The sixth congress of the Communist Party of Cuba ended on April 19. Not by accident, the date chosen for the meeting coincided with the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the victory of Playa Giron [Bay of Pigs — at which the Cuban people defeated a US-sponsored invasion in 1961].
That was an event that had enormous repercussions for the Cuban revolutionary process. This was not only due to its military significance, but also because it defined the revolution’s socialist character and instilled in the masses an awareness of their own strength that translates into the political capital necessary to preserve the revolution.
On a symbolic level, this adherence to the continuity of the Cuban socialist project set the tone for a congress that was characterised by the promotion of substantive changes in the country’s economic model.
The content of the Economic and Social Guidelines debated by the congress can be analysed later to determine the extent of the changes and their consequences, but the strategic sense of the proposals is obvious.
The measures include: decentralisation of the administrative apparatus, including greater authority and autonomy for enterprises and regional economies; an emphasis on production efficiency and its control through funding mechanisms; the empowerment of the contracts as a rule for the relationship between the producers and the traders; the expansion of work in cooperatives and self-employment and its adequate relationship with the state's economy; the strengthening of the tax system as the regulator of social income distribution; and the improvement of the legal system and the economic rationalisation of social benefits.
These are measures that seek to give value to labour and to establish its correspondence with the standard of living of people. In doing so, it abandoned excessive egalitarian criteria, which, as the country’s leaders argued and congress ratified, limit the development of productive forces.
In many cases, they are not new initiatives but are part of established policies that were violated in the practical management of the economy.
Therefore, more than reforms, they are, in the words of President Raul Castro, ways to perfect an institutional system that works with “order, discipline and exigency” at a pace that matches the domestic and international reality.
Such a statement does not exclude the fact that important changes are coming in the life of the country. So much so that this call to improve the nation’s economic and political organisation is the basis of the social consensus around these proposals.
This is irrespective of specific disagreements with the guidelines and the real fears of many people regarding their implications for specific sectors of the population.
Helping to develop that consensus was the democratic will demonstrated in the assembly process prior to the congress. In this process, virtually the entire population took part.
The consensus was also assisted by the purposes and standards established for the functioning of leading organisations at all levels.
Outstanding in this regard are the policies for better racial and gender representation, the access of young people to leadership positions and the term limits on these positions.
Castro’s call to eliminate discriminatory political practices that impede the access of non-party members to administrative positions or religious people to the ranks of the party shows there is a far more inclusive will to create a national front where everyone feels equally represented.
A conference has been set for January 2012, with the objective of rectifying the proper functioning of the party.
To strengthen internal democracy, eliminate bureaucratic methods and dogmatic views, change the policy of promotion of the leaders, and strengthen the role of the press by eliminating “secrecy”, “triumphalism” and lack of objectivity are some of the expressed purposes.
Clearly, these are not new purposes. Such principles have been part of the revolutionary political discourse since its inception.
The question is: what guarantees that these negative trends will not be repeated? And the answer is that only practice will show, although it is also true that there is nothing more practical than a good theory.
Once, a friend told me that Cubans are sublime only in extreme situations. If that is true, we are bound to be sublime, because we have no alternative.
Perhaps the congress’ most important political balance has been to understand this reality and prepare to break the inertia to face it, as the president said, “without haste and improvisation and with our feet and ears glued to the ground”.
[More information and analysis of the Cuban Communist Party Congress and the proposed changes can be found at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]