The Debate on Cooperatives in Cuba

By Pedro Campos

Viñales, Cuba. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 26 — This past February 2, I sent the following letter to the “Letters to the Editor” section of the Granma newspaper with the intent that it be part of the debate unfolding there around the issue of cooperatives. There have passed three Fridays (the one day of the week the letters are published), and seeing that my letter has not been included —perhaps because Granma has too many letters in its mail bag awaiting publishing— I will make the contents of my letter known here, given that this issue deserves to be broached as quickly as possible.

Letter to the editor: I continue reading with great deal of attention what has been published in Granma on the issue of cooperatives.  For co-ops to be seen as “a necessary evil” (just as self-employed labor has been viewed) implemented only to solve problems of the State or difficulties the State cannot remedy —even though it could be a step forward in relation to the failed statist philosophy— implies dangers.

One of these dangers could be that after a certain degree of stabilization, the State will do with cooperatives the same as it did with self-employed workers: limiting them by almost exhausting them with taxes, inspections, high input prices, regulations, etc., “because people were making a lot of money.”  This already happened once.

To resort to State-controlled cooperativism and only in the face of structural crises —in a “put out the fire” approach (just as has been done to self-employed labor and the market on several occasions)— will not solve socio-economic problems.

This won’t occur until such time as the system of cooperative-self-management labor has been assimilated, that of freely associated workers as the fundamental content of the new socialists relations of production, is gradually extended to all production, service and social activities.  And these, expanded to cover all of society’s collective, democratic and equitable characteristics in their forms of property, administration and distribution respectively. In short: socialist self-management.

It is evident that the forces in favor of the socialization/democratization of the economy are increasing.  However, this is not only among the people and workers, but also within the Party-Government-State itself, as it is confronted with the clear failure of the statist/wage-labor model. This is indicated even in the official press, which has begun criticizing centralization and publishing plans for converting some services to cooperative operations.

Two articles by comrade Varela Perez on the UBPCs [Unidad Básica de Producción Cooperativa, a type of agricultural cooperative] suggest that at least in agriculture the idea of cooperative-self-management is advancing with force.  As he reported, the Ministry of Agriculture thinks highly of transforming UBPCs into true cooperatives, instead of continuing to dismantle them – an inadequate suggestion though one identified by the nation’s leadership.

But to “cooperativize” whatever it may be —while at the same time maintaining State and centralized controls over planning, management, administration, earnings, accumulation, investment, commercialization, transportation, etc. of cooperatives— doesn’t break with the bureaucratic neo-Stalinist framework in which cooperativism as a system was always destined to failure.

Something similar occurs to cooperatives under capitalism.  Despite how very “socialist” they may be internally, the external system imposes its norms on them and blocks their development.  It’s necessary to allow the full development of cooperativism – without State controls other than tax payments.

The wage-labor of capitalism was replaced in cooperatives with freely associated labor to solve the contradiction between capital and labor, because the owners of the means of production are at the same time the owners of labor power.

When what is sought is to form companies that work in a cooperative manner, with the means of production and land that belong to the State and therefore the State seeking to exert some control over these companies, what we are really faced with is a relationship of co-management between the State and the workers.

If the State makes available land and the means of production though usufruct or leasing, it will have to continue monitoring them.  These would be co-managed companies, not-cooperatives; however the basic principles of cooperativism would be functioning here: property (in this case, collective usufruct property), democratic management and administration, and an equitable distribution of earnings.

One of the principles of cooperativism is the voluntary nature of those who associate and contribute means of production.  The campesino is free at any time to leave the cooperative with their individually owned land and the means of production they contributed. That’s not the case with someone who works in a co-managed company. That farm unit, which must be established by law, cannot be broken up.

It has been an error on the right to break up UBPCs to distribute land.  It is the road to capitalist restoration in the countryside, which perhaps was understood by the nation’s leadership.  The State should distribute fallow land that is not the UBPC’s, and all land of the UBPC should be transformed into co-managed agricultural companies.

The existence of this type of co-management doesn’t mean that it is the State that determines who directs the co-managed company in terms of its plans, personnel, costs, sales, prices, etc.; that would mean not leaving behind the tutelage of the State.  Here, the role of the State would be to supervise the proper use of the means of production and the land, make investments through credits and to assist with technological advisories and actions of these types.

If the means of production were given without cost to the company, or the workers paid for all of it, we would then be before a self-managed company that would only pay taxes and additional rent for the use of the land.  Every entity —be it owned by the State or privately— must pay rent, which requires it to produce.  Nor should the law allow this type of company to be broken up.

The State will have to exist, certainly, but in another form and with different functions in a society where freely associated relations of production prevail, which characterize cooperatives. The administration of the economy should be left to the producers and the State should devote itself to questions of the general development, banking control, national security, foreign relations and other matters of those types.

Equally, it will be necessary to internalize the idea —once and for all— that capitalism is the concentration of capital and wage-labor and not markets, money or property, which always existed and will exist for an indefinite period in the new society.  Nor is the desire to live better synonymous with capitalism. Consumerism is another thing altogether.

In any case, although that concept of State-controlled cooperatives is inadequate and won’t solve the problems of socialism, it can serve to begin along the path toward socialization, to open the eyes of those who still dream the Statist dream, and to demonstrate the superiority of the cooperative mode of production over the wage-labor mode.

Let’s hope all this has been understood and that soon cooperativism can advance in all areas of the economy. Moreover, let us hope it can extend itself to the rest of society as a philosophy of life and participation. Later could be too late.

I also suggest to Granma that it give the email addresses of the signers of the letters to the editor in order to facilitate horizontal exchange.


4 thoughts on “The Debate on Cooperatives in Cuba

  • . . . also, 4th para up: “Equally, it will be necessary to internalize the idea —once and for all— that capitalism is the concentration of capital and wage-labor and not markets, money or property, which always existed and will exist for an indefinite period in the new society. Nor is the desire to live better synonymous with capitalism. Consumerism is another thing altogether.”

    This statement is cataclysmic (“cataclysmic” in a good way). Socialism, real socialism, was never meant to reduce material prosperity & make everyone equally poor. It was always meant to make everyone prosperous, happy and more community-minded. The contrary idea was imported into the socialist movement to turn the working people away from owning the means of production cooperatively, because for them to do so would expropriate the bourgeoisie in a natural, legal, business-like way.

    Pedro’s not against socialism. He’s trying to develop & save it. Granma, please publish the letter.

  • This letter is stunning. It is brilliant. It, perhaps more than any other piece of writing at this time, should be published b4 the PCC and the Cuban people. How can sincere, constructive ideas be considered, analyzed and developed if they are not placed before the socialist nation? Granma simply must publish this profound letter.

    The ideas above r so powerful & important it is difficult to know where to start, but n the 5th para from the bottom: “. . .another form and with different functions in a society where freely associated relations of production prevail, which characterize cooperatives. The administration of the economy should be left to the producers and the State should devote itself to questions of the general development, banking control, national security, foreign relations and other matters of those types.”

    This a revolutionary lighting strike against bureaucracy & the anti-socialist dysfunction strangling the Cuban Revolution.

    Cont . . .

  • Part 2: Stafford Beer’s dream was to have the entire economy cybernetically networked. This was back in the 70s in Allende’s Chile. The idea is that with all economic information available to everyone, everyone becomes a manager. Budgets can then be submitted for aproval by the entire country, thus decentralising and democratising economic decisions. Back in the seventies this was beginning to become possible even with the limited technology of the time. But now with modern computers, it would be even more possible, though it would take a substantial investment to set up. However I still think this is the best solution. The State is supposed to be the People. the problem has been that democratic management with such large numbers of people has been difficult. However democratising State management seems to me a better option than breaking it up into smaller units. With modern internet technology this is now potentially possible.

  • Pedro, your letter is very interesting, but I am in two minds about what you propose. There are issues with market socialism which were identified by Che when he visited Yugoslavia. By all accounts Yugoslavia was quite successful economically before it was destroyed, but the problem existed that co-operatives competed against each other. Internally they might be socialist, but how do you ensure that they don’t accumulate concentration of capital? How do you ensure solidarity between workers of different co-operatives? Self-management, and the ability for workers to take the initiative, in short democratisation of labour, certainly makes for a better functioning economy. But I am wondering if all avenues have been pursued for democratising state production. The co-operative model has its advantages because decision making is limited to smaller groups of people, thus internally democracy becomes easier. But investment in cybernetic means of democratising information also has potential.

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