Changing What & Why in Cuba

By Pedro Campos*

Havana photo by Elio Delgado
Daily life photo by Elio Delgado

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 3 – “The bureaucracy, enemy of hope, discrediter of socialism…  Left up to the bureaucracy, socialist states would be increasingly more statist and increasingly less socialist”. – Eduardo Galeano

“Revolution means changing all that must be changed,” as has been said ad nauseam and in President Raul Castro’s few addresses over the last several months concerning the current domestic situation – though none of Fidel’s “Reflections” address this.   What prevails is a discourse open to needed changes and dialogue, but one which differs from the policies being put into practice.

It’s true that the Cuban government-party is gradually making some changes.

Idle land is being distributed; some prices paid by the government monopoly for crops and distribution for agricultural products have been increased, although almost absolutely at the cost of preventing campesinos from selling their products directly to consumers and at the expense of eliminating the network of cooperative and private retailers.

Approval has been granted for the purchase of cell phones, entry into hotels and Internet access to Cubans with money, all in order to increase State revenue; to allow the State to begin accruing savings.  Subsidies have begun to be eliminated, beginning with those made to intermediate-level boarding schools and workplace cafeterias, while there is talk of eliminating ration books and cutting back on some health care services.

Likewise, a new complex system of payments was also established for workers, difficult to apply, and rejected by the mid-level bureaucracy.  A system for maximizing the exploitation of the labor force is being attempted under traditional wage-labor and productivity principles of capitalism.

The retirement age has been increased to 65 for men and 60 for women; a few slight restrictions have been eliminated on self-employment; and there is talk of gender and cultural diversity -obviating discussions on political and racial diversity- in the search for “unity,” though without expressing or practicing it.

Equally, vertical and compartmentalized discussions are promoted on the problems of our society; many secretaries of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) have been replaced in the provinces, and the Secretariat of the Central Committee was changed; ministries have been merged and streamlined; diverse apparatuses of internal repression have been allocated substantial resources; the armed forces and State Security (MININT) now receive the highest wages, and some wages have been slightly increased in some State companies. The list could be expanded.

But Are Those All the Changes that “Must” Be Made?

Regarding those changes (except for the distribution of land, which would have to be analyzed in terms of what premises it is being carried out, how much it has strengthened or weakened the control of the State, cooperativism, individual campesino production and capitalist wage-labor exploitation in the field) we must ask whether they have modified the essentially centralized, wage-labor-based, statist and non-democratic concept of socialism of the neo-Stalinist mold? – A policy which is primarily responsible for the stagnation of the Cuban Revolution’s socialization process, the same breakdown that caused the disaster of so-called “real socialism.”

Changes are needed; but changes in what, and why?

Changes for greater concentration and centralization of surpluses so that the bureaucratic apparatuses of the State have more means and resources, as well as more control over workers, production and their output?

Changes for more statism or for more socialism?  Changes to accentuate social differences between those who have money in excess and those who receive modest wages as their sole sources of income?  For more workers’ control or for more control “over” workers? Changes to the right or to the left?

Havana photo by Elio Delgado
Daily life photo by Elio Delgado

Remember, the main contradiction of the system based on the exploitation of the wage-laborer resides in production that is increasingly social (more people working) while the appropriation of property and surplus is increasingly private (concentrated in fewer hands).  The solution lies in the socialization of the appropriation of property and surplus, which is supposedly the role of socialism.  But is that what’s happening?

With the purpose of assessing what is objectively happening and seeking definitions and solutions to help us find a way out of the currently complex situation, it is necessary to specify what it means to change concepts, methods and structures.  Concretely, in relation to:

– Wage-labor production relations.

– Almost absolute ownership by the State.

– Centralized, State-directed bureaucratic methods of order and command.

– A centralized form of controlling surplus, which is applied on everything, without leaving possibilities for extended reproduction of companies and without allowing workers to decide for themselves about the distribution of a portion of the profits.

– Centralized and vertically structured planning, which “hands down” previously defined plans to companies and “assigns” specific resources.

– The current impossibility of provinces or municipalities to maintain autonomous budgets, taking control over a portion of the taxes collected in the region.

– The current absence of real mechanisms that provide truly decisive workers participation in concrete management -economic and all other types- of production and service centers.

– Democratic improvement of the socialist political system, electoral system and civic participation.

– The treatment of diversity in general.

Havana Photo by Elio Delgado
Daily life photo by Elio Delgado

Shock Therapy or Socialist Solutions

Clear definitions of these and other aspects, and their consistent application, depends on whether the Cuban State continues to concentrate appropriation and all important decisions and if it continues in the current direction toward “shock therapy” types of policies, exactly like those applied in capitalist states in the face of crisis.  These affecting the poorest and most vulnerable citizens that in turn leads to protests and repression.  Or instead will we advance toward the needed socialist and democratic solution to the current crisis – in Cuba and around the world.

“That solution is impossible while the blockade exists,” according to some comrades, who -assuming this neo-Plattist position- make the advance of socialism in Cuba dependent on the designs of the US empire, serving its politics of attrition and the destruction of the revolution from within.

The policies that are now being applied by the executing apparatus at the grassroots level, those which apparently differ from the discourse of the leadership, do not keep in mind that the bureaucratic apparatus of the State -military-political-technocratic- has been gradually transforming into Frankenstein’s monster.  This with increasingly more interests and with a life of its own while accumulating everything and blocking change.  The monster is also gaining autonomy, even with respect to its own revolutionary leadership and the interests of the workers, campesinos and students.

Nor do these appear consistent with the fact that this “monster” -the devourer of revolutions and revolutionaries- now faces a drastic (albeit silent) response among the majority of workers and people, especially the youth, whose attitudes and yearnings are not understood; instead they are accused of being unproductive, lazy, exploiting the State’s paternalism, unduly appropriating resources from the State, deserting or prostituting, attempting to seek extra-national pathways to subsistence, among other similar allegations.

Likewise, these policies are distanced from and ignore a growing critical consensus that proposes the voluntaristic centralized State turn toward greater socialization and democratization of decision-making of all types, which is being advocated by revolutionary journalists in the official press itself, and by a substantial number of intellectuals and students.

Havana photo by Elio Delgado
Daily life photo by Elio Delgado

The bureaucracy that implements those policies, instead of paying attention to these manifestations, tries to neutralize them through veiled repression -“soft” up to now- in combination with warnings, censorship, control, harassment, administrative sanctions, provocation (in tandem with selective rewards and privilege) along with a discourse that tries to identify the blame for the present situation and place it on those below – people who have never decided anything.

This non-scientific, non-political, non-revolutionary and much less socialist form in which these matters are being handled by the bureaucracy, without true dialogue, are driving to division within the revolutionary camp and to confrontation between the public and the State.

The Imperative of True Dialogue

An outstanding Cuban intellectual revolutionary, Fernando Martinez Heredia, recently said, “We are in the middle of a deaf battle of ideas within the revolution.  Different concepts march along parallel, without debate between them, not because of the ideologies of those who ascribe to them -or to those who contribute without knowing it- or because of epistemologies… (…) The formal declarations that adorn the public discourse that we hear or read about have no weight; they neither add to nor subtract anything from this situation.

That’s why it is so significant that this extraordinary instrument has appeared (referring to a CD with the work of Antonio Gramsci), which if used can be an extremely valuable weapon in intellectual, cultural and ideological combat, which may be postponed but cannot be avoided, and which will be decisive for our future.

The Cuban government has demonstrated its willingness to enter into unconditional talks with the US government on all matters; however, objectively, despite the calls by the historical leadership to debate our problems internally -to which many of us revolutionaries responded in a broad, unconditional, open and constructive form- true dialogue, an exchange of opinions, does not in fact exist within the revolutionary camp over the different concepts of socialism, which have already been expressed with complete clarity.

Likewise, the calls to “work harder” and the actions seeking to “force” people to carry out wage-labor for the State (based on different types of coercive measures: reductions in State assistance, maintaining the cap on self-employment, sanctions and punishment against individual economic activities and legal regulations against vagrancy – measures that generate the “need to work for the State”) will only act to worsen the estrangement and confrontation that I have mentioned.  They fail to analyze the causes for people refusing to work for the State and do not propose a socialist solution.

Discourse that blames the people and workers for the problems implies a philosophy that it’s the people and the workers that must be changed.

I have been pointing out that the gap is expanding between the State and the working people, and that the serious economic and social problems that we are experiencing call for true dialogue that leads us to a change from centralized-State policies to the socialization and democratization of the economy and all of society.

Warnings about that same separation and need were also made appropriately under the old [Soviet] socialism by many revolutionaries who were always ignored.  The outcome: Confrontation between the internal forces of the revolution itself, repression of socialist and democratic tendencies, and the confrontation between the people and the bureaucratic State (which became “statist socialism”) ended in debacle and full capitalist restoration.

The bureaucracy, as a self-acting entity (and I am not referring to those comrades who work in the bureaucracy and have dedicated their lives to the struggle for socialism; those who have never used their positions for personal advantage) in its inability to understand and react against the socialist and democratic solution demanded by the quantitatively worsening economic situation, could induce a qualitative shift towards politics and policies that would have no another option than to use repression against the left and the people themselves in order to maintain control – with all the unforeseeable consequences.

Capitalism created its gravediggers: the workers. Likewise, “State socialism” creates its own: its bureaucracy.

Certainly not Fidel, Raul or any of the other principal leaders of the party-government would want a similar tragic outcome for Cuba.  But, unfortunately, if we do not begin a definitive left turn toward real revolutionary dialogue, the socialization of the economy and the democratization of society, the present course could take us toward greater centralization of appropriation and decision-making, along with the strengthening of the apparatus of internal repression.

* Pedro Campos Santos. Former Cuban diplomat in Mexico and at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. International political analyst. Head researcher of the Center for United States Studies project the University of Havana. He is currently retired. His articles can be read at the following site:

One thought on “Changing What & Why in Cuba

  • An excellent article. Thank you.

    It is important to trace the “statist” system to its theoretic origin. Not to do so would be like a doctor talking only about the horrible symptoms of an illness, but not tracing that illness to its biological cause.

    The statist, bureaucratic system is a monster, to be sure; and it is devouring the Cuban Revolution, to be sure; but, what is its wellspring, its genetic code? Unless this is known, it is impossible for it to be destroyed–before it destroys Cuban socialism.

    As I’ve said many times, its origin is found in the next-to-the-last page of the 2nd chapter of the Communist Manifesto. On this page Engels and Marx say clearly that the victorious proletarian must “centralize all the means of production in the hands of the state.”

    This is the theoretic origin of the bureaucratic, statist system in Cuba. It cannot be denied. Engels and Marx were wrong, and their bogus formula is destroying Cuban socialism.

    Jettison this formula!

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