The Blank Slate Theory and Socialism in Cuba

Vincent Morin Aguado

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban Revolution eliminated the private ownership of large landed estates, and in 1959 and following years we saw the disappearance of the ownership of property used for the private accumulation of wealth: apartment buildings, hotels, factories, shops and other businesses.

With the arrival of Fidel Castro into government, foreign companies lost their rights to own the means of production in Cuba.

On April 16, 1961, Fidel Castro proclaimed the socialist character of the revolution in progress, which turned out to be the eve of a military invasion organized and funded by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America.

Laying out these historical facts preludes the existence of a blank slate (tabula rasa). These events existed beyond the passions and reasons that today encourage any debate about our country.

The extremes of the controversy reach the point of denying the existence of socialism here and making the assertion that we live in under a system of monopolistic state capitalism.

It seems that the “Americans” became upset with the Castros because they became friends with the Russians, taking advantage of the situation to perpetuate themselves in power. The issue of property ownership is irrelevant as are the thousands of claims associated with the Helms-Burton, which are the affairs of nut cases back in Miami.

The testimonials are often stubborn; therefore it’s good to clarify some essential ideas.

The existence of the market, with its basic categories such as money, wages, banking, credit and so on, does not imply the presence of a capitalist system. Such economic categories have accompanied human society since the dawn of civilization.

Socialism in the models known to date have not been able to eliminate the market, an issue that was a veritable nightmare for communist thinkers, among them Che Guevara.

Consequently, socialist leaders have had to consider that the market and economic categories would be a part of the basis of any applicable variant of their system. Accordingly, they believed it would be positive to take advantage of inherited capitalist institutions and structures, whose functions shouldn’t surpass those goals advised by common sense and collective solidarity.

For there to exist monopolistic state capitalism there would first have to exist capitalism in the country in question. One may speak of socialist state-monopoly, but never its opposite when there does not prevail any private ownership of the means of production.

If one is a critical observer, they will confirm that the Cuban government has negotiated with foreign companies with regards to figures in the millions of dollars, yet it has never turned over those basic elements that would lead to the dismantling of socialism: public ownership of real property, land or the rights to manage employment provisions and the wages of workers.

Only with the advent of capitalism could bureaucrats in Eastern Europe turn into true businesspeople in the style of their Western European rivals, opportunistically exploiting key positions previously held and accepting for themselves financial assistance received from abroad.

The state bureaucracy of any nation that has attempted to build socialism could experience some degree of corruption and appropriate a part of social wealth, which will never make them owners of factories, land and other properties necessary for private businesses.
This bureaucracy will always function outside of civil law and will be morally condemned by the majority of the population.

Dictatorships don’t define the type of socio-economic system prevailing in a nation. Since the times of Pisistratus in Athens or Fabius Maximus in Rome we have known of tyrannies or dictatorships — some praised, others recriminated and a few judged as having struck a balance given their positive and negative aspects — as an unavoidable part of the historical process.

Accused of being a dictator, a caudilo and even vilified for having remained in power too long, viewed as a dreamer and even an adventurer, Fidel Castro will die loved by the majority of the people of his country. There are many examples that could substantiate this statement, as history assesses one’s strengths and weaknesses.

Even within a dictatorship, Cuba gave tangible, clear and irrefutable signs of democratic participation, i.e. people’s involvement in decision-making. Several revolutionary laws were preceded by a long process of mass discussions, with the Family Code, enacted in 1975, being a good example of this. National discussions prior to the Sixth Party Congress also evidence the taking of that path.

Similarly, in the most recent elections, about 95 percent of the voters participated, without pressure and despite the routine that characterizes our so-called “popular power” or people’s government.” Obviously socialism in our country still receives a high degree of consensus.

To those who believe that the uninformed are the key that sustains the current national political system, I recommend they read a Spanish philosopher of the most rancid anti-communist right, Jose Ortega y Gasset. The first pages of his masterful essay entitled “The Revolt of the Masses” will suffice.

The numbers of criticisms that can be made of the Cuban revolutionary process are innumerable, but they can never hide the work of the revolutionary government, whose list of positive accomplishments and contributions is equally long. Perhaps socialism cannot be saved, that will depend on the will of the majority of Cubans.

The fact of having a one-party or a multi-party system does in itself imply having true democracy. What is essential is the active participation of the people, from all strata, without discrimination, to decide on everything from the local to the national affairs of society.

Only with a legal ending of servitude were we able to talk about the first authentic democratic systems, without forgetting the significant limitations imposed on these, imposed from the beginning by glaring income inequality between people – an issue that is unresolvable under capitalism.

A good example is the United States of America, this paradigm of “democracy,” which abolished slavery officially 91 years after its proclaiming freedom in its constitution and requiring another 100 years to eradicate the most blatant forms of discrimination, one similar to those of the now non-existent system of Apartheid in South Africa.

What defines socialism, from a Marxist perspective, is an existential proposal: the elimination of human alienation and reaffirming those acquired qualities that separate us from our zoological origin. As Freud correctly stated, the whole history of civilization was the struggle of humans against animal instinct.

Countries attempting to achieve fairer structures of income distribution and reduce the gap between the rich and poor — usually based on strong state-capitalist structures — are actually “doing socialism.” If we were to add political forms that guarantee equal participation, marked by the imprint of the collectivity, and that would be an excellent path.

To say that Cuba isn’t socialist, the Soviet Union never was and nor is contemporary Vietnam, is to try to clean the slate. Where are they asking us to go? We can advance more slowly or more quickly, but we must advance forward, never backwards!

Vincent Morin Aguado: [email protected]


5 thoughts on “The Blank Slate Theory and Socialism in Cuba

  • “For the record, Cuba abolished slavery in 1886, later that the USA did.”

    Sophism at its best. See the Cuban War of Independence happened after this. Your comparison is out of context and your reasoning leads towards an unrelated topic. Poor Griffin.

  • Aguado wrote, “A good example is the United States of America, this paradigm of “democracy,” which abolished slavery officially 91 years after its proclaiming freedom in its constitution and requiring another 100 years to eradicate the most blatant forms of discrimination, one similar to those of the now non-existent system of Apartheid in South Africa.”

    For the record, Cuba abolished slavery in 1886, later that the USA did. Government propaganda in Cuba will tell you that racism is a thing of the past, yet it still lives on in Cuba. The topic has been well covered here at HT ( ) and elsewhere: ( )

    One significant difference between the racism in Cuba vs the racism in America, is that Americans can talk about it while the government in CUba would prefer the people shut up.

    And that is the key point about the above essay on Cuban Socialism which the author neglected. The government does not allow opposition to the party or their policies or their leaders. So there is no way to know how the people really feel about any of it, nor do we know how the Cuban people would feel if they had the right to free speech and free association. When the dictatorship controls all, the will of the people is unknown, unheard and meaningless.

  • You’ve given us much to think about, Vincent; I’ll have to re-read your article to fully absorb more of your observations.
    I’ve just returned from a month-and-a-half in Cuba, and one benefit of only being able to afford to visit every two years is noting the changes which have occured in the meantime, between visits. The changes I see are positive; Cuba is finding its own way towards the future, incorporating that which is beneficial, and casting off that which isn’t. In the end, as always, I believe the Revolution realizes that its most important asset is the Cuban people. After all, that is why societies are instituted; otherwise, as Hobbes stated, life is short, brutal, and unpredictable. As long as the Revolution continues to invest in, and develop, its human capital, it will advance.
    I look forward to future posts from you.

  • I appreciate your thoughtful attempt to cast a more optimistic light on the Cuban reality. I was moved by the victory speech of my President Barack Obama last night and could not help but think about my friends and family in Cuba. President Obama noted that a democracy of 300 million people is bound to be messy at times and argue a lot but reminded us that there are countries (insert Cuba) around the world who would like to have the right to argue their ideas as we have. I hope that your blank slate in Cuba will one day include the right to disagree with government, to stand alone in your beliefs if need be and to choose which side of the argument to support without losing your freedom or worse. If it is the will of the Cuban people to remain a socialist state, so be it. I hope you have the right to determine that will without undue internal or external influence.

  • Wow, a very interesting article, Vincent! It is so rich in ideas that I hardly know where to start.

    Good point about the market. It has existed at least since the stone age. Anthropologists learn about the doings of prehistoric peoples by the articles of trade found in “digs.”

    For socialists to think that the market is inherently evil is absurd. The market functions differently in different social systems. The market under capitalism is different from the market under a socialist cooperative republic.

    Another good point you make is that Cuba does not have a “monopolistic state capitalism.”

    I hope you continue to write in HT. Best wishes.

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