The Danger of Pragmatic Economism

Pedro Campos

HAVANA TIMES — Once again I’ve heard the voices of representatives of a trend of pragmatic economism who insist that “what’s important is that the economy functions, not the form of ownership or production used to achieve that.”

It doesn’t matter what it’s called or the place or time when this is said. I have no predisposition against them, and I have no intention of discrediting anyone in directing my criticism of this way of looking at the economy.

Democratic and libertarian communists don’t criticize people. We discuss ideas and opinions, not to harm anyone in particular, but to try to contribute to the socialist debate.

This pragmatic and economistic way of thinking about economics ushers in grave dangers. “It doesn’t matter what color the cat is, as long as it catches mice,” was the “humoristic” manner in which Deng Xiaoping phrased it to rationalize the widespread introduction of domestic and foreign private capitalism in China.

For Cubans — just 90 miles from the greatest imperialist power in history, one which has yearned for the real or virtual annexation of our country for centuries — such thinking has a very clear danger. “Since no one doubts that American capitalism functions, develops the economy, and produces growth and well-being for its employees, a good option would be to turn over our economy to US corporations.” This was one thing that I heard from a person during a conversation on a bus.

Effectively, that way of viewing economic development presents the danger of eventually handing over the country to US capital through the promotion of private capitalism, as is being done with the unconstitutional authorization of the private exploitation of wage labor, which some of our pragmatic economists don’t see as so bad “because these workers have found jobs and don’t feel exploited, and they earn more than when they worked for the government.”

If that isn’t outright propaganda for private capitalism, may God drop down out of heaven to convince me otherwise.

I’m not saying anything that isn’t already known. There are some Cuban-American capitalists who have already invested money in profitable businesses here in Cuba, taking advantage of the possibilities offered by the “updating” that allows for the private exploitation of wage-labor. The examples include farms, restaurants, taxis and rental properties.

If this were no more than money to help a family business that didn’t exploit wage labor, or to promote a cooperative, it would not be anti-socialist. Nor would it be unconstitutional to send money to Cuba for those purposes. Indeed, those would be actions worthy of applause.

But sending large sums for the exploitation of others, with the economic benefits even accruing outside of the country, is the beginning of the end of the Cuban Revolution.

Capitalism is like gangrene; if you give it a finger, it takes your whole hand, then your arm and finally your life. As Che once said, “To imperialism, we do not concede an inch.”

In the present circumstances of Cuba, pragmatic economism — which is indirectly resisting cooperativism (“there is no constitutional scope for cooperativism beyond farming cooperatives… in cooperatives in capitalist countries there is also corruption,” etc.) — constitutes the most serious danger of capitalist restoration currently facing the Cuban revolutionary process.

Those who are interested in diverting attention from this greater danger are currently trying to focus public opinion on the activities of Generacion Y, Estado de SATS and opposition groups.

Communists, revolutionaries and true democrats shouldn’t fall into that trap of “what’s important is to develop the economy” regardless of how this is done, despite who benefits from it and no matter who is harmed by the approach.

One should note that what’s happening in Europe right now with that form of capitalism that some want to slip in through the backyard window.

And take a look at China, where their purported development has been achieved on the basis of millions of workers languishing in semi-slavery and more than a billion people having been turned into “proletarian reserves” living in misery.

Imagine what would happen in Cuba, with just over 11 million inhabitants, if one tried to impose China’s experience on us.

Should we aim to develop owners of capital at the expense of workers? Should we aim to develop a corrupt bureaucracy at the expense of workers?

No. That isn’t the kind of development we want. We want development for everyone, shared, where everyone participates and benefits equally; a society, like that described by Jose Marti and in our socialist Constitution as being “with everyone and for the good of everyone” – not a society that benefits some and injures others, not one divided into exploiters and the exploited, not where some lead and others are directed, not a society where some live off of the work of others.

If we lose this vision we have lost everything.

The Cuban Revolution was not made for coming along now and turning over the country to domestic and foreign capital. No one is denying the need for external funding that contributes capital, technology and markets that do not exploit Cubans, just as no one is proposing to close off the necessary exchange of products with the outside world, based on a kind of autarky.

The question is how to do this, what entity and what kind of entity and who will respond to that entity, what commitments are acquired in exchange, what are the purposes of investment, and on what socio-economic basis this is established.

The danger of pragmatic economism is quite clear. It is not seen by those who are only thinking about economic development, without considering how to achieve it, its other consequences and at what costs. The danger is not seen by those who don’t want to or by those who are hiding their pro-capitalist intentions.

One reaches this along the path of philosophical relativism, understood as “every road leading to Rome,” only that some will get you there faster and others will never get you there.

Those who deny socialist utopia have every right to do so, but they mustn’t try to confuse people with a language of bourgeois developmental, or keep saying that “socialism” has already demonstrated its failure, when what has clearly been demonstrated that what was tried, and what we have in Cuba, is not at all socialism.

What we have here is a misrepresentation of the ideas of Marx. What we have here is a caricature of socialism, which in truth has always been a concealed form of monopoly capitalism by the state and functioning primary for the benefit of the bureaucratic class.

They mustn’t try to “sweep the floor” with the idea of socialism, using as a broom the “state socialism” that was never socialist.

No one should get upset, because I’m not accusing anyone of being guilty of anything. I have explained that there were dire circumstances that led us here, and therefore I myself was included.

The critique of “state socialism” by the supporters of Socialismo Participativo y Democratico (Participatory and Democratic Socialism) can never be used by those seeking to restore capitalism in Cuba. This is simply because it has always been accompanied by the proposal for socialism of the democratic and cooperative/self-management style, in the direction conceived by Marx and the original socialists.

This is not to denigrate socialism, or to mock it or to attack anyone — as apparently some attempt to do, but instead to claim it, vindicate it and reorganize it away from all of the attempts to divert it.
To contact Pedro Campos, write: [email protected]


17 thoughts on “The Danger of Pragmatic Economism

  • You can ignore political thinking, at least at first, but not history and observation. Then formulate a theory based on both – essentially the Scientific Method for social situations. What does history and what’s currently taking place tell us? That based on the state of world economies, Cubans would have to be crazy to see unbridled market capitalism as their saviour to be blindly rushed into. Presumably, that’s why the government is doing it carefully. Unfortunately, capitalism is the fox and Cuba looks like the best hen house around, to be pillaged at will.

    Under the circumstances, advocating opening doors and letting “them” in is an extremely naive thing to write. We hardly need another Greek economic experience.

  • I look for results and solutions to problems. Not political theory!!
    Imagine if Bacardi was still hiring workers that paid payroll taxes and Bacardi was paying property taxes and distributers of product were also doing the same.
    I have heard that 65% of Cuban economy is based on imports. What does that mean? Answer: Your economy cannot grow!!
    Cuba has only one thing to sell and create a taxable cash flow. That is the best possible tourist attractions at a competive price. Send people home with a smile and they will make your economy grow.
    Just had an eyeopening week in Cuba and wish I was 30 years old. The door could be opening, let them in.

    Chuck Bailey

  • Good point Grady, I started it off and agree we should move on now that the subject has been successfully ring-fenced. Obsessive hostile postings on a message board are not an attempt to communicate, but to undermine, for whatever reason. The element has been out’ed. The point has been made.

    Following up on some points ‘Okasis’ and ‘John Sparre’ raised, there seems to be a quorum of agreement in this forum that welcomes cooperatives, seeing some hope in their being listed in the ‘updatings’ being advanced but no sign so far of this being a priority item. Can we view allowing private businesses as a help or hindrance to cooperatives’ creation? Once people are aware of the extraordinary effort involved in running a small business and the precarious nature of the enterprise, will they band together for common benefit or will they see the handful that are very successful as an incentive for them winning the ‘business lottery’?

    The capitalist experience is, once people start thinking of themselves and not the group, it becomes a mindset so I’m doubtful about achieving cooperatives through creating private businesses. ‘John Sparre’ points out capitalists don’t see cooperatives as a profitable enterprise. I would add, it goes beyond that, they see them as tangible threats to elite power and to the system that creates it.

    It was interesting reading the rightwing Lexington Institute report referred to in the Havana Times piece about it, welcoming the Cuban ‘updatings’ as a whole and gingerly stepping around the cooperative issue. Cooperatives hand power to the people. The Institute is against big government but not big business – on the contrary, it is funded by the biggest, the military-industrial complex, thus handing power to institutions that have nothing to do with the common good!

    Chavez is certainly an inspiration for supporting cooperative structures in a hostile political environment but he has a gigantic supply of ‘black gold’ available to him that Cuba does not. No matter how strong the US despises him, we will never see a Venezuelan embargo that would cut off oil imports from the US’s biggest supplier. Venezuela has one set of challenges, Cuba another, with a common enemy – the capitalist model.

  • Prompted by your first paragraph, I’ve sent an article of response to Raul’s speech to HT for possible publication. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Let’s all remember something important. Accusing or inferring that people on the Left are less than genuine is an old police trick for sowing discord. An effective exchange of ideas cannot continue if we allow ourselves to wallow in suspicion. Let’s stick to the points and arguments presented.

  • John, you could not be farther from the truth. Your profile of me is amusing. I am the son of civil rights worker who marched in Martin Luther Kings inner circle. I have voted Democratic all my life and I lived in Cuba for three years until January of this year and have visited the island more than 25 times. My wife is Cuban. My children are Cuban. My in-laws are Cuban. I wish with all my heart that my Cuban family could simply buy a airline ticket and come to visit me in California the same way other human beings can travel without the year-long wait and paperwork. I wish I did not have to send money to Cuba every month so that my engineer suegra and my abogado suegro could eat chicken or pork any time they wished. How dare you judge me! Just because I don’t agree that the crap that has existed on that island for 53 years that you call a government is worth a damn, does not make me any less hopeful for Cuba’s future. Don’t be so narrow-minded.

  • it doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white. it is a good cat if it catches mice. the best system is no system. let anyone do what they want to do. co-op, small business, street vending, small businesses grow into big ones. whatever works. let the market decide. the most important things are regulation of the banks and financial system, laws that are enforced which protect the environment which was not a priority in china, (i advise visitors to china not to breathe the air or drink the water in some areas.) and a progressive tax system to redistribute wealth. i was reading about a C.E.O. who was getting $80 million a year in salary, bonuses and share options to push baked beans. a 9 year old chinese boy in the philippines hawking junk from the back of his bicycle ended up with a chain of malls. retailing, deciding what the consumer will buy can’t be done by committee. mondragon in spain is the biggest and most successful group of co-ops but it grew up in the basque region in an era of poverty. grady wants co-ops. how do you get them? legislate that banks should loan money to unproven start ups? there is a organization in america called kickstarter and there is the grameen micro loan bank in bangladesh. a bigger version with bigger micro loans would be a good thing in cuba. the problem in america with new co-ops is that banks do not want to loan money to workers in failed enterprises. they want quick profits. sell the real estate etc.

  • I am intrigued by the lack of any comments or references to Raul’s speech to the Political event taking place right now that is intended to establish yearly plans covering the next five years, to alter the economy. Hopefully to reconstruct it carefully, not simply throwing out the baby with the bathwater and then throwing the tub thru the window, because it is no longer needed.

    The 2nd point he made repeatedly was that the primary method of economic change should focus on the establishment of worker owned cooperatives, financed by the Government, but owned and managed by the workers. Laws need to be changed and written to allow these types of businesses, but that obviously should not present a huge problem.

    The other lack I find in your circular discussions is that no one mentions the tremendous gains Chavez has made in Venezuela, establishing Community Governing bodies to direct the spending of tax dollars directed toward the individual community. Each resident has a vote, local workers are hired to do the work, whether the focus is on improving roads, or building housing. Supplies are purchased from Community-Owned Coops, whenever possible.

    They are immensely successful and popular, especially in the low-income neighborhoods with high unemployment.

    Chavez is also trying to setup worker owned and managed factories and businesses, but that is much slower going, given the percentage of capitalistic owners entrenched in the opposing Plutocracy. Unlike Cuba, Chavez cannot just write new laws, he has to take state ownership of the property, and usually negotiate some oppressive price.

    To me, Cuba provides the impetus for the growing move towards Socialism in Latin America. Without the example Fidel and Che, The Southern Continent would continue as a collection of Colonies of the various International Corporations, raping the environment and enslaving the population.

    Fifty years and counting of successful revolution and Socialism in the shadow of the US is hard to ignore, and I think that’s obvious in recent attacks by the US, CIA, and various Corporations. One cannot ignore the complicity of the Corporate Media either.

    First the soft soothing propaganda promising a fantastic economic revival for some people; then the Fist of the quick Coup, and another Government is smashed by the Military and the Plutocracy.

    If that fails, the Death Squads help out by eliminating Patriots, and Predator Drones can always be put to use if necessary.

    Think about it…

  • moses may in fact be a group but why does lawrence w. assume that he is a cuban ex-pat? his english is good unlike freud who probably is a cuban ex-pat who hasn’t been in cuba for decades. i doubt if moses has ever been in cuba. i think that moses may belong to some right wing group, may not be paid but he gets a little bit of information from that group which is enough to distort and enough so that readers accept that he is a cuba expert who has been in cuba. this may be the eccentric hobby of an amateur but i think that he is connected to some group and i won’t speculate on who that group may be, government or private. freud is probably connected to cuban oligarchs, former big businessmen or landowners in cuba and may get a few favors or a small wage. freud is sincere but of touch but he gets into distortion unless he is very out of touch or less than brilliant. moses is in the mould of a very patriotic american who believes all the right wing nonsense. he thinks that distortion and exaggeration is a good thing in a good cause. moses may not have noticed but free market, unregulated capitalism has produced the biggest economic crisis since 1929. no one knows when or where it will end. one commentater wanted to know who moses was but moses was irate about the question. commentators should stick to the facts. all governments make mistakes so it is unnecessary to invent.

  • Thank-you ‘Grady’ for providing background to your comment. I did not mean to be hard on you either. I feel these are good discussions, mercifully free of capitalist propaganda claptrap, no doubt too over the head of the ‘Moses’ contingent that stalk these pages to even try to compose their usual asinine comments. I ask myself, is there anyone I know who would haunt a right wing capitalist web site, compulsively posting hostile comments as these folks are doing in a forum that clearly is not suited to their outlook? The next obvious question is what motivates the compulsion. There is a US ‘government line’ aspect and a frequency of the postings that makes me think this is not just a disgruntled Cuban expat.

  • Thank you, Lawrence W, for a well-presented, well-thought comment. I have tried repeatedly, over many months, to elicit a discussion with comrade Pedro Campos regarding the matters of worker-associate owned cooperatives, private property rights under socialist state power, and the textural origins of state monopoly socialism.

    If only he would engage in a forthright, comradely discussion with me, perhaps a lot of light might be generated for the advancement of socialism. But he will not discuss matters in the way you have just done, but keeps on writing the same nonsense about Marxism, Cuban bureaucracy, and such things as the Chinese experiment.

    I am not being “too hard” on Pedro. I am trying to get him to look at the facts of the “classic” Marxist texts and the origin of the state monopoly deviation from functional socialism. He simply will not engage in a comradely discussion. I have finally decided that he is deliberately burying his head in the sand because he can’t look at and discuss what Engels and Marx wrote in black and white.

    It is well known that young people who have been recruited into bizarre religious cults are extremely difficult to de-program and bring back to reality. Pedro Campos and other blind worshipers of Karl Marx exhibit the same clinical symptoms of such cult indoctrination. How am I supposed to reach him, and also perhaps keep others from being misled by his secular religion, except by speaking the truth and presenting the textural facts?

    If this annoys people and makes them think I am being too hard on a valuable revolutionary, then I apologize, but my obligation is to speak truly and hope that someday, somehow, the Marxist cult can be erased from the political landscape, and world socialism can be corrected and a new world brought into existence.

  • ‘Grady’, I think you are being too hard on Sr Campos. Previously you have written eloquently about the need for cooperatives and we both know the dangers of letting the capitalist fox into the hen house, both subjects of Campos’ essay. He may not either be aware of the traditional dialectics or care about them but there are no successful models to follow or proven scientific principles that can show us the road to follow no matter how much we embrace the Scientific Method. In social interactions, there are too many variables for science. As we know, more than three lead to chaos.

    I recently visited a new vineyard, the first in an area near where I live that aspires to be a burgeoning winery region in a microclimate, the only environment in Canada that is available to make wine. The new winemaker’s approach was very scientific – the grape variety was chosen to stand up to cold weather and he carefully measures the pH of the soil and utilises whatever other scientific metrics are available. Everyone wished him well but after the tastings of the first wines, there was a silence. They tasted awful!

    Afterwards, I talked to a man that grew up in Italy and has lived most of his adult life in Canada. His father used to make wine in Italy. My acquaintance knew the winemaker and said he advised him to blend his wine with other grape varietals until the taste was right but the vineyard owner wanted to rely on his scientific methods. Sometimes tasting what you have is the best way to achieve success I was told.

    It strikes me that rightly or wrongly, Cubans are hungering for economic change. Much of the hunger derives from western propaganda, the same propaganda that has inappropriately created a consumerist culture in capitalist countries. The governments of China, Vietnam and now Cuba have decided to assuage that hunger for the time being as a way of saving the socialist baby whilst throwing out some of the disturbed bathwater. It is not good theory nor practice, nor science but it may be necessary as the power of capitalist propaganda is overpowering at the moment.

    If the winemaker follows the advice of the old Italian winemaker, he will not have a pure varietal wine, but it will taste better for its consumers who would otherwise call for the vines to be ripped out of the vineyard. If letting in controlled capitalism works, it will lend a better taste to the socialist experiment until it has a chance to take off and thrive. It is dangerous and I would prefer not to see it happen but unlike the Cuban people, I’m not the one who has to pay the price and wait for this to happen.

    There is no science or theory possible to know what the best path to follow is when people are concerned, only informed best guesses and decisions. Hopefully they will be made with an ear turned toward learning what people need and want and a mind full of wisdom to find the best way to ultimately give it to them.
    are being too hard on Sr Campos. You have written eloquently about the need for cooperatives and we both know the dangers

  • I think you’re on the right track, Victor S., when you say, ” the state socialist stage of development may be nearing its historical end.” And this apparently is why comrades like Pedro Campos are so intent on falsifying the originators of the state socialist principle.

    After all, Marxism, the textural origin of this perversion of socialist economy, has been the main prop of capitalism for well over a century. The dismal historical disproving of this bogus ideology must be alarming to the international bourgeoisie. All the Trotskyists naturally would clamor that, “Oh, no! It was Stalin, not Marx who originated state socialism!”

    Not only do they clamor in this fashion, but they refuse to even discuss the words of Marx and Engels that outline and stipulate the state socialist principle.

    What I would hope that comrades like you would focus on is precisely what you said, that “Worker-owned co-ops are important and a proven mode for further growth within a socialist framework.” This is 100% correct, and it has enormous programmatic implications.

    Worker-owned coops need the legal institution of private property rights, under socialist state power, to be real coops, and not phony, bureaucratic creatures of a state monopoly socialist regime (Yugoslavia). Comrades like you and Pedro Campos should come to terms with the fact that private property rights are necessary during the socialist bridge to a future, classless, coercive stateless society. This sort of property can only be evolved away during a correctly-designed socialist bridge.

    Marxism smuggled the counter-revolutionary, Utopian, moralistic idea that private property rights are the essence of capitalism into the working class socialist movement. Its maximum program promised the immediate suppression of these historically-evolved rights by having the state own all productive property. This split the small bourgeoisie from the proletariat, and undermined and discredited socialism in all sorts of ways.

    But the correct, working class concept of socialism, the concept Marx sought to counter-act, is the concept that it is working associates who must own productive property directly and cooperatively, not through the agency of the socialist state-owns-everything-and-runs-it-with-bureaucracy regime.

  • Comrade Pedro: Your focus on the basic socialist goal of eliminating the exploitation of wage labour is crucially important to constructing a theory of transition that could apply to Cuba. Historically, state socialism has been the mode of Cuban development because of the material conditions prevailing in the second half of the 20th century. Health, education and the fairer distribution of work and resources all improved dramatically after 1959 precisely because there was a central authority, a state structure, to support and actualize a socialist program. Without a centralized authority and a well-motivated defence force, the Cuban revolution could well have ended at the Bay of Pigs in 1962.
    But material circumstances, including the daily banal terrorism of the bloquero, have both limited the progress of the Cuban revolution and prepared the healthy, educated Cuban people to move beyond the historical limits of state socialism and develop new social structures to provide economic goods. But let’s not forget the arts, the health care system and the armed forces. Right now it could be disastrous to deconstruct the Cuban state generally, witness what happened all across eastern Europe when the Soviet state ceded economic control to the oligarchs. Worker-owned co-ops are important and a proven mode for further growth within a socialist framework. Maybe you could comment on the Spanish Mondragon experience.
    Above all else, Cubans must defend the socialist gains of the revolution, while searching for new avenues of further development. Defaulting the Cuban system to overt crony capitalism, like Russia, would rapidly change Cuba into a barrio of Miami. So far, state socialism has accomplished huge gains for the average Cuban. Those social accomplishments should not be gambled on some fake notion of material abundance that is wrongly attributed to individual enterprise. Contemporary capitalism is in crisis. The huge numbers of homeless, many mentally ill and physically sick, are the living evidence of the failure of capitalism and its market system to provide a decent life for all.
    The state socialist stage of development may be nearing its historical end, but it should not be sacrificed for the fake promises of petty capitalism or monopoly capitalism. Jokes about cats and their ability to catch mice are amusing, but who is that person standing next to you, a boss or a comrade? Does your vote count as much as his? Do you receive pay according to work, or according to class status? Do you want a society based on the principle of equal pay for equal work, or based on profits to owners extracted from the value of the workers’ product? And as far as which cat catches the mice, consider that today Cuban per-capita GDP is somewhat greater than per-capita GDP of China.
    Comrade Pedro, keep up the good work.

  • There is so much truth and so much falsehood in your article, Pedro, that trying to address everything in a small space would be impossible. But let me say a few words.

    Pragmatic “economism” was and is the raising of the pre-revolution “minimum” program up into the primary program of the transformationary party. It meant moving society toward socialism in a gradual, “practical” way by such as trade unionism, and neglecting to raise the consciousness of the people to a socialist level by consistent representation of the maximum program within the context of minimum program struggle. By applying the term “economism” in the post-revolution, “maximum” period, you muddle the whole theoretical question, and destroy the term as an analytical tool.

    You think that what China is doing is “economism.” To you, apparently, anything that is practical is economistic. But practicalism that can or might exist during the maximum, strategic period under socialism state power should not be confused with the scientific, experimental helmsmanship of the revolutionary party, whereby a hypothesis is put forward, tested in the laboratory of experience, analyzed and, if necessary, replaced by a new hypothesis. That is the Scientific Method, and the scientific frame of mind needed by any socialist transformationary leadership.

    When Engels and Marx went to war against the original, cooperative socialists with their Communist Manifesto, they said clearly that, under a socialist state, all the means of production should be concentrated in the hands of the new state. This was taken as the core principle of “real” socialism, and it was and is the origin of state monopoly socialism. But this core principle ought to have been taken not as an ironclad principle, but as a hypothesis ready for experimental testing.

    But Marx became a god, and no one would challenge this inherently state monopoly mis-concept, this, as you put it, “caricature of socialism.”

    Even now, you boldly falsify history by claiming that state monopoly goes against Marxism. I think that your analytical mind has been ruined by sectarian dogmatism, by the blind worship of Marx, and you apparently hope that others will continue to follow your incorrect, non-transformationary leadership.

  • The problem is manifold. In first place Cuban workers, functionaries and so on, need motivation to work more efficient and harder. But a raise of 20% of salary for high productivity or 10 CUC additional for even coming to work is not the right answer. Twice the production with the same people should lead to twice the salary. Second problem who controlls it, in production process output can be measured. In bureaucracy?? Lack of feedback. Bureaucracy has to many excuses for delaying certain papers, intransparency and whatever.

    Micro enterprises, nor cooperatives are counterrevolutionary. What is a problem are groups of private entrepreneurs or high wealth persons. But none of the 170 something jobs liberalised would ever influence the law making nor the private house renters.

    I know a tech company in slovenia working as cooperative quite well, why not try to have cooperative outside farming? Let them import, have their bank accounts and see what happens? In best case the produce high quality goods and will even be able to export and generate profits for the country. In worst case the go bankrupt, but that how most Cuban enterprises perform without subsidy. In any way it would be great if people felt more responsibility for the economy, than the country would be better off by far.

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