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The Eighth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) opened with expected big noise on Friday. Dictator Raúl Castro formally announced that he would no longer be acting as the first secretary-general of the CCP, arguably the most powerful political position within the Marxist-Leninist regime. Pronouncements such as this tend to build high expectations among political pundits, especially novice Cuba watchers who may not command a comprehensive scope on Castro-Communism’s history and empirical experience. Will this be just another CCP congress that comes along every five years, or can this reunion of Cuba’s ruling and only legal party lead to something worthwhile for the Cuban people?
Paradoxically, this CCP event that marks the first time that a Castro last name will not visibly appear in the top echelon of the party’s power posts, a supposed novelty after a consistent 62-year Castro dynastic rule, is labeled as the “Congress of Continuity”. An apparent oxymoron, yet two important factors dilute the notion that this is a contradiction. This quinquennial congress of Cuban communism’s power structure will serve the exclusive purpose of consolidating the hardline rule within the ranks of power, while it emits to the world’s democracies the false aura of plausible liberalization.
Cuba was taken over in 1959 and has been held together under tyrannical reign by a system and not a family. Soviet intelligence aided the rebels in the quest to oust the authoritarian Fulgencio Batista regime by facilitating disinformation and covering up the Castro family’s communist connections. The decision by the Eisenhower administration to issue an arms embargo against Batista nine months before his collapse and the proactive role the U. S. played in advising him to resign and leave Cuba, was premised on the belief that the Castro clan were not communists. The consolidation of Marxist-Leninist rule in Cuba counted on a close network of Soviet and Eastern bloc covert collusion. Finally, the epic subsidy the USSR gave Castro-Communism was a fundamental lifeline support mechanism which, in its absence, the Castro regime could not have sustained itself through its first three decades.
Communism remains the Cuban dictatorship’s epistemological and metaphysical rationalization underpinnings. Marxist-Leninist ideology with nationalistic fusions and an extreme personalistic dictatorial leadership style, something political scientists such as Juan Linz, Alfred Stepan and Houchang Chebabi, categorized as “sultanistic”, compose the Cuban socialist variant. Despite its sui generis factor, it is undoubtedly socialist. Undeniably, dictator Fidel Castro’s exercise of what Max Weber called “charismatic” political authority, lent great weight to the cohesion within Cuban communism and the durability of its dictatorship.
The fall of Soviet communism forced a mutation, but not its end. It witnessed the development of two variants. In democracies, cultural Marxism (Neo-Marxism) would be the new strategic norm, and the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory rage studies arsenal would overwhelm academia and propel future socialists. Established communist dictatorships, like Cuba, North Korea, China, occupied Tibet, Laos, and Vietnam (Asian Communism) would radicalize on Leninism politically, as they explored hybrid market-driven economic schemes which retained state direction primacy (except North Korea, a China dependent).
Cuba did something additional. It formulated a new dictatorial model at the Sao Paulo Forum (FSP) in1990 and became, in effect, a new version of the USSR within the Western Hemisphere but without its resources. This they would extract from the new dominated country of Venezuela, the first successful takeover with the nascent FSP socialist dictatorial model.
Communist Cuba did not follow the liberation route of other socialist satellites in the Eastern bloc, precisely because it hardened down on democratic centralism, that Leninist party organizational model which stifles dissent. This explains the most constant of variables within Cuban communism. That is its monolithic political power mold. The only other communist country where democratic centralism is as well practiced is North Korea. Proof that the continual dogma of monopolistic socialist thought and practice will be enforced is the cardinal role that the “retiring” Castro’s son plays in the Cuban regime’s power format.
Some or many are celebrating the “exiting” of a Castro from Cuba’s dictatorial politics, yet this notion is somewhat misplaced in its totality. Alejandro Castro Espin, Raul Castro’s son, is an influential colonel in the Interior Ministry, Cuba’s intelligence, counterintelligence, and political police agency. In other words, the Cuban dictator’s son has been and will continue to serve as a regime watchdog to assure democratic centralism hardline compliance.
Castro Espin negotiated the details, on behalf of the Cuban regime, of the rapprochement with the Obama Administration and the subsequent Cuba-US relations normalization program. Additionally, he has been the point person in Cuba’s ties with Russia, as well as with other authoritarian regimes. Therefore, technically, a Castro will remain in the seat of government and in a particularly important role at that: heading the intelligence nerve center that monitors the political realm.
The country is truly in a most dismal state. It is facing its worst economic crisis since the disappearance of the Soviet Socialist bloc amenities. Once the world’s biggest sugar producer, current production levels are less than they were in 1894. The parasitic nature of Cuban communism has run its course. Lavish Soviet subsidies, foreign bank loans (Paris Club), foreign investment partnerships, and Venezuelan oil have proven to be insufficient and unsustainable sources of wealth transfer. The sustenance of Castro-Communism’s repressive state terrorism apparatus, international espionage networks, and Hemispheric imperialism bear an enormous price tag. The additional revenues from remittances, drug trafficking, and the medical services slave labor trade are insufficient to balance the financial sheets of the Cuban communist dictatorship.
The adaptation of Asian Communism’s model (Leninist state with hybrid planned-market economy) conclusively appears to be the only route left for the Castro-Communist regime’s search for durability. The only remedy for a Marxist-Leninist dictatorship to follow that wishes sustainability, is to follow the path that China and Vietnam chartered. The reason that this has not been implemented in Cuba, is the regime’s fear of the Tiananmen Square ghost.
The Cuban communist version of Lenin’s New Economic Policy (1921), the precursor of Asian Communism, has embryonically been an ongoing contradictory process of one step forwards and two steps back for decades. Thirty-nine years ago, in 1982, Cuba decreed its first foreign investment law (Law-Decree No. 50). Ten years after that, the Castro government amended its socialist constitution to accommodate commercial joint-ventures with foreign investors, officializing it with Decree No. 140 (1993) and Law No. 77 (1995). In 2004 (Laws No. 5290 and 144), 2013 (Decree No. 313), and 2014 (Law No. 118) additional economic liberalization modifications were abstractly implemented.
Given the deep-rooted paranoia that Castro-Communism has consistently demonstrated with unleashing a tropical rendition of perestroika and potentially dismantling the official policy of democratic centralism, its economic liberalization schemes have been mainly in the field of amplifying state capitalism by way of supersizing its military-run, state-owned corporations like GAESA. Thus, economic expansion at the cost of developing a non-government entrepreneurial class, even if it is tightly controlled and regime-directed like in China, Vietnam, and Laos, has not suited Cuban communism.
The more than 39 years of Cuba’s partaking in market mechanisms has, in practice, proved to be merely pseudo-operations, as far as socio-economic aggrandizement is concerned. Totalitarian regimes, with a non-existent civil society, make it difficult to separate the political from the economic. The liberalizing of the economic sphere quite often leads to false impressions that political and civil rights, may soon follow the economic ones. That only occurs in authoritarian dictatorships. Their totalitarian counterparts, only get strengthened by economic augmentation, as they develop a state/party-sponsored, faux parallel “civil” society.
Tiananmen Square was where the “China model” proved to the world that a Marxist-Leninist state can coexist with adulterated versions of capitalism. The Castro-Communist regime fears having to reach such a crisis. The Cuban Armed Forces may not imitate their Chinese equivalents and refuse to gun down its people.
The Cuban nation outside of its territory, in exile and diaspora, has not displayed a willingness to ignore the regime’s sixty-two record of continuous atrocities and crimes against humanity, as well as renounce the prioritization of liberation and democratization initiatives. This year’s PCC Congress faced the same challenges it has systematically encountered in the past. Freedom’s possibilities and the commanding imponderables that challenge terror-imposed tyranny will continue to haunt Castro-Communism for the foreseeable future.
Julio M Shiling, political scientist, writer, director of Patria de Martí and The Cuban American Voice, lecturer and media commentator. A native of Cuba, he currently lives in the United States. Twitter: @JulioMShiling // Julio es politólogo, escritor, director de Patria de Martí y The Cuban American Voice. Conferenciante y comentarista en los medios. Natural de Cuba, vive actualmente en EE UU.