Report on Death Penalty in Cuba Dialogue

Report on the Death Penalty in Cuba Debate at the 12th Annual Conference of Cuban and North American Philosophers and Social Scientists

by George Caffentzis
Formerly of The Radical Philosophy Association's Anti-Death Penalty Project

I. Introduction:

A debate on the death penalty in Cuba was held at the 12th Annual Conference of Cuban and North American Philosophers and Social Scientists at the University of Havana on Thursday, June 22, 2000. I represented the Radical Philosophy Association's (RPA) Anti-Death Penalty Project (ADPP) in the debate and the following is a report on the debate based on the notes I took as well as on various documents available to me.

It should be noted that the conference was bilingual (i.e., in Spanish and English) and I do not speak Spanish, consequently I have had to rely on the translators' expertise for my account of my Cuban colleagues' contributions as well as my own accuracy as note taker. Needless to say, these linguistic and mnemonic limitations can lead to unintended distortions of the comments made and I do hope that as this report makes its way around, especially to the Cuban participants in the debate, the weaknesses of this report will be corrected. However, it is my responsibility to report on the debate to the Radical Philosophy Association and other interested parties like Noam Chomsky, Manning Marable and Howard Zinn, who wrote letters concerning the issue that were presented to the Conference participants.

Let me begin by thanking my hosts and colleagues at the University of Havana who dealt with the issue of the death penalty in Cuba with utmost seriousness and kept the debate free and clear of ad homenim argumentation. I look forward to discussing the issue at hand and many other matters of joint concern in the future both in Cuba and the United States with our Cuban colleagues. It is time that we North American academics free our tongues and demand from the U.S. government our and our Cuban colleagues' academic freedom to travel and communicate freely.

II. Description of the situation (including the draft letter to the Cuban National Assembly).

The debate at the June 2000 conference on the death penalty in Cuba originated in February 1999 when the Cuban National Assembly voted to expand the number of capital crimes to include drug trafficking, armed robbery, and aggravated rape. In effect, the Cuban National assembly embarked on a path that employed the death penalty as a form of "crime control." After learning about the expansion of the number of capital crimes in Cuba, the coordinators of the RPA's ADPP (Silvia Federici, Everet Green and myself) agreed that the RPA should go on record as opposed to the expansion of the use of executions in Cuba and indeed should call for the abolition of the death penalty in Cuba. We saw this position as simply a matter of logical and political consistency, since the RPA had passed resolutions calling for the abolition of the death penalty in the US and the RPA supported the ADPP's successful effort (in collaboration with the Society for the Philosophical Study of Marxism) in having the International Federation of Philosophical Societies pass a general resolution calling for a universal abolition of the death penalty throughout the planet.

The ADPP then drafted a letter which we sent by email to all the recipients of the RPA's listserv. The following is the letter:

Proposed Statement to be sent to the Cuban National Assembly

Dear members of the Cuban National Assembly,

We, the members of the Radical Philosophy Association (RPA), are writing you concerning the death penalty in Cuba.

The RPA is an organization of U.S. academics which has consistently supported the Cuban Revolution and opposed the U.S. government's hostile policies toward Cuba, including its economic embargo. For many years we have participated in an annual philosophy conference in Havana and have initiated many efforts to facilitate a dialogue between U.S. and Cuban academics and intellectuals. The many exchanges we have developed over the years with Cuban colleagues and friends, have been the most concrete sign of our commitment to defending the achievements of the Cuban Revolution.

It is in this spirit--a spirit of comradely criticism--that we ask you to reverse your recent decision to expand the number of capital crimes and to take steps to abolish the death penalty from your legal code altogether.

We urge you to do so because the existence of capital punishment is a declaration of defeat for any government and society that adopts it, as it declares that the state is unable to guarantee the safety of its citizens except by means of selective terror.

In addition, as it has been proven over and over, from every historical and political viewpoint, that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime, that it perpetuates the cycle of violence which it is supposed to halt, and that it dehumanizes and brutalizes the very communities it is meant to protect.

Executions should especially repugnant in a socialist country committed to a progressive view of social life and humanity, one which recognizes that people can change, that refuses to reduce social problems to criminal issues, and one, again, that should find its best defense not in firing squads but in people's solidarity and the strength of its institutions.

Furthermore, we also ask you to consider that your decision to continue and expand the use of the death penalty is a serious blow to the efforts of activist organizations friendly to Cuba, like the RPA, which are working to abolish the death penalty in the U.S. and the Caribbean.

In conclusion, we call on you to take Cuba out of the league of executionist states (which includes only the U.S., Guatemala, Guyana and Chile in the continental Americas) and join the overwhelming majority of nations in Europe and the Americas which are abolitionist.


RPA members embarked on an extensive debate concerning whether the RPA should sent this or any other similar statement to the Cuban government. I have not counted the number of posts on the RPA listserv directly concerning the issue from March through the summer of 1999, but there must have been more than a hundred from more than two dozen correspondents. Unfortunately, no consensus was forming within the vocal RPA members after this lengthy discussion. Consequently, the ADPP suggested that the RPA have a formal vote on whether the RPA should send the above letter in its name. The RPA executive agreed to hold a mail vote, however, it offered the following two questions to the membership:

Question 1: Do you approve sending a letter to the Cuban National Assembly?

Question 2: Do you approve initiating a discussion with our Cuban counterparts during the visit to Cuba in 2000?

The vote was taken in August and early September of 1999 and the results were as follows:

Question 1: Yes 38 , No 48 , Blank/invalid 3

Question 2: Yes 79, No 7, Blank/invalid 3

The other coordinators of the ADPP and I were, of course, disappointed by the result and a little perplexed as to how to proceed in the ADPP's work of convincing the national and international philosophical community to support abolition of the death penalty. But we agreed that we would carry out the RPA's will and send at least one of the ADPP's coordinators to the 12th Annual Conference of Cuban and North American Philosophers and Social Scientists in Havana in June 2000 to present the ADPP's position. Unfortunately, neither Silvia Federici nor Everet Green were able to go, and so I was the ADPP's sole representative in the debate.

III. Contents of Chomsky's, Marable's and Zinn's letters plus the cover letter the ADPP sent to them:

In preparation for the debate in Cuba, the ADPP decided to solicit comments on the issue of the death penalty in Cuba and RPA's response to a number of prominent figures on the U.S. Left. The letter we sent is as follows and it was accompanied by a copy of the RPA Newsletter #49 (September 1999) which described the debate and the result of the vote:


I am a coordinator of the Radical Philosophy Association's Anti-Death Penalty Project (ADPP) and I am writing to inform you about a debate that has been going on in the Radical Philosophy Association (RPA), and to ask for your thoughts on it. The question we have been discussing is whether the RPA should send a letter to the Cuban Government urging it to abolish the death penalty and commute the sentence of those now on death row.

The proposal was made by the RPA ADDP's founders and coordinators (Silvia Federici, Everet Green and myself); and it was spurred by the Cuban government's decision (in February 1999) to expand the number of capital crimes and to use of the death penalty as a means of "crime control."

We, the coordinators of the RPA ADPP, did not expect much opposition to our proposal since the RPA has gone on record as being for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide, and has encouraged academic organizations to pass similar resolutions. Our main arguments in support of such a move are as follows:

-the Cuban government's decision to expand the use of the death penalty is detrimental to the abolitionist movement in the U.S. and the Caribbean, where there has been a dramatic escalation in the number of executions over the last year (ten people were recently hung in Trinidad);

-most important, all the arguments against the death penalty that apply in a capitalist country apply even more in the case of a socialist society, which should uphold higher moral and political standards.

There are RPA members, however, who believe that any open criticism of the use of the death penalty in Cuba is unacceptable, in that it is an act of imperialist interference in Cuban affairs which ignores Cuba's special situation, and the threats Cuba has to cope with because of the US embargo. They also argue that in Cuba the use of the death penalty is not tainted by the same racist biases with which it is implemented in the US.

Our disagreements could not be resolved after a long round of discussion. Consequently, we decided to settle the matter with a referendum which is described in the enclosed Radical Philosophy Newsletter #49 (September 1999). We lost the vote on sending a collective RPA letter of protest to the Cuban National Assembly, but there was a near unanimous vote for "initiating a discussion with our Cuban counterparts during the visit to Cuba in 2000."

In order to implement the latter RPA decision I will be going to Cuba as part of the RPA delegation that will be attending the 12th Conference of North American and Cuban Philosophers and Social Scientists between June 14-28, 2000. I plan to "initiate a discussion" on the death penalty with Cuban intellectuals there. That is what has prompted us to write to you. We would like to bring to Cuba not only our thoughts on the matter, but also the views of prominent members of the U.S. Left, whether they be for our position or not. Consequently, we are concerned that you know about the debate and we invite you to participate in it. We believe that the existence of the death penalty in Cuba is a serious matter, and that it raises questions that people who are interested in building a non-capitalist, non- exploitative society must confront.

We look forward to hearing from you.

In solidarity,

George Caffentzis

for the RPA ADDP


We received the following responses from Noam Chomsky, Manning Marable and Howard Zinn:

Dear George Caffentzis,

Thanks for sending the newsletter, which I read with interest and appreciation. As for the proposed statement on the death penalty to the Cuban National Assembly, I think it is well done and would be happy to endorse it personally. I understand the arguments of those who believe the statement to be inappropriate, and agree in part: not on the issue of racist bias (the state should not be granted the right to kill, in my opinion, whether there is racist bias or not), but on the issue of the US economic and terrorist war against Cuba for the past 40 years, for which we cannot avoid a share of responsibility however strongly we oppose it -- and of course we all do. However, that argument, while not insignificant, does not seem to me to invalidate the proposed statement. It seems to me a contribution to the health of Cuban society, not inappropriate interference, to express opposition to the resort to the death penalty and to other unacceptable actions taken by the Cuban state.

Noam Chomsky

28 March 2000

Dear George,

Many thanks for you correspondence of 9 March, and for the information on the debate in the Radical philosophy Association about the death penalty. I understand completely why there are those who oppose any open criticism of the use of the death penalty in Cuba, but I feel that such opposition is shortsighted and not in the long-term interests of building a socially-just society in Cuba, or anywhere else.

People who belong to Marxist parties or who identify themselves as Marxists often covered their eyes to the contradictions within Soviet style societies. Solidarity should not mean absolute blind support---"my country, right or wrong."

It means at times making clear one's criticisms and differences within the overall context of support. I support the Cuba revolution, and the right of the Cuban people for themselves their own political destiny, but I would add my name to those who publicly oppose the Cuban state's decision to expand the use of the death penalty,

Manning Marable


Dear George:

I only saw your letter of April 9 yesterday, because it was sent to my office at Boston University, and now that I am a Professor Emeritus I rarely visit my office.

This is not a matter on which I have to reflect two seconds. Marx, when he was writing for the New York Tribune wrote that capital punishment could not be justified in any society calling itself civilized. And in our time, we had the sad experience of Leftists defending the most outrageous acts of Stalin by the claim that they did not want to give aid and comfort to Western imperialism.

When a country calling itself socialist executes its internal enemies, when it suppresses free expression, holds political prisoners, it gives enormous aid to its enemies. I think it is possible to admire what Cuba has done for the poor and black, its huge achievements in education and medical care, without endorsing its anti-democratic actions, and while opposing the shameful U.S. embargo. The claim that we are "interfering" in Cuba's domestic concerns is ridiculous for anyone claiming to believe in international solidarity. Such solidarity does not recognize national borders as inhibiting freedom of criticism. Such criticism is helpful, not hurtful to any aspiring socialist state. I believe that what has enabled the U.S. government to get public opinion behind it in maintaining the embargo is that it can point to lack of political freedom in Cuba. It is simply not believable that the death penalty adds to Cuba's security in any way. Rather, the opposite, because every sign of uncivilized behavior in Cuba is another argument for maintaining the embargo.

If the death penalty were not race-biased in the U.S. would we support it? I can't believe the nonsensical arguments made on this issue by people claiming to be radicals as well as philosophers! You are free to convey my thoughts on this to anyone who will listen.

Howard Zinn


As promised, I delivered these letters to the participants of debate at the University of Havana.

IV. A description of the setting of the debate and the paper I read

The debate on the death penalty in Cuba took place on Thursday, June 22, 2000 and was moderated by Prof. Thalia Fung Riveron, a prominent Cuban philosopher. The event was well attended by both Cuban academics and U.S. participants. It was to have taken about one and half hours (from approximately 10:30 to noon), but the clear interest of the audience made it possible for Prof. Fung to bend the rules and extend the event for almost an hour longer to allow for the many interventions as well as for my short response at the end. Although the debate was thoroughly and passionately carried on, the sense of fairness and mutual respect was sustained throughout and Prof. Fung firmly and expeditiously kept the discussion flowing.

I should point out that this debate took place in a week when the issue of the death penalty in the United States became a central topic in Cuba. The week opened on June 19 with a commemoration of the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in a square dedicated to them in Havana. I and other members of the RPA delegation attended the event and I was moved by the many school children and elderly Communist militants who met on this square in Havana to honor the martyrs and to hear the words of their son, written especially for the event, read. It might be the only place on the planet where such a public protest to the US's executionist regime's past crime was sanctioned by a seated government. Later on that day there was a nationally televised roundtable discussion on the death penalty in the US in general and the cases of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Shaka Sankofa in particular. Len Weinglass, Pam Africa, Rosmary Meely, Monica Morehead and a number of other prominent figures in the U.S. anti-death penalty movement were in the Havana studios of the Cuban national station putting before the Cuban people the grim statistics of the death row of the U.S. Finally, Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice was heard on the program, speaking in Spanish directly to the Cuban people about the many Cubans on death row in the U.S. as well as on the barbarism of a nation that was preparing to kill more than four thousands of its citizens (many of who, indeed, are innocent of the crimes they were convicted of).

In fact, the shadow of the pending execution of Shaka Sankofa at the hands of Gov. George W. Bush hung over the conference. Sankofa was executed on the very day of the debate and in the next day, during the conference's final plenary, the Cuban and North American participants joined together in a moment of silence in memory of his struggle.

The issue of the death penalty was therefore "in the air" when I was given the opportunity to open the debate on the death penalty. I was allotted twenty minutes and, since translation would inevitably take up about half of it, I decided to severely cut the paper I prepared for the conference in order to give me time to explain why I had come to the conference. I distributed copies of the proposed statement to the Cuban National Assembly, an excerpt from the RPA Newsletter describing the vote as well as the letters from Chomsky, Marable and Zinn. I presented the events preceding the RPA's vote in August/September 1999 which directed me to come to Cuba and help "initiate" the debate on the death penalty. At the end of that presentation I read an abbreviated version of the following paper (although I distributed a number of copies of the whole text to the audience as well):

Executionism and Socialist Legality:

An Essay Addressed to Radical Philosophers

C. George Caffentzis
Department of Philosophy
University of Southern Maine
P.O. Box 9300
Portland, Maine 04104-9300

Tel.: (207) 780-4332

To be presented at the 12th Annual Conference of Cuban and North American Philosophers and Social Scientists

A Cuban Introduction

Executionism (i.e., continued legal support for and practice of executions) has long been a feature of capitalism. This has lead a long-time student of executionism, Peter Linebaugh, to state that "capital punishment is the punishment of capital" (Linebaugh 1991). But the end of the twentieth century has put a new twist on this identification. For, on the one side, a large number of capitalist regimes in Europe, South America and in Africa have abolished the death penalty in law or practice, and, on the other, many of the nations which identify themselves as socialist or communist like the People's Republic of China are still executionist. There are, of course, capitalist exceptions to this rule. Most significantly, the U.S. has rapidly increased the pace of executions and the list of capital crimes in the 1990s. But why should socialist nations like China and, most especially for the purposes of this Conference, Cuba share executionism in common with the US?

The point of this investigation is to pose a critique of socialist executionism and to engage in a debate that will lead to the abolition of the death penalty in Cuba to help in the struggle against capitalism. After all, the abolition of the death penalty is now increasingly being seen as the norm for any reasonable legal system; if "actually existing socialism" can not provide a legal framework that is equal or superior to the average capitalist practice in Europe and in most countries of the continental Americas (excluding the U.S., Guatemala, Chile, and Guyana), then it will inevitably make no sense to claim for socialist legality "actually existing superiority."

In order to study the foundations of the death penalty in Cuba one should begin with the following fact: though the death penalty was rooted in the colonial Spanish Penal Code and passed on in a number of post-colonial codes, the progressive Constitution of 1940 abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes committed by civilians (Article 25).(1) Though many extra- judicial killings took place after 1940, especially during the Batista regime (1952-1959), the abolition law still held until 1959. In the first period of the revolution, however, Article 25 was modified a number of times to allow for the execution of civilians in times of peace, and indeed hundreds of such executions took place in the 1960s and early 1970s.(2) With the promulgation of the first "Socialist Constitution" in 1976, the Cuban Government could have returned to the status quo ante and reaffirmed Article 25 of the 1940 Constitution, but it did not. Neither did it use the opportunity of the drafting of one of the first legal documents of the period of rectification, the Penal Code of 1987, to return to Article 25. On the contrary, in these two documents (and their amendments, including the recent expansion of the list of capital crimes mentioned above), which inscribed "socialist legality" into the Cuban law, the death penalty was expanded.

What is socialist legality? It is the product of the interaction of the legal experiences of the socialist nations (especially the Soviet Union, but also the People's Republic of China (PRC)) and Marxist theory.(3) Consequently, the death penalty in Cuba (which is inevitably a key element in any legal system) is rooted not in immediate pre-revolutionary Cuban legal thought, which was abolitionist, but in the rising importance of socialist legality as the Cuban Revolution began to build its legal institutions and textual foundations.

But why should a commitment to socialist legality be correlated with a preference for capital punishment, at least in the eyes of Cuban legislators and jurists? The answer to this question cannot be found in Cuba alone, we must look to the development of the Marxist theory of law and the social experiences of "actually existing socialist" nations, especially the most notable ones: the Soviet Union and the PRC. The rest of this essay is an attempt to present the conceptual connection of socialist legality and the death penalty in Marxist theory and in the history of the judicial systems of socialist nations to return to our Cuban comrades and urge an end to the evil tie that binds socialism and executionism.

Marx, Lenin, Stalin and the Death Penalty

One of the most troubling features of the twentieth century politics has been that formally anti-capitalist countries, especially those with governments ruled by Communist parties, have been among the most executionist on the planet. The critics of communism have continually exposed the pretenses of a humanism that is always killing humans (to paraphrase Fanon.) Indeed, the Eastern European nations ruled by Communist Parties, the Soviet Union and the Asian nations ruled by Communist Parties were all executionist between 1950 and 1990. Only with the end of Communist Party rule and the disintegration of the Soviet Union did a new era of abolitionism begin in Eastern Europe and Russia.

This connection between "actually existing" Communist or state socialist regimes and executionism was not determined by the basic Marxist texts. For example, Marx's main statement on capital punishment is to be found in a short article he published in the New York Daily Tribune in 1853 (Cain and Hunt (eds.) 1979: 193-196). After stating that "it would be very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to establish any principle upon which the justice or expediency of capital punishment could be found in a society glorying in its civilization," he criticized the idealist proponents of the death penalty like Kant and Hegel for giving "transcendental sanction to the rules of existing society" and he concluded the article with the following rhetorical question: "Is there not a necessity for deeply reflecting upon an alteration of the system that breeds these crimes, instead of glorifying the hangman who executes a lot of criminals to make room only for the supply of new ones?"

Lenin and the early Bolshevik government were ambivalent about the death penalty. This ambivalence was inevitable for two reasons rooted in libertarian aspect of the Communist tradition which resulted in the following two maxims: (i) the state under Communism should "wither away" and (ii) Communism should validate the free development of the social individual. Both these elements of the conceptual foundations of Communism militate against capital punishment.

Lenin reiterated both these themes in The State and Revolution(1917) where he reviewed the Marxist doctrine of the state to prepare the Bolshevik Party cadre for the coming revolution in Russia (Lenin 1947: 197-211). The state will wither away as the oppositional classes disappear while the criminality and "excesses of individual persons" (which were caused by "the exploitation of the masses, their want and their poverty") will wither away as well. Similarly Lenin reaffirmed Marx's conditions for the "all-round development of the individual" in the higher stage of Communism.

These reaffrimations had important implications for the death penalty in states ruled by Communist parties. For if the ultimate aim of Communism, according to Marx, Engels, and Lenin, is the withering away of the state and the all-round development of the individual, then the death penalty should also wither away and be unthinkable, since it is the archetypal violence of the capitalist state against the individual.(4) But nothing is simple in this Marxist-Leninist trope of "withering away." Its dialectic (in the hands of masters like Vyshinskii), mocked by many before and after George Orwell, was often to decree that the withering away of law and the state could only be attained by the intensification of law and the state.(5)

After all, why should workers still be executed by a workers' state? The answer appeared to be (during the peak period of socialist legality in the Soviet Union): workers should be executed now in order to create a society where executions will be unnecessary.(6) That is, keeping Marx's 1853 remarks in mind, the workers state must eschew "glorying in its civilization" in order to create a higher civilization, Communism.

This brings us the another ambivalence of the Communist tradition which had a bearing on the death penalty. On the one side, the libertarian streak in Communism saw labor power as being the possession of the worker and could explain capitalist exploitation as being caused by the unfair conditions of sale of labor power between capitalist and worker (Cohen 1995: 144-164). Moreover, a fully developed Communist society would, in Marx's words, develop another principle of exchange for labor power: "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!" This would occur in the famous realm of freedom where "the development of human an end in itself" (Marx 1998: 807). On the other side, there is a patriarchal element in the state in the early phase of Communism which arises because the state is both the only employer and the embodiment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the face of the employer and dictator is fatherly.

The state's combined economic and political monopoly creates the conditions for the radical compromising of "self- ownership," i.e., the ability to freely sell one's labor power in the bourgeois society or the ability to fully develop it in Communist society at its highest phase. This compromising was never complete either in fact or theory in the Soviet Union, as cold-war ideologists of totalitarianism like Hanna Arendt contended. The workers' struggles that took place throughout the history of Communist Party rule is evidence for that. But the state often took on the role of direct controller of labor in the name of central planning of production, in a system reminiscent of the Statute of Artificers which regulated English laborers between 1563 to the early nineteenth century (Linder 1989). For example, almost from the beginning of the revolution in Russia there was a "work book" system that was the instrument of a labor policy prizing order, discipline and centralized planning (which was appropriated by the Chinese Communist government (Dutton 1992: 195-213) and by the Cuban government (Salas 1979: 399)).(7) Most obviously, there was a sixteen year period in the Soviet Union between the proclamation of the Labour Decrees of 1940 and their repeal in 1956 when a worker's right to leave his/her job was restricted and penalties for lateness, absenteeism and infringements of factory discipline were imposed (Dobb 1966: 491).

Moreover, the patriarchal character of the pre- revolutionary Russian and Chinese state continued into the era of Communist rule even though patriarchy's most obvious sins in the family were legally eliminated (e.g., see (Stacey 1979) for China). Dutton pointed out the continuity between Confucian patriarchy and the Chinese Communist practice of policing (Dutton 1992: 226-227) This combination of traditional patriarchy with a tendency towards state control of the labor power of citizens set the stage for powerful executionist logic. If the total expression of an individual's activity is properly under the supervision of the state, then the state would automatically have the right to protect the interests of the proletariat against the miscreant down to the elimination of his/her total labor power. The justification of the death penalty rooted in this Communist version of patria potestas, i.e., the right of the father to deal with his children as chattel, however, does face its ideological antithesis with the libertarian demand for the free development of the individual written into the horizon of Communism. One need not accept a full Stirneresque concept of self-ownership nor wait for the utopian epiphany produced by a higher state of Communism in order to show that the socialist state oversteps its bounds and destroys itself when it executes.

Capital punishment is historically correlated with the imposition of slavery and the early phases of wage labor. Consequently, any state committed to liberating labor power and eliminating the vestiges of slavery and wage labor (and preventing their re-emergence) must abolish capital punishment. (This is especially true after the post-World War II "discovery" that it was perfectly possible to have capitalist systems employing hundreds of millions of workers without imposing the death penalty.) Any socialist and communist state that claims to advance the liberation of the working class beyond capitalism must at least do better than the benchmark set by the average performance of capitalist society, hence they should be abolitionist.

Arguments like the above undoubtedly created the dialectical ambivalence of the Soviet Government to the death penalty which was expressed by the sudden outbreaks of abolitionism followed by executionist backlashes. The Second Congress of Soviets abolished the death penalty in November 1917. But during the period of War Communism and the Civil War there was a de facto expansion of executions to a very wide range of malefactors from avoiders of labor service to informers giving false information (Beirne and Hunt 1990: 118-119). With the Bolshevik victory in early 1920, Lenin was again leaning to abolitionism. The Criminal Code of 1922 ended this trend by formally counting forty-seven capital offenses. Most of them were "political and economic crimes," with only three "ordinary" crimes remaining: robbery, aggravated rape, and aggravated murder.

The Stalinist regime's use of the death penalty during the 1930s and the Second World War was notorious. Stalin saw a strict analogy between the thanatocratic rule of the early bourgeois period and the use of the death penalty in the early phases of Communism. In the former, however, private property was made "holy and inviolable" by the extensive use of the gallows while in the latter socialized property was to be sanctified by the firing squad. It would appear that for Stalin the primitive accumulation of socialist property had to recapitulate the primitive accumulation of private capital.

But even Stalin was not immune to the attractions of abolitionism. For during the latter period of his rule, when he was the unchallenged architect of the Soviet legal code, he repealed the death penalty in 1947 and did not reinstate it until 1950 for political crimes. These three years of abolitionism, however, were not followed again until the demise of the Soviet Union.

A Cuban Conclusion

When one examines the list of the seventy six executionist states, one sees that the "actually existing socialist" states are prominent among them. The executionist U.S. joins with countries like China, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. Most troublesome to U.S. radical philosophers like myself is the presence of Cuba on this list, simply because of the historical alliance between the U.S. Left and the Cuban intelligentsia loyal to the Cuban Communist Party. This alliance is now facing a crisis. While much of the Left and the African-American Liberation movement in the U.S. has begun a campaign against the death penalty and the prison-industrial complex in the U.S., we have recently witnessed, for example, the Cuban National Assembly's decision to pass legislation expanding the role of the death penalty and the Cuban courts decision to sentence Raul Ernesto Cruz Leon to death by firing squad for terrorism.

Moreover, the increased prominence of the death penalty in Cuba coincides with the attempt by a number of other non- communist Caribbean states (Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados) to extricate themselves from international oversight on their handling of death penalty cases in the form of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London and the American Convention on Human Rights.(Hands off Cain 1998) The Cuban government's swing towards intensifying executionism legitimizes this Caribbean movement because of the Cuban Revolution's enormous prestige in the eyes of leftists in the region.

If my analysis is correct, then the expansion of the role of the executions is exactly the politically wrong decision to make, for it simultaneously strengthens Cuba's enemies (executionists like Jesse Helms and the Republican Governors Associations, for example) and weakens its friends (anti- executionists in the Radical Philosophy Aassociation and the U.S. Left)...and all for little purpose, if one assesses the experience of countries that have chosen to fight terrorism and treason by firing squads. Certainly socialism did not collapse in the Soviet Union or the Eastern European countries because these nations abolished the death penalty, on the contrary they were all executionist until the end (with the exception of East Germany which abolished the death penalty barely a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall). If my analysis is correct, contemporary executionism in "actually existing socialism" is the evil synthesis of Communist patriarchy and Neoliberalism. If Cuban Socialism is to survive, it must shun both patriarchy and neoliberalism.

Consequently, I urge my Cuban colleagues and comrades to return to and expand Article 25 of the 1940 Cuban Constitution. Make the "or" in "Socialism or Death" exclusive! Abolish the death penalty in Cuba so that we can be given more weapons to abolish the death penalty (and capitalism) in the U.S.

End Notes

(1) For a short overview of the Cuban legal system see (Reynolds and Flores 1989) and for brief sympathetic, but impressionistic views see (Bogdan 1989) and (Berman and Whiting 1980). For two important introductory articles on Cuban post-revolutionary law see (Azici 1980). For an unsympathetic comparative look at post- revolutionary Chinese and Cuban law see (Baerg 1992). For useful books on the post-revolutionary Cuban legal system see (van der Plas 1987), (Salas 1979), and (Evenson, D. 1994).

(2) The Cuban Government claims that between 1959 and 1987 two hundred and twelve executions took place, according to (Amnesty International 1989). Most of these executions took place in the 1960s; by the mid-1980s the number had been reduced to a handful per year.

(3) For a discussion of the theoretical possibility of a coherent notion of socialist legality given the inherent skepticism toward legal "superstructures" in Marxism, see (Sypnowich 1990), (Collins 1982), and (Redhead 1982).

(4) For Pashukanis' "commodity form" theory of law and the "withering away of the Law" under Communism see (Beirne and Sharlet 1982) and (Beirne and Sharlet 1980). Pashukanis' influence reached its peak in the 1920s, but with Stalin's "revolution from above" in the 1930s the state began to demand a "socialist legality." So Pashukanis was sent to die in Stalin's killing fields and Vyshinskii, his rival, was happy to oblige Stalin with some winning dialectics: "the withering away of the state will come not through a weakening of the state authority but through its maximum intensification" and a theory of "socialist legality" (Beirne and Sharlet 1982: 325).

(5) For an informative discussion of Andrei Vyshinskii's career in the 1920s and 1930s, especially his contradictory role in organizing the Terror and Purge Trials as well as becoming the spokesman of "revolutionary" or "socialist" legality see (Solomon 1996: 156-173).

(6) For a useful discussion of state socialist attitudes to capital punishment see (Evans 1996). A hint of the state socialist defense of capital punishment can be seen in the East German authorities' justification of capital punishment: "In so far as the death penalty serves the security and the reliable protection of our sovereign socialist state, the maintenance of peace and the life of its citizens, it possesses a humanitarian character. To apply it to those offenders who threaten the life of our people and the stability of our nation by committing the most serious crimes is an unconditional requirement of socialist legality" (quoted in [Evans 1996: 857]).

(7) Similar methods were used in Cuba. For example in 1968 Law 1225 was introduced that called for the establishment of dossiers for all workers. "The file serves a variety of...purposes, not the least of which is an extension of the control exercised by the government over the individual worker" (Salas 1979: 339).


Amnesty International 1989. When the State Kills....London: Amnesty International.

Azicri, M. "Introduction to Cuban socialist law" and "Change and institutionalization in the revolutionary process: the Cuban legal system in the 1970s." In Review of Socialist Law. N. 6.

Baerg, William R. 1992. "Judicial Institutionalization of the Revolution: The Legal Systems of the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Cuba." In Loyola of Los Angles International and Comparative Law Journal. Vol 15: 233.

Beirne, Piers (ed.) 1990. Revolution in Law: Contributions to the Development of Soviet Legal Theory, 1917-1933. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Beirne, Piers and Hunt, Alan 1990. "Lenin, Crime, and Penal Politics, 1917-1924. In (Beirne 1990: 99-135).

Beirne, Piers and Quinney, Richard (eds.) 1982. Marxism and Law. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Beirne, Piers and Sharlet, Robert (eds.) 1980. Pashukanis: Selected Writings on Marxism and Law. London: Academic Press.

Beirne, Piers and Sharlet, Robert 1982. "Pashukanis and Socialist Legality." in (Beirne and Quinney 1982).

Berman, Harold J. 1963. Justice in the USSR. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Berman, Harold J. and Whiting, Van R. 1980. "Impressions of Cuban Law." In American Journal of Comparative Law. N. 3: 475-486.

Brady, James P. 1982. Justice and Politics in People's China: Legal Order or Continuing Revolution? London: Academic Press.

Cain, Maureen and Hunt, Alan (eds.) 1979. Marx and Engels on Law. London: Academic Press.

Cohen, G. A. 1995. Self-ownership, Freedom, and Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cohen, Jerome A. 1968. The Criminal Process in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1963: An Introduction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Collins, Hugh 1982. Marxism and Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Davis, Steven B. 1987. "The Death Penalty and Legal Reform in the PRC." In The Journal of Chinese Law, vol. 1, n. 2 (Fall).

Dobb, Maurice 1966. Soviet Economic Development Since 1917. New York: international Publishers.

Dutton, Michael R. 1992. Policing and Punishment in China: From Patriarchy to 'the People.' Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Evans, Richard J. 1996. Rituals of Retribution: Capital Punishment in Germany 1600-1987. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hands Off Cain 1998. Towards Abolition: The and Politics of the Death Penalty. Rome: Associazione Mariaeresa Di Lascia.

Lenin, V.I. 1947a. The State and Revolution. In (Lenin 1947b).

Lenin, V.I. 1947b. The Essentials of Lenin, Vol. II. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Linebaugh, Peter 1991. The London Hanged. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marx, Karl 1998. Capital, Vol. III. New York: International Publishers.

Redhead, Steve 1982. "Marxist Theory, the Rule of Law and Socialism." In (Bierne and Sharlet 1982).

Reynolds, Thomas H. and Flores, Arturo A. 1989. Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World. Volume I-The Western Hemisphere. Littleton, Colorado: Fred R. Rothman & Co.

Solomon, Jr. Peter H. 1996. Soviet Criminal Justice under Stalin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stacey, Judith 1979. "When Patriarchy Kowtows: The Significance of the Chinese Family Revolution for Feminist Theory." In (Eistenstein 1979).

Sypnowich, Christine 1990. The Concept of Socialist Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

van der Plas, Adele G. 1987. Revolution and criminal justice: the Cuban experiment, 1959-1983. Dordrecht: FORIS Publications.

V. Synopsis of Armando Chavez's "Reflections on the Death Penalty"

After I read portions of the above paper, Armando Chavez (a law professor, I believe) presented his "Reflections on the Death Penalty." This paper should not be seen as a response to mine, since Chavez, as far as I know, did not read my paper. I was not able to get a copy of his paper after the debate and so I will have to give a synopsis of his paper on the basis of the conference translation and my notes. I hope, in future versions of this report, to have the full text of the paper in Spanish at least. So with due recognition of the limitations of this synopsis and my apologies to Prof. Chavez I will proceed:

1. The death penalty cannot be approached in an abstract, ahistorical way. One can not be for or against the death penalty per se, just as one cannot be for or against a scalpel. In the hands of a surgeon, the tool is good, but in the hands of a criminal it is bad.

2. One must, therefore, assess the death penalty according to historical circumstances and in the interest of particular juridical systems. From that perspective, Chavez concluded, he would be abolitionist at this moment in the U.S., but would favor the death penalty in Cuba. He also commented that prior to 1959 he was an abolitionist in Cuba.

3. Historically the death penalty has been often employed in Cuba. It was clearly used by the Spanish colonial state to punish rebellious aboriginal leaders in the 16th century as well as 19th century revolutionaries. But it is important to note the Mambi forces that fought against Spanish rule in the 19th century also used the death penalty as a punishment in their ranks. With the 1959 revolution a new legal order came into being in Cuba that was based on the Mambi principles and was a specific product of Cuban circumstances.

4. This post-1959 legal order was in one sense the realization of the goals and aspirations of the 1940 Cuban Constitution (one of the most advanced legal documents of the 20th century). But the 1940 Cuban Constitution was abolitionist (as far a civilian crimes were concerned), whereas the major documents of the present Cuban legal system (the 1975 Constitution and the 1986 Penal Code) are not.

5. Why is there such a difference? It is rooted in the United States government's relentless attack on Cuba which had made it into a besieged fortress. The Cuban government cannot give up one of its defensive weapons (the death penalty) during this state of siege.

6. Chavez concluded that once the United States stopped sponsoring counter-revolutionary activities against Cuba, the Cuban government could realistically look to abolishing the death penalty.

VI. Synopsis of Interventions

When Armando Chavez finished his presentation, the floor was opened to audience interventions. It should be clear that these interventions were not of the "posing questions" variety favored by U.S. academic culture. They were often simply presentations of the views of the audience members on the issue, ending with no questions posed at all. (Frankly, I like this style, which is often found in Europe as well. It is more honest and, perhaps, more democratic, since it allows the audience members to contribute directly to the debate instead of forcing them to rack their brains to find a subtle enough question that would both make their point and not be either confrontational or trivial.)

This account of the twenty interventions from both Cuban and North American auditors that followed the paper presentations is even rougher than my synopsis of Prof. Chavez's paper because the translator had access to his paper in advance of the session but he clearly had to translate the interventions on-the-spot. The other limitations I noted before--my note-taking skill and my memory--apply as well. Another limitation of this synopsis is the lack of names attached to most of the interventions. I was only able to connect the names of the speakers with only four interventions (but Cliff Durand identified names with another four interventions). I do hope that these people will check their own memories and correct me if I got the gist of what they said wrong.

Intervention #1: Different scenarios exist in Cuba and the U.S. In the U.S. racism is an important part of the death penalty equation. A disproportional number of death row inmates are racial or ethnic minorities and a vast majority of these people come from the working class. In Cuba, however, racism is not institutionalized.

Intervention #2 (Romelia Pino): I am speaking from an emotional point of view. There is a death sentence over eleven million Cubans. My father died because he could not get medicines due to the embargo.

You should know that the death penalty is not a major concern for everyday Cubans.

I am concerned about the issue because it can be the cause of division. The discussion is a novel one, but is one that can be used to attack the Cuban Revolution far beyond the range of the academy. But this should not be a limit for our debate, since debate is what unites us.

Intervention #3: This has been an interesting debate on an issue that has not been at the center of our concerns in Cuba, but it is obviously of interest to our colleagues in the U.S. One can approach the issue in a number of ways. First, from the Marxist classics, the issue should be dealt with from a socialist humanist perspective and as an ethical question. Second, we should remember that a famous Cuban intellectual pointed out a qualification to this approach: "As a philosopher I have a holistic approach, but as a Cuban I am a patriot."

Intervention #4 (Michael Principe): I agree with Prof. Chavez's view that the issue of the death penalty should be considered situationally and if the use of the death penalty is justified, then so be it. Consequently, at this particular moment one must ask, "why the death penalty in Cuba?"

Intervention #5 (Renee-Marie Parry): I have given much thought to the death penalty on the basis of much personal and historical experience. I need simply remember Hitler, Vargas, or McCarthy.

But I do think that the abolition of the death penalty in Cuba would draw world attention to Cuba and would help defeat U.S. actions against Cuba.

From a cybernetic point of view, it is not possible to eliminate a hateful act with a hateful act. I think that is why Jesus of Nazareth was the first cybernetician: love thy neighbor as thyself.

But I understand why my friends in Cuba are so hesitant to give up the death penalty. Only a few weeks ago when I was in Florida someone heard one of the members of the Miami Mafia saying: "Once we get into Cuba all we will have to do is eliminate 300,000 people in a few days and it will all be over."

Intervention #6: The slogan "Socialism or Death" doesn't imply death, but it is the call to defend the revolution from its enemies. A Cuban who lives the call, "Socialism or Death," cries for life.

Intervention #7: I am not a philosopher, I am a lawyer and I must say that Cuban revolutionaries cannot be naive. The only reason why the Miami-based Mafia has not invaded the revolution and dropped bombs to kill our women and children is that they know they will die in the actual struggle with the people or they will face the courts of revolutionary justice.

Our use of the death penalty is not arbitrary. Not even the President can order an execution, it must be approved by the Council of State.

We must also remember that while Jesus said, "Love thy neighbor," he also thrashed the money changers out of the temple!

Intervention #7 (Cliff DuRand): I was one of the principal participants in the RPA's debate of this issue last year. It was an emotional issue for us as it is for our Cuban comrades, for it brings into conflict a moral ideal (that moved us to oppose the death penalty) with a situationist ethics. The arguments I presented in the RPA's debate last year are very similar to the ones that have just been presented by many of you and the majority of the RPA membership agrees with these arguments (according to the vote we took). But being a situational and contextual matter we must be continually asking the question Michael Principe asked, "What exactly in Cuba's situation makes the death penalty necessary?"

Let me conclude by commenting on a point George makes in his paper. He said, "If the ultimate aim of the withering away of the state..., then the death penalty should also wither away." True enough, but that lies in the future. For now the state is still needed to defend socialism. Just as calling for the abolition of the state now (the classic demand of anarachism) would amount to abandoning the Revolution, so too abolition of the death penalty now would deny socialism of one of the weapons it needs to defend itself.

Intervention #9: I feel that we are in agreement on the historical necessity for overcoming the death penalty. The moral argument has to be taken into account in the long-run, but immediate power relationships must be understood as well.

Certainly, legitimate power must be exercised with knowledge and prudence and the death penalty must be used in very selective circumstances, sensitive to differing contexts, as is currently done in Cuba.

But we must remember, and we are often reminded by U.S. President Clinton in his speeches, that U.S. foreign policy denies us the right to life collectively.

Intervention #10 (Kory Schaff): I think that Michael Principe's question--"Why the death penalty now?"--has been neglected. We must honestly assess the current conditions and measure the present counter-revolutionary activity. Either this threat has been reduced since 1959 or it has not. I have serious doubts that the threat is the same as it was.

I get a mixed picture of this threat. Is the source of the threat the Cuban-Americans in the U.S. (the "Miami Mafia") or the U.S. government? But the U.S. government is not planning to invade Cuba and the terrorist activities sponsored by the U.S. government have declined.

However, the threat still seems real from the perspective of the Cuban revolutionary struggle even though there are good arguments that contradict this. First, the very fact that executions have largely ended indicates the threat has declined. Second, the existence of the death penalty per se has not deterred counter-revolutionary.

Moreover, there is an available option to the death penalty: life in prison.

Intervention #11: I agree with Cliff. I would like to raise my voice for the life of Mumia and Sankofa. But there [in the U.S.] the situation is different from the one in Cuba where the death penalty is not applied on a racial basis.

Intervention #12: I agree with Chavez's analysis of the death penalty on the basis of the specific historical context and from a class point of view. In the U.S. the death penalty is used against the working class, the Cuba it is used against the ruing class.

Intervention #13 (Ruben Zardoya): I would like to point out that the situation in Cuba is more problematic now than it was even a decade ago. The fall of the Soviet Union, the socialist retreat, and the rise of a new economic and social order (or tyranny) have dramatically changed the picture.

We must continually keep an eye on the U.S. Congress and its new moves in support of the Cuban Mafia in Miami. We must continually defend ourselves from psychological warfare including the 200 hours of targeted and U.S.-government sponsored counter- revolutionary broadcasts from the U.S. As recently as 1996 President Clinton was examining options for the invasion of Cuba. Consequently, the threat is still real and we need to maintain the death penalty.

Intervention #14: I wish to reiterate what my colleagues have said: the death penalty in Cuba is justified.

Intervention #15: I want to emphasize the difficulty of imposing life sentences.

Intervention #16: We must recognize that the Congress of the US has openly demanded the overthrow of the Cuban government. That, after all, is what the Helms-Burton Law calls for, and such legislation is not ended. I believe that merely forty-eight hours ago there was a new bill submitted tightening the embargo.

Intervention #17: The death penalty is a response to terrorism, but is it appropriate to use it to deal with economic problems?

Intervention #18 (Cesar Camacho): We seem to be losing track in this discussion. According to the ADPP's "Proposed Letter to Cuban National Assembly," in asking for an end to the death penalty in Cuba, the RPA would be asking for help from the Cuban government to fight the death penalty in the U.S. But isn't this asking support from those who should be supported? This is a big problem. If you are asking for help, you should ask for it properly.

Intervention #19: I would like to comment briefly on Kory Schaff's point concerning the level of danger. The Helms-Burton Law as well President Clinton's speeches (as recently as January 1997) have made it clear that the intent of the U.S. government is to overthrow the Cuban government.

Intervention #20 (Prof. Fung): I would like to point out that we have forgotten the question of Cuban public opinion (which is largely in favor of the death penalty). The Cuban National Assembly has many times put the breaks on the Cuban people's demand for justice. In fact, this restraint demonstrates the human face of socialism.

We must be sensitive to the concrete historical circumstances concerning the death penalty. I should point out that when I was a student before 1959, I was often the only person for the death penalty in my circle. That changed after the revolution.

But I want to address an important issue concerning the death penalty in Cuba. Will this debate create a crisis within the Radical Philosophy Association? I hope not. As this debate shows, we are open to discussion on this and other points with our North American colleagues and comrades.

VII. A synopsis of my response to the interventions

At the end of the interventions Prof. Fung gave both Armando Chavez and myself five minutes to respond to the interventions. Prof. Chavez said that his colleagues had largely supported his views and that he did not need to respond. I then took about eight minutes for my response. The following is a synopsis of it:

Let me begin by saying that the task I came to Havana with--to initiate a discussion of the death penalty in Cuba with Cuban colleagues and comrades--has definitely been accomplished. I thank you for the frank expression of your views and I am sure that the debate will continue. But for now I would like to make a number of points concerning Chavez's paper and your interventions:

(1) Chavez has called for the discussion of the death penalty to be contextualized. Let me do so, because the real historical situation concerning the death penalty has changed dramatically since 1959. At that time most governments were executionist, but in the last forty years a remarkable change has occurred: the majority of countries in the world are now abolitionist in law or practice. This is especially true of European countries or those who would like to enter into the Council of Europe. Abolitionism is now dominant from Dublin to Vladivostok and if any country (like Turkey) wishes to be integrated into the European Union, it must become abolitionist. This is an important fact for Cuba. If the Cuban government wishes to carry on increased economic and social relations with Europe, the issue of abolition of the death penalty will become increasingly important in bilateral relations. Increasingly, the abolition of the death penalty is becoming a criterion for an acceptable legal system, just as the abolition of torture was in the immediate post-WWII period. The US is now facing ostracism from Europeans on the basis of its executionist policies, why should Cuba suffer the same ostracism?

(2) The ADPP solicited letters from Chomsky, Marable and Zinn in order to make clear to you that the issue of the death penalty is increasingly becoming important for the Left in US. It has now become a central political campaign issue for many left- wing organizations and individuals which previously treated it as a moral or purely legal matter. It is inevitable that the issue of the death penalty in Cuba will soon become a problem for that part of the US left that is allied with Cuban socialism.

I, for example, have spent the last five years in organizing for Mumia Abu-Jamal and in anti-death penalty work. I often speak in public about the death penalty and I know that at some point I will have to address the question: "If you are against the death penalty and for the Cuban government, how come you do not speak out about the death penalty in Cuba?"

This is a question many in the US Left will have to face soon and therefore the ADPP's call for the abolition of the death penalty in Cuba is indeed a request for help and solidarity. For if you believe that the pro-Cuba U.S. Left has any weight at all, then its strength should be a matter of importance to you in Cuba. Our strength will definitely be increased, if the death penalty were abolished in Cuba and, frankly, I believe that it would strengthen your position with respect to the U.S. as well. For once the Cuban government abolished the death penalty, it can join with European and South American governments in an alliance for life in pointing to the four thousand prisoners on death row in the US and demanding an end to this US barbarism.

(3) I have heard your impassioned defenses of the death penalty as a weapon of the Cuban people against the counter- revolutionary terrorism of the Miami Mafia, but I should point out that these interventions where partially non-sequiturs. The main stimulus for ADPP's call for the end of the death penalty came from the February 1999 decision to use the death penalty for "crime control" (drug trafficking, aggravated rape and armed robbery). These are not crimes uniquely attributable to the counter-revolutionaries in Miami. In fact, I would not be surprised that most of these crimes are committed by working class men and women who had no connection with Miami. Moreover, it is not clear to me that the death penalty is a "weapon" against counter-revolution. This has been assumed by many of you, but are you sure?

(4) Finally, there is a logic to the siege the U.S. has imposed on Cuba that intersects with the death penalty. A siege has three components--the object of the siege, the ring around the object, and the allies outside the ring. The most powerful way to break to siege is to bring together the inside and the outside of the ring, but the greatest danger is when the defenders inside the ring despair of their allies and turn inward. For a long period of time, the allies the Cuban revolutionary government called to were the other socialist nations which were all executionist. That alliance collapsed in 1989. Over the last few years, new alliances have been developed with the millions of supporters of Cuba in Europe, South and North America who are opposed to the death penalty. The abolition of the death penalty in Cuba would be a major breakthrough to these allies and would create a breach in the ring of death around this beautiful, courageous island and its people.

I urge you to break the ring and end the death penalty in Cuba.

VIII. Conclusion

The debate ended with a sense of relief throughout the hall, I believe. A difficult issue was collectively discussed and, though no consensus was reached, it was done in a comradely spirit. It was clear, however, that the Cuban participants in the debate were almost uniformly for the continuation of the death penalty in Cuba. This obvious fact posed some serious questions for us in the ADPP and other abolitionists who support Cuban socialism. We are duty-bound to continue the discussion with our Cuban colleagues and comrades, but how best to do it?


Resignation letter from the ADPP

Dear RPA members,

We are writing to notify you that we are resigning from the Anti-Death Penalty Project (ADPP). We have been coordinating the ADPP since 1995; thus, in order to understand our decision, a little history might be useful.

In 1996 we sponsored an anti-death penalty resolution that was unanimously passed, without any abstentions, by the RPA members attending the RPA's International Conference held in Purdue.

In 1997, with the sponsorship and full support of the RPA, we put forward a second resolution that was voted on and passed by the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association membership condemning the death penalty and asking the President of the United States to set up a commission to investigate the justice system along with the death penalty.

Again, in August 1998, at the 20th World Congress of Philosophy, we put forward, with the help of the Society for the Philosophical Study of Marxism, an even more important resolution which was passed by the International Federation of Philosophical Societies condemning the death penalty worldwide, and asking all governments to immediately stop all executions.

At no point did the RPA raise any objections to any of these resolutions, nor did the RPA pose any conditionality for the abolition of the death penalty in or out of the Unites States.

It was under these conditions that we took the responsibility to give leadership to the ADPP.

In 1999, however, after the Cuban government expanded the number of capital crimes, and promoted the death penalty as a means of crime control, we asked the RPA to sponsor a statement, respectfully addressed to the Cuban Government, protesting these legal changes and calling for the abolition of the death penalty in Cuba. In the summer of 1999, after much controversy, we called for a vote on this matter-- one of the few taken by the whole RPA membership. Forty-eight RPA members voted against sending the protest statement to the Cuban government, while thirty-eight voted in support of this initiative.

After much reflection on this result we realized that we had no alternative but to terminate our work with the ADPP, since we are unconditionally opposed to capital punishment everywhere in the world and could not make exceptions for Cuba. Equally important, it would be impossible for us to continue to call for the abolition of the death penalty in public forums on behalf of the RPA's ADPP in the presence of such an unclear and even contradictory mandate from the RPA membership.

We should add that we take this decision now because we have fulfilled our obligation to take up this matter with our Cuban colleagues, which we have done on the occasion of the 12th Annual Conference of Cuban and North American Philosophers and Social Scientists held in Havana this last June. The decision to raise the issue of the death penalty with our Cuban colleagues was almost unanimously voted for by RPA members at the time of our 1999 referendum. This decision was taken with the intention of gaining a better appreciation concerning the position of Cuban academics on this matter.

In resigning from the ADPP, however, we want to make it clear that we will still honor our commitment to hold a panel on the death penalty at the oncoming APA, Eastern Division Conference in December 2000.

We also want to inform our fellow RPA members that we have completed a report on our presentation to our Cuban colleagues on the question of the death penalty in Cuba, and that this report will soon be available at the RPA web site.

We would like to stress that organizing the ADPP was an extremely rewarding experience for us and, we believe, one that, despite the chronic scarcity of our resources, was very effective in reaching an international audience.

In conclusion, it is with some sadness that we part from the ADPP, since it has been the vehicle through which much good work has been done. We do not own the ADPP, however; we have simply led it for a time. The RPA will have to decide its course.

Sincerely yours,

George Caffentzis

Silvia Federici

Everet Green