Cuba Faces High Jump with Obstacles

Lazaro de Jesus

Lord, give us light. Photo by Angel Yu

HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 1 — No one doubts it: The well publicized elimination of some 500,000 state jobs (in a first stage) was an inevitable and thorny decision for the Cuban government.

For its implementation to occur as planned — in a deliberate, gradual and coordinated way — this will depend in good measure on the reduction of its negative effects to the greatest extent possible, which in my opinion are trifling in the face of the potential benefits, though the effort will not be immune to mistakes and misunderstanding.

Underemployment is a burden that has taken its toll on our social system for several years now, and whose solution was continually deferred for numbers of reasons with the consequent worsening of the problem.  It cannot be remedied in one fell swoop, as has already been said.  But to prepare for the run-up to the execution of the jump is no longer an option, but a vital need.

There will be no probability of economic progress (neither national nor individual) until work is compensated for at its true value, productivity grows and a “consciousness of social utility” matures in the productive forces.

Of course our government says that it will not abandon a half million citizens to their own fate.  Those who remain “available” will be able pursue self-employment or work in any of a range of occupations (currently lacking) that will offer countless services that the government has been unable to provide efficiently for a long time across the whole country.

With such a purpose in mind, for several months the government has been studying (and in some cases implementing) legislative, administrative and structural changes that — in the face of the mass government layoffs — minimizes obstacles and clears the path to the development of a still quite incipient non-state sector, notwithstanding the opening in the middle of the 1990s.

The reforms in the tax system will constitute an important part of the central nervous system of this process, whose health will be subject to the rational balance that is achieved between taxpayers and revenue.

Some see Trojan Horse

In the street, the defenders of the old archetype of “real socialism” (state-centric to the extreme), criticize the measures by alleging that the expansion of the private sector will be the Trojan Horse of the Cuban Revolution.  And they’re not completely off base — despite the recognized inefficacy of their model — if we keep in mind the dangers usually posed at the peak of capitalist production relations, as occurred in our embryonic case.  These are inherent to that type of ownership (though not exclusive to it).

Diving off the Malecon seawall. Photo Angel Yu

Or perhaps those who cook, scrub, serve, clean and serve in private paladar restaurants, inns, cafeterias and in houses with rooms for rent are not exploited by the owners of the business, some who are already petty bourgeois?  Ah yes, they’re better paid than many government employed professionals, but that’s something else entirely – or is it the same?  As we Cubans say, “Politeness doesn’t have to be a sign of weakness.”

It doesn’t matter that legally owners of land, buildings or some means of production will not be dominant; the capitalist character (despotic and alienating) of a productive activity determines the ways of exploiting property, organizing work and distributing profits, as various Cuban researchers have explained for several years.

So will this controversial change of course deepen the socialist character of our transitional, imperfect and besieged process?  It would seem that it could.  And that will depend basically on those who give life to that growing non-state sector, which in no way represents the commanding sector, but not inconsiderable either.  However, it will also be the task of the state apparatus to strengthen and promote this radicalization, like never before, through new legal instruments and favorable objective conditions, but without paternalism or excessive controls.

The possibility of cooperatives

Our relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances who will have to redirect their energies toward new work activities, will also have the possibility —according to what’s been announced — to freely associate in cooperatives, to join aims and put into practice new more socialist, more just and more equitable production relations that will mean giving to each what they deserve.

Havana collective taxi. Photo: Angel Yu

How?  These workers will be able to try out cooperative leadership methods in their small productive units, where the laborers (not wage-laborers) will participate democratically in the administration (labor self-management) and in the distribution of profits according to the work realized, obviously after the payment of any taxes due.  The reduced dimensions of these associations usually facilitate experiences in collective management, though it will be necessary to see, when all is said and done, if they will prosper after centuries of technocratic top-down administration.

With the grouping of several workers in such a production framework, a new social productive force could arise: the true “corporations of labor” foreseen by Marx as a “harmonic and vast system of cooperative labor,” conceived for the stage of the transition to socialism.

On the contrary, if in this productive sector there persists the exploitation of wage workers and the monopolization of profits and surplus on the part of a small group that controls the means of production and resources, we will be far from improving our system.

Although the value of work may be recovered and an increase in productivity experienced, the conscious solidarity of service to society — so dear to socialism — will be in danger of extinction given its incompatibility with the selfish, profitable and divisive essence of the capitalist production method – the predator of nature, including its human members.

Will the newly unemployed be prepared for the founding these “co-operative societies” predicted by Marx?  It seems that this is an issue whose “cloth surpasses the capacity of the scissors,” and especially the amount of time available for debate.

In any case, the Cuban people stand before a very high bar, and successfully jumping it is a question of survival (socialist, clearly).  The run-up approach has already begun.  Each step should be measured with supreme caution, though without fear.  Infinite obstacles can be sighted, in front of and behind the jump area; while other points are simply not in sight.  There are spectator friends, many others not.

However one thing is for sure: We will jump.  But…will we fall on our faces or on our feet?  And let us hope that the dawn will not bring screams that fall on our backs.

2 thoughts on “Cuba Faces High Jump with Obstacles

  • PS: It’s just a guess, but I don’t think that even our beloved Fidel has any knowledge of the Gung Ho cooperatives!

  • Lazaro: Thanks for a very interesting, provocative article.

    One thing that has emerged for me in the past HT articles and comments is that no one in Cuba seems to know anything about the rich historical experience of workers around the world experimenting with worker-owned cooperative enterprise structures.

    In response to your question as to “how” Cubans are supposed to come together successfully into cooperatives, may I suggest that you look first as the Mondragon, Spain complex of cooperatives. These provide a virtual economic blueprint for workable socialism–the only thing missing being non-controlling, non-voting state co-ownership in lieu of taxes.

    But you should also look into the amazing experience of the Chinese Indusco (Gung Ho) worker cooperatives, 1938 to 1959. These were instrumental in battling the Japanese invaders and in providing material support of Mao’s forces. Unfortunately, they were changed to communal property communes in 1959 when the Soviet example of full state ownership of everything still looked like the model for successful socialism.

    What could allow working people all over the island the ability to fund worker-owned cooperative ventures is a socialist cooperative stock exchange–what our movement in the US call a CoopSE. This would be founded by the gov’t and make “preferred” (non-voting stocks) available to the public for purchase. Otherwise, it seems, only the gov’t banks could provide the investment funds to the cooperative ventures.

Comments are closed.