Independent Candidates without Platforms

Dmitri Prieto

Merits, virtues and dignity. Photo: radiorebelde.cu

When I wander through the streets in this pre-electoral period, I usually find information boards posted in visible places (in windows, on walls, sides of buildings…) with the photos and biographies of candidates running for delegates to municipal assemblies (similar to city councils).

There always appear several of these photos and biographies since it’s mandatory for there to be at least two candidates (though theoretically there can be up to eight people nominated in a district). There are usually two, sometimes three and on rare occasions four people running for any one seat.

Technically, all candidates in Cuban municipal elections are independent.  This is because they’re not proposed by any political party and therefore no party is allowed to campaign for or against any candidate.

The candidates are initially proposed by citizens in neighborhood assemblies, which later decide (by a show of hands) which of those individuals proposed will be nominated and will therefore appear on the ballot.  Each district is made up of eight assemblies, which is why eight is the maximum number of candidates.

The photos and biographical sketches —possibly in addition to some personal information— are the sole sources of information that the electors have in making their decisions as voters.  The candidates don’t appear in the media, they don’t debate each other and nor can they hold meetings or rallies with the voters.

It is supposed that we citizens decide on whom to vote for based on the person’s merits, which is what supposedly appears in their biography.  Of course personal sympathies can also enter the game; this can come through personal knowledge of the candidate, references from friends or simply the charisma that is projected (or not) through the candidate’s photo.

In my opinion, the photos are always too official.  A few people smile, but it’s not common.  Most of the local leaders choose serious expressions, looking like they’re undergoing a police interrogation.

This has its logic: The eyes of the voters must theoretically make an examination of the future effectiveness (or not) of their potential representative using the photo as their basic source of information.  It’s a type of democratic physiognomically-based assessment.

In this way, they peer at us from windows and walls.  They are women and men, young and old, black, white and mestizo, fat and thin.  There may appear two heavy-set black men, or two smiling young women.  Sometimes you’ll find posted the face of a large older man (a retiree, white, gray-haired and with a mustache) next to the snapshot of black female housewife of an indefinable age (though this can be quickly ascertained from the biography), with her information posted alongside mulatto’s (a elegant young recent graduate of the military and a leader of the Young Communists).

Some candidates are grassroots members of the Young Communist League (UJC); others are in the Party, while different ones are members of neither organization.  There’s not enough information to know how they think, because even within those organizations there exist a range of positions.  This was clearly confirmed in the last public debates on the future of Cuba (in assemblies leading up to the recent UJC Congress) and is apparent in the pages of the official Granma newspaper, which on Fridays publishes some of the letters it receives from its readers, many reflecting divergent opinions.

The biographies, on the other hand, contribute some basic elements as to what each candidate knows how to do (according to their studies, the positions they’ve held and the work they’ve performed).  Notwithstanding, this doesn’t say if they will or will not know how to solve the problems surrounding us.

Cuban law explicitly prohibits any electoral campaign information beyond the photos and the biographies, and candidates are not allowed to present programs or platforms.

I asked myself: Why aren’t we as voters able to find out how our future delegates propose to solve the problems of our neighborhoods?  What do they think about the situation of the country and the paths to improving it?  What do they intend to do in the municipal assemblies and the popular councils?  Shouldn’t we at least know what their positions are on the issues discussed every Friday in Granma?

If you don’t ask a candidate directly, you probably won’t find the answers.  For this election it’s already too late, but for the next one I’d like to see some modification in the law to allow candidates to briefly express their platforms, ideas and their plans for office.

That would mean more work for the electoral commissions and perhaps more for the voters when it comes election time, but I hope this also becomes a necessary (though insufficient) first step in the improvement of the functioning of our municipalities.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.


6 thoughts on “Independent Candidates without Platforms

  • May 2, 2010 at 9:22 pm
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    George, one more thing (since we have the time & space).

    You state: “What I have been suggesting, is that the entire country become one big co-operative, via the use of cybernetic communications technology, as opposed to lots of little co-operatives competing via the market.”

    All you have to do is substitute the word “corporation” for “co-operative,” and you will see precisely what you are “suggesting.” You may call your ideal creature a co-operative, but it’s a corporation, nonetheless.

    The Marxian formula for a socialist economy, a formula that demonstrably converts an “entire country” into on big corporation, is what you are suggesting. If you can’t see this, it may be of no use to discuss it. Cheers.

  • May 2, 2010 at 9:04 pm
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    George, tks for ur response.

    What I mean by private property is the legal institution whereby it is possible for individuals & organizations to legally own productive property, including the land. This institution is necessary for employees/workers to own & self-manage their work enterprise, whether it is small, medium, large or very large.

    Modern cooperative socialism believes that private property, a socialist state & the market are necessary institutions in order to have employee-owned enterprise, the economic basis of authentic, workable socialism.

    Marxism believes that society can advance to a classless society through ownership of all the instruments of production, inc the land, by the socialist state. We believe, based on theory backed up by both positive and negative historical experience, that only widespread ownership of the workplace, plus leadership by a sincere, scientifically-minded political party, can move society to a classless future.

  • April 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm
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    Grady, I have tried to respond to you before, and ended up a slightly cross purposes. I hope this does not happen this time. I think your use of the terms “private property” and “state” are the source of the confusion.
    By “private property” you do not mean “private” in a capitalist sense, but rather not “state” owned. Indeed what you are suggesting by means of co-operatives is forms of collective property owned by the co-operatives. Thus in my humble opinion a better term would be “socialist property” which is in line with Pedro Campos’ recent article. What I have been suggesting, is that the entire country become one big co-operative, via the use of cybernetic communications technology, as opposed to lots of little co-operatives competing via the market. Personally, and I don’t mean this with any disrespect, I think your approach would be better suited to China, and if you are going to push, that is strategically the best place to do it.

  • April 26, 2010 at 12:31 am
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    P-J Proudhon concluded in the mid-1800s that there is only one power in society strong enough to balance the raw power of the state, to keep it from becoming tyrannical: the institution of private property.

    Bourgeois thinkers had already said the same thing, but Proudhon went a critical step further & said that this property should be owned broadly by the workers of society–cooperative industrial workers and the laboring small entrepreneurial class of farmers, restauranteurs, etc. History has corroborated Proudhon’s view.

    In spite of the institution of private property, elections under monopoly capitalism are a sham. This is because productive property is not owned broadly by those who do the work.

    Elections under Marxian state socialism apparently are a sham, in spite of the absence of the legal institution of private property. This is because productive property is not owned by those who do the work, but by the state.

    Coo-coo; coo-coo!

  • April 25, 2010 at 7:10 pm
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    There’s 1 important thing 2 keep in mind about soviets/councils/consejos/juntas & their de facto class composition. While myriad parties — legal or otherwise — do indeed reflect the class interests of a class society, what a socialist revolution over the control of the means of production thru the relations of production means, is that the socialist parliamentary system *cannot allow the reversion back 2 capitalist relations of production*. This would in fact B *counter*-revolution. So there has 2 B real limits on what certain class interests R allowed 2 do, even in a socialist democracy. So there cannot B a well-funded party, controlled by imperialist forces outside the country, that is allowed 2 subvert the entire socialist project, simply because their idea of “democracy” is ‘anything goes’ (until they themselves R back in power, of course — in which case ‘deathsquad democracy’ will quickly become the order of the day).

    & I wonder what this could remind us of, eh?

  • April 25, 2010 at 6:57 pm
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    Your article covers a lot of ground. Thanks 4 describing this in detail: tho’ many of us R already somewhat aware of how this process works.

    As U point out, this situation is far from ideal. Certainly there must be meetings & debates: on TV or in meetings — or televised meetings — in any functioning democracy, & certainly in 1 claiming 2 B socialist. & of course candidates should B allowed 2 lay out their platforms. It’s ridiculous not 2 B able 2 do so, as you relate here. However, this gets 2 the heart of the issue with the still-stalinist praxis of the cuban state: with its refusal 2 countenance anything but a “1 party” state (the Party being all that the workers really need”, etc. However the fact of the matter is that Cuba, like all other countries, remains a class society: & this fact is not reflected in the party makeup of the parliament — which really should function as the organically evolved soviets actually did, early-on in the Russian Revolution.

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