21st Century Socialism and Mind-Set Change in Cuba

Vicente Morin Aguado

HAVANA TIMES — On several occasions, Cuban President Raul Castro has stressed the importance of changes in people’s mentality, as an objective of the Communist Party but considered one of the most difficult to achieve.

Among the various statements by President Castro, who is also the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, we can point to these words expressed at the close of the Sixth Party Congress on April 19, 2011:

“In order to succeed, the first thing we need to change in the life of the Party is its mentality, which as a psychological barrier will, in my opinion, be more difficult to overcome for it is tied to many years of repeated dogmas and obsolete criteria.”

That party congress was devoted entirely to the economy in an effort that has been called “updating Cuba’s socialist model,” which means undertaking a reform process that gives more space to the market, expands self-employment and other forms of ownership (including private small, medium-scale and cooperative enterprises) – all without dismantling the broad base of state ownership considered essential for socialism.

If we mention the state as an economic category, the image that comes to mind among most Cubans — especially those men and women now with gray hair — is that of the classical form of socialism that emerged after Lenin led the Bolshevik Revolution.

Therefore, as we delve into the dilemma of “obsolete dogmas and criteria,” we turn to Hugo Chavez, the self-declared disciple of Fidel Castro and a close friend of revolutionary Cuba.

The Venezuelan president speaks constantly of “socialism of the 21st century.” He doesn’t venture into the difficult paths of economic theory, but instead concerns himself with achieving the greatest degree of social justice for his people, together with the greatest amount of solidarity in all spheres.

Socialism with “market mechanisms”

Clearly, the former socialist systems (referred to by many as “real socialism”) failed in Eastern Europe and the USSR. Some disappeared earlier and others later, with the countries that survived that extraordinary social experiment having had to implement reforms that have marked them forever, even in Cuba now, by the introduction of market mechanisms.

This gives the appearance of the return to the capitalist past, though without losing the power of the workers, symbolized by the retention of the single-party state and Marxist-Leninist ideology, each with the particular imprint of the recognized founders in each nation.

In Venezuela, what we might tentatively call “emerging socialism” arose in the new millennium as a part of a variation in reverse: a typically Third World form of capitalism and political system, but with the help of immense oil resources.

The task of Chavez has been to shore up his existing regime, consolidating state ownership and control over the strategic oil industry while at the same time creating new public enterprises and more equalitarian ways of distributing the wealth in the hands of the state.

Where are we going? Where must we go? A certain logic points to a confluence between the Venezuelan effort and the Cuban model. Without losing what has been won, destiny seems to be privatization or cooperativization — with endmost social and public controls, to the degree possible — of most services and in certain areas of production.

Why do I say confluence? Because we want our Venezuelan friends to avoid falling into the absolutism of the government taking over the operations of barbershops, fruit vendors, the owners of small restaurants and many other small and medium sized businesses, which became as poorly managed and un-productive here in Cuba as in other parts of the collapsed socialist system.

A state-centered mindset slowly opening to non-exploitative market elements

The popular feelings and views of Cubans point in the direction of the acceptance of market mechanisms, as was corroborated by tens of thousands of views expressed during the mass discussions prior to the Sixth Party Congress.

These assessments enriched, changed and/or modified the so-called “Guidelines,” as regulations governing the changes in Cuba’s economic system.

Now we can perceive a willingness to see the fulfillment of what was agreed upon based on a thorough knowledge and appreciation of our situation.

This is a great step forward but we are running up against the necessary “change of mentality,” seen in advance as the “grand obstacle” to the long journey in front of us.

A review of the opinions expressed by Granma readers, published every Friday, is tremendously illustrative of the difficult present debate that is taking place in Cuban society.

In these pages, one woman complained about how, when her cell phone was having problems with the keys, she went to a government repair center that proved useless.

Someone in the street then recommended a self-employed worker, who wound up fixing her phone in just seven minutes – and even included a warranty on the work. The woman ended up wondering how the government has the luxury of losing customers, its credibility and income.

What’s interesting is that disgust and disappointment are highlighted by Granma only to reinforce the preconception that the matter should have been taken care of by the central government and not by the independent worker.

Reviewing other points of view, another opinionated reader recalled how decades ago neighborhood Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) would collect salvageable materials voluntarily, without the incentive of money. This person then wondered if such activities are no longer carried out by that grass roots Cuban organization, the only one of its kind in the world.

But what has become equally popular is for individuals — mostly very low-income people — to collect recyclable materials (glass bottles, cardboard, paper, aluminum cans, nonferrous metals and others), which they can sell to establishments set up by the government for that purpose.

Obviously, these newly demonstrated non-exploitative “market mechanisms” (too often identified with capitalism) have proven themselves successful. Therefore the decisions of the CDRs (to stop the volunteer collections) were logical and they simply directed their efforts into other activities or considered different objectives within the area of recyclable materials.

New times require a change in mentality. They demand and necessitate the change of “outdated dogmas and criteria.”

Cooperatives as both de-centralized and market sensitive

Sometimes a reader will unintentionally respond to the concern of another one, showing a real chance of breaking old patterns of thought and action.

This was the case with a complaint concerning automobile repair shops. It is very common for there to be no spare parts “on the shelves.” Nevertheless, mechanics supply them “under the table” and offer them at different prices.

Similarly, if the client wants the work done quickly and efficiently, they have to pay a “mandatory tip,” something like a private rate for the mechanic’s labor.

However, this last case prompted reflection on the part of the reader, who wrote: “This practice of our repair shops operating like private businesses has gone on for years. They use the facilities, resources and the state-owned equipment for their private interests, which makes me wonder: Wouldn’t it be better to convert these shops into cooperative enterprises?

The solution isn’t one of reiterating the “dogma” about the need to increase efficiency (by goading or by magic?) in those same repair shops, which for decades have been unable to meet people’s expectations.

What is required, as the reader logically concluded, would be to “change everything that needs to be changed” (to quote Fidel’s notion of revolution) in all establishments and marketplaces throughout country.

It’s both shameful and alarming how an endless line of production and service facilities, working with government resources and even with their own employees investing their own money to maintain or expand the supply of goods and services, end up splitting the profits and reporting a only a portion of their earnings to the state enterprise under which they operate.

In effect, and in front of the “blindfolded” eyes of those who should prevent these actions, they have turned their establishments into the forerunners of cooperatives, though somewhat distorted by circumstances.

Another frequently repeated practice is to produce more goods using fewer materials, taking what is saved as their own. In one bakery, they make three hundred loaves of bread with the ingredients for making two hundred, consequently reducing the quality of the product. The hundred “extra” loaves are transformed into extra income for those involved.

Currently we’re seeing what is to be expected; the question that remains to be answered is whether the expressed will that has been synthesized into the “Guidelines” is going to be executed and completed by additional steps that are necessary to move toward market sensitive non-exploitive forms of production (independent cooperatives) and away from an inefficient state dominated economy.

Still, a key question remains: Dare we cooperativize bakeries that today are unable to give us even moderately good bread?

A new phase of the grand experiment

Granma (the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba) is now publishing articles that call for a change in mindset, one of which was by journalist Felix Lopez who wrote:

“With all its virtues and defects, the current environment is very different from what it was two years ago – and for the better. The statistics and popular opinion say that 66 percent of Cubans who now operate self-employed business were previously unemployed. Family incomes, in many cases, are beginning to advance favorably.”

A good part of those who have negative opinions concerning the changes towards reduced state domination seem to be forgetting our reality out of their eagerness to live in the past. They are mentally entrenched, perhaps because in most cases they lack the imagination, initiative or resources to become a part of the new forms social-economic operation.

A new phase of this grand experiment has been set into motion, though admittedly short on definitions and continually repeating the slogan “Socialism of the 21st Century.”

What is yet to be seen is whether the changes will lead to a level of production that realizes what the early founders of the socialist ideal had in mind, one repeated in the old Soviet primer The Fundamentals of Political Economy, which proclaimed the essential objective as being “the satisfaction of the ever growing needs of the population.
Vicente Morin Aguado can be contacted at: [email protected]


16 thoughts on “21st Century Socialism and Mind-Set Change in Cuba

  • the european welfare model been working for them??? no better than it has here in the US! we had a Constitution, a nation governed by law, a real and ever growing middle class and best economy in the world. then began the never ending battle with the envious, “unsuccessful”, disgruntled for any reason and feeling slighted whiners, ready to be organized and channeled by opportunistic “leaders” who would free them from capitalistic abuse. now we’re in the same freefall as europe and it’ll go to the streets.

  • I’m sorry but I’ll have to repeat myself:


    “The Guardian article ‘misses’ some information. As an electrical engineer, I find the lack of information offensive to the reader. The ALBA-1 was only a first step. In order for end-users to have the bandwidth it provides, a fiber-optic network needs to be implemented as a backbone through the whole island. Not to mention countless fiber/copper and fiber/cable converters to implement metropolitan networks. Does that exist in Cuba? AP didn’t care to do its homework and said nothing.”


    “I cannot answer for the corruption aspect of the cable installation, well Medardo Diaz Toledo was recently fired. But I’ll repeat: it seems to me that what’s lacking in Cuba is network infrastructure. You can blame the MIC for this, I don’t care. What do pisses me off is people thinking that the simply installation of the cable would ‘magically’ provide broadband access for end-users in Cuba.”

  • The cable link works according to Venezuela, the financier, and Alcatel-Lucent, the contractor. The Cuban Government has full control over the system. If the ordinary Cubans do not have access to it, then the only explanation would be the government does not want to give them access to it.

  • Hubert Gieschen, if the Venezuelan Government and Alcatel Lucent says the cable works, then the Cuban side should work too. This means only one thing. The Cuban Government doesn’t want its people to use it. Word is the system works perfectly fine, but it is meant to be used only by the “approved” ones. The last thing that the Cuban Government wants is to have its people access to information from the outside.

  • While you can’t separate the good and the bad and refuse to see the whole picture, this doesn’t mean you have to fully support or repudiate everything. Think about your own country.

  • Vicente, this is one of the best and most encouraging articles I’ve seen in HT. You are open-minded, patriotic, pro-socialist and constructive in everything you say. Wow! . . . With people like you in the discussion of reform (or “perfection”) of the socialist model, there is no way the old “state monopoly ownership” form can continue its discrediting of socialism.

    One on the things that you Cubans rarely talk about in print is the effect that Cuban “perfections” can have on the US and other monopoly capitalist countries. Basically, by showing the world what “real” socialism can be (i.e., workable socialism), you will be doing more than transforming your own country. You will be taking a giant step in transforming the countries of the world along modern cooperative socialist lines.

    Please keep writing in HT. Very best wishes from me and from the US Cooperative Republic Movement.

  • Booker T., “moses,” Booker T.

  • Why don’t you stop creating something new and follow instead the welfare states of Europe that managed to make it work (e.g., Nordic countries, England, Germany, etc.)? More than fifty years of experimenting your own brand has not worked, has it?

  • I too have spent a great deal of time in Cuba in the last twenty five years.I would think that if you are an American you could spend your time trying to correct the many problems in your own country.

  • I hear holding your breath helps. Seriously, whatever the reason is for the delay in rolling out the faster wide-band internet access out to the Cuban people, it surely can not be good. You know as well as I do that if there had been any way to blame the delay on the “imperial north” we would have already heard it by now. So the reason must be something that would really make the Cuban regime look bad. I can’t imagine… (OK, yes I can).

  • Moses,
    with regards the Venezuelan cable I am still waiting for Her Excellency’s (the Cuban Ambassador’s to the United Kingdom) promise to me to email me why the Venezuelan cable has not improved Internet access when I shook hands with her on 24 May 2012.

  • Kris, relax and take a breath. I lived in Cuba for three years until January of this year. Moreover, while I lived in a comfortable casa particular, I lived as much as possible as a Cuban lives. Because I am african-american and look “Cuban”, I was subjected to the racist identification checks in the streets of Havana as seldom experienced by white foreigners. You are correct, Cuba has come a long way in recent years. From detention camps for gays to a “Kiss-in in front of the Bus Terminal” says a lot. From getting arrested for listening to american music or wearing a US flag on your T-shirt, to Yoani Sanchez. Yet, to no one’s surprise, two days ago, 20 Ladies in White were detained while walking quietly and peacefully on their way to church. I personally witnessed a “repudiation” in Camaguey last November. While paid thugs threw eggs and paint at a house, the police stood by. Kris, for all the progress, Cuba still has a long way to go. The “triumphs” of the revolution, public health, education, and agrarian reform are eroding quickly. An independent press is still a long way off. The Venezuelan internet cable which should have expanded Cuban access to the internet remains a State secret. I wish I could support all the good that Cuba has accomplished through its medical missions and literacy programs and its giving a voice for the poor and underrepresented in the world. But that would mean I would have to support Tarjetas Blancas, repudiations, and the arrest of people on the premise that they MAY commit a crime (yes they do that!). You can’t separate the two faces of Cuba. I prefer to let nature take its course, new leadership must emerge (sooner rather than later) and then we will see what support Cuba deserves.

  • And I see the choice of indignant photo to go with this article… have you not seen barbed wire in other countries, yes everywhere especially around any gov’t buildings, military installations, factories or wealthy residences? I believe that looks like the Corona cigar factory in Playa, Havana? A place where expensive products must be & should be protected from theft? What does that have to do with change? Stop bashing Cuba & start supporting it, because positive change is happening slowly but surely! But then again Miami would have nothing to complain about on a daily basis….

  • In reply to Moses, your glass is certainly half empty? And you know this about Cuba how? You live there or you just critisize it? If you spent a significant amount of time there you would see & know the positive changes all across the country of hard working people who believe in their gov’t and look to the future & are trying to make a positive difference (& of course there are always those who also try to disrupt the positive changes with corruption, drugs, crime, negative critisismas in any country) I prefer to look at the glass half full and aknowledge those who contribute daily in a positive way! In every country you can see the good & bad and certainly I can give you a list of good & bad changes in any country > especially the USA since the Bush’s got hold of it illegally! But they must be doing something right if other latin countries are looking to Cuba for help on how to make their countries safer, cleaner & more progressive with education & medical services for all their people in order lift more of their people out of gross poverty and into a more humane standard of living?

  • Is this article written to convince the people of Cuba it’s time to change, they know it & they are working towards it already, be sure of that! Or for President Obama to acknowledge change in Cuba? Or to support President Raul in his efforts to evolve change? I have been working & living in Cuba for the past decade & I can write pages of change I have seen in Cuba good & bad! But one thing I can say is that the hard working people of Cuba quietly show their positive change through their actions & not words of bla bla bla…. actions speak louder than words & those Cubans & those of us who also support & contribute to help Cuba evolve quietly through positive actions as the days pass know that Cuba is progressing, while many just like to sit around & talk & analyze it to death inside & outside Cuba, many of us who are actually working slowly but surely in many ways to keep Cuba independent but also progressive know that Cuba is working hard to progress positively! And yes social democracy is the new world paradigm & not greedy capitalism!

  • The entire post was written without the single most important and transformative word necessary to improve the Cuban economy…COMPETITION. In every illustration given, when the consumer benefitted, it was due to having an alternative source or compettitor. Absent competition, the Cuban economy will continue to wallow in the muck of inefficiency and corruption.

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