“State Socialism” in Cuba

Grady Ross Daugherty

grady1HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba and the Incapacity of State Socialism to Change and Renew Itself, Pedro Campos and Armando Chaguaceda argue that “state socialism” (ownership and administration of all the instruments of production by the socialist state) is an economic system which springs primarily from the brain and character of Joseph Stalin.

The addition of one-party political and social absolutism, in their terminology, results in the composite phenomenon of “Stalinism.”

Cuba, they believe, is run by such a Stalinist autocracy which has fastened “state capitalism, established in the name of socialism” onto the people.

This is quite a charge. It deserves a comradely response.

Let us go to the classic Marxist literature, and try to identify the textural origins of this “state socialism.”

Its original formulation—for the first time in history that we know of—may be found on the next-to-last page of the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto:

“. . . The first step by the proletariat in its revolution is to raise itself to the position of ruling class . . .

. . . [It will then] use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to concentrate all instruments of production in the hands of the state [emphasis added] . . . and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.”

This is fairly straight-forward. By degrees, the socialist state is to concentrate all productive forces in its hands.

grady2When the word “all” is used, we may assume it to be a well-considered stipulation as to which instruments of production are to be nationalized. These would include everything from hotels and restaurants to mines and sugar mills.

Marx and Engels lived a long time after 1848. They had ample time to mull over their core stipulation of 100% state ownership. Here is what they said in their preface to the 1872 German edition of the Manifesto:

“. . . However much that statement of things may have altered during the last twenty-five years, the general principles laid down in the Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever.”

Both of the above quotes may be verified in almost any edition of the Communist Manifesto published today; or, on-line at the Marx/Engels Archive.

If the reader is not sure if the above quotations reflect the authentic Marxian recipe of “state socialism,” let us turn to the last chapter of that 1880 Engels pamphlet Socialism: Scientific and Utopian (made up of three chapters from his Anti-Duhring).

This pamphlet was first published in French in 1880, almost one-third of a century after the Communist Manifesto. In his third and last chapter, Engels makes numerous references to the fact that, under socialism, the state is to own everything productive. Here is what he says six pages from the end:

“. . . The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production into state property.” [His emphasis]

Then, in his second-to-last paragraph of the pamphlet:

“III. Proletarian Revolution-Solution of the contradictions.

“The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialized means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property.”

And so, it seems indisputable that the fathers of Marxism set forth in 1848 the essential core principle of state socialism, and reaffirmed it in 1872 and 1880.

grady3Moreover, the leaders of the world communist movement—including Kautsky, Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Ho, Kim, Fidel and Raul—held, or hold “state socialism” to be the core principle of “real” socialism. Ideologically and programmatically, all these men were, or are “state socialists.”

Based on all of the foregoing, the comrades Pedro and Armando seem to have made a profound factual error in attributing “state socialism” primarily to Joseph Stalin.

The crimes of Stalin are well known; but he did not invent the economic and social core principle upon which his criminal autocracy arose.

It is reasonable to believe therefore that some form of Stalinism, in whichever country, is the inexorable result of the Marxian core principle of state socialism. A primary task of the left, it would seem, is to figure out why.

18 thoughts on ““State Socialism” in Cuba

  • But Luis, aren’t you talking all around the subject at hand?

    Let’s try to focus on what is important. It’s not important whether Marx said this or that. He was not a god, and it is enormously tragic that the Left has considered him the Pope or Oracle of socialism for a century and a half.

    Everybody seems to try and prove or disprove points by ferreting out a quote from that dead guy. That scriptural-ist, quasi-religious approach to discussion is pure nonsense.

    It is by contrast vitally important that we of the socialist Left understand the core economic hypothesis for any further socialist experiment in transformation.

    The leaders and rank and file of the socialist Left have traditionally used the ironclad principle of “state ownership of all things productive.” The fact is important; where the fact was gotten is irrelevant. Don’t you agree?

    Marx and Engels should never have stipulated, or gave the impression that they had stipulated state monopoly socialism as an ironclad principle that had been scientifically evolved and verified.

    They ought to have emphasized that state socialism is a beginning hypothesis, subject to testing and, if necessary, altered. Don’t you agree?

    But they didn’t do that because they had embraced the prompt abolition of private property from the bourgeois Moses Hess, and thought in their self-confident bourgeois heads that they were unquestionably correct.

    Look, do you agree that it is grossly premature to abolish private productive property rights under socialist state power . . . or not?

    I say that it is premature, and that construction toward a classless, stateless, completely human society must be a several generations process; and that this process must be a strategic alliance of the working, small biz and intellectual classes.

    I say that classes can only diminish and hopefully disappear someday by making private property owned democratically, by those who do the work, whether by the peasant families who till the land, of the industrial and commercial workers who cooperate with each other for primary ownership and self-management, and allow the state to hold a minor, partial, silent share in order to avoid a tax-revenue system.

    What do you say?

    We need to talk about the correct maximum, strategic program of transformation which the leading party, if given a mandate by the people, would implement. All that other talk is useless beard stroking.

    If you are going to build a party in Brazil which has a chance, during your lifetime, to hold state power and usher in a socialist society, you’ve got to be able to tell the Brazilian people what you stand for programmatically.

    If you cannot, Luis, what chance do you have of raising the consciousness of the people to an authentic socialist level, of building a vanguard party, and actually making a revolution?

    Let’s talk about maximum program, shall we! Cheers.

  • According to his (once upon a time) close friend Norberto Fuentes, Fidel described his own political views thus, “I am a Marxist of course, but never a Communist, in that I was never willing to subject myself to the dictates of the Party. I recognized in the methods and propaganda of the Soviet system the means to achieve and maintain power, that is all. Above all, I am a Fidelist.”

    Whether that was a direct quote or a synthesis of opinions gleaned through years of friendship, Fuentes doesn’t say. but it certainly rings true.

    Any Ruler who has kept an iron grip for half a century loves power and nothing else.

  • Grady, here lies the issue – unfortunately you are making the very same mistake of the revolutionary left in the past – insisting on the ‘ideological warfare’! That’s why the right wins – the left ‘only unite in prison’. I did not write “problems” between quotes for nothing, I suppose it’s a language-level issue because when one writes like that I didn’t mean that I have *actual* problems with you.

    In my point of view, in the 19th century the Marxian belief of a strong proletarian state was kept strongly due to the *slaughter* of the Paris Commune. A ‘program’ that was consistent with the idea of survival – addressing your quotes, yes they say about the idea of the yet inexistent socialist state to own the means of production and to transform private property into public property, but they don’t say exactly how to do it, much less how to manage it.

    Marx himself would never call himself a ‘Marxist’, because he advocated an ever-changing dialogue with the material conditions of the present. And the reality as he saw it in the 19th century was different from today’s, hey it was different in the early 20th century as well by the time of the Russian Revolution.

    We don’t even have to push the ‘forward’ button all the way to the NEP and Yugoslavia, heck what were the 1905 soviets in the first place rather than your dream of cooperative ownership and democratic control of the means of production?

    If I was really a follower of this inexistent ‘quasi-religion’ I’d never, EVER state my #2 point – ALL property is, in the end, private! I’m over with this ‘state vs private property’ false dichotomy because it really *does not matter* – by the moment you claim ownership over something you are excluding the access of others from it.

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend. NOT! That’s why you should really, as an advice, cut your applause of ‘you know who’ whose poisonous presence here is a destructive one in the long run.

  • I will not argue against your first two paragraphs, because it would be a useless butting of heads. Your third paragraph is a different matter.

    The Soviet system was imported into Cuba because the Cuban leaders had bought into the Marxian state monopoly socialism dogma. They thought making everything productive into state property to be a get-rich-scheme for their country–not for themselves.

    As an analogy, they were courageous, patriotic, well-meaning cooks who had gotten control of the kitchen, but then utilized a completely erroneous recipe to bake a socialist cake.

    In the end their ideological rigidity made Fidel declare that “nobody” really knew how to bake the cake.

    Well, that declaration was true. Nobody did. But they believed that they did, and have spent their lives doing the best they could.

    However you might try to discredit the Cuban leadership, they are historic heroes of the first order. Even in their errors they have the love and respect of the present and future generations.

  • I’m not familiar with that federation. But I do have a really good, 1985 book by George Melnyk entitled: The Search for Community: From Utopia to a Co-operative Society.

    It’s paperback, short and good, only 149 pages.

    One interesting thing that is dealt with in it is the Hutterite communities of Western Canada. In these, private property has been discarded completely, and this seems to work very well for the people, close to 100,000, if I remember correctly. But they are somewhat like the Amish and others, in that you have to be a member of their strict Christian sect, and speak their Germanic dialect. This let’s me out!

    I think society might arrive at some future point in which private productive property, and the institution of legal rights which underpins it, has evolved away through a natural process. This however, if it ever happens, is of only minor concern to us of today.

    Our main concern is the defense of the institution of private property rights under post-monopoly-capitalism. I believe, as did old P-J Proudhon (and bourgeois theorists) that there needs to be a power in socialist society which can counter-balance the raw power of the state, and keep it from becoming tyrannical.

    Marxism, as both you and I seem to know, by destroying these rights through the stupid state monopoly ownership principle, almost guarantees some sort of Stalinist dictatorship will arise. Cheers.

  • Marxist scientific socialism is neither scientific nor socialist.

  • Grady, I have no problem with co-operatives as part of the mixture of institutions in a free and democratic society. No question, co-ops have a positive role to play. I just don’t think one can base the whole system on such a scheme.

    So when Cuban farmers start forming co-operatives as has recently happened, I applaud as you do. This puts more power and responsibility in the hands of the people while improving productivity.

    Are you familiar with the Canadian Co-operative Federation? Some interesting history there. Sadly, the party has evolved into a mish-mash of modern leftist political fads and away from the co-operative basis.

  • And you are quite right in seeing that there is no science in the Moses Hess/Marx/Engels utopian idea that classes and private property can be abolished in one fell swoop, by giving the socialist state ownership of all things productive.

    If only my comrades could grope their way out of the cult personality fog and see what is right in front of them, we could have an authentic socialist world in fairly short order.

    But they cannot, which probably shows that blind faith is stronger than experimental result, or things written in black and white.

    I wish that you, Griffin–and also your tag-team co-thinker–could apply your rigorous analytical criteria to the utter bestiality and unworkability of monopoly capitalism/imperialism. If you could, you might become a cooperative socialist–instead of whatever you are.

  • You are quite right to attack the absurd presumption of “science” Marx & Engels claimed. Adherence to any rigid dogmatic ideology is anathema to real science. The unbroken string of failures represented by the Marxian socialist experiments do prove that Marxism is economic, political and social nonsense. It doesn’t work. That’s science!

  • If I may speak to this comment, Luis, Marxism may indeed be much, much more than the Manifesto, but you are deliberately avoiding the issue.

    The core principle for socialism as set forth by Marx and Engels, and held to all their lives, is that the socialist state should own everything productive. I have tried to show this by four quotes from their collective stance, but you jump away from these quotes as if they are of no significance.

    “Oh, no!” you say. “Let’s not stick with what is bringing examined. Let’s jump over and talk about NEP and Yugoslavia!”

    Come on, comrade. You can do better than that. Be honest. Use your objective sense.

    Marx and Engels had the right to propose a “hypothesis” for any future socialist experiment, and this would have been the scientific way to proceed. They didn’t do that. They put forth “state monopoly ownership” as an ironclad principle, and claimed that this was scientifically valid.

    But science does not bluster forth with ironclad principles based on two bourgeois guys personal opinions. Science advances a reasonable hypothesis, and then seeks to design an experiment or set of experiments to test the validity of the hypothesis.

    Marx and Engels said “We know about science, and you can trust what we say. The state should own everything productive under socialism, and that is that!”

    But it was a total crock. Where did they get that personal opinion? In a dream? In a blinding flash of insight? From a box of Cracker Jacks? Through experimentation?

    There was not, is not, and never will be any scientific validity to the Marxian state socialism principle.

    They ran a spurious core principle in on the socialist movement which contradicted the workers’ traditional concept of cooperative ownership of things productive, and after a third of a century of ideological warfare, established it as the essence of socialism.

    Cooperative worker ownership would have ruined Engels financially, and his participation in his father’s textile mill business was where he made his fortune, and also where he supported Marx and his family for three decades.

    I’ll tell you where Messrs. Marx and Engels got their spurious state monopoly principle. It was not through scientific experimentation. They got it from a guy named Moses Hess, a secular Jew who also, as it turns out, is also an ideological father of Zionism.

    Hess convinced Marx and Engels before 1844 that the evil of capitalism comes from the institution of private property rights. (This was the usual bourgeois Utopianism.)

    They then devised their phony claim to being “scientific,” in order to smuggle the immediate abolition of private property rights, through the core principle of 100% state monopoly ownership, into the working class socialism movement.

    I believe that, one of these days, comrades like you are going to begin listening to me. When that happens, whether I’m alive or dead, it will be the equivalent to the landing of the Granma. Right now however, you are hopped up on your Marxist quasi-religion and can’t think straight. Your ears are stopped up. But, I can always hope.

  • It is not my fault that

    even such as you can

    catch a glimpse of the

    truth, while others duck

    and hide their eyes.
    Burma Shave

  • Thanks for the speech, Ricardo, but you have not addressed the central point of the quotes. You say that Marx meant what you say he meant, but the quotes speak for themselves. No truck-load of verbiage on your part will alter the truth.

    “State socialism” was the “scientific” formula for socialism which Marx and Engels counterpoised to the non-state cooperative ownership socialism which existed originally in the socialist movement. It took them a third of a century to substitute their bourgeois utopian “immediate abolition of private property through full state ownership of everything productive,” but they finally succeeded by making Marx into a God-figure.

    Some of the stuff you say is true, but most of it is gobbledygook. Perhaps you can rethink it. Cheers.

  • Well, Victor, when he and Engels used the word “all,” I assume they meant “all.” This, unless I’m mistaken, would include restaurants, retail shops, the land, etc., etc., etc. (It’s what Lenin, Fidel and Raul thought he meant.) If my assumption is incorrect, perhaps you can divine what they really meant, and enlighten us all.

    The bottom line here is not what Marx said, or did not say. He was not a god or a pope, and anything he said should be judged in the same way that we judge what anyone else says, or does not say.

    What we should be trying to work out–honestly and in a principled way–is a reasonable, non-state monopoly hypothesis for further socialist experiments in whichever country, including Cuba and the US.

    Sectarians seem to shift the focus of what we should be talking about, to things which are non-essential.

    It should be obvious that the small bourgeoisie and/or cooperatives of workers, not the state, should own and administer restaurants under viable, real socialism.

    But the PCC comrades bought into the dogma set forth by Marx and Engels–see above quotes–that the state ought to do it all. What more can I say; if you don’t get it, I can’t explain it. We need a new hypothesis for the further socialist experiment.

  • The ideological “problems” I have with comrade Grady can be summed, basically:

    1. Marxism is much, much more than ‘The Communist Manifesto’.

    2. ALL property, in the end, is private.
    3. What about the Leninist NEP? This *might* give a hint why many socialists blame forced collectivization and its consequences on Stalin.
    4. Yugoslavia is seem as a ‘bad’ example or not ‘true’ cooperative socialism, but I on the other hand see Tito’s break-up with Stalin in the post-war only positives consequences to his country, as he was not forced to follow the ‘formula’ of the USSR economy.

  • An historical side note: Mao did very little to organize the Chinese people to fight against the Japanese. There are only two battles in which Mao commanded his army against the Japanese, and both of those were disasters. Most of the time Mao retreated, let the Japanese fight the Nationalist Army, which did try to stand and fight. After the Japanese army moved through the area, Mao would march in and take over. Any peasants who resisted Mao’s army were slaughtered. The Japanese faced no serious opposition in China and only withdrew their army when the American advance through the Pacific threatened the Japanese mainland.

    As for Cuba, the island has plenty of natural resources. They have good soils, sufficient rains, rich seas of fish, and significant mineral resources ( cobalt, nickel, iron ore, chromium, copper, salt, timber, silica, petroleum). The regime insists they have little natural resources as an excuse to explain away their own incompetence an ideological blindness.

    You are correct in identifying the imported Soviet system and the economic failure it created. Fidel saw in Soviet Communism a means to securing his power. Economic development and socialism were secondary concerns, and in the end, sacrificed to achieve the primary goal.

  • The proletariat never seized power in any of the societies that implemented “sociialism”.

    What Marx said was that “socialism” was going to be an evolution. He believed that it would take root first in the USA and Great Britain which were already industrializing nation at the time of his writing. He believed that a class struggle would lead to “The proletariat seizes the public power, and by means of this transforms the socialized means of production, slipping from the hands of the bourgeoisie, into public property.”

    Now, if we look back at what took place in the 20th century, socialism, in most of the countries were it was implemented, was fostered by a limited group of people and imposed on the majority.

    In the Russian case, it was put forward by the intelligentsia on a population that was mostly agrarian and rural. There was no heavy industry in Czarist Russia, therefore, there was no industrial workers and no proletarian class. The leadership, consequently, had to create a proletarian class to implement their socialist utopia. First they went on to do this by pursuing the rapid development of heavy industry, and consequently with the collectivization of farming. The creation of the industrial complex being necessary for the creation of a proletarian class.

    Collectivization of farming was believed it would increase production and improve on distribution of goods produced. The result was quite the opposite. Collectivization of farming was opposed by farmers and production fell sharply and famine and shortages became the norm. Moreover, collective farming created a spiral of inefficiencies and shortage that the regime blamed on “sabotage” and “treason”. This situation also gave way to en era of paranoia were millions of people were arbitrarly persecuted and dislocated to remote areas. By the 1930’s from being an exporter of grain the Soviet Union became an importer of grain.

    The shortage and dislocation of goods and products persisted to the very end of the socialist experiment in the former Soviet Union.

    In the case of China, again a very rural agrarian society, the situation was a bit different. The socialist leadership did attempt to rally the support of the rural masses. The People’s Army, under the leadership of Mao, also a member of the intelligentsia, knew that China did not have a proletarian class and they attempted to educate the Chinese farmers to the ideals of socialism. During the war period Mao’s People’s Army was very successful in building a solid base to fight against the Japanese aggressor. After the war, when collectivization was implemented the same situation arose as it was the case in the Soviet Union. The Chinese attempt at industrialization created the same shortages and dislocations in the food production and the same negative outcome.

    It is also important to note that the implementation of forced industrialization did not improve the workers quality of life. In order to implement rapid industrialization the state imposed very strict laws to instill discipline on the industrial workers. Not only the state kept wages artificially low but the institution of production quotas created a situation of complete exploitation.

    Now, I shall focus on the Cuban experiment with socialism. Again, as it was the case with the two previous situations socialism was imposed from a limited group of people an a majority that was mostly agrarian and rural. No heavy industry here either and therefore no proletariat. Moreover, in the Cuban case, socialism was implemented in a country that locked any natural resources. Nevertheless, as in the other situations, here too the state implemented the same effort at industrialization and collectivization with the same catastrophic results. Some industrialization was possible as long as there was the support of the former Soviet Union, once that this support was removed the underlying problems came to the surface. It became clear the this was a Caribbean island with little or no natural resources and, therefore, industrialization was not a viable option.

    Moreover, the lock of natural resources and the withdrawn of Soviet support gave rise to a period of austerity were a system of rationing as been implemented to prevent mass famine and here we have to note, just has it was the case in the Soviet example, this was a country that before the implementation of socialism, and the consequent collectivization of farmland, it was producing enough food to feed itself and also to export.

    Also, just as it was the case in the other situation here also the state implemented the same control and suppression on wages and in addition the implementation of a dual currency system. The creation of the dual currency system created a dysfunctional economy were the workers get paid in a lower value currency but are charged in higher value currency for goods sold by state owned enterprises. This has created a situation were the majority of the population cannot afford to buy very basic items of every day use.

    The wage suppression gave also the state the possibility to create en enormous state apparatus to control all aspect of society. This kind of control by the state apparatus is only possible because of the suppressed wages. It would be highly unlikely that the state could support such apparatus if it had to pay wages compatible with a market economy.

    It is quintessential to understand that the greatest resource a nation has are its people. When a state prevents its people from achieving their true potential it is fostering the condition for an economic and social disaster. When a state take the incentive away from a population it prevents it from reaching its full potential and it relinquishes it to mediocrity and apathy.

  • Where did Marx say that all restaurants should belong and administered by the state?

  • Bravo, Grady!

    You have hoisted the Marxists on their own petard. The ideologues defend their particular version of Marxism by insisting the bad stuff was all Stalin’s fault, and that Stalinism isn’t the true Marxism. Thus Stalin serves the roles of scape-goat and bogeyman to Marxist ideologues today.

    As you succinctly demonstrated, with accurate textual references, the Stalinist “deviation” was forged in iron by the very fathers of the ideology: Marx and Engels. That is why all of the Marxist revolutions have repeated the same crimes. Stalin wasn’t an error, he is inevitable whenever the State obtains absolute power.

    Well done!

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