Democratic centralism in the Communist Party of Cuba

Mar 1, 2007

Raul Castro and Che Guevara

The following is an excerpt from a speech given by the author to cadres and officials of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba on May 4, 1973. Raúl Castro was at that time a division commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

The speech was given on the occasion of a reorganization of the structure of the Cuban Communist Party. In the course of explaining the restructuring, Castro gives a lucid explanation of the theory and practice of democratic centralism, the guiding norm for revolutionary organizations modeled on Leninist lines.

The full speech can be found in “Heirs to History,” published by the José Martí Publishing House in 1987. It was distributed on the CubaNews Internet list moderated by Walter Lippman. Subheads have been introduced by the editors for ease of reading.

In a revolution whose objective is the construction of socialism and communism, the establishment of what Marxist classics call the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes necessary and indispensable after the taking of political power. What is meant by dictatorship in this case? The political domination which a certain social class exercises over the whole of society; the possession of power which allows the class in question to impose its will and interests and to make them obligatory for the entire society, for the other existing classes and social groups.

The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie in alliance with other exploiting classes prevails under capitalism regardless of its character, be it more or less fascist or more or less democratic. Since exploiting classes represent a small minority of the population, it is always the dictatorship of the minority over the majority.

The dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the working class, prevails in the stage of the construction of socialism and of communism.

The dictatorship of the proletariat, says Lenin, implies and signifies a clear concept of the reality that “the proletariat, because of its objective economic position in every capitalist society, correctly expresses the interests of the entire mass of working and exploited people, all semi-proletarians, … all small peasants and similar categories.” (Collected Works. Vol. 30, p. 339)

From this it follows that the dictatorship of the working class is not the dictatorship of the working class alone and isolated from all other classes or social groups, but rather the dictatorship of that class in close alliance with the rest of the working and revolutionary masses, especially the peasants.

In other words, although the dictatorship of the proletariat means that the working class has control of society as a whole giving it the ability to impose its will and interests on society in an obligatory way, it nevertheless becomes necessary to take into account that the working class, maintaining its hegemonic and leading role, must exercise its dictatorship in alliance with the other working classes which, in their entirety, must have the institutional opportunity to participate in the control and rule of the society as well as the institutional mechanisms that permit them to express their will and take an active and constant part in “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

This is one of the principles among those that must serve as a basis when the concrete forms of our dictatorship of the proletariat are established.

The need for a party

On the other hand, it’s necessary to take into account that the working class, considered as a whole, in its entirety, does not have the conditions to exercise its dictatorship since, in leaving behind bourgeois society, it retains defects and vices of the past making it heterogeneous in terms of its level of awareness and social behavior.

As Lenin said, the dictatorship “can be exercised only by a vanguard that has absorbed the revolutionary energy of the class.” (Collected Works. Vol. 32, p. 21) In other words, only through a political party, which groups together its conscious minority, can the working class implement its dictatorship and construct socialist society.

On countless occasions Lenin emphatically insisted on the necessity of a political party “forged in the heat of struggle,” and this principle has current validity justified by the diverse experiences in constructing socialism in the different countries that have undertaken this task. Moreover, this principle is even included in the constitutions of these countries in many cases. …

Party, state, mass organizations

Another fundamental principle to consider at the time of implementing and institutionalizing our dictatorship of the proletariat is the governing and leading role of the Party within itself and completely extended to all activities, state as well as social in general.

But the dictatorship of the proletariat is not limited in the least to the important and main role that the Party must play. The Party is only the vanguard minority of the most advanced social class in charge of leading and carrying on its shoulders the bulk of the weight in the construction of socialism. Therefore, in order to exercise its leading role visà-vis the entire society, the Party relies on the state, the mass organizations and, when necessary, on the direct mobilization of the working masses. The most ideal and direct instrument for exercising control of society is not a political party, but rather the state, an apparatus without which neither the dictatorship nor the fulfillment of the tasks of socialist construction are possible. In addition to the Party and the state, the complete system of the dictatorship of the proletariat includes the mass organizations, which Lenin called “transmission belts” that group together one or many sectors of society’s revolutionary forces: the trade unions, youth, women’s and peasants’ organizations, the Committees for the Defense of Revolution, students and Pioneers. In an article written in December 1920, Lenin said that the dictatorship “cannot work without a number of ‘transmission belts’ running from the vanguard to the mass of the advanced class, and from the latter to the mass of the working people.”

Thus the working class cannot effect its dictatorship and its task of constructing socialism in its entirety in a direct manner, but rather it must do so through the Communist Party, which joins together its vanguard minority. But, in turn, neither can the Party exercise the dictatorship by itself, but rather it does so with assistance and through the state apparatus and the mass organizations. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not the dictatorship of the Communist Party. The Party is the main leading force within the entire mechanism of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the body responsible for coordinating, controlling and channeling the tasks of the state apparatus and the mass organizations for the same objective.

The state is, then, a part of the system of the dictatorship of the proletariat and comprises its most direct instrument, which, unlike the Party and the mass organizations, has the particular character whereby its dictates are legally binding for all the country’s citizens and whereby it has a special apparatus of force and coercion to impose its dictates when necessary.

Moral authority versus compulsion

The Party directs and reviews work with its own ways and means that differ from the ways, means and resources that the state possesses to exercise its authority.

The directives, resolutions and decisions of the Party do not directly have this binding legal character for all the country’s citizens and must be followed obligatorily only by its members. To ensure this, moreover, it does not have any apparatus of force and coercion. This is an important difference, which distinguishes the role and the methods of the Party from the role and the methods of the state.

It could be argued that, in essence, the state’s dictates have been previously determined by the Party through a resolution or a decision and that, therefore, in the final analysis, Party decisions assume binding legal force through the state.

Through this false reasoning it could then be concluded that the Party and the state are essentially one and the same thing. As is popularly said [in Cuba], “the same dog with a different collar.”

But that is not the case here, or at least it shouldn’t be nor has any reason to be if we base ourselves on a correct understanding of the complementary yet different roles that the Party and the state must play. The Party and its institutions must not be identified with the state apparatus and its institutions (in the sense of substituting for them).

The Party’s power directly rests on its moral authority, in the influence it exerts on the masses, in the clarity with which it expresses their interests and aspirations, in the awareness it imbues in them of their social, economic and revolutionary duties and, ultimately, in the trust that the masses place in it. Hence its power is based, above all, on persuasion, be it through its actions or its political and ideological positions.

The state’s power directly rests on its material authority in that it possesses a special force to compel all to fulfill its decisions and to contain, restrain and subject all to the legal norms it dictates. Hence its action is based, above all, on coercion, on the binding character of the laws, regulations and orders it dictates.

Thus, if the Party is confused with the state, this is, first of all, harmful to the political and ideological conviction of the masses, to the work which the Party should carry out and which the Party alone can carry out, and, secondly, it is harmful to the activities of the state whose officials cease being responsible for their decisions and actions.

Party guidance of the state

The Party directs the state, reviews its functioning and its fulfillment of the outlined directives and plans; it encourages, moves forward and contributes to the best work on the part of the entire state mechanism, but under no circumstances should the Party substitute for the state.

1. The Party directs state organs through the elaboration of general directives on fundamental questions of the economic, political, cultural and social development of the country and the ways to manage such questions. The organs of the state apparatus should guide themselves and channel their activities by such directives and should not settle any important matter without taking into account these directives which originate from higher Party bodies: the Congress, the Central Committee and the Political Bureau.

2. It directs them through the selection and placement of main leading personnel of the state apparatus and through the education of such personnel for the best carrying out of their functions.

3. It directs them through the control (this is understood to mean evaluation and observation) of their work by different agencies and divisions of the Party apparatus, suggesting needed changes without interfering in their administrative work and without replacing them in their decision-making.

4. It directs them through the support and help it provides them in the carrying out of their activities by virtue of its apparatus and with its means and resources.

5. It directs them through Party members who, regardless of where they work and the position they occupy, are obligated to fulfill and implement Party decisions and convince nonmembers of the fairness of these decisions and the need to follow them.

6. It directs them through the circumstances—necessary and inevitable for a long time—whereby the main leaders of the Party, or at least the majority of them, are also the main leaders of the state.

In reference to this, Lenin said in one of his speeches to the Tenth Congress of the Bolshevik Party, held March 1921: “Being the ruling party, we had inevitably to merge the Party and government leadership—they are merged and will remain so.”

Fidel expressed the same position during an August 1970 meeting: “The only place where absolute subordination occurs is at the highest level, because it must obligatorily occur there according to the principle that the Party has maximum responsibility in administration.”

And later he added: “Then let there be no doubt that neither on the regional, provincial or any level, does duality exist. This duality occurs a little higher up for institutional reasons and to establish some umbilical cord between the Party and the state.”

Lenin also repeatedly emphasized the needed delimitation of the institutions of the Party from those of the state.

In item 12 of the Eleventh Bolshevik Party Congress’s resolution regarding the strengthening and new tasks of the Party, Lenin stated:

“A very important current task is the establishment of the correct division of labor between the institutions of the Party and those of the Soviets, the exact delimitation of the rights and duties of each organization.

“The Eighth Congress of the Russian Communist Party (1919), in its resolution regarding organizational questions (See Section B – Mutual relations between the Party and the Soviets), had already emphasized: Under no circumstances should the functions of the Party collectives be mixed with the functions of state organs like the Soviets. Such a mixing would have fatal results, especially in the military sector. The Party strives to direct the activity of the Soviets, not to replace them.

“The Eleventh Congress of the Russian Communist Party ratifies this declaration with special force. The immediate order of the day is the huge task of the national economy’s rebirth, which demands many years of tireless work. This task can only be accomplished with the establishment of correct and healthy mutual relations between the Party organizations and the administrative organs. If in 1919 the Party stressed that the mixing of the functions would have fatal results in the military sector, then in 1922 the Party declares that such a mixing would have absolutely fatal results in the economic field.

“Under no circumstances should Party organizations interfere in the usual daily work of the administrative organs and they are obliged to abstain from issuing administrative decisions in the area of the Soviets’ work in general.

“Party organizations should guide the activity of the administrative organs, but under no circumstances should they strive to replace them or deprive them of their character. The lack of a strict delimitation of the functions and incompetent meddling lead to the lack of strict and exact responsibility on either part for the assigned task; it increases bureaucracy in the very organizations of the Party whereby everyone does everything and no one does anything; it hinders the serious specialization of the administrative officials, the detailed study of questions and the acquisition of truly practical experience. In short, it makes the correct organization of work difficult.

“The Party does not hold its leading position by virtue of a popular election nor is it the product of an election by the working class of which it is the organized vanguard. Thus it is not a representative body resulting from the election of the popular will; it is a selective body.”

During one of his speeches at the aforementioned August 1970 meeting, Fidel correctly said: “It is that you cannot even say that the working class is represented as a class, if we try to represent it merely with the Party. In other words, the Party represents the interests of the working class but you cannot say that it represents the express will of the entire class.”

The party’s leading role

Its leading position is won and maintained through the struggle and results from being the vanguard of the most advanced social class of society and from behaving as such, as the most loyal and firmest representative of the interests of the entire working mass. Its authority is not based on force nor in the possibility of using coercion and violence to impose its will and its decisions, but rather it relies on the confidence and the support it receives, in the first place, from the class it represents and, secondly, from the rest of the working people. Such confidence and support is won through a correct and rational policy, through bonding with the masses and using methods of persuasion and convincing sustained by the force of its example and the fairness of its policy.

However, for these reasons we cannot take for granted, as I said before, that the Party represents the will of the entire people nor can we consider it the supreme organ of power, because we would be ignoring the principles of proletarian democracy which, as we’ve seen, imply the participation of all the members of the working class (and not just its vanguard) and of the other working classes in the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, in the control and rule of society, which requires corresponding institutions of power through which the working masses exercise this right and can express and make felt their will. Lenin said that “without representative institutions democracy cannot be conceived of, not even proletarian democracy.”

Fidel expressed the same concern and guidance in August 1970 when he said: “Let us see how we are going to prepare ourselves to apply on a national level the famous democracy of the revocation of public offices, which is a tenet of Marxism. Gentlemen, how can we begin with some rudiments of democracy, even in an initial way?”

According to our understanding, these representative institutions are indispensable for the entire revolutionary people considered as a whole, as all the working masses of the country, to demonstrate their will and really participate in their government. We have previously seen the ways and the means through which the Party plays its leading role within the entire body of elements of the dictatorship of the proletariat without identifying or merging with any or replacing them in their functions. …

Members’ responsibilities

Moreover, the Communist Party member assigned to assume any responsibility in the leadership of the Party, ranging from the most humble and anonymous positions to the highest leadership tasks, will be prepared for his work above all when he adds his own personal prestige, moral authority and capability to the authority and prestige of the Party.

This basic requirement is fulfilled, comrades, when Party members and leaders on all levels work with sustained tenacity and lasting ties to the masses; when we do not try to achieve spectacular successes and even less so personal ones, but rather successes resulting from analysis and collective effort; and when we struggle to put into practice a concrete policy with firmness, without losing hope, taking into account and creatively applying the experiences of the fraternal parties of the socialist countries.

These decisions of the Political Bureau and the subsequent strengthening of the entire apparatus of the Party and the state constitute unavoidable foundations upon which to move forward our work of constructing socialism in our country. Nevertheless, they alone are not going to solve our current difficulties.

We clearly enjoy extraordinarily favorable conditions which are incomparably superior to those of the recent past and which can be combined with the experience and maturity we have attained in the practical work of building socialism, in the reaffirmation of our Marxist-Leninist membership, and in the strengthening of our alliance with the socialist camp to which we are honored to belong. A great deal still remains to be done, and as comrade Fidel has said, it will not be an easy road. It depends on our ability to skillfully make use of these conditions and to use to our benefit the knowledge of the laws of social development and the political-ideological instruments for the construction of socialism and communism which have passed all of history’s tests victoriously, namely, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Marxist-Leninist Party. For this, one of our most urgent needs is that of cadres.

‘A communist style of life and work’

Fidel has emphasized on numerous occasions, the last one being barely two days ago, the need to promote cadres at the base, cadres who know directly and personally our problems and difficulties. We should rationally promote our cadres, essentially extracting them from within the Party itself and taking into account, above all, their ideological firmness and preferably their proletarian origin in combination with leadership ability. We should have them study here as well as in Party schools of some socialist countries as has recently begun to be done. They should be trained and constantly helped to develop a communist style of life and work.

It is precisely this attribute that should characterize our entire Party and especially the Central Committee apparatus. Without exhausting this theme, about which I will speak to you on other occasions, I would like to take this opportunity to single out, as an inseparable feature of the communist style of life and work, the existence of the healthiest and most fraternal environment in relations among comrades, a factor that is critical to undertaking harmonious and productive work.

As you know, when we talk about fraternal relations, basing ourselves on the principle expressed by our First Secretary concerning combating defects and not the person, we Communists do not accept coexistence with or tolerance of defects, deficiencies and errors due to the lack of moral courage or to insufficiently communist Party members, as Lenin would say.

Never do you assume a more fraternal attitude with a comrade or a healthier stance in response to the fulfillment of our duties, as when you assert a criticism within the Party organizations in a constructive and correct way when the method of first addressing the comrades in an individual way has not been effective. Comrades are first addressed individually, but, however, if on repeated occasions they make the same error or if very serious questions of principle are involved it becomes vital to bring the problem to the Party organizations.

Let us strive to develop our work in a fully communist environment, creating an active Party life based on the principles of democratic centralism.

Le us respect the ability and decisions of the higher levels; let us observe the strictest Party discipline, but at the same time let us practice the broadest internal democracy in such a way that every member within the Party organization, observant of the rules of place, time and manner, that is, at the indicated place, at the opportune time and in the correct manner, can put forward with full and total freedom his opinion regarding any issue and regarding any comrade. In more concrete terms: In the Party everyone has the right to criticize and within the same no one is exempt from criticism.

The best way of struggling against liberalism, cowardice against the harmful and inadmissible practice of passing judgment in the corridors, of issuing criteria and making criticisms outside the Party, is that of developing a regular and full Party life based on the principles of democratic centralism. We all have the maximum interest in defending these principles in all their magnitude and depth in the same way that we will be severely critical of all those who, through liberalism, instead of courageously offering their opinions where they should and where they are assured of being able to give them, set about doing so in inadequate places and to people to whom the criticism does not correspond.

Using as an organic base this Central Committee structure approved by the Political Bureau and the Marxist-Leninist principles of organization, functioning and interrelationship of the Party, the state and the mass organizations and the fulfillment of the directives and instructions of our Political Bureau and of comrade Fidel and taking into account the principles of the communist work style to which I have referred, let us fully take charge of the task of turning our Party and, in first place, our Central Committee apparatus, into a functional and efficient instrument capable of fully playing the part required of it in the construction of socialism. With the help of the Party we must work with the passion of an artist who sculpts out of rock a work that lasts centuries. What we are doing is not a simple thing; we are not taking any simple steps. We are going to forge the leader of our Revolution for dozens of years to come and for coming centuries until, who knows when, communism is being built here as in the rest of the world and the state and the Party are no longer needed, although I do think that some norms which rule society ought to exist and that someone should approve them; probably in that phase it would be all the citizens.

For the historical leaders of the Revolution, time is taking its inexorable toll minute by minute and it is shortening our life. With this work we are developing with your participation the great leader of our Revolution [which] for today, tomorrow and always will be our Communist Party. The Party is everything.

Socialism an integral part of U.S. labor history

Socialism an integral part of U.S. labor history

In celebration of International Workers Day or May Day Liberation School is republishing "Socialism an integral part of U.S. history" by Eugene Puryear. Originally published in 2010 as a response to the mobilization of anti-communist propaganda against Obama to paint...

Socialism an integral part of U.S. labor history

Socialism an integral part of U.S. labor history

In celebration of International Workers Day or May Day Liberation School is republishing "Socialism an integral part of U.S. history" by Eugene Puryear. Originally published in 2010 as a response to the mobilization of anti-communist propaganda against Obama to paint...