Island in the storm
Edited by Gail Reed
Ocean Press. 200 pp. $19.95
Reviewed by Stephen Robson
The Cuban Communist Party's Fourth Congress was held in October 1991, at the time of the most severe economic crisis since the revolution 33 years ago.
This book presents the key resolutions of the congress. Gail Reed, the only foreign journalist to attend the congress, provides introductions to each section, giving a real flavour and context for the discussions.
The chief causes of the crisis are the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic blockade by the United States. To deal with the new situation, Cuba's leaders realised, it was necessary to involve as many people as possible in a real discussion of strengths and weaknesses.
Some 3.5 million Cubans out of a population of 10.8 million participated in 80,000 assemblies around the congress discussion. Overwhelmingly these were non-party members.
In her introduction, Reed focusses on some of the main issues which arose in the discussion and at the congress:
- Democracy and People's Power government: A frank discussion disclosed a widespread feeling that local delegates to municipal assemblies have no real authority or credibility. Since they are volunteers and there are many other demands on their time, their work often didn't get done. The National Assembly was seen as passive, prone to unanimous and uninformed decisions.
The congress therefore decided on direct elections for the National Assembly and to focus on ways of making sure that the work of the deputies is fulfilled despite outside commitments.
- Mass organisations. Feedback indicated that many viewed the Federation of Cuban Women as irrelevant to the needs of most women who work or study.
- The Party. Concern focussed on co-workers having more say in proposing candidates for party membership, and an end to slates of candidates and to bureaucracy. Religious believers will no longer be barred from party membership.
- The economy. There were calls to end paternalistic labour laws which protect laziness, to tie wages to productivity and to give local enterprises more autonomy.
An anonymous poll carried out during the debates before the congress found 84% of those questioned believed socialism could resolve Cuba's problems on the economic, political, social and labour fronts. At the other end of the scale, one person in 20,000 supported a return to the market economy while one in 10,000 advocated a multiparty political system.
The book also provides detail on the renewal of leadership in the party. Some 56% of the new central committee is new, as is over half of the Political Bureau.
Island in the storm is a must for those who are not just observers of the events in Cuba but also favour defence of the revolution as a priority for the socialist movement in this country.