Saturday, January 8, 2011

Granma letter: Objective vs. subjective debate

Previously I posted a translation of a letter to Granma titled "The objective and subjective factors". In this letter, A. Orama Munero argued that appeals to conscience alone would not solve Cuba's economic problems nor rescue socialist ethics. What is needed, among other things, is "an opening to the cooperative sector and small-scale private initiative".

He points out that objective factors — such as average salaries that are insufficient to cover all basic living expenses, thus compelling many Cubans to make ends meet by engaging in petty theft from the socialist state — condition people's ethical conduct. Put simply, if workers and their families can't live decently on their legitimate incomes then generalised petty corruption and the mentality that goes with it are inevitable. 

Orama Munero was responding to a letter in the previous Friday's edition of Granma, in which F. Fernando Gonzalez put forward more or less the opposite viewpoint. Since "the biggest problems continue to be in the conscience of people, in their conduct", he argues that the solution is to be more demanding and exert more control. "To privatise even the most insignificant branch of our economy would lead to the renunciation of socialism", he warns.

Here we see the two poles in the national debate over the future of Cuba's socialist project. What one side in the debate sees as the cause the other sees as a consequence, thus the solutions proposed run in opposite directions. One side equates the socialist-oriented society with state ownership and management of almost the entire economy; the other starts from the premise that the socialist state's ownership of large-scale productive property that is already objectively socialised is sufficient to keep the forces of capitalist restoration in check. 

The Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines — which reflect the majority (if not unanimous) opinion of the Communist Party leadership — are consistent with the views expressed by A. Orama Munero in his April 16 letter. 

We are affected more by subjective than objective questions

Granma letter, April 9, 2010

Translation: Marce Cameron 

A few days ago I had an experience that reminded me of the most recurring theme during recent weeks in the letters pages, the "privatisation" of some services, basically food services.

The experience referred to took place in the William Soler Hospital in the capital [Havana]. After two satisfactory consultations, with adequate attention to my children by specialists, including an orthopaedic doctor that does house calls without prior consultation and who treated us exquisitely, I went to the hospital pharmacy. There I was (with more than 30 other people) for an hour and three quarters in the sun because they wouldn't let anyone in. A single saleswoman came to the door, picked up the prescriptions, brought over the medications, walked back with the payment in hand and returned with the change, as if it were an odyssey — without Ulysses and nothing mythological, but all too real.

This is really at odds with the kind of institution and the quality of service that this centre provides. It was then that the debated theme of privatisation came to mind. If we want to resolve the problems of a service such as this, some would put forward the same solution as has been  suggested in these pages for gastronomy and other services. I respect all opinions, but this would be to fall into the old tale that call Cubans know well, that of wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water, only to end up with the same problem or worse.

To privatise even the most insignificant branch of our economy would lead to the renunciation of socialism. Remember the teachings of the Heroic Guerrilla [a reference to Ernesto "Che" Guevara] at the beginning of the 1960s, when our socialism was just an embryo with many ideas and little experience. Che told us that imperialism would give us nothing and furthermore, in his critical Notes on political economy, he doubted the success of the kolkhoz [cooperative farms] in the old USSR, starting from an apparently insignificant fact that was nevertheless a truism: in the kolkhoz property is private, individual, therefore this is not socialism but a hangover from capitalism.

The formula cannot be directed towards changing the system. The solution is to be found in people. Our Constitution establishes that we have a state of equal duties and rights. Experience teaches me that everyone takes advantage of their rights when we are aware of them, but we distance ourselves a lot from duties, both in recognising them and in acting accordingly.

Why not then, instead of thinking about and proposing to privatise services, or another variant [such as cooperatives] that would lead us to hand over the arms and flags of socialism — which in a constitutional referendum [in 1976] with the participation of everyone we agreed to establish as irrevocable — why don't we dedicate ourselves more to demanding that what is set down is complied with, among which are love of work, organisation and discipline? It is in people, in the human capital formed during 50 years, not only professionally but also as social beings, that the solutions are to be found. 

Let's not continue attacking consequences, let's look for the causes of problems and we'll realise that we are affected more by subjective that objective questions. The biggest problems continue to be in the conscience of people, in their conduct. If not, just compare the service of a cafeteria or restaurant in any of the two Havana provinces with those of Bayamo or Manzanillo [in eastern Cuba]. There there's no need to privatise, there is good quality, good service, a good menu, good prices and the workers there continue being Cubans and don't charge in convertible pesos.

F. Hernandez Gonzalez

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