Saturday, September 09, 2017

Ruminations 74/Democracy 39: Elections and Opposition in Cuba--Opposition Within Leninist Governance Orders

(Members of the local electoral commission speak during the nominations of candidates for municipal assemblies in a neighbourhood of Havana, Cuba, September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)

A state whose leadership is fractured and whose binding ideology is contested tends to open sometimes large spaces within which dissident elements may draw power from popular discontent.  One most recently saw the effect of leadership fracture in the United States that produced the election of Donald Trump from out of the opening made possible by the long standing internecine warfare among American political elites whose decadent self absorption left a power vacuum to be filled by those with the will and vision to take advantage of political opportunity.  That, in a sense, is the way the American Republic was perhaps meant to operate.  And those openings evidence the Republic's structural self cleaning systems--a space for transformative political action that permits the sweeping away of leadership forces whose authority has withered or become an obstacle to the desires of the polity, without destroying the governance structures of the Republic.  This has happened periodically in the United States in the last century approximately a generation apart--the 1930s, the 1970s-1980s, and now. This observation implies no judgement, just an assessment of the fluidity of power and the necessity of cultivation of mass opinion if one means to control the narratives of societal expectations and politics.

But the Cuban Marxist Leninist Republic has no similar built in mechanism for accountability. Where such transformations produce mostly irritation and a desire to reinvigorate of the losing factions'  leadership in the United States, in Leninist states it can produce only a direct challenge to the leadership authority of the vanguard party and an inherent criticism that the vanguard party has failed in its leadership responsibilities. That direct threat can either produce internal rectification (an internal dialogue and transformation of the vanguard party's working style) and external response (engaging in the development of productive forces that aid the people first and the party second); or it can produce mere suppression (no change in party working style and punishment of individuals putting forward mass sentiment). Rectification and response suggests a strong and vigorous vanguard; mere suppression suggests weakness. Chinese Leninism has tended to move toward the former by reinvigorating its Mass Line, though not without substantial challenges (e.g., here). The European Leninism of much of the CCP apparatus has yet to evidence an ideologically coherent approach to the challenge posed to party building and leadership within the context of either class struggle (the European approach) or socialist modernization (the Chinese approach). 

Recent reporting from Cuba suggests that its Leninist vanguard is at this moment faced with the challenge of its need to more vigorously fulfill its responsibility to the nation.  Marc Frank, Cuban Dissidents in electoral challenge as Castro era nears end (Reuters 7 Sept. 2017). Mr. Frank reports on the way in which mass action has begun to develop its own popular expression in the face of what it sees as an increasingly remote Leninist party apparatus.  That should serve as a signal to the vanguard, and trigger substantial reform--especially at the local level. That it may not will continue a process of demolishing rather than building party leadership, one which temporary suppression will not reverse.  That, I think, is the point and warning of the reporting.

Which way it will choose--internal rectification, external response or mere suppression, remains to be seen. A Leninist party would choose the former if it means to develop and survive. A Leninist party that has not learned the lessons of transformation necessary to move from a revolutionary organization to a party in power (e.g., here) could without much thought choose the second.

Cuban dissidents in electoral challenge as Castro era nears end
By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Opponents of the Cuban government are putting forward an unprecedented number of candidates for municipal elections in late October, the first step in a process to select a new president after nearly 60 years of the Castro brothers' rule.

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The municipal vote, the only part of the electoral process with direct participation by ordinary Cubans, is expected to attract 35,000 candidates for the island's 168 municipal assemblies. It will be followed by provincial and national assembly elections in which candidates are selected from slates by commissions.

The new national assembly will in late February select a successor to President Raul Castro, 86, who has announced he will step aside after two terms.

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The elections are being cast in state-run media as a show of support for the Castros' 1959 revolution rather than an opportunity to debate the pressing issues.

Campaigning is prohibited and candidates for the 12,515 ward delegate positions are nominated at neighborhood meetings based on their personal merits, not policy positions. They need not belong to the Communist Party and many candidates are independents but only few government opponents have ever competed.

During the last election, the three dissidents nominated lost at the polls.

This year, however, one coalition of opposition groups, Otro18 (Other18), says it is running more than 160 candidates in the municipal elections, demanding electoral reform and government transparency.

"This is unheard of," said Boris Gonzalez, 41, one of the aspiring Otro18 candidates, explaining they wanted to challenge the Communist Party from within the system.

Otro18 spokesman Manuel Cuesta Morua said in an interview that its candidates had faced harassment and threats by state security forces for months and had been warned not to participate. The government has not responded to these accusations.

The Communist Party says it does not intervene in the elections, but a video circulating on social media of First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Raul Castro's probable successor, suggested otherwise.

"There are six initiatives for the 2018 elections that seek to propose counter-revolutionaries as candidates," Diaz-Canel told Communist Party cadres in the video. "We are taking steps to discredit all that."

"In this battle, which we are already fighting, we are going to be involved in this whole process in the second half of the year," he said.

The government has not commented on the video. Cuba brands all dissenters as mercenaries funded by foreign governments and exiles, out to topple the government.

Even if a few dissident candidates beat the odds and are elected to municipal assemblies, they have little chance of getting any further.

* * *

"I have never voted for anyone important, not even our president," said retired air force mechanic and staunch Castro-supporter Eduardo, who requested his last name not be used.

"I can only vote for my neighborhood representative and they never go anywhere," he said, "but I still think it's a better system than one based on money and lies."

(Additional Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Richard Chang)

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