Friday, January 27, 2012

Socialism With Cuban Characteristics: The National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party and Its Effects

In April, 2011, after fourteen years without one, the Cuban Communist Party held its 6th Party Congress in which it adopted a number of guidelines for changes to the Cuban economy and society. 

"The Sixth Congress laid out the road map for economic policy changes on this Caribbean island, and left the conference to decide matters such as changes in the country's political "nomenclature" and whether to adopt a rule limiting terms in the party and the government to a maximum of 10 years."  (From Patricia Grogg, Countdown to First Communist Party Conference, IPS, Jan. 18, 2012).  See, Backer, Larry Catá, 'Order, Discipline and Exigency': Cuba's VIth Party Congress, the Lineamientos (Guidelines) and Structural Change in Education, Sport and Culture? (July 1, 2011).

 (From Nick Miroff, Reading The Tea Leaves: Cuba's Communists Convene, NPR, Jan 27, 2012 ("In Cuba this weekend, President Raul Castro will preside over the first meeting of the island's all-powerful Communist Party since last April. Castro has lowered expectations for any new economic reform announcements, saying that internal party affairs will be the business at hand. But many Cubans will be watching for signs of who is rising in the party's ranks — and who could take over after Raul and Fidel Castro, both in their 80s, are gone."))

Next week, the Cuban Communist Party turns its attention more directly to its own governance structure and to the institutional relationship between the Communist Party  and the Cuban people and State apparatus. 
The meeting is to be held Jan. 28-29 as a continuation of the Sixth PCC Congress in April last year.

According to analysts, modernising the PCC - the sole legal political party in Cuba, in power since the 1960s - is a strategic priority, but so is finding a comprehensive solution for the aspirations of civil society sectors regarding problems that were not adequately addressed or went without mention at the 2011 PCC Congress. 

According to official sources, the conference should also "examine, with a realistic and critical spirit" the work of the party and the changes required for it to exercise its role as "the highest leading force of society and of the state", as defined by the constitution.

The conference is also empowered to update the work style and methods, cadre policies and structures of the party and to continue what Castro calls "a gradual process of renewal and rejuvenation of the chain of political and state positions".
(From Patricia Grogg, Countdown to First Communist Party Conference, IPS, Jan. 18, 2012)

Like the Guidelines (Lineamientos), the agenda of the Conference, specifying the nearly one hundred principles to be considered  was distributed.  However, "the key conference text has been analysed only by members of the PCC and the Young Communist League, the PCC youth organisation. " (Grogg, supra).  Of course, it is likely that the substance of the conference explains the difference.  With the Lineamientos, the State and Party apparatus was engaged in a discussion of economic, social and cultural changes.  Political changes was not an issue.  In that context, popular discussion could be tolerated.  This time around, the central issues for discussion relate to the fundamental organization of the Communist Party itself.  These matters touch on the core issues of political organization and the institution of the vanguard Party in power.  Where political rights are vested solely with the Party in power, only its members, those with political rights, are understood to have any authority to participate.  See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer,  Party, People, Government, and State: On Constitutional Values and the Legitimacy of the Chinese State-Party Rule of Law System (January 12, 2012). Boston University International Law Journal, Vol. 30, 2012. 

For all that, the state apparatus was careful to suggest a string effort to acquire imput from stakeholders.  In this case, though, that was limited to Party members rather than open to the population.  An organ of the state reported: "The draft base document of the Conference, whose initial version was published last October, was analyzed in more than 65,000 meetings by the members of the PCC and the Young Communist League (UJC), who expressed more than one million opinions, which resulted in the modification of 78 of the draft’s 96 objectives and the addition of another five."  (From National Conference of the Cuban Communist Party Begins on Saturday, Cuban News Agency, Jan. 27, 2012)

 Both  government officials and opposition leaders within Cuba have already expressed an opinion that little should be expected from this conference.  "President Raúl Castro dampened expectations for the forthcoming First Party Conference. "The party congress was the definitive meeting, so there should be no great illusions about the conference, which... is an internal party matter," he told the international press Jan. 12." (Grogg, supra). On the dissident side:
The next Communist Party Conference is also marked by this skepticism toward the future. Not surprising, then, are the low expectations Cubans show regarding a party meeting on January 28, the little that is said about it in the streets. The trifling comments are limited to an assurance that "this isn't going to change anything," or the glimmer of hope that "this will be the last chance for the 'historic generation'." Less than three weeks before it begins, even the official television isn't showing any enthusiasm for the event. In the ranks of the Party itself there are many illusions and more than one militant will turn in his or her party card if the meeting ends with poor results. The time "purchased" last April during the Party Congress is about to end. The political reforms are urgent and even the system's most faithful have begun to despair. (From Yoani Sanchez, Cubans Expect Little or Nothing From Upcoming Communist Party Conference, Jan. 19, 2012 reprinetd and translated Huffington Post World, Jan. 27, 3012).

Yet, from a Marxist Leninist state organization perspective, one might to think that the proceedings of this conference, unlike those of the 6th Party Congress, are fundamental to the future coherence of the current structure of the political system of Cuba.  In a sense, the theme of this Conference is the shape of Communist Party institutionalization and governance for the foreseeable future.  If its institutional base cannot be solidified and if the framework for the relationship of state and Party cannot be grounded on forms that resonate with the current generation of Parry cadres, then the future of Cuba's current political system might be weakened for the long term.  Raul Castro, of course, is right--the business so f the conference is an internal party matter.  But that is also misleading--internal party matters are the stuff of the substance of the future of the state as currently constituted.  In a sense, the Party Conference might be analogized to those of the Chinese Communist Party on the late 1970s when it chose to continue the development of its form of State-Party system on Marxist Leninist principles with Chinese characteristics.  

I do not mention the Chinese connection lightly.  About six months before the Conference, it was reported that  Jose Ramon Balaguer, a special envoy of Cuban Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee, was in Beijing to meet with officials of the Chinese Communist Party

Liu, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, expressed his welcome and appreciation for Balaguer's visit to notify the CPC of the information on the 6th CCP Congress and the preparation work for a party meeting in 2012.

The successful convening of the 6th CCP Congress pointed out a clear direction for Cuba to explore a development path fitting its national conditions and achieve fresh progress in building socialism, Liu said. (From Senior CPC official meets Cuban Raul Castro's special envoy, Xinhua News, Aug. 29, 2011)).

 (From Senior CPC official meets Cuban Raul Castro's special envoy, Xinhua News, Aug. 29, 2011) ("Liu Yunshan (R), head of the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), meets with Jose Ramon Balaguer, special envoy of Cuban Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee first secretary Raul Castro, in Beijing, capital of China, Aug. 29, 2011. (Xinhua/Li Tao)"))

The Cuban official press reports also focused on the objectives of the meetings as grounded in consultation on the evolution of Cuban communism within its specific circumstances.  (From José Ramón Balaguer valora en China la evolución del modelo comunista cubano, ADN  Aug. 30, 2011 (EFE Press)). 

The Conference Basic Document has been translated and is available on line on Marce Cameron's blog, Cuba's Socialist Renewal.   It is is divided into four parts:

I. Basis of the Party

There are a few points within this basic document that are noteworthy.  The Introduction sets the theme--the need to "reflect on the counterproductive effects of old habits that have nothing to do with the vanguard role of the organisation in society, among them the superficiality and formalism with which political-ideological work is conducted" (Basic Document Para. 1.2).  There is an admission of error: "the Party involved itself in tasks that did not correspond to it, which limited its leadership role and compromised its political and ideological work. We also have to deal with problems such as ignorance, disregard for the guiding documents of the Party and deficiencies in the exercise of the Party’s functions and powers, lack of analytical rigour and inconsistent application of the adopted policy, which prevents the Party from achieving the hoped-for results of its work." (Ibid. Para. 1.4).

A particular focus is on corruption. The willingness to speak to corruption openly in a Part document suggests both the importance of the problem ad the willingness to try a new strategy to confront the problem. Para 1.10 speaks of "poor links with the masses; lack of a demanding attitude in the face of violations and indiscipline; and bureaucratic methods of leadership and the consequent loss of authority and exemplariness due to negative, on occasion corrupt, attitudes."  More importantly, Para. 1.13 states: "The Party must step up its efforts to confront the causes and conditions that favour instances of social misconduct, illegalities, corruption and other crimes, phenomena which — together with bureaucratism and negligence — undermine the foundations of our society."  The issue of corruption is now acknowledged to exist in both systemic and individual forms.  See Larry Catá Backer, Corruption in Cuba--The Cuban Communist Party Signals Public Recognition and Party Obligation,  Law at the End of the Day, July 16, 2011.

There are also glimmers of a Chinese style acknowledgement of rule of law notions.  They are very tentative.  Thus, for example, Para. 44 speaks to the need to "strive for knowledge of and respect for the law, and for honest and administratively responsible conduct."  And Para. 53 speaks to a reaffirmation "that the educational institutions are centers for the cultivation of ethical values and respect for institutionalism and the law."  In addition, Para. 74 speaks of an obligation of cadres to "comply with the law and, where applicable, that those who breach the law be brought to justice." This is not much, especially compared to the richness of the Chinese CP line on rule of law, but it might be a beginning. 

The Basic Document is also interesting for its acknowledgement of the need to reform the nature of the relationship between the Party and the mass organizations on which the stability of the political order is maintained.  The nature of the proposed reforms point to the nature of the existing problem. The overall issue is framed in terms of ossification and formalism in the current relationship.  It recalls the general criticism of bureaucratism as a significant problem of Party organization.   Para. 93 points to the need to accept feedback.  And indeed, the better the willingness of the Party to accept criticism the more likely that it can at least begin to meet the criticism that the Party has become not merely bureacratised but also remote and unconnected to popular sentiment. But this is a two way street.  Para. 94 points to the intent to make better use of mass organizations as instruments of Party policy without the need to work through the state apparatus. While this last provision might appear harmless enough, it does have the potential to make the construction of an effective state apparatus more difficult.  If the Party can operate directly through mass organizations, then the power of the state, as the  institutional and administrative organ of Party power loses its legitimacy and authority.  The resulting confusion can weaken efforts to develop procedural certainty and efficient governance lines of authority.  

This last point also highlights one of the greatest weaknesses of the approach adopted by the Basic Document--the continued willingness to conflate political and state functions.  The Chinese CP learned several decades ago that the political role of the vanguard Party might be usefully separated from the administrative role of the state apparatus.  The Party frames the political line and the political norms within which the state can operate and the relationship between state and citizen can be framed.  This is effected within the framework of the ideological structures on which the political system is founded.  A conflation of political and administrative function makes it more likely that administrative errors and failings will be understood as political ones.  Chapter 2, on Political and Ideological Work, confronts this issue.  But it is not clear that the Cuban CP is willing to make that same choice.  Perhaps they believe the model inapplicable in the Cuban context.  Perhaps they have made the political choice to merge political and administrative roles in the Party, now operating in both an administrative and a political role.  But the ramifications of that choice, in the modern context (that is in the context of state organization after 1989) has yet to be adequately theorized in a Marxist Leninist context.  And that failure may be important in a global environment in which the legitimacy of the organization of the Cuban state is judged.

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