Cuba is confronting a new situation of mass layoffs. It’s said that this will involve between a half million and one million redundant workers, mainly in administrative institutions and less-profitable companies. Those workers will be urged to change their job functions, becoming construction workers, farmers, teachers or policemen.
Alternatively, they will be able to test their luck in the emerging non-State sector that’s being expanded, since this will include not only trabajo por cuenta propia (self-employment and family businesses), but also true micro-businesses, cooperatives or remaining in their previous jobs but leasing their facilities from the State (as has already occurred with many barbers and beauticians).
What this means is that while the country’s leaders have not stopped trusting in the productive capacity of working Cubans, they do in fact lack confidence in their abilities to fulfill their functions in their current State workplaces (“the property of the entire people,” according to the Cuban Constitution).
While this is justifiable, what is also justifiable —as I have said on other occasions— is that an entirely new sector is opening up where those (ex)workers will enjoy more freedom to produce. However, while this seems to be the solution, it’s only a part of the problem.
The slogan of “freeing the productive forces” has historically been the rallying cry in the war of laissez-faire liberalism.
So does that expression make sense for a left wing position?
In terms of proletarians, Karl Marx spoke of how they were doubly free: in the legal sense and in the sense of not possessing property. When a worker becomes unemployed, one could then say that they’re triply free: legally, as well as in the sense of lacking property, and in the sense of not having a steady job (being a member of the “industrial reserve army”).
For Marx, the existence of a free proletariat in fact facilitated the “freeing of the productive forces” and the great progress that industrial capitalist development represented in Victorian England and in 19th century Europe generally.
But what sense does that phrase have in today’s Cuba? Especially, what could it feel like to have their “productive forces freed” for an employee who for 20 years has been an administrative secretary, a computer operator, a human resources specialist, a technician or an art promoter for amateurs? There are questions and more questions.