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 8: Plebiscites, the "No Vote,"and the Leadership Responsibilities of the Vanguard Party.
Part 7 of this series noted the results of the referendum.
1. Counting Affirmation. As is customary in liberal democratic states (and apparently also by those within Marxist Leninist States engaged in counting ballots), the focus of the counting is on the "winner." But that approach is based on the essence of factional voting in liberal democracies. There the object is to mobilize the masses for the purpose of approving the political objectives (usually quite precise and short term) of one of the political factions through the deployment of the mechanisms of mass persuasion undertaken through political campaigns. The object, understood form the beginning, is to garner a majority. The majority vote itself then effectively eviscerates votes in opposition so that the results are effectively treated as a unanimous result. That characterization, of course, would horrify the proponents of majority voting regimes. But the functional effect is unavoidable. What is left to the minority is to bide their time, seek to wreck the work of the majority through interventions in the governmental apparatus (within the cultural boundaries of a "loyal opposition" principle, the parameters of which are now rapidly changing), and then seek either another vote or produce a different result at the time the voting cycle produces a periodic voting event.
Yet, as applied within the context of Marxist Leninist political models, and especially its Caribbean Marxist variation, this approach must be understood as rightist error. By focusing only on the yes vote to evidence affirmation, and ignoring "no" votes, failures to vote or annulled and blank ballots, the vanguard takes on the role of a political party in a liberal democratic state. And yet that is precisely what the vanguard has been seeking to avoid since the 1960s. Indeed, that tendency effectively reduces the process of referendum either into right wing authoritarian propaganda shows for the consumption of domestic elements and the foreign press, or it disengages the vanguard from its clear eyed engagement with the population over which it has a paramount responsibility. In either case, the winner take all approach of factional parties in liberal democracies is inconsistent with the guiding ideology on the basis of which the referendum acquires its legitimacy. For the purposes of affirmation and the consequences on the operation of the state apparatus, the affirmation by more than a majority suffices.
Yet for the vanguard, whose obligation is centered in its political work, the technical victories on a liberal democratic model ought to matter very little. What is critical to that political work is not the affirmative votes but the totality of the voting or the potential voting that was not cast in affirmation. For the vanguard party concerned with its fidelity to its own model, the none affirmation votes point to its own failures to appropriately engage and build consensus around the guidance of its leadership. And it is the appropriate exercise of that leadership that ought to be a central concern. As such, the most important portion of the vote was not the 6.8 million votes cast to affirm, but rather the 857,000 people who failed to vote, the 706,000 no votes and the roughly 330,000 blank and annulled votes.
2. Fundamental Obligation of a Marxist Leninist Party in the Face of a Plebiscite. It follows then, that for a Marxist Leninist vanguard to fulfill its core (legitimacy protecting) responsibilities in the face of plebiscite the principal obligation lies in its response to the totality of the non-affirmation vote. That responsibility takes several forms.
The first is to understand the nature of the "no" voting. Having given the masses the authority to approve or NOT to approve, then it is incumbent on the vanguard to understand how in the face of its guidance and leadership, people failed to be convinced of the value of the object of the plebiscite. In the context of the 2019 Cuban Constitution, that becomes a very difficult task. The difficulty lies in the complexity of the instrument that the vanguard chose to put before the people. A document with hundred of complex provisions the consequences of which are to institutionalize the grand political and economic model of the Communist Party is hardly an easy matter to understand. And yet that was precisely the task that the PCC took on for itself when it chose first to widely circulate the entirety of its reconceptualized political and economic model, when it chose to engage the population in the construction of its 2030 economic plan and its transformative approach to central planning in the economy, and when it chose to transpose these complex abstract principles into a working document for the state sector. In the process it sought to undertake two tasks. The first was to engage the population in the complex work of political and economic model making and reform. But the second, and more important task was the reconstruction of a model for socialist democracy that relied, as its central element, on a workable political mdel of the Chinese "mass line" (from the people to the people.
Those political tasks, the primary responsibility of the vanguard party (to itself and to its normative principles already embraced in the Reconceptualización from the 7th PCC Congress in 2016), would have to be judged not by the extent of popular affirmation, but to the extent of the failure of such affirmation. Recall, again, that the object of the plebiscite was not to secure a majority vote (the liberal democratic model), but to gauge the extent that the PCC was able to effectively lead the population as well as the correct choices that the PCC made in that task. One can gauge that only by a deep analysis of those who failed to affirm.
But how does one engage in that sort of Marxist Leninist political work? The first task appears obvious--to determine the reasons for rejection, failures to vote and the like. To that end it will be necessary to dissect (without repercussion) the nature of the popular response to the Constitutional project (and indirectly to the project of reconceptualizing the political and economic model form 2016 on). The second task is the harder one--to consider carefully the extent that those responses require either further engagement, or (much much harder) a rethinking of the vanguard's interpretation of its normative structures in the service f a particular form of implementation. This if curse serves as the essence of the vanguard's political work. And it ought to be the primary responsibility of its hierarchy--starting with the First Secretary and the Politburo that he heads.
But how does one undertake that responsibility? The answer here is also straightforward. One engages closely with the discussions held by the people both in official and in unofficial forums. The Cuban vanguard was particularly tolerant of discussion (though not without limits and peculiarities). It also sought to manage that discussion in the construction of its complex and elaborate system of official engagement which it oversaw and whose results were summarized (without any check on corruption or incompetence or venality) and delivered to officials to consider in finalizing the draft constitution then offered for affirmation.
It is in this context that the project we have undertaken now comes into focus. The object of the study is to understand the nature and extent of popular discussion around the constitutional project. Its underlying purpose is to determine the extent to which the PCC was both true to its own political principles, and more importantly the extent to which it has or ought to consider these popular engagements in the aftermath of the plebiscite and in its ongoing work of leadership. It is to those empirical results, and what they tell us about the nature of the causes of failures to affirm that one sees both the nature of the political work that the PCC ought to undertake (if it is to avoid rightist errors), and the extent to which the PCC has operated its own system consistently with its own principles.