This Blog Essay site tries to devote every February to a series of integrated but short essays on a single theme. For 2014 this site introduces a new theme: Reimaging the State in the Global Sphere: An Inventory of Sovereign Wealth Fund as Regulator and Participant in Global Markets. In 2013, the site considered The U.S. National Contact Point--Corporate Social Responsibility Between Nationalism, Internationalism and Private Markets Based Globalization. For 2010, this site introduced a new series--Business and Human Rights. And in 2009, the Ruminations Series sought to develop a set of aphoristic (ἀφορισμός) essays, meant to provoke thought rather than explain it.
The year 2019 intensified global concern over the shape and direction of democratic theory and its expression in states. Liberal democratic states, once comfortably secure in the expression of an orthodox view of what democracy meant and how it was expressed, have had those beliefs challenged by internal actions that appear to challenge the core premises of democratic states--populism (left and right), foreign interventions, and the increasing willingness of political actors to test the frontiers of structures and institutions of government have all appeared to pose significant threats to the integrity of democratic theory and practice. This has caused anxiety throughout the democratic world--and certainly among the intelligentsia in their self assumed role as guardians of theory and monitors of the legitimacy of practice.
In its most spectacular forms, this has produced great contests over the legitimacy of democratic practice--mostly in smaller and more fragile states. While Venezuela ended 2018 and started 2019 as the most extreme expression of that anxiety in action, many in virtually every other state has become concerned about the state of democratic theory and practice. In these cases, foreign interventions and internal instability appear to remind us all of the dangers of failing to meet the challenges to the stabilizing and legitimating core of theory and practice.
Despite the sometimes expressed conceit of contemporary liberal democratic states that they represent the vanguard and defenders of orthodox (and therefore legitimate) democratic theory and its expression, the last several years has seen a more vigorous and self conscious development of democratic theory and its expression in so-called illiberal states, and primarily among certain states organized around principles of Marxism and Leninism. Yet, like their liberal democratic counterparts, Marxist Leninist states have also been confronted with the challenges of democratic expression (within the logic of their own ideological foundations).
Both the challenges of developing a sound democratic theory compatible with the core ordering premises of a Marxist Leninist state, and the willingness of the vanguard party to transpose these premises into viable practices are nicely illustrated in the multi-year efforts of the Cuban state to both retain its Leninist fundamental organization while developing that Leninism to provide a more open space for direct intervention of the collective in the management of the state by its Communist Party core. To that end, Cuba had embarked on a multi year project that started with the reform at the Party level of the political and economic model of state organization, the redrawing of the economic plan for the nation, and in the embedding of these core principles into the operative documents of the administrative organization of the state--culminating in the drafting of a new state constitution. In that context the Party has also sought to develop mechanisms for popular participation in both the Communist Party's political work, and in development of mechanisms of popular approval. These combine engagement in formulation as well as in Western style plebiscites. We have written about these in a number of earlier posts (e.g., links at CubaConstitution).
For Cuba, of course, the development of a viable socialist democracy is essential if it is to survive the passing of its revolutionary generation. And for that reason alone, Cuba provides a quite compelling laboratory for next generation democratic theory built on non-Western liberal assumptions. For these reasons we have chosen this years theme: Caribbean Marxism's Socialist Democracy, Considering the Cuban Constitutional Project From Communist Party to Popular Plebiscite.
In this post and those that follow we will begin to flesh out what we see as the great challenges of democracy in illiberal states, and the methods undertaken by the Caribbean (Cuban) form of Marxism Leninism, to meet those challenges. We will asses the extent to which they might claim success, and more importantly the extent to which the gulf between theory and execution remains a problem. We hope you will join us on this journey and look forward to engagement and discussion over the month. develop an approach. This February series is wrapped around work that Flora Sapio, James Korman and I are undertaking on the Cuban process of constitutional reform
This introduction includes a short summary of that work: The Democratic Constitution of Illiberal States—An Empirical Approach to Theorizing Popular Participation, Representation and Constitutional Reform in Cuba. This will frame the posts that follow.
Series Content Links.
The Democratic Constitution of Illiberal States—An Empirical Approach to Theorizing Popular Participation, Representation and Constitutional Reform in Cuba
Larry Catá Backer, Flora Sapio, James Korman
Popular participation and representation are the great antipodes of contemporary democratic theory. The former embodies the principle that political power resides in the individual; the latter that in the exercise of political authority such power must be delegated and exercised in a fiduciary capacity for the community of individuals. Yet representative delegation dilutes popular authority and requires regimes of accountability beyond elections; but popular control produces majoritarian tyranny if unconstrained.
In the construction of mediating institutions—governments and vanguard institutions mostly— political communities have drawn on a variety of theories that have sought to reconcile these core principles in the construction of government that is accepted as legitimate and thus whose authority over the polity may be asserted even without individual consent. Liberal democracies have moved from the concept of the embodiment of political self-constitution as incarnated in the body of a person (the Greek monos arkhein) to its incarnation within the body (res) of the people (publicus). But that incarnation, as well, has been situated within vanguard organizations—aristos kratia—the characteristics of which have undergone tremendous ideological transformation since the time of the Roman Republic—with its most powerful current expressions as liberal republican, Marxist Leninist vanguardist, transnational multilateralist organization.
This paper seeks to consider the issues of democratic self-constitution in illiberal states. To that end it focuses on the current process of constitutional revision in Cuba, a traditional Marxist Leninist State in the process of self-transformation. For the last several years Cuba has been in the midst of a quite public national effort at reform. To that end it has revised its core political and economic principles through a complex process under the leadership of its Communist Party (PCC). Those reforms to the organizing political and economic theory of the state then produced a move to reform the national constitution to reflect these reforms. In both cases, the PCC and the state apparatus attempted to invoke the core mechanics of popular participation even as it sought to manage that participation under the leadership of the PCC and popular representatives in national institutions.
What makes this process particularly interesting, with ramifications both for liberal democratic systems, and multilateralist supra national organizations with deep commitment to democratic principles, is the way in which the process of popular participation used multiple spaces. In particular, the emergence of social media platforms as novel ‘constitutive spaces’ pose a conundrum for constitutional theory. Through the use of qualitative and quantitative measures this paper seeks to better understand both the changing character of popular participation in representative institutions, and its consequences for democratic theory. Part I provides the background to the study. Part II then introduces the study and its methodology. We use data from government web sites, the official reports, and social media sites to examine the contours of participation, its constitution, and its limitations. We intend to develop from the analysis of four distinct data sets a clearer understanding of the nature of popular participation. Part II then considers consequences and applications both within Cuba and beyond.