Quashing Subsidies & Cuba’s Cafeterias

By Pedro Campos*

Cuban workers celebrating on May Day 2009.   Photo: Elio Delgado
Cuban workers celebrating on May Day 2009. Photo: Elio Delgado

HAVANA TIMES, Oct.17 – If the Cuban State, with its latest plan to end subsidies to workplace cafeterias and other cost-cutting measures, is only seeking to improve its finances without advancing toward true socialization, it is taking a another step toward the reversing the Revolution.

There is little doubt that government finances will benefit from the measure; several million dollars will be saved that are now invested but not “properly realized” through the bureaucratic and voluntaristic form in which they are administered.

Anyone who has at some time eaten in one of those cafeterias is familiar with the poor quality of the food (as well as the seemingly never-ending pilfering) with no control by the workers for whom these facilities are supposed to serve.

But to be perfectly fair, I’ve also heard of some cafeterias where the administrators and food service workers go all out trying to provide greater variety.  On more than a few occasions, they are forced to sell a little of the consignment of rice, beans or lard to buy other products “on the side” to improve the food’s quality with spices or vegetables, since usually these vital complements are not part of the state supplies.

The workers of these cafeterias, like those in other production or service centers, receive insufficient wages.  The difference is they don’t have screws, wood, bricks, or cement at their disposal; instead, they have food which they can “fence,” in a modern application of the Roman legal concept of “just compensation.”

This is the same as the bureaucrat who takes “trips” or uses “their” car and state-paid gasoline to take care of their personal problems.  Or, like the store employee who sells a product that doesn’t go through the checkout, or if it does is not rung up.  It is like the “taking care” of a ticket by paying an employee of the interprovincial bus line a few pesos, or like the grocer selling off “extra” rice, sugar and beans. The list is endless.

When the Cuban State created work cafeterias and began subsidizing sports, health care, education, unnecessary boarding schools, ration books and other services, it was because the philosophy it adopted was that of “vulgar socialism,” which seeks to solve economic problems in the sphere of distribution and not production – where “Daddy State” is “in charge” of solving the people’s problems, and not the people acting for themselves.

It was not that people “got used to” everything coming from the state; it’s that “Daddy State” -believing it can do all- compelled people to get used to this scenario.  “Daddy State” boasts that he provides free health care and education, and subsidizes workplace and student cafeterias, sports and much of the cultural life, public concerts, telephones and so many other goods and services that are given to people for nothing or next to nothing.

But “Daddy State” could do all because it appropriated all the means of production, almost all of the land, all of the factories, all of the commercial and distribution companies – big, medium or small.  In short, it centralized the entire administrative apparatus of the country’s economic activity and maintained the paid workforce.  This allows all of the surplus value to be concentrated in its hands, which is considerable, given the low and arbitrary wages and the overtime or extra work that everyone does.  It controls all that to meet its needs and  their paternalistic programs almost always accompanied by authoritarianism.

What Should Be Socialized Hasn’t

What Engels predicted in 1880 has become true: “The modern state, whichever its form, is an essentially a capitalist machine; it is the state of the capitalists, the ideal collective capitalist. And the more productive forces that are added as property, the larger become the capitalist collective and the number of citizens it will exploit.  The workers continue being wage-labor proletarians.  The capitalist relationship, far from being abolished with these measures, becomes worse.  The closer it gets to the peak, the worse the situation becomes.  State ownership over the productive forces is not the solution to the conflict in itself, but harbors in its breast the formal means, the spring, to reach the solution. This solution can only be in effectively recognizing the social character of the modern productive forces and therefore in harmonizing the mode of production and appropriation, and in changing the social character of the means of production.”

 Pedro Campos
Pedro Campos

The old “socialism,” which never existed, instead of socializing appropriation and advancing along the road toward the withering away of the state, pursued the increased strengthening of it, and now everyone knows the results.

Today, those who make the fundamental decisions within the Cuban State seem to be beginning to realize that “state socialism” -a paternalistic and authoritarian version from the neo-Stalinist womb, actually state monopoly capitalism- is economically and socially unviable and only “functions” on the basis of decreasingly available external subsidies.  However, apparently they have -in addition- just understood that “this” is still not socialism. (It is necessary to speak in terms of “it seems” because there is no transparency in Cuban politics: Things are decided from the top, we find out when they are applied, so you have to trust, and trust.)

However, the path to eliminating all of the subsidies possible (which represents an eventual direct savings of resources and capital for the bureaucratic State) can affect the already tense relations between the state and workers even more if they don’t also relax all of the state controls on the economy, which in one way or another are restricting the incomes of workers and the people and their free social development.

If “Daddy State” is not able or doesn’t wish to continue being in charge, as he never should have been, then “taking care” of people’s problems must be through allowing them to solve these for themselves, without the closing of facilities.  In other words: Self-management must be facilitated in its widest sense.

It is urgent to allow people to have the private individual property they wish, completely unrestricting self-employment, allowing the creation of all types of cooperatives, facilitating private farmers, having cooperative and state-run entities themselves organize and plan their production and sale projections, and eliminating state monopoly over the purchase and sale of agricultural produce.

It is especially urgent that the state gradually -in conformance with socialist theory- put the administration of companies directly in the hands of the workers so that they themselves are the ones who decide everything from the shop floor – from the management of the company; to input, production and sale plans; up to how part of the revenues are distributed.

Cuban workers are about to lose their hot lunch.   Photo: Elio Delgado
Cuban workers are about to lose their hot lunch. Photo: Elio Delgado

As has already been explained, the former state-waged worker conception of socialism that failed everywhere, tends -by its own nature- toward bureaucratization and corruption, apathy and the depoliticizing of workers.’  It leads to the search for migratory paths for people’s individual initiatives, individualism and an ever-increasing separation between the state and the people.

We hope this latest action is part of a general “rectification,” and not -like some foreign critics of the Revolution are saying- “a unilateral action by the state to improve its finances at the expense of the workers.”

Some people say this is simply another “pragmatic” adjustment -like the sale of cell phones, Cubans being allowed to stay in hotels for foreign currency, internet access for those with a lot of money and the state monopoly over the commercialization of agricultural products- with everything designed only to improve the difficult situation of the state coffers.

In this case the State would be pursuing that plan without assessing or understanding its practical implications for the economy and the life of the workers and lower-income citizens, and without its actions being part of a wide plan of comprehensive measures with socializing ends.

If all this were true then the bureaucratic apparatus of the state would only preserving its narrow interests and leaving even further aside the problems that affect the people in general.  In short, this would be an inexorable step toward reversing the Revolution, despite the warnings of the historic leaders.

However, if what we are witnessing is an understanding imposed by practice, or recognized through a principled theoretical analysis (the same thing) -that it is necessary to gradually modify the excessive administrative role of the state in the economy and to advance toward greater socialization and control by the workers and people in terms of property, surpluses and decisions (something that is still not clear in any of those measures)- then this could be the taking of the first steps toward substituting the deteriorated bureaucratic scaffolding that threatens to topple “Cuban socialism.” Let’s hope for the best.

A Havana Times translation with permission from the author.

*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 projectthe University of Havana.  He is currently retired.

His articles can be read at the following site:   http://boletinspd.eltinterocolectivo.com/. and his email address is [email protected]

6 thoughts on “Quashing Subsidies & Cuba’s Cafeterias

  • George, thanks for the comments, but you still don’t have a grasp of what I seek… and what Cuba SHOULD seek. I want Christian-like socialism… you know… communes, cooperatives, potlucks, barnraisings, church social(ism)s, etc. Its not completely Marxist, but close. Its not budhist, but close. Its not (your version of) socialism, and not close. Its a commune. Communalism. It operates fairly close to the USA military supply/survival system, which is “Team” (-World, someday) and uses NO ownership and NO money. It still has laws and rules, but they are more based-upon nun-ops (cooperator’s church) than upon capitalism (competer’s church). Its about love, which, capitalists have long forgotten about. Think about treating everyone, everywhere, with the loving touch and careful listening-to… that a parent would do for a loved child. Make that policy last their/our entire life, not just childhood. No more parental/societal policy reversal from share, to fight, at age 18…

  • I find it utterly amazing that people like you Alberto N Jones, Pedro Campos Santos and Wingnut still exist. You are truly enemies of the Cuban people if you “still” find Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Fidel etc. have anything good for the Cuban economy or Cuban people. (Incidentally, Mao & Stalin are responsible for the murders of over 100,000,000 people in the name of socialism, yes, that’s over one hundred million people).

    All G-8 counties have free market economies that generate tremendous wealth. The taxation of this wealth allows for universal/social programs of varying degrees in these countries. All G-8 have universal education, and 7 of the G-8 have universal health care (less US of course, which I find a crime).

    Education and healthcare are, in my humble opinion, the only two “social” programs that governments of the world have any business administering to its people.

  • To Alberto N Jones and Pedro Campos Santos, you both have stunned me and our tiny group of modern cooperative socialists in the U.S.! Let me pick myself off the floor and reply.

    It’s a simple as can be. Socialism need not be where the state owns enterprise 100%. It can be where employees of enterprise own the voting common stock cooperatively, and where the socialist state owns an appropriate block of non-voting preferred stock in lieu of taxes. Enterprise could then produce for the socialist trading market under the guidelines and scrutiny of representative socialist government. If there are quarterly profits, they can be declared and distributed to both the state and employees.

    As has been inferred above, it’s time for workers, managers and other employees to take direct co-ownership of the means of production, run the economy sensibly and enthusiastically, and make revolutionary Cuba a dynamic example of workable socialism before the whole world!

  • This in my view, is a timely albeit, cosmetic change. It is past due to restore personal responsibility among Cubans, by removing the distorting paternalistic mentality that have been created over half a century. The final solution will be, when the government owning most means of production in the country, decides to get rid of all small and medium size enterprises, converting them into workers cooperative with the government, in which, gain/loss will be distributed evenly between both parties. This system would increase dramatically the workers living standards, they would no longer need hand-out, would pay for rent, raw material, insurance etc., doubling or quadrupling productivity over night. This would also erradicate the present culture of stealing from ones workplace, restoring the morality without which, no society can survive.

  • Hi

    Its too bad Cuba has not taken the “final step” into true socialism, and abolished money and ownership (economies). As long as there’s money and ownership, there’s monetary and ownership discrimination (pyramiding/imperialisms).

    Take a look at the USA military “all on the same team” economy-less, ownership-less, supply and survival system. Its a fine socialism… or at least in the ballpark. All team members are given free (of course) “basic issue”, available anytime and anywhere… just fill out an easily-gotten requisition form and give it to “team” supply people. Luxuries and enjoyments are put into “recreational services” repositories for all “ranks” to share, equally. Although “rank” DOES come with a small wage-change for military members… it is often just a reflection of the size of the member’s family/needs. Rank, in the military… DOES have “chain of command” and thus hierarchical “order”, but its more like “elders”-respect in…

  • Instead of giving workers a subsidy to buy lunch, why not just add it to the pay packages of employees? That would empower the employee to decide how they wish to provide for lunch, either eating out or bringing a bag lunch from home. Most Canadians (including me) choose to bring bag lunches to work most of the time because it saves us money which we can then save or spend on other things.

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