Cuba, Cooperation and Transformations

By Grady Ross Daugherty

Photo: Samantha Levins

HAVANA TIMES, Dec 28 — Few modern concepts have been more purposely ignored than that of direct cooperative ownership of the instruments of production by working associates.

There are numerous examples of workers advancing successfully to cooperative ownership of enterprise, and this has always brought significant social benefit. Why then has the idea been so pushed aside?

The answer has special relevance for Cuba, and also for the world’s urgently needed advance to post-capitalism.

The development of agriculture and animal husbandry around eight thousand years ago made it possible for laboring individuals to produce excess use-values. Before these technologies, a foe on the battlefield would be killed and left to rot, for there was no incentive to do otherwise.

Given that captives could only produce enough use-values (primarily, food) to keep themselves alive, enslavement was not an option. When food production technologies improved and excess use-values were possible however, defeated foes could be held as a permanent labor force.

As coercive political states evolved, laborers and their families were kept through the generations as private property. Large civil groups came to consist of two major classes: slave-owners and chattel slaves.

The term “chattel,” incidentally, comes from the word “cattle.” The mass of the laboring people were referred to contemptuously as livestock. Additionally, they were counted by the head—i.e., by the “capital.” It was common knowledge that social “capital” was deployable workers, not money or physical plant.

As chattel slavery developed, the great social class division became rationalized through theology and philosophy, and accepted by much of society as normal, moral and good. Thousands of years would pass before a more advanced property system could come into being.

Along with the split of society into rulers and ruled, there developed a frame of mind called classism. Classism is an ideology or mindset of arrogance that ruling classes evolved in order to justify and maintain their parasitical position in society—and of course class society itself.

Classism is an important concept for transformationary socialists. This institutionalized arrogance was a necessary development, due to a certain intrinsic human trait. We had developed as a species in collective, cooperative groups.

It was only through such groups that we were able to survive and develop language, social organization and culture. We left the African continent fifty-thousand years ago and came to people virtually all parts of the globe. Cooperative communalism therefore is an ingrained, genetically-constant part of our nature.

The split of the social group into rulers and ruled however contradicted this basic human instinct. What was needed, in order to make chattel slavery possible and stable, was a mindset that allowed the rulers to think only of themselves as the social group, on the one hand, and those ruled as a separate and inferior social group, on the other. Ruling class arrogance filled the bill, and classism in various manifestations has been with us to the present day.

It should be noted that both racism and sexism are specific embodiments of classism, not merely off-shoots of it. They are fibers of its solid trunk. It follows therefore that humanity can only end the scourges of racism and sexism by advancing to a society without class divisions.

Chattel slave ownership however had an annoying corollary. In order to appropriate the excess use-values of slave labor, the owner had to house, feed, clothe and generally care for those enslaved.

This was a cumbersome affair. It gradually became clear that, if laborers could be set free and allowed to house, feed, clothe and generally care for themselves and their families, the excess use-values produced by their labor could still be gotten hold of through a more dominant form of property ownership.

Photo: Jim Docherty

It came to light that the physical bodies of laborers did not need to be owned. All that was required was to own the instruments of production that these laborers needed to operate. By freeing the physical bodies of laborers, ruling class families could live separately in splendid, self-contained districts, leaving working families in slums to take care of their own needs.

Chattel slavery gave way first to feudal serfdom. In this system the physical bodies of laborers were not owned, but they where legally tied to a certain piece of land. This meant being tied de facto to the land owner. Serf families took care of themselves, and half of their farm produce was handed over to the landlords at harvest time.

Later on, as society developed and technology and trade advanced, laborers were emancipated legally from this bondage to the land. They were now legally free and could go to other parts and find ways of making a living.

As industrial technology replaced handcrafts, this sort of work was often in a capitalist factory or other privately-owned enterprise.

The modern industrial and commercial ruling class could now get hold of the excess use-values produced by the laboring class without having to deal with the problems of working class housing, food, clothing, education, medical care and the many other personal needs of the masses.

Other capitalists at the community, consumption points—landlords, retailers, etc.—could supply these needs for a price, as well as provide a mass social base in alliance with the monopoly capitalists and banks.

By the early 1800s in Europe however a phenomenon arose that threatened to upset this arrangement. The “free” human livestock needed to operate the new factories came up with the shocking idea that they, the working people, ought to come into legal ownership of the social instruments of labor.

Workers and peasants conceived that a new society might emerge in which the instruments of production—whether land or factory, rural or urban—could be owned by those who do the work.

This of course threatened the monopoly ruling class. The question of the day among the bourgeois intelligentsia was how to provide an antidote for this dangerous new ideology—an ideology going by the scary name of socialism.

What was needed in order to defeat socialism and make the modern system of worker ranching more stable was ideological subversion injected into the body politic. The police and army could be counted on to suppress the sporadic uprisings of troublesome workers, but covert suppression by ideological sabotage was the best, long-term solution.

The objective of such subversion would be to destroy the notion that workers could and should come into direct ownership of the modern instruments of production. Cooperative, worker-owned industry therefore had to be ignored, obscured, and ridiculed as capitalistic, suppressed and generally discredited.

At the same time, the rural and urban laboring small bourgeoisie had to be split from the proletarians. This could easily be accomplished by threatening nationalization of their property by any socialist state, and their conversion into propertyless wage employees.

When the original cooperative, working class socialist movement emerged in the 1800s, bourgeois intellectuals were eager to infect it with their own privileged class viewpoint. The institution of private property rights had to be demonized, in order that the workers might not use it for emancipation.

Photo: Byron Motley

Commune builders came forward with socialistic rhetoric and conducted immediate communal property ownership experiment after immediate communal property experiment. All failed in sort order when natural incentives were eliminated along with the elimination of private productive property. Working people ignored such silliness because they did not wish to abolish private property. They wished to take it for themselves.

This instinctive worker resistance to communalistic socialism began to be overcome with the successful penetration in 1848 of the program of state monopoly ownership of the instruments of production in the name of the workers.

This revisionism promised to convert both the capitalists’ factories and the peasants’ plots into state property, making all persons in society the wage and salary employees of the state. This immediately began to split the peasants and urban small bourgeoisie from the industrial and commercial workers, giving them over to the political manipulation of the monopoly bourgeoisie and bankers.

The splitting program was greased through with pseudo-scientific braggadocio, and portrayal of its originators as infallible oracles.

It took several decades for this disguised utopian, immediate communal property ideology to be smuggled into the workers’ and farmers’ socialist movement, but the confidence game ultimately supplanted the original programmatic idea of direct worker-ownership socialism.

As a consequence, socialism as a movement of all the laboring classes allied against the monopolies has been poisoned, sabotaged and held at bay for over a century-and-a-half.

And so, we come close to the answer of our original question.

If the transformationary vanguard can understand workable socialism as direct, cooperative worker-ownership of the instruments of production, in close alliance with the productive, patriotic small bourgeoisie and intelligentsia, wage and salary labor can be done away with in short order. Capitalist regimes all over the world can be discarded.

Classes could then diminish and disappear naturally by general economic elevation and a cultural merging process based on democratic ownership of private property.

The ideological defenders of pseudo-socialist, ruling class ideology within the socialist Left however—consciously or unconsciously—have resisted any such corrected understanding of socialism. But the sun is setting on world monopoly capitalism, and on state monopoly socialism.

Real, workable socialism as a worldwide system is easily within the grasp of humanity. There is only one major impediment: the domination of the political vanguard by state monopoly ownership ideology, and the thought-deadening cult of personality built around its originators.

State monopoly socialism has been discredited over nine decades as economically unworkable and politically unsustainable. It has only remained in place because its ideology has the character of a quasi-religion, a bureaucratic dogma of sectarian true believers.

What is needed in embattled Cuba is ideological rectification. State monopoly socialist ideology should and must be discarded, if the original Cuban Revolution is to be saved.

The Cuban vanguard will wish to redefine what is meant by socialism. Real socialism is a democratic cooperative republic in which the institution of private productive property is valued for its transformationary potential, and is legally re-established.

Production would be guided by a democratic and scientific national plan, and market forces would be utilized and conditioned by the socialist state. The vanguard-led state would co-own the significant means of production partially and silently, and get its revenues quarterly as dividends from an invigorated economy. Primary enterprise ownership and management however would be with those who do the work.

If rebel Cuba can rectify its ideology and make these changes, not only might her economy prosper and her society self-correct, but she would be a model and an inspiration unto all the nations of the world.

Not only might the people of the United States advance to a similar cooperative republic, but a world network of such republics might rapidly evolve. Broken, embattled Cuba therefore holds the golden key to world social transformation, world disarmament and the ecological salvation of human kind.

4 thoughts on “Cuba, Cooperation and Transformations

  • George Ramirez’ comments are pure personal attack, with not a single attempt at comradely discussion. He honors me however by comparing me to “a certain bearded guy.” Thanks, George. You just made my day.

    The idea is put forward in my article is that modern cooperative, state co-ownership socialism is a workable form based on democratic private property ownership. This idea, which would replace the old Marxian principle of full state ownership of everything productive, is well worth discussing. But George engages in haughty personal attacks and says not one reasonable thing.

  • Even if Ross’ ideas are right (which is debatable), his mean-spirited attacks on people who differ from him makes him the worst kind of sectarian. According to another post he knows more about socialism than Noam Chomsky (!) and in this one he is a Vanguard of the revolution. No wonder he’s never actually brought about any kind of social transformation. You can’t be in favor of democratic socialism if you don’t believe in dialogue and democracy. You can’t favor cooperatives if you can’t cooperate with others. He has the whole truth and everyone else can shut up and applaud.. sounds like a certain bearded guy (and I don’t mean Marx… this barbudo wears fatigues and/or adidas tracksuits.) Someone who is doing much to advance a cooperative future from an intellectual perspective is Gar Alperovitz who wrote America after Capitalism and a recent New York Times editorial ‘Worker-Owners of America, Unite.” Alperovitz may be an armchair revolutionary just like Grady but at least Alperovitz starts from the actual lived experiences of people, social movements and new business forms and doesn’t dictate truth from “first principles” or the origin of mankind like this conceited buffoon. You know how they used to tell us lefties in the old days “Go live in Russia/Cuba/China!”— I am tempted to tell Ross “Go to Mondragon!” or maybe “Yankee go home!” after reading all of his moronic posts on this site. (Interestingly enough, the whole Mondragon apparatus has been exposed by numerous investigative reports and academic studies as a capitalist den of filth that we all know that private businesses become–not because human nature is evil but simply by following the dictates of “the market”- we’d need to have another revolution to overthrow a Mondragonist government with Ross as the dictator!)

  • @ Nelson P Valdes: It is important that the Left vanguard engage in a serious discussion as to the strategic, maximum program of transformation that we need to offer the people, in order to raise their socialist consciousness and prepare them for the pursuit of political and social transformation. Snide personal attacks serve only to block this important discussion.

    The fundamental programmatic questions are: 1) Should all the instruments of production should be owned by socialist government, thereby abolishing private property rights and the trading market, and substituting massive bureaucracy to plan and administer the economy, per Marxism?

    or, 2) Should the most significant instruments of production be owned primarily by cooperative worker-associates on the Mondragon model, thereby retaining private property rights and the conditioned trading market, per the non-Marxist concept of a socialist cooperative republic?

    Our miniscule movement–that doesn’t as yet even have a decent and functional website–says “No” to the first question and “Yes” to the second. We believe our answer is the only way to win the people and weld together the three class alliance needed both to achieve state power and to run socialism afterwards.

    We invite all serious socialists to confront these questions with an open mind and see where they stand.

  • Since the author seems to know so well what needs to be done world-wide, a question: what has he done about it in the country where he resides? His web page does not show much as far as actual working institutions. Seemingly he engages in self publishing.

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