Does a Revolutionary Social Pact Exist in Cuba?

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Photo: Elio Delgado

HAVANA TIMES, April 13 — It has become fashionable (and it’s good that it has) to talk about the so-called revolutionary social pact and its crisis.  Flowing from that, according to one’s likes, people refer to the revolution’s reformulation, completion or “upgrading” (to use the jargon characterizing the meager Raulist reforms).

Most recently it was Espacio Laical” — a highly commendable online magazine (in Spanish), and one that I always read with delight — that refloated this issue and called on four distinguished specialists to give their assessments of the essence of the pact, the reasons for its crisis and future prospects.  Those invited were Lenier Gonzalez, Arturo Lopez Levy, Alexis Pestano and Carlos Alzugaray (see

It’s interesting to note that those who were called upon have profiles substantially different in terms of their ages, political and institutional affiliations, places of residence, etc.

This resulted in some explanatory twists that I found delightful, such as the sophisticated analogical-rhetorical effort of identifying the Cuban Revolution with the Holy Trinity (a “revolutionary political Trinity” according to Pestano), as well as the sincere militant self-censuring of Alzugaray when he apologized for giving political opinions to avoid “falling into liberalism” (an expression that made me nostalgically recollect those distant times when I was politically active in the Young Communist League.

But beyond those and other differences that enrich the dossier, the interviewees fundamentally agreed when responding to questions about the “revolutionary social pact,” both in terms of what they said and what they omitted.

WORD GAMES

What was also curious was the style: employing elliptical word games, uses of implied notions intelligible only to old hands, cryptic rhetoric, and the scholastic use of authority as a source of knowledge.  With this was the tremendous additional difficulty that authority/knowledge in Cuba emanates from none other than Raul Castro (whose intellectual gifts are not exactly a source of national pride).

Fidel's Command Post in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. Photo: Elio Delgado

Likewise, it is interesting to see that the authors live and publish in the middle of that so-called revolutionary social pact that they are analyzing – a pact that has essentially meant our giving up our civil and political rights in exchange for security and social protection.  They are part of the pact and you have to abide by its rules or stop publishing and living in Cuba.

If we are honest, such Caudine gallows are put up with by the intellectuals of any system, only that in Cuba the gallows are too close to the ground, and moving below them is the only game in town (if what you want is to continue playing).

For those reasons — and this is my principal objection — much of what the authors are saying is wishful thinking, postulates detached from reality and that couldn’t convince anyone in the country who is not willing to be convinced.  As Marx would say, they are completely divorced from the cruel real world.

Due to my own theoretical inadequacies, I cannot go into a full discussion of the dossier; and for reasons of space, nor can I highlight all of the outstanding theoretical and political virtues that are contained in the magazine’s pages.  I only want to stop and point out two controversial aspects: the doubtful validity of the concept of revolutionary social contract and the current sense of its use

From my point of view the concept is erroneous.  This is not because it speaks of a social pact characteristic of Natural Law, which can be used or not (I myself used it widely in the days of CEA [the Center for Studies of the Americas] 15 years ago); rather, the error is in calling it “revolutionary.”

For a long time now, the Cuban revolution has not existed. It was an action produced by historical need and that attempted to solve many problems that the preceding republic was unable to – with the revolution succeeding in some cases and not in others.  It was no one’s invention or the manipulation of a group of men.  However that process of radical transformations was essentially completed by 1965.

Discussion. Photo: Observatorio Crítico

What came after 1965 was a series of voluntarist and adventurous acts — internal and external — whose most strident failure was the sugarcane harvest of 1970.  This was the epic death rattle of an exhausted revolution that ended up being coddled in the arms of the Soviet bloc.  This also had its advantages, for example in the use of the Soviet subsidies for an intense process of social mobility whose result was the guarantee of a future for the island.  But nothing of that was revolutionary.  I would say that it was a Thermidorian process sweetened by subsidies.  In any way of looking at it, it was a post-revolutionary process.

This was the setting in which the social pact being discussed today was consolidated.  It was subordination more than a pact, and negotiated with great difficulty between two very dissimilar parties.

On one hand there was the atomized individual, lacking autonomous organizations and constrained by effective structures of political and police control.

On the other hand was a political class that came out of a violent action (as is always the case in a revolution) that was able to repress and disarticulate the effective opposition and export potential.  It counted in its favor a sustained flow of external resources that provided it with an impressive degree of autonomy in the eyes of society, and in that same sense a quasi-monopolistic capacity to produce a credible ideology.

To continue calling this conservative and authoritarian monster a “revolutionary social pact” is a very costly offering to the ideological construction that today sustains the Cuban political regime.

To think that it’s possible for it to mend its ways is another even greater error.

Moreover, if this involves affecting such change from a left and socialist position believing that there exists in Cuba a popular power base that could be the embryo of an anti-capitalist alternative in the future, one must realize that a socialist political alternative cannot be derived from something it never was.  To continue believing this is to continue undermining socialist credibility itself, sinking it in the silt of caudillo authoritarianism, inefficiency and mediocrity.

The second aspect is simpler.  The ruin of the so-called revolutionary social pact is due to many factors: social mobility, the emergency of the younger generations, contacts with the diaspora (outside and inside Cuba), the inevitable rupture of the information monopoly, etc.

However, especially because of the process of recovering economically from the 1990s, there came onto the Cuban scene a new mechanism for the allocation of resources and values — the market — that at the same time became a very distinguished vector of the new means of social mobility.

Celebration. Photo: Elio Delgado

If this is the case, then the diversity that has to be assumed by pluralism, which the magazine’s commentators decidedly propose, cannot simply be an advisory accessory of the same mono-centric apparatus that exists today.  Instead, it has to be a principle of re-organization of the entire political system and government.

In other words, it is not enough to remember that there are blacks and whites, young and old, women and men, but that there are also social democrats and social Christians, socialists of various stripes, liberals and many other political congregations, all with the right to compete for civic support for their programs and possibly for government offices.

I don’t know exactly what the people who run Espacio Laical have in mind, but I do know that if they published something like that, they would lose their ability to publish at that very instant.  And if that were to happen I would regret the loss such a valuable forum for discussing a better future for the island.

But beyond this dilemma, I believe that as the Cuban government reveals to the masses of people that they themselves will have to solve their own basic problems in the market and that their social services are deteriorating, it will not be possible to maintain the principle of post-revolutionary authoritarianism: they are reneging on the exchange of civil and political rights for security and social protection.

I believe that there is also an ethical dilemma in remaining silent when a congress of the party is organized in which any discussion of political change is prohibited as a guarantee of the indispensable social peace for capitalist restoration led by the military, the technocrats and the Castro clan.

Finally, I ask to make a brief digression on a surprising statement by such a sharp analyst as Lopez Levy.  The proximity of the United States to Cuba (Havana is the Latin American capital closest to American territory) is always a delicate matter for Cuba, one full of opportunities but also risks.  However it is not possible to continue speaking of the Cuban political opening while asking to be excused due to the scarecrow of hypothetical US aggression.

Street Sleeper. Photo: Marco Petrovic

That aggression is no longer part of anyone’s agenda, not even those of the most backward and revanchist groups, which have opted to wait for the peaceful debacle.  Even if I was too categorical in my statement, we would be in agreement that there exist many ways to prevent interference without employing repression, prison of banishment of those who do indeed think differently.

The Cuban leaders know that historically they have shaken hands with the most uncompromising sectors of the American political spectrum by boycotting whatever initiative around rapprochement that has existed.  They have also used whatever political dispute that has been possible (Elian, the Cuban Five, etc.) to sustain their nationalist calisthenics as a political resource for consensus.

From that is revealed the inconsistency in the proposal made by Lopez Levy (lacking compassion with his solid intellectual preparation and with his ideological affiliation): for the liberalization of the political system. That’s to say a little retouching.  A liberalized system would expand freedoms and would allow people to believe and possibly say what they think.

However I believe that the problem of Cuba is different.  It is that of the radical democratization of the political system, which of course will guarantee that people think what they like, but especially to allow those opinions to impact the decisions and be taken into account.  That should be the basis of the future Republic of Cuba.  One in which each citizen’s right — social, political or civil— is a duty of public powers that are democratically constituted, transparent and subject to public accountability.

I fear that there is no more crucial an aspect for a left political agenda in Cuba than such democratization.  Without it, nothing is worth the trouble.


4 thoughts on “Does a Revolutionary Social Pact Exist in Cuba?

  • April 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm
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    Expecting political democratization to come prior to economic democratization is expecting the cart to come before the horse.

    History has shown that, just as the early bourgeois writers and the cooperative socialist P-J Proudhon said, the only force in society strong enough to counterbalance the raw power of the state, and keep the state from becoming tyrannical, is the institution of private productive property rights.

    This concept must be appreciated by socialists. If we wish socialist democracy, we must first have private property rights and broad democratic ownership of industry and commerce by both small entrepreneurs and worker-owned cooperatives. Hoping for political and social democracy without the institution of private property rights is like hoping to win the lottery without purchasing a ticket. It just ain’t gonna happen.

  • April 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm
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    The Elite it seems have no intentions of producing this democratization.
    To do so for them will be equivalent to relinquishing power back to the people and that is something they have refuse to do all alone.

    Some how I picture these people in power like Gollum of the lord of the ring with “the honey of power” or “his precious” as it was once called by Fidel Castro himself.

    So my impression is that just a few cosmetic changes will happen at least as long as the Castro name is attached to the power structures. This cosmetic changes are with the intention to give them something to release some of the internal pressure building up. Just enough so that they can keep still all the power in their family clan.
    Again this elite in power have treated Cuba as it was their own personal Farm.

  • April 14, 2011 at 12:55 am
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    Cuba´s crisis is inefficiency, lazy bureuacrats, unclear laws, and the emigration of the best educated people. This crisis can be solved, capitalism’s crisis is systemimmanent and cannot be solved. So this 6th congress may jump start Cubas economy and bring a decent welfare. The 100´s of G8 meetings brought nothing to the world so far, just for the big companies, banks and other financial parasites. Lucky Cuba!

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