Sensitivity or the Instinct for Self-Preservation?

By Haroldo Dilla Alfonso

HAVANA TIMES, March 17 — A government without public opposition or criticism is under no obligation to refine its actions, nor does it have to make efforts to avoid committing errors. It can say the same thing and the opposite; it can go forward and backward, appealing always to its own wisdom and its love for the people.

This is what Raul Castro was doing when he announced an adjustment to the timeline of the “updating” of Cuba’s “socialist” model. He described it as moving forward “without hurry but without pause,” a motto that — recalling the interesting book by Jose Luis Trechera — constitutes the key element in the wisdom of turtles. Raul was delivering a monologue to an audience of decreasing supporters saying that errors cannot be permitted, because mistakes bring revolutions to their end.

Some remain silent and others applaud. But no one can tell him — whether out of fear or indifference — that the revolution succumbed a long time ago under the weight of authoritarianism and inefficiency, or that there is no greater daily error for a ruler than being unable to provide the population three meals a day.

What is certain is that more proof has been given of the faintheartedness of the general/president — the one who has been in command for almost five years — and who is now putting the brakes on “updating,” particularly on the painful layoffs of the first 500,000 of the planned 1,500,000 excess workers.

Curiously, this has raised positive expectations from some intellectuals who have maintained critical positions from the left. One of them, the intelligent essayist Pedro Campos (“Neoliberal Strategy Failing in Cuba”), wants to view this setback as a demonstration of the Cuban leaders’ sensitivity and a failure of the attempt to impose strategies moving in neoliberal directions “alien to socialism.” This is a bold pronouncement, but one that I believe is mistaken for several reasons.

The first reason is that the “updating” plan is socially predatory, but not in the neoliberal style; if it were the pichones (freeloaders) businesspeople undergoing training to be the future Cuban bourgeoisie under the protection of the government would have been swept away through the opening. Second, because strategies alien to socialism were implemented in the 1960s, which is why nothing of socialism remains. And third, because there is no sensitivity to applaud here.

Let us look at things this way: The Cuban political elite (the same one that has been in power for half a century) is guilty for the toll of this restructuring simply because it missed many opportunities to implement it at better times, not out of any attachment to socialism, which doesn’t exist, but for fear of producing cracks in its mediocre scheme for maintaining political power.

The elite orchestrates without planned gradualism and without measures for compensation. It especially wants to create and maintain a whole series of impediments to private and cooperative activity – the sole ones that could offer alternatives for those who will otherwise lose out from restructuring. They are proposing onerous fiscal extortion and medieval limitations on activities that can be exercised.

But none of that avoids another conclusion: restructuring has to be carried out. No economy can support the huge subsidy of unemployment hidden behind artificial full employment, nor the fact that 55 percent of the budget is spent on costly social services, nor that the economic infrastructure operates under a permanent deficit.

If the Cuban government and its leaders want to take a firm step at this crucial moment in the nation’s history, not only will they have to implement restructuring, but they will also have to adopt the necessary measures for economic opening, eradicate the drive for expropriation that they possess, and they must mobilize all social and economic resources, including that of the émigré community (who in good measure would be willing to cooperate with this dramatic restructuring if they received guarantees of recognition of their being part of the national community).

In short, the governing political elite have to put aside their own arrogance characteristic of those predestined to write history and monopolize resources.

I believe that this this point is where the game comes to a close. The poker playing by the Cuban leaders with their loosening of the restructuring rope is not motivated by any socialist sensitivity, but by the classist instinct for self-preservation.

It’s true that the Chinese and the Vietnamese have been able to advance their economies while conserving a closed political system monopolized by a post-revolutionary elite retrenched in their communist parties. But while there are plenty of formal analogies [with Cuba], there are also substantial differences.

The Chinese and the Vietnamese possess millennial-old cultures marked by a high concentration of political power (emperors, kings, mandarins) with divine trimmings. At the same time they are located in an area of intense economic dynamism that allows the forgiveness of all political sins.

Cuba, on the contrary, is a western country on the periphery of where democracy sometimes doesn’t appear on the table but is always on the menu. Moreover, its modest economic dynamics would not allow it to administer inclusion as successfully as its Asian comrades.

Therefore, playing with the opening of the system means risking the monopoly on power, which appears to be as indispensable to its stagnant bureaucratic class that lives off of politically guaranteed incomes as it does to the technocrats and businesspeople in their processes of bourgeois conversion. There cannot be space for social autonomy or for the social defragmentation that the market will inevitably produce.

To confuse the wisdom of the general/president with some just sentiment is an error. It would be like confusing strangulation with a loving hug.