Why I Like Comrade Arboleya So Much

We want socialism for the people, not people for socialism – Miroslav Jodl

By Miguel Fernández Díaz  (Café Fuerte)

Plurality with a show of hands: members in Santiago elect Fidel and Raúl Castro as delegates at the VII Communist Party Congress.
Plurality with a show of hands: party members in Santiago elect Fidel and Raúl Castro as delegates for the recent VII Communist Party Congress.

HAVANA TIMES — Jesús Arboleya Cervera, a researcher at the Center for Studies on National Security Affairs, has just got involved in the messy business of Cuban socialism and politics in order to highlight the fact that the debate “is neverending in our daily work” and that even those opposed to the regime take part in this debate with “their opinions in formal and informal channels of discussion”.

In a recent article published on the Progreso Semanal website under the heading “The political debate in Cuba” (see below) the aforementioned pro-government thinker tries to describe the “plurality” which currently exists at the heart of “Cuba’s social fabric”, moving far away from the  “alleged unanimity” which is reflected in the Cuban State’s media.

However, the most interesting part “happens not only in political organizations – including the Communist Party itself- but also in academic and cultural institutions, in alternative media and at the heart of society.” Here everything relating to “the economic situation and the government’s response to tackle it, [as well as] the role of political and government bodies, the problems which concern social behavior, the current state of public services, cultural politics and international relations” is discussed.

Trees which don’t let us see the forest

In this way, politics is simply reduced to being an administrative problem and the hard core of politics, the State’s institutionalized power, is left out of the debate. Regarding this last point, there is no debate. As required by the Constitution, neither freedom of speech nor any other liberty can be used “against the socialist State’s existence and objectives”.

There could not be a better State and Fidel Castro’s political party would have become institutionalized on the foundations of privileged access to the truth, kindness and justice, without having to be held accountable for dismantling economic rationale and promoting that authoritarian centralization go hand in hand with anarchist decentralization until the economy is flatlined to the management of ideals which “skirt around the edge”.

Arboleya highlights the fact that this odd political debate, without going into the problem of state power, has developed “in a climate of freedom which may surprise some foreign observers, but which the Cuban people accept quite naturally [as] defenders of socialism as a social system, even though they may differ in opinion on how this socialism should be brought about”.

However, he quickly follows this statement and informs us that, “as Fidel once said (…), nobody knows the exact science for building socialism”. So we have nobody in this open and natural debate who knows what they’re talking about, especially if Fidel himself claimed three decades ago: “Now we are really going to build socialism” (Granma, December 27, 1986, page 1).

Unknown places were marked on old maps with the Latin hic sunt leones (“here are lions”), but this resource no longer justifies the defense of socialism, such as the state of things maintained by a ruling elite because at least two lions have already been clearly identified:

Markets have convincingly won out over a planned economy. It’s no longer about the ideological ruse which sways between a socialist and capitalist economy, but about how the socialist system slows down the calculation of costs and prices and without economic calculations there is frankly no economy. However, nearly six decades of great waste and systematic fraud haven’t been able to convince the senior leaders of the Cuban Revolution that Ludwig Von Mises was right.

Democracy doesn’t exist without political parties. As Han Kelsen once affirmed, only by hypocrisy or illusion can you consider democracy based on only one party.

Putting these lions in cages, Arboleya cracks his whip saying “in the Cuban case, the majority have continued to support this socialist project at any cost”. The loyalty of the masses is proven at elections and marches, he claims, but this loyalty is falling as the State can’t control the dysfunctional effects on the economic process and return them to what might be more or less bearable for the Cuban people.

New opportunity

According to Arboleya, the political motive isn’t founded on the grounds that the majority aren’t ready “to renounce the achievements made in the education and public health sectors, individual protection and a more just social equality”, but on the grounds that the ruling minority cannot keep legitimizing itself using ideological terms of common good without preventing the downfall of these achievements.

Arboleya still believes that these “conflicts can only be resolved by debate itself”. No debate is capable of resolving conflicts, because there is a strict separation between theoretical and practical rationale. Decisions must be made in order to resolve these conflicts. And if the Cuban people don’t decide anything about the questions that Arboleya puts forward, such as issues relating to public debate, they do in fact decide on who should be responsible for making these decisions. That is the key to political debate, which Arboleya glosses over so as not to get tangled up in the problems of late Castro legitimization.

Along with the increase in emigration and self-interest, Arboleya says that “political apathy” is a negative phenomenon in society today; however, regarding elections, this apathy encourages the normal functioning and stability of the current political regime. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if participation in the elections falls from 90.88% (2013) to 88.50% (2015), change can only come about if more Cubans vote against the government.

There wasn’t a significant difference in the number of people who left their election ballots blank: 364,576 in the general elections (2013) and 342,906 in municipal elections (2015), but there was a big difference in the number of people who voided their ballots in protest to express their antigovernment political sentiments. 373,118 (2015) up from 94,808 (2013). If this trend spreads, that “majority who continue to support the socialist project at any cost” will quickly fall under the suspicion of not being so much a consensus amongst free and equal people but rather a forced and contingent agreement.

The political debate in Cuba

by Jesús Arboley(Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA — Contrary to the perception of many abroad, political debate is a constant element in the daily lives of Cubans. It is present throughout the social fabric and is expressed in a plurality of opinions that is quite different from the purported unanimity that the main media tend to reflect.

The media’s deficit in this regard is a source of general dissatisfaction and has been criticized by the nation’s authorities themselves.

As happens everywhere, this debate is joined by the opponents of the regime. These people can be found at all levels of society and it is quite common to hear them express their opinions in formal and informal circles of discussion.

The most vociferous examples of this trend are those who organize themselves in the so-called “dissident groups,” manipulated deliriously by the international press. However, these “dissidents” have scant credibility and repercussion in Cuba, due to the primitiveness of their proposals and their organic links to the United States Government.

The most interesting aspect, in my opinion, is what’s happening inside the system. It takes place within the political organizations — including the Communist Party — and in the academic and cultural institutions, in the alternative media and in the heart of society as a whole.

There, the differences coexist or clash in a climate of freedom that might seem surprising for some foreign observers but that Cubans view as quite natural.

In this environment, the topics discussed are very diverse. In first place are the economic situation and the government’s efforts to deal with it, followed by the functioning of the political and government institutions, the problems dealing with social behavior, the condition of public services, cultural policies and international relations.

On all these topics, Cubans show an exceptional interest and preparation, when compared with other parts of the world.

It is hard to establish the matrices of opinion on which the various positions are based because, in most cases, they don’t respond to a fully elaborated theoretical body but reflect criteria on specific problems or strategic visions that sometimes blend, to the point that the real contradictions between themselves become indistinguishable.

The best we can do to characterize the various tendencies is to say that they agree on what is NOT wanted for Cuba. In them, we can find coincidences in the defense of the nation’s sovereignty that respond to heartfelt feelings of national pride. Those who adhere to these tendencies are not willing to renounce the achievements made in education, public health, protection of the individual, and fair social equity.

Those people (with greater or lesser doctrinaire clarity) are defenders of socialism as a social system, even if they differ in the way that socialism should materialize. Therein lies the richness of the debate, inasmuch as — as Fidel once said — at this point in time nobody knows exactly how socialism is constructed.

Here we see two visions that mark the intensity of the debate, although they’re not expressed in a chemically pure fashion. On one hand there are the traditionalists, those who conceive socialism in terms of assumptions that they consider indispensable for its definition, and in the other are those who propose to revise such assumptions.

As it often occurs in such cases, the extreme ends of the poles are held by the intransigent, people who are excessively dogmatic and disqualify any position that doesn’t fit their criteria, and by others who appear to be so liberal that socialism loses its essence and becomes an entelechy.

But the extremes are always in the minority — though not necessarily dismissible — and also have a right to express themselves, although sometimes they vitiate the debate and limit the possibility of consensus.

In general, the majority are positions that are well elaborated and intelligent; plus there’s an interest in debating them, a reflection of the political culture achieved by the Cuban people amid processes that are sometimes traumatic but determine the nation’s life course.

For better or for worse, in the first 30 years of the Revolution, foremost in Cuba’s political conscience was a certainty over the assumptions regarding socialism and the methods needed to develop it.

Those were years when no revolutionary doubted the impending end of imperialism and the irreversibility of socialism on a global scale. Later came the debacle in the socialist camp and certitude ended, although in the case of Cuba the majority’s desire to pursue the project at any cost was maintained.

That position responded not only to utopian views but also to the virtues of a system that demonstrated practically its ability to resist, which propitiated a closing of ranks around the most radical stances.

These virtues, however, were undermined by the emergence of contradictions thereto unknown to Cuba’s socialist society that had noxious effects on the sustainability of the economic model, amid the conditions imposed by the lack of options vis-à-vis the capitalist international market.

It then became necessary to reform the economic model, which — together with the reestablishment of relations with the United States — has brought a new dynamics to Cuban reality, whose complexity responds to objective factors that impose the need to build new forms of consensus.

This is not an easy task since, on one hand, it is difficult to change the mentality of generations of Cubans who grew up in a vision of socialism that today seems threatened and, on the other, the new approximations lack the maturity and clarity needed to mobilize the majority of the population in quest of their proposals.

Add to this the distortions generated by the new juncture, where it becomes increasingly complicated to conciliate individual aspirations with the exigencies of the common good.

Distrust grows regarding the feasibility of the goals, which has generated phenomena such as a rise in emigration, an increase of individualism, and political apathy — undoubtedly the most dangerous of all trends.

The only thing that’s clear is that these conflicts can be solved only through debate. Therefore, it’s vital to have a conscious willingness to propitiate debate and that requires a policy that will take advantage of the collective intelligence in order to perfect socialist democracy.

2 thoughts on “Why I Like Comrade Arboleya So Much

  • ? Socialism is the economic system. Democracy is the political system.

  • The article ends with a true oxymoron:

    “in order to perfect socialist democracy”

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