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

  • August 26, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    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.

  • August 26, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    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.

  • August 24, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    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.

  • August 24, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    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.

  • August 22, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    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.

  • August 22, 2015 at 10:36 am

    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.

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