutionally required. In this situation, the Party and the state will have complementary functions, rather than a division of powers; consensus and cooperation will prevail, rather than competition and conflict among different and opposed interests.
In the Cuban political process, there is discussion and debate everywhere, both formal and informal. The vanguard debates among its members possible courses of action. The people in their mass organizations, and the delegates and deputies of the assemblies of popular power, debate decisions that must be taken. But all are seeking to arrive at the consensus necessary for decisive action, a consensus informed by scientific knowledge and framed from the interest of the social and economic needs of the people and the sovereignty of the nation.
In nations that have two or more competing electoral parties, consensus is difficult to attain. The parties have opposed interests with respect to the possession of power, and they may have different and/or opposed economic interests. In this situation, each party has an interest in discrediting and undermining the authority of the other. Such a political process can divide the people and prevent the necessary unified action of the people in response to any major social, economic, or political problem that the nation confronts. In the neocolonial situation, nations struggle to defend their sovereignty against the powerful global forces that have an imperialist interest in undermining the sovereignty of the nations. Accordingly, for a neocolonized nation, a multi-party political system has little common-sense intelligence. Indeed, the imposition of multi-party political processes by dominating international agencies and global powers is itself a manifestation of neocolonial domination.
So we should appreciate the practical wisdom of the Cuban political process. What the Cuban Revolution had developed is an intelligent political process that responds to the particular needs of Cuba, forged in revolutionary struggle. In struggling for its sovereignty, it has no option but to reject the imposition of a political model forged in a different political and historical context, and a political model that is convenient for serving the economic interests of the neocolonizing hegemonic power.
We often lose sight of the fact that the U.S. model of democracy was developed in a particular historical and social context. The American Constitution was formulated in the context of an anti-colonial revolution that was divided on class lines between the “educated gentry” and the popular sectors. In the period 1774 to 1776, the latter had taken control of the Revolution. But by 1787, the educated gentry had retaken control, and it was able to impose a Constitution that checked the political power of the people, thus establishing a political system characterized by the appearance but not the substance of democracy. (See “The US popular movement of 1775-77,” 11/1/13, and “American counterrevolution, 1777-87,” 11/4/13, in the category American Revolution). For more than 200 years, popular movements in the United States were able to attain reforms in the U.S. legal and constitutional system. But they were not able to accomplish a structural transformation of the American political system from the vantage point of popular interests. As a result, there is in the USA today a political system in which political representatives pretend to defend the interests of the people and the nation, but in reality, they defend the interests of their major campaign contributors.
In accordance with the different historical contexts in which the American and Cuban constitutions emerge, we see a clear difference between the two constitutions. The U.S. Constitution, established, more than a functional separation of power, a true balance of powers, in which no power predominates. There is the balance among the executive, legislative, and judicial powers, and a further balance between the Senate and the House within the legislature. In contrast, the Cuban Constitution concentrations power in the National Assembly, which has clear authority over the executive and judicial branches.
The difference in the two constitutions is a reflection of the different political contexts. The framers of the U.S. Constitution of 1787 were reacting against the constitutions of the thirteen colonies during the period of 1774 to 1776, which concentrated power in the legislature. This structure was a threat to the educated elite, who feared that a political process dominated by popularly elected representatives from relatively small voting districts would result in laws against their interests as a minority of large landholders and merchants. They pushed for a system that defended the interests of the minority against the political will of the majority, not necessarily of minority of principled consciousness, but a minority of educated landholders. Their political representatives and ideologues formulated a balance of powers, creating obstacles for the implementation of the political will of the majority. (See “Balance of power,” 11/5/13, in the category American Revolution). In contrast, recognizing the powerful forces in the world aligned against a popular socialist project in a neocolonized nation, the framers of the Cuban Constitutions wanted to ensure that the majority political will could be put into practice. They thus concentrated power in the popularly elected national assembly, formed on a basis of elections in small voting districts and in the context of a political process without campaign contributions to competing candidates.
The Cuban Constitution reflects a triumphant popular revolution, standing against a deposed elite, who were the subordinate allies of foreign economic and political interests. The global power elite, unable to accept the political unity of a neocolonized people, engages in ideological attacks, seeking to undermine this and all other political projects that seek national sovereignty, using as arms its high-tech dissemination of its limited concept of democracy.
Into this ideological, political, and economic warfare steps our young comrade, a critical socialist. He maintains that he wants to save socialism in Cuba. But at the same time, he argues that the structures established by the Cuban socialist revolution do not work. He acknowledges that the level of participation in the structures of popular power is extremely high by world standards. But he believes that the participation is too passive, indicated, for example by the fact that only one person’s name was proposed by the people at his local nomination assembly. In addition, he doubts that many people gave serious consideration to the candidates for whom they voted. I personally have observed moments of such passive participation, but I also have observed moments of active and dignified participation by the people. In general, I believe that the people should appreciate more and care more for the structures of popular participation that the revolution has established. But to recognize this is merely to recognize that the people are human. We should constantly work for the formation of the people and the improvement of the Revolution. But we cannot hold socialist governments to an impossible standard, expecting them to accomplish more than could possibly be attained by human societies at their existing level of social evolution.
To call for the improvement of socialism in any nation seeking to construct socialism, including proposing structural changes to this end, is one thing. To hold socialist nations to an impossible standard, and on this basis to argue that socialism is not working, is quite another thing. In the world war between neoliberal imperialism and popular socialism, we must be clear concerning whose side we are on. We cannot aid the enemies of popular revolution by disseminating false information, wittingly or unwittingly, with respect to existing socialist projects. Above all, we must effectively inform our peoples concerning the alterative processes of popular democracy that have been developed in socialist nations, seeking to move beyond the limitations of representative democracy. To this end, we must set aside idealism and egoism, fulling standing with an alternative global civilizational project forged by humanity, in its hour of crisis, in defense of itself.
Lezcano Pérez, Jorge. 2003. Elecciones, Parlamento y Democracia en Cuba. Brasilia: Casa Editora de la Embajada de Cuba en Brasil.