Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Translation: It's time to perfect socialism

As promised, here is a reader's comment in response to Luis Sexto's column in Juventud Rebelde titled "One day we'll wake up" (see previous post). I chose this one because it captures the spirit of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines adopted by the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in April and endorsed by the National Assembly of People's Power in August.

This is by no means a consensus view among Cuba's revolutionaries, broadly defined, let alone among all Cubans living on the island. As Raul Castro acknowledged in the Main Report to the Congress, there is no consensus and it would be silly to pretend otherwise. He has repeatedly called for an end to displays of false unanimity and for people to speak their minds.

There is a spectrum of political opinion. At one extreme are those who want to see capitalism restored. This is a small minority of Cuban society because there is no significant social base for capitalist restoration. The Cuban bourgeoisie licks its wounds across the Florida Straits; some Cubans on the island are seduced by the "American Dream", but most understand that capitalism would turn Cuba into something like Honduras.

The tiny pro-capitalist opposition is largely, if not wholly, a creature of US subversion. Hopelessly divided and compromised by the willingness of most of its activists to take money, gifts and directives from US agents, it is also infiltrated by Cuban intelligence. 

Far more serious is the threat posed by corrupt administrators who hope to convert illicit privileges into capitalist property. 

In the Soviet Union, the nomenklatura with its institutionalised privileges was the social base for capitalist restoration. In Cuba there is no such system of special privileges for party officials and administrators. Cuba is not ruled by a bureaucracy as some left critics imagine. If it were, then the implementation of the Guidelines would require not a patient yet resolute struggle against administrative inertia combined with a ruthless crackdown on high-level corruption, but an anti-bureaucratic political revolution. 

Cuba's corrupt officials cannot publicly advocate capitalist restoration, nor can they — or anyone else in Cuba — organise openly to this end. They can only fill Swiss bank accounts, make connections inside and outside the island and bide their time, hoping that Raul's highly effective anti-corruption taskforce, the Comptroller General's office led by the formidable Gladys Bejerano, doesn't uncover their crimes through its random audits and investigations. This would appear to be an increasingly forlorn hope.

The bureaucratic mentality, as Luis Sexto calls it, is far more widespread among party and state officials than instances of large-scale corruption. Many in positions of authority do not act in the spirit of the renewal process; they obstruct, distort or delay the implementation of decisions that inconvenience them. They don't want to give up their prerogatives and they defend their little fiefdoms zealously. In some cases — but by no means all — such prerogatives are a source of illicit income: an official who stamps forms may ask for a little something under the table to speed up the process, for example.

At the other extreme are Cubans on the island, among them many sincere and humble revolutionaries, who have dogmatic or mistaken conceptions of the socialist-oriented society in Cuba's conditions. Raul Castro referred to this in his December 2010 address to Cuba's National Assembly, when he spoke about the need to change "erroneous and unsustainable conceptions of socialism that have been deeply rooted in broad sectors of the population over the years as a result of the excessively paternalistic, idealistic and egalitarian approach instituted by the Revolution in the interests of social justice."

Such revolutionaries view any concessions to self-employment and small-scale private and cooperative management of social property as tantamount to abandoning the socialist project. They view the egalitarianism embodied in the ration book not as an emergency measure that has outlived its usefulness, but the very essence of "socialism". The solutions they propose for Cuba's economic problems involve appeals to conscience, selecting the right cadres and asserting control, all of which are necessary but clearly insufficient.

Through the public debate on the future of Cuba's socialist project initiated by Raul Castro in July 2007, when he called for structural and conceptual changes and for a free and frank debate, what I've called the critical renovationist current within the Revolution has emerged and consolidated. In my booklet Cuba's Socialist Renewal (p.10) I define this current as follows:

The critical renovationist current is made up of those revolutionaries who perceive that unity of action and unanimity of opinion are two different things and their confusion in practice does great harm to the Revolution; secondly, that nothing less than a deep, integral transformation of Cuba’s socialist model — of many of its concepts, structures, methods and mentalities — must be carried through if the Revolution is to endure in the post-Fidel era, part of which is forging a real culture of public criticism and debate, something Cuba has lacked.

Raul and the rest of the PCC leadership are the leaders of this current of opinion within the Revolution and the initiators of the socialist renewal process. 

Different trends can be identified within this current.

There are those, such as some economic specialists, who support the general thrust of the Guidelines but think the projected changes don't go far enough. They'd like to see, for example, an opening to medium-sized private businesses while keeping large enterprises in state hands. There are leftist critics both within and outside the PCC who, while also supporting much of the content of the Guidelines, advocate a radical "cooperativisation" of the state enterprise sector. Others dismiss the former as neoliberalism and the latter as left 

As well as different visions of the socialist-oriented society there are differences on the detail: how much or how little, when and in what order and, importantly, how to carry out the necessary transformations. The debate is ongoing and will be enriched by further experience. 

Meanwhile, as a result of a years-long process of debate, consultation and consensus-building culminating in the Sixth PCC Congress, Raul and the PCC leadership have sought and received a resounding popular mandate in favour of the basic principles of the new socialist-oriented economic model that is emerging and for the Guidelines as a road-map towards this new model.

Something approaching a national consensus has been forged around the premises of a socialist-oriented society that gives more to those who contribute more while protecting those in need, avoiding the extremes of opulence and destitution, on the one hand, and a paralysing egalitarianism on the other; a socialism that is less dogmatic and bureaucratic, more democratic and participatory, with fewer prohibitions and prejudices and greater scope for individual and collective initiative and involvement in decision-making.

I said at the beginning that the comment below captures the spirit of the Guidelines. Perhaps a caveat is needed: the writer's emphasis on economic structures and mechanisms solving everything by themselves is one-sided. A more balanced view, it seems to me, is expressed by Jose Ramon Fabelo, a participant in a panel discussion on the economy published by the Cuban magazine Bohemia in October 2010 (see my translation here): 

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 proper place the value of work. Educational, pedagogical, political, juridical work is very important in the here and now.

Comment No. 15 by “Dariem”

Contribution to the online debate in response to Luis Sexto's commentary "One day we'll wake up", Juventud Rebelde, December 1, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

I note in many reader’s comments an appeal to what amounts to “consciousness”. SeƱores, it has been clearly demonstrated that “consciousness” is not inherent in human beings in an economy of scarcity, it’s time for us to wake up and realise that however much we call for savings, rationality, discipline etc., etc. this doesn’t work! It doesn’t work because the current economic model (objective conditions) does not allow it.

Social being determines social consciousness: this is a basic axiom of Marxism. The objective conditions determine the subjective; the material determines the spiritual. Men and women and their families must first eat, clothe themselves and have shoes to wear before they are able to dedicate themselves to altruistic questions. This is the harsh reality, however much it may pain us. Very few human beings devote themselves to a cause out of pure consciousness without regard for their material necessities.

So as well as making appeals, what we have to do is complete the transformation of our economic structures and laws, our model, so that work becomes the primary source of individual wealth, that is, complete the socialisation of the means of production, whose absolute control by the state has not exactly been the best way of achieving this.

If someone doesn’t see the benefits of their work, if they don’t see an improvement in their quality of life, then they won’t feel motivated to work, save resources, innovate, come up with ideas, create, undertake something. We’ll achieve this with a new economic model, and all these things that we strive for with appeals to “consciousness” will come by themselves. It’s time to perfect socialism, leaving behind empty slogans and placing our feet firmly on the ground, following a scientific methodology with mathematical precision and abandoning improvisations and dreams that are distant from reality.

Unchain the productive forces, put the means of production in the hands of the workers in a real way, give them the power of self-management, self-financing and participation in decision-making, eliminate salaried employment and move to remuneration according to the earnings produced by the work collective, and you’ll see how we don’t have to tell anyone to save, that they have to work hard, that they have to take care of the means of production, that they have to innovate... because all this will happen by itself.


  1. "Many in positions of authority [...] don't want to give up their prerogatives and they defend their little fiefdoms zealously. In some cases — but by no means all — such prerogatives are a source of illicit income".

    I'm wondering what is meant by this. Are you saying some of these people act bureaucratically without enjoying any material privileges?

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  3. For as long as there exists a body of specialised public functionaries who carry out administrative tasks, there will be a tendency for this body of functionaries to develop a caste outlook that Luis Sexto calls the bureaucratic mentality.

    The essence of this mentality is self-preservation, which may manifest, for example, in a hostile attitude towards the producers participating directly in decision-making and administration in a socialist state enterprise. Secrecy is the watch-word of those imbued with this mentality, since information is the key to accountability.

    The material basis of this mentality is the existence of a substantial layer of specialised administrators, which can only "wither away" to the degree that society as a whole takes on these tasks. This depends fundamentally on people having the time outside their working lives to volunteer for a share of the administrative tasks, thus making most of these specialised administrators unnecessary. Those that remain would be under very close public supervision.

    Cuban labour productivity is far too low to allow its citizens to work say 20 hours per week. However, by changing its socialist-oriented economic model to a more efficient and participatory one, it should be possible to greatly reduce the size and influence of the administrative apparatus.

    The overwhelming dominance of the socialist state sector in Cuba's post-capitalist economy and the hyper-centralisation of decision-making has given elements of the administrative apparatus a great deal of power over the producers, even when such administrators earn modest salaries and do not have illicit incomes derived from corruption. There are many honest administrators who display all the hallmarks of the bureaucratic mentality.


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