Cuba’s One-Party State is the Main Obstacle

By Samuel Farber*

HAVANA TIMES — Even though the monopoly of power by the Cuban Communist Party may be compatible with a certain degree of liberalization – that is, a relaxation of the control that the State exerts over certain aspects of economic and social life – that political monopoly is the main obstacle to the genuine democratization of Cuban society.

That is why it is necessary to oppose the single party system and to prevent that opposition remaining in the hands of the Plattist (after the Platt Amendment) and pro-capitalist right wing.

The power that the single Party wields is obvious in spite of the obfuscation introduced by the so-called Popular Power, especially at the local level. Along with the Armed Forces, particularly its business agency GAESA, led by Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a son in law of Raúl Castro, the Party overwhelmingly controls the economy.

Its control and censorship of the mass media through the official press, and of the radio and the television through the ICRT (Cuban Institute of Radio and Television,) is less visible but is intimately and unavoidably tied to its power monopoly.

It is not for nothing that the “orientations” regarding what and how the mass media reports come from the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, directed by Rolando Alfonso Borges. Historically, it is clear that the elimination of the oppositionist and independent mass media – from the extreme and reactionary right of the Diario de la Marina to the independent left of Lunes de Revolución – was carried out in 1960 and 1961 as part of the measures that made possible the creation of the single party and the single thought initially embodied in the ORI (Integrated Revolutionary Organizations), later converted into the PURS (United Party of the Socialist Revolution) and, finally, into the PCC (Cuban Communist Party.)

The official press has no scruples whatsoever to hide from the people what the government does not want them to know. For example, is has hidden a good part of the recent scandals that have occurred at the highest levels of the government, as in the case of the state airline Cubana de Aviación.

Likewise, it has kept absolute silence about matters of national interest, such as what happened with the once celebrated fiber optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba, with which the government had promised to considerably increase the connectivity of the island’s deficient system. Its foreign policy coverage has been equally scandalous.

The official dailies Granma and Juventud Rebelde hide any negative news about foreign country leaders with friendly relations with the Cuban government, like Russia and China, and even more so about close allies like President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

The coverage of the “Arab Spring” has been shameful. Since Egyptian president Mubarak was a close ally of the United States, the Cuban press came out in favor of the opposition movement. But because the murderous Syrian regime of the Assad family has been a historic ally of the Cuban government, as well as of the USSR and the present Russian government, the official press has jumbled the truth with the most shameless lies to promote a highly favorable coverage of Assad’s actions.

The official media also controls all expressions of criticism, as reflected in the letters to the Editor that Granma publishes weekly. This section is dedicated to promote certain changes in the economy and publishes many complaints about the poor functioning of low and middle level bureaucrats, but never publishes any criticism of the policies of the high level leaders of the ruling party or of the ruling party itself.

An editorial in the Catholic journal Espacio Laical recently proposed that at the end of Raúl Castro’s two five year terms in 2018, the government establish the direct election of the president among competing candidates with different political-ideological views and who are not necessarily members of the Cuban C.P.[1]

Earlier, the Catholic intellectual Lenier González Mederos proposed “the radical redesign of the state institutions and of the architecture of the present Communist Party of Cuba so it can welcome in its ranks national diversity in its totality”[2] calling, in other words, for the Party to cease being Communist and convert itself into what it proclaims to be but is not: the party of the Cuban nation.

These proposals are more limited, and certainly more diplomatic, than the one being presented here. In reality, however, they are neither more nor less achievable than the abolition of the one-party state.

The leaders of the Cuban Communist Party are not stupid and know very well that these proposals would threaten their rule and make mincemeat of the Stalinist conception they have of socialism and of the ill-termed “democratic centralism,” one of the keystones of the Cuban Communist Party.

Even in the remote case that they were implemented, this would likely lead to a takeover by the Armed Forces and the removal of the Cuban Communist Party from power. It should be noted however, that this removal could happen anyway for other reasons after the demise of Fidel and Raúl Castro.

It is not surprising that González Mederos’ proposal in particular is linked to a vision of Cuban society known as Casa Cuba,[3] which ignores the profound differences in political, class and racial power, among other conflicting dimensions, in the “really existing” Cuban society. And it is precisely because of those conflicts that the freedom to organize political associations and parties is essential, so that people – workers, peasants, black people, women and gays, among others – can organize themselves politically whenever they consider it necessary.

So that the independent social movements in the island can organize into parties, to struggle at the national and political level for goals that are difficult to achieve at the local or social level, it is necessary to abolish the political monopoly of the Cuban Communist Party enshrined in the current constitution.

As we know, the constitutional monopoly of the ruling party extends to the official mass organizations such as the CTC (Confederation of Cuban Workers) and the FMC (Federation of Cuban Women), and that constitutes a great obstacle to any attempt to independently defend workers, women and other groups.

The experience of the independent women’s organization Magín, dissolved by the ruling party in the mid-nineties, is a pertinent example, particularly given that it was neither an oppositionist nor a dissident group, although it did have differences with the FMC regarding controversial questions such as prostitution.

Once deprived of its constitutional monopoly and, therefore, of all the privileges that the ruling party appropriated for itself in the course of its long time control of public life, the Communist Party could become a truly voluntary association financially supported by the dues and donations of its members and sympathizers.

The number of political organizations and parties that would emerge would, in the last analysis, depend on the conflict of interests and divergence of opinions in the “really existing” Cuban society. But the most important thing would be to establish the principle that the creation of new political organizations and parties cannot be hindered by legal, administrative or repressive means.[4]

It is worth adding that, contrary to the false parallel that the regime has drawn between the Cuban Communist Party and the Cuban Revolutionary Party led by José Martí, the latter was not a party in the same sense that is being discussed here: an organization that formulates systematic proposals for the government and administration of an established state.

Martí’s party was organized with only one purpose: to carry out the  war to achieve the country’s independence under civilian control, and never pretended to put forward a single point of view with respect to every kind of social and economic question.

A democratic socialist republic based on worker, peasant and popular control is incompatible with the political monopoly wielded by any organization. The Yugoslavian experience demonstrated that an authentic self-management at the local level can only function effectively if there is democratic planning, not dictated by a single party and the “blind” marketplace, of the economy and nation as a whole.

After all, the decisions with respect to vital questions like the rate of accumulation and consumption, wages, taxes and social welfare policies affect the whole economy and society and consequently circumscribe and limit the decisions, at the local level, of each work center.

For those of us who support the establishment of a self-managed socialism, it is necessary to clearly understand that the political monopoly of the Cuban Communist Party is not going to be abolished automatically, and that only a democratic movement from below can achieve that goal.

Worker self-management requires a degree of motivation and involvement on the part of urban and rural workers that does not exist in a society whose dire economic situation has strengthened the spirit of “resolver” (to solve basic needs) – including the wish to emigrate – thus creating powerful incentives for the efforts of the individual on behalf of herself and her family, but not on behalf of the collectivity as such.

It is precisely a democratic movement from below that can motivate people to become interested in the struggle for the democratization of their work centers and the country as a whole.
*Samuel Farber was born and raised in Cuba and has written numerous articles and books about that country. His last book Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959. A Critical Assessment was published by Haymarket Books in 2011.    

[1] “Cuba: la elección presidencial y el destino de la nación”. Espacio Laical, Suplemento Digital No. 211/ octubre 2012.

[2] Lenier González Mederos, “Iglesia Católica y nacionalismo: los retos tras la visita del papa Benedicto XVI,” Espacio Laical Digital. Suplemento Digital No. 177/Mayo 2012, 4.

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] With respect to foreign meddling and, specifically, that of the United States, it is legitimate and democratic to legally prohibit it once the communication and political education resources in the island are equitably distributed among the various political organizations and parties that commit themselves to peaceful means to resolve conflicts.

14 thoughts on “Cuba’s One-Party State is the Main Obstacle

  • November 14, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Luis, thanks so much for your response. I have very high regard for all your posts.

    No, we shouldn’t be enemies, and I certainly do not consider us so. I do not consider Marxists as enemies of socialist transformation. I am convinced however that Marxism, both as an ideology/theory and a strategic (maximum) program, is entirely “counter-transformationary.” (In sectarian terminology, “counter-revolutionary.”)

    I believe that you are unable to believe it possible that a former-Marxist, former-Trotskyist like me might have achieved any sort of valuable epiphany regarding the socialist transformation. And so, it never occurs to you to enter into a serious programmatic discussion. But if you should ever wish to grope your way out of the Marxian confidence scheme, feel free to poke me with a programmatic stick. Cheers.

  • November 13, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Hi Michael,
    I have argued about that cable and your experiences solidifies my theory (if even the ETECSA computers’ connection are faulty…) – the simple installation of the cable wouldn’t ‘magically’ give broadband access to end-users. It seems that there’s no fiber-optic backbone on the island neither infrastructure to implement metropolitan networks yet. This will require more investments.

  • November 13, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I haven’t posted in a while because I was in Cuba during much of September and all of October, and on my ETECSA hour only had enough time to post e-mails to family and friends! Also, in Habana and Santiago there was less internet access, as the ETECSA computers were often down, the hotels were out of ETECSA cards, etc. Only in the smaller cities did I find internet access readily available! What has happened with the cable from Venezuela?!

  • November 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    It’s funny because I fully agree with you about the socialist praxis but disagree on the theory… I think you should critic Marx where he was wrong – specially on his eurocentrism, historical determinism and rationalism (too bad he died before Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams…) – but we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. His Grundisse is a timeless classic. Anyway marxism has evolved… Marcuse, Deleuze, Negri… these are the shit man! 🙂

    We shouldn’t be enemies. History has showed us that, besides Stalinism, the worst thing that could’ve happened with the revolutionary left was the fruitless fight between anarchists and communists.

  • November 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Hey Michael long time no see! You’re welcome to put the debate level up on HT.


  • November 12, 2012 at 3:33 pm


    I agree with you that “Totalitarianism is woven into the cloth of Marxism.” But it is not necessarily woven into the cloth of socialism. All Marxist states, I suppose, would be socialist, but not all socialist states would need to be based on the fundamentally flawed ideology and strategic program of Marxism.

    Marxism is a “form” of socialism, because a transformation-minded political party stands at the head of a post-capitalist state endeavoring to solve the evils inherited from capitalism. At the same time, an attempt is being made to build toward a classless future.

    But history teaches us that the Marxian core principle of state monopoly ownership of all the instruments of production can neither solve the evils inherited from capitalism, nor build toward the classless future. It also teaches us that Marxism, if held to dogmatically, leads ultimately to the loss of social cohesion and the collapse of socialist state power. This appears to be happening in Cuba right now.

    As you may know, I advocate a re-conceptualization of the core principle of socialism as a modern cooperative, state co-ownership form. This would embrace private property rights, and lead hopefully to a truly democratic political republic.

    You may not agree that such a democratic form of socialism is possible, at least not yet, but I have to tell you the truth, regardless of how you might take it. Cheers.

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