Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Socialism, Nationalism, Anti-Imperialism, and la actualización del modelo económico cubano: Lo que dijo (y no dijo) Raul

Here is a link to a rush English translation (sent to me by Ned "el guru" Sublette) of Raul Castro's 2.5 hour speech on Saturday to delegates at the opening of the 6th Party Congress.

The translation is the official one from Granma.

The Spanish version is here.

And Raul's speech at the closing of the Congress today is here.

For your reading pleasure, I have added my own lengthy observations and commentary below.


While Raul's suggestion that there be term limits of 5-10 years for high-level Cuban politicians has gotten a lot of press both domestically and internationally, personally, I was struck by a number of other key themes.  They are:

1. US imperialism is alive and well.
2. Fidel is our oracle.
3. Only socialism can ensure our sovereignty and independence.
4. Equality of rights and opportunities should not be confused with a harmful egalitarianism.
5. In socialism you will be rewarded according to your work, not your need.
6. We must continue to remove all bureaucratic obstacles in the way of expanding micro-enterprise.
7. The buying and selling of housing and automobiles will soon become a reality with Decree-Law 259.
8. Affirmative Action a la cubana: There is an urgent need to promote more youths, blacks, mulattoes, and women to positions of political power.
9. The work day is sacred and should not be violated with meaningless and interminable meetings filled with rigid dogmas and slogans.
10. We will defend the principle of the equal sovereignty of states and the right to free self-determination of peoples, but stand ready to enter into a dialogue with the US to achieve a normal relationship on the basis of mutual respect and non-intervention on the internal affairs of others (despite the fact that the US continues to demand our unconditional surrender and actively support internal "mercenaries" who systematically violate our laws).
11. We must keep fighting for full religious freedom and thank the Catholic church for it's constrictive role in facilitating the release of a group of "counterrevolutionary prisoners ... who had conspired against the Patria at the service of a foreign power."

The opening and closing salvos against US imperialism, past and present, were particularly striking. They were quite forceful and made revolutionary and nationalistic sense in the context of a Congress timed strategically to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and, perhaps more importantly, the often overlooked 50th anniversary of Fidel's first ever public proclamation (after almost 2.5 years in power) of the "carácter socialista" of the revolution (after the first US bombs were dropped on April 15, 1961). This served to forcefully remind Cubans that there was and still is an enemy at the gates and only socialism can ensure our sovereignty and protect us from foreign domination.

Here, Raul referred to a massive march planned for May Day intended to "show the unity of Cubans in defense of their independence and national sovereignty, which as proven by history, can only be conquered through Socialism."

Second, there was his constant anchoring of all his declarations and observations in some long ago quote or idea from Fidel (whom he refers to reverently as Cuba's "único Comandante en Jefe").

For example, Raul intoned:

"I will not tire of repeating that in this Revolution everything has been said. The best example of this we have in Fidel’s ideas that Granma, the Official Party organ, has been running in the past few years."

Third, he repeatedly emphasized socialism's sacred irrevocability as the foundation of Cuban sovereignty and national independence (essentially equating socialism with nationalism and cubanness, ie, if we cease to be socialist we cease to be sovereign and if you are not a supporter of socialism you are not a true patriot).

Of course, this is striking because many foreign analysts (as well as many Cubans on the island) see the new pro-market economic reforms as a rejection of Fidel's orthodox statist economic ideology and aggressive policies against the private, self-employed sector and thus as a move away from "socialism" as generally understood.

Raul rejects this view outright (at least in public - perhaps he doth protest too much?) and says instead that:

"The growth of the non-public sector of the economy, far from an alleged privatization of the social property as some theoreticians would have us believe, is to become an active element facilitating the construction of socialism in Cuba since it will allow the State to focus on rising the efficiency of the basic means of production, which are the property of the entire people, while relieving itself from those management of activities that are not strategic for the country."

Indeed, I have heard Cuban economists such as Omar Everleny Perez Villanueva (two weeks ago in New York) make just this point with the argument that Carlos Marx never intended for the state to own and control ALL the means of production but only the fundamental ones.

Raul also reiterated his oft-repeated argument that socialism means an equality of opportunity and rights but not rigid egalitarianism.

For example, he harshly criticized Cuba's rationing system saying that it had a "harmful [nocivo] egalitarian quality" and "has become in the course of the years an intolerable burden to the economy and discouraged work, in addition to eliciting various types of transgressions."

He added that while it had once served a useful purpose in the rational and equal distribution of scarce basic foods, rationing "has remained with us for too long" and "contradicts the substance of the distribution principle that should characterize Socialism":

 “From each according to his ability and to each according to his LABOR.”

This point has been made by Raul many times before but here it bears repeating since it reinforces the idea that Raul's version of socialism will place the need for disciplined hard LABOR (efficiency and productivity) over social NEED (social security and redistribution).

This is important given the alternative version of socialism captured by a slightly different quote:

 “From each according to his ability and to each according to his NEED.”

This shift in rhetoric has many Cubans quite worried that Raul's version of socialism will require more work but provide less security.

At the same time, his 180 degree shift in approaching the non-state sector (from stigmatization as criminal elements to celebration as saviors of socialism) has some Cubans quite excited since it presumably means that with more work, efficiency, and productivity will come more and greater material rewards and economic autonomy.

Still, this is not yet Deng's China where "it is glorious to het rich."  Raul says he rejected outright 45 different proposed amendments to the "Lineamientos"  because they "openly contradicted the essence of socialism [by] advocating the concentration of property."

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