The Cooperatives We Cubans Want

Daisy Valera

Havana bus. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — Could it be that the Ministry of Transportation has come to the conclusion that the bureaucracy eating away at that agency is preventing it from providing people with decent services? Could it be that timbirichismo (the proliferation of small, privately owned food stands) has only resulted in the theft of supplies [at state workplaces] and the aggravation of the public health situation?

These questions cannot be answered with 100 percent certainty, but life in Havana today is subjecting us to bus stops with overflowing crowds and waits for transportation that last for over an hour.

Added to these are the sea of squalid little stands whose monotonous food selections are surpassed in poor quality only by the customary “rum and cigars” of state-run establishments.

As the situation of transportation and food services is beginning to get worrisome and is approaching what might call an attack of impotence, the government is allowing the use of a certain word that it managed to slip into the reform guidelines: “cooperatives.”

According to the weekly newspaper Trabajadores, cooperatives could start appearing here in the capital city [1]. But we know that the verb tense used to deliver us this news is not too encouraging.

What it does remind us is that the majority of Cuban workers, in order for us to begin forming work associations, will have to wait for a law concerning cooperatives, which seems like a game of hide and seek.

The fact that this form of free association between workers is precisely one of the best for a country that describes itself as socialist makes our current situation almost unbelievable.

Another contradiction is the alarming and unfortunate way in which the officialdom claims to be beginning to address the issue. In the words of economics professor Claudio Alberto Rivera Rodriguez (the president of the Cooperative Society of Cuba) it seems that the shot has been fired to signal the beginning:

“In our nation, there exists an agricultural model that, beyond the subjective and objective problems it presents, has given us good results.” [2]

The issue is this: If we start to create the new legal standard based on the model used in the countryside, cooperatives in the cities will be doomed to failure. Agricultural cooperatives have an inescapable difficulty – they aren’t true cooperatives.

Since the 60’s (with the Credit and Service Cooperatives, or CCS), up until the ‘90s (with the Basic Units of Production, or UBPC), this rural experiment has been suffering from top-down management by higher authorities, difficulties in accessing supplies, fixed wages, sales to the government at prices that don’t make effort worthwhile for cooperative members and the impossibility for receiving donations.

All of this has resulted in a very objectively felt food shortage, increased food imports and fields overrun by the thorny marabou brush weed.

Those of us who defend the cooperative initiative do so taking into account benefits; such as representatives/leaders being appointed by the workers themselves; their position not implying wage privileges; all cooperative members having a voice and a vote, with the decisions being made as a group; wages being related to production; and, finally, the community benefiting from part of the capital being allocated to it.

What position does one take with respect to this threat posed by those who want to repeat the same mistakes? How does one to react to the possibility of any new cooperatives being hogtied by obligations to the government?

There remains no choice but to reject all mechanisms that discourage production and impede the free association of workers without bosses and demand the implementation of a tax law for cooperatives – taking into account their economic role as directly confronting capitalist dynamics.

[1] “Cooperatives Looking to Reach the City” (Las cooperativas buscan llegar a la ciudad) Trabajadores 7/9/2012
[2] “Cooperatives in Cuba Could Be Extended to Transportation, Food Services and Other Services” (Cooperativas en Cuba podrían extenderse a transporte, gastronomía y servicios) Cubadebate 7/9/2012



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.

9 thoughts on “The Cooperatives We Cubans Want

  • Daisy, I support your post 200 percent. The state should only create a tax law according to production and personal income; these will grow depending on the growth in performance of these cooperatives in the areas of production and services. All workers are the owners of the means of production or they rent these from the state, all of them have a share in the profits and the tax payments. Such a system where people do not exploit people is also socialist.

    But of course Daisy, there must be laws or regulations that must not be organizational, managerial, or elective; as these remain for the workers. But there should be legal responsibility, this should rest with those elected of the workers. There must be a contribution to social security since these workers will have retirement, disability, pregnancy leave, etc. There should be a regulation to comply with such as for paid holidays and sick leave, abuse of authority, material responsibility, discipline and disciplinary measures, etc.

    The formation of a union of these workers can be a solution for their protection. The problem is to not leave workers without protection.

    Remember that in a cooperative there has to be more transparency in its accounts, profits, losses, debts or outstanding bills. A group of corrupt and immoral people cannot be allowed to steal or destroy a worker.

    If we want to create a society that is increasingly just, we cannot rush it like you would like, young Daisy.

  • As for agricultural cooperatives, the only thing cooperative about them is their name.

  • How fun! And we could walk around in loincloths.

  • The state exists as an entity that administers wealth which in the name of equality it obtains and then distributes, in the economic sphere. So, it would seem interesting to give some autonomy to the state by virtue of such privileges for the common good.

    We all know the problems of corruption, insolvency due to mismanagement, debts, etc. In short, the state cannot actually guarantee that in the long term, so the citizens will pay taxes and grant it autonomy. This is what is being demonstrated in Europe, the United States and China. Those are the greatest exponents of the betrayal of the social pact.

    Because of this, I for one don’t believe in cooperatives or states or anything to which autonomy must be ceded. The ideal is anarchy, not as a system, not imposed as a law, something like that isn’t anarchy. So this digression by the system sends you back to the individual. In this position, I will discuss my implementation — not the implementation or anything else… since it would not be truly anarchist — what I do is not recognize any state or any law, but to recognize myself as the sole owner of me using absolutely any means deemed appropriate to meet the whims of my will. This is the only fair way possible, everything else is to maintain parasites and be subjects of power.

  • Very good. Cubans are the only animals that trip 100 times over the same stone.

  • Cooperatives and autogestion (self-management) need freedom to operate. This is what the Stalinists of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) have failed to understand; either that or they understand it well and it doesn’t suit them that it works. They may prefer to put up obstacles to co-operatives so that later they’ll go adrift. Then no one is going to say that the Cuban government isn’t socialist, and the failure will discourage anyone from trying it again, so that they can convince the uncomfortable leftists that the left in Cuba doesn’t work. This is how it will happen, anyone attempting a cooperative in Cuba will be ruined by the efforts of the government; they believe they are the only ones with rights. It’s just another trick of the PCC. Greetings from France.

  • Thanks, Lawrence W for your comment. I think you are correct in all that you say. I just wanted to affirm that worker-owned coops do not merely spring out of the air. Whether under capitalism of socialism, someone needs to have a vision, and undertake to bring that vision into reality.

    The concept of the cooperative entrepreneur however is rarely discussed, and this should not be the case. Having such leadership is both a moral and a practical question. There are several hundred worker-owned coops in the San Francisco Bay Area, but almost all have stayed tiny. This apparently is because the cooperators have proceeded solely on moral grounds and insisted on equal distribution of profits.

    I would argue that the cooperative entrepreneur needs to have material incentive in excess of regular coop members, in order to give this “special leadership person” the initiative to do the difficult job of conceptualizing and organizing. This might be come from an addition one-half share of quarterly profits, or by some other mechanism of distribution; but if there is no additional incentive, such coops are destined either not to be organized, in the first place, or not to grow or proliferate broadly, in the second.

  • An interesting discussion, mercifully free of dumbing down capitalist thinking for a change. ‘Grady Ross Daugherty’ asks where are the co-op leaders. Can we not assume they will emerge once the cooperatives being envisioned are in place? Are we surprised at their scarcity in the current situation? Canadians, for example, moan and groan about there being no good political leaders without asking themselves, how can you have good leaders when the system will bury them from the first moment they surface?

    The projected cooperatives for Cuba would indeed be the ‘correction’ GRB writes about. If Cuba succeeds in this historic step toward true socialism, despite the odds, it will represent a stunning renewal and validation of the Revolution. If anyone can pull this off, I feel it will be Cubans!

  • Daisy, the problem that continues to bedevil “real” cooperatives in state socialist Cuba seems to be the theoretical error that came into the socialist movement a century-and-a-half ago.

    At that time–the mid-1800s–the working class socialist movement–which was centered around the concept of direct worker ownership of the instruments of production–was redefined as (1) state monopoly ownership; with (2) immediate, premature abolition of private property and private property rights.

    This immediately split the small bourgeoisie from the proletariat politically, and handed that vitally important, productive class over to the political manipulation of the monopoly bankers and bourgeoisie. And it has poisoned each socialist experiment since 1917, creating massive bureaucracy and economic and social lethargy in every case.

    What is needed in Cuba to make socialism “real,” and to make cooperatives “real,” is correction of the theoretical error that, thus far, has undermined the economic and social dynamism that was expected to exist in society under socialist state power. The first place this correction must occur is in the minds of the Cuban socialist intellectual vanguard.

    The cooperative law that you say correctly is needed would be simple and instantaneous, were it not for that fundamental theoretical error of misunderstanding the nature of private property rights and their absolute necessity for workable socialism.

    On a practical note, in order to have “real” cooperatives in the transport, food service and other urban sectors, you need cooperative entrepreneurial leaders. Without these, cooperative will remain just a great idea. Where are the coop leaders?

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