Changes in Cuba Leave Root Problem Intact

By Pedro Campos

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, May 7 — “They called on me to march at Revolution Square on May Day in support of the agreements made at the party congress – agreements I know nothing about,” said a dockworker.

April 19 concluded the work of the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). As I finish writing this article, the modifications that were made to the “Guidelines” document still haven’t been published, something that has generated a high level of uncertainty among many Cubans. (They are set to be released on Monday May 9).

Nevertheless, from the televised reviews, news reports and speeches published in the written press, some conclusions can be deduced.

“Socialism” will continue to be the name of the state monopoly capitalist system that we have endured. This is the first problem of the Sixth Congress, which leaves a trail of unanswered questions concerning the future of the Cuban revolutionary process and confirms the gradual de-ideologicalization that this organization has been suffering.

Even Raul Castro seems to be aware that the type of socialism intended by the PCC has not been defined. When referring to the next conference, he said: “It will also be indispensable to rectify errors and to develop, on the basis of rationality and the strength of principles, an integral vision of the future for the sake of preserving and developing socialism…”

Photo: Caridad

The absence of a deep analysis of the determining causes of the failed system has prevented the recognition that the current problems are the result of what they are now attempting to “update,” which is why the underlying evils that official criticism has not tackled persist, though they have in fact assessed and published many works by Cuban and foreign analysts and political scientists.

Consequently, the aspirations, problems, interests, hopes and the effective participation in making decisions on matters that affect workers and the people continue to lag far behind the prioritized needs of the state/party, now with the face, hands and feet of the military.

The emancipation of the working class from wage servitude, the elimination of all types of exploitation, full freedom and respect of all rights that human beings should enjoy (including those who have emigrated), and the electoral reforms necessary for guaranteeing effective, participative and direct democracy were not specifically addressed.

I have no doubts that changes are projected, but as long as these don’t affect the essence of the “statist” system, that in its development could facilitate some air being supplied to remedy the suffocation being experienced by the people and workers, then whatever those changes are, they will be unstoppable.

It’s not clear if they approved the whole cookbook of neoliberal type measures (ranging from pragmatic to voluntarist ones) to improve the government’s financing. Socialism is not developmentalism, balanced finances, a buoyant economy or a strong state; all of those can be the objectives of any state. Socialism is something different, very different; it goes beyond equal opportunity, which is also offered under bourgeois constitutions and laws.

But the speeches reiterated the economic core of the country’s “updating”: the compacting of the bureaucratic apparatus and the readjustment of its expenses and its payroll, as well as a plan for tax collections based on the extension of various forms of work through self-employment, possibly cooperatives and larger enterprises based on foreign investment. They envision various methods: control, discipline, demands and a “correct policy toward cadre” – procedures quite far from the self-management and self-government characteristic of the economics and politics of Marxist socialism.

Photo: Caridad

As clearer examples of what — up to now— are projected “changes” that fail to change the essence of the system, one can observe that the wage-labor form of the workers’ exploitation will continue by the state, without specifying their participation in ownership, management or profits, and state-run companies will continue to be directed by appointees of the centralized bureaucratic state apparatus.

They will also continue insisting on state ownership as the fundamental form of property. A proposal for modifying that concept, made by a delegate to the congress, was rejected in the commission without discussion or it being put to a vote. Self-employment and cooperativism are considered “non-state” forms of production that will aid the general administration of the state, but not as basic general forms of freely associated workers of socialist production.

Confusion persists in the government/party with respect to what characterizes ownership/property.

For Marx(1) what characterizes property/ownership is its form of exploitation. Communists are not against private property in general, but against capitalist property, that which exploits work in the wage-labor form. For the government/party, the socialist character of property/ownership is determined by being either “state-owned” or “non-state-owned.”

According to this concept, the US space program (NASA) would be socialist. The state-run US postal system would also be socialist. The countries of Latin America that nationalized oil, railroads, mines and other branches of the economy would be developing socialist processes. Half of Japan, under state capitalism, would be socialist.

In this way, without attempting to solve the underlying misconceptions and ills, they’re calling for a renovation of the methods of the party and the government, leaving behind the excessive centralization of decisions and the old unnecessary dogma. Instead, they’re concretizing economic decentralization, giving greater autonomy to companies and separating the work of the party from that of the government.

However, party democracy continues to be subordinated to centralization: the candidacies of delegates to the congress and the members of the Central Committee (CC) were proposed from above, and that latter body induced its approval with a single vote for all the candidates; the principal cadre of the party are the same ones in the government; the CC is full of high and med-level government officials; the economic decentralization conceived of is not for strengthening municipal control over production, but that of the central ministries; campesinos will have to continue being subjected to prices determined bureaucratically; planning will continue being conceived of centrally and not democratically while participative budgets and the referendum system were not even mentioned.

Photo: Caridad

The number of members on the Politburo (PB) and the CC were decreased considerably. It was said this decision was made because so many members were unnecessary. But who made the decision? – the plenary of the congress? – the exiting Politburo? In the plenary of the congress, all delegates have the same rights and the previous members of the PB and the CC cease to hold those positions. The delegates are the ones who should propose new members. But did it happen like that?

It was said in the “bases” (communities, workplaces…) that the delegates to the congress should preferably be comrades with some training regarding the economy, because that was the principal objective of this event. This therefore influenced the social and cultural composition of the body, whose membership was never announced.

It is known that some core groups were advised by those who came to direct the meeting so that these core constituencies would propose others since “that comrade knows a lot about politics and history, but they’re not an economist.” It then wound up that those delegates who were convened to discuss economic problems are those who elected the Central Committee, an activity initially not foreseen to take place.

CHANGES BUT IN WHAT DIRECTION?

In parts of the speeches, allusions were made to the participation of workers in the process of “updating” the model, though without specifying the concrete nature of this action. Up to now it’s unquestionable that workers have participated; in first place through their effort, their sacrifice, doing everything that has been requested and even giving their opinions. But there are indispensable definitions and mechanisms that can make real the direct control of the workers over the economy and the politics of the country and its companies.

Brazil and Uruguay have specific ministries devoted to promote cooperativism, for supporting companies self-managed by workers and fostering self-employment through credit and various fiscal policies. In the first years of the Cuban Revolution, INRA (the National Institute of Agrarian Reform) had the Office of Sugar Cane Cooperatives, which provided support to cooperatives in the form of technical and economic resources and managerial consulting.

Today we would need something similar. We have proposed the creation of a National Cooperative Institute, but nothing has been followed up with respect to this. There is no institution in Cuba that has as a concrete objective the promotion of the general production relations of socialism: freely associated ones of the cooperative self-management type. So, what form of socialism are we talking about?

They proposed the application of the socialist formula of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their work,” as they have been announcing since the 13th Congress of the Cuban Workers Confederation (CTC) in 1973, though without concretizing that appeal. They don’t give details on how this will be achieved, nor on what basis it will stimulate work, nor what specific participation the workers will have over the outcome of their work. Meanwhile all decisions will continue being made by the “leading cadre” and the traditional bureaucratic apparatus that establishes wages without linking them to the productive base.

The emphasis on the policy for selecting and training cadre in the style and manner understood by the leadership of the party is one of the fundamental displays of the underestimation of democratic methods for choosing and of its contempt for the inexhaustible potential of anonymous leaders in the core of the work force and the people – where “there are many Camilos.” The only valid cadre policy in socialism is the exercise of free and democratic elections; anything else has been and will continue to be a failure.

I cannot find in any parts of the documents or the speeches an emphasis on the leading role that workers should exercise in the leadership of the economy and politics in any society that proposes to build socialism.

In short, the 6th Congress was an effort headed by Raul Castro and his pragmatic team, issuing from the economic management personnel of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), to endorse the package of measures that they had already approved and had begun to apply, with a view of getting an “up-to-date” version to work following the failure “state socialism” and to guarantee the presence in the leadership bodies of “cadre” capable of “carrying out the task in its theater of operations.”

Photo: Caridad

They can feel self-satisfied. In that meeting (well prepared for reaching their ends), they succeeded in securing the approval of their strategy for the improvement of the economic mechanisms of administration and coercion by the state to increase its revenues — without changing its essence — and while preparing the conditions so that those appointed to be “managers” are the ones who will manage the companies autonomously – not the workers, as it would be the case in socialism. With this they were laying the basis for the future privatizations that some desire, emanating both from the bureaucracy and outside of it.

After the collapse of the “socialist camp,” which demonstrated the invalidity of that “version” of socialism — a word discredited by Stalin, Hitler and many others — and after the disaster experienced in Cuba, to insist on “state socialism” is at least irresponsible.

Whether the measures that they have been taking will end in total disaster, and whether these can be taken advantage of by the forces of imperialism and internal counterrevolution, will depend on the correlation of political forces in the heart of the revolutionary process, beyond the party.

Armies have precise quantities and qualities and troops and weapons, however the power of ideas is measured otherwise. Those who truly want to preserve the revolution and achieve its advance to socialism will have to unite and curb the persistent tendencies of the ultra-conservatives and those in favor of the full restoration of private capitalism.

No. Those of us favor of a more participative and democratic socialism are not satisfied with the way the congress was organized or with its outcomes. The approved program is not ours, although it contains some of our elements.

Even when the discussions centered on economic matters, significant political aspects had to be approached and apparently these were moved forward in relation to the original plans for dealing with them at the Party Conference next year. These included the elections of the highest bodies of party leadership, the recommendation of changes to the electoral system and the assessment of the recent release of prisoners for political reasons.

In relation to this last point, the new first secretary of the PCC said: “With this action we have supported the consolidation of the most valuable legacy in our history and of the revolutionary process: the unity of the nation.”

That is an important reflection that carries with it many implications, but especially the concrete recognition of the maxim by Jose Marti of the homeland being “of all and for the wellbeing of all.” In the immediate future this will have to have other significant consequences so that it doesn’t remain a dead phrase, expressed concretely in the new electoral law, in the pending ratification before the UN of the accords for civil, political, social and economic human rights, in full recognition of freedom of speech and association and in several readjustments to the law of penal prosecution.

Photo: Caridad

I congratulate the unifying intentions present in the new first secretary’s words. But the facts don’t match. The government is getting closer to the Catholic Church and through that movement closer to the opposition. Now appeased by the prisoner releases, this seems to have stimulated a greater exclusion of the left in the party/government, as can be gathered from their latest compulsive and repressive actions against several revolutionary intellectuals, the Cuban Critical Observatory Social Forum and other left settings for discussion. I would not have touched on this issue if it were not for the fact that these actions coincided with the Sixth Congress.

OLD GUARD CLINGING TO POWER

Exclusion, sectarianism, and the lack of ethics and transparency are being practiced in the treatment of differences between revolutionaries and those who think differently. We are seeing the manipulation of sentiments, intolerance and Manichaeism that discredits and slanders, verbal violence and threats of the use of physical violence – all methods that have nothing to do with socialist means and only serve in divisions within the revolutionary camp and between Cubans.

Procedures of “ideological counter intelligence” are being used, though this is an approach that doesn’t make sense since ideologies are combatted with politics – not with the police. Counter intelligence cannot serve in ideological matters; that’s why a party exists. Such Stalinist methods, which were among the causes of the Soviet disaster, are unfortunately continuing to be used in Cuba.

How is it that there’s no relief? It was a long time ago that the Rebel Army ceased being the soul of the revolution because the majority of its barely 2,000 original members — very few in comparison to the millions incorporated in the heart, soul and life of the multiple tasks of the revolutionary process — for logical reasons of age retired and died while another part betrayed the movement or left the country. Today such a focus is sectarian and spreads division, when even Raul himself speaks of the need for unity.

The principal weight of all the revolutionary tasks over these past 52 years fell back onto the shoulders of millions of veterans and workers who, while not in that small group of rebels, were indeed involved in the underground, in the labor movement, or often risked their lives in the performance of dangerous military or internationalist civil missions, or have simply given all their sweat, effort and intelligence in the different battles for production and the well-being of the Cuban people.

At the beginning of the revolutionary process, the disproportionate presence of guerillas fighters in the government and party leadership could be justified. Fifty years later, and after an unprecedented cultural revolution, such a presence of military men and “historicos” is a divisive error that deeply affects the cohesion of the revolutionary forces. Fidel’s non-inclusion in the Central Committee by his own choice should serve as example to other comrades.

The leadership of the party does not need as many soldiers as ideologists, political experts, communist communicators and leaders of workers. The composition of these bodies, coming out of this past congress, is part of the de-ideologicalization suffered by this organization – more determined to preserve the control of a small group of historical figures than to construct a socialist society that would in fact preserve their memories forever.

Photo: Caridad

It would be absurd to try to ignore the important role of these military figures in the armed, defensive and international conflicts of the revolution or to disregard the moral, professional and revolutionary qualities of military cadre who deserve to enjoy all of their deserved personal respect; but to think that military leadership methods and administration are decisive in socialist construction can only have the ignorance of elementary political-economy as its base.

To govern, is not to order, it is consensus building, engaging in politics while keeping in mind the interests of all. The president of the Republic is the president of all Cubans, not only those who are communists or in a single sector. Military sectorialism is even more harmful than political sectarianism, oozes an anti-civic spirit and leads to nothing good.

The history of Cuba is the history of Marti confronted with militarist caudillo rule and with the threat of annexation to the USA. Fidel was a born leader, a caudillo in the best sense in the word. Without him everything changes. He doesn’t have any replacement, said Raul, other than the party.

The Sixth Congress seemed like a good opportunity to correct the serious errors of sectarianism that have always been committed along the revolutionary process by the same historical leadership. Unfortunately one has not seen that willingness in anything beyond talk.

The first article of our constitution reads: “Cuba is a socialist state of workers, independent and sovereign, organized with all and for the wellbeing of all as a unitary and democratic republic for the enjoyment of political freedom, social justice, individual and collective well-being and human solidarity.”

The Cuban government/party should hurry itself in honoring all the contents of that article as a record of its constitutional legitimacy.

The upcoming party conference announced for this January is a conjuncture to advance in that direction and to hold present Raul words: “To keep our feet and our very attentive ears to the ground, to overcome the obstacles that we find and to quickly correct the errors we commit”… and his reminder that… “The principal enemy is our own deficiencies.” So don’t continue looking elsewhere!

The democratic, libertarian and socializing goals that must be reached, and that are contained in our programmatic proposals, are in my opinion the current socialist objectives of this stage of the Cuban revolutionary process, but I don’t see them clearly reflected in the resolutions of the Sixth Congress.

To the degree that the current party proposes these, we will support it.

We know that the historic enemies of the Cuban nation will continue working to achieve the real or virtual annexation of Cuba to the United States. Their attempts can come directly from the pro-imperialistic positions or by default and omission from “feudal or barracks socialism,” which lend to discrediting the socialist ideal and encourage bourgeois restoration when not achieved by imperialism itself.

Today, counterrevolution in Cuba means opposing the process of the socialization and democratization of the political, economic and social life of the Cuban people. Our people, cultured and naturally revolutionary due to the role they have had to play in world history, know what side their force is on, and they also knows where reason rests.

——-

1- K. Marx and F. Engels. The Communist Manifesto.

2- “Cuba necesita un Socialismo Participativo y Democrático. Propuestas programáticas” (Cuba Needs Participative and Democratic Socialism. Programmatic Proposals) Havana, August 16, 2008 and “Propuestas para el avance al socialismo en Cuba” (Proposals for the advance of socialism in Cuba). Havana, January 28, 2011

To contact Pedro Campos write: [email protected]


5 thoughts on “Changes in Cuba Leave Root Problem Intact

  • May 8, 2011 at 3:19 pm
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    In most instances, Pedro, your reasoning is superb. You understand in your flesh and blood that state ownership of productive property does not necessarily make it “socialist.” Your examples are apt. The PCC and its current ideologues however seem not to agree.

    As you say, they think that, if the state owns it, it is socialist; and if the state does not, it is capitalist. This theoretical error is destructive because the PCC wields state power.

    The present PCC concept is absurd on its face. For example, if a small peasant family owns a plot of land and produces abundantly for the needs of the people, they think this is automatically “capitalist property.” But a small farming family in a country where a transformational vanguard party holds state power is not, and cannot be an example of property.

    The peasant in a socialist country is not an exploiter of wage or salary labor, but a member of one of the working classes that make up society. Such a peasant is a hard-working, productive sibling of the industrial worker and the intellectual/professional.

    Even a toddler can understand it. Why then can’t the PCC ideologues?

    The same point regarding the small peasant family applies to the restaurant-owning family and other productive retail shop-owners and trades-persons and repair shop owners. The key here is socialist state power by a dynamic socialist party building a strategic alliance of cooperative worker associates, small business people and intellectuals/professionals.

    In such a socialist society, private property rights and the market would be used adroitly by the leadership party to incentivize productive activity of all sorts, and true democracy would emerge in all spheres. The state might take a percentage of ownership of productive property, or resort to an old-fashion bourgeois tax system for its revenues, but primary ownership of productive would be in the hands of those who do the work.

    Private property and the market were never the problem. The question is in whose hands the private property is held/owned. If productive workers own it, regardless of what they might be called; and if the transformational party holds state power and the capitalists do not, then it is “socialist property.”

    @ far from away

    Well said! Very well said!

  • May 8, 2011 at 7:18 am
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    Pedro there is this old story about a man who places a crab on a table and when he produces a noise he sees the crab move. Later he remove all the crab’s legs and produces noise again and noticed the crab remains in place without moving. From this he concludes that the crab uses the legs as ears!

    The above story is similar to the updating and changes happening in cuba. The root cause of all the economic problems for Cuba is State monopoly capitalism or Statism and the lack of freedom. Living in a totalitarian and dictatorial society asphyxiate any private initiative that could help de individuals and the country.

    It appears that the current leadership has soften some rules to allow for some privatization but clearly not enough to produce a chain reaction on the economy. You can not build an economy with only mom and pop businesses. They are very afraid of realeasing the creativity and ingenuity of Cubans and find themselves out of power by the same process. Therefore that is why the changes go as far as they do. In my opinion they are intended to keep much of the status quo that has kept them all powerful concentrating all the power in a handful of people or maybe just one or two fingers of the hands.

    There is no real commitment to change since from the beginning guidelines where issue as to announce how far and what the intentions of the timonel were so that all the passagers would adjust to the slight turn coming forward. There is no sense of really listening what people have to say. For this to happen Freedom have to be the first word on any agenda of discussion and the realization that a unique party can never rule a country because rightly since it will never be representative of the will of all the people.

    The concept of government been there to listen and solve problems of society as oppose to dictating and commanding from above is foreign to them. They seem to still treat Cubans as soldiers and not equal citizens.

    They do not understand anything. Only what will keep them as it is.

  • May 8, 2011 at 5:28 am
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    We had also state monopolism with high party influence within the larger companies in Austria. It didn´t work because of poltician running the enterprises into bancrupcy. I think with a private sector and not politcal controlled state enterprises, lots of UBPC and other cooperatives it will work. Wasn´t that the update Castro proposed? Private sector for the ones who want to make on their own, state runned for basic needs and cooperatives for important smaller business. Important of course is control and as well trust into the entrepreneurs to behave according to social and environmental standards and pay their taxes. Damn you Cubans are so lucky not to have to fight against the big capitalists running Europe or US and still dont realize this big chance to create a better society step by step. The problem is not the root, it´s the mind and the bullshit foreigners think would be the best. Capitalism is morally, monetary, socially, environmentally bankrupt, show is over. Socialismo ó muerte companeros!

  • May 7, 2011 at 9:45 pm
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    Your last paragraph sums it all up for me. I spent some time in Cuba a few years ago and made friends with a horse carriage driver and his wife. We hired him as a guide and he invited us to his home for dinner. His hospitality and his love for his country and its people was inspiring. He had so little but was thrilled to share it with this couple from Australia.

    He wasn’t permitted to enter our hotel. I guess that’s the thing that sticks in my mind the most. That and the policeman who hitched a ride to investigate a crime because there were no police vehicles available.

    I’ve been watching the news about the changes and your post has put it all together. My prayers are for the Cuban people.

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