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 series theme: Caribbean Marxism's Socialist Democracy, Considering the Cuban Constitutional Project From Communist Party to Popular Plebiscite.
This Post includes Part 11: In Search of an Ideology of Popular Affirmation in its Post Revolutionary Ecology.
Revolutionary practice has triggered popular affirmation to choose principles of domestic governance, to approve of candidates to the ANPP, and to reform the constitution. Each one of these choices has involved a re-making of Cuba’s mode of social and economic development, and reshaped the existence of every Cuban citizen. If it is clear that popular affirmation is required at every crucial juncture of Cuba’s path of development, it is less clear what popular affirmation is, and why Cuba’s mechanisms of choice are those of the popular consultation and of the referendum.
Fidel had placed the “direct mobilization of the working masses” on a par with the two separate mechanisms of the state and of mass organizations. The administrative apparatus of the state, and mass organizations have the broader function to allow the Party to exert its leadership role. Popular affirmation is a governance mechanism autonomous from state bureaucracies and mass organizations, and yet sharing their very same goals. If popular affirmation is to effectively play its role, then existing channels available for its expression are more important than its form. In Cuba, these channels are given by the two distinct – but closely related – mechanisms of popular consultation, and of the referendum. Under the 1976 Constitution and the Reglamentos de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular de la República de Cuba the consulta popular and the referendo are two entirely distinct legal and political concepts (a fact strangely ignored by some). But, these two channels concur in making popular affirmation possible. Without either of them, popular affirmation in Cuba would be reduced a mere form devoid of any content.
A referenda vote taken in the absence of any prior awareness about the content of one’s choice, and at least an attempt to understand its possible consequences, would not be a choice made in a truly Socialist-democratic sense. Lack of information, awareness, or of interest in the consequences of one’s choice would make of the referendo little more than an exercise in the random expression of mutable sentiment – depriving the people of its sovereign prerogatives. And furthermore justifying such a deprivation of the people’s sovereign rights by appeals to the “emotional” nature of human beings! A consulta popular on the trajectory of national development not followed by a referendo, would deprive the people of the opportunity to again affirm, before Cuba and global society, their individual and collective choices. In this sense, given their public and widely publicized nature, the consulta and the referendo have come to play a role similar to those of plebiscitarian meetings held in the 1960s.
Under the premises of Cuban Socialist democracy, popular affirmation can be regulated through the Constitution and the Reglamentos, but it cannot be transferred or delegated to chosen representatives. Popular affirmation is not a power, but a mechanism. A mechanism is a self-contained framework and set of procedures, that in the case of Cuba exist to support the Party in its leadership role. If power if susceptible of delegation to chosen representatives, the same possibility does not exist for a mechanism. At minimum, delegating popular affirmation would produce the same outcomes discussed with reference to the Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular, and again bring attempts at building a viable form of Socialist democracy back to their very beginning. Under the worst possible scenario, a delegation of popular affirmation to representatives would result in the immediate shrinking of the base available to sustain the revolutionary vanguard, and to support its choices. China undertook this perilous road in the period leading to the Cultural Revolution, where the search for a locus of popular affirmation led to unleashing the paramilitary fury of the Red Guards – the only element exogenous to state structures, and pliable to armed mobilization.
That the locus of popular affirmation coincides with the entire body of the Revolution, rather than with a clearly identifiable bureaucracy matters little to the internal coherence of a model of Socialist democracy. The defining characteristics of Socialist democracy lie not in the placing of some governance components outside of bureaucratic apparata and institutions or within such apprata, but in the function those governance components fulfill. More important than the existence of a neat organizational form or system or lay-out is the role the working masses play in supporting the leadership role of the Party. The working masses play this role by contribution to decision-making on the fundamental principles and mechanisms of the social, political, and economic governance of Cuba.
The objection that the working masses lack the technical expertise or knowledge needed to participate in governance processes is, from a truly Socialist perspective, untenable. From that perspective, the voicing of any similar objection would signal detaching oneself from the masses, and embracing bourgeoisie privilege in opportunities to accessing and holding knowledge and education. From here to substituting one’s will to the will of the people, there is but a very short step. One of the political responsibility of to those members of the people who enjoy the privileged position of intellectuals is not only gathering and processing opinions expressed by the people, but most importantly transposing valuable ideas expressed through ordinary language into the technical vocabularies of relevant domains of governance.
With these premises, popular affirmation immediately appears as a thorny institution of Socialist democracy, one exposed not so much to the risk of being read or interpreted outside of the premises of the Cuban system. Rather, this mechanism is densely enmeshed within a web of ethical, social and political responsibilities that tie together the masses and cadres. Any failure in the fulfilment of those responsibilities originates from within the people or within the cadres, and reflects on the leadership. The effects of such failures may bounce from the people and cadres to the leadership. But they eventually and always bounce back on the people.
Popular affirmation has been invoked a total of three times in the short span between 2011 and the 2019 Constitutional referendum. Consultations were held on the Lineamientos de la Political Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución, the Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista, and the Plan de Desarrollo Económico y Social hasta 2030: Visión de la Nación, Ejes y Sectores Estratégicos. These consultations took place in 2001 and 2016. They involved participants drawn from the ranks of CPC militants, the Young Communist League, mass organizations, and the Cuban people, rather than the entire body of the Revolution. As valuable as these consultations have been, they cannot be considered a ‘pure’ form of popular affirmation. Unlike the 2018 consultation on the Draft Constitution, and the ensuing popular referendum, participation to those processes was not extended to all Cubans, therefore it did not amount to a direct mobilization of all the working masses.
This choice to opt for a gradual extension of mobilization from a selected number of participants to the entire body of the Revolution is understandable. The mechanism of mobilization of the working masses has been invoked sporadically, and the responsibilities entailed in participating in such a process are yet to clearly articulate.
Popular affirmation does not involve the making of a binary choice pro or against the developmental line enshrined in Constitution. Such an act would take place much later, at the final stage of a longer process. At its very beginning, this process involved reading, understanding and adding to an objectively lengthy and complex document. The 2019 Constitution directly derives from the Lineamientos, the Conceptualización, and Plan 2030. We have performed analyses documenting the trajectory of textual derivation that connects these four documents. Together, these four documents had the potential to induce fundamental changes in the life of every Cuban citizen. Contributing to the making of these documents meant accepting the responsibility to make choices that would impact on one’s life, on the lives of others, and on the relation between Cuba and other countries. Acceptance of this responsibility, in turn, enabled the Communist Party of Cuba to fulfil its leadership role, and orientate the Island towards the direction chosen by its people. Abstaining from a discussion of the Constitution, or the making of cosmetic or complacent comments would have been tantamount to rejecting one’s responsibilities, and role in Cuban Socialist democracy. The raising of sharply critical opinions, within the limits of discourse set in Cuba, instead signaled one’s deep engagement with the process. As stated by Raúl Castro, processes of consultation that are not unanimous are “precisely what we need if we really want to reach a democratic and a serious consultation”. The existence of different opinions about the specific methods to achieve goals shared by all parts of the Revolution is much different from disorder, opposition, subversion, or a failure of popular affirmation.
Equally important, for an effective functioning of popular affirmation, is cadres’ acceptance of their political responsibilities. The Draft Constitution was discussed at meetings held at the grass-roots level - in schools, hospitals, factories, neighborhoods. During the discussion participants suggested modifications to constitutional provisions, expressed their doubts, or raised questions. The comments and the general content of discussions were then summarized by cadres, and transmitted to the bureaucracies responsible for their selection, collection, and analysis. Once processed, data was presented to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, and to the ANPP. Based on information provided by the public consultation, the constitution was then revised, and submitted to popular vote on February 24, 2019. The political responsibility of cadres, then, involves a faithful collection and transmission of all the inputs provided by the people. Regardless of the level of technical complexity of the means used to gather opinions, the duty for cadres is avoiding the corruption of data. But also the suppression of suggestions, and opinions that do not conform to their own individual vision for Cuba’s development, or to the aspiration of narrower cliqués. Here, the temptation to avoid these potential problems by the introduction of a full-fledged social credit system can be strong. But advanced technologies, when used for goals that deviate from the ethical and professional responsibilities of cadres, can easily amplify the effects of the reporting of false data. Such was the experience of China in the run-up to 1959. Corruption of data on agricultural production indeed benefitted those who secured their own career by reporting false data. Yet, the consequence of the systematic, wide-spread exploitation of data for one’s personal gain resulted in a famine that claimed millions of lives.
A vote on the Constitution, then, has not so much the goal to approve or deny this specific document. A denial of the choices expressed during the public consultation is always possible, at least in theory. Such a denial cannot be expressed through a vote of “no” to the constitution, because it would affect not just individual choices, but also the choices made by other persons.
A vote on the Constitution once more affirms individual and collective choices for a given mode of development. Confirms a belief in the effectiveness of the specific methods chosen to realize that mode of development. It also testifies to a belief in the correct process of aggregation, transmission, and elaboration of the individual and collective views expressed during the consulta popular.