Talking About the Party (III)
Diversity and representation
By Rafael Hernández
April 14, 2021
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
Then a “rectification of errors and negative tendencies” (1986-91) of this system, interrupted before establishing a new one.
Then, a package of emergency measures (1993-96) to overcome the crisis of the Special Period, almost unchanged for more than ten years of uncertain recovery.
This continued until the beginning of a program of structural reforms called Updating the Model (2011), which produced nothing less than another conceptualization of socialism, economic guidelines and a new Constitution.
In this last, a mixed economy model is advocated, property relations are substantially modified, the private sector and the market are legitimized, and the most radical decentralization of the system is proposed -almost everything still pending implementation.
According to the figures of the VII Congress, the Party had 670,000 members, 13% less than five years before. Added to the 405,830 of the UJC (2012), they were still a very high number with respect to the population and other political parties where it is enough to register, according to those figures in Cuba, out of every 4.5 people of working age 1 is a PCC militant. In its occupational structure, professionals had been the most represented sector (41.6%), above leaders and workers. A quarter of these professionals, equivalent to 11.1% of the total number of militants, were teachers.
Of every 6 members of the PCC, 4 were under 55 years old (2 ½ under 45); 1 between 55 and 60 and 1 over 60. The Central Committee (CC) of the PCC elected at the VI Congress (2011) had an average age of 57, and that of the VII (2016), had decreased to 54. The rejuvenation policy lowered the average age of the top leaders in the provinces to 52 (2018), five less than that of current President Díaz-Canel.
Women were 39% of the Party’s militancy, but 52% of the UJC. In the current CC, they are 42%; and in the Political Bureau (PB), they increased from zero or one, to 4 since 2016. Non-whites in the ranks, as well as in the Political Bureau, represent 35%, the same proportion as in Cuban society, according to the last Census. In the CC, they are 31%, of which the majority are black (16.6%).
The entry of five new members to the Political Bureau at the VII Congress had already lowered the average age from 70 to 63. This PB was the first one where the positions by professional profile (9) -defense, economy, diplomacy, public health, science and technology- exceeded those of career political leaders (8).
Among these political cadres, 5 had led in the provinces, and 3 joined the PB under Raul’s command. Contrary to what is repeated, more military personnel did not enter, but left, and those who remained were already there before Raul’s command. This pattern, which leads provincial leaders of the PCC and the People’s Power to the highest national level, is also part of his legacy.
Probably, this pattern will be maintained in the leadership bodies to be elected by the VIII Congress. The number of women and non-whites, as well as provincial leaders, will increase. Very surely, the age of the Political Bureau will decrease again: the outgoing First Secretary will soon be 90 years old, and the incoming one will have barely turned 61 when taking office. If the number two were a non-white woman or a provincial leader, known for their popular roots, everything would fit.
A friend of mine says that he doesn’t care about the age, color, profession, or even gender of those who lead, as long as they adopt intelligent and effective policies. I don’t know how many people think this way. Still, even if its implications for equality of access and opportunity among diverse groups were to be overlooked, the proximity of profiles between militancy, leadership and society is by no means irrelevant, if only as a point of linkage between the society and its political institutions.
Throughout my life, I have known many Party militants, and not a few leaders, from the local level to the CC and the Political Bureau, including the historical generation. Although I can identify common traits among many of them, their diversity is more revealing to me. Let us say that it would not be difficult to find two Party militants with ideas more different from each other about socialism, its problems and how to solve them, than any Democrat and any Republican with respect to the system of the North.
One of these militants could affirm, for example, that such differences weaken the unity necessary in a Party “of steel,” which assures sovereignty and independence, confronts the internal and external enemy, by force if necessary, and serves as an example to the younger generations. The other would say that, for a democratic socialism, public debate of these differences strengthens a Party that should be flexible, adapt to the historical moment, and apply political solutions to political problems, instead of the simple use of force.
My two militants, who could be 35 or 70 years old, would agree on many other things: the Party could promote a better citizen democracy; sovereignty, social justice, equity and human dignity are non-negotiable. Our system, with its flaws, surpasses any capitalism. However, the two might disagree even more if I asked them what to do in economic policy, how to discuss and legislate in the National Assembly, what are the limits of expression in art, or what they think of the Party-oriented media. Probably, both could cite the historic leadership to support their arguments.
If socialist policy generates judgments like those of my two militants, shouldn’t they be expressed in the Party press? If that policy claims to channel the dissent of society within the framework of established institutions, and if these, in order to remain unique, should be “the most democratic in the world,” should not a legitimate space be provided for a loyal opposition, within the socialist ranks, even if it disagrees with certain policies?
In an increasingly diverse society, thinking creatively about the continuity of this unity would contribute to place – to paraphrase Cintio Vitier – “the devices at the center of the flower.”
1 Speech by the Commander in Chief, Fidel Castro Ruz, Meeting of information to cadres and militants of the Party, Karl Marx Theater.” February 8, 1979, Versiones Taquigráficas del Consejo de Estado, quoted in Cuba y su emigración, 1978: Memorias del primer diálogo, Elier Ramírez Cañedo. Ocean Sur, 2019.