Is Cuba a dictatorship?

By Marce Cameron

Capitalist governments can take many forms, from fascist tyranny to liberal democracy. However, the essence of capitalism is the very opposite of democracy, if democracy is understood as “the rule of the people”. Under capitalism, both wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite, the capitalist class. Capitalism systematically excludes the vast majority of people, the working people who produce society’s wealth, from participation in the important decisions that affect our lives.

Democracy under capitalism means little more than ticking a ballot paper once every few years. Governments come and go, but the real decisions are made in the unelected and unaccountable corporate boardrooms. There is no economic democracy: the factories and offices are corporate despotisms.

First of all, Cuba is more democratic than any capitalist country. Cuba’s socialist constitution enshrines social ownership of the decisive means of production and the right to food, housing, health care, education, sports and culture. Cuba’s factories, farms and offices are not the private property of a handful of billionaires but the common property of the people. Money and minds are not squandered on commercial advertising. Homelessness is almost unheard of despite an acute housing shortage.

Cuba, with about one tenth of the per capita GDP of the United States, has a lower infant mortality rate than the US and a life expectancy at birth of 77 years, just one year behind the US. Such high indices of social development and human wellbeing flow from an economic system in which the market is subordinated to planning to meet social needs.

Secondly, the Cuban people are armed and militarily trained. They have the means and could easily overthrow the government if they wanted to do so. Cuba’s revolutionary armed forces have never been used against the people.

Thirdly, Cuba’s socialist democracy is based on participation rather than exclusion. It rests on four pillars: Cuba’s system of government, known as poder popular (“people’s power”; the mass organisations of workers, farmers, women, youth, students and neighbourhoods; varying degrees of workplace democracy; and the guiding role of the Communist Party of Cuba, a selective organisation of the most exemplary and committed revolutionaries.

Poder popular is based in the communities, where neighbours meet every two and a half years to nominate candidates for delegates to the popular councils and municipal assemblies. Since electoral advertising is forbidden, candidates are elected on their merits and their records. Elected delegates are accountable to their constituencies and can be recalled at any time. Deputies to the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly are elected every five years by popular vote from a list created through an exhaustive consultative process involving the mass organisations and the municipal assemblies.

If capitalism is a dictatorship of the corporate elite, Cuba is a dictatorship of the working people. This is not a completed system, but a work in progress, as Cubans learn from experience how to improve their control over their society. At the heart of Cuba’s socialist renewal are ongoing efforts to strengthen the institutions and culture of Cuba’s socialist democracy.