Cuba fue diferente. El derrumbe del socialismo euro-soviético visto desde el Partido Comunista de Cuba (1989-1992 y 2013)
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The Collapse of European-Soviet Socialism (1989-1991, “the collapse”) created a profound socio-economic crisis in Cuba, and also had a strong political-ideological impact on this Caribbean nation. Many observers expected a transition to market economy and multipartism to take place; however, this has not happened so far. In recent research, numerous explanations for this “non-transition” have been given. However, the powerful Communist Party (CPC) has not received the attention it deserves; despite the party being “one critical element of continuity” (Kapcia). Moreover, no oral history has been documented on CPC visions of the collapse.
The present study analyses visions of the events in the following written and oral sources: 1) Granma, the main CPC newspaper (January 1989 - March 1992) and 2) individual interviews with 16 members and one ex-member of the CPC (conducted in 2013). It reflects on a possible relation between these visions and how the CPC and its members reacted to the collapse, for the most part defending the Cuban system.
The first chapter describes and analyses Granma’s coverage of six events that were symptomatic of and / or contributed to the end of European-Soviet socialism, and its assessments of the collapse during January-March 1992. The six events are: Elections in Poland (1989); debates on reform within the Hungarian socialist party (1989); illegal migration and opening of the borders of the German Democratic Republic (1989); rebellion in Romania and execution of its rulers (1989); the debate on a radical economic reform proposal in the USSR (1990); coup against Gorbachev (1991). In general, coverage is quite extensive, but often presented in a discreet manner (no front page coverage, no photos, placement on the bottom of a page, etc.)
On the one hand, the newspaper contains ideological materials that question the general course of the developments (commentaries, speeches, and so on), although commenting little on the internal situation of each country. These warn against a capitalist restauration or neoliberal wave, evaluating these scenarios as dangerous to the interests of the majority, and often questioning the intentions and credibility of the proponents of such politics. On the other hand, the “pure” news coverage is much less predictable in style and contents. News reports are often of a more descriptive and less ideological nature (partly, but not exclusively due to the genre itself). Some factors viii shaping the coverage seem to be the situation in the country that is being covered, its relation to Cuba, the sources available and who prepared the material (sometimes this is done by foreign news agencies). Sometimes the layout of the newspaper is arranged to guide the reader politically (for example, a news item presenting a reform proposal is followed by a story on negative effects of reforms elsewhere).
Our observations indicate that the most “open” coverage can be found in 1989. For example, a series of articles is published on a debate in the governing party in Hungary where core questions regarding socialism and democracy are discussed at a certain length. Exceptionally, two articles written by Cuban correspondents in Poland and Romania, at decisive moments, contain elements that could reflect a veiled support for opponents of Cuba’s long-time allies in those countries. That being said, the coverage of the GDR in 1989 is very different in style and content as it basically reproduces the official discourse of a non-reformed socialist state that does not recognize any real opposition. During the whole period (1989-1992), Granma mentions the actions and demands of pro-capitalist forces in different places, but often in a brief, distant manner, and sometimes accompanied by information that raises doubts on their credibility. During the Soviet coup in 1991, Granma expresses some kind of support by extensively republishing official information on the coup leaders’ thoughts and actions, but also publishes short notes from Western agencies that quote their critics. Whenever a country introduces capitalism, Granma focuses on its social problems.
There is no integral analysis of the causes of collapse. During January-March 1992 there are references to some external causes (propaganda, lies) and others that are internal, always of a non-systemic nature (lack of firmness, anti-Soviet sentiments, etc.). The system itself, similar to the Cuban one at the moment, is never questioned.
The second chapter, where the interviews are analysed, reveals great differences with regards to the interviewees’ knowledge and interest in European-Soviet socialism. Some are mainly concerned with its importance for Cubans, that is, how everyday life was in Cuba before and after the collapse. However, others, often people that had long stays in those countries or studied them at length, show great knowledge and interest in the topic. Some have assumed highly critical views towards those societies.
The interviewees describe Cuba as politically independent since the Revolution of 1959, although they generally recognize its economic dependency on the Soviet Union. Some interviewees, especially academics, put emphasis on the tensions in the Cuba-Soviet relation whereas others do not seem to recall any tensions at all. Some criticize the tendency of copying Soviet policies in Cuba especially during the 1970s, but often blame it on the lack of experience, or explain it as a necessity imposed by U.S. isolation policies. Pressure against Fidel Castro from a pro-Soviet minority in the CPC has also been mentioned in this context. Still, elements that make Cuba different ix are emphasized, such as: Cuba’s Revolution as a long, continuous process starting in the 19th century; the national character of the 1959 Revolution; the presence of Fidel Castro; Cuba as a Third World country; particularities of the system (notably, broader participation and a different electoral mechanism, the Communist Party was also to a lesser extent a source of privilege); Cubas internationalism; the strength and popularity of Cuban socialism in 1989, compared to its allies.
There is no consensus on the causes of the collapse amongst the interviewees. The reason might partly be the complexity of the phenomenon, but also the absence of a national debate on the topic which left everyone, including CPC members, to draw their own conclusions. Still, some tendencies can be seen. For instance, most use multifactorial explanations, and some talk about an accumulation of problems during many years. All seem to consider internal factors as more decisive than outside ones.
The narratives are selective. For instance, both Granma and most interviewees talk little about the similarities between Cuba and the former socialist countries, especially uncomfortable ones (for instance, authoritarian features that are common). Yet, whilst portraying their country as different - and thus portraying the collapse of EuropeanSoviet socialism as partially irrelevant for Cuba - they generally back up their claims by relevant and well documented facts. They talk of their participation in the Revolution and its positive impact in their lives and the lives of others.
The CPC did not split nor get paralyzed at a moment when this happened to many similar parties; this was probably decisive for the survival of the Cuban model. Most CPC members continued defending the Cuban system during difficult circumstances. Pressures, habits and partial information on some issues may have influenced their decision to some degree. However, if we take into account their experiences and world view, their reaction does not appear to be irrational. The collapse did not alter profoundly the reasons most had for joining the Revolution and the CPC in the first place, and they had reasons to believe that a different outcome was possible in Cuba.