Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Part 3: Caribbean Socialist Democracy 1.0--The Template for Socialist Democracy: Caribbean Marxism's Socialist Democracy Series, 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.

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 3: Caribbean Socialist Democracy 1.0--The Template for Socialist Democracy.

Series Content Links.

In Parts 1 and 2 of this Series I briefly sketched out the approach of the current Cuban political establishment when it was initially faced with the issue of constituting its political and administrative institutions.  That task did not arise at the time of the establishment of the current system in 1959 upon the establishment of the current version of the Cuban Republic.  Rather, the revolutionary government functioned on the basis of ad hoc and interim measures for the first fifteen or so years of its existence.  It was the need to institutionalize its government, and to memorialize its conceptualization of the political and economic model it had embraced, that drove the political and military leadership toward the project of constitutionalization in the wake of the establishment of a solidified Communist Party establishment, and the adoption by that establishment of key documents through which to assert leadership over the state apparatus and the masses. 

At the same time, those political and economic modeling, in the Cuban context was faced with a conundrum for the establishment of its legitimacy. On the one hand, the revolutionary government was by 1975 firmly Marxist Leninist in a classically European sense. And it had already made clear its rejection of the Chinese path toward Leninist state organization and Marxist economics grounded in state directed markets theory. On the other hand, its form embrace of the original contradiction of Marxist Leninist states--the centrality of class struggle and the primacy of worker-peasant solidarity given voice through the vanguard--required a more direct incorporation of popular participation directly in the constitution of the state and administrative apparatus, as well as in the formulation of the basic conceptualization of the economic and political model. Yet this engagement with the masses were to be undertaken even as a primary responsibility of the Leninist vanguard was to guide the masses toward a better understanding of its role within a Marxist state. 

For the Cuban state leaders the solution appeared in two tracks.  On the one hand, the masses were to be engaged in the process of formulating theory and institutional charters.  On the other they were to affirm or assent to the adoption of those documents--at the instance of the vanguard--through the traditional mechanics of voting.  At the same time, engagement was understood to serve as a means of socializing the masses and leading them to a proper understanding of the tasks and of the necessary content of theory and the necessary character of the institutions of state and Party. Likewise, affirmation acts were not to be understood as liberal democratic elections or voting.  Acclamation could be manifested in mass assemblies; and it could also be managed through referendum. 

The process of constitutionalizing the state around the paramount political leadership of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) undertaken during the course of the 1ts POC Congress, the process of managing popular engagement, of responding to that engagement with changes to draft documents, and thereafter of securing mass approval, set the template for each of these action in the future.  For us--as we undertake the close study of the process of securing constitutional revision--first through the leading elements of the PCC, then through drafting committee and POC Congress, and then through the organization of mass power, to popular consultation and thereafter to be affirmed through a national plebiscite, the actions of state and party in 1975 provide both a baseline and the conceptual starting point for the eventual development of Cuban theories of Socialist Democracy.

At the same time, it is important to distinguish constitutionalizing action separated by almost a generation, and made more remote by the profound changed in the world as well as in Cuba since the adoption of the 1976 Constitution and the organization of the institutional structures of the PCC. For one thing, that branch of Soviet Marxist Leninism has withered on the vine.  Its last real theorist, however, was Fidel Castro himself.  Yet Cuba's own engagement with Leninism as the remnant of Soviet ideology has been profoundly challenged both by regional changes and by the vigorous development of 21st century Chinese Marxist Leninism. China provides both support and inspiration, but at the same time a challenge to Cuban ideology.  That challenge intensifies to the extent to which Cuba remains committed to classic class struggle, continues to reject the market as inherently a device of capitalist imperialism, and continues to define itself against the United States (as the ultimate 'other'). At the same time, China's influence has grown as its interest in Cuba has deepened and as its international importance has expanded. Moreover, by 2018, the PCC itself had already developed quite distinct markers of participation that went well beyond the highly controlled engagement that was at the center of mass participation in 1975.

Thus, it is important to start with 1975 as the baseline for methodologies, and perhaps theories of mass participation. At the same time, those baseline templates were themselves transformed starting with the movement, after Raúl Castro's assumption of apex authority within the FAR and the PCC, and the development of more open textured (by Cuban standards) methods for popular engagement in what became the PCC's Lineamientos, and thereafter its reconceptualization of the political and economic model, and now the 2019 Constitution. What are the central elements of that template?

First the Cuban PCC adopted something that to American eyes appears to look suspiciously like a corporate governance model. That translates in Leninist terms to the following--all political change must originate in the PCC. AT the same time the PCC is constrained by its own line to the sorts of political projects it might initiate, as well as with respect to its contents. But legitimacy requires affirmation by the masses, the way the key board proposals require shareholder approval.

Second, the object of this approval under the guidance of the PCC, is in part to legitimate the PCC's work, but also to educate the masses and move the PCC's project forward of socializing the masses into appropriate class consciousness and thus of advancing their loyalty to the revolution and its principles. To that extent, and again borrowing an analogy from American corporate practice--engagement was to be structured and managed in ways that contemporary Americans would recognize as corporate or small town "town hall meetings" (e.g., here).  I have referred to this as   Populist Technocracy and Engagement.

Third, Constitution follows the development of political principle, and remains subordinate to those principles.  In this sense, the constitution memorializes the normative structures the control of which is delegated to the PCC and the content of which is subject to its own development of Marxism and Leninism in context.  As such, constitutional reform is both a consequential event (and in this sense a technical rather than a normative project) and constrained by core premises and principles which may not be challenged through the process of constitutional reform.

Fourth, that basic relationship between constitutional reform and the PCC political line, then constrains and shapes the nature of popular engagement (by defining what may or may not be suggested) and by then providing the mechanisms for weighing the value of such contributions,. It is in that sense that any engagement in which suggestions for the abandonment of central planning (for example) would just not register on those charged with receiving popular suggestions.

Fifth, there is nothing sacred about the forms of popular affirmation. Mass events are as legitimate as traditional voting. Moreover, mass engagement must be organized through the institutions of mass revolutionary discipline--for example the committees for the Defense of the Revolution, who themselves are committed to moving forward the PCC line against "reactionary" and dissident elements. It is in that sense that one could conceive of the process as entirely democratic, even as it severely constrained by the form and content of debate.

Sixth, the notion of affirmation itself is understood as ministerial in the sense that it follows from and ought to reflect the popular 'buy in' resulting from the process of mass engagement in the development of the final draft. It is in that sense unnecessary and the understanding is that only those things (and candidates) that must be approved or affirmed would be brought to a vote int he first place-  Socialist consultation produces the consensus and agreement which is a predicate for a vote that merely serves as a mechanism for memorializing that consensus through a discrete mass act (of voting). 

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