Debate Must Address Bigger Problems

By Pedro Campos*

Holguin, Cuba.  Photo by Caridad
Holguin, Cuba. Photo by Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 20 – Don’t those organizing this process realize they may be sabotaging the debate requested by the president concerning Cuba’s model of socialism – along with damaging his credibility, the Party’s, and their methods?

Activists of the Communist Party, as well as those of political and mass organizations, were prompted to begin to discuss President Raul Castro’s latest speeches in which he said the people will decide the model of socialism to follow.

Yet contrary to this, “instructors” (elected by no one) gave directives to the rank and file indicating that these discussions had to revolve around solving the problems of each workplace or community -people’s specific environments- “to sweep up from within.”

The instructions stated, “We are discussing how to solve the problems we confront in our radius of action; that’s to say, our workplaces and neighborhoods; this debate is not to discuss problems that go beyond each of these places.”

This discussion is the reapplication of the same old worn-out voluntaristic method of facing problems, as if these are locked in airtight compartments with absolutely no relation between them and their general setting; as if there is no interrelation between all of society’s problems and as if some solutions don’t depend on other ones.

This is a formula that inevitably leads to blaming the problems on those “below” (the workers) for their “indiscipline and failure to be more demanding.”  This ends up with workers pointing at other workers, when what should be sought is consensus and cooperation between all.

Many other things should be clarified and questioned about this “discussion process,” from the form and timing of its being called, the definition of its objectives, the absence of information in the press concerning it, the lack of a mechanism for the horizontal dissemination and circulation of its propositions, the nonexistence of information on alternative solutions and others around which true debate might emerge.

But let’s look at an aspect of the first magnitude of order:

Street scene from Holguin, Cuba.  Photo: Caridad
Street scene from Holguin, Cuba. Photo: Caridad

Lenin once said that without solving general problems, it is impossible to solve particular ones. So how do you solve problems in a specific place when their solution depends on policies that are pre-designed by the general philosophy of a political-economic and social model of a country of a neo-Stalinist mold, which has already demonstrated its failings here and abroad?

Every Marxists also knows that at the center of all problems of a society are the production relations (the form in which work is organized; as well as property ownership, exchange, distribution and consumption relations).  This is the economic base on which is formed the super structure (the institutions and the forms of individual thought and action). The logic is that once having addressed the general problems of the system that affects all workers and residents, efforts could then be made to address each particular problem -now with capacity to make decisions in situ- applying new collective ways of doing things. 

In instances when there have in fact appeared some solutions that seem permanent (like milk for children in some municipalities of the country), these have been precisely due to having broken with the general scheme of the centralized bureaucratic system.

How is it that the Communist Party is analyzing individual parts in isolation from the whole: assessing local problems without relating them to the general socio-economic system?

Don’t those who are orchestrating this “micro-confined process” realize that they could be sabotaging the general debate requested by President Raul Castro concerning Cuba’s economic model, as well as damaging the second secretary’s credibility, that of their own party and its method of “popular consultation”?

What can you ask of a cooperative worker, a campesino or a farmer -who has produced tons of fruit or vegetables, and who guarantees food for the people- if a bureaucratic State apparatus, distant from production and the needs of the consumers, is the only entity in charge of “organizing” the harvesting, transportation and distribution of that produce?

How can the residents of an apartment building resolve capital repair problems if the only mechanism that allows for this is the municipal budget, which is never decided upon locally?

How can you request a group of high school teachers to organize the maintenance of their facility if they don’t have any resources to do so, since these are centrally allocated by the Ministry of Education or the government?

How can you expect a crew of workers to replace a supervisor who is hampering the operation of a company if such a decision is the sole prerogative of some entity further up the hierarchy?

How can you demand workers in a store selling high-demand home products not to run out of detergent, soap or cooking oil when everyone knows that this depends solely on the State to supply them?

How can you ask workers in a shoe factory to increase production when the supply of raw materials is centralized and in no way depends on the company’s workforce?

How can you expect vegetable markets to provide fresh and varied products at low prices when the centralized apparatus of collection, transportation and distribution lets hundreds and thousands of tons of agricultural produce spoil along the way, with the food finally ending up as “liquid feed” for pigs?

How can you ask workers to have a “sense of ownership,” to fulfill plans with discipline, to make sacrifices and appropriately employ public resources when the State is the true owner of the means of production?

It is the State that decides who managers each workplace, what it makes and how it makes it, from whom the raw materials are bought and to whom the end product is sold, at what price the inputs are bought and at what price the products are sold, and what wages must be paid to the workers – be they manual workers or intellectuals, cane cutters, streets cleaners or those who operate on brains?

Cuba has a big problem; it’s the principal problem on which all the others depend.  Its current political-economic and social model is sustained by state ownership and a salaried, bureaucratized, centralized management class – an heir of neo-Stalinism (actually monopoly capitalism wrapped up as state socialism).  This has resulted in the stagnation of the process of the socialization of ownership and the decisions that must follow that.

Where there should have been “momentum” in Cuba’s socialist transition, instead we find the “permanent model” that we have to finish discussing, questioning and changing without delay.  There must be change and the advance of socialization toward a decentralized communal-democratic system of freely associated workers.

This has to be based fundamentally on new socialist relations centered on a type of associated-cooperative production, where collectives and workers are the ones who make all of the decisions that affect them.  These socialist relations would be ones in which people could -freely- decide their destinies, because they would be the concrete owners of the means of production, in collective or individual forms.

Once that general problem is solved, the campesinos would not have to depend on any central-bureaucratic apparatus to ensure the delivery of food to people; the apartment building residents and the high school teachers could use their own resources for the maintenance and repair of their buildings; supervisors who constitute obstacles to the work of the crew would be immediately removed; the employees’ store could be supplied by the best suppliers, without bureaucratic State middlemen; the shoe-factory workers would directly buy the raw materials they need.

Then the workers would “feel like owners” because they would in fact be the owners of the means of production.  They would act with self-discipline and wouldn’t pilfer; the vegetable markets would always have fresh, varied and inexpensive produce, and there would not be any bureaucratic apparatus pouring the fruits of farmers’ sweat into pig troughs.

*Pedro Campos Santos. Former Cuban diplomat in Mexico and at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. International political analyst.  Head researcher of the Center for United States Studies project of the University of Havana. He is currently retired.

His articles can be read at the following site:

4 thoughts on “Debate Must Address Bigger Problems

  • What an amazing article…I used to think the Cuban Communist Party might fix just enough of the daily problems in Cuba to keep the system “working” (especially in light of the current global crisis of Capitalism) but I am no longer so sure. Enough things don’t “work” in Cuba that the Communist Party must face the music sooner or later (in some way). Fortunately for people who believe in “socialism” (broadly speaking) Cuba still has enough people with a “socialist” consciousness to try and build something better and different – but even the most basic reforms would provide some relief immediately (like much more transparency in the mass media). I am always in Solidarity with Cuba and wish all Cubans the best in this struggle….

  • Co-operative republic is close but now cigar. It’s a great ideal from the French and Northern English, but the “methodology” in transition ends up in workers’ capitalism as we’ve seen in Yugoslavia, with almost as much corruption as we have in the corporate state (U.S.) today.

    Participatory economics (parecon) ( ) provides a great final model and methodology where as Co-operative Republicanism is just some utopian final ideal like communism. They both say little about how you actually do it in a way that ensures the integrity of socialistic discourse. Whereas parecon does, although we admit that the transition is hard. I have to get my book – Transition Plan – done.

    No one else seems to take seriously like the community around Noam Chomsky’ periodical – – does. We need to forge a socio-economic METHODOLOGY, not so much a utopian end vision. Co-op Republicanism just says we gradually all become owners.

  • Marxian state socialism is dysfunctional and does not work. Cuba must become a socialist cooperative republic before it is too late.

    I agree.


  • Pedro, this article is a miracle. You’ve placed your finger on the central question of Cuban (and world) transformation–the true nature of workable socialism.

    That true nature is not 100% ownership of the land and means of production, with abolition of the historically-evolved institutions of private property rights and the trading market. It is cooperative socialism with state/employee co-ownership, where these natural institutions are understood, respected and used by the socialist leadership (party) to build socialism.

    The unworkability of bureaucratic state socialism has been proved in the honest laboratory of history by destroying every revolution that has applied it. It’s in the process of destroying the Cuban Revolution–but all hopefully is not lost. Surely Fidel and other party leaders will wake up and smell the coffee in time.

    Marxian state socialism is dysfunctional and does not work. Cuba must become a socialist cooperative republic before it is too late.

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