Updating Cuba’s Model, Not Reforms

Fernando Ravsberg

Heavy Load. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, August 5 — I found very interesting this latest meeting of the National Assembly of Popular Power (Cuban parliament).  The speech by President Raul Castro begins to define the direction and rules of the game, something that many citizens have requested.

I believe that the best news for ordinary Cubans is the expansion of self-employment “as an additional alternative for the employment of surplus workers.”  This opportunity will be brought about by the elimination of several prohibitions now in effect.

However, the measure comes accompanied by a phrase that should not go overlooked: “a relaxation of work force hiring.”  This will allow many in the self-employment sector to undergo a qualitative transformation and become small private businesspeople.

Up to now this was practically forbidden; previously, Cuban laws even specified that self-employment activities would permit only the family members of those holding licenses to work within these small and necessarily mom-and-pop operations, with this having the obvious aim of limiting the growth of such businesses.

A few months ago changes began to be seen.  I remember interviewing a Cuban brick manufacturer who told me that he had a “mixed company,” whereby the government supplies him with the raw materials, he would produce the bricks and then the product would distributed.

The new policy favors the creation of small companies, which could fill the gaps in an economy characterized by layers of planning but a lack of efficiency.  In addition, this could absorb a million unemployed resulting from the forthcoming reorganization of the public sector.

Structural change or ‘adaptations’

Raul Castro specified that these changes are not attempts to move in the direction of capitalism, though he recognized that the reforms “in themselves constitute a structural and conceptual change” for “the development our social system and for making it sustainable in the future.”

Cuban town. Photo: Caridad

The fact that Cuba’s maximum leaders continue to advocate socialism is no surprise to anybody.  What is remarkable is the fact that they apparently all accept the idea that the system requires deep changes for its very existence.

Notwithstanding, later they tell us that these are not changes but a simple adaptations, a position that curiously coincides with the anti-Castro forces in Miami.  Some of these reforms appear to be faithful to socialism of the 20th century, while others demonstrate Cuba’s political intransigence.

As Economy Minister Marino Murillo explained to my journalist colleagues, “One cannot speak of reform.”  Apparently —despite proposals around service cooperatives, the expansion of private wage-labor and the permitting of small companies— the correct thing to say is “the updating of the Cuban model.”

He reminded me of another minister who publically complained because at BBC Mundo we spoke of “land reform.”  This seems some odd rejection of an old rallying cry of the left, and even much more so when they’re now in the process of changing the control of 50 percent of the country’s arable land.

The other interesting announcement is that the Political Economic Commission of the Communist Party is working full time in preparation for the Sixth Congress, and that its policy document will be put up for discussion among not only party activists but also by the public.

Mixed and not-so-mixed messages

Raul Castro again repeated: “Our unity is more solid today than ever, and it is not the fruit of false unanimity or opportunist posturing.  Unity does not exclude honest discrepancies; rather, it presupposes the discussion of ideas.”

Nonetheless, this leaves me thinking of Professor Esteban Morales, the longtime Party activist who was recently “separated from the organization” for publishing an article in which he warned of the threat to socialism implied by the existence of corrupt leaders.

Kicking the ball in the park. Photo: Caridad

The contradiction —whether real or apparent— will make many people take pause.  However, I have the impression that the answer is personal and it should be sought in each citizen, remembering that what is being debated is the future of their nation, the Cuba that they will leave to their children and grandchildren.

Where there was in fact not the smallest doubt was Raul Castro’s position regarding dissident groups.  “There will be no impunity for the enemies of the homeland, for those who try to endanger our independence.  Let nobody be deceived,” he said.

Likewise, he specified that public acts by the opposition would not be allowed: “The defense of our sacred achievements, of our streets and plazas, will continue being the prime duty of revolutionaries whom we cannot deprive of that right.”

Thus, changes will continue slowly and cautiously – but they won’t stop.  In the economic terrain they have already broken through the rigid limits imposed in 1968.  The national debate will be on how to save socialism, and therefore there will be no political reforms.

Havana Times translation of the Spanish original authorized by BBC Mundo.

3 thoughts on “Updating Cuba’s Model, Not Reforms

  • Sam:

    (1) You must be ignoring the text of the classic founding document of the Marxist tendency. In the last pages of the 2nd chapter of the Communist Manifesto, in the 10-point sample program written by Engels and Marx, it says in no uncertain language: concentration of all the instruments of production in the hands of the state.” Surely you will not deny this.

    This being undeniable, how can you make the statement: “. . . Marx and Engels never recommended long-term state-party management”?

    You are diverting attention away from the real issue and onto the phrase “long-term.” This phrase is not what we are talking about. The question is: “Do Engels and Marx stipulate that the socialist state will or should concentrate all the instruments of production in its hands?

    The answer is an unequivocal Yes.

    Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that we are not going to debate what those two guys said or wrote in 1848. Let’s say we are starting fresh and are simply going to state the core economic formula of a truly socialist state. Would we say that a socialist state should or would concentrate all the instruments of production in its hands? Yes, or No?

    If you say “Yes,” you will be laying out a core economic formula. It will be the same formula implemented under the Stalinist Soviet Union, and the Soviet-style Cuban government. It will be the same one stipulated by Engels and Marx in the Communist Manifesto, and never rescinded by them.

    If you say “No,” you will be going against Engels, Marx, Stalin and the PCC.

    (2) You say that even [employee-owned] cooperatives need “capital.” You infer that they will need to get that capital from private banks or the [socialist] State.

    This shows that you do not know what capital truly is. Capital is not money. It is the latent labor and genius of productive working persons, whether shop floor, managerial, or otherwise. To pose the question therefore of “Where will the cooperative workers get the capital they need?” is nonsensical. They already have the capital. It is them, and it belong to them by natural right.

    It is a trick of pro-capitalist economics–including Marxist economics–to define capital as financial assets. This effectively scrambles our brains and makes us lose sight of what is actually happening in the economy.

    The Mondragon, Spain cooperatives have answered the question you asked. After they founded their first successful industrial cooperatives, they founded their own bank. This bank has been critical in providing the monetization of their natural capital required for the development of further cooperatives.

    If you truly would like to understand the answer to your rhetorical question, go to video.google.com and review the 1980 BBC film The Mondragon Experiment.

    The Mondragon workers, with proper, professional leadership, solved a central problem of worker cooperatives under capitalism (under the repressive, anti-worker Franco dictatorship). If you are not familiar with this film, you may want to review it.

  • Grady-I’ve said this to you before, but Marx and Engels never recommended long-term state-party management. Even “worker’s cooperatives” require capital from somewhere, where are you going to get it? Private Banks? Or the State?

  • Interesting article.

    I think it all comes back to the theoretical question: “What is the nature of an authentically socialist economic system — authentically being defined as “workable.”

    If we define authentic socialism as state monopolization of all the instruments of production, per Engels and Marx in the second chapter of the Communist Manifesto, then that is one thing. Socialist economy thus defined however has been tested repeatedly in various countries and it has always failed and has destroyed the socialist state.

    What this means is that the definition of socialism must stop being taken as an ironclad principle derived from the writings of two individuals in 1848, and start being taken as a working hypothesis subject to experimentation and testing in the honest laboratory of historical experience.

    So, what is needed in Cuba is both a scientific, experimental attitude, plus at least one new working hypothesis.

    The hypothesis advanced by out movement in the U.S. is: “Partial, non-controlling ownership by the socialist state of medium and large cooperative corporations–corporations on the industrial worker-owned Mondragon model–with a pluralistic admixture of both individual and cooperative small enterprise.”

    Unfortunately, no one in Cuba is listening to us, and no one seems ready or able to discuss the theoretical issue. Perhaps that will change in the future as our nascent movement gains strength.

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