Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno
HAVANA TIMES — Cuban society has experienced the class struggle in a particularly intense manner. In 1961, the government announced it was building socialism. Currently, this same government has undertaken a program of reforms allegedly aimed at updating the system and making socialism “prosperous and sustainable.”
Harsh observers could well point out that, as part of this reform process, the country has rescued policies and mechanisms that existed in the past. At a certain point in time, these mechanisms (such as the market, foreign investment and private enterprises) were banned as elements that were noxious for the new system and the new human being that was being forged.
An even harsher observer could point out that part of Cuba’s intelligentsia has taken to heart the remark made by former President Fidel Castro, to the effect that it is foolish to claim to know how to build socialism.
Other observers have severely criticized the supposedly socialist nature of Cuba’s system. These critics point out that the fact the means of production aren’t legally owned by individuals isn’t enough to affirm a system is socialist. They argue that, if the means of production are managed by a reduced caste of individuals grouped around State apparatuses, if this class behaves with discretion and cannot be questioned or removed by workers, if the fruits of labor are managed in a non-transparent fashion by these same elites and if, as a result of the above, inequalities in terms of quality of life and the socio-political significance of human beings are reproduced, what we have is simply another form of capitalism and exploitation.
Under these conditions, the State enterprise reproduces the alienation of the proletariat just as capitalism does. It is no accident that government politicians and philosophers have wracked their brains for years, and continue to bemoan the fact that the majority of workers do not feel they actually control the means of production. An unwanted result of this is the enthusiastic misappropriation of State resources by anyone in a position to do so, and the complete lack of interest in preventing this shown by other workers.
In the course of decades, the government has launched innumerable campaigns of a moral and political nature. It has conducted all manner of social experiments through administrative, Party and trade union structures…and met with the same, sterile results. I would add that this should come as no surprise to anyone with basic knowledge of the principles of political economy and Marxism.
The case of agriculture is particularly representative of this. Following the Agrarian Reform of 1959, a great many plots of land came under the administration of so-called “State farms.” As the name suggests, these belonged to the State and were rigidly administered by the Ministry of Agriculture bureaucracy.
According to the idealistic conceptions of Fidel Castro, these farms, said to belong “to the entire people,” were the most genuinely socialist enterprises in the world. There, the New Man would be forged, people would work selflessly for the common good, etc., etc. Workers on these farms would report the highest levels of productivity. They would become responsible individuals and strongly feel they controlled the means of production – the lands, machinery, facilities and resources employed in agricultural production. These farms would prosper and supply the country with a wealth of food and other products.
Reality, impertinent as always, would prove Castro wrong. These people’s farms broke all imaginable records in terms of unproductiveness, wastefulness and the misappropriation of supplies. As State subsidies decreased, their plots of land became covered with marabou brush – even before the workers abandoned the farms en masse.
In 1994, the Basic Units for Cooperative Production (UBPC) were created. These were an ill-conceived attempt at offering farm workers a degree of autonomy and sense of ownership. So many bureaucratic restrictions were applied on these that the same disastrous practices of old continued. Suffice it to mention that, in these supposed cooperatives, the president of the collective was imposed on farmers from above. Farmers at base level still were denied the right to decide what to produce, how to do so, who to sell to and who to buy from.
In 2012, a series of measures aimed at strengthening the UBPCs were announced. These were aimed at rectifying the conceptual problems of 1994, offering the farms true autonomy and finally giving workers the sense that they controlled production. It is probably still too soon to properly evaluate the results of this, but we have a number of interesting lessons we can turn to.
A metaphor we could toy with is to consider Cuba’s industries as a series of companies that are very similar to those agricultural units, covered with a variety of urban marabou. The nationalization process undertaken as of 1959 turned them into that oxymoron, companies “of the people” strictly subordinate to the State bureaucracy.
No subsequent measure or experiment has been implemented with enough wisdom and courage to grant worker collectives property rights. In part, such ownership has oscillated between the center and periphery of the command chain, but such oscillations haven’t altered the vertical and authoritarian logic behind everything. The government is even willing to grant foreign capitalists such rights, but it isn’t clear whether it is willing to give Cuban entrepreneurs the same privileges. It never favors the local working class, the only ones capable of building a socialist society.
The nature of the ownership over the means of production is what determines the nature of the social system, as Marx and common sense tell us. Ownership, in turn, depends on the exercise of property rights, not on abstract declarations made by political and administrative superstructures. Now that we are entering a new stage that is full of uncertainty, it would be worthwhile to ask ourselves how these issues are handled.