Cuba: The Unity of the People

December 4, 2011 | Print Print |

Excerpt from “Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959”

Photo: Caridad

By SAMUEL FARBER

HAVANA TIMES, Dic 5 — The refusal to allow substantive political debate among the various candidates at the lower levels of Popular Power elections, or anywhere else, is justified by the government on the grounds of maintaining national and revolutionary unity.  As Raúl Castro declared in his speech of July 26, 2009, “Cuba will move forward with monolithic unity.”63

This is a very old slogan with roots that can be traced to the very beginning of the revolution—and this slogan of unity was counterposed to the development of authentic democratic institutions in the country.

It is interesting to note that up to the earliest years after the victory of the revolution and before the adoption of the Soviet model, the revolutionary leaders implicitly acknowledged the existence of conflicting interests and views, although they insisted on their suppression for the sake of revolutionary unity.

When Jean-Paul Sartre visited Cuba early in 1960 and asked Antonio Nuñez Jiménez, the head of the Agrarian Reform Institute, why a referendum was not held to validate the government and its policies and thus effectively respond to hostile criticisms, the Cuban leader symptomatically responded:

For one single reason… We don’t want to pay for the triumph of the revolution by wiping out the revolution. What is the meaning of our group? The unity of views, practical union. We are several in one. A single, same man everywhere at once . . . After it has chased out the latifundistas, an underdeveloped nation makes production the common denominator for all classes, their common interest. At present, what would an elected assembly be? The mirror of our discords.64

Photo: Caridad

For Fidel Castro, the word unity has been a euphemism for monolithism and autocratic power. As early as 1954, almost five years before the victory of the revolution, he wrote to Luis Conte Aguero, then his close friend:

Conditions which are indispensable for the integration of a truly civic moment: ideology, discipline, and chieftainship. The three are essential but chieftainship is basic . . . The apparatus of propaganda and organization must be such and so powerful that it will implacably destroy him who would create tendencies, cliques, or schisms, or would rise against the movement.65

Castro’s long-standing views on these questions were the basis for an elective affinity with old Russian Stalinist arguments justifying the totalitarian one-party state in the Soviet Union. It is noteworthy that thirty-eight years after Castro wrote to Conte Aguero, he expressed similar views in regard to the Soviet Union in a long interview with Sandinista leader Tomás Borge. Castro criticized Stalin on a number of grounds, including the invasion of Finland and the Hitler-Stalin pact. But when Borge asked him, “What do you believe were Stalin’s merits?” the first thing Castro mentioned was that Stalin “established unity in the Soviet Union. He consolidated what Lenin had begun: party unity.”66

In comparison to Fidel Castro, Soviet Stalinism developed, as was its wont, a more “finished” and pseudo-Marxist argument to justify the one-party state. The Russian Stalinists maintained that since socialism had abolished the class struggle and unified the peasantry and the working class in the Soviet Union, and since conflicting parties have historically been established to represent the interests of conflicting classes, there was no need for more than one party. The current Cuban version, which began to be especially emphasized in the 1990s, takes for granted the Soviet notion of the homogeneity and harmony of popular interests and conflates it with its own interpretation of the political thought of José Martí, Cuba’s founding father.

In the late nineteenth century, Martí called for all groups and factions supporting Cuban independence from Spain to unite under the banner of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano (Cuban Revolutionary Party), which he founded and led in order to fight more effectively against Spain.

The Cuban government claims that the Cuban people should stay monolithically united against the imperialist enemy, emulate Martí’s model, and have only one party. Martí’s call for unity for the sake of a cause was hardly unique in the annals of opposition and revolutionary movements. When Martí spoke about unity he was trying to overcome the petty jealousies and authoritarian tendencies of the insurgent caudillos in order to forge a united military but civilian-controlled campaign against Spanish rule on the island.

In 1891, in a resolution that was considered a prologue to the foundation of the new party, Martí proclaimed that the new revolutionary party “will not work directly for the present or future dominance of any class of people, but for the organization, in accordance with democratic methods, of all the active forces in the Fatherland.”67

Martí attempted to accomplish his goals through political means: persuasion, education, and the creation of a united organization to achieve Cuban independence by force of arms against Spain. He did not advocate the forceful suppression, imprisonment, or execution of those Cubans who disagreed with him and resisted his efforts.

Martí’s views pertaining to “unity” in the struggle against Spain had absolutely nothing to do with the party system he or any other of the independence leaders thought should be established in a newly independent Cuban Republic, much less with the constitutional establishment of a one-party state outlawing other parties. Such an idea would have been most uncharacteristic of this man who was deeply steeped in the progressive and democratic political currents of the late nineteenth century.68 Historically, the first attempt ever to create such a one-party political system controlling the whole life of a society occurred several decades after Martí’s death in 1895.

Samuel Farber

Moreover, the Cuban people under the Castro brothers are not “united” in the sense of having transcended class and many other kinds of socially and politically rooted conflicts, nor were the Soviet people under Stalin and his successors. In reality, there is no such thing as a homogeneous social class with only one type of political consciousness and ideology. As Leon Trotsky succinctly put it in the 1930s:

In reality classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms, and arrive at the solution of common problems no otherwise than through an inner struggle of tendencies, groups, and parties. It is possible, with certain qualifications, to concede that “a party is a part of a class.” But since a class has many “parts”—some look forward and some back—one and the same class may create several parties. For the same reason one party may rest upon parts of different classes. An example of only one party corresponding to one class is not to be found on the whole course of political history—provided, of course, you do not take the police appearance for the reality.69

There will always be a heterogeneity of views even within one stratum of a single class, due to unavoidable group and individual differences of opinion. The history of the Cuban Revolution is filled with such conflicts and differences even within the government camp itself. These differences may even involve serious strategic and tactical disagreements. This was the case with Fidel Castro’s decision to embark on the eventually disastrous campaign for a ten-million-ton sugar crop in 1970, or with the earlier strategy adopted under pressure from the Soviet Union to reestablish sugar as the keystone of the Cuban economy.

Of course, the issue here is not advocacy of revolutionary “disunity” for its own sake. Every political leader, revolutionary or otherwise, will attempt to bring about “unity” in support of his or her programs and decisions. The question is whether such “unity” will be attempted through persuasion and other political means or through the use of administrative and police methods such as constitutionally outlawing other political associations and parties. Moreover, the airing of political differences in public strengthen popular political education and the potential for self-determination and management.

—–

Notes:

63.   “Con unidad monolítica Cuba seguirá adelante, dijo Raúl Castro,” Diario Granma 13, no. 208 (26 julio 2009), www.granma.co.cu/2009//07/26/nacional/artic27.html.

64.   Jean-Paul Sartre, Sartre on Cuba (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974), 86.

65.   Luis Conte Aguero, 26 cartas del Presidio (Havana: Editorial Cuba, 1960), 73. This book was published before Conte Aguero’s break with Castro.

66.   Fidel Castro, Un grano de maíz (Havana: Oficina de Publicaciones del Consejo de Estado, 1992), 76.

67.   José Martí, “Resoluciones tomadas por la emigración cubana de Tampa y Cayo Hueso en noviembre de 1891,” in Obras escogidas, 3: 23, as cited in Dimas Castellanos, Qué tiene que ver Martí con el partido único, 27 agosto 2010, www.desdecuba.com/dimas/.

68.   Manuel Pedro González and Iván E. Schulman, José Martí: Esquema ideológico (Mexico City: Publicaciones de la Editorial Cubana, 1961); and Joan Casanovas, “La nación, la independencia y las clases,” Encuentro de la Cultura Cubana (Madrid) 15 (invierno 1999–2000): 177–86.

69.   Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed (New York: Merit, 1965), 267.

CUBA SINCE THE REVOLUTION OF 1959
A Critical Assessment
Copyright Samuel Farber 2011.
(www.haymarketbooks.org)

 


What's your opinion?

  • rob

    in my opinion the endless striving for ‘unity’ has been the biggest mistake of the cuban revolution, probably a fatal mistake. total unity is something that is unabtainable and therefore pointless to attempt, as well as (in my opinion) undesireable. the only way a society can advance and grow is through division which leads to debate in which there is none in cuba. cuban socialists, heroic they may be, would simply not be able to hold their own in a debate with a proponent of free market capitalism simply because they have never had to debate with anyone of a liberal capitalist mindset, their critical faculties have never had to be exercised. government demands of unity will never work, and if cubans finally are allowed the opportunity to cast a ballot in an open election they will overwhelmingly vote against the status quo, which is cubas case is a left wing ruling party. if they arent allowed to vote they will eventually take to the streets and then the only unity will be that of people united against the ccp. and then come the tanks..

  • CF

    Unlike the case in the USA, every Cuban citizen of voting age, regardless of economic circumstances, has the equal right AND opportunity to run for and win any public office in the land. It costs nothing to run even for and win even the highest public office in the land. You can’t buy an election, US-style in Cuba. No billionaires can saturate the airways with lying attack ads to undermine the unity of the people. Any of your “liberal capitalists” would be appalled at the prospect! Without the tyranny of the dollar, they apparently don’t have a chance in Cuba.

    In Cuba, candidates are nominated not by any fat-cat “political action committees” or any political party, but by the people themselves in open public meetings in every neighbourhood, or by local assemblies who themselves were nominated in this way.

    In national elections held every five years, every member of the National Assembly, including the President, must renew his mandate by attaining the support of the majority of his or her constituents. Any candidate that cannot get the support of the majority, cannot win. (When the Emperor Bush II was first “elected,” only 24 percent of US voters supported him. Even his rival got more votes!)

    Voting none-of-the-above by secretly casting a blank or spoiled has real meaning in Cuban elections. It is not just a meaningless statistic. If the majority in any district votes in this way, an entirely new slate of candidates must be put forward and another vote held there. Another prospect that would also appall any of your “liberal capitalists,” but that’s REAL democracy.

    So, please forgive the average Cuban voter, who it seems always votes overwhelmingly in support of the Revolution and its institutions. I can see that it really frustrates you, but it really does seem to be the will of the people.

  • rob

    you are fooling yourself cf if you think that the cuban election system is anything more than a rubber stamp parliament with a top down decision making. i have spent time in cuba and EVERY single cuban i met said that the elections are a joke. it is true that regular cubans can be nominated and elected, but they hold absolutely no power whatsoever oustide of mundane issues like trash pick up in a given neighborhood.

  • http://www.isallaboutmath.com Julio de la Yncera

    CF I assume you are discounting the vote of more than 2 million Cubans who vote by leaving the country. As for elections been fair or not it is clear that the electoral process in Cuba is a sham.
    See this for a description of how it works and of many wrong things with the Cuban system
    (This is in spanish)

    http://www.estadodesats.com/2011/11/eliecer-avila-en-sats.html

  • Luis

    Liberal democracy is also a sham, rob and Julio. You both seem to close your eyes to the Occupy movement, the 15-M, et caterva. I stand up with CF on this – flawed may it be, Cuba is actually more democratic than the US of A.