Cuba’s Democratic Left on State Socialism

The Future Is Ours. Photo by Kate Forrester
The Future Is Ours. Photo by Kate Forrester

HAVANA TIMES — A couple weeks ago we published a summary of an essay by Pedro Campos and Armando Chaguaceda on the inability of the State Socialist system that reigns in Cuba to carry out the changes and renewal needed to avoid the country repeating the course of the now extinct USSR and European Socialist Camp.

For readers who can handle Spanish we placed the link to the full essay but due to translation limitations we were unable to bring you it in English.

Shortly after, one of our faithful HT volunteer translators took the piece on because of its importance to those wanting to understand the issues therein. So today, thanks to him, we can bring you the full text in English.

Cuba and the Incapacity of State Socialism to Change and Renew Itself

By Pedro Campos and Armando Chaguaceda

During the first years of Soviet power in Russia after Lenin died, Stalin killed Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Tomsky, all prominent members of the Political Bureau of the Bolshevik Party during the Leninist era, accusing them of betraying Soviet power, by disagreeing with its ultra-centrist, undemocratic line and proposing reforms considered by the Georgian to be capitalist deviations.

Thousands of the Party cadres and members of the Armed Froces shared the same fate or were sent to Siberia, to carry out forced labor in concentration camps.

In the 1960s, Nikita Khrushchev severely criticized the Stalinist personality cult at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, attempted economic reform and tried to ease international relations, moves which ultimately cost him the post of Secretary General and ostracism.

Two decades later, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR began a process of renewal – Perestroika – which was buried under the coup made by the defenders of the traditionalist neo-Stalinist model, circumstances which Boris Yeltsyn and the liberal forces who wanted to change things, took advantage of in favor of something more acceptable to the majority. In just half a year, the system was dismantled.

The results are well known: the restoration of Russian capitalism with all the ensuing consequences: an initial neoliberal phase, led by Yeltsyn, associated with corruption, privatization and the decline of state power and then another authoritarian one, where the customs and symbols of Russian nationalism and statism were resuscitated with Putin at the helm.

In both cases with quite a few “capitalists” and “democrats” emerging from the “socialist” bureaucracy which is now in charge of the nation.

China: Capitalist Restoration with a Socialist Disguise

In China, the Chinese Communist Party, under the direction of the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping, for many years took the clear path of capitalist restoration while trying to keep up a socialist disguise.

Today no one doubts that China is just one more capitalist power: exporting goods and capital and hunting (in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in the capitalist centers of the U.S. and Europe) for markets, businesses and natural resources. Preying on the environment, it participates in the geopolitical division of spheres of influence and in the arms race and consecrates the hegemony (real and symbolic) of the capitalist market.

Thus the Chinese attempt at state socialism did not undergo renewal either but evolved more towards private capitalism under an authoritarian regime.

At the heart of the Cuban revolutionary process there has been an on-going discussion about how to continue the revolution of 1959. Firstly, among those who prioritized democratic restoration – with the necessary dose of redistributive and judicial content – and those in favor of a strong state to manage social reforms. The leader from the Sierra [Fidel Castro], together with these last, prevailed in the end.

The Cuban Communists who accompanied and supported him forgot that Marx was not in favor of sacrificing freedom for justice, and forgot too that the people’s revolution of 59 had been undertaken to restore the democratic order interrupted by Batista. They, and the revolutionary leadership itself, conveniently “forgot” the promise of “freedom with bread, bread without terror” heralded by the supreme leader in the first speeches he made after victory (1).

Then, having elected to take the path towards a Stalinist type “socialism”, and having demarcated those forces insisting on restoring the democracy undermined in 1952 (but on a broader level, extending it – to varying degrees – with forms and degrees of public participation, social gains and national sovereignty unheard of under the bourgeois Republic) as well as those who generally rejected the transfer of the “communist” experience to Cuba, the focus of the discussions within the organizations supporting the government shifted towards the implementation of a centralized economic and political model of Soviet inspiration.

It was in this context that the controversy arose between Che and Charles Betheleheim (Belgian Communist, favoring business autonomy and greater rationality in macroeconomic management, using the law of value and forms of worker participation) and that held by the pro-Khrushchovians promoters of Economic Calculus (led by Carlos Rafael Rodriguez) and the voluntarists/idealists of the Budgetary Finance System (directed and inspired by Che).

A Lord and Master State

But in the end nothing came out of it all, only a lord and master state, all-powerful, hyper-centralized, headed by the by-now-familiar leader, until 1975 when the First Congress of the second Communist Party set new guidelines for society and voted the 1976 Constitution, a quasi-copy of the neo-Stalinist constitution in force in the USSR.

In the economic field, the measures approved in 1975-76, entailed several phases ranging from centralization to more decentralization in the business sector and in the regions (2).

But in 1986, at the 3rd Congress of the CPC, when the time came to move on to decentralization and autonomy for businesses and many party and worker cadres were clamoring for final shape to be given to the measures envisaged in the SPDE (Economic Management and Planning System),  the President of the Councils of State and Ministers, First Secretary of the Party and Commander in Chief, ordered the “rectification of errors and negative tendencies”.

This was the preventive reaction the supreme leader took – wrapped up in appeals to the ideals of Che and to healthy and sound popular energies, imbued with leftist idealism – when confronted with the possibility that the renewal process taking place in the USSR and in part of the “socialist camp” might occur in Cuba too. A single speech saw the elimination of the SPDE and the JUCEPLAN, the Central Planning Board, charged with implementing what was approved at the 1st Congress of the CCP in 1975.

Since then we have seen a complete return to the excessive centralization of the decision-making process whether economic, political or otherwise. General assemblies were held between the top business directors and the supreme leader to give concrete orientation; and contingents of workers have been set up for the main economic sectors, led personally by Fidel through the auspices of designated directors but also serving to “confront” any protests that might arise, these measures heralded a return to the era of expensive macro-experimentation, typified by the now famous micro-jet banana.

Reacting to the Special Period Crisis

This situation was accentuated by the so-called “Special Period in Time of Peace” after the fall of the USSR and the socialist camp, when the subsidized Cuban economy naturally went bankrupt. So popular despair increased. Where they could, people left the country in even greater numbers. The blame went to imperialism and its real threat was hyped to justify emergency measures. The philosophy of “in a besieged city: all dissent is treason” became more valid than ever.

Instead of speeding up reforms to the system, the country’s leadership, ignoring the opinions and desires of its members, its citizens and intellectuals (expressed in the national debate organized on the eve of the Fourth Congress of the CCP in 1991) tried to sustain the centralist model with its austerity measures and repressive mechanisms.

It was only the August 5, 1994 revolt on the Malecon in Havana, that prompted the implementation, but again in a restricted, oscillating fashion, of a package of economic reforms under study. Only to be later withdrawn or modified, when Chavez and Venezualan oil came to the rescue.

These measures, a necessary evil as they were termed at the time, led to no substantial change in the centralized, bureaucratic economic model, at the same time as no significant change was seen in the political system.

From Fidel to Raul Castro

This situation has persisted until after the historic leader’s illness, when the new government of Raul Castro began what it started to call, the “updating ” of the economic model – a new and more extensive version of the package truncated at the end of the 1990s’ – ratified politically by the Sixth Congress of the PCC.

Also aimed at is greater efficiency in the productive system of the state through rationalizing its structures and staff and through the relative centralization/decentralization of the utilization of state resources and finances, as the bureaucratic elite sees fit.

To divest what are considered unproductive activities, to create jobs and improve state finances through taxation – as a solution to its needs – the state opened the door slightly to self-employment, to small and medium domestic capital investment and large scale foreign investment and to a lesser degree to the subordinated insertion into the economy of certain types of cooperatives – on an experimental basis – but still under the control of the monopolistic state.

The government of Raul Castro also entertains high hopes for American tourism and for Cuba to serve as a bridge (from the port of Mariel) between the North American, the South American and part of the Asian markets to try to revive its economy, pending the lifting of the US blockade.

From our point of view this is a serious strategic mistake, since we do not believe that such a waiver is possible without first creating democratic change in the political system, something which the so-called historical figures seem unwilling to do. Whatever the case, trusting the further development of “socialism” to economic cooperation with imperialism, and maintaining restrictions on the freedoms and rights of citizens, seems as illogical as neo-Plattist.

Foreign trade, the wholesale and most of the retail market, continue under the administration of state monopolies, beyond a rational, necessary national regulation, desirable and understandable for reasons of planning and sovereignty. Everything for the purpose of essentially maintaining centralized state control of the economy and its traditional enterprises, whether or not they are profitable, produce for export or for domestic consumption or use this or that currency in their operation.

Positive Changes but Too Slow and Still Inadequate

The modest, positive changes Raul Castro’s government has recently introduced include allowing Cubans access to hotels, to cellular telephones and travel abroad under the new immigration law, rights all absurdly violated under the previous government with the excuse that it was all for “the class struggle and the confrontation with imperialism.” In short, steps to be lauded perhaps, but too long delayed, slow and still inadequate.

In the political sphere, prisoners of the so-called Group of 75 have been freed, but the systematic imprisonment of opponents and harassment of any type of expression of independent thought and activism (whatever the ideological persuasion) are maintained at a high level. Repression may have altered its modes of expression but not its essence.

An opening has also been created for sexual and cultural diversity, but censorship and the repression of political pluralism remains a logical and natural feature of a complex, mature society like Cuba.

But these small steps, all slowed down by the bureaucracy, are far from what is needed to drive a socialist renewal. What’s been done so far is more likely to benefit a capitalist restoration, a tropical variation of the kind that developed in authoritarian China.

We must remember that the “update” was preceded by a limited debate along vertical lines within the Communist Party and Cuban society, which opened up when the Great Conductor of the Revolutionary Process said at the University of Havana in 2005 that the revolution could be destroyed by the revolutionaries themselves if it did not solve the solve the serious problems of corruption and the bureaucracy.

Proposals from the Left Fall on Deaf Ears

Left-wing reformist forces, participating where they could, particularly from the alternative media (3) sources available to them, given the limited space for participation allowed them by the centralized system, have presented a series of proposals for a democratic and socialist exit from the crisis.

Their suggestions have ranged across the entire economic, social and political sphere but the Party-government has accepted them only to a limited extent and has facilitated neither their disclosure nor their discussion either within the party or by society at large.

Rather than being encouraged, many of us promoting these proposals, have been repressed in different ways, amply demonstrating that not only is traditional dissent repressed in Cuba but also that the motivation for such repression (which the official propaganda insists is having proven links with foreign governments), has no foundation whatsoever.

Not one representative of the renovation minded left (political or intellectual) of the country or the world was invited even as an observer to the Sixth Congress of the PCC. The most important socio-economic measure demanded by the socialist left, – the direct participation of workers in the management, running and in part of the proceeds of the state enterprises was not even touched on in the so-called “guidelines”.

To limit our access to alternative media spaces, to harass and slander us with biased remarks and false accusations wherever we tried to publish, staff of the organs of state security and of the apparatus of information control, were ordered to prevent the publication of any articles written by the democratic left within the revolutionary nucleus or appearing in any organ of the national press,

Our comrades were dismissed from their jobs, demoted to positions where they have less influence, given early retirement of the FAR and the MININT and others had their internet and e-mail accounts closed.

In extreme cases, attempts have been made to prevent the left holding activities with the threat that “popular anger” or wild accusations of “infiltration by CIA agents” into their ranks could be made against them.

Some of the media of the international left such as Rebellion – presumably under pressure from the Cuban government – stopped publishing the critical proposals of the Cuban left. In other media like Kaosenlared, we have seen a sharp rise in the coverage devoted to official government writers and zealots defending the statist model, in an attempt to dull the strong international presence of the left silenced in Cuba.

The Casa Cuba Laboratory Proposal

Recently, the Casa Cuba Laboratory, a group of young intellectuals containing communists, republicans, socialists, anarchists and Catholics in its ranks, issued a document calling for a national debate on basic aspects of political life from a purely democratic and socialist perspective.

So far the Party-government’s response has been one of silence with its apparatus of disinformation and discredit attacking its proposals and trying to identify them with “the enemy” in the alternative online media.

And so the Goebels-Beria propaganda twist is applied: “The NED is a US government institution. The NED provides funding to Cubaencuentro magazine. The former director of Cubaencuentro comments favorably on Casa Cuba Laboratory’s proposals. The conclusion is clear: The LCC is linked to the US government. It is one of the methods that have always been used against the democratic, socialist left by fascists and Stalinists in all parts of the world, in all ages.

It has become clear that the members of the ruling bureaucracy have no wish to share real power, neither economic nor political with the workers nor with the rest of the population but prefer to collaborate with domestic and foreign capital in the exploitation of Cuban workers in exchange for financial support so they can continue indefinitely licking at the “the honey pot of power”

The conclusions are obvious: in Cuba, the old, failed model of state socialism shows no signs of willingness for a true renewal and just like in China, its traditional supporters aspire to “develop the country’s economy on the basis of a capitalist restoration controlled by the Party.”

Thus they seek to create the conditions, once the “historic leadership” has disappeared which will allow them to move on to an autocratic capitalism of the Russian type, where liberal democracy and citizens’ rights are circumscribed by the hegemony of a nationalist party and its associated elites and their allies, with the complacency of the transnationals and the other imperialist powers.

For the traditional leadership of the Party-government, anything that is foreign to its own guidelines, is by definition against it. Anything that they do not believe in, is branded as serving imperialism. Any demand, from whatever quarter, for democracy and for the rights violated by the statist model, “only serves the enemy.”

The Achievements Were Made Possible by the Workers

In the same way, the achievements of the populace in health, education and sports, (which must be preserved from any moves towards privatization) and which exist thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of millions of honest citizens, are presented as the work of the ruling bureaucracy for which the public is supposed to pay them homage.

The intolerance to change the model sustained by the single Party-state and its absolute control over most property, the legal system, the armed forces, security and public order, as well as the system of para-political organizations and the media and all the means of disclosure, makes any real discussion of socialist renewal in this country virtually impossible.

The inability of “state socialism” to renew itself is also evident in Cuba. And this same resistance to change, is what caused the political pendulum to swing to the opposite extreme in the USSR and other state-socialist countries.

Closed Doors

From the socialist left, we have tried to do our part. We have called for fair and democratic discussion through the available channels as well as “in the right form, place and time,” something the present government and its supporters defend. But each time we have had the door slammed in our face.

In our country, the tacit message of official propaganda continues to be: “either for the revolution or against the revolution”, identifying the revolution with the line adopted by the Party-government, and making you “either with Cuba or with US imperialism”, identifying Cuba with the line adopted by the Party-government. Two absurdities offering no solution: either you support the failed model (till it ends in debacle) or you are an accomplice of imperialism.

But for Cuba’s democratic socialists the matter is quite clear: neither one nor the other.

In their smear campaigns against the Cuban broad democratic left, they try to present our criticisms as corresponding to the positions of the imperialist enemy to accuse us of collusion with it, ignoring the fact that our proposed solutions have nothing to do with capitalism and that we have rejected overtures by US government agencies (as can be seen from testimonies in the press) and that we maintain a critical stance on the foreign and domestic policies of the major capitalist powers. At the same time as debating our differences with representatives of the liberal ideology, in ways that correspond to a civic exchange.

The only people who will be responsible for Cuba ending up in the purest form of capitalism, and being annexed by US imperialism in one form or another, whether real or virtual, are those at the highest levels of the Party-government, who resist the changes that are needed and demanded by the Cuban people, the left, and every patriotic Cuban citizen supporting the democratization of the political system and the socialization of property.

For broad sectors of the population, the attitude they take only serves to reinforce the idea that socialism is incorrigible, that the left cannot possibly have alternatives to the current crises and that the democratic values of the liberal model and of capitalism in consequence, are superior.

Given this intolerance, this sectarianism, the levels of repression against everything that is not pro-government, it is virtually impossible – no matter how much we desire it or how hard we try –  to arrive at any understanding or cooperation with the current leaders.

It is quite simple: they do not want to, they do not care. They think they are all-powerful, infallible and eternal.

We are not against meeting with representatives of the Party-government for the purpose of holding a serious dialogue on the future of Cuba. Indeed, we have sought to do so repeatedly, only to be visited by members of the security forces, with no authority to discuss policy issues. All our writings and our proposals are known to the Party leadership. But many of us on the socialist left have already lost hope of such a meeting ever taking place.

We have no criticism nor do we oppose those among the variegated Cuban left who insist that it is possible to move on towards a socialist renewal from the current political and governmental structures. If only it were possible! We wholeheartedly wish it were so and that our diagnosis (based on the harsh everyday reality, historical and personal experience) be found wanting.

The Need to Recognize Failure

But still we believe that the current leaders first need to recognize that the statist model has failed utterly and accept that the whole system of concepts, methods and structures on which it is founded must be democratically transformed.

We cannot possibly move forward with our socialist demands while the current model of state capitalism persists with the Party-government having absolute control of the economy, politics, information, elections, legal system and all the other institutions that should respond to the wishes of the people as a whole and not just to a select group.

And of course, the changes we fight for and defend from the variegated ranks of the left are not aimed (as the government claims from its dark, hooded ranks) at restoring capitalism in Cuba, nor for the right in Miami and the imperialists to take ownership of our country – which is what will happen ultimately through the government’s apathy, stubbornness and intolerance – but so the Cuban people and their labor and social groups are the ones who decide who should be elected and given responsibility for implementing the policies that are approved by popular referenda, to make and approve the laws and determine how the output of the production system is to be allocated and distributed.

At the same time, we acknowledge the invariable right of all Cubans, regardless of their political views or their location, to associate freely, to speak freely and to participate in the political, social and economic life of the nation. Either freedom is for everyone, or it is a lie.

And so, despite the fact that the issue seems to be beyond the comprehension of some people, we firmly believe that everyone has the right to freely express their opinion on matters of politics or society, and that in this regard, we socialists have the opportunity to persuasively win the public’s confidence in promoting a program of democratization that is both fair and just in defense of our popular, national sovereignty.

What is the Party-government afraid of? If they are so confident they can always count on the vast majority of people who vote for them in the elections, why should they trouble themselves about things like freedom of expression and association or for the development of completely free and democratic elections?

For these reasons we believe that the struggle to democratize society must be put at the top of the work list of the Cuban socialist left, as Casa Cuba Laboratory has done. Given the circumstances and the sectarian attitude of the Party-government, we have no alternative but to do so.

Grassroots Democracy Is the Only Way

The present model needs to be changed, but doing so top down, out of the structures of the old system, appears impossible. We need to work for grassroots democracy, from the ground up, from within the local neighborhood, from the workplaces, from the alternative press, fighting for every space available for popular participation at every occasion, wherever it is to be found, in an attempt to change certain aspects of the Constitution, criminal procedure law, electoral law and the laws that support the political and economic monopoly of the state-party-government.

We reject all foreign interference in our internal affairs; but like the Cuban revolutionaries we have been in solidarity with other oppressed peoples of the world and so it is no wonder the international community is in solidarity with Cuba’s oppressed.

Nor do we advocate violence of the kind. But rather civic action from positions that are peaceful, constructive and comprehensive. True socialism, natural, not imposed, humanist, democratic, the socialism of human solidarity, inclusive, can only be achieved by methods like these and never through the absurdity of imposition.

If the Cuban socialist democratic left as a whole wants its ideals to be published in Cuba and disseminated throughout the country and wants to struggle freely for its ideals, it needs to abandon all forms of sectarianism and subordinate its interests to the general struggles of the Cuban people for the complete restoration of democracy in the full extent of its meaning: the power of the people.

No to the “democracy” controlled by the powerful, by those who control the capital whether private or state, by those who exploit the people. But Yes to real, direct democracy where the people decide on all the issues that concern it.

Without democracy, socialism of any kind is impossible.


1 – See

2 – See Resolutions of the 1st Congress of the Party on the Management and Planning System for the Economy as well as the most recent article by Carmelo Mesa Lago, “Cuba in the Raul Castro era” published in 2012 by the Colibri Publishers.

3 – Citizen forums in homes and communities, websites of the international left, independent blogs, discussion spaces of official institutions, especially in the cultural world.



5 thoughts on “Cuba’s Democratic Left on State Socialism

  • Jorge, I agree with everything you say in this comment. Thank you for being a reasonable, sincere socialist.

    Regarding such an “updated version of socialism,” this is something we’ve been struggling to work out and define in the US, for our country and socialist Cuba, as well.

    As for Cuba, we believe that socialist state power must be defended at all costs. But we feel that there are three choices before the Cuban people:

    (1) maintain the status quo, with the present wooden-headed misunderstanding of authentic, workable socialism;

    (2) move fully into a Chinese/Vietnamese-type of capitalism with tight control by the PCC; or,

    (3) move to a socialist cooperative republic, with restoration of private property rights and a conditioned market, and a thriving small bourgeoisie.

    This #3 might also be characterized as a form of “social-capitalism” (to the horror perhaps) of comrades who will not take the tine to understand what this truly means).

    Such a republic, in which the socialist state would silently co-own significant industry and commerce, and adroitly utilize a worker-owned economy with proper incentives, hopefully would eliminate the severe negatives of both statist socialism and monopoly capitalism.

    In any case, Jorge, thank you again for an excellent comment.

  • The Cuban dictatorship’s response to the proposals of the democratic left for renewed socialism based on democracy reveals the true face of the dictatorship. They have always been opposed to democracy. Their cynical reference to socialism is a sham. Their only goal is power for the ruling clique.

    The direction the government is moving is toward an authoritarian system based on state controlled capitalism dominated by the military: in a word, Fascism.

  • Well, the comrades Pedro and Armando are surely correct in saying that the present “state socialism” and its lack of democracy will lead eventually to a social and political catastrophe. But they seem to have danced all around the floor without making reference to the real “elephant in the room.”

    That elephant is a definition of what authentic social actually would be.

    If authentic, workable, democratic and prosperous socialism is not the state socialist model, then what is it?

    Pedro and Armando act as though the question of private property rights under socialist state power does not exist. They gush forth with an endless stream of democratic rhetoric but never come out with a concrete alternative economic program to replace “state socialism.”

    The bottom line is that, as bourgeois thinkers and socialists like Proudhon said long ago, you cannot have political and social democracy unless you have democracy in the economy. Democracy in the economy cannot exist without private property rights.

    The difference between the bourgeois democrats and the Proudhonists is that the bourgeois economic democracy leads to monopolization and the negation of democracy in every sphere; whereas the Proudhonist economic democracy seeks to make democracy in every sphere permanent by making ownership of productive enterprise the direct property of those who do the work.

    Pedro and Armando seem to be incapable of thinking outside the Marxist box. Their socialism is a Utopian-style jump to full state ownership of all productive property–i.e., immediate and permanent abolition of private property right by full state ownership of everthing a-la-Marx/Enges–but a revulsion with everything this silly mis-formula engenders.

    What they cannot comprehend is that state socialism is Marxian, and the Marxian formula for post-capitalism is state socialism.

  • Changes are needed in any system from time to time. Changes were certainly needed in Russia in the late eighties and changes are also required in Cuba in 2013. Yet the fast pace of changes in Russia that saw the rapid restoration of capitalism and privatisation of its industries resulted in mass poverty and unemployment. The life expectancy of the average Russian fell by ten years! The country was handed over to gangsters.

    Cubans are proud of the advances made by their socialist system. If it were not for this they would have the gangs, shanty towns and extreme poverty that is a familiar sight in neighbouring countries.

    I think the Cuban government is approaching reform and revitalisation of Cuban socialism well. It’s changes are made on the basis of mass consultation. It is clear that the top quality health and education will not suffer from slight economic changes.

    We need an updated version of socialism

  • Cuba’s far left movement is ’tilting at windmills’. I am completely convinced that if a real multiparty democracy is established in Cuba, the people will choose capitalism. The last thing Cubans want to do is experiment further. After 54 years of Castros’ BS experiment, I believe the majority the population just want to be happy and free to make a living wage. I am further convinced that if in the process of rebuilding what Castro destroyed, Cubans living abroad are encouraged to return to their homeland to invest in Cuba’s future they will bring with them both their material wealth and the wealth of capitalist tools which can only be used in a capitalist system. Democracy is a must but it will come at the cost of socialism.

Comments are closed.