Sunday, November 6, 2011

Translation: Property and socialism

This Granma letter to the editor illustrates the depth of some of the debate in the letters pages of the Friday edition of the paper. Here, a reader relates his experience as a Popular Council president in relation to state-owned and managed local bakeries. Many or all such bakeries are likely to become cooperatively managed enterprises, with the premises leased from the municipal government, as foreshadowed in the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines

The timeline for implementation is unclear. The government has yet to publish a decree law detailing the functioning of non-agricultural cooperatives. Also pending are bank loans for the non-state (self-employment, small businesses and cooperatives) sector. (Meanwhile, the big news is that this week the Cuban government approved the sale and purchase of homes. More on this in a future post.) 

The Popular Councils were set up on an experimental basis in 1988 and were generalised from 1991, acting as a level of local government intermediate between the municipality and the neighbourhood delegate. 

I'll translate some of the thread of this debate in Granma so you can get a sense of it, in particular the two previous letters mentioned by the author below.

Poster: "More discipline, productivity and efficiency"
Property and socialism: an inseparable binary

By J. P. García Brigos, Granma letter to the editor, October 28, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

The letter to the editor by J. Bernal Camero on October 7 about the bakeries and leasing has provoked others to write in with their opinions, such as those of D’Angelo Hernández published on Friday 14th. This motivates me to return to the issue which lies at the heart of the interesting exchange: property and socialist construction.

Perhaps many people think that the form of organising the production of our daily bread can be decided very simply. If we resort to the oft-repeated principle that socialism is “social ownership of the fundamental means of production”, they would surely not include the bakeries in this category. Moreover, it’s important that we ask ourselves again: What is social property?

I think that an indication of our lack of clarity on the content of socialist social property is precisely the constant theft in our [socialist state] entities, a phenomenon that is by no means limited to the bakeries: if socialist social property means that we’re all owners, it makes little sense that an owner would rob themselves.

It’s impossible in a letter to the editor to set out all the ideas that it is necessary to discuss regarding property in the building of socialism. There is a rich practical experience, accumulated during the more than 90 years that have elapsed since that glorious Russian October [Revolution of 1917]. There is a theoretical legacy that must begin with Marx, Engels and Lenin, without ignoring the subsequent ideas of partisans and enemies of socialism.

This is not about defending at all costs the state form of the organisation of property as we have known it up to now, nor the opposite tendency of viewing cooperatives and self-employment as the paradise that we need. Nor the “controlled” mix of forms and economic mechanisms that some put forward.

The socialist content of property is more than just the form of organisation of the economic-productive process; it’s not just how the economic entities are constituted in this or that juridical form. At the same time, it does not depend exclusively on what is done with the “fundamental” means of production, by which is usually meant the large or important productive and service activities. This case of the bakeries allows us to appreciate the complexities that must necessarily be considered regarding property, in order to be able to act consciously and effectively for its necessary socialist improvement. 

In such critical moments for our country as the years 1991-3, when this bread whose quality we continue to complain about was almost the only reliably available food in Cuban daily life, the municipality in which I live – where I was the president of the Popular Council and consequently a municipal government delegate for my immediate neighbourhood – was for many years exemplary in bread production. It wasn’t a “paradise”, but the quality was superior to that of others, working with the same supplies. Slumps in production were far less frequent and criminal acts were all but eliminated. 

These and other features characterised our UBIA (as the bread enterprise was then known by its initials  it was as state-run as it is today), and it achieved and maintained the status of vanguard enterprise. Our bakers were as Cuban and as working class as the others, they were neither “saints” nor “thieves”, the unfair generalisation that is made. Their salaries were no different to those in other municipalities, nor were they privileged in their working conditions. Accordingly, it might be asked: What differences can we identify in the functioning of this state enterprise during these years, which had a lot to do with its achievements? 

It goes without saying that when the presidents of the Popular Councils and the neighbourhood delegates got to know the bakers in the fulfilment of our functions, we kept an eye on things and we were demanding. Very much so, because at the time the Commander in Chief [Fidel Castro] had just proposed how he wanted the presidents of the Popular Councils in the City of Havana to act. But we also took part in work shifts with those in the “workshops” (the name given to the part of the bakery where the bread is made) and, without disregarding the fact that we carried out different functions in society to the bakers, we shared with them the experience of the productive process, and to a large extent even their lives, with their personal affairs.

In this municipality we also had in these years a director of the UBIA who, without having any prior involvement in the sector, within two months of his appointment (which many of us opposed on the basis of the “cadre policy”) was already known by his name and surname by all of the workers in his enterprise (note: all, not only those in the office). Day by day he became ever more aware of – and concerned about – their personal circumstances, as just another worker, without ceasing to be the director who was demanding when it came to results. Of course, he knew what was going on in all the local bakeries despite not even living in the municipality. But he wasn’t the only director: there was an active trade union, engaged with the workers, their lives, and with the progress and the results of the productive process; there were Communist Party and communist youth activists that were exemplary in everything, and with their example, with their political functions and as workers, their contribution was decisive.

I haven’t referred to an idyllic situation, a theoretical construct. I may have idealised something or other, but I believe that we can allow ourselves to do so when we refer to historical episodes that we lived through very intimately, as long as we don’t distort the essence of what transpired. It was a very real situation that was possible in very difficult times for our country. A state enterprise functioned well, without being perfect, in very complex circumstances for everyone [i.e. the harshest years of the post-Soviet “Special Period” crisis]. Why?

It’s worth reflecting on experiences such as this, because it’s not unique. An economic entity is not only a productive or service organisation that corresponds with certain legal criteria, to certain norms and economic-administrative mechanisms.

Let’s reflect on this so we don’t renounce the state enterprise, nor forget that it’s necessary to change the current situation, with other approaches; that we have to develop on the basis of our present realities. It’s important to be able to open up spaces in our society to other forms of organisation of production. But not “anything goes”, nor with controls that don’t always get to the bottom of it. It’s about reproducing socialism, which is a lot more than productivity and profitability and, above all, socialism is the only thing that will allow us to continue existing as a nation.


  1. Jesus García Brigos is a well known academic, former MP and militant of the PCC

  2. I have met and worked with Jesus Garcia through work with Rock around the Blockade in Britain. Hes a legendary person, I cant express how much of a pleasure it was to work with him and listen to his ideas.
    Theres a couple of videos online of him here if you want to check them out


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