Here is the second instalment of my translation of Bohemia magazine's round-table discussion on work in Cuba and the "updating" of Cuba's socialist-oriented economic model. It's difficult to sustain the argument that Cuba lacks a critical press in light of such candid discussions of Cuba's problems and how to address them.
Bohemia panel on Cuban economy (Part 2)
By Delia Reyes and Vladia Rubio
Bohemia, October 13, 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron
(Part 1 is here)
By Delia Reyes and Vladia Rubio
Bohemia, October 13, 2010
Translation: Marce Cameron
(Part 1 is here)
Pablo Rodriguez: It's as if there's a confrontation of two cultures: that of work, which deteriorates due to the conditions that have been imposed on us; and that of [illicit incomes to supplement low wages], which permeates the social body. I'm talking about practices that we live with every day and that can be summed up in one word: stealing. This corrupts to the degree to which such individuals become models of success.
If someone has to work 16 hours for a pound of chicken, to give an example, for this person work loses value. I've often insisted that the world of prices is giving a daily speech that demoralises work. That imaginary we're constructing where illicit incomes to supplement low wages is seen as something natural.
Luis L. Palenzuela: We cannot view legality as isolated from this reality. The system we have of receiving complaints, claims and denunciations and the studies that we do on legality and the state may contribute, within the framework of the proposed changes, to trying to resolve these problems.
Together with the organs of control, the Attorney General's office can ensure that any measure that is adopted complies with the law. We're not one of the entities that enforces legality but one that's tasked with the establishment of legality, which must be closely linked to the economic and social development of the country.
The population must be the protagonist of legality. Regulations and norms must be implemented for the purposes of appropriately prosecuting the new economic strategies. This whole theme must be linked to institutionalism. But is formal state employment the only kind of legal work? Or are there also other kinds of legal work that the state creates and develops?
After the Constitution, the Labour Code is the basic legislation relating to work and dates back to 1984. At the time it was considered advanced, and there were assurances that it would be revised, updated. No doubt that this is being worked on now, since it requires updating.
Jose Ramon Fabelo: Work must be valued in the Cuban conscience. Daily life has been imposing a different meaning to that conveyed in speeches, thus producing a rupture in the subjectivity that can give rise to people saying one thing and doing another.
There's a tendency to morally legitimise what is illegal, and therefore the violators of legality begin to be approved of and even worshipped in certain sectors: the cult of the supposed struggler. [The Spanish verb luchar, to struggle, has taken on a new meaning in Cuba during the post-Soviet Special Period, referring not only to collective political struggle but also to the individual struggle to make ends meet through illicit activities linked to the black market — translator's note]. This also alerts us to the existence of alienated labour within socialism [i.e. the socialist-oriented society]: I perceive it as so alien that I steal from my workplace, which is to say that I don't feel any sense of ownership over my work or its results.
If I'm not able to decide what is produced, nor to what end, nor participate in management, in planning, and much of the time what I earn is not related to what I do, what sense of ownership am I going to have, am I going to extract this out of pure ideology? Sometimes yes, but not in the majority of cases.
So we have a contrast: love of work as induced consciousness or as the demand of life itself. We've often debated between these two extremes, between moral or material incentives, consciousness or money. I consider this contraposition to be very anti-dialectical. We need to harmonise the two, and I would caution: today we cannot go to the extreme of hoping that economic mechanisms by themselves will stimulate and restore to its rightful place the value of work. Educational, pedagogical, political, juridical work is very important in the here and now.
Jose Luis Nicolau: We're talking about a work [ethic] which is the starting point for the proposed transformations that is in very bad shape, and this cannot be reversed by one measure or ten. There are those who complain about control, but if this variable is not projected in all these modifications, this could entrench the problem even more. Real endogenous control [i.e. by work collectives] is nonexistent, it's seen as an external factor.
In this process of readjustments, integrality from the political point of view, democracy as [exercised in] daily life, from the ascendency of certain real values that become acculturated, is very important. But this is not achieved overnight, the mentality [i.e. people's attitude to work] has developed over a long time in a direction other than the desired one.
And the principal challenge for Cuban society — as least from the point of view of labour — is to achieve, once and for all, work as culture.
Healing the wounds of work
Although the participants in the Bohemia round-table discussion stressed unambiguously the cracks in the work ethic and its causes, delving into the intricacies of the economy and of the Cuban subjectivity, all agree that despite the complex challenges, the situation is reversible.
Pablo Rodríguez: We're rethinking the centralised and administrative model with which we're managing the economy. Until now, we haven't given the productive subject [i.e. the worker or work collective] the possibility to be responsible for itself, and there's only one way to solve this: allow the people to participate, give them responsibilities, this is what must be done.
Neither can we solve this problem with a development schema in which the productive work of some sectors resolves the lack of productivity of others, subsidising inefficiency, which is what has been happening, and in this [downward] spiral, work is ever more wounded.
Yes, there's a way out: put work on an altar, give it the place it deserves, allow the worker to participate. Also, we've conceived of work above all as a professional occupation. The trades have been lost. The value of manual labour has been lost.
I agree with what Fidel has always reiterated: in socialism nobody is surplus. But we can have surplus workers if we continue implementing everything in a standardised way, ticking off in the economic sphere, above all in relation to work, general patterns of behaviour.
The state can become a manager of [productive] property, and the processes of appropriation can be multiple, just as the forms of production are diverse, giving greater space to the horizontal links which are going to be established [in the productive chain].
Luis L. Palenzuela: With regard to the modifications to be made to the Cuban economy, we cannot forget that, in any case, we must comply with what is established in our Constitution. The changes that are carried out must be linked to this law of laws, [approved by referendum in] 1976 and reformed in 1992.
We must cultivate values such as work [ethics] within the principles of legality, but this has to be elaborated with objectivity, so that there are no great contradictions with reality. We're working now on the modifications to our legislation. In relation to work, we must bring it into line with the updating of our economic model. And I agree that this must be done with a great deal of popular participation.
Rigoberto Pupo: There is advocacy for the urgent necessity of shifting to a communicative paradigm in which we're all truly active subjects. We must develop this cultural sense of education, where the world of work is not separated from that of school and life, remembering that inculcation does not instil attitudes. For a value to germinate it must insert itself into the culture.
Rafael Alhama: It's a big challenge. But while there's a real urgency, we must guard against simplistic solutions that run counter to integral ones, to systematic approaches; and we shouldn't reject critical historical analyses which tell us how to avoid old errors.
To modify or establish new forms of conduct rooted in social and working life is extremely difficult. So we need a conceptualisation to give a strong impetus to the updating of the model, which cannot be alienated from the general conception of [productive] property, with all the social, political, economic and cultural relations this implies.
Real socialisation of management implies a profound change to state property, with forms of self-management and a multiplicity of variants such as self-employment, cooperatives, leasing [of state property] ... The most important thing is to achieve the necessary coordination, confluence and complementarity. Integration is the watchword.
Juan Carlos Campos: To revalue work, the first thing we have to do is work; if this is limited by constraints, sometimes of a juridical nature, by economic or other conjunctures, then work itself is not going to be revalued because it's constrained by the circumstances. The measures being taken are necessary, but based on a strengthening of our socialist economy.
Jose Ramon Fabelo: We have to better harmonise the relationship between the institutional world and that of daily realities. It cannot happen, for example, that the law prohibits me from doing what I must do to exist [i.e. earn a living].
Socialism is characterised by far more democracy than that claimed by any other type of system. And in the updating of our [socialist model] there needs to be more emphasis on communication with the social bases [of Cuba's socialist project].
To decide, one has to understand. All of us must be subjects of the Revolution, protagonists of the changes in order to be able to defend them.