The Positioning of the Cuban New Left

Karel Negrete*

Can you see democracy there?

HAVANA TIMES — Once again, debate has opened about the positioning of the new left in Cuba with respect to a new document whose signers desire a “better Cuba.” This is not the first time that the Critical Observatory network has been questioned for not having taking a political position in support of these types of statements.

“The Urgent Call for a Better and Possible Cuba” (Llamamiento urgente por una Cuba mejor y posible) has the merit of having attracted the attention of all individuals, groups, movements and organizations that dream of political change in Cuba. The document is not for or against a defined type of political system, and it rests on generally agreed upon concepts such as independence, freedom, human rights and democracy, which allows dialogue with various ideologies.

In a very intelligent manner, it calls for us to oppose violence and bloodshed in a context in which “revolutions,” popular uprisings and protests against authoritarian governments have ended in terrible scenes.

That said, if there seems to be no objection with this document, why didn’t the Cuban alternative left (referring to the Critical Observatory of Cuba) sign it as a whole? Why was it signed only by some of its members? Why did the Cuban alternative left maintain its distance when the document talked about:

“The immediate respect of basic rights and liberties of conscience, expression, information, assembly, movement and association; the right to unionize, the formation of political parties and NGOs, and the prohibition of all forms of persecution and discrimination based on creed, ideology, race, gender or sexual orientation, as well as the immediate end to the threat and use of violence by the police or extra-institutional vigilantes”?

There’s no denying the need to respect rights and liberties in Cuba. The Critical Observatory has spoken out about these on several occasions, denouncing their violations and defending these rights even when the victims of repression do not share the same ideology or the same social aims for the island.

These positions can be found in the articles written by activists or in statements of consensus, with all of these having been published in the OC’s blog.

But the Cuban new left has to present a more ambitious political program and distance itself from liberal proclamations and conceptual generalizations, because up through today this has been the same line used by the Cuban right wing and social democrats.

The radical left is aware that political parties in “democratic systems” today have been discredited, even when it’s the only existing political structure for electing representatives. When left has entered into the game of the liberal democratic system, it has been absorbed by realpolitik and economic pragmatism, and it has had to change its political agenda, betraying its core values.

To accept the hegemonic “democratic system” while justifying such a move on it serving to guarantee more freedoms than the authoritarian system would be to renounce the radical changes required by both of these systems and the need for the construction of a new society.

The governments of left Latin American countries that have come to power through the liberal democratic route could make us believe that this offers a real possibility for progressive parties to govern. But we need to be clear, this will mean a political elite always being the leadership of the country, leaving only political discussion for so-called people’s or citizen’s power.

Karel Negrete. photo:

If there is no structural change in the electoral system, if there is no change in the structures of political representation and in the conception of democracy (as the permanent and sovereign exercise of citizens to elect, manage, revoke and act on the mandate of the state administration and citizen self-government), then we will not be in the presence of (r)evolutionary politics.

Today in Europe, the crisis of the “left” parties in liberal democratic systems is much more visible. In Spain, Greece and Portugal, in carrying out their “representative” mandates to govern, the socialist parties found themselves in the dilemma of realpolitik in times of crisis. They had to choose between the popular mandate (of the unions and social organizations and movements) and the mandates of the market (the IMF and the interests of European political elites).

In the end, though, these governments and their parliaments that “represented” the people chose the mandate of the markets and the hegemony of the political-economic elite. This produced civil protest movements, particularly notable in Spain, where the principal demands were the removal of all of the respective political parties in power, since none of them represented the interests of the people.

Then, with the recent presidential and parliamentary elections in Spain, the right wing returned to power and the “left” emerged weakened.

Since the fall of the socialist camp, Russia is formally a democratic nation with a multiparty system and free elections. Today, however, we all know that this country is quite far from the democratic dream.

Many have followed the events of the rebellions in the Arab countries, but now we have stopped talking about them. Does anyone know how these ended up affecting the status of women? Who now appropriates the riches that are produced in those countries? What are the political proposals of those who drive the “Arab revolution”?

There are individuals, artists, socio-cultural groups and projects on the island that have radicalized their political discourse and action against the government in recent years. This (opposing the government) would seem most logical if one wants political and economic change.

One of the groups within the Critical Observatory network recently produced a paper titled an “An Assessment of Two Years of Work by the Alfredo Lopez Libertarian Workshop in Havana.” The activist members of that group make explicit their approach by saying: “One of the biggest challenges of libertarian collectives based in countries with governments that are ‘in processes of changes’ is to preserve their capacities for autonomy with respect to the machineries of political polarization that move the ‘revolutionary states’ and the ‘opposition.’”

The Cuban government maintains an official state socialist discourse, which makes positioning more difficult. The options then are to become a radical part of the political opposition, negotiate within the system, or to continue proposing alternatives while working with people.

Today in Cuba, the alternative left or the new left has two fundamental challenges: one of a communicational nature and the other relating to political action.

The first problem we encounter is epistemological, in speaking of freedom, democracy and socialism. When we talk about freedom and democracy, we need to think about this as the emancipation and empowerment citizens while simultaneously unmasking liberal proposals for political and economic change and providing alternatives that are possible and achievable in the current Cuban context.

Our task is to create and propose theoretical, programmatic, political, economic and social alternatives to the culturally hegemonic system of the government’s capitalist “common sense” and authoritarianism by basing ourselves on the experiences that left organizations and social movements have successfully carried out at the micro and macro social levels.

While this new document (The Urgent Call for a Better and Possible Cuba) reflects many of the political aspirations of all Cubans, some activists of the Critical Observatory think there is a need to continue insisting on political proposals from the left and not in those in which everyone fits in comfortably without having to rethink the possible conditions for a “better and possible Cuba.”

(*) An HT translation of the article appearing in the blog of the Critical Observatory (in Spanish)

One thought on “The Positioning of the Cuban New Left

  • We in the US certainly agree with your line “. . . the Cuban new left has to present a more ambitious political program and distance itself from liberal proclamations and conceptual generalizations . . .” Unfortunately, Karel, you then seem to express the same “liberal proclamations and conceptual generalizations.” You do not seem to present a concrete political program with which anyone can agree or disagree.

    I may be wrong in this, but it’s how it seems.

    To try and illustrate what is meant, the Cuban constitution apparently enshrines Marxism as the national ideology. From a truly progressive standpoint, this is absurd. It does the same thing as establishing a state religion. The article in the constitution that establishes this state ideology (religion) therefore should be thrown out; and a new article put in its place guraranteeing the right of political ideological conscience.

    Making a peaceful movement in pursuit of this objective, Karel, would be advancing beyond “liberal proclamations and conceptual generalizations,” and might motivate both the people and the PCC in its favor.

    This is just one example of concrete political program and democratic action. The discussion and movement to secure it would only strengthen socialism, not undermine it.

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