What’s Behind the Ongoing Controversy about “Centrism” in Cuba?

by Samuel Farber*

The editors of Cuba Posible, Roberto Veiga Gonzalez y Lenier Gonzalez Mederos. Foto: oncubamagazine.com

HAVANA TIMES – As most people know, the Cuban mass media – radio, television, newspapers and magazines – are totally controlled by the state and they exclusively publish or broadcast content that closely follows the “orientations” of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC.) It is through mechanisms such as these that the government’s ordered “enforced unanimity” continues to prevail in the Caribbean island.

Yet, in spite of censorship, there exists a relatively free space created by the Internet. Although in Cuba access to the Internet is expensive and continues to be among the lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean, it has nevertheless increased, thus allowing for the existence of many publications and “blogs” critical of the regime from different vantage points.

The most important in Spanish of these publications is Cuba Posible, edited by Roberto Veiga Gonzalez and Lenier Gonzalez Mederos, two Cuban Catholic disciples of the deceased Carlos Manuel de Céspedes y García-Menocal, a progressive priest who was General Vicar of the Archdiocese of Havana.

Until a few years ago, Veiga and Gonzalez Mederos were the editors of Espacio Laical, sponsored by the Félix Varela Cultural Center of the same Havana Archdiocese, but they were fired by the Catholic hierarchy that no longer wanted to support the political line of the editors.

Broadly speaking, Cuba Posible could be characterized as social democratic because of its support for a mixed economy, which in reality would end up as a market economy subject to the imperatives of competition and other economic laws of capitalism given the lack of workers’ control and a democratic planning of the economy.

With respect to the political system itself, Cuba Posible presents a pluralist perspective and has occasionally criticized the one party state as a questionable political system without making its opposition to it a central feature of its publication.

For the socialist and democratic left, those politics are troublesome enough in and of themselves. But they become even more problematic when coupled with Cuba Posible’s stated intent to act as a “loyal opposition” to the regime.

In the first place, no such thing as a “loyal opposition” is possible in a system that, as a matter of political principle rejects the mere possibility of an opposition; it is even less possible that such an opposition, however loyal, can come to power through elections or any other peaceful means.

Secondly, such intent injects into the publication a conciliatory tone when indignation is the most appropriate response to the government’s abuses.

It should be noted, however, that Cuba Posible continues to include among its collaborators people who represent a broader political perspective than that of its editors. And in any case, Veiga Gonzalez as well as Gonzalez Mederos have the absolute democratic right to submit their views to the consideration of the Cuban people, whether in the Internet or in the mass media, a right that is, of course, rejected by the regime stalwarts who have lately closed ranks against them and their publication accusing them of the sin of what these stalwarts have labeled as “centrism”.

What are those who speak about “centrism” saying? 

Several months ago, a group of writers, who for some time have been agitating, supposedly on their own account, for a “hard line” position in defense of the Cuban regime, began a campaign against Cuba Posible and other moderate critics of the Cuban regime. The most important of those hard line writers has been Iroel Sanchez in his blog La Pupila Insomne (https://lapupilainsomne.wordpress.com), where he recently reproduced a whole book titled El Centrismo en Cuba: otra vuelta de tuerca hacia el capitalismo [Centrism in Cuba: Another turn of the Screw towards Capitalism].

Iroel Sánchez. Foto: cubadebate.cu

The book includes his contributions as well as those of many of his co-thinkers. It is an open attack against what Sanchez and company call “centrists,” accusing them of using their moderate critique of the government as a mask to subvert and eventually overthrow the “socialist” system in Cuba.

Besides branding that supposed strategy as “right-wing nationalist” and “social democratic,” Iroel and his associates also brandish against those critics the term “third way,” which in reality has nothing to do with right wing nationalism or with social democracy, but refers instead to the policies espoused by Tony Blair, who far from being a social democrat, was a neoliberal trying to subvert the welfare state and the social democratic character of the British Labor Party. For Iroel and his hardliners, however, this doesn’t matter: there is no difference between right-wing nationalism, social democracy, and neoliberalism.

Of all the terms wielded by Sanchez and company against the opposition, the one that they really focused on was “centrism.” They wield it in a purely topographic sense referring to a location in between two extremes, capitalism and communism. Curiously, the supposedly communist Iroel Sanchez seems to ignore that in the political traditions of revolutionary Marxism and Communism, the term “centrism” refers to those political parties that, especially in the period 1918-1923, were more radical and to the left of Social Democracy but kept to the right of the Communist parties.

Among those “centrist” parties were the German Independent Social Democrats – a left-wing split from German Social Democracy (SPD) – and several other European parties that came together in the 1920s to form the so-called “Vienna International,” which, significantly, was also referred to as the “Two and a half International.” For the Communist International, these parties might have talked about socialist revolution, but in reality they were reformists and even counterrevolutionaries.

While centrism within that Marxist tradition referred to a specific phenomenon – left-wing radical groups that broke with Social Democracy but did not become Communist – Sanchez uses the same term to paint over with the same brush the wide political spectrum of political orientations between capitalism and Communism. If you are not 100% with the regime, your actual politics does not matter: and you are, by definition, an anti-revolutionary “centrist.”

Even in purely topographic terms, the characterization of the Cuban opposition and critics as “centrists” is highly questionable, because it assumes, as a political axiom, that the Communist parties in power are in fact left wing. This is how, by definition, Iroel and his people get to identify the left with a system that in reality is a class society based on state collectivism, where the state owns the economy, and manages it through the control mechanisms of the one-party state. To be part of the ruling class depends on the position that individuals occupy in the party-ruled bureaucracy. This type of power is hostile to democracy, civil and political rights, and especially to the working class and popular control of the economy.

Young Cubans using the WiFi in Monaco Park. Photo: Juan Suárez

Fortunately, there are other far better conceptions of what the left means. For Jan Josef Lipsky, for example, a leader in Poland, of the Workers’ Defense Committee (KOR) in the 1970s, and of Solidarity in the 1980’s, the left is, as he explained in KOR. Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981, an attempt to reconcile equality and liberty: “…being on the left” is “an attitude that emphasizes the possibility and necessity of reconciling human liberty with human equality, while being on the right…may mean sacrificing the postulate of human freedom in favor of various kinds of social collectives and structures, or foregoing the possibility of equality in the name of laissez faire.” (180)

But Iroel Sanchez and his associates defend the one-party state as the only political system compatible with socialism. They don’t even mention that Raul Castro’s “monolithic unity” proclaimed years ago disregards the profound differences in political power associated with class, race and gender in the “actually existing” Cuban society.

It is precisely because of that power differential, that those groups and individuals without power in society – workers, peasants, Black people, women, and gays among others – need the freedom to organize independently into associations and political parties to struggle for their interests. For this to happen it is necessary to abolish the political monopoly of the PCC, consecrated in the existing Constitution, through its mass organizations like the CTC [Worker’s Confederation] and the FMC [Women’s Federation], which blocks any independent attempt by workers, women and other groups to defend themselves.

Once deprived of its constitutionally mandated monopoly, and thus, of all the privileges it appropriated onto itself during its long lasting control of public life, the PCC could become an authentic political party, a voluntary organization materially supported by the dues and donations of its members and sympathizers. It would then function as one of many political parties representing the conflicts and divisions within Cuban society.  To the extent that these parties represent the interests of the classes and groups that would emerge in a changing society, it would be impossible – and undesirable – to limit their number through legal mandates, or through administrative or police methods.

Who are the people attacking the “centrists”?

Some people in the opposition regard Iroel Sanchez and his stalwarts as “extremists.” But this is not an appropriate term: historically, there have been many “extremists” who did the right thing. The pro-independence Cubans of the War of Independence (1895-1898) could have also been accused of “extremism” since they rejected both the “volunteers” and “guerrillas” who supported Spanish colonialism (equivalent to the Right of those years) and the Autonomists (the moderates of that period).

Instead, Iroel and company are hard line Stalinists, as they clearly demonstrate in their book. Thus, in his contribution titled “Una respuesta para Joven Cuba” [An answer for the Joven Cuba blog,] Javier Gómez Sánchez lashes out against the blog under that title, a blog that has been frequently critical and fairly honest but clearly pro-government, as if they were just another group of “centrists.”

The content and inquisitorial tone of Ileana González in her contribution titled “Al Centrismo Nada” [Nothing for Centrism] does not fall far behind Andrey Vyshinsky’s, the prosecutor of the Moscow Trials from 1936 to 1938. The extremely detailed information about opposition persons presented in various articles in this book also suggests that many of its contributors are State Security agents or close collaborators of that repressive body.

It is worth noting, however, that these Stalinists do not seem to have gelled into a hard line political tendency within the PCC, as was the case, for example, of the “Gang of Four” that attempted to control the Chinese Communist Party after Mao’s death, but was quickly eliminated by Deng’s forces. They don’t even resemble Fidel’s Support Group at the beginning of this century, to which the Maximum Leader conferred a certain degree of operational and administrative power. Iroel and his group are no more and no less than propagandists in the service of the PCC. That is all.

What are the purposes of the campaign against “Centrism”?

The Cuban government initiated and is using this campaign to draw a line in the sand of what is and is not permissible. But it is not doing it itself through its official press and broadcasting stations to avoid sowing more doubts about the authenticity and durability of Raul Castro’s economic reforms and relative political liberalization.

Long term, the regime is using this campaign as an attempt to close the ranks of the party and the country with another call in the style of the “monolithic unity” of former years in preparation for the foreseeable physical disappearance of the historic leaders of the revolution in the next five to ten years, and for the problems that this can create for a fluid transition of power.

The call to “unity” has become ever more urgent with the gradual but definitive increase of Internet access, especially among the youth, the professional and technocratic strata, and among those with a university education who generally have a greater access to the Internet. The information acquired through those channels can potentially undermine the political loyalty to the party and regime. It is not for nothing that practically the entire campaign against “centrism” has been conducted through the Internet, and not in the official press and mass media.

Trump’s repeal of several measures favoring the slow process of relaxation and possible abolition of the economic blockade of Cuba, have not yet eliminated the limited but real softening of the opinion of many Cubans with respect to the United States. This softening was due to Obama’s initiatives easing various restrictions of the US’s criminal blockade, such as increasing the remittances that can be sent to Cuba, resuming regular commercial flights to the Island, and his successful visit to Cuba.

As we know, the official Cuban press has used every means at its disposal to fight that softening of Cuban opinion, which for obvious reasons, the regime considers dangerous to its power. The government’s attack against the so-called “centrist” opposition, is nothing more than another attempt to harden the Cuban people to close ranks around it and to maximize its control through its call to “unity.”

*Samuel Farber was born and grew up in Cuba and has written numerous articles and books about the country. His last book, The Politics of Che Guevara: Theory and Practice was published by Haymarket Books in 2016.       


31 thoughts on “What’s Behind the Ongoing Controversy about “Centrism” in Cuba?

  • Legal private enterprise was all over the island and the cayos when I first started going, and that was a lot longer than 4 years ago. It’s only gotten more prevalent since.

  • To give you a full description of your observation ‘grok’ – rubbish! I know you hate others who haven’t swallowed Marxism/Leninism as unsuitable for having any form of freedom of speech. but this is Havana Times, not restricted by communist dictatorship or would be controllers like yourself. Smile for the camera ‘grok’.

  • Believe it if you like! The dozens of Cubans who I know as friends and relatives see things differently and are unable to detect any change in the policies of the Communist dictatorship.

  • But ‘grok’ Communists have been so much more successful as mass murderers, the capitalist world has not even come close. Like oppression, communism comes outr first!

  • But you may recall Brrr that the new policy was only introduced four years ago. So how come the “have always done every few years” and “Also as always etc.”?

  • Do I sense a thin skin ‘grok’?

  • You’re not qualified to judge communists — or even comment on their commentary, ‘MacDuff’.

    Of course, you will now predictably accuse me of infringing your ‘free speech rights’… yawn.

  • ‘Stalin ran a medieval serfdom, his rule was bloodier than anyone in the history of man walking upright. He was a pure evil and made murder a sport. No one in history is compatible. Not Mao or even Hitler. The common denominator is they were all socialists.’

    EVERY word you just wrote here is a bare-faced lie. I hope most readers here realize this — and discount your presence here.

    But let’s stick to CAPITALIST mass-murderers, shall we..?

  • Stalin ran a medieval serfdom, his rule was bloodier than anyone in the history of man walking upright. He was a pure evil and made murder a sport. No one in history is compatible. Not Mao or even Hitler. The common denominator is they were all socialists.

  • I have seen some hotel chains be quite specific about which Cuban hotels they were hired to manage, and which ones they bought. Are they lying?

  • They put a temporary pause on them. As they have always done every few years. Also as always, they’ll start issuing them again in greater numbers than before.

  • A couple of communists disagreeing makes a refreshing change. Maybe one, but certainly not two, is seeing the light of common sense?

  • I ‘grok’ am not going to descend to your level of ignorant abuse. You are silly enough to suggest that I make things up. Please demonstrate and don’t demean yourself further in the process!

  • Still making things up, eh, ‘MacDuff’.?

    Stalin died of old age, schmuck. Maybe LENIN was poisoned. Gorky too.

  • Stalinism *is* bourgeois nationalism. In camouflage. A FAKE ‘workers’ State.

    Don’t get that — don’t understand a thing.

  • The above gobbledygook is pure pseudo-intellectual tripe — amounting to a grand fib. It’s just your basic, garden-variety anti-communism, all dressed up (with nowhere to go). As usual.

    And actually, if you REALLY want to understand the political-economy of Feudalism — you read Karl Marx’ ‘Capital’. Not listen to this goober.

  • Shaddap. It was VERY comprehensible.

    Better than You could ever do.

  • Although incomprehensible ‘grok’, i think that is your best ever contribution to Havana Times. Keep on trying!

  • Fidel Castro’s socialism looked a lot like that of 13th century lord controlling his serfdom. Brother Raul runs a bit more of a merchantile manor. The black market and barter system running in Cuba in parallel to the state economy also harkens back to more primitive times. Better than Fidel’s failed experiment but a harsh way to live.

  • You have now appointed yourself as a deity ‘grok’. It is not for you to decide who can and who cannot express their views although I realise that you are envious of the power of the communist dictatorship in Cuba to do so.
    Speaking of “watch your back”, was Stalin poisoned?

  • You Raphael Stephen-Pons chose a third! Communism.

  • OK Raphael Stephen-Pons, tell me of a single hotel in Cuba that has been privatized? No state or military employees, just straight private enterprise! Just one?
    Your admiration for Josef Stalin defines you! As you are fond of academia, you would no doubt have been purged under Stalin.

  • Stalin would without doubt have had Raul Castro purged along with millions of others. I have to agree that by merely having thousands executed rather than the estimated 12 million by Stalin, both Fidel and Raul are failures. Cuba has you may recall, recently reversed its policy of allowing and further individual businesses to be issued permits.

  • People who utter the phrase ‘hard-core communist’ are people who are not to be taken seriously in any political discussion.

    However, you might want to watch your back around them.

  • The first is a completely false dichotomy — the product of busy little sophist liars.
    The second one is real.

  • Bourgeois freedoms inside any stalinoid regime have been historically limited by the defensive posture of such regimes, in the face of a relentless total assault against them by International Imperialism: a Global capitalist order which marshals the resources of at least 3/4 of the Planet… and directs as much as possible of that against any and all challenges from the ‘lower classes’ and formerly subservient client-state bourgeoisies.

    OTOH, a mass proletarian Movement worldwide *has* no such limitations and weakness: and would thus be able to extend not ONLY historical bourgeois ‘freedoms’ to all: but also finally be able to ‘deliver’ on the much anticipated and expected — and demanded — *social* and *economic* freedoms as well.

    So your long-time focus at Havana Times is wholly misplaced — if you think allowing the Miami Mafia & Friends to finally rule Cuba would actually be in the cuban masses’ best interests.

    Look at Ayiti, ferkrissakes. Get a clue.

  • There is far too much free enterprise right out in the open to call Cuba Stalinist. Stalin himself would have called Raul a centrist.

    Sure, it’s extreme socialism compared to what we understand in places like Canada and the U.S, but it’s not the Soviet communism that it’s made out to be either. Far too much state capitalism, far too many citizens running their own businesses, far too much private ownership of property, far too much access to the outside world (information, products, and capital, not to mention being allowed to physically come and go from the island). These things are not easy in Cuba (and many of them are relatively recent), but they definitely exist right out in the open with the government’s varying degrees of blessing.

  • >Capitalism
    pick one

  • Stalinist policies of Castro? Are you yanking my chain? he has allowed private capital and the privatizations of hotels, how can this be considered stalinist? Stalin was a great Marxist Leninist and can not be compared to the revisionism of Raul Castro

  • Democracy vs Communism
    Capitalism vs Socialism
    Just semantics?

  • An interesting discussion, but the reality in Cuba is that you either support the Stalinist hard core Communist policies of the Castro regime (which includes both the ‘Troika’ of Diaz-Canel, Bruno Rodriguez and Marino Murillo and the direct members of Raul Castro’s family, his son and son-in-law) or you have to stay mute. For the brave souls who do not conform and stay mute, a trip to Villa Mariska, inevitable ‘confession’ and jail without trial await. That is why in Cuba where the crime rate is relatively low, there is the fourth highest rate of incarceration in the world.
    The Communist Party of Cuba will hunt down, denigrate and jail those who fail to conform. That is the purpose of the CDR (cloaked as being a local social organization) and MININT. The purpose is to create a proletarian mass which docily adheres to Communist dictation. Although such purpose is clearly at odds with the nature of man seeking to establish individuality and to improve his lot and that of his family, the vice of Communism continues to screw and squeeze in forcing compliance.
    There is no space for the open expression of other than Communist views in Cuba.

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