Sunday, August 19, 2012

Fidel Castro on Deng Xiaoping and Erich Honecker--Understanding the Foundations of Cuban Political and Economic Policy

Like others, I have been considering the utility of the Chinese model of Marxist Leninism might be useful as a point of reference for reforming the Cuban regime within the current global economic system (e.g., Backer, Larry Catá, "Cuban Corporate Governance at the Crossroads: Cuban Marxism, Private Economic Collectives and Free Market Globalism" Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2005).

  (Pix from Reflection of Cuba’s Castro on Deng Xiaoping, Free More News, June 25, 2012)

Like others, I have been suggesting that Fidel Castro and the adherents to his views within the state and Party apparatus in Cuba have been instrumental in resisting any development of Cuban Marxist Leninist theory that tends toward the Chinese (and to a lesser extent, the Vietnamese approaches).  As a substitute these cadres have been advancing what might be characterized as a more open form of Soviet style economic modeling more like Tito's Yugoslavia than modern Vietnam (e.g. Backer, Larry Catá, "The Proletarian Corporation: Organizing Cuban Economic Enterprises in the Wake of the Lineamientos — Property Rights between Corporation, Cooperatives and Globalization" (August 3, 2012). Consortium for Peace and Ethics Working Paper No. 2012-8/1). Others suggest that these economic debates may also cover a larger political one.  For them, for example, Cuba may be developing an economic model grounded in cultures of gate-keeping. (Javier Corrales, "The Gatekeeper State," Latin American Research Review, Vol. 39, No. 2, June 2004 (preserving state power in the CCP by fragmenting the economy into different sectors  and then controlling which citizens have access to each).  The course of the development of the Guidelines for restructuring the Cuban economy (Lineamientos) nicely evidences these tensions and the resulting compromises.

Recently, in a series of remarkable reflections, Fidel Castro has opened a window on what may be some of his most personal reasons for his continued embrace of European Soviet Marxist Leninism and his suspicion of the Chinese approach.  The first speaks to Erich Honecker, the person credited with masterminding the Berlin Wall,  and the second to Deng Xiaoping, an architect of contemporary Chinese Marxist Leninism. They both speak to the way in which personal interaction and relationships substantially effect state policy and political theory.

Two recent reflections are particularly relevant:

(Pix from Mann des Apparats, der den Staat mit sich riss, Frankfurter Rundschau, 30. Mai 1994)


THE most revolutionary German I have known is Erich Honecker. Every human being lives in his or her era. The current one is of infinite change, in comparison with any other. I had the privilege of observing his conduct when he was paying bitterly for the debt contracted by the man who sold his soul to the devil for a few shots of vodka.

I retain for Honecker the most profound sentiment of solidarity. 

Fidel Castro Ruz
June 11, 2012
3:17 p.m.
(Original Spanish Version):  El alemán más revolucionario que he conocido fue Erich Honecker.
Cada hombre vive su época. La actual es infinitamente cambiante, si se compara con cualquier otra anterior. Me correspondió el privilegio de observar su conducta cuando este pagaba amargamente la deuda contraída por aquel que vendió su alma al diablo por unas pocas líneas de Vodka.
Guardo hacia Honecker el sentimiento más profundo de solidaridad.

 (Pix from


HE thought of himself as a wise man and, doubtless, he was. But he made a small mistake. 
"Cuba has to be punished," he said one day. Our country never even pronounced his name.
It was a totally unwarranted offense. Fidel Castro Ruz
June 14, 2012
1:40 p.m. 
(Original Spanish Version): Presumía de hombre sabio y, sin duda, lo era. Pero incurrió en un pequeño error.
"Hay que castigar a Cuba", dijo un día. Nuestro país nunca pronunció siquiera su nombre.
Fue una ofensa absolutamente gratuita.
These reflections are remarkable both as a window into the perspective and context within which Fidel Castro formed long held opinions, but also the way the personal and the political were merged in particularly intimate ways in forging very durable policy within the Cuban Party and State apparatus. It appears that for Fidel Castro, Erich Honecker's East Germany still represents in Castro's mind the ideal Marxist Leninist state, one in which a certain level of prosperity is bought at the price of strict control of population, a vestigial non-state sector and a tightly vertically ordered system of state planning. In Castro's mind this form of state organization was working until the East German regime was betrayed and paid the price for the betrayal of others. In other words: "He found it impossible to change, and as Soviet leader Gorbackev instituted reform he remained hard-line Communist. During mass protest demonstrations in Leipzig and other cities he proved unable to provide a way forward and resigned on 18 October 1989." (Biography of Erich Honecker, National Cold War Exhibition).

Honecker, like Fidel Castro, perhaps, was a victim of historical circumstances, the upright leader of a state dependent on larger ones and subject to the vicissitudes of that relationship. Both would have to pay the debts incurred by others and live to see their life's work undone. "
"The man" selling his soul for vodka was not identified, sparking a debate among Cubans, some thinking Castro meant former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, a reputed lover of the beverage.

Others argued he meant former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose reforms helped lead to the end of the Soviet empire and to vital economic aid from the USSR to Cuba." (Patrick Oppmann, Fidel Castro stretches for a commentary topic -- yoga, CNN, June 19, 2012)
Is this a reference to the Raúlistas in the Cuban Communist Party and a call to arms to resist the sort of opening up that has been central to the Chinese Communist Party Line since the 1980s? Only time will tell.

In stark contrast is Deng Xiaping. Dripping with dismissive contempt, Fidel Castro's criticism of Deng Xiaoping is both personal and professional. "Cuba must be punished" might well refer to the sense that Deng had both Cuba and Fidel himself in mind when he made the statement.  Castro appears never to have forgiven or forgotten.  Part of the causes of the estranged relationship might go back to the Cuban support of Vietnam in the wake of the 1979 Chinese invasion, for which Deng Xiaoping is blamed by name in particularly disparaging terms, terms that suggest that his loyalty as a communist might be suspect (and thus providing a foundation for later casting suspicion on his economic reforms).
De más está decir que no se sabe ni siquiera lo que está pasando dentro de China, no se sabe: los problemas, las divisiones que tienen, cuál de las facciones es la que está trazando la pauta en este momento, y quiénes son los responsables, cuál de las facciones es responsable de esta guerra y de esta increíble aventura, aunque a todas luces, a todas luces, el que está allí al frente de esta canallada, de este crimen, el responsable número uno parece ser este mentecato (RISAS), este títere, este desvergonzado de Deng Xiaoping, que lo purgan una vez, vuelve otra vez, lo vuelven a purgar, vuelve, y cualquier día lo purgan otra vez de nuevo. Eso puede pasar. Aquí no se sabe. Las facciones hace muchos años que se vienen purgando unas a otras. Se purgan, se rehabilitan, se vuelven a purgar y se vuelven a rehabilitar hasta el día en que el pueblo chino los purgue a todos de una sola vez (APLAUSOS). ¡Ah!, pero son peligrosos, peligrosísimos. (DISCURSO PRONUNCIADO POR EL COMANDANTE EN JEFE FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, PRIMER SECRETARIO DEL COMITE CENTRAL DEL PARTIDO COMUNISTA DE CUBA Y PRESIDENTE DE LOS CONSEJOS DE ESTADO Y DE MINISTROS, EN EL ACTO NACIONAL DE SOLIDARIDAD CON VIET NAM Y DE CONDENA A LA AGRESION CHINA, EFECTUADO EL 21 DE FEBRERO DE 1979, "AÑO 20 DE LA VICTORIA"; My thanks to Marce Cameron for first pointing out this connection; at )
But business is business and Cuban Chinese relations took a turn for the better after the collapse fo the Soviet Union and the aftermath of the diplomatic isolation of China in 1989. 
 The main incident that endeared Castro to many in China’s current leadership was his coming through when they desperately needed allies during post-Mao China’s most severe crisis: . . . The critical period, as chronicled by Cheng in a forthcoming issue of China Quarterly, began on June 4, 1989, when the government cracked down on demonstrations around China. In his memoirs, then-Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen tells how he was touring Latin America when the repression began and how he suddenly found himself persona-non-grata in the region. He “retreated” to Cuba. Castro treated him royally for four days and gave Cuba’s unconditional support for whatever actions Chinese leaders considered necessary to preserve socialism, as he had for the Soviets in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Not coincidentally, within days Fidel launched his own repression, namely the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa and others on charges of corruption and drug dealing but really for seeming to challenge his power. Then China returned the support. (William Ratliff, Mirroring Taiwan: China and Cuba, The Jamestown Foundation vol. 6 issue 10)

Since then, the Chinese Cuban relationship has remained pragmatic and far warmer on the military than on the Party side.  Chinese nationalism is still highlighted as worth imitating--its version of Marxist Leninist organization is not.  Whatever the state of relationship with China now,  Fidel Castro has consistently viewed Deng's opening up with substantial suspicion (e.g., The UnRepentant: Fidel Castro Confronts Cuban Globalization, Law at the End of the Day, Sept. 15, 2007), a suspicion not shared to the same degree by his brother (e.g., On the Anniversary of the Attack on the Moncada Barracks: Cuba Moves Forward towards its Chinese Future, Law at the End of the Day, July 27, 2007).

  (Pix FIDEL CASTRO, MÁS ESCUETO Y CON UN SORPRENDE CAMBIO DE ESTILO, El Lagarto Verde "ca. 1980, Havana, Cuba — The General Secretary of the German Socialist Party and President of the Council of State of the German Democratic Republic, Eric Honecker is greeted by Fidel Castro at Havana airport. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS") )

These short reflections, then, encapsulate a lifetime of judgement, political and ideological alignment that is profound. Honecker is the revolutionary; Deng thinks himself wise. The first is an opinion shared by peers, the second is a conceit, which is "doubtless" so.  But it is clear that while Fidel Castro embraces the view of Honecker as a real revolutionary, he might not embrace the judgement of Deng as wise. Honecker was the honest revolutionary  betrayed by the circumstances in which he was given a leadership role in East Germany.  He was betrayed by others.  He and Fidel Castro are more brothers than strangers.  Deng, though perhaps wise, was not wise enough to avoid mistakes.  And the most important mistake Deng made was with respect to Cuba--"Cuba must be punished."  For Fidel this was profoundly offensive; it speaks to the arrogance of a great power mistreating smaller states, the lessons of 1979 are never far from Fidel Castro's mind.  The offense was completely gratuitous, and it hurt all the more for its character.  The effect was profound, considering that the sting is still felt decades later. And so he turns the tables on Deng; it was not merely China that could play the role of --China was so remote from Cuban consciousness, so exotic and foreign, they would not even have spoken Deng's name (a subtle link to Western notions of the unpronounceable character of Chinese language and the unreadability of Chinese writing).  But this remoteness runs deeper--it suggests a remoteness from the ideological foundations of Chinese Marxist Leninism as well, something the name of which Cubans would not pronounce.  For Honecker there is solidarity; for Deng there is a profound separation. Much in the way of Cuban state, Party and economic policy was built on these premises, now undone to the extent that Raúl Castrio and his followers do not share them.

More than anything else, these short reflections are likely to be as close as we will come to understanding the reasons that Cuba finds itself in its particular current predicament.  It is one based perhaps on a nostalgia for what could have been, East Germany, and a fear and loathing for what may be: Chinese style decentralization.

     (Pix from Deng Xiaoping's Economic Reforms, Facts and Details).

1 comment:

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