PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY IN A ONE-PARTY SYSTEM
By Nino Pagliccia, June 2016
Canadian author Arnold August wrote a thorough comparative investigation of the
practice of democracy in the US, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador in his book, “Cuba And Its Neighbours - Democracy in
Motion”. The main message he gives is that people’s participation in politics
and society is an essential element of democracy but it is not part of the
US-centric understanding of democracy. August writes, “Democracy as practised in the US is largely non-participatory,
static and fixed in time. Cuba, by contrast, is a laboratory where the process
of democratization is continually in motion, an ongoing experiment to create
new ways for people to participate. ”
During the initial years after 1959, plebiscites would take place in Cuba
based on mass gatherings across the country displaying popular will on
decisions being made by the revolutionary government. After the consolidation
and transformation of the new society more formal consultation with the people
has been a tradition (or rather, a political right) throughout the long history
of the Revolution.
Since the adoption of Cuban constitution by referendum on 15 February 1976,
which was approved by 97.7% of voters, Cubans have had many opportunities of
providing popular input on major decisions.
We are just witnessing this kind of participatory democracy in Cuba
in a major referendum that is taking place about the country’s future as a
revolutionary society. The Cuban newspaper Granma reports that two documents
are being submitted to a process of popular consultation across Cuban society.
The documents are, “Draft Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social
Model”, and the “National Economic and Social Development Plan through 2030”.
Let’s remember how Cuba
got to this point.
In 2010 Cuba’s leadership
conceived updating its economic and social model to modernize its economy based
on objective conditions resulting mostly from external factors such as the
blockade on the island. The plan was laid out in 291 Economic and Social Policy
Guidelines (Lineamientos) that were in turn submitted
to popular analysis and discussion.
Over a three-month period (December 2010 through February 2011) Cubans debated
the Guidelines in 163,079 meetings with 8,913,838 participants. Some 3,019,471
comments were made, which were grouped in 781,644 areas of opinion. All were
analyzed in detail, and as a result, 94 guidelines (32%) were maintained as
proposed; 197 were modified or incorporated into others (68%); and 36 new
guidelines were added. The resulting 311 were first discussed at the provincial
level, and later in Congress sessions by delegates and invited experts.
Eighty-six guidelines were modified at that time (28%) and two new ones
approved. Thus the definitive 313 Economic and Social Policy Guidelines were
written, as a genuine expression of people’s will, reaffirmed with acceptance
by the 6th Party Congress of 2011.
This document constituted the guiding plan for the Cuban government during the
following five years until the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba
in April 16-19, 2016 when an evaluation of progress in the updating of the
country’s socio-economic model occurred.
The 7th Party Congress of this year discussed six important documents:
1. The evaluation of the national
economy’s performance during the five year period, 2011-2015
2. The progress in the implementation of guidelines
3. The updating of the guidelines for 2016-2021
4. The conceptualization of Cuba’s socio-economic model of
5. The Economic Development Program through 2030, and
6. The evaluation of the implementation status of the First
National Conference’s objectives of 2012.
Documents 4 and 5 are both focussed on the vision of
the country that Cubans want, and constitute an expression of the nation’s
economic and social strategy based on what had been discussed and submitted for
consultation to all Party members and the people.
During the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, it was agreed that documents
4 and 5 “be submitted to a process of democratic discussions by members of the
Party and Young Communist League, representatives of mass organizations and
broad sectors of Cuban society.” This is what will be taking place in the
next six months in Cuba
in a process initiated by the Party of the nation, a single party, but with a
deeply democratic character, in order to crystallize a participatory project.
There is no doubt that participation is fully open to all Cubans who are
willing to give their opinion. The invitation is based on a broad notion of a
sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable
society. No one is excluded. Even opposition to the word “socialist” does not
It has been noted that the documents to be analyzed are complex. That may be
the case but their grasp is not beyond that of a population that is well
educated and generally experienced in this type of socio-political analyses and
debates from a young age.
The expected outcome of this mass participation is improved documents that will
be proposed to the Central Committee next December and then voted on and
implemented by the National Assembly of People’s Power.
Democracy in a one-party system is always possible when there is honest
political will. Democracy is independent of the number of parties in a country.
may have two parties, but they hardly represent different options.
In a more extreme example, there is the recent case of Brazil where alliances of some of
the 29 parties, that have at least one seat in the Chamber of Deputies, orchestrated a parliamentary coup against legitimate
president Dilma Rousseff.
Political alliances are made between parties without popular consultation with
their own voters. Is it a democracy?
In my long-time observation of Cuba
I am a witness to an open society that has a strong willingness to strengthen
its self-determination in all processes of its decision-making process even at
the risk of making errors that may need to be corrected later. It is through
this course of action that the Cuban Revolution has made recognized social
advances where no one is left to their own fate, unprotected. Cubans have never
claimed to have a perfect society, only a perfectible society that needs
constant vigilance to retain its ability to design its own destiny. This is
hardly a non-democratic desire.
(The above article is from the July 1-31, 2016, issue
of People's Voice, Canada's leading socialist
newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited.
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