Popular Consultation and Referendum in the Making of Contemporary Cuban Socialist Democracy Practice and Constitutional Theory

57 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2019 Last revised: 16 Sep 2019

See all articles by Larry Catá Backer

Larry Catá Backer

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law

Flora Sapio


Date Written: Sept 14, 2019


The language of democracy and democratic organization is usually spoken only in the vernacular of liberal democracy. Liberal democracy, mostly of western origin centers legitimacy of a political order on open, full, and free election for representatives, as well as a substantially unregulated civic space in which individuals and others can engage in political discourse. This essentially exogenous form of democratic organization has been increasingly challenged in the 21st century by an alternative model of endogenous democracy more compatible with states organized along Marxist Leninist principles. These emerging forms of endogenous democratic practices have been developed along two distinct lines, one embedded in developing principles for Chinese Marxism-Leninism, and the other grounded in the history and context of Cuban Leninism. While adherents to orthodox principles of liberal democracy have rejected any efforts to consider the plausibility of Marxist-Leninist democratic practice (principally because it requires suspension of the core operating principles of liberal democracy, though not its effects), these emerging alternative forms of democratic organization are worth serious study, if only because of their potential influence on the development of the optimal model of developing states. This article focuses on the development, since the 1959 Revolution, of a Cuban version of Socialist Consultative Democracy.

The article traces the origins of the contemporary expression of Cuban Socialist Consultative Democracy in two early attempts by the revolutionary government to transform the practices of bourgeoise democracy into something different. These attempts, one at direct popular affirmation of leadership policies, and the other an institutionalized system for popular consultation, emerged in new forms after 2011 and have found their most complete expression in the complex processes of popular consultation and popular affirmation that marked the Cuban constitutional reform process of 2018-2019. What makes this particularly interesting is the way that it may provide a glimpse at the development of a set of practices (and the theory seeking to legitimate its forms) that might provide other developing states with an alternative path to democratic engagement that minimizes the risks of traditional liberal democratic practice. The article starts with context, considering the contours of the fundamental problem of ordering democracy and its compatibility with the political model for illiberal states. It then turns to the development of what will become Cuban Socialist Democratic models. To that end, it looks to the two principal sources from which these principles were developed. The first is the development of mechanisms for popular affirmation of the actions of the vanguard party; the second is the development of models of popular consultation under the guidance of the vanguard party and structured through a representative assembly. Taken together, these two elements contributed to the production of the initial or 1.0 version of Cuban Socialist Consultative Democracy. The article then considers how that more primitive model developed (along with Cuban Leninist theory) under the leadership of Raúl Castro from 2011. It traces the pragmatic and theoretic developments from early efforts around the development of the Guidelines for Reform of 2011, through the articulation of a new political and economic model in 2016, and then emerging in its current 2.0 form in the elaborate process of popular consultation and affirmation of the 2019 Cuban Constitution. The paper covers the challenges, contradictions, and potential for this endogenous form of democracy

Keywords: constitutionalism, referendum, Marxist-Leninism, Cuba, Constitutional Reform, democracy

JEL Classification: F54, K19, K33, K40, P37, P48

Suggested Citation

Backer, Larry Catá and Sapio, Flora, Popular Consultation and Referendum in the Making of Contemporary Cuban Socialist Democracy Practice and Constitutional Theory (Sept 14, 2019). University of Miami International & Comparative Law Review, Vol. 27, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3439795 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3439795

Larry Catá Backer (Contact Author)

The Pennsylvania State University (University Park) – Penn State Law ( email )

Lewis Katz Building
University Park, PA 16802
United States

Flora Sapio

Independent ( email )

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