Unpublished Letter to Granma

Pedro Campos

Havana's Karl Marx Theater. Photo: Rafique

HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 2 – Given the many letters that Granma newspaper is publishing for and against “cooperativismo” (the turning of certain services over to cooperative management), this past December 9, I sent the following commentary to the daily (the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party), which to date has not published it.

Letter to the editor:

The Transition of Food and Other Services to Self-Employed Individuals and Cooperatives

Some comrades speak of members of cooperatives and self-employed individuals as if they were capitalists.  One should remember that capitalism is based on wage-labor and on someone exploiting another person’s labor power, from which comes surplus value. This is the dynamic law of capitalism.

Self-employed individuals do not exploit other people’s labor, do not produce surplus value, therefore nor can they contribute to extended reproduction.  Moreover, when in Cuba they obtain super-profits, this is due to deformations in the State economy.

Likewise, there are comrades who speak of cooperatives as representatives of the private economy.

This shows they do not understand that production relationships in cooperatives are where the contradiction between capital and labor disappears.  These new socialist relations of production involve collective production, management and administration of collective or usufruct property, and the fair distribution of a part of the profits —the dynamic law of socialism— after paying taxes and withdrawing a part for extended reproduction.

Through cooperatives (or self and co-management), relations of freely associated labor are established that take the place of capitalist wage-labor and extend to the entire industrial and service economy in the socialist stage, until reaching communism. (Capital, Chap. 27, Vol. 3)

Those who think that cooperatives, by belonging collectively to individual people, are forms of “capitalist production,” forget that the form of exploitation is what characterizes property: property under a slave system is exploited with slave labor, feudal property is exploited with serf labor, capitalist property is exploited with wage-labor and socialist property produces with freely associated labor.

This is why Marx and Engels specified in the Communist Manifesto that the form of property that was necessary to eradicate was capitalist property, not individual property or just any type of property.  They also often specified that only when property is socialized, that is to say when it belongs to everyone —individually or collectively, and not to the state— there would be true property.

People will be truly free only when they do not depend on others —capitalists or the state— to earn their subsistence, which will occur when they are the individual or collective owners of the conditions of their reproduction.

Marx often said that for workers to construct socialism they would have to cease being the wage-earning class exploited by capitalism; they would have to become a class “for itself,” abolishing wage-labor and becoming the new class of freely associated workers – something frequently forgotten by those in favor of “real socialism.”

The issue is very broad to be embraced in a sole page.  I could expanded on it on another occasion.

14 thoughts on “Unpublished Letter to Granma

  • . . . thru history, it became customary to refer to their deployment by calling money &/or physical tools or other assets “capital.” This historic shift n nomenclature helped–especially n our industrial times–to hide the sticky fact that “capitalism” is really ownership and deployment of human beings–workers, managers, salespersons, scientists, etc.–in order for the owners of money credit and physical assets to exploit the use-values produced.

    There’s only one capital, Mark G., and that is the ability of the human being to use labor and genius to produce the useful values that we need to live and prosper. So, when u imply naively that capitalists “own their capital,” and should be “compensated for its use,” u r thinking with the disinformation terminology that capitalism hz developed to scramble our brains and protect its horrific system.

    Capitalism is not called that becuz it uses money & plant, but becuz it uses “capitals” as wage and salary serfs.

  • @ Mark G

    By “provocative,” I meant that ur comment “gets us to thinking,” not “makes us angry.”

    Also, ur last paragraph re “in an economy like Cuba’s” is well taken. (If Cuba can look at the lessons of the Mondragon workers hvr and make socialism work thru cooperative corporations, we’ll all see a stunning change.)

    Ur assertion that exploitation is “not inherent to working for a wage or salary” hvr is erroneous and deserves closer scrutiny.

    U say “. . . those who risk their capital deserve to be compensated, don’t they?” Yes, but what u call “their capital” is not theirs.

    “Capital” is not truly “money” or “physical plant.” “Capital” means “head,” and it came to be used in ancient times when slaves and other workers were referred to by the head, or by the “capital,” as with animal livestock. When a person in power needed “capital” to do a job, he needed human workers.

    As the deployment of these heads–these “capitals”–developed…

  • @ George

    “Marx’s greatest contribution” is a great, silly fiction. It is said that he “discovered” surplus value. He certainly did not.

    It was well known long before Marx that workers, starting with the development of farming and animal husbandry, can and must produce a “surplus” over and above that needed for his or her own support. This “surplus” is well known as the prerequisite and basis of civilization. For Marx to come along and claim “I discovered surplus value!” is the height of absurdity.

    The fictional “discovery” of surplus value is merely part of the whole cult of personality built up around Marx, to grease his way to prominence within the socialist movement.

    With regard to his “proposed solutions”: How many revolutions does his nonsense have to destroy before the left finally jettisons his pernicious influence?

    The major obstacle to world socialist transformation is not the bourgeois empire; it’s the left’s unwarranted adulation of Marx.

  • Grady, Marx’s greatest contribution was his analysis of how capitalism works, his proposed solutions are more debatable. Thus I have no problem with you taking issue with Marx, but don’t throw everything away 😉

    Also with regards to Stafford Beer, of which I can find little or no mention within Cuba, a good article about him can be found here:

  • Grady, I don’t think my comment is provocative, just true. Using myself as an example, other than summer jobs in my youth, I have worked exclusively in either the public or the non-profit sector my entire career. How does this surplus theory of value apply to my workplace?

    In the private sector, those who risk their capital deserve to be compensated, don’t they? I’m sure you can provide examples where wage relationships are exploitative to varying degrees, and I can give examples where they are not. I’m not arguing that exploitation doesn’t take place, only that it is not inherent to working for a wage or salary.

    And to suggest that unemployment or underemployment (let alone low wages) can’t take place in an economy like Cuba’s is demonstrably false. It does, and despite an unwillingness by the regime to acknowledge it, the problem is much worse than in the US or Canada.

  • @ Mark G

    Your comment is provocative. There is a certain truth in your idea that many workers “prefer to work for wages.” Many do–assuming that they have a job. (As long as there is capitalism, of course, there is always the specter of unemployment hanging over the heads of workers–witness the present situation in the world economic downturn.) The element of truth in your idea hvr does not invalidate Pedro’s assumption.

    If many workers prefer what you say, that still does not mean that working for wages is not exploitative.

    For example, you can say that many people prefer to rent their housing, rather than to own. That does not have anything to do with the question of whether landlordism is exploitative.

    Think about it: if employers could not exploit workers, or if landlords could not exploit renters, neither employers nor landlords would have the incentive to do what they do.

    Pedro is 100% correct. Working for wages is exploitative . . . regardless.

  • Pedro makes the assumption that working for wages is inherently exploitative. Not true. Most of us prefer to work for wages, and leave the risks of business ownership and the pressures of management to others.

  • @ ole anderson

    U’ve put ur finger on an important point. The Marxist hypothesis of “concentration of all the means of production in the hands of the state” maintains the degrading employer-employee relationship. This would appear to any reasonable person as the “exact same thing as Capitalist exploitation of the working class,” as u say above.

    The modern cooperative socialist movement believes ur sense of it accurate. By inflicting this hypothesis on the socialist movement in the 1800s, Engels & Marx doomed all future socialist experiments to failure–as seems to be imminent in Cuba.

    What is needed is a new hypothesis that stipulates: ownership of the major means of production by the broad mass of working and managing people through cooperative corporations–on the Mondragon model–but with significant preferred (non-controlling) ownership by the socialist state; plus small entrepreneurial ownership on the land & in the service and other sectors.

    Well said!

  • Well said, Pedro. As usual, you seek the essence the way an arrow seeks the bull’s eye.

    I think the question regarding socialist property that needs to be addressed is: “How should the socialist state–in order to build workable, non-bureaucratic socialism–own productive property?” (This is not just for the Cubans; it’s for socialists in every country.)

    The 1848 answer was a hypothesis at the end of the 2nd chapter of the Communist Manifesto: “Concentration of all the means of production in the hands of the state.”

    This hypothesis has been well tested in practice.

    The new hypothesis of our movement in the US is: Ownership of major industry and commerce by employees thru cooperative corporations–on the Mondragon model–with the state holding significant co-ownership thru blocks of non-voting, non-controlling preferred stocks.

    At the same time, the small entrepreneurial class should be valued and assisted as partners in the socialist project.

  • I tend to agree that individuals and groups should have the opportunity to provide products and services off their own initiative. I am also in favour of workers having equal stakes in management. What I am less sure about is allowing the market to set prices and wages. It would be great to see an article making clear the differences between what already exists and what is being proposed.

    As far as central management is concerned, I would also be very interested to know if anyone in Cuba has followed up the ideas of Stafford Beer, one of the founders of cybernetics, who worked in Chile under Allende.

  • As a provider of services the state does have to compute costs involved in a worker life.
    When the state is providing and subsidizing %X of the worker needs, it should retain %X of the worker external wage. Same when Cubans are traveling abroad, they are responsible to compensate the State for the privilege left at home (Rent, Utilities, Family needs). Individual Income tax in “capitalist” countries is close to %50 add the Rent, Food, Utilities add %20 Goods and services tax and you have none left.
    A state who monitor income and movement of goods does need a more developed “Big Brother” tracking system that allows less freedoms.

    As laws and economical situation evolve, the way we perceive them should evolve too.

  • When the State provides workers for a Spanish Hotel, and receives X number of pesos under a contract with the Hotel group, and then pays the worker 10% of X, how is that not the exact same thing as Capitalist exploitation of the working class? I find this a form of Hypocrisy in the Socialist or Communist system, and wonder how it is justified in a Marxist society? Cuba takes delight in pointing out the mote in the eye of Capitalism, but refuses to acknowledge the log in its own.

  • Great article. It has become obvious that socialism controlled by the state has not and will not work long term. It is good to see voices emerging in Cuba that are looking at alternative ways to pursue a socialist path that will hopefully preserve the best achievements of the revolution while encouraging efficiency and productivity without resorting to corporate capitalism. Workers need to feel empowerment and a degree of control over the means of production or stagnation will result. Let the state do what the state does best and let the worker do what the worker does best.

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