Cuba’s Costly Social Adjustment & Intellectual Irresponsibility

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

Storm clouds. Photo by Isbel Díaz

HAVANA TIMES, Nov. 22 — Like any other political system, Cuba’s always had a band of ideological sycophants at its disposition.  Unlike others, however, the Cuban system has always demanded absolute alignment from its brownnosers, even up to the most formal details, which has made them particularly boring.

Accordingly, we have seen a parade of teachers packaged in the Soviet style in the 70s, enthusiastic supporters of national socialism in the 80s, and more recently they have been the partisans of the Bolivarian union.  Brezhnev, Che Guevara and Chavez have been indistinctly part of the iconography of the ideological activists of a political regime that many decades ago ceased being revolutionary and was never socialist.

Now the task is more complex because it involves ideologically legitimizing the abrupt disassembly of a paternalistic/client system at a very high social cost.  But even in these conditions they do not lack ideological sycophants willing to digress with the line of the party and joyfully applaud this new march of the “Revolution.”

They do not have the smallest scruple to prevent them from proclaiming that the social slaughterhouse constituted by the firing of a more than a million workers and the elimination of basic subsidies is a forward step in the “perfection of socialism.”  They say the people will accept this because they understand the need for change and they believe that no one will be abandoned, although to date no one knows how this is to be achieved.

In summary, they sing of impossible love and sentimental nostalgia.  They are, in short, the boleristas [Spanish bolero singers] of restructuring.

Just a few days ago I found an article with a different tone —optimistic and cheerful— that invites us to enjoy the restructuring.  It’s another focus.  It’s a guaracha [a home-grown Cuban torchlight song] of restructuring.

Its author is a cinema critic whose qualities I can’t discuss (because truly I’m unaware of them).  He has given us an anthological piece titled “The Tragedy of Lay Offs and the Tenderness of Underemployment.”  According to the writer, Rufo Caballero, what he wrote has been a dart against the pessimism of those who are dissatisfied; those who in some place express their “tragic focus,” and in others“tear-jerki ng anecdotes.”  He finally describes this as a sickly habit of “experiencing tragedy as a historical need.”

Consequently, he broaches the subject like the steed of happiness as he speaks of reconciling “instrumentality and emancipation,” of recognizing the great contribution of small-scale ownership in “energizing social life” and from there building a “sovereignty” that would do without verticality.  Everything is, says this guarachero of restructuring, about knowing how to “improvise over a few months” while the cloudburst passes, and finally to “invent the possibility of inventing.”

At this point, the issue deserves some personal positioning.  I believe that reducing the government payroll, ending the myth of full (unproductive) employment and freeing up the productive forces are all indispensable and beneficial actions for the nation’s future.

However, I also believe that to achieve it in the manner the Cuban government is proposing is social cruelty:

1-They are doing it at the worst possible time, in a severely restrained economy, when previously they had other opportunities;

2- They are undertaking this massively, throwing hundreds of thousands of people into the street over a very short timeframe;

3. There are no adequate policies for compensation when people have been working in government jobs for many years;

4-It is being done without creating systems of credits and protection (incubators) for our de-pauperized “entrepreneurs”;

5-It will take place under a political system that doesn’t allow its citizens to be organized or to represent their interests autonomously;

6- Because all this “updating the model” is nothing other than laying the groundwork for an appropriate setting for the accumulation of the emerging technocratic-managerial elite led by the military.

When Rufo Caballero and other sycophants of a similar tone belt out their guarachas of restructuring, they do so while omitting the immense human suffering this will give rise to in economic and psychological terms among a very significant portion of Cuban families who will not be able to start any businesses.

Particularly, such families will have difficulties if they don’t have a car to serve as a taxi, or a good house in a good location to start a restaurant or rent out rooms, or a supportive and well-established relative in Miami who can send them the money to be able to “invent their invention” without dying from hunger in the attempt; or, what’s almost the same thing, a relative working for some good government agency who can reintegrate them.

But Caballero and others omit something else.  To reconcile everything that they say they want to reconcile and free from the “Oedipal dependence on the government,” it is not enough to throw a million and a half people into a social slaughterhouse.  It is necessary to establish a system of public freedoms.  It is necessary to democratize and decentralize the state and government.  It is necessary to establish an appropriate legal system so that the private ownership functions, as well as other conditions that must be established.

I’m sure that a presumably intelligent person like Rufo Caballero knows this.  But he cannot say it, because he would be left without a job and he himself would have to “invent the invention” to survive.  In the end, people like these sycophants are part of the re-composition of the elite who require their “domesticated intellectuals,” as Che Guevara called them in those first days when it was still possible to speak of a revolution.


7 thoughts on “Cuba’s Costly Social Adjustment & Intellectual Irresponsibility

  • November 23, 2010 at 7:00 am
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    Worker-owned cooperatives on the Mondragon-model must be formed by the workers themselves. The socialist political leadership can and should lay the legal groundwork for this, then get out of the way.

    What needs to emerge in Cuba under the reforms is a corps of socialist cooperative entrepreneurs to organize and lead the cooperatives and make the country prosperous. These entrepreneurs should make more for their critical work, but nothing on the scale of the Chinese capitalist entrepreneurs who have been unleashed “over” the workers.

    Entrepreneurs should be respected and brought into the socialist project, but especially as leaders of cooperative enterprise.

    If the reforms bring about a workable, cooperative form of socialism the hardships of reorganization will be well worth it. As the author of this article points out however, the ham-handed manner of the abrupt mass layoffs is questionable and dangerous. Let’s see what happens.

  • November 22, 2010 at 11:14 pm
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    When I say “workers owned enterprises” it should probably be “workers controlled enterprises” as many of their production means will still be state owned, but workers will control the use of these until a large extent, share profits and identify with their enterprise. At least that seems logical to me from what I’ve read about the new model.

  • November 22, 2010 at 11:11 pm
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    Some comments:

    2- They are undertaking this massively, throwing hundreds of thousands of people into the street over a very short timeframe;

    As far as I’ve read, everyone that is being laid off is offered another, “productive” work. And how rapidly change will come is yet to see. Could these announcements not been seen also in the context of the debate on Cuba in the US congress and senate and in the European Union, to try to give the idea of big changes? (Although certainly what has been proposed is a big change, at least in mentality – from state capitalism towards socialism, some people would even call it a step towards communism as passing on control of enterprices to workers and campesinos means decentralizing power).

    4-It is being done without creating systems of credits and protection (incubators) for our de-pauperized “entrepreneurs”;

    According to what was said in Granma when these changes were first announced, this is currently under consideration. If it wasn’t, it would make little sense to mention the idea. Maybe the ALBA Bank will offer these credits as these reforms represent a step towards Latin American 21th Century Socialism.

    6- Because all this “updating the model” is nothing other than laying the groundwork for an appropriate setting for the accumulation of the emerging technocratic-managerial elite led by the military.

    This makes little sense to me. For any elite of the kind that is being described it would be much easier to transfer control over the current state enterprises to themselves, like it was done when the Soviet Union fell, than to regain control over workers owned enterprises. Actually, it has many times been used as an argument in favour of socialization of property, that this way it will become more difficult to return to the “ancien regime”. A good example is the agrarian reform of Velasco in Peru where land was given to cooperatives. Whilst huge state enterprises can be returned to their former owners or given to anyone else with a pen stroke, trying to reprivatize social property can be very difficult. In Peru, after decades of neoliberalism, agrarian poverty may remain high, but the latifundio never got reestablished, although many cooperatives were dissolved when official support for them disappeared…

  • November 22, 2010 at 10:40 pm
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    The lament of a heartsick, ex-revolutionary intellectual. Sad.

  • November 22, 2010 at 10:37 pm
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    On Dilla’s six points: (1) Yes, it should have been done earlier, but three hurricanes in 2008 and a world economic crisis intervened; (2) They are not being thrown out onto the street because +80% of Cuban households own their own homes. They are losing their state jobs, but many will form cooperatives in their workplaces, and some earn more through black market activities. (4) The draft economic resolution for the PCC Congress proposes credit for the private sector. (6) Really? How so? Surely the reassertion of wages, a more decentralised enterprise management model and more tax revenue for local government all point to an undermining of the bureaucratic elements in Cuba’s socialist state. As for the Cuban military, it is “the people in arms” in class content.

  • November 22, 2010 at 10:25 pm
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    Goodness me. Can this be the same Haroldo Dilla who, just a few years ago, wrote critical commentaries as a distinguished Cuba intellectual from a position of support for the Cuban Revolution, a revolution that he now denies the very existence of? Dilla writes: “I believe that reducing the government payroll, ending the myth of full (unproductive) employment and freeing up the productive forces are all indispensable and beneficial actions for the nation’s future.” So, Mr Dilla agrees it needs to be done, he just disagrees with how it’s being done, and how quickly. And: “It will take place under a political system that doesn’t allow its citizens to be organized or to represent their interests autonomously”. Autonomously from what? The capitalist vultures circling in Miami and Washington?

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