The Main Obstacle to Socialism in Cuba

Pedro Campos  (photos: Juan Suarez)

The Ministry of Finances and Prices on Obispo St. in Old Havana.
The Ministry of Finances and Prices on Obispo St. in Old Havana.

HAVANA TIMES — The predominant way in which the workforce is exploited is what characterizes a given economy. Capitalism is characterized by wage exploitation. When private companies that exploit wage laborers predominate in a given economy, we have classic private enterprise capitalism. When State-owned companies predominate, were are dealing with a form of State capitalism.

When these State companies constitute the overwhelming majority, the State monopolizes domestic and foreign trade and establishes regulations to favor its companies over and above private or mixed capital companies, and then we are looking at State monopoly capitalism.

It is the case of so-called State or real socialism, the kind of Stalinist (or “Marxist-Leninist”) socialism that has failed everywhere it was tried and which subsists in Cuba.

To a greater or lesser extent, forms of self-managed, free associated or individual labor – authentically socialist forms of labor, that is – have commonly existed within capitalist economies. Cooperatives, credit unions, economic associations of different sorts, family businesses and the self-employed, which do not generally exploit wage workers (though they may do so occasionally or exceptionally), all have existed in capitalism.

If we are talking about political economy and not pipe-dreams, socialism is the economic and social movement towards a post-capitalist society, based on progress towards the relative predominance of these other relations of production, which are different and superior to capitalism’s typical wage relations, characterized by free associated or self-managed labor.

In Cuba, the government that emerged from the popular revolution of 1959, whose aim was restoring the democratic system dismantled by Batista’s coup d’état in 1952, instead of re-establishing democratic institutions, followed a “Marxist-Leninist” social justice script which involved the rapid placement of all property under State control.

This way, practically all large, mid-sized and small foreign and domestic capitalist companies, cooperatives, credit unions and individual properties were placed in State hands and, in this way, instead of advancing towards the socialization of property and the fruits of labor, towards the gradual expansion of free associated or individual labor, property was concentrated in the hands of a politico-military-administrative State bureaucracy which maintained wage exploitation in an arbitrary fashion.

Branch of the Banco Metropolitano in Havana.
Branch of the Banco Metropolitano in Havana.

“Socialism” came to be understood as the State, salaried production system, while free associated and individual labor was gradually eliminated under the law, save in exceptional cases and under State control, as with sugar-cane cooperatives, an experiment which lasted merely two years, as did the quasi-forceful agricultural cooperatives on the lands of the few individual farmers who managed to survive the two agrarian reform laws passed at the beginning of the revolution.

Facing an irreversible crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the “socialist bloc”, plagued by contradictions between its discourse and its actual practices, the exhausted political model of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and the State wage economy, once thought immutable, has been attempting to “update” the system, without changing its essence, since Raul Castro took office.

Without any changes to the hyper-centralized political system that is devoid of the democratic values acknowledged in the Democratic Republic by the classics of socialism, the government has opened up some spaces for self-employment and cooperatives outside the farm sector, all the while maintaining innumerable and well-known restrictions, centralized planning, “State socialist companies” (and the State regulations that privilege these), and State market monopolies as the main axes of the economy.

By contrast and paradoxically, the capitalist system that predominates in today’s world, owing to its own internal contradictions and its need to survive, not only permits but, in many countries, favors the development of free associated or individual labor, which has been given much impetus by the irreverent progress of new information and communication technologies that make it possible for us to socialize knowledge and access markets of all manner of companies.

Office of an Old Havana government construction company.
Construction company.

Parallel to this, in these societies, the classical, liberal, democratic institutions that the bourgeoisie established and used to confront the feudal nobility, have also been used by workers in general to demand their rights as citizens and confront the neo-liberal avalanche that attempts to save classical capitalism at the expense of reducing employment, salaries and social benefits secured through the worker struggles of the last century and a half.

The democratic values and rights secured by workers and their trade unions and political organizations were, in contrast, underestimated and trampled on by State monopoly capitalism (called “socialism”), which considered them “unnecessary and obsolete” in the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

It is from this contempt towards such values and the essence of Marxist socialism that the Cuban Communist Party attempts to ignore the positions of the socialist Left and do not accept any kind of exchange with dissenting views, repressing, dismissing and excluding such positions.

From this point of view, what has been the main obstacle to the development of authentically socialist forms of production, characterized by free associated and individual labor, in Cuba?

The answer is very simple: it has been the State wage model, the State monopoly capitalism imposed on Cuba in the name of socialism, the system which, with some changes and improvements, the so-called “reform process” seeks to perpetuate.

Hence our demand for the elimination of all obstacles to free associated or individual labor, the decriminalization of dissenting opinion, the establishment of freedom of expression and association, the free and democratic election of all public officials and the opening of a space for a nationwide exchange that excludes no one, with a view to creating a new, fully democratic constitution.

5 thoughts on “The Main Obstacle to Socialism in Cuba

  • Well, not exactly. The constitution of the US is not a statement on capitalism, it doesn’t have an economic base. It is based on the social contract – that citizens come together to form a government – and the government in turn, serves the citizens – and when they stop doing that, the citizens have a right to change the government – and its not a democracy – its a Republic – the founders were careful not to install a democracy – because they wanted rule of law to trump the tyranny of the majority – even if the majority thinks something should be one way – and not the other, the rule of law will overrule on behalf of the individual – that way the individual is assured a voice in government, rather than being consumed by the “tyranny” of the mob. There were sound world philosophies before Karl Marx. He didn’t invent philosophy. There’s another field of study called Logic, invented by the Greeks. Greek Logic is based on truth – if you “assume” something is true, and it isn’t, then you just based your entire “philosophy” on the wrong premise. And of course, you’re headed for disaster when you try to implement your “philosophy”

  • I think that Noam Chomsky would be most encouraged by your suggested title Griffin. We can await Mr. John Goodrich suggesting that it should be called: “World’s Best State Capitalism” and refusing to reply to the ensuing laughter.

  • Why not follow the example of the New York pizzarias and call it “World Famous Original Socialism”?

    There have been so many different forms of socialism, the word itself is unimportant. What matters more are the other modifying adjectives (democratic socialism, Marxist socialism, nationalist socialist, etc).

    More impotantly still are the attitudes toward human rights, freedom and plurality in society. It is ironic that these so called socialist parties tend to be fatally unsociable to those they disagree with. The more radically socialist they are the more they hate society.

  • I agree. The term ‘socialism’ has been co-opted by totalitarians. It would be better start anew with another term to reflect the utopian system that Pedro envisions. Simply adding the word “authentic” will not be enough to distinguish the socialism which exists in Cuba and which has failed everywhere it has been tried from the socialism that exists only in the nocturnal fantasies of its followers.

  • The final paragraph closely mirrors the conditions laid down by the US congress for the lifting of the embargo. But, Pedro Campos like Mr, John Goodrich, believes in an imaginary form of socialism writing; “the State monopoly capitalism imposed on Cuba in the name of socialism.”
    The determination by some would be academics is to live in an imaginary world in which their communism and socialism bear no relation to the reality as imposed and practiced in different parts of the world during the last century. Endeavors to foist other terms to describe those realities – “state capitalism” etc. upon the practitioners are fatuous. Better to accept the terms for the reality of socialism and communism for that which billions of humanity have suffered and to develop a new word(s) to describe their imaginary utopia. Maybe they could purloin a suitable name from the writings of James Barry. As the Mad Hatter put it: “Move round one.”

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