Seven Years of Struggle for Participative and Democratic Socialism in Cuba

By Pedro Campos and other comrades

Pedro Campos

HAVANA TIMES — The Movement for Participative and Democratic Socialism (SPD) came into being on August 16, 2008, when we published the article titled “Cuba Needs a Participative and Democratic Form of Socialism.”

First advanced by a small group of people from the rank and file of the Cuban Communist Party and by former government officials, these ideas are today shared by many Cubans across the spectrum of our society.

Official government supporters such as Mariela Castro and Silvio Rodriguez, Catholic priests such as Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Cespedes and many intellectual, professionals, workers, self-employed persons, home keepers and no shortage of Cubans living abroad (including traditional “anti-Castro” activists) have declared themselves supporters and sympathizers of a participative and democratic socialist system.

Our only aim at the time was to contribute to the debate called by Fidel and Raul Castro themselves. Though the latter turned down our proposal, in his subsequent address and the proposals advanced during the 6th Congress of the Communist Party, he had no choice but to include some of our most important suggestions in the “reform” program, albeit in a skewed and limited fashion, when the so-called Party Guidelines were set down. The ideas advanced by SPD are nothing other than demands having to do with the country’s social, economic and political sectors.

The essential tenets of democratic socialism predate the October Revolution and were sketched out by Marx, Engels and other founders of modern socialism in many of their writings. Marx’s group in Switzerland called itself the “democratic communists.” These ideas emerged in the Soviet Union itself in reaction to Stalinist policies and were in a way present in Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Yugoslavia under Tito, during the Prague Spring of 1968, in Poland during the 80s and at the time of Perestroika in the former USSR.

Currently, Cuba’s authoritarian government, which maintains the State monopoly capitalism imposed on the island in the name of socialism, tries to ensure continued control over the country’s politics and economy – as the lives of the historical leaders come to an end – through an alliance between State capitalism and foreign (particularly US) capital.

Different versions of democratic socialism can be found across Cuban history, starting in the 1930s and as a direct response to the neo-Stalinism that began to take root on the island after 1959, when different groups of communists clashed with the authoritarian leadership and no few revolutionaries ended up in prison or banished after openly confronting the Communist Party, an organization that did and continues to do everything possible to divide, ignore and crush the democratic socialist current that has always been present within the revolutionary process.

Today, the basic concepts exposed in that document are handled and openly manipulated by the official discourse. No matter how much the authoritarian leadership of the Cuban Communist Party seeks to ignore them, the ideas of a participative and democratic form of socialism have gradually won over the hearts and minds of Cubans and people elsewhere in the world.

We have been witness to the solidarity shown by many Latin American, Caribbean, Canadian and US comrades. European revolutionaries and even people from Taipei, China, have traveled to Cuba to get to know our proposals – proposals which are ultimately not ours, but adaptions of the essential ideas of the founders of socialism to our concrete reality, ideas that have nothing to do with so-called “Marxism-Leninism.”

Currently, Cuba’s authoritarian government, which maintains the State monopoly capitalism imposed on the island in the name of socialism, tries to ensure continued control over the country’s politics and economy – as the lives of the historical leaders come to an end – through an alliance between State capitalism and foreign (particularly US) capital.

In these circumstances, those of us who support the SPD platform have declared that the struggle to democratize society must be brought to the foreground and have decided that other demands in our program should be made when the conditions to publicly struggle for these and implement them are in place.

That is why we call for the unity of the democratic Left and for joint actions with democratic and moderate movements within the peaceful opposition who have also made the struggle for democracy a priority.

Today, seven years since we published that document, we again call on the government, on its more progressive forces, to put an end to the growing repression against the peaceful opposition, and to take part in a nationwide debate with all actors, in an atmosphere of democracy that will allow all tendencies and political groups to openly advance their proposals for a democratic future all of us can support, aimed at establishing a new constitution, the rule of law and a new electoral law that is supported by the majority of the people.

We welcome the United States’ new policy towards Cuba and we hope the US Executive will continue to work to lift the restrictions of the embargo-blockade and to insist that Congress eliminate all existing sanctions, sanctions which, more than cause economic damage, politically affect the democratic currents within Cuban society and the longings for freedom of the Cuban people.

It’s time to put the military camp mentality behind us and to create the republic Marti spoke of, for everyone and for the good of everyone. No longer can Cuba stand to be controlled by the military.

We also again condemn the Cuban government’s intentions of secretly debating issues of democracy and human rights with other governments, as these are issues that ought to be addressed in a free, inclusive and horizontal debate among Cubans of all tendencies, both at home and abroad.

The policy of aggression and blockade pursued by the United States for half a century failed of its own nature, as did the “State socialism” they tried to impose on the Cuban people. Nothing sustainable can ever be built from the top down.

It’s time to put the military camp mentality behind us and to create the republic Marti spoke of, for everyone and for the good of everyone. Cuba can no longer stand to be controlled by the military. We do not want anyone to be defeated and hurt in the process, but that depends mainly on the willingness of the government-Party-State to accept a democratic resolution.

The opposition has taken on peaceful methods. The US government traded its policy of aggression and blockade for cooperation and rapprochement. The Cuban government has taken some steps to make its failed economic model more efficient and has changed its repressive methods somewhat, but it has not been able to advance towards the democratization of its politics.

The government must acknowledge the failure of its arbitrary form of socialism and State wage labor system, and must hand over power to the people – the very reason the revolution of 1959 was undertaken in the first place. Then it will create the conditions needed for Cuban society to advance towards democracy, justice and full freedom.

The ideas of participative and democratic socialism are spreading, no matter how much they seek to ignore them, how much mud is flung at them or how many people oppose them here and there, and for a very simple reason: they are not a straitjacket, they are not someone’s whimsical invention and they do not seek to impose themselves on anyone. They merely respond to the social and economic needs of the era we are living in.

22 thoughts on “Seven Years of Struggle for Participative and Democratic Socialism in Cuba

  • I would like to know who the observers are that have made those observations. The evidence suggests the opposite – Fidel made great strides to reach out to Carter. He went to Cuba, got free airtime on national television, played baseball with him etc. In hindsight both should have done more at the time to end the hostilities but some important changes occurred. To make out that Fidel deliberately upset the table is just a conspiracy theory. Nobody could have predicted how events would pan out when someone drove a bus through the gates of the Peruvian embassy. If you say that it was all planned, you should consider writing a chapter in book of “Castro predictions that have come true”.

    If the Liberals or the general population had really wanted elections and the US had acted properly it isn’t definite but there is a fair chance that elections would have been held whether Fidel was keen on them or not. However US policy made it absolutely completely impossible.

    You can endlessly debate historical what ifs but what is the point. It is more important that things are sorted for the future.

  • I agree with a lot of what you say. However the common factor in all the crises in 2008 was the greedy and incompetent bankers, but for some reason they are always let off the hook. As for austerity being the medicine – well Greece has had six austerity budgets already and it is causing severe structural damage, asphyxiating the most productive sectors and has taken away the countries assets. I would like to ask the question – is there an example where austerity has been successful. I don’t know how the country is supposed to survive when every couple of months it has to get more in to debt just to pay the interest on existing debt. Even the IMF agrees that the situation is unworkable.

  • Many observers have pointed out that overtime the US has tried to improve relations with Cuba, Fidel would do something to upset the table and keep them apart. He did it to Carter & Clinton and if he was still in power today he would do it to Obama. Raul is not driven by the same impulses or maybe he just sees he can get a lot more from Obama. No point in pissing him off just yet.

    I repeat the essential point about the Cuban Revolution: it was a means to an end, Fidel Castro’s goal of attaining and keeping absolute power in Cuba. That’s what he wanted from the beginning and he was prepared to do anything & everything to make it happen. Therefore, holding elections, or being a less tyrannical dictator were never a possibility for Fidel.

    Yes, Fidel was enormously popular in 1959 and 1960. If he had held elections then he would have won by a landslide. But those elections would have legalized and validated the concept of acceptable opposition to Fidel, which for the Maximum Leader was intolerable.

  • The economic crises in Europe had different causes in different countries. In Greece, it was the corrupt social-democratic system built by PASOK and other liberal parties, as well as the traditional Greek cultural attitudes toward government. Everybody cheated on their taxes, everybody used government as a source for graft and subsidies.

    Syriza didn’t create the Greek crisis, nor do they have the policies to get out of it. Syria thinks the only problem Greece has is “austerity”, and all they need to do is dump it for more spending. Austerity is the medicine, the disease is much deeper and few Greeks want to do anything about that.

    Spain was different: extremely low interest rates fed a real estate boom driven by local & foreign investors. Political and corporate corruption added to the toxic mix. Spain seems to be coming out of their crisis ok, relative to other PIIGS nations.

    Ireland and Iceland got into trouble through financial market deregulations which eventually crashed their banks when US banks crashed.

    Different root causes which all came together in a perfect economic storm in 2008.

  • To this point there has been intelligent debate between contributors of differing political views. However, such discussion is not comprehensible to Mr. John Goodrich who must now necessarily intervene with the usual tirade against his chosen country of residence.

  • I would deny that Pasok was a left wing party. It was a highly corrupt slightly left of centre party. The left wing Syriza can’t be blamed for the situation. Though they won the election all policies are now made by the Troika. Spain has elected the Partido Popular (PP) which is a conservative party and inheritors of the Francoist mantle.

    As to your last paragraph, its a fair point. Overspending is a common fault. However not in all cases. The UK Labour government (left of centre) was accused of overspending, yet the crisis was caused by greedy and incompetent bankers and the government had to bail them out as the only thing it could do.

    Take the example of Bolivia which has had a successful left wing government for many decades and was recently praised in the wall street journal.

  • I don’t know what it is but every time I post on this site, everyone fires off in every direction except for the subject we were discussing. In this case it was the consequences if the US had dropped the embargo at any point. And I maintain that things would have been a lot better if that had happened in say Carter’s time and I have given my reasons why.

    But to deal with your arguments briefly, since been down this road before. No the US had no problems with dictatorships, they were buddies with or installed many dictators in Latin America at the time. Around 12 countries had property on the island and all the rest accepted the compensation terms offered except for the US. The US were plotting an overthrow/invade within the first month. Take a look at the events in Guatemala with Arbenz to see what the consequences of defying the US were.

    If the US had been tolerant of the land reform and not so paranoid of a few communist party members the island might well not have gone into the Soviet fold and its history would have been completely different. Whether there would have been elections is another matter. The truth is nobody was that fussed about them at the time. The liberals postponed them, the communists didn’t push for them and the general population booed every time they were mentioned. What you can’t deny is that Fidel Castro was extremely popular as can be seen from the fact that half a million people came out in opposition to Urrutia and for Fidel to take over the premiership.

  • I perhaps made the mistake Dani of thinking that when you wrote: “all across Latin America” you were including Cuba.
    Regarding southern Europe – which you mention, yes, Greece elected Pasok with Papendoulos as Prime Minister
    and collapsed economically as a consequence. That collapse was compounded by an even more left-wing party which promised a magical end to austerity. It failed and has now called yet another election.
    Spain got itself a left wing government as did Portugal. Each got into an economic mess.
    The reality is Dani that Socialist administrations always spend more than they receive and debt always follows their administrations. I don’t question their sincerity, only the consequences of them pursuing their dreams at the expense of others.

  • Don’t forget that Fidel Castro deliberately followed a policy of alienating and provoking the US. He wanted to break Cuba free from US hegemony and believed the only way to do that was to force push the US to breaking diplomatic relations and severing all economic activity. Fidel did this while simultaneously courting the Russians.

    If you understand that historical fact, it becomes clear that the US embargo was the inevitable result of Fidel’s geopolitical strategy. And as long as he had the USSR and the East Bloc trading their products for Cuban sugar, he was happy with he result. It was only after the USSR collapsed that Cuba really began to suffer & Fidel had to find another sugar daddy to fund his “revolution”.

  • Your comment is off topic as we were discussing the left in general and Snr Pedro Campos’s Movement for Participative and Democratic Socialism in particular.

  • I certainly believe that the political situation would have progressed a lot further if the embargo had been lifted earlier and other aggressive US policies had been dropped. One of the reasons is that it has promoted a siege mentality and a division of people into friends and enemies. It has bled the country of a lot of talent who could have led progressive movements for change. And thirdly, though the human rights situation is far from being as bad as you lot like to make out there has been no pressure for change coming from other Latin American countries, other third world countries and indeed the rest of the world due to the sympathy for Cuba as the underdog. A total unmitigated disaster of a policy.

  • Do you really think Dani that if at any time during the last fifty five years, the US had removed the embargo that it would have resulted in the Castro family regime holding free and fair elections in Cuba?
    As one who has consistently opposed the embargo, I am not gullible enough to think that it is the cause of the oppressive Castro family regime maintaining its power and control over the people of Cuba. In my view it has favoured the Castro’s by providing them with an excuse for all their economic inabilities.

  • But Dani, the Castro’s claim to be socialists – ie: of the left, and they certainly fear open and free elections.

  • If the Castros were to step down after legalizing a multiparty election and setting a date for that election, the US embargo would crumble. I think the additional step of inviting the UN’S election observers to oversee the integrity of the election would be necessary. The freedom to campaign ergo free speech and the freedom to criticize ergo freedom of the press must be included as well. I believe that if the Castros put all of this in motion and then left town, the US Congress would fall over themselves giving speeches about the triumph of democracy before rushing to lift the embargo even well before the actual election.

  • Very true.
    The Cuban situation is analogous to the situation back in the 80’s when Reagan & Co broke the law, secretly sold missiles ,through Israel to Iran to finance the Contra War against the people of Nicaragua which Congress had banned.
    Reagan threatened the Nicaraguans with the same sort of perpetual attack that they used on Cuba if they elected anyone other than a pro-U.S. government and the Nicaraguans surrendered by electing Chamorro, the US backed candidate, in order to stop the USA from killing them.
    An empire is not run with or by kindness or by setting a good example for others to follow.
    The USA IS an economic empire that uses force to achieve its ends and that way is never pretty, hence the horrific foreign policies of the GOUSA over the past 100 years..

  • Sorry, I thought you were talking in more general terms. It is quite possible what you say, but in my view there is no chance of having fair elections while the gun of the embargo is pointing at the Cuban head. They may have a choice but it wouldn’t be a free or fair choice.

  • There’s a difference. In those other elections where progressives have gained ground, it was usually after a more right wing administration has failed to equitably govern. In Cuba, where the Castros have been in charge for more than 56 years, the backlash against the left will likely lead to a more and not less capitalistic administration.

  • I don’t wish to put words into Pedro’s mouth but I think the clue is in the title of their movement ie a combination of representative and participatory democracy similar to Bolivia or Marinaleda in Spain.

  • I don’t think the left fears open and free elections. They win them all across Latin- America and doing well within southern Europe and other places around the world. They aren’t against independent media either, just against the whole media being monopolized by a few corrupt billionaires who are always going to put their own personal business interests first. This really isn’t the only option available.

    There are many ways of investing. Building societies, credit unions, cooperative banks, member owned social clubs, crowd funding, pension funds, trade union funds, regional and national enterprise boards.

    That was the best thing I’ve ever read at HT
    because precisely expresses my thinking .
    It is a clear, concise clarion call for democracy with which totalitarians on both sides of the Florida straits will take issue .
    This is where the true democrats walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
    You can have free enterprise capitalism or you can have democracy.
    You cannot have both.
    This is the big quandary for people like Moses and Carlyle who are slavish supporters of capitalism but who tout democracy etc out of the other side of their mouth as if they actually believed in it or practiced it .

  • I don’t believe the activists from the Left want open and free elections. They fear an independent media and real freedom of expression. To do so puts their ideas in competition with capitalism. Like their totalitarian masters, activists like Pedro Campos come up short when asked about whose money will fuel their grandiose plans to grow their economy. The answer is simple: capitalist money.

  • This article gets to the reality of the Castro family regime and it’s power base – control of the economy of Cuba through the military operation of GAESA when it says:
    “No longer can Cuba stand to be controlled by the military.”
    The Communist Party of Cuba and its adherents are cats paws. They slavishly follow whatever the Castro family regime determines.
    The regime has sticky fingers and pursues that which will both maintain their power and control and line their accounts – wherever they are.
    As the authors point out, Raul Castro turned down the proposal for a democratic form of socialism. Why would a dictator do otherwise? Trying to reason with a power hungry family regime is both futile and foolish – compromise is impossible as the cards are all in their hands.
    Cubans desperately need the opportunity to be able to freely and openly express their personal views without the threat of the CDR reporting them to Alejandro Espin Castro’s security service. Cubans desperately need a form of government that responds to the citizens and can generate commercial activity rather than repression.
    Raul Castro has clarified that Socialismo will not change. He as one man out of a population of 11.1 Million people determined who the next President will be naming Diaz-Canel who as he said, is totally loyal to the system. All the hopes raised by the exchanges of the last two years are based upon real change – and will I fear come to naught.
    The authors fail to define democracy as they actually perceive it. The word is used by the Communist Party of Cuba as being part of the current system – becoming meaningless in the process. Do the authors mean to imply open free elections, do they mean a free media, do they mean freedom of expression?

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