Cuba’s Salary/Productivity Dilemma

By Pedro Campos

Foto: Caridad
Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — An article published by Cuba’s Granma newspaper on June 11, maintains that several State companies in the province of Las Tunas are paying wages that are well above what the actual, productive performance of its employees would dictate. The article states that the cause of this is to be found in administrative mismanagement.

While the State-Party-Proprietor, the government, the press and central bureaucratic apparatus continue to blame company managers for low production indices, the economic disaster caught sight of in State companies – for which they have only themselves to blame – will also continue.

They don’t understand, don’t want to understand or aren’t interested in understanding that, at root, the problem is to be found in the social relations of production that currently exist between Capital and labor, between the owners of Capital and the owners of labor power, between the owners of the means of production and workers.

In Cuba, this would be the relations that exist between the State, which controls the nation’s capital and its means of production, and the workers it continues to exploit through wage labor.

In the State model economy, companies belong to the State. The State, which controls the means of production, the country’s capital, continues to pay its workers their wages – wages, to be sure, which are ever more an insult to the workers’ dignity.

This concept of “social” property, property owned by the people, stems from Stalinist theories about socialism which have failed everywhere they have been implemented. However, they continue to prevail in Cuba.

The perpetuation of the wage relation between Capital and labor, embodied by State property, is the reason we democratic socialists refer to this system, which calls itself socialist, State monopoly capitalism.

In private enterprise capitalism, the different owners of the means of production directly monitor the productivity of their wage slaves through overseers or through various technical means. They are very interested in maintaining high levels of productivity, as their capital depends on it, and pay their wage laborers for the use of their labor power.

It is in the interests of the owners of private enterprise that their wage laborers be able to reproduce their labor power. Hence the existence of differentiated salaries that guarantee their reproduction, calculated on the basis of the general average wage required for the reproduction of a manual laborer, a technician or a professional in a given society.

Photo: Caridad

To maintain wages as low as possible, capitalists rely on an army of unemployed persons that brings constant pressure to bear on employed workers, as per the law of offer and demand.

In a system where the boss is the State, a kind of imaginary entity made up by a huge number of bureaucrats, managers do not own anything and their positions and salaries do not depend of what is produced by the companies they direct, but on the decisions of the bureaucrats at the top, who appoint them and only demand personal and “political” loyalty to the Party and government – and, in many cases, to the bureaucrats themselves.

Under private enterprise capitalism, workers have compelling reasons to be “productive.” Their wages depend on the quantity and quality of what they produce. They are not the owners of the means of production, but depend on the capitalists to survive.

The Cuban State that became the owner of the means of production, which also relies on the exploitation of wage labor, which did not alter the social relations between Capital (now owned but it) and labor, simply maintained the wage form as a means of payment.

But now, it doesn’t pay salaries in accordance with its use of labor power but on the basis of bureaucratically-determined standards, keeping, not only the surplus value produced by labor, but also everything it deems necessary to maintain its enormous economic, political and military bureaucracy afloat and to cover its social expenses, all of which are the basis of its power.

In addition, managerial bureaucrats aren’t much interested in the productivity of their wage laborers, but, rather, in the perks they secure in exchange for their loyalty to the high bureaucrats who appoint them. Therefore, neither managers nor workers have any compelling reasons to produce efficiently, no matter what bureaucratic slogans proclaim.

This situation cannot and has never been improved by demanding more of workers, increased supervision, replacing inefficient bureaucrats, or appealing to the consciences of managers and workers. All such measures have failed in Cuba for over fifty years, just as they failed in “Real Socialism” in Europe and Asia.

There are only two alternatives: either you:

a) Advance towards private enterprise capitalism, that is, relinquish companies to private domestic or foreign Capital, as China has done and, apparently, Cuba’s current administration intends to do, or…

b) You intensify the revolutionary process towards socialism, as democratic socialists demand, allowing companies to be co-managed or self-managed or to become cooperatives, where the workers, as owners or usufructuaries, manage the companies themselves, elect their representatives and make decisions on management issues and where and how to look for investments and distribute part of the profits equitably.

Foto: Caridad
Foto: Caridad

I will discuss these two options in greater depth in my next article.

Today, it is evident that the Cuban government’s economic policies tend to favor the first alternative, in the midst of a struggle  where “State socialists” continue to cling to the traditional way of doing things, as we see in the abovementioned article published by Granma. The “pragmatic capitalist” innovators of the “restructuring” process are gaining more and more ground and the socialist option is being increasingly marginalized by those in power.

As proponents of a participative and democratic form of socialism, we will continue in our political struggle and will not cease to condemn the course towards private enterprise capitalism set by Cuba’s current government, and in our battle to place real economic and political power in the hands of workers.

We know that defending socialism, in a country where the term has been so thoroughly besmirched, is something of an epic undertaking. But we are also aware that an immense majority has no interest in continuing to be exploited, by neither the State nor by new or old wealthy elites.

We also know that, in order to reach our goals, we require freedom of speech and association, unrestricted Internet access, a parliament and government elected through truly democratic processes, a legally constituted State and, as such, the democratization of political power.

We are absolutely certain of this: without democracy, no form of socialism is possible.
Pedro Campos: pedrocampos[email protected]

2 thoughts on “Cuba’s Salary/Productivity Dilemma

  • You reveal your corrected concept of “socialism,” Pedro, in alternative “b)” above. It is where companies are allowed “to be co-managed or self-managed or to become co-operatives, where the workers, as owners or usufructuraries, manage the companies themselves, elect their representatives and make decisions on management issues and where and how to look for investments, and distribute part of the profits equitably.”

    But I wonder . . . Do you realize, comrade, that if the workers should be “allowed” to “own” their companies cooperatively, this would mean a reintroduction of private productive property rights into the Cuban model?

    Do you realize that this would go against the traditional concept of Marx/Engels/Lenin/Trotsky/Stalin, and others, that socialist property can only be state property?

    If you will look closely at what you see as socialism, Pedro, you will see that you agree with the US cooperative republican movement, that “real” socialism is where private productive property rights are retained and utilized by the leading party for socialist construction.

    But you should also realize that, if workers form cooperatives a usufructories, then the old (Stalinist) idea that only state property can be socialist, is still in force. This would mean a continuation of the state model in Cuba, which appears to you as state monopoly capitalism.

    I know it may be difficult for you to face the fundamental truth inherent in your alternative b). But face it you must, comrade, if you are going to be able to break free of a Utopian-style rejection of the historically-evolved institution of private property rights, and to advance a workable core hypothesis for the further experiment in socialist transformation. Cheers.

  • Wow! While I continue to disagree with Pedro’s claim that his Plan B is the better option for Cuba, I salute his reasoned approach in defending his ideas. I especially agree that without freedom and democracy, nothing will ever succeed in Cuba. I look forward to his next article.

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