By Samuel Farber*
HAVANA TIMES — According to one of the criticisms elicited by my article “Cuba’s One-Party State is the Main Obstacle” published in Havana Times on November 10, 2012, multiparty systems are a bad idea because they are invariably corrupt and inevitably involve the unprincipled “politiquería” (politicking) that characterized pre-revolutionary Cuba and other electoral systems in capitalist countries.
Although this argument expresses legitimate concerns that I certainly share, it glosses over some important issues which, when taken into account, lead to a different conclusion. Of those issues I would like to emphasize the following:
I) Multi-party systems have no monopoly of political corruption; one-party states, far from eliminating corruption, have often expanded and aggravated it. Moreover, one-party states protect political corruption from public exposure through a systematic lack of transparency and widespread censorship.
II) The constitutional and legal monopoly of the Cuban Communist Party and of its organizational transmission belts, such as the Cuban Federation of Women and the Cuban Confederation of Workers, is enforced by the Cuban state’s use of political, administrative and police methods that violate fundamental democratic rights such as free expression and free association.
If nothing else, it is for this reason alone that the legal and constitutional monopoly of the Party should be opposed regardless of any opinion people may have about the role that political parties should play in a socialist society.
III) Once the demand to end the legal and political monopoly of the Cuban Communist Party and its satellite “mass organizations” is realized, a multiplicity of political organizations and parties are bound to emerge, not necessarily because they are motivated by particular political ideologies, but as a reflection of the conflicting social forces and their divergent views within the “really existing” Cuban society, a major reason why the demand to abolish the one-party system is democratic.
Many groups will want to organize politically to obtain power at the national and political level in order to achieve what has been very difficult to gain at the local and social level. That is the essence and raison d’etre of a political party.
IV) Corruption and “politiquería” (politicking) are not a product of the multiplicity of political parties, but of the political systems within which these parties exist. Although this is not the place to examine the matter in depth, it is clear that democratic capitalist societies depend on the apathy and lack of involvement of the popular majorities to ensure political “stability” and the “normal” functioning of their economic systems.
Lacking active popular oversight, the electoral and political systems of these societies systematically encourage corruption that may range from the shameless theft of public funds to relatively more subtle forms such as the close and corrupt relationships between politicians, major campaign donors and lobbyists. These forms of corruption are at the heart of the plutocratic politics that prevail in the U.S. and many Latin American countries.
V) A socialist democratic republic principally based on the workplaces, which by their very nature generally constitute real collectivities, would lead to far more discussion and debate than an isolated individualized citizenry linked to the polity mainly through the mass media. The periodic renewal of mandates and the right of immediate recall of elected representatives to higher bodies, and the opening of the mass media to all political tendencies that are willing to use peaceful means to resolve political conflicts, would greatly enhance the active democratic participation, control and transparency of the political process.
VI) Contrary to Stalinist dogma, a socialist republic is about the emancipation of all exploited and oppressed groups, but this does not eliminate socio-economic and political conflict and the divergence of views among people. Political organizations and parties are the vehicles through which people can organize to fight for their interests and views, particularly among those racially and gender based groups that were specially oppressed under the previous regime.
Political parties are also likely to become indispensable vehicles for the aggregation and systematization of goals and demands into internally coherent alternative programs, thereby making it possible for the majority of the population to make meaningful choices for the country as a whole. Their purpose is to present comprehensive, society-wide proposals.
For example, some parties may favor a more radical reduction of production for the sake of ecological considerations while other parties may argue that poorer countries such as Cuba cannot afford to go that far because it is imperative to substantially raise the standard of living of the majority of the population.
These are the sorts of choices that any self-managed society is likely to confront and decide on a democratic basis.
VII) The chances for the creation of such a republic are directly proportional to the political weight that a movement of Cuba’s working people will have in any future transition from the present one-party state. In the absence of such a movement, other forces, organized and in likely collusion with U.S. imperialism, will prevail and bring about the socio-economic and political system they find most convenient to their interests.
That is why the issue of political self-organization is so crucial. It is critical to reiterate that any political, let alone financial link, with the U.S. not only undermines Cuba’s sovereignty but plays directly into the hands of the current regime.[i]
VIII) Were such a socialist republic not to prevail after the demise of the current political system, there are demands that the popular and workers’ movement could put forward to maximize their pressure from below and minimize political corruption and politicking. That is a general idea that would be necessary to apply to concrete situations.
For example, instead of moving immediately to the election of candidates for public office, elections could first be held for a constituent assembly. Such elections would tend to give more weight o substantive issues than to the personalities of candidates including, of course, the fundamental question of the socio-political and economic nature of a new Cuba.
This would also provide an excellent opportunity to advocate and agitate for the ideas and institutions responding to the interests of the people, like self-management and economic and political democracy.
To avoid the domination of the political process by moneyed interests, especially from abroad, such political campaigning could be exclusively financed with domestic public resources equitably distributed among all political currents in the island.
Based on fundamental considerations of national self-determination and equality of political access, this could entail the legal prohibition of U.S. or any other foreign provision of resources, including those of NGOs, to political associations in the country.
*Samuel Farber was born and raised in Cuba and has written numerous books and articles about that country. His most recent book is Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959. A Critical Assessment published by Haymarket Books in 2011.
[i] Because the existing Cuban state is undemocratic and monopolizes the mass media, the criminal prosecution of groups that receive U.S. aid to peacefully disseminate their views should be opposed, although these groups should be politically criticized for their Plattist (after the Platt Amendment) politics by those who advocate a democratic, socialist and independent transition.