September 29, 2013

Cuba: Socialism and Democracy

Chevy Philips,
Rebel Youth Magazine

Rebel Youth originally published this article in our Summer 2009 print edition. We are reprinting it today given its continued validity.

Despite his supposed agenda for change, even President Obama has stuck to the same, tired line – the trade and travel embargo aimed at Cuba will stay until "democratic elections" are held on the island.

In fact, little has changed for half a century when it comes to the behaviour of the US towards Cuba -- behaviour repeatedly condemned and declared illegal by the United Nations, European Union and numerous other international bodies.

Consequently, the widespread belief that the "Castro regime" and a "communist dictatorship" continues to stifle "freedom and democracy" in Cuba persists in the popular imagination (at least in Canada and especially the United States).

Democracy and class

Perhaps it is typically ironic that the US, of all countries, should target Cuba for 'suppressing freedom and democracy'. Despite half a century of anti-communist propaganda and shrill demands for 'democratic elections' to be held, the US knows perfectly well that Cuba regularly holds such elections, it just happens to do so in a manner of which Washington disapproves -- i.e. in the interests of the people of Cuba and not in the interests of international (and particularly American) capital.

The Cubans are also perfectly aware of what kind of democracy the US has in mind when it repeats its familiar mantra about elections – that kind where the outcome is determined by corporate sponsorship, or as we saw in the US in December 2000, an effective coup d'etat by a far-from-neutral Supreme Court acting on behalf of the ultra-right.

The Cubans have also seen what this democracy looks like, and they have suffered the consequences. During the years before the 1959 Revolution the island was subject to Batista's brutal dictatorship, a dictatorship that deprived the people of their land and their political voice.

Voice of the people

It was the July 26th Movement, led by Fidel Castro, that restored both land and voice to the people of Cuba and expelled the vulture-capitalists (both foreign and domestic) bent on turning the island into a neo-slave colony at the mercy of US capital.

The Communist Party of Cuba emerged in 1965 as a combination and culmination of the people's forces which opened this new chapter in Cuban history.

Earlier in 2009, in response to renewed calls for 'reform' emanating from the Whitehouse, Raul Castro declared that he had been elected "to defend, maintain and continue perfecting socialism -- not to destroy it." Since the early years of the formation of socialist Cuba, the people have repeatedly made it clear that the kind of corrupt, plutocratic, two party 'democracy' that predominates in many capitalist countries like the USA would not be tolerated on their island.

The undignified spectacle of professional politicians (bought and paid for by their respective backers) competing to be the most convincing liars simply to gain office only to abuse it, is not one that would be welcome in Cuba.


The difference between socialist and capitalist or bourgeois democracy is well understood here, by a population with a very high level of political literacy unlikely to be fooled by the kind of "shambolic insult" that passes for democracy in the country of their would-be tutors.

Consequently, the socialist democracy of Cuba does not have a multi-party system of the sort found in capitalist countries like the US or Canada. In fact, there are no political parties here in the way bourgeois democracy understands them, and far from being an engine of 'dictatorship' as their enemies charge, the Communist Party of Cuba is neither a source of governmental nor legislative power.

Not only does one not have to be a member of the Communist Party to stand for election, the Communist Party does not even nominate candidates. Rather, both Cuban's and outside observers say, the entire process is in the hands of the people themselves.

Cuban political power

The members of each of the three levels of government in Cuba (municipal, provincial, national) are ordinary Cubans elected by their constituency communities and the community groups known as People's Associations.

These Associations are numerous and include: the Cuban Federation of Women, the Union of Young Communists, and the National Association of Small Farmers. Nominees are elected from a long list of candidates, the list itself being composed by the local constituency, and subject to recall at any time.

Of course, some candidates are members of the Communist Party but not all. During elections there is no formal campaigning; rather, the biographies of candidates are posted in public places and the people make their choice.

Cubans also go to great lengths to ensure the integrity of their electoral process, posting children and young people (in the form of the Young Pioneers) to guard the ballot boxes.

This not only encourages political consciousness and participation from an early age among the citizens of the Republic, it's a far safer way to ensure a fair vote than relying on, for example, corporate- controlled electronic voting machines (widely used in the US and responsible for massive, although often unreported, electoral fraud in the Presidential elections of 2000 and 2004).

Role of the Communist Party

This is not to suggest that the Communist Party of Cuba does not have an important role to play in political life on the island.

The party acts to continually raise the political consciousness of the people (a truly terrifying concept to bourgeois politicians) and promote the benefits of the socialist system, a system which is known the world over for producing superlative health and education services to its people, and working diligently to export these benefits in the form of an extensive overseas volunteer programme.

The Communist Party also regularly consults the people over issues of concern and has held referenda to gauge support for the socialist system: the 1993 national elections were not only an electoral process but a plebiscite on socialism itself, one which saw 87.96% of the overall electorate vote in favour of socialism and the leadership of Fidel Castro (see Canadian academic Isaac Saney's detailed examination in Cuba, A Revolution in Motion). Such a level of consent and political legitimacy is unheard of in capitalist countries.

The Communist Party's primary role is to overcome the gulf between the government and the governed (a gap which we can recognise as not only enormous but forever growing in capitalist countries).

In Marxist terms, the party is working to abolish the 'abstraction' or 'alienation' of government from the people; something which can eventually be done by increasing participation and accountability to the level, ultimately, of the 'withering of the state' so that, in the words of Engels in Anti-During,  "...the government of people is replaced by the administration of things."

Other rules

No candidate at any level of government can be installed without a majority (i.e. more than 50%, not just a plurality as so often happens in 'first past the post' electoral systems) of the votes cast in his or her local constituency, and once elected, representatives are bound to regularly return to their constituencies in person to hear the concerns and demands of the people they represent.

All these conditions placed upon elected representatives extend to all levels of government – including senior figures like Castro (it is worth pointing out that neither Fidel nor Raul are appointees, but elected and subject to the same rules as other representatives).

Most elected officials do not even receive a salary and continue with their previous jobs (as far as possible and practical) whilst acting as the people's representatives. The contrast between Cuba and bourgeois democracies like Canada and the US could hardly be more profound.

Key questions

Those voices frantically denouncing Cuba, particularly those emanating from the notorious ultra-right base of exiled Cubans in Florida, should ask themselves: Does your democracy allow for elected representatives to be recalled at any time? Does your government consist of ordinary workers receiving an average worker's wage? Do your elections take place free from billion dollar media and corporate manipulation?

The reality is that Cuba, when compared to virtually any country in the world but particularly when compared to countries like the US or Canada, is democratic in a way that bourgeois interests either do not comprehend or wilfully distort.

This is understandable, as they fear what takes place in Cuba - in so far as there is any suppression taking place, it is suppression of the interests and ambitions of capital; suppression of those which would turn the clock back to before the victory of the July 26th Movement; suppression of the enemies of socialist democracy who would trample on the progress made by the Cuban people.

For this, Cuban democracy deserves our attention, our study, and our admiration in this 50th Revolutionary year.
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