The Long Road to Socialism in Cuba

by Pedro Campos, (photos: Caridad)

HAVANA TIMES, March 16 — Some people “believe” that for there to be a transition to a socialist economy (where cooperative and self-management forms of socialist production predominate), a high level of capitalist development must first be attained, and therefore we need to prioritize the expansion of domestic and foreign private capitalism.

In this manner we would be “advancing” socialism, only in the same way that all other less developed capitalist countries are, except that such progress here would be like in China, “delimited” by the control of the Communist Party.

To support their positions, the advocates of this path hide behind the notion that “socialism is the transitional stage” under which capitalist remnants subsist. Those who cite Marx’s reference to the period of transition (in his Critique of the Gotha Program) to justify further capitalist development at this stage, fail to realize that his intention was precisely the opposite.

This period must serve to unearth the foundations of the old regime so as to lay the groundwork for the new mode of production, which Marx always understood as being socialism: the abolition of wage-labor and the development of freely associated labor, which he observed in independent cooperatives organized by the workers themselves.

If Marx mentioned the transitional state as the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” it was in the broad sense that every state is a dictatorship exercised by a class, not in the political sense of the term “dictatorship” as a form of government, since Marx clearly described the workers’ government as a “democratic republic.”

With such friendly advocates, socialism in Cuba (or anywhere else in the world) doesn’t need enemies.

We accept that they aspire to institute a kind of NEP (New Economic Policy), as envisaged by Lenin in Russia: “Communists building capitalism!”

But what’s left of those experiences?

What happened subsequently in developing capitalism without having developed cooperativism and self-managerial (“autogestion”) production? What followed was total statism, repression and all of the subsequent atrocities committed under Stalinism.

Why the denial of the posthumously published work by Lenin in relation to socialism, titled “On Cooperativism”? It should be published in Granma newspaper and be bedtime reading for all our “leaders”. It should be studied by the party study groups who call themselves Leninist.

Without their knowing it, I hold that the supporters of the strengthening of capitalism as a means of reaching socialism are effectively in agreement with the liberal Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner when he said, “Socialism is the transitional stage between capitalism and…capitalism.” Of course he was referring to “state socialism,” though what we have was never really even that.

More clearly: Behind those “Marxists” are some followers who are confused and well-intentioned, but also hiding behind them are a number of supporters of capitalism and authoritarianism. They don’t have to be accused of being traitors or taken to the “guillotine”; we’re well beyond such violence and absurd Jacobinism, but we are forced to examine their views as part of the dialogue we desire.

Those in power who want to promote capitalism in order to “build socialism later” would be throwing away 50 years of struggles and hopes for socialism, as well as 50 years of anti-capitalist confrontations, clashes with imperialism and sacrifices by the workers and the people.

To “do things correctly,” I’m sure they are already thinking about bringing back the thoroughly “trashed” capitalists and the imperialist monopolies. Yet it’s unlikely that the “communists” who were incapable of “constructing socialism” can “construct capitalism.”

Someone even told me that Cuba first had to become rich, and for that to happen capitalism was necessary. It is as if exploiting the labor of others were something normal, something without the slightest social significance, a meaningless phrase.

They speak as if capitalism could create more material, spiritual and human wealth than freely associated labor, as if capitalism alone created the rich and riches without their respective tradeoffs. They speak as if capitalism weren’t in crisis.

I will limit myself to repeating Marx: “The same as slave labor, the same as serf labor, wage labor is but an inferior transitional form, destined to disappear before freely associated labor that accomplishes its tasks with gusto, enthusiasm and joy.”

Not everyone agrees that capitalist wealth comes first 

Many rank-and-file workers and communists disagree with the idea of developing capitalism first. They didn’t fight and struggle for half a century for that and they still uphold the slogan “Never backwards, not even to pick up momentum,” which Raul Castro made popular in the early years of the revolution.

They are for the correction of the serious mistakes that were made, such as almost total “statization” and the elimination of autonomous individual and collective labor.

A state monopoly over the economy and politics is one thing, but it is altogether something else to think about restoring the classical private capitalist system and the power of money and capital.
Those who gave all their efforts and their entire lives to the “revolution,” those who have subsisted for over half a century on low pay — supplemented by subsidized health, education, food, clothing, footwear and housing — cannot understand or accept continuing with such low pay.

Nor will they accept the unilateral elimination of those subsidies for prices dictated by the international capitalist market and the bureaucracy in Cuba that controls the foreign exchange market. It is the vox populi: if the subsidies are to be eliminated, wages and pensions must be increased.

What can the state do? It needs to live up to its principals by giving up so much control over the economy and the lives of citizens. Give people some room to organize itself economically and politically, as they understand it: completely opening self-employment and cooperative work, along with full freedoms of expression and association, but refraining from prioritizing and extending “private wage exploitation.”

The state has provided tax exemptions on capitalists who exploit five or more workers. Where is this heading? Are they protected by the state in its need for the creation of wage-labor jobs? Why not accelerate the creation of jobs in cooperatives and self-managed companies?

The supporters of capitalism exist here in Cuba, holding all types of positions; concealed and open for various reasons. One of the most important reasons is that because of the failure of “state socialism,” together with ignorance concerning revolutionary Marxist socialism, they believe they have been left with no other options.

Therefore, those who oppose the development of self-managed and cooperative forms of socialist production and who object to the dissemination of ideas concerning Marxist socialism are placing their bets on the restoration of the old capitalist regime.

The rich exist here, directly and indirectly. Permitting them to legally exploit others not only goes against the constitution, but it is also promoting the mode of production that we are supposedly attempting to supplant; but what’s worse is that this is being done without the parallel development of cooperativism and self-management, which would at least offer the possibility to compete on the playing field.

The power of money

Money can buy the means of production, labor and even hearts. It can buy everything that stands in front of it. The rich, the capitalists, have gradually grown, increasingly exploiting wage-labor workers for the simple reason that their system is more productive and pays better than state capitalism.

They may end up buying the country, complete with its corrupt bureaucrats (whoever they are), which will be that much easier if there is no superior form of the organization of labor, one capable of producing more and better and generating more satisfaction of all types among producers.

I was told by a friend, a colonel in the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), that if they completely open up to capital and lift the blockade, we will see more than a few people selling themselves “like fresh pork at the market.”

From the opposition — the traditional supporters of capitalist restoration — to let them carry out such a project, which is the one they have always defended.

Those who believe that capitalist development is first necessary to then advance toward socialism are falling into the old Stalinist prejudice that views history as a mechanical and compartmentalized succession, with impenetrable partitions and socio-economic formations where one begins only where the other ends.

According to this dogmatic view of history, when the primitive communal mode of production exhausted its potential, there was the slave system; and when the slave system could provide no more, there then came feudalism; and when that system in turn exhausted itself, there then came capitalism; and socialism “will be built” once capitalism collapses.

This idea ignores the true parallel historical development of modes of production, ones that have been predominant in accordance with the development of their productive forces and the capacity and the disposition of the classes in power and the new revolutionary classes.

Those who use these schematics don’t consider, or don’t want to consider, that within the core of primitive communalism there began and developed the first forms of slave society, and that within the first slave systems there arose feudal relationships that were then refined into the most classical ones. They don’t know that wage-labor — capitalist — forms of production were expressed even in the slavery stage, of which there is evidence in Greece.

In 19th century Cuba there was slavery, feudalism and capitalism mixed together. Among workers there appeared the first signs of cooperatives, such as the Proudhonist mutual company in 1856 and the typesetter associations; at the same time the Aurora newspaper in 1865 led the tobacco growers’ guild in advocating cooperativism as a solution to wage slavery.

Perhaps the dogmatists don’t realize that cooperative forms of production have been expressed since people began to hunt mammoths, though these achieved their greatest development only under capitalism, under which they have been refined and will someday prevail in this or another country until they become generalized.

Cooperatives have expanded around the globe

Today, the cooperative movement in the modern capitalist world has been extended to the point where it involves more than 900 million cooperative members. This year, 2012, has been recognized by the UN as the “International Year of Cooperatives.” Nobel prizes in economics have been received by scholars of cooperativism, and the list of events and phenomena that demonstrate the importance of modern cooperatives is endless.

Stated simply: the new socialist mode of production has been underway and doing so at the expense of the old capitalist mode of production.

Socialism isn’t going to be built tomorrow from a single blow from a “violent revolution,” or by the decision of an enlightened group of thinkers: it has been developing within capitalism and will be attained, through its development, as the dominant mode of production.

In Cuba prior to 1959-60 there were many cooperative forms: cooperatives properly speaking in production and services, mutual clinics, retirement funds, mutual aid societies, large bus companies, hotels whose proceeds went toward unions, and other businesses that the revolutionary government “statisized” when it implemented its “nationalizations.”

For there to be revolutionary but less violent processes that are necessary for the triumph of socialism as a world system, these will depend on the ability and intelligence of the modern bourgeoisie to make adaptations to the capitalist system — as they have been doing — by allowing more workers participation in ownership, management and profits; enabling the development of cooperative enterprises, permitting a more equitable distribution of profits through the collection of taxes and by including social benefits in the state budget (as social-democratic or popular capitalism, etc.), but also the intelligence and capacity of the new revolutionary class of freely associated laborers to continually extend their new mode of production.

This is an issue that goes beyond the struggles of organized groups for power.

The new technologies and change

The new state-of-the-art information technologies are playing a major role in the liberation of wage-labor slavery.

Opposition to these is therefore logical given the existence of reactionary interests in all societies and their interests in censoring and limiting international networks. The freedom that permeates the Internet is very dangerous for authoritarians and those holding capitalist power.

Capitalism as the prevailing world system is in an increasingly acute crisis. It is being compelled to make reforms such as raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing lending to those poor who are willing to start their own businesses, expanding social services to the indigent, limiting the aims of big business; controlling the generation of waste caused by profit system, which stimulates ecological disasters; and adopting more democratic forms of government, as demanded by indignados (the outraged) of the world.

Either it makes these changes or social upheavals ill increase and turn into violent revolutions.

This is what’s happening with the protests in Europe, the United States and the Middle East, where the more brutal and violent the exercise of power, the more violence it engenders. In each region, international imperialism is responding with “smart power” in an attempt to control the situation and support their interests.

In their own countries they resort to repression; but while still trying to avoid bloodshed and deaths, they make reforms. In other countries, they try to capitalize on the protests with direct or indirect intervention, which are more or less violent.

I have written about this on other occasions, never attempting to stigmatize or discredit anyone. I’m merely trying to provide some clarity to the discussion: the old bureaucratic, statist, top-down mentality is the result of deviations from critical-revolutionary-dialectical Marxism that fell with Russian-Soviet revolutionary process.

Though named “Leninism” — by the Stalinists, but without the approval of Lenin — that mentality has tried to spread itself to all revolutionary and socialist movements of the twentieth century.

These were the deviations — opportunely identified by Rosa Luxemburg and ones that Lenin began to recognize in the last years of his life, though by that time physically disabled and unable to exercise leadership — that resulted in the subsequent disaster.

The supporters of a more participatory and democratic socialism understand that if the “updating” doesn’t engage itself, as quickly as possible, the main engines of socialization — which are broad cooperativism and the direct participation of workers in management, administration and the distribution the profits of state enterprises — Cuba will not be heading toward more socialism, but toward the predominance of private capitalism.


8 thoughts on “The Long Road to Socialism in Cuba

  • Mr. Svacek says: “The aggressive militarism of the American government has resulted in an immense national debt, largely owed to China.”
    This is radically false. The Chinese government owns about 8% of the US debt.. See below. All the data shows the same thing. Mr. Svacek is heavy on polemics, but short on rational thinking.
    So who owns all that U.S. debt?

    About 32 cents for every dollar of U.S. debt, or $4.6 trillion, is owned by the federal government in trust funds, for Social Security and other programs such as retirement accounts, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

    China and U.S. Debt

    The largest portion of U.S. debt, 68 cents for every dollar or about $10 trillion, is owned by individual investors, corporations, state and local governments and, yes, even foreign governments such as China that hold Treasury bills, notes and bonds.

    Foreign governments hold about 46 percent of all U.S. debt held by the public, more than $4.5 trillion. The largest foreign holder of U.S. debt is China, which owns more about $1.2 trillion in bills, notes and bonds, according to the Treasury.

    In total, China owns about 8 percent of publicly held U.S. debt. Of all the holders of U.S. debt China is the third-largest, behind only the Social Security Trust Fund’s holdings of nearly $3 trillion and the Federal Reserve’s nearly $2 trillion holdings in Treasury investments, purchased as part of its quantitative easing program to boost the economy.

    Criticism of China Owning U.S. Debt

    To put China’s ownership of U.S. debt in perspective, its holding of $1.2 trillion is even larger than the amount owned by American households. U.S. citizens hold only about $959 billion in U.S. debt, according to the Federal Reserve.

    Other large foreign holders of U.S. debt include Japan, which owns $912 billion; the United Kingdom, which owns $347 billion; Brazil, which holds $211 billion; Taiwan, which holds $153 billion; and Hong Kong, which owns $122 billion.

    See also: Debt Ceiling History

    Some Republicans have expressed concern over the amount of U.S. debt owned by China. Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a 2012 presidential hopeful, joked that when it came to the debt “Hu’s your daddy,” a reference to Chinese President Hu Jintao.

    Despite such joking, the truth is the bulk of the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt – $9.8 trillion in all – is owned by the American people and its government.

    That’s the good news.

    The bad news?

    That’s still a lot of IOUs.

    Also See:
    •Debt Ceiling Winners and Losers
    •What is the Debt Ceiling?
    •Outrageous Examples of Waste, Fraud and

  • Victor, may I suggest that you write to me in Santa Monica and obtain my new book “Hope for the Future: Foundations of the Cooperative Republic Movement.” Cheers.

  • We both are old dreamers, Victor. Let’s continue to hope for the future. Best regards.

  • Thank you, Grady, for your contribution and comments on this thread. I do agree with most of what you say. I especially like your unapologetic use of theoretical concepts and practical considerations. Those of us who are inclined to use the blurry language of abstraction often regard the practical application of our elegant theories as an afterthought. I would like to join you and any others who wish to contribute to this discussion, but my sense is that we should respect Sr. Campos’ initial essay and save further discussion and debate for another time. Meanwhile I am encouraged to know that you, John Goodrich and other thoughtful advocates of socialist revolution will not stop criticizing and reflecting. Philosophers have heretofore dreamed solutions to the world’s problems, but our challenge is to change it by the relentless intellectual criticism of everything while physically mixing the mortar of a new, democratic socialist society. But I must confess, for today my thoughts are to be sifting sand under the sun of the Playa del Este while racking my hat upon an old dreamer’s head. Venceremos.

  • Thank you, Victor Svacek, for your to-the-point reply to Pedro’s article. I agree wholeheartedly with your last sentence: “The future will take care of itself as long as intelligent and dedicated revolutionaries listen to each other while keeping their eyes and ears tuned to a society free from exploitation.” I’d like to say a few words in reply to your comment.

    First of all, you refer to the abolition of wage labor under socialism. Our modern socialist cooperative republic movement believes that such abolition of wage labor under socialist state power can only occur when private productive property rights are maintained, and most workers are then able to own most of the means of production directly, not through the agency of the state.

    The state could then own a significant part of such enterprise silently, leavening managerial responsibilities to the primary owners, the associated working owners, but get quarterly dividends disbursed to it at the same time as the associates disburse dividends to themselves. This would tend to eliminate the vast army of bureau functionaries that have always existed under the state monopoly ownership form of socialism stipulated by the Communist Manifesto and later by all Marxian movements and parties in power.

    By contrast, if the state continues to own enterprise, yet gives over cooperative managerial responsibilities to the workers, as Pedro seems to suggest, wage labor is still maintained, and workers cannot divide enterprise profits among themselves, or among themselves and the socialist state.

    Second, you correctly see that many, many sectors and enterprises and organizations should and would be 100% owned and administered by socialist government at all levels. This should be obvious to anyone. But it does not counter the fact that most significant enterprise of industry and commerce should be owned cooperatively by those who do the work, or that vast numbers of small enterprise could and should be owned independently by individuals and families (farms, restaurants, shops, etc.).

    You seem to be a person who is using his head for something other than a hat rack, with regard to workable socialism. I appreciate all that you have said, and hope that you will study my comments and open a comradely discussion. I and our movement may not be correct on all points, but sincere transformationaries need to talk these things out and try to further the socialist revolution. Do you agree?

  • I, too am grateful to Pedro Campos for his elegantly reasoned discourse on the necessity of self-managed worker-owned enterprises as the foundation for democratic socialism, in Cuba and elsewhere. But there are no mechanical solutions to the problem of developing socialism is a small country that has been under attack by American imperialism and the global monopoly capitalism it spearheads. “Leninism” as embodied in the Communist Party has actually proved to be an effective historical form for the defence of the Cuban socialist revolution by unifying and organizing the people to protect and defend their revolutionary gains. But imperialism is bankrupt. The aggressive militarism of the American government has resulted in an immense national debt, largely owed to China. The American people are now one giant hit list for the Obama regime, which has redefined “due process” to be the secret decisions of the powerful alliance of monopoly capitalist corporations, Wall Street and the White House. The American government is like a senile, drunken, giant bully who is suffering a giant hangover while begging for coins to pay for its next binge. Without a strong, centrally organized defense corps, it is my opinion that Cuba would become a version of Puerto Rico. But a strong defensive power does not imply the militarization of labour and the means of production in Cuba. Sr. Campos is theoretically astute in seeing worker co-ops as part of the future of Cuban socialism. Whether Marx and Engels would agree is just a game that is a lot less fun than dominoes. Questions must be asked about the future path to a fully socialist society, in Cuba and elsewhere. But no single answer suffices. Hospitals, schools and the military are not easy for me to foresee as worker co-ops. There may be a strong, rational need for state ownership and direction, with democratic rights always required for those who are the productive members of those vital social enterprises. Hence, there should be a broad vision of socialism that foresees the abolition of wage labour, with the corresponding development of cooperativism. I hope that Comrade Pedro continues his brave and visionary efforts to promote cooperativism; I hope the Cuban Communist Party never loses its base in the people; and I hope that the theoretical challenges of building socialism in Cuba never succumb to the monkish allure of mysticism and dogmatism. Many enormous successes have been achieved in Cuba in the past 50 years and many more could be growing in the ferment of the present. The future will take care of itself as long as intelligent and dedicated revolutionaries listen to each other while keeping their eyes and ears tuned to a society free from exploitation.

  • It is difficult to reply to comrade Pedro. He begins with Marxian doctrine—which for him and others, is raised almost to the level of Holy Scripture—and constructs a logical sequence from it. While his logic might be technically valid, the fact that he proceeds from a faith-based premise means that one almost has to be a faith-based co-believer to grapple with what he says.

    This is unfortunate, for the Cuban and the world transformation is hanging in the balance. The issues he is addressing affect not only the further development of the Cuban Revolution, but the socialist transformation in the US and other countries worldwide.

    Because we have little space for a meaningful reply, we must be brief and focus intently on what is most essential. But let me implore the reader beforehand—Marxist or not—to stay with me, and to really think about what is said. It is critically important.

    Pedro embraces the concept that private productive property rights, as a legal institution, are (1) the essence of capitalism, and (2) that the existence or the reestablishment of these legal rights equals the existence or the reestablishment of capitalism. He gets this apparently from Marx/Engels, and is incorrect on both points.

    His reasoning may be logical. The problem is that (1) private productive property rights are not the essence of capitalism, and (2) the reestablishment of these legal rights in Cuba would not necessarily mean the reestablishment of capitalism.

    The transformation to socialism historically has been torpedoed by this key misunderstanding. The bourgeoisie tried at first to subvert the workers’ cooperative socialist movement by injecting it into, through privileged-class Utopian ideologues, a loathing of private productive property legal rights.

    It didn’t work. Workers rejected it and continued to insist on direct cooperative ownership of the instruments of production. This frustrated anti-socialism for decades. Finally, this poisonous loathing was smuggled in by other privileged-class ideologues parading in false attire. Enter Mark and Engels.

    All of a sudden socialism became immediate abolition of private productive property rights through state ownership of everything productive. This was the old Utopian principle, in pseudo-scientific disguise.

    To sum up, due to limited space: In order for the workers and peasants to come into direct ownership of the instruments of production, private productive property legal rights must be appreciated for their transformationary potential; and they must be put back into place under socialist state power. Workers must be assisted in owning the dominant means of production cooperatively; and the rural and urban bourgeois must be allowed to own their small enterprises independently. This would be real, workable socialism.

    Thus far, comrade Pedro is unable to see that the socialist state can co-own most cooperative industry and commerce partially and silently with cooperative workers. He still believes the state must own the instruments of production, in order to have socialist property, and that worker self-management can be grafted onto this inherently statist property form. He is a statist, and doesn’t even know it. Thus far, he equates private property rights with capitalism, and this blocks his creative theoretical development.

  • Pedro,
    That was an excellent piece and I thank you for it. I cannot begin to tell you how inspirational it was.

    There’s an old saying about ” Jumping from the frying pan into the fire” which fits the thinking of many Cubans tired of hard times, tired of the top-down dictats of the ossified organs of Poder Popular and the PCC .

    They want to go from hard times to even worse outcomes by sliding back into capitalism which is just another way to say human exploitation by humans.

    It is not a step forward it is a giant step backwards and can nothing good can come of it.

    As you said, individual or cooperative businesses can accomplish the same or even better results than can capitalism and Cuban society will be able to retain all the benefits of a socialist society/economy.

    It is human to evolve both physically and intellectually and societally .

    Capitalism is detrimental to people’s physical being, their mental well being, is totalitarian in nature and represents the worst in humanity.

    I agree. We should be moving towards the democratic socialism that was hijacked by the Stalinists, not remain mired in the stratified and ossified form into which PP has fallen and move forward with our societal evolution.

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