Cuba

Downing of PS-752 already being used to smear MH-17 skeptics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/01/2020 - 3:00am in

Max Parry When the Pentagon confirmed the assassination of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, U.S. President Donald Trump took to social media to post a single image of the American flag to the adulation of his followers. Unfortunately, most Americans are ignorant of the other flag synonymous with U.S. foreign policy, that of the ‘false …

What Is Joe Biden Thinking When He Uses Words like Malarkey?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/12/2019 - 6:03pm in

Joe Biden’s age has become a major issue in the 2020 presidential campaign. Partly this is because he has been showing signs of early dementia while he talks. But it’s also the fact that he uses outdated expressions. Recently the Internet went crazy when he showed off his new campaign bus with its new “no malarkey” logo. Come on, man!

Book Review: The Urban Gardens of Havana: Seeking Revolutionary Plants in Ideologized Spaces by Ola Plonska and Younes Saramifar

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/11/2019 - 10:55pm in

In The Urban Gardens of Havana: Seeking Revolutionary Plants in Ideologized Spaces, Ola Plonska and Younes Saramifar explore the poetics of gardening and narrate everyday life under the gaze of the Cuban state through conversations with urban gardeners in Havana. This is an insightful, detailed, theoretically rigorous and imaginative account of the relationships between urban farmers, the state and non-human entities in Cuba, writes Sahib Singh.

The Urban Gardens of Havana: Seeking Revolutionary Plants in Ideologized Spaces. Ola Plonska and Younes Saramifar. Palgrave Macmillan. 2019.

Find this book: amazon-logo

The small-scale urban gardens of Havana are contested spaces with both control and resistance existing cheek by jowl: on the one hand, they are continually monitored by Cuban state institutions; on the other, they offer opportunities for resistance for the gardeners themselves that might otherwise be next to impossible. In this fascinating and moving short read, Ola Plonska and Younes Saramifar explore the poetics of gardening and narrate everyday life under the constant gaze of the authoritative Cuban state through the experiences of urban gardeners, simply by way of conversing with them in between the pruning and harvesting. Their ethnography highlights the relationships between humans and non-humans within the blurred boundaries of nature and culture, pointing out that the urban gardens ‘are more than just ideological or political reflections of Cuban culture and history: they are the realms in which meanings are constructed and worlds are imagined’. Simultaneously, the book is the captivating story of Plonska’s own physical, mental and spiritual journey as she spends time with Marcelo, a revolutionary and gardener, during her fieldwork in Havana.

The atmosphere Plonska recreates in the opening lines of the chapter ‘Intervening, Correcting, Rewarding’ is so life-like and cinematically vivid, one feels one is right there inhaling the fresh air of the garden with her. The contextual narrative then begins with the authors deftly weaving Cuban history, describing the US dominance over the domestic economy in the 1920s and the revolutionary coup orchestrated by Fidel Castro, which sprung out of generalised opposition towards US imperialism and the tyrannical government of Fulgencio Batista (in tandem with the book, I recommend watching the documentary The Cuba Libre Story for history buffs). In the 1960s, under Castro, Cuba adopted the industrialised and highly inefficient Soviet agricultural model, and the country remained dependent on imports from other socialist countries, despite Castro’s many attempts at achieving self-sufficiency in food production. The collapse of the Soviet Union beginning in the second half of the 1980s had a calamitous impact on Cuba’s food security, triggering enormous food, oil and pesticide shortfalls. To cope, the state began promoting self-reliant, small-scale, organic primary food production practices in urban centres. Today, Havana produces up to 100 per cent of its fresh vegetables and is often touted as a world-leading example of stellar practice in urban food cultivation.

Setting the backdrop for why these food-growing green urban spaces are so contested, the authors lay out the forces that led to the rise of state communism and social control, and the emergence of a collective identity predicated on civic participation. Cuban national identity and its political/ideological radicalisation stem from a gnawing desire for constant protection of the country given its turbulent past: Spanish colonisation and US occupation and its subsequent invasions. State control has become an all-encompassing part of daily life and a key feature of Cuba’s social fabric. Plonska’s conversation with Stefano, one of Marcelo’s friends, gives the reader an insight into the nature of this ‘control’ when he tells her that she ought to be careful talking about sensitive issues as there are ‘eyes and ears everywhere’: they cannot just say whatever comes to mind. By interweaving the contextual/factual elements with narrative exposition, the authors give the reader a sense of the dynamism and ideological undercurrents in everyday Cuban life.

Image Credit: An pink orchid inside a fenced and netted enclosure at the La Yoandra Estate, an urban farm and botanical garden that is privately owned (Dan Lundberg CC BY SA 2.0)

One way in which the state exercises its control is by organising a competition, in which gardens are rated vis-à-vis an array of characteristics (recycling practices, use of non-chemical pesticides and environmentally friendly methods, diversity in cropping patterns), and thereby monitored in the process (a form of soft power). For Marcelo, however, the competition means little as he despises the way people have been subjugated in Cuba. Despite being on Castro’s side during the revolution, he subtly resists the state’s policies today by not actively engaging in the competition, and by not ascribing any meaning to the state grading his work. The authors conclude that the ‘power of resistance lies not in doing something but, rather, in doing less of it’, which then becomes a political act, even inconspicuous in the collective. The very nature of being a gardener and carrying out urban farming because of one’s own proclivities and via one’s own way of doing things itself embodies symbolic resistance. To me, the strength of the monograph lies in Plonska’s inferences and her analysis of Marcelo’s contradictory relationship with the state, backed up by relevant theory as the authors draw on excerpts from James Scott’s seminal 1989 piece, ‘Everyday Forms of Resistance’, amongst others.

In the chapter ‘The Garden’, the authors trace the networks through which the gardens constitute a much larger whole, with subjectivities that are generated through ‘acts, intentions, actions, thoughts and performances’. In the process, they delineate the Garden (a network of all small gardens in Cuba) with a capital ‘G’ from the garden as an enclosed space. Employing Actor-Network Theory (ANT), and with arguably the most rigorous and creative theoretical exploration of the book, the authors explain how the Garden transcends physicality, becoming ‘an active imaginary and performativity across socialist Cuba’. The network suggested by ANT comprises of people, plants and material objects, the mutual relationships among them, a mesh of interactions and the poetic configurations that are produced. Importantly, this network is not static and is constantly evolving. In the descriptions of the relationship between gardens and the gardeners, ANT is used as a tool to explore rather than theorise per se, an attitude (‘network thinking’) that helps in seeing the world from multiple perspectives.

Marcelo’s garden transforms into a place through the ‘human-non-human’ relationships of care. The sense of belonging that both he and another urban gardener, Samuel, experience is nurtured by the intimacy they share with their non-human companions: experiences that are sensory and embodied in nature. Drawing on the humanistic geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, the authors highlight how humans ascribe meaning to spaces based on their lived experiences, implying that any space can personify a multitude of stories ‘depending on the cultural definitions of those living it’. As Baviskar writes:

There are multiple realities, constructed by people in different ontological positions; inquiry into these multiple realities does not seek to discover a unified truth but is aimed at enriching our understanding of divergent, socially-situated truths.

While this idea of socially constructed meanings, stories and realities has been written about time and again, the authors add immensely to this body of work by critically engaging with the discourse on society, space and meaning. In addition, they go on to write at length on the garden’s visceral, yet intangible, energy, or reverberation, and the enchanting encounters that occur as a result, which I found rather poetic and dreamlike. They contend that moments of freedom come to life by means of this configuration of experiences.

In sum, The Urban Gardens of Havana offers an insightful, detailed, theoretically rigorous and imaginative account of the relationships between urban farmers, the state and non-human entities in Cuba, and the ways in which meanings and subjectivities are crafted under social control. Although the book is sufficiently broad in scope, and touches upon a number of interrelated ideas in cultural anthropology, human geography and political ecology, the authors do seem repetitive at times: for example, when pointing out that the garden is not only the physical entity where gardening takes place but also a platform that contributes to the larger political agenda. This idea, paraphrased of course, has been regurgitated and seems overdone. One is also stretched thin when trying to assimilate the numerous theoretical digressions, which while interesting and substantive in their own right, unfortunately also tend to detract from the larger narrative in an otherwise highly accessible and well-structured book. That being said, the themes the book engages with are important for burgeoning environmental anthropologists interested in situating human/non-human relationships within the nature-culture debate, and have value for those in search of poetic and microscopic elements with the aim of understanding what it means to be human in politically charged biospheres.

Sahib Singh is an Adjunct Researcher at the Centre for Ecology, Development and Research, based out of Kumaon/Delhi, India where he is working with forest-dwelling communities on issues of internal struggle in the face of ethnic cleavages, demographic transitions and commoditisation. His interests include the cultural politics of environment and development, inequality, subaltern movements and traditional ecological knowledge. Sahib holds an MPA in International Development from the LSE and is an incoming PhD student in Anthropology at University College London (UCL).

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 


American Conspiracies & Cover-ups

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 03/11/2019 - 11:00pm in

Douglas Cirignano In today’s world, the phrase “conspiracy theory” is pejorative and has a negative connotation. To many people, a conspiracy theory is an irrational, over-imaginative idea endorsed by people looking for attention and not supported by the mainstream media or government. History shows, though, that there have been many times when governments or individuals …

Ian Hislop Tackles Fake News with Reassurances about Lamestream Media

I watched Ian Hislop’s Fake News: A True Story last night. I blogged about it a few days ago after reading the blurbs for it in the Radio Times. It seemed to me that part of the reason for the programme’s production was the Beeb, and by extension, the mainstream media as a whole, trying to reassure the public that they were truthful and reliable by tackling what is a genuine problem. I don’t think I was wrong. Hislop is a good presenter, and the programme was well-done, with eye-catching graphics. As you might expect from Hislop’s previous programmes on British heroes and the the British education system, it was strong on history. He pointed out that while Donald Trump used it to described factual news that he didn’t like, because it criticised him, the term actually predated Trump all the way back into the 19th century. He illustrated this with quotes and contemporary cartoons. But it was also a very much an establishment view. The last piece of fake news created by the British state it mentioned was a story concocted during the First World War that the Germans were boiling down human bodies for their fat and other chemicals. It presented the main threat to truthful reporting as coming from the internet, specifically software that allows the mapping of a public figure’s face onto the body of another to create fake footage of them, Alex Jones and Infowars, and, of course, the Russians and their adverts and propaganda for the American election. We were assured that the British state no longer interfered in the politics of other countries. A former BBC official, now running the New York Times, appeared to talk to Hislop about how papers like his now spend their time diligently fact checking stories. He also talked to the MP, who called for an inquiry into fake news in parliament. All very reassuring, and very misleading.

The New York Sun Moon Hoax and the Spanish-American War

The programme began with the 1836 Moon hoax story run by the New York Sun. The Sun was one of the first tabloid newspapers, aimed at a working class audience with the low price of only a cent, a price a sixth that of its competitors. It published a series of articles claiming that an obscure British astronomer had discovered man-bats, unicorns and bison on the Moon. The story ran for six days until it was exposed as a hoax by a rival newspaper. The next item in this list of journalistic infamy was about the attempts by Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst to start a war with Spain in support of Cuban rebels at the end of the 19th century. There wasn’t much fighting going on, and there weren’t any available reports of Spanish atrocities to inflame the patriotic, moral sentiments of the American public. So they made them up. The papers first claimed that a young American woman had been brutally strip-searched by suspicious Spanish male officials. Well, not quite. She had been searched, but privately by a respectable older Spanish woman. When that didn’t work, they seized on an explosion that destroyed an American ship in harbour. In all likelihood, the ship was destroyed by an accident. The papers claimed, however, that it had been destroyed by the Spanish, while issuing a small caveat stating that the cause had yet to be determined. And so the papers got the war they wanted.

The programme then moved on to the American Civil War, and the exploits of one of the world’s first photojournalists. This gentleman used photography to bring home with hitherto unknown realism the horrors of that conflict. But he was not above faking some of the photographs. One of these was of a young Confederate soldier lying dead in a trench. In fact, the photographer had dragged the corpse into the trench from elsewhere, move the head so that it faced the camera to make it even more poignant, and added a rifle that the photographer himself always carried. This little episode was then followed by the story of William Mumler and his faked spirit photographs. Mumler ended up being prosecuted for fraud by one of the papers. However, while the judge sympathised with the papers, the prosecution hadn’t proved how he had faked it. They merely showed he could have done it in nine different ways. And so the case was dismissed, Mumler went back to faking his photos for a satisfied, grieving clientele, one of whom was the widow of Abraham Lincoln.

Deepfake and the Falsification on Online Images

This brought Hislop on to the Deepfake software, used by pornographers for adding the features of respectable actors and actresses onto porn stars. This was used to map Hislop’s own features onto the mug of a dancer, so that he could be shown doing the high kicks and athletic moves. He also interviewed a man, who had used it to parody Barack Obama. Obama’s face was mapped onto a Black actor, who mimicked the former president’s voice. This produced fake footage in which Obama said, with statesman like grace and precision, that Donald Trump was a complete dipsh*t. He also interviewed another young man, who was producing fake stories on the internet, which were nevertheless clearly labeled satire, intended to rile the Alt-Right by feeding their hate and paranoia. Hislop asked him if he wasn’t actually encouraging them. The man stated that he wasn’t converting anyone to the Alt-Right. They were already angry, and stupid if they didn’t read the statements that what they were reacting to was fake. He was just showing up their stupidity.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

The programme then moved on to the noxious Tsarist forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is one of the main sources for the bogus conspiracy theories about the Jews running everything. He pointed out that it was first run in Russian newspaper, which blamed them for introducing capitalism and democracy into Russia. Then in 1917, they were updated to claim that the Jews once again were responsible for the Bolshevik Revolution. Hislop said very clearly, waving a copy of the infamous book he’d managed to get hold of, that it was long and contradictory. It had also been disproved as long ago as the 1920s, when the Times in a series of articles showed that it was based on an 18th century novel that had nothing to do with Jews. This showed how the press could correct fake news. He himself said that, whereas when he started out as journalist, he spent move of his time trying to get new stories, now he spent most of his time checking them. Despite its falsehood, the Protocols were seized on by Goebbels, who insisted that it was spiritually true, if not literally, and had it taught in German schools. This was a different approach to Hitler, who had argued in Mein Kampf that it’s very suppression by the authorities showed that it was true. Nevertheless, the wretched book was still available all over the world, illustrating this with Arabic versions on sale in Cairo bookshop.

Infowars and Pizzagate

The programme also showed a contemporary conspiracy theory. This was the tale spun by Alex Jones on Infowars that the Comet pizza parlour was supplying children to be abused and sacrificed by the evil Democrats. Talking to the parlour’s owner, Hislop heard from the man himself how he and his business still suffer horrendous abuse because of this fake story. But it got worse. One day a few years ago a young man, incensed by what he had heard online, came into the story with a high-powered rifle, wishing to free the children. The conspiracy theory about the place claimed that there was a basement and tunnels running to the White House. The proprietor tried explaining to the man that there was no basement and no tunnels. The gunman went through the building until he found a locked door. He fired a few rounds into it, destroying the store’s computer. Hislop found this ironic, considering computers were the medium that spread it in the first place. The man then lay his gun down, put his arms up and let himself be arrested. It was a peaceful end to a situation which could have resulted in many people dead. But even this horrible incident hadn’t silenced the conspiracy theorists. They still believed that the stories were true, and that the incident had been faked with an actor as a false flag.

Russian Interference

The programme then went on to talk about Russian interference in American politics, and how they had set up a bot army to spread adverts aimed at influencing the result of the American election. RT was deeply involved in this, as the Russian state-owned news service was defending the country and its leader, Putin, from allegations that this had been done. It had also spread lies denying that Russia was responsible for the Skripal poisoning.

British Propaganda and the First World War

Had the British state done anything similar? Yes, in 1917. This was when the War Office, tired of the First World War dragging on, had seized on the news that the Germans were boiling down animal carcasses for their fat, and elaborated it, changing the corpses into human. Some might say, Hislop opined, that this was justified, especially as the German had committed real atrocities. But if we told lies like that, that meant we were no better than they. Stafford Cripps, who served in Churchill’s cabinet during the War, said that if winning it meant using such tactics, he’d rather lose. The fake story about human carcasses also had an unforeseen, and deeply unpleasant aftereffect. Following the realisation that it was fake, the first news of what the Nazis were doing in the concentration camps was also initially disbelieved. We don’t do things like that now, he said. And in a side-swipe at the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ and Saddam Hussein, he said, that no-one would believe stories about a mad dictator possessing weapons of mass destruction.

The Message: Trust the Mainstream Media

Hislop and his interlocutors, like the MP, who’d called for an inquiry into fake news, agreed that it was a real problem, especially as over half of people now got their news from online media. But the problem wasn’t to regard it all with cynicism. That is what the retailers of fake news, like Putin and RT want you to do. They want people to think that it is all lies. No, concluded Hislop, you should treat online information with the same scepticism that should apply to the mainstream media. Because there was such a thing as objective truth.

The Mainstream Media and Its Lies: What the Programme Didn’t Say

Which is absolutely right. There is an awful lot of fake news online. There’s also an awful lot of fake news being retailed, without any objection or scepticism by the lamestream media. And the only people tackling this fake news are the online blogs, vlogs and news sites. I’ve mentioned often before the anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone, Mike, Martin Odoni, Tony Greenstein, Chris Williamson, and too many others. It’s all fake news, but there is not a word against it in the lamestream press, including the Eye. I’ve also mentioned how the British state during the Cold War had its own disinformation department pushing fake news, the IRD. This also turned to smearing the domestic, democratic Left in the shape of the Labour party and CND by claiming that they had connections to the Communist bloc. And in the case of Labour, that they supported the IRA. This is documented fact. Is it mentioned by the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream media? Don’t be daft! Is it still going on today? Yes, definitely – in the shape of the Democracy Institute and the Institute for Statecraft, which have connections to British intelligence and the cyberwarfare section of the SAS. And they are smearing Corbyn as too close to Putin, along with other European dignitaries, officials and high ranking soldiers. And we might not seek to overthrow government, but the Americans certainly do. The CIA has a long history of this, now given over to the National Endowment for Democracy, which kindly arranged the 2012 Maidan Revolution in Kiev, which threw out the pro-Russian president and installed a pro-Russian one. As for the New York Times, the editors of Counterpunch showed in their book on official propaganda in the American media, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, how the Grey Lady ran a series of articles of fake news to support George Dubya’s invasion of Iraq. The Beeb has also done its fair share of broadcasting fake news. It’s supported the bogus allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and his supporters. It altered the footage of the fighting between police and miners at the Orgreave colliery during the miners’ strike to show falsely the miners attacking the police. In reality, it was the other way round. And then there was the way they edited Alex Salmond in a press conference during the Scottish Referendum. The Macclesfield Goebbels, Nick Robinson, had asked Salmond a question about whether the Edinburgh banking and big financial houses would move south if Scotland gained its independence. Salmond replied with a full answer, explaining that they wouldn’t. This was too much for the Beeb, which edited the footage, subsequently claiming that Salmond hadn’t answered fully, and then denying that he had answered the question at all. It was fake news, courtesy of the Beeb.

Mike and the Sunday Times’ Smears

None of this was mentioned, unsurprisingly. The result is a cosy, reassuring view of the mainstream media. Yes, fake news is out there, but it’s being done by internet loons and nasty foreigners like the Russians. But never fear, all is well. The mainstream media can be trusted to check the facts, and give you the truth. Except that they don’t check the facts, or when they do, immediately ignore them. As Gabriel Pogrund and the editor of the Sunday Times did when they wrote their nasty hit piece on Mike. Pogrund rang Mike up, Mike explained very clearly that he certainly was no kind of Jew-hater and certainly did not deny the Holocaust. Pogrund and his editor ignored that, and published their piece anyway. Complaints to IPSO then followed. Mike won, but some people still continue to believe the lies.

You can’t trust the lamestream media. Instead, I thoroughly recommend you go for corrections and alternative views to the left-wing blogs, vlogs and news sites like Mike’s, Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, Zelo Street, the Skwawkbox, Gordon Dimmack and the American sites, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, The Michael Brooks’ Show, the David Pakman Show, Democracy Now! and the work of Abbie Martin attacking the American Empire and Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Those sites provide an important corrective to the lies and falsehood being daily fed to us by the lamestream media. Including the Beeb.

 

 

Cuban Communist Party to launch post-Congress debate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2016 - 9:02am in

In the wake of Obama’s historic visit, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) held its 7th Congress on April 16-19 in the Havana Convention Centre. Beneath a backdrop featuring a huge likeness of Fidel Castro, PCC secretary Raul Castro delivered the main report on behalf of the Central Committee.

Fidel being Fidel, many Cubans would have been reassured by his surprise appearance at the closing session on the eve of his 90th birthday. Traditionally, PCC congresses are the culmination of a months-long process of consultation with the Party’s activist base and the wider Cuban society.

By contrast, an air of secrecy and anticlimax hung over the 7th Congress. Fidel’s brief valedictory address, which moved some in the audience to tears and was received with a thunderous and prolonged ovation, served to stamp the Congress with a legitimacy that only Fidel can confer.

While Fidel’s appearance at the Congress and the content of Raul’s report may have unruffled some feathers, the PCC’s central leadership must now strive to reconnect with the Party’s grassroots so that a disconnect doesn’t harden into a dangerous rift. Having received a sharp rebuke from the party base, it seems the leadership has got the message.

Fidel (left) and Raul (centre) at the 7th Congress

Controversy

The disconnect between the Central Committee and the PCC base is evident in the preparatory process for the 7th Congress. The 6th Congress, held in April 2011, was preceded by a three month process of PCC-wide and public consultations on the draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines.

While critics have noted the democratic deficiencies of that consultation—such as the fragmentary nature of the local debates, which hindered the emergence of possible alternative platforms for the election of delegates—the Guidelines adopted by the Congress bore the imprint of public opinion.

Initially, the PCC leadership gave every indication that there would be a comparable consultation prior to the 7th Congress. Soon after the 6th Congress, the Central Committee began work—behind closed doors—on two strategic and programmatic documents to be presented to the 7th Congress.

These two documents, the 2016-30 Plan and the ‘Conceptualisation of the Cuban socio-economic socialist development model’, would complement the Guidelines. As a set of concrete objectives based on certain principles, the Guidelines are neither a programmatic vision nor a socialist plan.

As the 7th Congress approached, it became apparent that the drafting process was well behind schedule. Either the anticipated public consultation would have to be abandoned, or the Congress would have to be postponed. As late as February 23, the Central Committee’s Tenth Plenum reiterated its commitment to a public consultation on the draft documents prior to the Congress.

On February 14, Esteban Morales, a prestigious and outspoken Cuban intellectual whose party loyalty is beyond reproach, circulated an acerbic commentary on the Congress process. In 2010, Morales’ PCC membership was suspended—one step short of expulsion—for warning that high-level corruption (and not US-sponsored ‘dissident’ grouplets) was “the real counterrevolution” in Cuba. He was eventually reinstated after receiving numerous public gestures of solidarity.

Morales complained that “for months” he’d been asking for the Congress documents, to no avail. This would be a congress of party functionaries rather than the grassroots “which I consider to be the real party”, he added. He suggested the PCC was regressing in terms of party democracy, and described the mood among the party base as justifiably “indignant”. That perception was anchored in his “broad and continuous contact with Cuban society” as an intellectual and an ordinary citizen.

In a similar vein, on March 27, PCC activist Francisco ‘Paquito’ Rodriguez published an Open Letter to Raul Castro on his personal blog. Rodriguez is an academic, a journalist for the Cuban trade union confederation’s Trabajadores newspaper and a prominent gay rights activist. As a gay rights activist he is said to be close to Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter.

Rodriguez objected to “the lack of discussion of the key Congress documents—which are still shrouded in secrecy—in both the grassroots Party committees and among the rest of the citizenry”.

He proposed that the Congress be postponed till late July to allow for a PCC base and public consultation during April and May. He noted that Raul Castro himself had often insisted that the reform process underway in Cuba must proceed ‘without haste’, and “I see no reason to rush so decisive a political process … if its preparation has not yet reached maturity”.

Granma responds

Also on March 27, the PCC daily, Granma, acknowledged the controversy in an editorial: “The Granma editorial board has received, through various means, concerns of Party activists (and non-members) who question the reasons why, on this occasion, no public discussion process has been planned, such as that carried out five years ago on the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines.”

Granma made no mention of the Central Committee’s earlier commitment to a public consultation. Its core justification for not holding such a consultation was that only 21% of the 2011 Congress Guidelines had been fully implemented, so the 7th Congress would be effectively a continuation of the 6th. The implication is that this is for the Central Committee, not the party as a whole, to decide.

The Granma editorial, which expressed the opinion of the Central Committee, did not discuss the possibility that that same statistic (21%) might call into question the viability of the course set at the 6th Congress, or the party leadership’s approach to its implementation. It suggested the leadership can assume an indefinite popular mandate until it decides a new course is desirable:

[R]ather than launch a new society-wide debate process in the throes of implementation, we need to finish what we have begun, continuing to carry out the popular will expressed five years ago and advancing along the course set by the Sixth Congress.

The 1000 Congress delegates elected by the Party base, the 612 National Assembly deputies and some 3500 other selected consultants had contributed to the elaboration of the two key documents, Granma stressed. Put another way, less than 0.05% of Cuban citizens had access to them prior to the Congress. No timeframe has been announced for their wider availability.

As usual, readers submitted comments to the online version of the Granma editorial. Most touched on the controversy. A reader identifying themselves as ‘Leandro’ argued that a dangerous precedent is being set: a new generation of PCC leaders that lack the legitimacy of the historical leadership “would feel they have the right to hold Congresses without popular participation”.

Cuban philosopher Jose Ramon Fabelo opined that the Conceptualisation of the Cuban socialist model aspired to “is not a task for experts and social scientists alone”. The most important congress “is that which takes place in the streets and workplaces of revolutionary Cuba. Let’s not pass up the opportunity to give another lesson in democracy—genuine democracy, Cuban style—to Obama and all those who want to throw their discredited models in our faces”.

Ernesto Estevez stressed the question of representation. How, he asked, can Congress delegates be said to represent the PCC membership when the vast majority of party members are unaware of the content of the draft documents? Delegates’ opinions and votes should “reflect the consensus of those that elected them from the grassroots”. For that, the membership must have the documents.

Estevez urged his party to “learn from the errors of the former Soviet Union”. All party members “should zealously uphold the democratic side of centralism, so that democracy operates in the right way and doesn’t end up being held hostage to centralism, albeit with the best of intentions”. The lack of consultation is a regression, and “there should be no attempt to compensate after the fact”.

Congress shift

Clearly in response to the rumblings of discontent from the party base, Raul proposed in his Congress report that the documents be adopted by the Congress only “in principle” rather than definitively. They would then be the basis for a “profound and democratic process of analysis by the membership of the Party and the Communist Youth, as well as by broad sectors of our society.”

This wider consultation would be aimed at “improving and enriching” the documents. Raul further proposed that the incoming Central Committee be empowered to approve the final versions, which would be subsequently submitted to the National Assembly. Both proposals were adopted.

Like the Granma editorial, Raul’s report did not acknowledge the leadership’s earlier commitment to a broad consultative process. It merely stated that there was no such process “given that what is involved is the confirmation and continuity of the line adopted five years ago”. Incongruously, it also said that given the theoretical intricacy of the draft Conceptualisation of the socialist model “and its importance for the future”, it should not be adopted by the Congress.

What’s missing from Raul’s report is a logically consistent and persuasive explanation for the leadership’s abandonment of the foreshadowed pre-Congress PCC base and public consultation process. That explanation can be inferred from Raul’s account of the drafting process.

Raul reported that the Conceptualisation document had been drafted no less than eight times. Work on the 2016-2030 Plan began four years ago. It was initially hoped a complete draft would be ready for the Congress, but due to its “great technical complexity” only its bases have been elaborated. A complete, final version is not expected till 2017.

In December and January, the Central Committee redrafted the Congress documents on the basis of some 900 opinions and suggestions submitted by Central Committee members, Raul reported. If, as the Granma editorial claims, “the basis of these [two] documents is the content of the Guidelines”, why has it taken the Central Committee five years to draft them?

Divergent visions

In reality, the Guidelines and their implementation open the door to not one, but several distinctly different socialist models and corresponding medium-term plans. They leave unresolved the vital question posed in 2011 by Havana University planning specialist Oscar Fernandez:

From the traditional state socialism that characterises Cuba today, is it moving towards a more decentralised state socialism? An Asian-style market socialism? A self-managed socialism of the Yugoslav variety? To the so-called participatory socialism of the 21st century? There is an urgent need for a debate aimed at a consensus on the key features of the vision of the future society.

Cuba’s Marxist intelligentsia perceives competing poles of socialist thought in Cuba today. Each polarity corresponds to divergent conceptions of the socialist transitional society in general and in Cuba’s conditions. Each is seen as influencing the evolution of Cuba’s emerging socialist model, and each polarity is reflected to some degree in the content of the Guidelines.

Veteran Cuban sociologist Juan Valdes and Cuban cooperatives proponent Camila Piñero both perceive essentially three such polarities: state socialism, market socialism and ‘socialisation’.

The first pole tends to view the socialist transition through the prism of state power; the second, through the lens of economic development, i.e. GDP growth; the third views progress towards socialism in terms of the socialisation (i.e. democratisation) of party-state power and property.

The Central Committee’s glacial progress in drafting the two key documents suggests that it has tried to reconcile, behind closed doors, divergent conceptions of the new Cuban socialist model that is aspired to. They had to be reconciled if the leadership were to present a more or less coherent programmatic vision to the party as a whole—rather than strive to involve the party as a whole in developing that vision from the outset over the five years since the 6th Congress.

Leaving the realm of speculation, opting for secrecy over transparency relegated the vast majority of the PCC’s 680,000 members to the role of spectators rather than participants in the 7th Party Congress. Having won the right to be consulted on the socialist model that is aspired to, the party base has—consciously or instinctively—shifted the balance of forces a little towards the socialisation pole.

***
This commentary was written for Australia’s Green Left Weekly. It draws together the threads of my previous blog posts on the Cuban Communist Party’s 7th Congress and also appeared on Cuba’s Socialist Renewal.

The post Cuban Communist Party to launch post-Congress debate appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Cuba: Building on Sugar or Sand?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 20/03/2016 - 10:57pm in

Guevara

With the first visit to Cuba in 88 years by a sitting U.S. president unfolding this week, this co-authored piece with Chris Hesketh – stemming from a joint visit to the island in 2013 – is offered as a snapshot reflecting on the changing dynamics facing revolutionary politics in Latin America.  

In Memorias del subdesarrollo [1965, available in English Memories of Underdevelopment], the novelist Edmundo Desnoes captures the idée fixe of uneven development in Cuba by noting that the people of Latin America have often been confronted with ‘nothing but a bad imitation of the powerful, civilised countries, a caricature, a cheap reproduction’. Clearly, the Cuban Revolution in 1959 and its series of cycles since broke with that pattern of imitation. The mass mobilisation and structured participation of the Revolution has meant that Fidel Castro has survived nine U.S. presidents, one U.S.-backed invasion, various assassination attempts and the longest sanctions in history. Talking about revolutionary processes, Che Guevara once declared in his famous statement to the Tricontinental: “Either a socialist revolution or a caricature of revolution”.

More than half a century after their imposition, U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba are estimated to have cost more than $751 billion, undermining a functioning health system on the island and leading to a state of siege, or blockade. As Salim Lamrani details in The Economic War Against Cuba, the United States has pursued the extraterritorial application of economic sanctions that affects the citizens and companies of third countries operating in Cuba. This has resulted in the prevention of the treatment of children suffering from cancer and diverse ophthalmic conditions. Meanwhile the Barack Obama administration has continued to apply the extraterritorial measures of the blockade, imposing a fine of $575 million on the Australia and New Zealand Bank Group, Ltd. for transacting with Cuba in dollars and punishing the Dutch bank ING with a fine of $619 million for the same reason, resulting in the largest penalty since the inception of the economic siege against Cuba in 1960.

IMG_03570037Meanwhile, the social gains of the Revolution have been well documented, including education, employment, land reform, housing, gender equality, and the development of the arts and culture alongside an expansive foreign policy abetting social revolution. For example, in 1961, the Literacy Campaign brought the illiteracy rate in Cuba down in less than one year from 23.6 percent to 3.9 percent. The land reform of 1963 nationalised 10,000 properties and placed some 70 percent of Cuba’s arable land in the state’s hands. Revolutionary mobilisation witnessed the creation of the Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (CDRs: Committees for the Defence of the Revolution), established in 1960, numbering approximately 800,000 to 1.2 million members that rallied against invasion. As such, mobilisation became replaced by institutional structures in the 1970s and the guerrilla ethos of the Revolution dwindled in preference for an apparatus of political representation and formalised institutional participation. The Revolution has since evolved from the “special period” of austerity in the 1990s and the collapse of the Soviet Union to witness a complex mix of cubanía (“Cuban-ness”), a particular manifestation of revolutionary nationalism, in combination with demands for egalitarian social revolution.

From the viewpoint of Cuba specialist, Antoni Kapcia, in his excellent book Cuba in Revolution:

despite appearances of Cuba as an enclosed, militantly defensive community, the Revolution has more often than not (except at moments of national crisis or perceived or real external threat) operated as a system with a surprisingly high degree of leeway and space being given to those who, though not fully committed, are nonetheless passively supportive of the aims and meaning of something which they see as “the Revolution” . . . That is not to say that the political system has not been tolerant; at certain times greater or lesser levels of coercion, peer pressure or harassment have ensured a conformity that can be stultifying and oppressive, leading to excesses of intolerance.

One such historical manifestation would include the rise of the Unidades Militares para Ayuda a la Producción (UMAP: Units to Aid Military Production), or work camps, that targeted sexual, religious, and political dissenters in the 1960s to provide cheap labour for the state. In 2010, Fidel Castro admitted responsibility for such imprisonments committed during the revolutionary period, as detailed in the Mexican daily newspaper La Jornada. For Samuel Farber, in Cuba since the Revolution of 1959, this evidences how Cuba has been organised along a Soviet-type system where the dull compulsion of economic relations has been replaced with more direct coercion and the militarisation of labour. However, Kapcia’s stress on avoiding a petrified Cold War framing of Cuba, as simply the reproduction of a Caribbean version of the Socialist Bloc, is astute. Concurrent with Kapcia, ‘one constant in the understanding of Cuba’s complex system has been the need to eschew the paradigm of the Socialist Bloc and, in fact, to focus on Cuba’s differences’.

IMG_03560036One of these differences is Cuba’s emergence in the context of global capitalism or what George Lambie details in The Cuban Revolution in the 21st Century as ‘market socialism’ in which the state retains firm control over key sectors of the economy while allowing private enterprise and foreign capital to enter the country alongside participatory democracy. This is the most fascinating aspect of Samuel Farber’s book Cuba since the Revolution of 1959 in detailing how, since the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), the ‘statification’ of the Cuban Revolution is leading to a form of capitalist restoration. The renovation of Old Havana, through the ubiquitous tourist-oriented Habaguanex, directed by Eusebio Leal, is one expression of this form of economic development. Cuba, an island the size of England, and with a current population of some eleven million people is attracting over 2 million tourists annually. Indeed, walking around Old Havana it is impossible not to notice both the gentrification of the city and the rise of private markets, sometimes initiated by a hiss and whisper of ‘Cigar? Cigar my friend? Cohiba?’ (Cohiba being the premier brand of Cuban cigar once smoked by Fidel Castro himself). It is with a certain irony that a Revolution inspired by the excesses of US-based interests and the regime of Fulgencio Batista, now seeks to precisely utilise such symbolic capital as a form of branding alongside the old classic cars of Havana excitedly touted as ‘American taxis’. 

IMG_03220005Today, along with the liberalisation of rules governing small businesses and foreign investment we are witnessing the emergence of civilian and military joint ventures with foreign capital and economic enterprises, administered for example through the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA). As a result, Farber’s book is highly useful in delineating the emergence of what he refers to as a ‘reconstituted ruling class’ in Cuba, through enterprise improvement.

The official organ of the Central Committee of the CCP, Granma, indicated as recently as 22nd November in an article entitled ‘Continúa el fortalecimiento de la empresa estatal socialista’ that the strengthening of state socialist enterprises would continue into 2014. Under the application of the new concept of ‘Encargo Estatal’ [State Order], specific enterprises and products notably linked to the ministries of industry, construction, energy and mining sectors would be gradually included in the policy of commercial strengthening of state socialism. ‘The implementation of this project’, as stated in Granma, ‘will allow enterprises to increase their sales and profits, which is a source for recapitalisation and increased incomes for workers’. Here, the concept of ‘the state as the centre of accumulation’ begins to enter the picture, as detailed by David Ruccio in Development and Globalization.

RuccioIn Cuba as elsewhere across Latin America, there is a return to a conception of the role of the state in planning and controlling economic surplus, through the ‘new extractivism’, so that the state becomes the centre of accumulation by centralising the so-called surplus and thereby planning the use of that surplus in accumulation. The state can therefore ‘siphon off’ surplus realised in nonstate enterprises that could then be used for the reactivation and restructuring of the economy on the basis of state investment. However, these attempts then position the state in a wide range of political and economic class struggles and tensions: the elimination of subsidies and social benefits (food, education), attempts to lower real wages (to increase the amount of surplus extracted), or increase taxes on joint-venture capitalist enterprises in order to direct the surplus into fiscal revenues could all generate conflicts threatening the central role of the state in accumulation.

In 1960, as relayed in Eduardo Galeano’s classic book Venas abiertas de América Latina [1971, available in English, Open Veins of Latin America], Jean-Paul Sartre apparently asked about Cuba, ‘Is building on sugar better than building on sand?’ With sugar production falling from 7.2 million to 4.5 million tons in the 1950s and then rising to a high of 7 to 8 million tons in the 1980s to fall to 1 and 1.5 million tons more recently, it seems that Cuba is building less on sugar and more on sand in the form of tourism with the state as the centre of accumulation. Struggles from below, meaning the democratic self-management of the Cuban economy and the fight for the self-emancipation of the working classes against capitalist priorities might be one outcome, as argued by Farber. Resolving popular demands through new forms of co-option within state institutions and retaining the state as a centre of accumulation within a form of capitalist restoration might of course be another outcome. It is too early to say whether Cuba is now nothing but a caricature of socialism. Nevertheless, rather than talking about a revolution, it does indeed sound more like a whisper of ‘Cigar? Cigar my friend? Cohiba?’.