‘A true Revolution renews itself continually; is self-critical; learns from it mistakes; never ceases to promote ethical values; has confidence in its youth, which have never let it down’ – Alberto Nunez Betancourt, Granma, 4 February 2011.National meetings of political parties are nothing new. Every year in Britain the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties hold pompous, self-congratulatory conferences aimed at rallying their wealthy supporters and upholding their unequal imperialist system. When we are told that this is what ‘politics’ is about, many working class people just switch off.
But in Cuba, a socialist country, things are different. April 2011 sees a meeting that millions of ordinary Cubans have been discussing for months, the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). The congress will make important decisions affecting the daily lives of people in Cuba, building on the successes of the Cuban revolution and discussing the problems of building socialism in a world dominated by capitalism.
Challenges of building socialism
Since the revolution in 1959 Cuba has faced invasion, occupation, assassination attempts against its leaders, imprisonment of its supporters, terrorist attacks, political hostility, massive funding of a right wing ‘opposition’, the downfall of important allies and a campaign of economic warfare carried on by 10 successive US presidents. But the Cuban revolution is fighting on.
Despite the massive crisis gripping world capitalism and badly affecting the oppressed, so-called ‘Third world’ countries, Cuba’s economy and work productivity grew by 4.2% in 2010 and average earnings rose by 4.4%. Cubans continue to feel the benefits of socialism in social welfare, most famously through free, top quality healthcare and education. The state built 32,748 new houses last year – compare this to Britain where Labour and Con-Dem governments have virtually abolished council housing for the working class.
Nevertheless Cuba faces massive challenges as an underdeveloped, socialist country surviving in a sea of decaying capitalism. At a meeting of the National Assembly in December 2010 Cuba's Minister for Planning and the Economy, Marino Murillo spoke about external factors having a severe impact on the Cuban economy, particularly the brutal and unrelenting US blockade. Cuba has also lost nearly $2.2 billion since 1998 due to natural disasters – in 10 years 16 hurricanes hit Cuba, and there have been severe droughts in recent years.
However, Cubans are determined to build an efficient economy in the face of all these challenges, by becoming more productive and becoming less reliant on imports. Murillo referred to inadequacies in the national economy, mainly deficiencies in food production, investments and the replacement of imports, among others. In the food industry, he said, ‘there is a knock-on effect, that if we are not capable of making it more efficient and producing what is anticipated in the plan, then we will have to import $1.6 billion in foodstuffs in the coming year.’ He also pointed out that although exports increased by 41.5% (below what had been planned), Cuba missed out on $120 million from nickel and $65 million from sugar because of inadequate investment and production. These are important social and economic issues that affect all Cubans and will be discussed by the PCC Congress in April 2011.
The Communist Party in Cuba
The PCC was founded in 1965 following an intense period of debate, and involved organisations which had played crucial roles in the revolutionary struggle, including Fidel Castro’s 26 July Movement, the Revolutionary Directorate and the Popular Socialist Party. By 1969 it had 55,000 members. Today it has around 800,000 members out of a population of 11.5 million. The PCC provides important social and political leadership alongside its youth organisation, the Union of Young Communists (UJC). It does not stand in elections. In fact around a third of those elected to the National Assembly of People’s Power are not in the PCC.
In 1975, more than 6 million people took part in debates to create a new Cuban constitution, making changes to 60 of the proposed articles in the original draft. On 15 February 1976 the new constitution was approved in a free, direct and secret ballot in which 98% of the electorate voted. 97.7% voted in favour of the new, socialist constitution which gave a leading role to the Communist Party. Article 5 states:
‘The Communist Party of Cuba, a follower of Marti’s ideas and of Marxism-Leninism, and the organised vanguard of the Cuban nation, is the highest leading force of society and of the state, which organises and guides the common effort towards the goals of the construction of socialism and the progress toward a communist society.’In June 2002, following threats from the US government, which called on Cubans to abandon socialism in favour of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, over nine million people demonstrated across Cuba to defend their revolution. It culminated in 8,128,237 Cubans voluntarily signing a document to once again approve the socialist character of the Cuban constitution. The statement said, defiantly,
‘Cuba will never again return to capitalism’.The Party has been in the vanguard of this fight to build socialism in the face of increased threats from imperialism. In 1991, the 4th Congress of the PCC had to make difficult decisions. The imminent collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe led to Cuba losing 85% of its foreign trade; the Cuban economy shrank by a third in three years, accompanied by a tightening of the US blockade. Three million people took part in debates before the Congress, where in a rousing and dramatic speech, Fidel Castro said:
‘We must stick to the facts, and, simply, the socialist camp has collapsed, entire countries have been swallowed up by other countries, the working class has lost power and countries have begun returning to capitalism…Can we suppose that those facts don’t influence our country?...Has the revolution taken place inside a glass case, isolated from the rest of the world and its problems? Can we possibly think that way?’To survive the ‘Special Period’ of economic crisis, the Party Congress called for special measures to be taken, including allowing food markets with some autonomy from the state. The 5th Congress in 1997 agreed to extend tourism and some limited foreign investment. But Cuba’s health and education systems would not be threatened. Not a single school or hospital, or any other public services were closed in these harsh years.
By 2004 Cuba was able to announce a new law taking the US dollar out of circulation and the economy was on the rise, with Cubans feeling the benefits of higher wages, better transport, cheaper and more efficient appliances such as fridges, and some improvements in housing. Despite the massive shortages that Cuba faces, and with the blockade still in place, socialism is still providing for the Cuban people.
History in the making
"Unity is forged and reaped in the broadest socialist democracy and in open discussion with the people of all issues, no matter how sensitive they may be." Raul CastroIn meetings in communities across Cuba in the past few months, more than six million people have been taking part in analysing the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution. The text contains plans for important policies which all Cubans have a right to debate and affect or change. These include topics ranging from ‘economic management’ and ‘pricing policy’ to ‘quality and rigour of teacher training process’ and ‘transport policy’. Unlike capitalist society, politics in Cuba is not something reserved for an elite of highly paid professional politicians but is seen as the right and responsibility of all. As Alberto Nunez Betancourt wrote in the PCC newspaper Granma on 4 February,
‘The economic battle is essential because our quality of life depends on it… The analysis of the Draft Guidelines will be the sole theme of the Party Congress in April.’These are hard times for any underdeveloped country, let alone a socialist one striving for a newer, fairer kind of society. But Cuba continues to inspire millions in Venezuela, Bolivia and across Latin America. There are now millions fighting the injustices of capitalism in North Africa and the Middle East. The Cuban revolution, led by a Communist Party that involves millions in shaping their own future, shows that there is an alternative.