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

  • August 7, 2012 at 11:28 am

    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

  • August 6, 2012 at 8:33 am

    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.

  • August 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    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.

  • August 1, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    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.

  • August 1, 2012 at 8:49 am

    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.

  • August 1, 2012 at 8:08 am

    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.

  • July 31, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    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…

  • July 31, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    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.

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