Cuba: Property Issues, State Farms and the Lessons Learned

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

Fidel Castro. File photo: cubadebate.cu

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.

Cuban agriculture. Photo: trabajadores.cu

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.


24 thoughts on “Cuba: Property Issues, State Farms and the Lessons Learned

  • January 5, 2015 at 9:32 am
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    John uses both. He claims his definitions of the words “communist”, “socialist” and “democracy” are the only true definitions, because Genuine University Professors agree with him. Call it argument by vicarious authority.

    And as you pointed out, if anybody presents evidence to refute his arguments, he uses the “no true Scotsman” defence, followed by an ad hominem attack on the commentor.

  • January 5, 2015 at 3:03 am
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    “For a self-professed anarchist, you certainly demonstrate an extreme
    intellectual authoritarianism. Your sole argument is based on the
    rhetorical fallacy of argument by authority.”

    Where does John Goodrich use the rhetorical fallacy of appeal TO authority? I haven’t seen that.

    You MIGHT be able to say that his ‘Cuba isn’t socialist/ communist’ argument would be based on the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy, but he hasn’t made reference to any authority.

    i.e. ‘No true Scotsman’ would run from battle. Angus McKraken ran from battle. Therefore, he is not a ‘real’ scotsman.

    ‘Appeal to Authority’. Niel DeGrasse Tyson said that there is nothing to worry about from Genetically Modified foods. Niel DeGrasse Tyson is an Astrophysicist, so he must also know what he is talking about in the unrelated field of biology and genetics.

  • January 3, 2015 at 4:35 am
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    You are an irrational person, John.

    Cuba’s “shortcoming” is that it is a true dictatorship. The US’ shortcoming is that it is an imperfect democracy. No comparison as far as which is morally the most corrupt and contemptable.

    In any case: no anarchist can support a totalitarian system like the Castro regime. Anarchists in Cuba have been repressed for years. Your “anarchism” is a pathetic excuse as far as I am concerned or else you have no concept of what anarchism is.

    May I refer you to what a leading American anarchist Sam Dolgoff wrote on Cuba:
    “The Cuban Revolution
    A Critical Perspective”
    http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bright/dolgoff/cubanrevolution/chapter7.html

    As far as “killing hope” goes: look at the Cubans that risk their lives at sea because the Castro regime is doing just that: killing the hope of the Cuban people. Cubans love their country and only leave it as a last resort.

  • January 2, 2015 at 5:49 pm
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    hahahahahaha!

  • January 2, 2015 at 4:35 pm
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    Another excellent book about the Spanish Civil War (in part) is the brilliant novel by the Cuban author Leonardo Padura, “The Man Who Loved Dogs”. The book tells the life story of Ramón Mercader, the man who murdered Leon Trotsky. He began his career as a Stalinist assassin during the Spanish Civil War.

    Wiki tells more:

    “After almost 20 years in prison, Mercador was released from Mexico City’s Palacio de Lecumberri prison on 6 May 1960 and he moved to Havana, Cuba, where Fidel Castro’s new, revolutionary government welcomed him.

    In 1961, Mercader moved to the Soviet Union and was subsequently presented with the country’s highest decoration, Hero of the Soviet Union, by the head of the KGB Alexander Shelepin. Later, he divided his time between Cuba and the Soviet Union for the rest of his life.

    Ramón Mercader died in Havana in 1978. He is buried under the name “Ramon Ivanovich Lopez” (????? ???????? ?????) in Moscow’s Kuntsevo Cemetery.[17]His name still has a place of honour in the Museum of Security Services in Lubyanka Square, Moscow.[2]”

  • January 2, 2015 at 4:27 pm
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    Mr. Llankanati. Please look at Cubaqus’ replies on this thread: http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=108194

    I quote:
    ” I agree that “utopian communism” has never been implemented anywhere. The Catalan Anarchist Communes in the Spanish civil war are – in my view – the (small scale) initiatives that came closest. They were also destroyed by the Spanish (Stalinist) communist party.”

    An apology to Cubaqus may be in order.

  • January 2, 2015 at 4:26 pm
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    Don’t jump to conclusions. Do you have any evidence upon which to support that assumption?

  • January 2, 2015 at 4:23 pm
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    Sorry, John. If you truly were an anarchist and a “principled democrat” you would be unable to support dictatorships just because the share your dislike of your favorite “hate”: the US.
    I am not buying any of it and I am sure I am not the only one.

  • January 2, 2015 at 4:19 pm
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    The University of Havana teaches that the Cuban system is Marxist, socialist and ruled by the Communist Party of Cuba.

    For a self-professed anarchist, you certainly demonstrate an extreme intellectual authoritarianism. Your sole argument is based on the rhetorical fallacy of argument by authority.

  • January 2, 2015 at 4:09 pm
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    Anarchists should hate the Castro regime and oppose and fight it in any way. I haven’t seen that from you, John.
    So allow me to doubt your sincerity.

    You can assume all you want, but bottom line: I support freedom and human rights. I believe in the unalienable right of people to speak out and participate freely in the decisions on their life.
    Your claim that I support any totalitarian system is a blatant lie and my record shows so.
    that just leaves me with more questions bout your true motives.

  • January 2, 2015 at 2:08 pm
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    Using the same logic he uses to berate male-dominated nuclear families, assuming he wasn’t raised by chimpanzees.

  • January 2, 2015 at 11:58 am
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    Cubaqus ,
    I support any government that openly opposes U.S. imperialism which is the major source of evil in the world today.
    Go read the material at “Killing Hope” and “Rogue State ” websites for all the evidence you’ll have to avoid to deny this.
    Cuba’s shortcomings and crimes come nowhere near the atrociousness of the past 100 years of the American Empire. It is the GOUSA and the people who own and control it who are the ones committing war crimes worldwide and not the Cubans who are under attack for opposing that great evil.
    Read the introduction to “Killing Hope ”
    IF YOU CAN.
    My bet is that you won’t be able to read the 29 or so pages and if you were able to do that you certainly would be unable to contradict anything said there.

  • January 2, 2015 at 11:52 am
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    Please tell me what university or institution of higher learning teaches that Cuba’s ( or the Soviet Union’s or China’s) systems are communist or socialist .
    I am an anarchist, as I have explained many times in the past . As such I am a democrat and oppose all dictatorships and totalitarian forms .
    You support capitalism, religion ( assumed) and the totalitarian form of government called oligarchy that is the result of the sort of rigged electoral system you also support.
    As a principled democrat I oppose all these totalitarian forms you and your kind support unquestionably.
    Again. you can accept the scholastic and intellectual definition of socialism or communism as thinking people will or continue to call the totalitarian forms in use in Cuba and elsewhere communist to suit your purposes .
    To reject what you are unable to intellectually define is the height of ignorance .

  • January 2, 2015 at 11:06 am
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    I am very well informed about the Spanish civil war and know (knew) various people that fought in the “international brigades”.

    If you read my other comments you would have known that whenever I have referred to “utopian communism” being approached I have referred to the anarchist communes in Catalunya. I urge you to read up on them. I would recommend you to read up on the history of the “POUM” (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista) and its opposition to Stalinist communism which led to its downfall. Also read up on the CNT – FAI. Another movement crushed by the Stalinist communist party in Spain.

    The Mexican “Zapatistas” are not democratic. There is a lot of repression in the communities they control.

  • January 2, 2015 at 10:51 am
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    What I don’t get, Moses, is how John can continue to support the continual Castro regime if he claims it is such an aberration of the ideology he supports.

  • January 2, 2015 at 10:50 am
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    No facts contradict what I say, John.
    Again you go off on your usual “escape route” saying that Cuba isn’t “utopian communism”. I will again reply that Cuba is real communism. The only kind that exists in this world and the only one that will ever exist as the theory carries the seeds of its own destruction in it.
    So do me a favor and try to argue reality for a change.
    One question: do you oppose the Castro dictatorship and demand free and fair elections where all opinions can be represented so that Cubans can freely choose their future?

  • January 2, 2015 at 8:50 am
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    Communism and socialism has and has always had a definition. They are fairly specific in that the means of production are owned by the worker.

    Many non-socialist totalitarian regimes call them self democractic as well. Does that mean we are the same? Also “totalitarian regime” also not in any way what communism is described as.

  • January 2, 2015 at 8:45 am
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    It depends on the type of property rights as well. I assume it means property rights in the sense of use-based property. That you have the right decide what to do with it, but not rent it out, or even in the traditional sense, sell it. This gives you the right to participate in a form of demcracy-/consesus-based decisionmaking with the other owners.

  • January 2, 2015 at 12:10 am
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    John, you have created the perfect little circle jerk for yourself. You define socialism/communism in such a way as to be able to declare that it has never existed and all but admit that it never will. This way, any real world attempt at socialism/communism can be rejected and relabeled. Your pseudo-intellectual blather is simply a carnival trick to avoid admitting that SOCIALISM, in the real world, sucks and always will!

  • January 1, 2015 at 8:14 pm
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    You should perhaps study history before you make such baffling claims. Have you heard of the Spanish Civil War and the socialist society which was put in place by the workers and peasants themselves in Catalunya and parts of Aragón? Have you heard of the Zapatista Autonomous Communities? Have you heard of the Free Territory of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War?

    Perhaps I would take people like you more seriously if you did ANY research at all on the subject before making claims.

  • January 1, 2015 at 4:10 pm
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    .You choose to believe what is convenient and refuse to deal with facts that contradict your ill-founded opinion.

    In order to be communist , the first rule is that that system has to be WORKER controlled –from the bottom– and neither the Soviets , Cubans or any other nation had that primary requirement .
    You need to understand that Cuba, the Soviets, Chinese etc were state capitalist . -which is the accurate term for a capitalist country where the profits are confiscated and distributed by an elected official instead of a corporation as it is in private enterprise capitalism.
    Even a cursory examination of Cuba’s economy should reveal this basic fact to any normal person.
    I don’t care what you CHOOSE to call it. Cuba’s system is NOT communist.
    How is it you take the Castro’s word on THIS one thing and on nothing else?
    If Raul or Fidel call it communist , are you saying you believe them ?
    Again, I chose to converse with you here on this subject knowing that you are unable to accept the reality of things because of how much you have vested in your unreal and unlettered beliefs.
    Have a Happy New Year .

  • December 31, 2014 at 8:52 am
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    John, Cuba is communist in the only way communism is practiced. You keep talking about theoretical “utopia” of communism as if it had any real expression. It hasn’t. Any following of communist ideology results in a dictatorial system. That history has shown.
    You should start dealing with reality instead of making excuses.

  • December 31, 2014 at 8:49 am
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    The lesson learned is: the Castro regime has destroyed Cuba’s food production.
    In 1959 Cuba was self sufficient in rice and that with the huge per capita consumption (mainly by the poor). Two years later production had fallen by 50%. The story of the staple food has been repeated in all sectors of food production.

  • December 30, 2014 at 7:59 pm
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    Rogelio,
    That was a fine bit of explaining why Cuba is not and never was socialist .
    Simply put, If the workers do not control the means of production FROM THE BOTTOM UP , the system cannot be considered socialist and certainly not communist.
    That said, the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens, generally disinformed ( deliberately fed lies) as they are, actually believe that Cuba is communist and this goes right up the ladder to the U.S. corporate media whose duty it should be to inform a citizenry in a democracy and not confuse things .
    .
    U.S. citizens also believe and by a huge margin that they live in a democratic society even though the four pillars upon which their society rests are all totalitarian: capitalism, religion, the oligarchic government electoral form and, for the most part, the normally male-dominated nuclear family structure.
    You simply cannot tell the truth to people who have internalized all these lies over a lifetime who believe that patent dictatorships are democratic structures. . Their self-esteem is tied up in being correct in believing the comfortable lies and to them, the truth appears unreal and to be untrue .
    So .. as correct as you have been, you are wasting your time on this lot.
    They do not know what democracy is .
    They do not know that capitalism is totalitarian.
    They have no clue as to what socialism is and is not
    and ..they do not want to know anything that conflicts with the lies they have come to believe .
    Willful ignorance is their way of life .
    You cannot expect them to welcome the truth. .
    They run from it like it is Ebola and in one respect they are correct in doing so;
    it would destroy their present belief system.

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