Control Cuban Style

Daisy Valera

The Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) concluded a few months ago, but people still have ideas to contribute as well as suggestions and concerns that need to be continually shared, whether such individuals are in line at a bakery or at a bus stop.

The congress was not the balm that healed the economic wounds of the last couple decades. It was more like the same old pill demanding additional effort and sacrifice.

It’s only that now — without subsidized toiletries, with the ration book bidding us farewell, and growing numbers of the unemployed — that pill is going to be more difficult to swallow.

All bets are being placed on private initiatives, once viewed so judgmentally but now accepted as necessary and inevitable.

It’s in this context that the word “control” appears, plaguing conversations and the pages of newspapers.

I then noted that over these past 50 years of what has been called a “socialist” system, we Cubans have adopted various theories about control and how things should be controlled.

The leader’s role

One of the most widespread theories is that a leader (a member of the PCC in the overwhelming majority of cases) plays the fundamental role.

According to a not insignificant number of Cubans (from my point of view), control over workers should be the responsibility of those who manage.

This boss should be the one in charge of demanding punctuality, discipline, the fulfillment of objectives and more.

Conclusions: the job of managers consists of guaranteeing that wage earners work. To achieve this, they receive salaries above those of their employees and they enjoy better working conditions (air conditioning, a car and perhaps even trips abroad).

Sanctions and firings

It’s not unusual to hear that everything in this country would be solved if loafers were sanctioned or fired from their jobs.

It seems that some people have forgotten that transportation is terrible, making it difficult for workers to make it to their jobs on time. Plus, all stores and agro-markets are only open during working hours. Therefore not arriving to work on time or being forced to skip out of necessity turns you into poorly behaving, undisciplined worker – subjecting you to the mercy of your boss.

It also seems that some people have the gall to think that when someone “steals” from their job, they’re not doing it out of necessity or because of their low wages, but to get some cheap thrill or because they romanticize being a thief.

I think that when the workers “steal” from their workplaces, they’re only taking a part of the wage they’re not paid. It’s the only way possible for them to be compensated for their labor, the only commodity that workers possess.

An alternative

Everything indicates that some ideas (Marxists?) on this island have been tossed into the garbage despite the possibility of these being useful in addressing complaints about idlers, ultra-conservatives and bureaucrats.

Some of these could be:

– Workers electing their representatives at each workplace, with the ability for those same workers to revoke those elected at any moment to prevent the monopolizing of power and benefits.
– The rotation of workers in different activities of the workplace to prevent the alienation that is produced by work when it doesn’t include creative processes.
– The design of working plans by the collective instead of these being imposed by higher authorities.
– Control of intellectual and material production by the workers themselves.

We do not have to forever continue on with the methods of control handed down to us by capitalism and perfected under Stalinism. We Cuban workers must become our own bosses and work towards the objective of being less exploited every day.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

Daisy Valera has 208 posts and counting. See all posts by Daisy Valera

16 thoughts on “Control Cuban Style

  • This is hilarious with Goodrich and Grady calling themselves compañeros for a second I thought I was back in Cuba.

    What a horror!

  • Daisy Valera risks being forgotten in all this excellent discussion. Thanks Daisy.

    Thanks too to John and Grady, not for answering all possible questions or even agreeing on everything, but for a substantive examination of some of our options. Don’t see this kind of good discussion often enough on the web.

    I want to add one thought or concern. The human element. Humans built both the bloody empires and the better societies. And yes we might invent dramatically useful technologies to be exploited for good or further evil, but be careful. In the Matrix (movie), the savior was not a progressive, but unfortunately a Christ figure, another “the one” savior. Watch out for saviors, they are usually experienced con-men.

    But John quotes Phil Ochs singing of “morning breaks” and quotes someone on “dawn” breaking! Hope is wonderful and inspires children to imagine and if they are lucky to create wonderful things. But we humans are still mostly products of our past, both socially and biologically, and while Phil while a talented and great human, he was flawed like us all. Sadly, his mental illness was too painful for him to continue. Back then, I was not then the therapist I have been for 30 years, but I knew him from the neighborhood and I quickly learned I couldn’t help him. Wish I could have. I point out his strengths and vulnerabilities because they are really ours also.

    After 76 years of trying to grow up and do what I can to lessen injustices, I am persuaded that we “progressives” of whatever flavor, all too often neglect the human and psychological when trying to change things. Can you imagine if Freud and Marx had collaborated? If they had to work together for some common project? Might have needed some therapy to get past their unconscious barriers, but then education of a better kind might just enable us to become those better men and women a more rational and human society needs. And I don’t just mean in making it work, but especially in the transition period when the opponents of progress use their most deadly ever-ready weapons.

    Thanks everyone.

  • Goodrich
    The achievement of the singularity if at all possible brings to the table consequences we can not foretell.
    It is not just a technological jump.
    Imaging a future where there is a blur between what is natural and what is actually human creation.
    Were we be like Gods.
    The question and this is a big question.

    We humans are no ready for so much power.
    Look at how much damage we have done to earth with the little power we have. Let alone with the singularity happening and all the immediate consequences.

  • Companero,

    Nice discussion.
    Time will tell where the planet will go.
    I hope we achieve the level of societal evolution we need to get to our mutual vision before we destroy ourselves.
    I suspect there will be a much darker night before our new and dazzling dawn but that we are fast approaching that sunrise and we’ll make this world the fine place it could be.

  • John, I’m not offended, but I am not a communist or a Marxist–not any longer. You are welcome to call me a fellow socialist, a transformationary and a companero. I believe sincerely in the post-capitalist, socialist bridge, but cannot predict the point that the institution of private productive property may evolve away. I can predict however that, if any revolutionary society mistakenly implements a statist mode of production, the socialist bridge will collapse and capitalism will re-emerge.

    We believe that classes will diminish during cooperative socialism through a merging process of the proletariat, intelligentsia and small business class. As this merging progresses and the evils inherited from capitalism are abolished, the coercive attributes should atrophy and vanish at some point.

    That far-in-the-future, ideal society, a society in which private property may have evolved away, is a theoretical possibility. It’s not something however that our movement guarantees as part of our program. All we can promise is a workable form of socialism in which the abolition of private productive property is not forced upon society prematurely by the Marx/Engels stipulation of the state owning everything in sight.

    You apparently do not understand the cooperative republic. The market and its mechanisms would work differently under socialist state power than under the present monopoly capitalist regime. If you impute a capitalistic market to a future planned socialist cooperative republic, you’ve made a fundamental error. Mondragon-type, associate-owned corporations would work differently under socialist state power with a constantly evolving, democratic, scientific National Plan, but it’s hard to explain in brief.

    Thanks for the very long response. It’s easier now to see from where you are coming. It’s been a pleasure discussing matters. Hasta la victoria siempre. -Grady

  • About the lighting bolts

    Phil Ochs wrote/sang:

    “Moments of magic will glow in the night
    All fears of the forest are gone
    For then the morning breaks
    They’re cast away by golden drops of dawn
    and changes”

    The 100,000 year night of the race was long and dark but the dawn will be breaking soon.

    Let’s all hang in there.
    Hasta la victoria siempre.

  • Comapanero Grady,

    I believe there needs to be some form of overall control, some body to oversee a national economy that would determine what is needed to be produced. The private market tends to be produce that which is profitable and not necessarily what is needed.
    I use refrigerators as my example: a privately owned refrigerator plant will want to produce as many refrigerators as possible to reap the benefits for ITS owner and workers when they may well produce a surplus that just sits and while they could be working in other areas in which there is societal need .

    So you’d need some sort of group that has not only the welfare of the refrigerator plant to consider but the national needs and labor situation as well.

    Both the privately owned company and that national board would have to be democratically run.

    That said, the Mondragon interim plan is also acceptable and as long as it works toward that communist utopian ideal.

    The problem arises when the old ways of thinking in a selfish (capitalist) manner impose themselves on the new system as problems inevitably arise in the transition or as the statist model ossifies as we have seen.

    Both plans absolutely depend on societal evolution to work.

    The transition must be ongoing in the thinking of the peoples of the entire world. The moral evolution is the essential point. IMO.
    Cuba has a system that could work absent the U.S war on the revolution that has threat of destruction creating a seemingly permanent bureaucracy .Things are rapidly unwinding in the capitalist world and if the corporate media cannot continue to have their lies believed as to the lack of alternatives to capitalism, we will have that moral transition to a socialist (moral) way of thinking.

    Until that point in time, no matter what approach the socialist/communist movements take, they will be under direct attack from the United States/European capitalists or through the present mind control through the media. The success of either a statist approach or the cooperative Mondragon approach that incorporates facets of private ownership largely depends on how many people we can get to agree with our way of thinking and while at present the capitalists run the world, their unfixable problems and the success of the admittedly flawed Cuban model and the Mondragon model will hopefully begin the change in how people regard the alternatives to failing capitalism.

    A revolution in thinking is required. The success of that revolution or any movement depends on achieving a 10% unshakable cadre and I believe we commies may be at 3% or so of the general population.

    We have a ways to go but as said, with the deteriorating living conditions under capitalism especially in the richest of the capitalist countries who control most of the world, things could turn around in a very short time.

    And then there is this:
    Oftentimes totally unexpected events or discoveries come out of nowhere like lightning out of a blue sky, create massive change practically overnight and obviate the necessity for the statist approach or the Mondragon transition.

    I am an avid follower of the Singularity movement which predicts exponential ( and not linear as is the instinctive way of thinking about technological progress) technological growth and huge societal changes in the next few decades. Although it requires reading the book ( The Singularity Is Near) to fully grasp what this entails, suffice to say that what Kurzweil et al have said and are predicting fits in very well with what we communists hope to achieve, hope for our planet.

    An analogy that may well fit the present situation:
    In the 19th century buggy whip manufacturers worried about the supply of cowhides for making their product and someone invents the automobile and those worries are gone and forgotten overnight.

    On a far larger scale and with far greater creations such as workable fusion power which would make fuel and power worries disappear (and this is just one inevitability) the thinking of the world could be changed virtually overnight as well. (Actually 30 years is the Singularity time line)

    Whether you choose to believe in the eventuality of what the Singularity people are predicting or not, IMO the world will evolve, our thinking as a race will evolve and things will work out more or less as WE see them.

    It is illogical to think the planet will remain mired in ignorance and immorality if one believes in evolution and the basic goodness of humanity.

    A belief in the exponential evolution of both AI ( artificial intelligence) and the corresponding human intelligence makes that utopian dream we hold seem to be much more of not only an inevitability but one that is not that far away.

    I expect those bolts from the blue to come sooner than any of us had hoped possible.
    In the meantime we will continue to struggle and do what we can either in a statist mode , a Mondragon mode or whatever works to elevate the race and work towards the ideal.


  • John, in your comments #7 above you say that ownership of the means of production will pass to society as a whole at a certain point. This is a theoretical possibility, and we socialists generally agree that this is the far-in-the-future, classless society we hope and believe eventually will evolve. But this is not what we are talking about program-wise right now, either for Cuba or the US. Right now we are concerned with the core economic principle of that several-generations bridge from capitalism over to that more ideal society.

    You talk around the central question, as though you just can’t get over the concept that the socialist-led state ought to and must be the legal owner of the means of production. You shift the question from ownership to “control.” Why? Why not stay with the question at hand and at least attempt an answer?

    There are two possible programmatic answers to the question: “How shall the means of production be owned for a workable socialist bridge to the far classless society?” One says: “The state shall own everything productive, thereby abolishing private productive property rights and the price-fluctuating trading market, thereby necessitating massive state bureau planning and administration of the economy.”

    The other says: “The state shall silently co-own the means of production with both cooperative, worker-owned corporations on the Mondragon model and small and medium, privately-owned enterprise, especially in the agricultural and the service sectors. Private property rights and the socialist-conditioned and -guided trading market would be preserved and utilized for building of the socialist bridge. Socialist government would get its necessary revenues quarterly, when dividends are distributed, and a tax-based revenue system would be avoided.

    Which do you choose?

  • Companero John, Well, what I have truly is logical and democratic, and I believe you and eventually most other socialists-of-the-coming-period will “go along with” it. Actually, it’s the only real alternative to the statist formula for a society emerging out of a capitalist society. We call for a socialist cooperative republic in the US and other countries, including Cuba. This would be a state–hopefully achieved primarily through democratic persuasion of the people–led by a vanguard party.

    In the US our Cooperative Republic Movement has four cardinal principles: non-violence; legality; openness; and persuasion. History only, rather than militant rhetoric, will determine how state power is achieved.

    In our view there are two main “forms” of socialism, each defined first by its attitude toward ownership of the instruments of production. (This is an economic definition, it is true, but its political and social implications are of enormous importance.) One form stipulates that the socialist state should own all the instruments of production, and this is the form experimented with in many countries. It abolishes private property rights and the market, and it has never produced anything but failure of socialist state power. The second form is the modern cooperative form, as yet theoretical, that retains private property and the market and hopes to build the socialist bridge to a classless society in a natural, democratic, cooperative-entrepreneurial way.

  • Companero Grady,

    Ownership of the means of production ultimately will be by the society as a whole at the point in our societal evolution that we all know our responsibilities and our rights, our individual places in that utopian society.
    It must include an advanced state of worldwide societal evolution and is not possible either in any quick transition from capitalism or while our necessary mental evolution is ongoing.

    It is in the future transitions from capitalism to socialism that many new possibilities will arise having hopefully learned from the failed Soviet and Chinese models and the now struggling Cuban model.
    Since the future transitions will be something new and unprecedented, I think we can expect some difficulties but once the United State/European capitalist thinking has gone and the anti-socialist thinking greatly diminished in favor of the great possibilities of socialism, those difficulties SHOULD be greatly mitigated and the transition, our necessary societal evolution hastened .
    IMO it matters not so much who owns the means of production but who controls it, who determines how the work is apportioned and remunerated, who determines a fair apportioning of the goods and services produced.

    As long as it is logical and truly democratic, I’ll go along with whatever you have.

  • John, I hope you will look at what you have just said and see the real content of it.

    You say, in your second paragraph: “Ownership of the means of production should be by the society as a whole.” What is meant by “society as a whole”? It can only mean “by the socialist state.” Do you see this?

    This is what Marx and Engels stipulated on the next-to-the-last page of the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto (please re-read it). It is the core principle that Marxian socialism has held to for over a century-and-a-half. Is this what you believe?

    Our movement believes that the socialist vanguard party must have state power, but that private property rights must be retained so that workers may be the primary legal owners of the instruments of production, and so that the small business class may be brought into the socialist bridge construction project. This would be true, functional ownership by “society as a whole.”

    As I said previously, both the Utopians and Marx and Engels have believed that society can build the socialist bridge to a future classless society by abolishing the institutions of private property and the market immediately. But historical experience has proved conclusively that this is a guarantee of failure.

    It is also illogical. How can a bridge to the future abolition of private property can be built by forcing this far-in-the-future attribute onto society emerging right out of capitalism?

  • Grady,

    What I didn’t finish is that after some 60 years of getting to understand the benefits of a socialist society the Cuban people MUST be trusted by the party to be able to make correct decisions that would preserve the socialist revolution and not destroy it by returning to capitalism . This top down rule is so clearly non-socialist those in power must see this and move to improve the situation.

    As to PROFITS, that term seems to me to be tied into capitalist concepts. Ownership is secondary to the production of the goods and services needed by the society. How the goods and services produced are distributed is one big difference between and how these goods are produced is another.

    Ownership of the means of production should be by the society as a whole , run in a democratic fashion, the goods distributed as need determines and excess profits plowed back into societal programs as needed.

    Private ownership except for individual craftspeople seems to be antithetical to socialist principles and might retain all or some of the faults we now have under capitalism: arbitrary hiring, firing, pay differentials, bad working conditions.

    Admittedly there is a big educational task to show the people of the world that capitalism is the evil that it is and socialism is the moral force that it can be but that is entirely doable within a generation or two.

    Fidel cut the rents in Cuba by half and instituted the literacy program right off the bat and captured the good will of the masses of Cubans by doing so. Working people in capitalist countries would respond just as the Cubans did with such huge and obvious benefits of a socialist society being given to them.
    Sure it’s a form of bribery but when you have a population that knows nothing but lies about socialism and capitalism this is the way to start . Once you have their hearts , you can educate them as Fidel did in his many many long speeches into the intricacies of a moral society based on socialist principles.
    Once that understanding is universal and socialist principles are also universal , our planet can begin the transition to that Utopia that is communism.

    I guess that it is the transition from that twisted morality of capitalism to the higher philosophy of socialism in which the devil will be in the details.

    Suffice to say that in a democratic socialist state or world in which the United States/Europe are much diminished as capitalism fails ,that transition will not be as difficult as it would now seem with the Empire turning back societal advances with its military might and propaganda machine.

    The Cuban revolution as a work in progress cannot now be either used as a model (except perhaps as a cautionary model) nor should it be overly criticized for its failings.

  • @John Goodrich: Thanks for the response. Sorry you ran out of room and couldn’t finish. It happens.

    You agree (plz call me Grady) that “worker ownership of the means of production is necessary for true socialist democracy.” You then say that “worker control” would be a “first step” toward that ownership. This may be true, but don’t you think it kind of dodges the issue? If the bureaucracy in Cuba would grant workplace democracy while the state still owns a given enterprise, this might be a progressive step forward, but will they ever grant it?

    Let’s say they do. Who then would get any profits from efficient running of the enterprise? The state, which is still the owner? The workers, who would have to deprive the state of its share of profits? I just don’t see how such a system would work. Do you?

    We see socialism as being a multi-generational bridge to a future society in which both classes, the coercive attributes of the state, and private productive property have withered away. But how is property to be owned in order to construct this bridge? Both the Utopians and the Marxists have thought that private property rights can be abolished right out of capitalism, the Utopians in rural communes, the Marxists by state ownership. This has never built a bridge to anything but dysfunction and failure.

    In order for the socialist bridge to be built, the historically evolved institutions of private property rights and the trading market must be retained and used adroitly by socialist state power. This is the only way to draw the critically important small bourgeoisie into the socialist project, and allow the workers to be the primary owners of the major instrument of production. The socialist state could then co-own silently to avoid taxes for revenues.

  • I am in agreement with Mr. Daugherty in thinking that worker ownership of the means of production is necessary for true socialist democracy. As of now the state is both owner and controller of the means of production and a the first step toward reform which would include worker ownership is worker control.
    This would include democratic elections of managers and worker control of the work where worker control makes sense.

    Many decisions will require several layers of decision makers .
    For instance: The government or a committee who would study such things can best determine national requirements and quantities needed for refrigerators. Engineers can best determine how to make them. Craft unions can best determine how the work can be done in an equitable manner and the workers, in the end, must be the ones to have final say on approving the entire program.

    The people at the top do not have the workplace experience to know who could best be putting what components together and the people at the bottom don’t have an overall view of the economy or international problems affecting manufacturing of a given object .
    Each level’s expertise has to be included to make it all work.
    The problem at present is as stated: the top down rule is antithetical to true socialism and cannot stand.
    If the entire reform we all want can be accomplished at a single stroke, fine.
    Otherwise an incremental reform program as I suggested may be the way to go.

    The pity is that reform is needed at all and why the party hasn’t seen that what they have created is a massive corruption of socialism that more and more resembles the mess the Soviets and Chinese have made of good intentions.
    Will such reform permit the introduction of destructive thoughts and patterns pushed by the Empire ?

    My thinking is that if after 60 years of the revolution, the Cuban people do not realize how much better Cuba is than comparable economies in the capitalist world, they’ll never know.


  • Good article, Daisy. I’m surprised however that you continue to conceive of socialism as democratic mechanisms in the workplace, a workplace that is still owned by the state. As long as your critique of the status quo does not go to the root of the problem of bureaucracy and lack of workplace democracy (state ownership), you will remain a complainer in the abstract with no realistic program for achieving a workable form of socialism.

    John Goodrich says that a real socialist state must be run from the “bottom up.” This of course is perfectly true, but he stops short of calling for direct worker ownership of the instruments of production. He says correctly that the world’s view of socialism is created by the example of Cuba. He does not however call for the state to discontinue being the owner of the instruments of production. Both Daisy and John therefore are programmatic statists, although they believe themselves to be otherwise.

    I only wish that Daisy, as least, could go to Mondragon, Spain and see first hand how direct worker cooperative ownership is the true basis of workable socialism. In the Mondragon coops the workers and their elected managers are co-owners, and there is no state-appointed bureaucracy to rule over them.

  • Thank you Daisy for the great article.

    Workplace democracy would be an excellent start to move Cuba towards a real socialist state which must be run from the bottom up to be called socialist.

    I think we on the outside need to hear more from Cubans like you as to what is happening or what will likely happen to any reforms coming out of the recent CCP Congress upon which not just Cubans but we, outside supporters of the Cuban Revolution and socialism/communism have placed our hopes.
    Details of proposed reforms and the hopes and reactions of the Cuban people have been scarce perhaps because not enough time has passed with which to enact changes but we do ned more information.
    Cuba, of necessity, is the country and people upon which the world’s view of socialism is created.
    It needs to be all it can be.

    Thanks to you and all the other writers for havanatimes for providing us with your stories and experiences.

    Your reporting is the best and most realistic view of life in Cuba which neither the corporate U.S press nor the government press in Cuba permits us to see.

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