No One Dares Overthrow It, but No One Dares Fix It Either

Pedro Campos*

Havana scene.

HAVANA TIMES, July 5 – For many years we’ve been hearing jokes similar to this title.  In fact, these only serve those who are interested in maintaining the status quo because they encourage the pessimistic philosophy that it’s impossible to change the situation or to try to fix and improve it.

They say, “It’s better to leave everything like it is!” – But who does this suit?

The origin of the joke is not so clear.  It’s not possible to specify if it was conceived by the “official” counterrevolutionary forces or the “chameleons.”  More or less, this was the essence:  “An expert with the CIA was said to have been sent to Cuba on a secret mission so that his president could discover, from “on the ground,” what in fact was happening, because the information he was receiving was contradictory.

After a meticulous study over several months, carried out clandestinely and at enormous costs, the operative’s report concluded: “In Cuba there is no food, but no one goes hunger; there are no clothes, but everyone dresses; there are no shoes, but no one walks around barefoot; there is no medicine, but the sick are treated; everyone applauds Fidel Castro, but many don’t support him.”  His final conclusion was, “No one dares to overthrow the government, but no one dares to fix things either.”  Another version of the joke has a different conclusion and goes: “no one dares to fix things, but no one dares to overthrow the government either.”

Yes indeed, this is a counter-revolutionary wisecrack, with half-truths and half lies; but it is especially for change-adverse elements to the degree it stimulates inertia.

The weight of the revolutionary bureaucracy

The part “no one dares overthrow it,” was clarified by Fidel at the University of Havana in 2005 when he specified that there did in fact exist those who could bring it down.  As he pointed out, they were the revolutionaries themselves who could reverse or “overthrow” the Revolution if they were incapable of seriously addressing problems of corruption and bureaucracy, which are plentiful in Cuban society.  In a way, there have always been people here who could “overthrow it.”  It was clear: they were the revolutionaries themselves, the sole ones who could reverse it.

It would be necessary to see, of course, if those who overthrow revolutions are indeed “revolutionaries.”

Five years after Fidel’s brilliant reflection, wage-labor for the State and its corresponding top-down system of command —the principal generators of bureaucracy and corruption— are receiving all types of criticism from politicians, economists, journalists, “business people,” workers and people in general.  However, instead of changing these features, their defenders are trying to maintain it.

Since then, the bureaucracy (which is not simply paperwork, as some people translate the word) has expanded considerably.  This has occurred as the centrists and authoritarian policies of order and command (which are the same) are becoming increasingly obvious, especially in the economy.  At the same time, effective participation of the masses and workers in decisions continues to be absent, though official discourse is maintained about democracy, participation and diversity that is seldom realized in daily production which ultimately governs the life of people.

“Control,” it’s true, is part of the solution, but not from above, not bureaucratic control continuing to strengthen itself; rather, control from below is needed, a type that would be exercised by collectives of workers themselves and people in their workplaces, in neighborhoods, in municipalities, people at the grass roots.

This is what Perfeccionamiento Empresarial (the Managerial Improvement program in the armed forces) was about when it was initially conceived, though it was later converted —by the hand of the bureaucracy— into an inapplicable bundle of files.

Also desired is the consolidation of “order,” but a compulsory type in the style of military discipline, not the self-established order by the workers, conscious of that need as it emerges from the reality of collective participation in the management, administration and the making of decisions, as opposed to the current hypothetical “sense of ownership” imposed by decree.

Socialist proposals breaking the bureaucratic cycle

The issue is not one of lofty philosophy; workers understand the matter quite well.  It is an issue of the simplest concrete practice; it’s the idea of “This is mine, something over which I can decide.”

The proposals are around socialization as a socialist way out of the crisis of state monopoly capitalism that the current model conceals.  However, except for the distribution of thicket-overrun land hamstrung by the bureaucracy with “profits” that are restricted and the land leased with high taxes and the creation of few worker-operated barbershops and hairdressers, these seem to have had little effect up to now on the mindset of the bureaucracy, which truly exercises the power.

Instead, they continue deferring the government’s presentation of some type of comprehensive public plan to finally address the problems of the double currency and low productivity and begin abandoning the failed centralized system of state ownership and poorly compensated wage labor.

The almost absolute ownership of property by the state engenders centralized control, which demands bureaucracy and in turn is accompanied by corruption.  Such a vicious cycle statism-centralization-bureaucracy-corruption generates another cycle at the general social level. This is seen as insufficient state wages that fail to cover basic necessities, forcing people to seek some way to obtain an income, but since there is no legal or self-managerial way of doing this, violations of the existing legality are generated.  This leads the state to “protect itself” with even more bureaucracy and repression, something that demands more resources than can only come by reducing the already declining incomes of the workers.

How can this cycle be broken?

The logic of the revolutionary state of workers and campesinos would be a gradual step toward putting the control of companies into the hands of their workers.  Just as the land should be for those who work it, so should be the factories and offices.  This is not what has happened, and up to now there is no clarity around this being the aim of the bureaucratic apparatus in power.

Yield the right-of-way.

What alternative have they left the workers?   What they do is try to appropriate the means of production and the surplus, against all “legal” norms structured by the bureaucracy, to guarantee their ownership and control the results of the labor of all workers.  The bureaucratic discourse complains that these workers are stealing; those workers explain that the bureaucratic apparatus doesn’t pay for the work they do, and therefore those in that administrative class are indeed the ones who are stealing.

The fact that the capitalists steal through the appropriation of surplus value is exceedingly clear. Here in Cuba the breach remains concealed with talk of the “equitable redistribution for all.”  The state concentrates everything in order to “better distribute and guarantee the future”; but the workers, who are the ones who produce, prefer that they were the ones who distributed the results of their labor and gave the state only a part of that.  For them the future is today; and, as they have seen occurring, if they themselves don’t reproduce and if a part of production is not reinvested in their companies for their simple and extended reproduction, production will be unable to increase and there will be a continued deepening of the current crisis of the Cuban economy.

But who commands in this country, the workers or the bureaucracy?

If the bureaucratic state is unwilling to change the wage-labor relations of production, state ownership or the centralized control of the surpluses, it will be forcing the workers to continue breaking the established “legality.”  It will increase the struggle for the control of surplus and will make the conflict between the workers and the state increasingly clear.  Plenty has already been written on this.  Today the confrontation is veiled.  Tomorrow it will be open.

To prevent the foreseen disaster, a new law for the socialist company is needed that recognizes control over the means of production by the workers.  They are the ones who would democratically make all the decisions that affect the workplace and decide on the distribution of the earnings once a certain percentage is discounted for the reproduction of the productive unit, taxes for the state, and for social needs.

It will be necessary to pass another law concerning cooperatives, to carefully define their purpose and operation as well as their extension into industry and services.  In addition, another law would be needed to allow free commerce, as well as a way to free all self-employed work.

The central state would be reduced from being indispensable and powers would be turned over to the municipalities, which would be left to administer everything from companies to food stands, collecting taxes, allocating budgets and making viable communications, exchange and the harmonic and proportional development of the branches and regions. Though disbelieved, the nation would be stronger like this.

The economic crisis resulting from previously described cycles in the centralized and bureaucratic economy is forcing the state to readjust its expenses.  We are told that this is the moment to put an end to paternalism, that it’s not possible to continue with large subsidies, that there are too many workers.  But who created all of this in the first place other than “state socialism” with its egalitarianism and its concomitant bureaucracy?

Instead of closing factories, like they did with the sugar refineries and when throwing people out into the street, the bureaucracy should turn over the workplaces to the workers, allowing them to self-organize democratically to produce, removing all obstacles that impede social commerce and letting the workers themselves decide if anyone is excessive.

The attempt to “solve” natural problems (natural because it responds to the needs of people and to the level of current development of the society) of exchange and the market with more imposition and repression, with more of the same, is contrary to the interests of the Socialist Revolution.

This can be appreciated if we understand that the political and social-economic phenomenon should move towards the socialization of appropriation and decisions, and not towards the interest of the bureaucratic apparatus of the state that seeks to appropriate ownership, surplus labor and the rights of the workers and the people.

By following that road we would end up having more jails than hotels and more policemen and security guards than producers.

It is such that those “revolutionaries,” the only ones who according to Fidel can overthrow both the revolution and the form of socialism attempted in Cuba, seem very willing to continue from their state armchairs with their destructive work of increased centralization, which means more bureaucracy and more corruption.  This is being seconded by US imperialism as it generally continues with its politics of blockade and isolation.

Fixing things

In 1966 Fidel said, and Granma has just re-published it (June 8, 2010), “We will never conform ourselves to half revolution.” “If there’s fatigue, retire.”

Fidel Castro, 3 years after his warning speech in November 2005.

The part “No one dares fix things” has in fact drastically changed in these last five years.

Until 2005 there existed the perception among many Cubans that the only alternative to centralized wage-labor statism was privatization, capitalist restoration and proposals for “democratic transition.”

The elite (as well as the right wing and the forces of imperialism) failed to tell them since the beginning of 2006 a group of communists and revolutionaries have, with total clarity, been fermenting alternative ideas in the public arena, outside of academia, and among party members and “organic intellectuals.”

We have been showing that what has been created in Cuba in the name of socialism has been no more than state monopoly capitalism with a social orientation.  An alternative vision of advancing towards socialism implies changes in the relations of production, ownership, distribution and consumption.  These would be changes moving in the direction of cooperativism and self-management, as well as drastic changes in the form of conducting politics, transforming it from the current top-down centralism towards direct and horizontal participative democracy.

In the sense that there have always been “revolutionaries” trying to “overthrow” the Revolution, a “fix” from the vantage point of socialism, a truly complete change in the model, began to appear with those proposals.  The bureaucracy is trying by all possible means to impede the spread of these ideas, which some of its most illustrious children consider “addictive,” like cocaine.

If the bureaucracy continues with its current liquidationist line in relation to Participative and Democratic Socialism, it will be responsible for capitalist restoration and all its consequences, exactly the way this occurred in the former USSR and the other ex-socialist countries.

Rescuing and reviving Marxist socialism

But there is something more that was left unsaid by the historical enemies of the revolution and the opponents of Marxist socialism in Cuba.  Not only has the socialism of Marx been rescued theoretically with participative and democratic socialist proposals (which in general terms can and should be expanded and revised), but a growing number of revolutionaries and communists have also begun to understand and embrace these ideas.

It is not about some single individual, some new Messiah, but rather about many comrades, many revolutionaries who really want change in the different levels of the society.  These are people who, in their own ways and from the limitations of their positions, have started working along the lines of this perspective and have become increasingly aware of the possibility of advancing a new political, economic and social projection towards a more complete socialism, one that involves greater socialization of the appropriation of ownership, surplus labor and decisions of all types.

If the revolution were “overthrown” or collapsed today or tomorrow, at least it would not have been because some form of attempting to “fix it” never openly appeared.  It would not have been because there didn’t exist a clear and authentic socialist alternative, or because there didn’t appear people who were willing to “change everything that must be changed.”

There are many workers who are unsatisfied with a half revolution, and many of these have now achieved a certain level of class consciousness and are socializing the economy in their own way, without relying on anyone.

Participative and Democratic Socialism, emerging from the revolutionary breast itself, has offered a series of concrete instruments (there can never be any other kind) to preserve the Revolution and to make it advance.  It has been turning into a real alternative and has been constantly winning new partisans from all strata of Cuban society.  They have come from among intellectuals and students as well as from within the various layers of the bureaucracy, especially its “most” wage-labor part, where many comrades are bureaucratic by the positions they hold as appointees, though not for their thought, nor their daily attitude, nor their conditions of life.  With all naturalness, workers and campesinos adopt the ideas and practices of socialist self-management through a class instinct.  For them the “addiction” is innate and immediate.

Those who came up with the joke [that began this article] and those around here who are still telling it need to start thinking up some other wisecrack.

Contact Pedro Campos at:  [email protected]

5 thoughts on “No One Dares Overthrow It, but No One Dares Fix It Either

  • Grady-i still insist you oversimplify Marx, his position vis-a-vis the state, and the drawbacks of State Socialism. You’re basically using Stalin’s oversimplification of Marx’s theories against Marx, when most of Stalin’s Communist contemporaries thought that he was a simplistic and crude thinker who only understood 1930s Russia, and never really bothered to offer a global model.

    You are also mistaken to offer a single model of worker organization for the whole economy. Even Capitalism has varied forms of ownership (partnership, corporation, private company, worker’s coop, merchant’s capital, industrial capital, state capital, ect). Worker’s coops, and the market, should exist for certain goods, but not all goods, and worker’s democracy should be universal, but it does not need to be based only on the Mondragon model.

    As to the original article-I only hope the right people read this article or think like it, the good efforts of those like Esteban Morales and so on need to be pushed against the negative tendencies within the Communist state.

    Also, it may be important to see how Lenin sowed some of the seeds of Communism’s stagnation. He never imagined that a tight-nit vanguard party could become a technocratic ruling class, but this should have been seen as an inevitability by anyone with the mildest critical imagination. By suggesting the vanguard party without ever suggesting the negation of the vanguard party inevitably leads to the prolongation and stagnation of a powerful, dominant party with its own class interests. And like the bourgeoise, the class will inevitably fall in on its own sins.

  • As much as I would like to see the decentralized, democratic, workers’ controlled model championed by Pedro Campos become reality, I fear that the Revolution is headed into the same dust-bin as those of the former socialist bloc. China and Viet-Nam are more socialist in name than in reality, though by embracing free trade the economic standards of most of its workers are rising; still economic injustices social inequalities between its classes are becoming more pronounced. The Mondragon model you support, Grady, is but one amongst many. (For my part, je,je,je, I prefer Fourier’s Phalanteseries!) Although Marx had his faults–and he would be the first one to admit they were many–I think it wrong to judge by hindsight. He was part and parcel of his epoch, and could not forsee subsequent developments. I wonder if the human race will have the intelligence to formulate, and enact, a way out of its economic, ecological, and social dead-ends? Or if the future holds for our decendants a hideous and night-marish system of social and economic controls by the multi-national corporation?

  • Pedro does not see the prerequisite, on the one hand, of direct, legal ownership by workers of “the workplaces” through cooperative enterprise structures, and democratic self-management of the workplaces by the workers, on the other.

    He calls for self-management, but does not call for legal ownership to pass from the state to the workers.

    He clings to “ownership by the state” at the same time he rails against it and its inevitable bureaucratic results.

    His call is like calling, under capitalism, for renters’ self-management of their residential properties, and not seeing that what is needed for such self-management is tenant ownership of the properties.

    With ownership self-management is automatic; without it management is automatically conducted from above. This is true for renters under capitalism, and it is true for workers under both capitalism and Marxian state monopoly socialism.

    The issue is not democracy; it is ownership. Ownership is what the socialist transformation is all about, knowing that only with direct legal ownership is democracy and self-management possible.

    Calling for worker self-management in the abstract is similar to what the Bakuninist Anarchists do, with their magical absence of a state and legal private property rights.

    I’m at a loss to understand how Pedro can continue to believe that the state monopoly socialism that sinks every transformation that relies on it, is somehow not true Marxism. Marxian state monopoly socialism is right there in black-and-white in the Communist Manifesto. It is the heart of Marxism and of Stalinism. It is the heart of the bureaucratic system of Cuba.

    It will ultimately take the Cuban Revolution to the historical graveyard.

    The only thing that is keeping monopoly capitalism alive in the world is the fact that the socialist vanguard is still cocooned by the Marxian mis-formula for a socialist economy.

    The socialist state does not need–per Engels & Marx–to own “all” of the instruments of production. Private property rights and the market can be used for socialist construction, giving the workers the possibility of owning the instruments of production through Mondragon-type cooperative corporations.

    The socialist state can get more of its necessary revenues from an invigorated, cooperative socialist economy by holding a large portion of ownership of the instruments of production through non-controlling, preferred shares. If Pedro and other comrades will grope their way out of the Marxist fog, this will become a reality.

    I have great respect & admiration for Pedro Campos. But it is my duty as a socialist to ask him to wake up and progress beyond this Marx-is-god mentality. Marx is not god. If anything he is just the opposite.

  • There’s no harm in continuing Socialism. One could argue, after all, that Socialism is widely practiced in the welfare societies in Europe. Cuba’s economic, in my opinion, stem from its inability to adapt to changing times. Its centralized economy is the primary reason why the country continues to struggle economically. There are other models that the country can follow without sacrificing its Socialist identity (e.g. Chinese and Vietnamese models or even the European models of Socialism).

  • A book will be published shortly in English putting forward an alternative to bureaucracy the introduction to which is on The problem with changing the controlling system lies in the interim: moving from where we are to an organic (or more accurately, a systemic) form of organisation management and control. The solution lies in the ‘learning’ processes of the organisation as an organic entity, not in the learning processes of the individual; in the systems through which the organisation delivers its purpose.

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