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 11, 2012 at 6:37 am

    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.

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