Which way for the Cuban Revolution? - A Contribution to the debate

We are publishing this article which we have received from the Cuban Communist Frank Josué Solar Cabrales as a contribution to the debate over the future of the Cuban revolution and the changes that are presently being proposed. See also Jorge Martín's article Where is Cuba going?

The Cuban Revolution is facing one of the most complex moments in its history. On the island there is a fairly general consensus that important changes must occur in our society. The debate is over the pace and scale that this will assume, as well as its content and nature. Important aspect are the limits, and how far these changes can go without crossing the threshold and violating principles or affecting the very essence of the system we have defended for 50 years and for which we have given our soul, heart and life.

In general, the measures that have been taken and those that are intended are a response to the need to boost the Cuban economy, to increase productivity and efficiency, to revalue the national currency and wages, and achieve import substitution, especially in food production. In short, what is intended is to revive an economy hit very hard by underdevelopment, the loss of its main markets and sources of supplies as the result of a genocidal economic blockade imposed by US imperialism, and also by internal bureaucratic obstacles and other mistakes.

The attempt to introduce these measures will take place in very difficult conditions of ceaseless harassment of the Revolution and plans to destroy it. Apparently, the forthcoming reforms are mostly intended to use market mechanisms, material and wage incentives in the search for efficiency and increasing productivity, starting with agriculture.

Such measures, although they may be quite legitimate and even necessary for the survival of a society in transition to socialism in the midst of harassment and isolation, must be understood for what they are: a retreat forced by circumstances, a necessary but temporary evil, and never as a way forward or as some kind of alternative for the construction of socialism. That is one thing, but it is quite another to accept inequality as something tolerable, normal, inevitable and even healthy for the functioning of the system.

Without a clear perspective that understands these measures as something temporary, there is a risk that, with continued isolation, at some point these economic reforms will acquire their own dynamic, proceeding in crescendo towards a slow and subtle capitalist restoration, and the social distortions the measures themselves have created, would in the end be turned against the Revolution.

To continue along this road will inevitably strengthen the pro-capitalist sectors in Cuban society and severely erode the social values of solidarity and social equality. A restoration of capitalism in Cuba would be a total disaster from every point of view for our people.

A society in transition to socialism, as Cuba is, by definition, is a society in which elements of the old and the new exist side by side, in a contradictory relationship. What needs to be determined then is which of them overcomes the other, which elements become dominant.

I believe that the fundamental question we all need to ask today is: to what extent the current campaign against free public services and subsidies, against egalitarianism and certain principles of social equality, will affect the fundamental social conquests of the Cuban revolution? It is a contradiction in terms to claim to be building socialism by promoting inequality, or accepting it as normal or inevitable. That's what capitalism does quite well.

Precisely the liberal platform of capitalism, its central ideological discourse, is to speak about opportunities and rights for everyone, but to add that it is impossible for everyone to live equally. According to this argument, income inequality is normal.

To the degree that socialism is obliged accept a certain level of inequality during the transitional period as a necessary evil, it must nevertheless strive from day one to bring about its gradual and sustained reduction.

The opposite approach, that of promoting inequality and using it as a stimulus to productivity, only leads to capitalism. It is impossible to have an economy that functions on a capitalist basis and maintain a socialist political and social model.

Payment by results and the use of salaries as an incentive to produce, do not make the workers work "according to their abilities" but rather beyond them, just as under capitalism, which brings about overexploitation and pushes them to the very limits of their strength, pressurized by their material needs and those of their family. The final outcome will be to prioritize the individual solutions over collective ones, leading to competition between workers and firms, which is the exact opposite of the spirit of socialism.

The economic levers of capitalism only produce more capitalism. Even some of those which have been tentatively tested have yielded results well below expectations. Pragmatism, practicality and the empirical approach, will not lead us to any port other than capitalism. This boat needs a project as a compass, one which is debated and agreed by all.

This is doubly dangerous in the context of the global culture war being waged by imperialism, attempting to make us believe that no other life is possible except one under capitalism, which is more ruthless and effective than ever, paradoxically when the system is passing through one of the worst crises in its history, and resembles a leaky vessel that is letting in water on all sides. Nor never has it had more influence in Cuba than now. It is therefore highly dangerous that we unconsciously contribute to the theoretical and ideological justification of capitalism.

The apparent impasse facing the Cuban social project comes from the impossibility of building socialism in one country. Faced with the delay of the Latin American revolution, the adopting of market reforms is seen as the only possible solution. And it is true that, even if it were to develop the full potential of workers' democracy, the Cuban Revolution still cannot escape the harsh economic conditions of backwardness imposed by isolation and the deep distortions in the project that flows from it. In the words of Marx, all the old crap of capitalism resurfaces again and again.

For us, the spreading of socialist revolution throughout Latin America is a matter of life and death. For this and other reasons I think that we, as Cuban revolutionaries, should enthusiastically welcome the proposal of President Chavez of creating a Fifth International, and we should become one of its main promoters. For the Cuban revolution an internationalist policy is not only a moral obligation or a tradition, it is also a question of survival.

The false idea that a balanced dose of socialism and market economics can combine and coexist, providing a viable long term solution, is a dangerous illusion. And just as dangerous is the idea that pretends that changes in the economic sphere will have no correlation or impact on the political structures, as if the two were completely separate compartments.

As socialism is primarily a matter of consciousness, and not just a bread and butter issue, how things are produced is just as important as what is produced. So, for the construction of socialism, the color of the cat is every bit as important as if it catches mice. You cannot aspire to a higher level of society if the wealth obtained is achieved through relations of production that foster inequality, exploitation and competition.

The only way for the planned economy to increase productivity in a different way to capitalism is through workers' control. This is also the best antidote against corruption. There can be no other administrative or bureaucratic substitute. For example, the Central Comptroller of the Republic may be useful to some degree, but no amount of control from above will solve the problem, because it will not go to the roots of the problem. Time and again history has shown how ineffective reforms from above and bureaucratic solutions are in the process of building socialism. Socialism means that the power must be in the hands of the workers, not merely nominally or formally, but in practice and in fact.

The bureaucracy cannot control itself. In this aspect, we should not ignore the warnings of committed and prestigious intellectuals against the danger that parts of the bureaucracy are consolidating their economic positions, “just in case”, anticipating a turn toward capitalism and ensuring their future well-being in such a scenario.

Although it is too early to determine where this process will lead us, I believe that there are three key elements to consider:

1 - The current balance of forces and the accumulated political and cultural heritage of the Cubans are very favorable to the socialist project. Those who dream today of a capitalist restoration in Cuba lack all legitimacy and public acceptance.

2 - The initial strong willingness and desire of the political leadership of the Revolution and the Cuban people to preserve socialism in Cuba at any cost, as the only guarantee to maintain the social gains achieved and to ensure our existence as an independent and sovereign nation. However, regardless of our intentions, many of these changes could unleash forces which acquire their own dynamics and escape our control.

3 - The international variables, especially the development of the revolutionary process in Venezuela will have a decisive influence in one way or another to the final outcome in Cuba.

The challenge before us, the same as in any revolutionary process when we are faced with reaction, is to build a parliament in a trench, fighting an enemy that will use our weakness and disunity skillfully. That conditions everything. But in this trench there is no alternative to the working people's parliament.

There are very positive signs. For example, the repeated references to the central role to be played by workers in the fight against corruption and inefficiency, as well as in economic discussions on the plan in each workplace. Also the appeals made by Raul himself for a greater democratization of our Communist Party and the governmental and political structures.

Democracy should be neither an ideal abstraction nor the bourgeois masquerade that conceals the dictatorship of capital, but the democracy of the working majority in this country, exercising effective power and control from the bottom up. There are also the debates, generated as a result of Raul's speech, the debates at the congresses of the CTC [Confederation of Cuban Workers], the FEU [Federation of University Students] and the UNEAC [National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba], in addition to the constant appeals from the country's leadership for a frank and open discussion between revolutionaries, as a suitable and healthy method for finding a solution to our problems.

This has been the practice of the Revolution at various times in its history. Remember for example the discussion process of the Appeal to the Fourth Congress of the PCC, or the workers’ parliaments in the most acute crisis in the days of the Special Period. What is necessary is to turn those experiences into a permanent and functioning system.

One of the fundamental differences between socialism and capitalism, and therein lies one of its advantages, is the broad popular participation upon which it must be built. While capitalism is interested in excluding as many people as possible from the exercise of power and from the political process, socialism, as a condition for its very existence, must develop to the full potential the political inclusion and presence of the people in decision making. The natural state of socialism must be the broadest democratic debate among revolutionaries.

And the profound shortcomings we still have in that respect are a very serious problem. It is necessary that the choice of the way forward should come out of a broad national public debate on all the key issues, so as to incorporate the people into the decision. In that sense I consider as counterproductive the fact, first, that the results of the discussions that took place throughout the country following the speech by Raul on 26 July [2007] in Camagüey were kept secret, and second, that the measures derived from them were studied and determined by only a group of people in the leadership of the Revolution, without popular participation. I also think that the Congress of the Party should not be delayed any longer. The need for it is increasingly clear.

Among the factors that enabled us to withstand the tremendous blow that the fall of the USSR and the subsequent Special Period represented, I think there were three main ones: first, and most importantly, the presence of Fidel, who, with his enormous political and moral authority, became the main cohesive element of all the people in facing up to what was coming.

Secondly, that the generation of those days maintained closer and firmer personal ties with the founding years of the Revolution, with its epic and romantic moments, the literacy campaign, the Bay of Pigs, and the Angola campaign, and had lived through a kind of socialism in the 1980s, with relatively high levels of material consumption and social justice.

Thirdly, that the arguments used to stimulate resistance corresponded essentially to political motivation: it was [an appeal to] a people conscious of their conquests and aware of what was at stake, and that refused to be enslaved again, or to lose its sovereignty, and was ready to face any sacrifice or challenge.

Today, the prospect of facing a new Special Period with acute financial constraints unfortunately finds us in somewhat different conditions. Fidel is no longer, at least formally, in charge of the country and the Revolution, and his physical ability has been diminished by age and by a serious health problem that meant he was on the verge of death.

Together with him, the historic leadership of the revolution are reaching their biological limits, and the renewal of the revolutionary leadership remains pending. The experience of the current generation of youth is practically limited to the Special Period, with its shortages, the inequalities and the profound economic, political and social contradictions, originated within Cuban society, which have affected even to a greater or lesser extent, our beautiful and sacred daughters: healthcare and education. The constant erosion of healthcare and education has led to a decline in the values, spirituality and the socialist way of life we have practiced for five decades. To this generation, the speeches about justice and welfare of the Revolution often have no basis in reality, or, even worse, are moth-eaten old slogans, worn out and hackneyed.

Finally, the solution to the current situation is being sought by appealing to pragmatic economic measures, and not the mobilization of the political reserves of our People.

The political system that we've had for the last 50 years has been based almost exclusively on the extraordinary charisma and leadership of Fidel. The People's full confidence in him, in his approach and his leadership has effectively secured the unity of the country, the defense of the revolution and the socialist project and allowed us to defeat all the ravages of imperialism. But the void left by him cannot be replaced by any other person. In the last analysis, the only guarantee that this tremendous power will not fall into the hands of people like Roberto Robaina, Carlos Lage, Felipe Perez Roque, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and many others, is to redesign our political model by extending workers' democracy and popular control.

It is vital that we have a united, solid Communist Party, with greater internal democracy and an environment of frank and open discussion of ideas among revolutionaries.

Today one of the most dangerous phenomena for the continuity of the socialist alternative is the widespread de-politicization and de-ideologization that we see present in appreciable sectors of the youth. Unconsciously, the official discourse reinforces this trend by laying heavy stress on pragmatism, instead of political motivations. As far as I can see, appeals to "practical solutions", combined with abstract appeals to consciousness, will and ethics have very limited effects.

Although it is painful to admit it, one can draw many parallels between today's Cuba and the situation in the USSR towards the end of the 1980s. The very thought of it makes my blood run cold and my hair stand on end, because there the outcome was fatal, something we must avoid at all costs here. The similarities can be observed in the complex social and economic landscape: political apathy among young people, bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, waste, as well as in the measures proposed to deal with the problems.

The most dangerous capitalist restoration could come from supposedly revolutionary talk about keeping all our social gains, while “ceasing to be so stubborn in economics”, “modernizing”, “adapting to what is”, “accepting the inevitable”, “opening up to the world and the market” with all its power, contradictions and consequences.

The icing on the cake of such a view would be national reconciliation: the idea that we are all Cubans, we have had enough of fighting amongst ourselves, that we may be able to build a national project in which everyone fits, reaching a peaceful compromise - of course, on the basis of free enterprise. This idea is as utopian and dangerous as any attempt to appease the counterrevolution, either internal or external. It would not even give us time to change our minds. They have plans for the future that are radically different from ours, and it is impossible to make them compatible. The Revolution must continue to be for all and for the good of all, but the way to do this is by keeping power in the hands of the majority of working people and defending it from those who seek to overthrow it.