Co-ops Get Space in Cuba Party Paper

Pedro Campos 

Photo: Byron Motley

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 13 — Following the speech by President Raul Castro before the National Assembly on August 1, Granma newspaper (the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, or PCC) began publishing a series of incisive articles against the bureaucracy, in support of workers participation in decision-making (even in the allocation of earnings), and in support of cooperativism.

I congratulate the party press for these first articles and hope this is the prelude to a wider dissemination of these ideas in all of the country’s media with a view of making other decisions in the upcoming party conference (set for this January) that will clear the path for the socialization and democratization of economic and political power.

I have always believed that the changes necessary should be carried out without trauma but achieved through dialogue.  Likewise I have felt that revolutionary reserves exist in the core of the party/government that are able to make that shift in the direction demanded by many workers, a good part of the people and the entire democratic left, despite the opposition by a traditional neo-Stalinist sector that is not willing to carry out transformations.  From there comes our traditional critical support, which some in the international left don’t understand.

The participation of workers in ownership, decisions and profit allocation constitutes the hard nucleus of the production relations that will prevail in post-capitalist society.  They have been present in the ideas of socialism since the first utopian notions and subsequently in the theories of Marx, Lenin, Bakunin and many other more recent ones (of whom the list would be too long to include here).

Pre-Revolution Cooperatives

Before the 1959 revolution, there existed a cooperative movement in our country of some significance in public transportation, the medical services (where there were medical care funds and union-based clinics in addition to some labor movement organizations that managed their retirement funds), mutual savings and loans, social clubs, retirement homes and other forms of cooperation.

The Havana Hilton Hotel (today Habana Libre) was built with the money of the Food Service Workers Union of Havana, the one that hired the international Hilton chain to administer and manage the establishment’s international business activities.  Other unions, mutual-aid societies and regional associations built emblematic buildings, theaters, schools, health and socio-cultural centers in Havana.  In other spheres, diverse forms of cooperation also existed among workers.

In Fidel’s futuristic pronouncement “History Will Absolve Me”, laws needed for introduction by the revolution were envisioned, as was the distribution of 30 percent of profits by companies to the workers in addition to the development of agricultural cooperative as part of the land reform program.  In some of the first measures taken at the beginning of the revolutionary process to develop agriculture, the ideas of cooperativism were present.   Cooperatives were also created in fishing, the henequen industry and consumer co-ops and in other areas.

However, the absence of a clear understanding of the meaning of cooperative forms for the emergence and consolidation of socialism, combined with the gradual extension of neo-Stalinists concepts of socialism as state monopoly control over the economy and the market, led to the suppression of the previously existing experiences of the various types of cooperatives and the assumption of excessive authority by the government over the cooperatives it had created.


Nevertheless many revolutionaries (some of anarchist origins), and workers from cooperatives continued defending this socialist form of production and association; however this was always in a prevailing climate that underestimated it and considered cooperative forms only suited for agriculture, which “needed to be very well-controlled” to prevent them from getting out of the hands of the state.

Neo-Stalinist propaganda against socialist self-managed Yugoslavia also played an important role in the rejection of those socialist forms of production.

In the mid-1980s, a small group of social scientists at the Institute of Philosophy of the Academy of Sciences began defending cooperativism and self-management as pillars for socialist economic construction.  Some of those comrades suffered diverse forms of repression and there was no lack of those who were politically crushed.  Since then, though from outside of the Institute, we have collaborated with some of them on these issues.

In one form or another, the matter remained alive among many academics, professionals and workers, though always in a hostile environment.

When the Fourth Congress of the PCC was held, many rank-and-file activists raised the idea of the indispensable need for cooperativism and workers participation in decision-making and profit allocation for the advance towards socialism.  After the fall of the USSR and the “socialist camp,” several comrades continued investigating these issues along different tracks and, within their possibilities, they were able to get their findings to the party leadership, though these were not embraced.

The Agricultural Producers Cooperatives (CPA) and Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS), which developed in 1960-80 period; as well as the Basic Units of Production Cooperatives (UBPC), which arose during the Special Period crisis of the ‘90s, have each always been under state control and tutelage.  Their plans for planting, sales, stockpiling, pricing and wages, and even their leaders in many cases, were all centrally determined.

Unauthorized Cooperatives

The gradual failure of statism generated unsuspected movements within the core of the state economy itself as well as in the informal economy.  In many production and services centers, using resources and other types of property of the state itself, workers began organizing “illegal” production and commercialization systems, many of which included some of the principles of cooperativism (such as collective or usufruct property, the common administration and distribution of profits, etc.).

For the government/party this was “theft” or “embezzlement” of state resources.  Only a scientific and objective focus of those practices themselves could allow the interpretation of those economic movements as new types of production relations that workers self-organized to break the suffocating wage-labor relations imposed bureaucratically by the state.

The productive forces created by the revolutionary process itself, especially the great scientific-human potential generated by the cultural and educational revolution, didn’t fit and don’t fit into the wage-labor bureaucratic state outline of neo-Stalinism.

After Fidel’s speech at the University of Havana in November 2005, some of us decided to leave the international arena to defend cooperativism and self-management, though nationally there was no opportunity offered to publish those ideas given the natural resistance by the bureaucracy to those generically socialists forms of production.

The struggle has been difficult.  Nothing of ours has been published, although we have sent everything to the Central Committee, to Granma, Juventude Rebelde and Trabajadores; we were prevented from simply marching in the May Day parade with a banner reading “Self-management socialists”; we are not invited to any of the economic conferences, attempts were made to prevent our participation in some forums where we could express our opinions, and the Cuban academic and official intellectual world has been directed to ignore us.

In this battle they have tried to discredit us.  We have been accused of being pro-capitalist, agents of imperialism and of all the garbage that has occurred to the neo-Stalinists, who have been controlling the media and trying to prevent our ideas from developing force within the heart of the revolution.  We have shown patience in putting up with insults.  Our active and committed participation in the revolutionary process has — so far — prevented other actions against us.

But nothing discourages us.  To the extent we have been able, we have circulated different writings about cooperativism and self-management along all possible paths.  Nothing has prevented the workers and rank-and-file communists themselves in many production and service centers from proposing to increase their participation in management, administration and profits, while many revolutionary professionals in the social sciences have begun assuming the same or similar positions as ours.

The neo-Stalinist Model Bodes Capitalism

The defenders of the neo-Stalinist model — with their attacks on our positions, their intransigence, their stubbornness and obstinacy — have contributed to strengthening the restorative focuses of capitalism.  They, along with the “Miami Mafia,” are the best promoters of the destruction of the Cuban nation and its eventual real or virtual annexation.

It’s necessary to say with all clarity that comrade Raul Castro has allowed this initial process of the creation of awareness with his calls for discussion and debate, allowing differences and contradictions.  We know that he has inherited the presidency of a country almost in ruins, that his task is arduous and that he faces a formidable and subtle bureaucratic opposition.

But if he wants, as I believe he does, not to fall in the abyss that we are skirting, in addition to listening to the workers he will have to give them a place in all decision-making and especially in the management, administration and part of the profits in each production or service center.  If he doesn’t base himself on the working people, beyond their designated organizations and structures, the crisis could cross the line of no return.

I have previously written that the economic policies of the neo-Stalinists were defeated by practice.  Ideologically, the neo-Stalinists (those who don’t even know how to respond with anything beyond diatribes) have been defeated by the diverse ideas of the new Cuban left based on participative and democratic socialist thought.  Today the task is to defeat neo-Stalinism politically: to neutralize what remains of it in the government/party.  This is the task of all Cubans who love this land.

Aware that the ideas of cooperativism and self-management don’t belong to anyone in particular, we were pleased to see that articles/comments have begun being published in the Granma newspaper, the very own newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.  We congratulate Granma and hope these ideas become the center, though not the sole ones, of the plans of the party and government to consolidate the economy of the Cuban socialist project.

We know that the cooperativism and the self-management cannot go anywhere except against the grain of state monopoly and into the hands of the democratization of the economic and political life of the country.  Therefore we hope that to the degree that these ideas are promoted and disclosed they also begin opening up other democratic horizons for the Cuban people, because without democratization, like without socialization, no socialism is possible.

To contact Pedro Campos write:  [email protected]

One thought on “Co-ops Get Space in Cuba Party Paper

  • This is a stunning piece by comrade Pedro Campos. We should all be grateful for his transformational voice and heart. His article inspires me to add two critical points.

    1) Pedro makes a mistake when he equates neo-Stalinism with capitalism, and called the present Cuban model “state capitalism.” He does not perhaps use the phrase “state capitalism” herein, but it is his well-known characterization. The problem with this characterization is that it is (a) theoretically incorrect, and (b) insulting to the PCC leadership and damaging to his standing as a comrade in their eyes.

    Neo-Stalism is a state monopoly form of socialism, a specific socialist “mode of production” under socialist state power. It is not a peculiar capitalist mode of production. Pedro calls the PCC comrades (Fidel and Raul, et al.) the administrators of state capitalism, insults them incorrectly and unjustly, then is mystified that they do not put their arms around his shoulders or publish his writings.

    2) Pedro does not deal with the fundamental theoretical question of productive property ownership rights during the post-capitalist, socialist bridge stage of revolutionary society. The question is: “Should private productive property rights exist under socialism, allowing therefore direct worker cooperative ownership of enterprise; or should the these rights be abolished by neo-Stalinist state monopoly of everything productive?”

    The correct mode of production would reflect the first possibility, of course. The second would be recognized as a profound theoretical error that has destroyed every revolution that has tried to implement it.

    Private productive property rights cannot and must not be abolished prematurely by a state monopoly core principle for a socialist mode of production. We expect them to be evolved away over several generations, along with classes and the coercive state.

    Pedro should stop insulting the PCC comrades by inferring that they are capitalists. He should use his brilliant theoretical mind to present a correct core principle for a cooperative mode of production, a socialist mode based on retention and utilization of private property rights and the socialist-conditioned market.

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