Cuba’s system of participatory democracy

Listen to the audio clip from Helen Yaffe’s recent discussion of Rev Left Radio with host, Brett O’Shea, about the Cuban political system.

Unlike the narrative that is propagated widely from US and counterrevolutionary sources in the western world, Cuba is far from being a dictatorship run by the Communist Party. It has a deeply entrenched democratic system that is far superior to that practiced in many states that boast of their parliamentary democratic systems.

In the western parliamentary electoral system, candidates are free to say whatever they choose in order to get elected. If they’re successful, and manage to get elected, they are under no obligation to honour their promises during their five-year electoral term other than the pressure exerted through the occasional opinion polls.

The Cuban system is far different. It is an exercise in deeply embedded participatory democracy. Below is a summary of what this involves from an administrative point of view. In addition to this Cubans workers are involved in decision making within their workplaces which is where the everyday decisions that effect one’s life occur.

There are three pillars to Cuba’s political system, the Communist Party (PCC), the Organs of Political Power (OPP) and the Mass organisations.

The Communist Party (PCC)

The modern PCC was established after Cuba’s progressive forces united together in 1965, six years after the revolution. It has a large widespread membership that encompasses one in six Cuban citizens. Membership applicantions need to be approved by the local branches and each new member is subject to a one-year probation period before full membership is granted.

It is important to note that the PCC cannot stand candidates in elections. Candidates are selected directly by their respective communities.

Organs of Political Power

 The 1976 Constitution established a system of 168 Municipal Assemblies, 14 Provincial Assemblies and one National Assembly.

Municipal Assemblies

Local activists are nominated by neighbours to stand as candidates for the delegate elections. Successful candidates are then elected by secret ballot on election day to decide who will be the local ward’s delegate and represent then in the Municipal Assembly. A candidate must receive 50% plus one of the votes, or failing that, a run-off election is held.

Elected delegate holds office for a period of 30 months. They have to report back to their ward as least every six months to give an account of their work and to listen to local concerns. If they aren’t preforming satisfactorily, they can be recalled, removed from office and a replacement elected.

Delegates receive no wage for this demanding work. They have to remain in their normal occupation and serve the community in their spare time. In 2018, a total of 12,515 delegates were elected to the 168 Municipal Assemblies.

Popular Councils

Popular Councils are representative bodies formed by collectives of ten to fifteen wards and local mass organisations such as health workers, women’s groups and disadvantaged communities. These work together to elect representatives to sit alongside the Municipal Delegate within the Provincial Assembles.

Provincial Assemblies

Each of Cuba’s sixteen provinces has it’s own Provincial Assembly to oversee administration and the management of the state-owned enterprises within its own province. They are made up of Municipal Delegates, who gain 50% of seats with the remaining 50% made up from representatives from the Popular Councils, mass organisations and student bodies. Again, no wages are earned for this representative work, it is all done on a voluntary basis.

National Assembly

This is the sole legislative body in Cuba with deputies nominated from the Municipal Assemblies and with the remainder coming from the other mass organisations, in a similar way to the Provincial Assemblies. Elections to both bodies are held at the same time every five years.  

In 2018, 612 deputies were elected to the National Assembly. 284 or 46% were elected from the Municipal Assemblies. Women made up 49% of deputies and 37% were people of colour. Members of the PCC made up 45% of deputies.

The authority of the National Assembly is exercised through the 32-member Council of Ministers, the Council of State and the Work Commissions. The President of the Cuban Republic is elected by the deputies of the National Assembly as are the Council of State.

Mass Organisations

Cuba’s principal mass organisations are the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, (CDR), the Cuban Women’s Federation (FMC), the trade unions – Cuba Workers Federation (CTC), and the Association of Small Farmers (ANAP). All are involved in organising meetings for mass policy debate, implementing new legislation and evaluating policy outcomes. Almost everyone in Cuba belongs to one or more of these organisations, and all have grassroots, local branches and higher structures at the Municipal, Provincial and National levels. They are the means by which Cubans can engage, and participate, in the political life of the country. All mass organisations have the right to initiate and be consulted on new legislation.

Special credit to Lauren Collins of Nottingham’s Centre for Research on Cuba for the above information.