As arranged by the sixth Cuban Communist Party Congress of April 2011, a first-ever ever Party “conference” took place in Havana January 28-29. While the Congress concentrated on recommendations applying to Cuba’s economy, the conference dealt mostly with Party functioning.
The 811 delegates representing 800,000 Party members first approved a resolution cataloguing objectives of Party work. Later, they accepted recommendations and opinions from four Party commissions that heard testimony from delegates and guests.
Worldwide media attention focused on proposed changes affecting party leadership, one that would limit high-level party and government officials to two five-year terms, after passage of a constitutional amendment; and another calling for replacement of 20 percent of central committee members within five years. The central committee will hold two open meetings annually to monitor production goals, budgetary compliance, and implementation of the economic and social policy guidelines approved at the sixth Congress.
The final resolution called for an expanded role for party committees at all levels, fewer permanent commissions, improved intraparty diffusion of information, party leaders working directly with community activists and local party organizations, improved supervision of rank and file party workers, and party-wide participation in implementing national economic plans.
Recommendations applying to “political and ideological work” would have Party activists supporting “national unity around the Party and the revolution,” rejecting corruption and unethical or illegal actions, and combating family and gender violence.
Party membership was reaffirmed as voluntary and earned through exemplary standards, and approval at the community level. Party activists would adapt the teachings of Marxism-Leninism “to the present conjuncture” and honor the “anti-imperialist legacy of Jose Martí as an essential foundation of revolutionary practice.” Other objectives for members include respect shown for non-state employment, conservation of resources, and the “productive character of work.”
With an eye to assuring future Party leadership, delegates attended to the question of youth recruitment. New members should “have solid technical-professional training,” emerge from the grassroots, and demonstrate “agility and initiative in decision-making.” They recommended “selective rotation of political cadres with a view to rounding out their training,” also improved party schools. A goal much reiterated was that of attracting women, youth, and African-descended Cubans to the Party and preparing them for leadership positions. Almost 43 percent of conference delegates were women and 37.5 percent were Black.
The Conference outlined measures to revitalize the Union of Young Communists and expand Party work within “mass organizations” such as unions, farmers’ organizations, and the Federation of Cuban Women.
Predictably, U.S. media reaction to the conference centered on one-party rule and the presumed autocracy of Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro. But speaking to Conference delegates, President Raul Castro highlighted the “profound democratic character” of conference preparations.
Beginning in October 2011, Party and UJC groups held thousands of meetings to discuss 96 proposed objectives for future party work. A central committee plenum reviewed tens of thousands of opinions as did conference delegates meeting locally in early January. As a result, 78 of the objectives were modified and five new ones added.
The Party Conference convened on the 159th anniversary of Jose Marti’s birth. Historians trace the origins of the current Communist Party to the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded by the Cuban national hero in 1892. Marti that year wrote, Cubans “understood that in order to defeat a divided adversary, the only thing needed is to unite.” The word “party” is used to mean “they are joining forces in a well-organized effort, and with a frank set of rules and a common purpose…The Cuban Revolutionary Party is the Cuban people.”
President Raul Castro reminded delegates that “only the Party [brings] together the revolutionary vanguard and [is] a secure guarantor of the unity of Cubans.” He condemned so-called “representative democracy” which has “invariably become the concentration of political power in the class which holds the economic and financial hegemony of each nation.”
Cuba’s aspiration, he said, is “to promote the greatest democracy in our society, starting with providing an example within the ranks of the Party.” Castro affirmed the right within the Party “to disagree and argue, to even disagree with what leaders say.” He warned against what he described as the “real and potential damage corruption poses for the present and future of the nation.”
Lastly, Castro portrayed the Party as exerting its leadership role through government supervision, “through encouraging, confirming, [and] reviewing, never intervening or giving orders.”