Progressive Struggles from Below, A Real Possibility

Dmitri Prieto

Pedro Campos

HAVANA TIMES — The newly authorized Cuban cooperatives might be facing a thousand obstacles and surely have their own defects. Maybe someday I’ll write more on the subject, since the adopted legislation is broad and deserves a detailed study. Relatedly, its practical application has been marked by the usual sluggishness of such changes here on the Island

Nevertheless, I think we should note that the approval of cooperatives is the result of the persistent demands from outside the bureaucratic and governmental spheres.

In particular, I’d like to point to the work of two people: Pedro “Perucho” Campos Santos, from the area of citizen’s activism; and Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, from the academic field.

These are people who have never been alone: “Perucho,” with his radical vision for promoting social “autogestion” (self-management), has been supported by the collective called SPD (Participatory and Democratic Socialism), formed out of debates that began in 2006 concerning the future of Cuba, he’s also associated with the Critical Observatory Network; while Camila is the best known researcher in an entire specialized community of economists, sociologists and anthropologists who are deepening the study of cooperatives in Cuba.

A team of these experts prepared the draft legislation on cooperatives. Although there doesn’t exist a “conspiracy” between activists and academics, we can say that there has been a synergy.

But this still isn’t enough.

Camila Piñero Harneker. foto: Dawn Gable

From the left we’re warned that there is “a risk of the cooperativism among us degenerating into another managerial formula for increasing production, divorced from the desire for justice, freedom and the leadership of the people,” according to the Cuban libertarian socialist critique of Marcelo Liberato Salinas [in Spanish) on Camila’s recent book Cooperativas y socialismo.

That scenario occurred in the USSR, for example, during the perestroika period, when cooperatives turned into the future embryos of capitalist conglomerates of Russian mobsters.

Also missing is due consideration of the possibilities of providing consumer cooperatives (see “The Future of a Monumental Institution”), though this implies a gender bias, because women are the ones in Cuba who are most involved with chores within the home.

There’s no doubt that it will be up to the citizenry to drive and promote new cooperatives, extending their scope and tearing down the paper barriers of poverty. Everything will depend on the creativity and critical capacity of the people.

“Ordinary” people, in a courageous democratic effort, are the only force that can pull out “more country” (as Marti once said) of any initiative, whatever its source. Without courage, without creativity and without the people, the proposals and laws are worth next to nothing. The vector of power must begin from below.

Is there skepticism concerning this? Recent actions vividly demonstrate the effectiveness of mobilization from below in Cuba (i.e. the preventing the closure of the Santa Cruz del Norte hospital, the struggle for Campo Florido to remain a part of the capital, the reforestation of a wooded area that was razed to build housing for military personnel).

It’s official: Communities in Cuba can halt the conspiracies of the bureaucracy through popular action. Cooperative society could be the next step. Period.

See Camila Piñero Harnecker’s response to this article.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov has 254 posts and counting. See all posts by Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

3 thoughts on “Progressive Struggles from Below, A Real Possibility

  • The success of bottom-up changes in Cuba, however benign and insignificant to real change and real progress, should be applauded. Hopefully the day will come when the Castros permit the voices of those who oppose them to simply be heard, let alone foment change. On that day I will be the first to rise in a standing ovation.

  • An excellent article. I have not read Camila’s book “Cooperatives & socialism,” and so my comments may suffer. On the other hand, the idea you express in the last paragraph, Dmitri, that “Cooperative society could be the next step,” requires a response.

    First, as Luis says, clap, clap, clap! But there’s more to it.

    As may be known, I have advocated for several years through the comments section of HT, that Cuba must–if socialist state power is to be maintained and the socialist model is to be “perfected–become a “socialist cooperative republic.” In my mind, this would make of Cuba a socialist cooperative society.

    But such a republic cannot be forthcoming if comrades like Pedro and Camila, and ultimately the PCC comrades, do not correct the state monopoly theory of Marx and Engels, and the whole socialist movement since the late 1800s.

    For example, comrade Pedro has long advocated cooperatives for his homeland, but he seems to think of them as being state owned enterprises, but with the gift of self-management handed to the enterprise workers by the leading party. If this is what both he–and perhaps Camila–believes would transform Cuba, then I would say that he, and she, are mistaken.

    The socialist movement, in my view, must come to understand that privately-owned productive property can be, and would be social, or socialist property, if state power still rests with the working people through their vanguard political party, the PCC.

    That is, socialist state power makes private productive property, whether by individual peasants or restaurateurs, or by workers through cooperative corporate structures, socialist in character.

    In my view, a cooperative society, or republic in Cuba needs private property rights, with all enterprise brought into the socialist National Plan.

  • Clap, clap, clap, guys! 🙂

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