Monday, March 18, 2019

Part 10: Communist Party and Asamblea Nacional--Popular Representation in the Shadow of Democratic Centralism in Cuban Socialist Democracy 1.0 (Caribbean Marxism's Socialist Democracy Series, Considering the Cuban Constitutional Project, From Communist Party to Popular Plebiscite)

(Graphic from the Inventario website HERE)

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 10: Communist Party and Asamblea Nacional--Popular Representation in the Shadow of Democratic Centralism in Cuban Socialist Democracy 1.0.

Index of posts in this series HERE

We have come to understand that the core element in the institutionalization of the Cuban revolutionary government,and its establishment of its Socialist Democracy 1.0, centered on the formal sidelining mass popular gatherings (whose use had been serendipitous since the early 1960s in any case), and to find a substitute institutional form for popular expression. That substitution, however, brought the revolutionary government to adopt the forms of liberal democratic representation (in the form of the Asamblea Nacional).  And in  the process it also brought the revolutionary government perilously close to the adoption of the principles of liberal democratic governmental organization. The revolutionary government was to some extent sensitive to these issues in  1976, and Fidel Castro went out of his way to declare the difference between the forms of liberal democratic legislatures and those of the Asamblea Nacional


And not just Fidel Castro.  Early on Raúl Castro as well sought to articulate Soviet Leninist principles to legitimate the construction of a system under the leadership of the vanguard party, but also one that necessarily was dependent on a relationship between the vanguard and the masses (starting with the proletariat, of course, in a political world view shaped by classical Soviet notions of class struggle (again without reference to failures of implementation). In a speech given May 4, 1973, Raúl Castro emphasized an approach that sought to distance the institutions of proletarian dictatorship from the dictatorship of a legislature in liberal democracies.
But the dictatorship of the proletariat is not limited in the least to the important and main role that the Party must play. The Party is only the vanguard minority of the most advanced social class in charge of leading and carrying on its shoulders the bulk of the weight in the construction of socialism. Therefore, in order to exercise its leading role visà-vis the entire society, the Party relies on the state, the mass organizations and, when necessary, on the direct mobilization of the working masses. The most ideal and direct instrument for exercising control of society is not a political party, but rather the state, an apparatus without which neither the dictatorship nor the fulfillment of the tasks of socialist construction are possible. In addition to the Party and the state, the complete system of the dictatorship of the proletariat includes the mass organizations, which Lenin called “transmission belts” that group together one or many sectors of society’s revolutionary forces: the trade unions, youth, women’s and peasants’ organizations, the Committees for the Defense of Revolution, students and Pioneers. In an article written in December 1920, Lenin said that the dictatorship “cannot work without a number of ‘transmission belts’ running from the vanguard to the mass of the advanced class, and from the latter to the mass of the working people.” (Raúl Castro, Speech given to cadres and officials of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba on May 4, 1973 (English translation HERE)).
These notions were built into the mutually reinforcing provisions of the 1976 Constitution (revised 2002)  that provided on the one hand in Article 5 that "The Communist Party of Cuba, Martian and of Marxist-Leninist, the organized vanguard of the Cuban nation, is the superior leading force of the society and the State, organizing and guiding the common efforts aimed at the highest goals of the construction of socialism and advancement toward the communist society." (HERE ["El Partido Comunista de Cuba, martiano y marxista-leninista, vanguardia organizada de la nación cubana, es la fuerza dirigente superior de la sociedad y del Estado, que organiza y orienta los esfuerzos comunes hacía los altos fines de la construcción del socialismo y el avance hacía la sociedad comunista." HERE].  On the other hand the 1976 Constitution also provided in Article 69 that "The National Assembly of People’s Power is the supreme organ of State power and represents and expresses the sovereign will of all the people" (HERE ["La Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular es el órgano supremo del poder del Estado. Representa y expresa la voluntad soberana de todo el pueblo." HERE]. And in Article 70 that "The National Assembly of People’s Power is the only organ in the Republic invested with constituent and legislative authority" (HERE ["La Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular es el único órgano con potestad constituyente y legislativa en la República."  HERE].
And yet the problem remained--and grew substantially in the period between 19786 and 2008 when direct popular affirmation and engagement became a vestigial part of the operation of the administrative apparatus of the state. This was ironic, especially since this period of institutional stability was also marked by periods of great political instability, great crises, culminating in the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the trials of the so-called "Special Period."

At first glance, the problem appears centered on a concern about the corruption of the system from a "right" perspective--that is that the national assembly system does not work because one cannot extricate the form of the national assembly institution from the liberal democratic ideals of representative democracy.  If that is the case then any mechanism for representation necessarily requires autonomous choices by an electorate.  And, indeed, that had been the way that even the revolutionary government approached the issue.

However, it is not clear that the primary problem of the national assembly system was the risk of the possibility of "rightist" error (that is the possibility that the national assembly system would be corrupted by and eventually transform itself into a corrupted form of a liberal democratic representative institution). That risk was both well understood, and at least partially theorized. To the extent that it continued to exist suggested, especially between 1976 and 2008, not so much a problem of theory as a problem of failures of operationalization. Those failures were either deliberate (the leadership apparatus was satisfied with the appearance of a mechanism for popular engagement on a institutional basis and its propaganda value was great enough), or evidence of a lack of capacity to transpose theory into the working styke of the PCC and its state apparatus.

Instead, the more difficult problem for a system grounded in the notions of dictatorship of the proletariat within conditions of class struggle, and wary of the effects of the forms of liberal democracy comes from the "left" rather than the right. It is inherent in the constitution and working style of the PCC itself. Central to that problem is the role of democratic centralism as a core element of the way in which the PCC operates, and by extension of the form of core responsibility PCC members owe the organization in every aspect of their political work--either within PCC organs, or in their role in the state apparatus--including the Asamblea Nacional.

What does this mean?

First, democratic centralism is an ancient principle central to the early development of Communist Party discipline with origins in the writing of Lenin, and then subject to some variation in its adoption by the Communist Parties of states worldwide. It provides, broadly, for substantial latitude in debate within the party (subject to a number of constraints as to time, place, manner and form that can also be used to eviscerate the democratic element of of the concept in effect), but also the duty of all Party members of uphold and carry out the decisions of the Party once debate is ended and a vote taken. It suggests that at least within the Party, majority voting (in some places the emphasis is on consensus rather than majority take all voting) determines policy, but once policy is established or a decision taken then no deviation is possible, until the next time the issue comes up within the Party.

Second, the organization of the PCC is grounded on the central role of democratic centralism in its operation and working style.
Dicha forma de manifestación encuentra su formulación en los Estatutos aprobados en el Primer Congreso: “El Partido Comunista de Cuba se estructura orgánicamente y funciona de acuerdo con los principios del centralismo democrático, que permite combinar la más amplia democracia interna y el examen y análisis colectivo de los asuntos con la dirección centralizada, la libertad de discusión con la unidad ideológica, de voluntad, de organización y de acción de todo el Partido”, en ella se concreta orgánicamente la disciplina partidista, la participación política y el papel del dirigente. (Eursebio Mariano Hernández García, El principio del centralismo democrático en el proceso de construcción y desarrollo del partido comunista de Cuba: su relación con las concepciones de Vladimir Ilich Lenin y Antonio Gramsci (La Habana : Editorial Universitaria, 2015), p. 67 [This for of manifestation is found in the Statutes approved by the 1st Congress: The Communist Party of Cuba is organically structured and functions in accordance with the principles of democratic centralism, that permits the amalgamation of the broadest form of  internal democracy and the collective examination and analysis of matters with centralized direction, liberty of discussion within an ideological unity, of good will and of the organization and action of the entire Party, in which is made organically concrete party discipline, political participation and the leadership role of the Party].

Third, the obligations of democratic centralism extend not just to obedience by Party members within the Party but also with respect to their work within state organs. 
The Party directs the state, reviews its functioning and its fulfillment of the outlined directives and plans; it encourages, moves forward and contributes to the best work on the part of the entire state mechanism, but under no circumstances should the Party substitute for the state. . . .
5. It directs them through Party members who, regardless of where they work and the position they occupy, are obligated to fulfill and implement Party decisions and convince nonmembers of the fairness of these decisions and the need to follow them. 6. It directs them through the circumstances—necessary and inevitable for a long time—whereby the main leaders of the Party, or at least the majority of them, are also the main leaders of the state. (Raúl Castro, Speech given to cadres and officials of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba on May 4, 1973 (English translation HERE)).
Fourth,  where a majority of the members of the Asamblea National are also members of the PCC or its related organs, those members must under core principles of democratic centralism uphold the decisions of the PCC; they represent the Party and act i their role as members of the representative vanguard within the organs of state (and popular) power.
((Graphic from the Inventario website HERE))

Fifth, as the graphic above and at the start of this post suggest, the great majority of members of the representative assembly are subject to the obligations of democratic centralism. If that is the case, then the Asamblea National can lose its character as the institution in which the engagement with the masses can be focused, and rather becomes the site where PCC members may consider the application of PCC policy decisions through state organs. 

Sixth, in that case, then popular assembly may lose its character as the site of popular affirmation of PCC policy and decisions . It becomes something else. That something else in part is as the site of the transposition of PCC  policy and ideology into the concrete forms of administrative acts.It becomes a legislature.  This is not a surprise--it was so constructed even within the 1976 Constitution.

Seventh, but so reconstituted, the Asamblea National inevitably loses its character as the site of mass expression--even if limited under principles of class struggle to the site of proletariat mass assembly. It becomes both the site of parliamentary legislation (the rightist turn) as well as the administrative expression of the Party itself (the leftist turn).  The effect is to create an organ of popular assembly that is itself in reality the expression of the supreme representative capacity of the Party as the expression of the the will of the proletariat (and thus back to the dictatorship of the proletariat conception).

Eighth, as a result, there is still a need for some mechanism for the expression of popular affirmation of the politics and administrative expression of governance directed by the PCC as organized vanguard of the Cuban nation. We wind up where we stared--a Marxist Leninsit system in need of a means of a mechanism for popular affirmation, and a theory of when such acts of popular affirmation are required.

Ninth, the baseline solution proved ironic as well.  The  Reglamentos de la Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular de la República de Cuba provided two consequential mechanisms for popular consultation beyond the actions of the Party-in-State apparatus of the Asamblea National.

First, the mechanisms of popular affirmation are preserved, though now bound by a fairly ambiguous cage of regulation. Article 4 delegates to the Asamblea the power to hold popular referenda when required by the constitution or otherwise at the discretion of the Asamblea ("en los casos previstos en la Constitución y en otros que la propia Asamblea Nacional considere procedente;" Ibid., Art 4(x)). Article 80 mandates a referendum on the adoption of certain changes to the state constitution ("Si la reforma es total, o se refiere a la integración y facultades de la Asamblea Nacional o de su Consejo de Estado, o a derechos y deberes consagrados en la Constitución, requiere además, su ratificación por el voto favorable de la mayoría de los ciudadanos con derecho electoral, en referendo convocado al efecto por la propia Asamblea." Ibid.). Lastly Art. 110  provides for the conduct of referenda ("Tomado el acuerdo por la Asamblea Nacional de someter a referendo los casos previstos en la Constitución de la República y los que la propia Asamblea considere procedente, se envía copia certificada del mismo al Consejo de Estado, para que disponga la tramitación correspondiente. Los trámites del referendo se llevan a efecto de acuerdo con lo dispuesto en la Ley Electoral." Ibid.).

Second, the Reglamentos add an engagement element for mass participation (consulta popular) in the process of operationalization of PCC leadership policies.  Article 4(b) invests the Asamblea with the discretion to seek popular consultation on its legislative projects ("aprobar, modificar o derogar las leyes y someterlas previamente a la consulta popular cuando lo estime procedente en atención a la índole de la legislación de que se trate;"). Article 5(l) vests the President, vice present and secretary of the Asamblea the power to propose such consultation to the Asamblea ("proponer a la Asamblea Nacional que los proyectos de leyes sean sometidos a consulta popular, cuando lo considere conveniente;"). Article 68(a) vests Asamblea commissions charged with legislative projects the power to recommend popular consultation with respect to their work ("aprobar el proyecto con enmiendas o sin ellas, pudiendo además recomendar en que período de sesiones debe incluirse y si debe someterse a consulta popular;") or by the Asamblea itself (Article 72).

The irony proceeds from the implications of the solution.  First it reconstructed the mechanisms of the popular consultation from a revolutionary act of performance to a bureaucratized system for input and affirmation. We move from the mechanics of the Havana Declarations, to the performance of voting affirmation.  But more importantly, we move from the performance of the affirmation of acts wholly undertaken by the proletariat's dictator-representatives (the for form of the organs of the PCC and of the PCC's state apparatus int he form of the Asamblea Nacional) to a process f partial self affirmation by interposing the possibility of consultation between the PCC's leadership memorialized by the state apparatus int he form of law or constitution, and popular action.

But in the end, popular participation by affirmation remained wholly subject to the discretion of the leadership elements of the political model.  And public consultation beyond the Asamblea took on a wholly discretionary character.

It is in the search for a resolution of these challenges, but only after 2008, that the Cuban PCC and state apparatus will move from Socialist Democracy 1.0 to Socialist Consultative Democracy 2.0, the success or failures of which are nicely evidenced in the constitutional reform process of 2016-2019.

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