Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Translation: Luis Sexto on bureaucratism

[The complete and corrected translation of Camila Piñeiro Harnecker's "Cuba Needs Changes" commentary, first posted January 15, is here

As Luis Sexto notes in the following commentary, according to the dictionary, "bureaucracy" is synonymous with the body of public officials. For Marxists such as Leon Trotsky in his analysis of the bureaucratic degeneration of the USSR from the late 1920s, bureaucracy involves material privilege, with two caveats: that these privileges are substantial and state-sanctioned. In the Soviet Union from Stalin to Gorbachev the high salaries and perks enjoyed by the bureaucracy were legal, just as they are in capitalist Australia's state bureaucracy; and the privileges must be substantial enough that the bureaucracy as a social layer has different material interests to those of ordinary working people.

Defined in this way, Cuba does not have a bureaucracy. In Cuba, there is no institutionalised system of special privileges for public officials and administrators as there was in the Soviet Union from Stalin to Gorbachev. The moral authority of Cuba's revolutionary leaders rests on their commitment to the revolutionary cause and their close identification with the needs and aspirations of the working people. As disgraced former high officials Felipe Perez and Carlos Lage (among others) can attest, feathering one's own nest and jockeying for power are not tolerated.

As is well known, Fidel's presidential salary was around US$30 a month, about that of a skilled worker. It could even be argued that in Cuba competent administrators, such as factory managers that are highly skilled and experienced and have big responsibilities, should be paid higher (but not exorbitant) salaries in line with the principle of the socialist transition, "to each according to their work", that is, according to the value of one's labour contribution to society. Raul Castro hinted at this in his December speech to the National Assembly.

Of course, there are corrupt officials in Cuba that have illicit privileges. (There is also a tendency for administrators to adopt the bureaucratic mentality: passively resisting decisions that inconvenience them, zealously guarding their administrative prerogatives from criticism and initiative "from below", stifling debate, making the simplest procedures almost impossibly complicated, and so on). But the fact that such privileges are illegal has important political consequences. It reveals the attitude of Cuba's socialist state, and the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leadership at the head of this state, towards such privileges, making it much harder for such corrupt officials to crystallise as a ruling stratum and a bridge to capitalist restoration.

The reforms foreshadowed in the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines will tend to undermine, rather than strengthen, the bureaucratic tendencies in Cuba's socialist state. And, as can be seen from Sexto's commentary below, Cuba's revolutionary press sides with the working people against bureaucratism. (The reference to "Sancho" in the title is to Sancho Panza, a character from a Miguel de Cervantes novel.)   

Commitment calls, Sancho

By Luis Sexto

Juventud Rebelde, September 30, 2010

Translation: Marce Cameron

Be more explicit when referring to the bureaucracy and the harm it can cause, a reader urges me. And I thank them for the peremptory suggestion. Because sometimes the commentator writes taking into account the prevailing points of reference in a definite moment in society, assuming that the readers are aware of this. There are, then, exceptions. Firstly, I should clarify that I do not usually refer to the bureaucracy, but to the bureaucratic mentality.

These are not the same thing. Among various definitions, the dictionary says that bureaucracy is the body of public functionaries. This body, one realises, has a task to fulfil: to establish, control, serve as intermediaries with the greatest efficiency between the social organisation and the citizens. Now then, the bureaucratic mentality is the opposite of this. And it is in this contrary sense that I refer when I try to alert, almost tiresomely, of the possible distorting role of bureaucratism in the process of updating the economy [i.e. Cuba's socialist economic model].

This body of attitudes and dogmatic visions arises and grows in society, in my judgement, when the bureaucracy, availed of an exaggerated verticality in the socioeconomic order, tries to go from being a public service to being served by the public, becoming an end in itself, and object "for itself". Then its interests begin to differentiate themselves from the general interests, enough to practice a conduct such that it appears to comply without revealing its failure [to do so], or accepting solutions then turning them into something else in practice. This, then, is one of the adoptive parents of egalitarianism and paternalism as forms of distribution and as social relations that imply a subordination between those that receive and those that give, although these conceptions may only subsist now as a hope. 

This has been a more or less theoretical summary. But I know that an example is needed. Last week I referred to a workplace in which the workforce rationalisation runs the risk of being poorly executed due to the bureaucratic mentality. Would we doubt, given our experience, that it [i.e. the bureaucratically-minded workplace management] might accommodate to leaving things as they are, which would involve the least commitment [on their part to the reform process]? Is this too harsh a judgement? Perhaps not. Because the country is sufficiently mature to know and explain how so many very useful and creative revolutionary initiatives lost their effectiveness due to the influence of bureaucratic distortion.

More recently, we have known of [workforce rationalisation] procedures aimed at retaining a worker on the basis of what suits [managerial functionaries], not the person most suitable for production or a certain occupation. If such acts, so negating of the will and the methodology of the government, were to respond [to the interests of workers] as co-owners of the means of production, then the worker whose aptitude would ensure affordability or profitability would always be retained. Accordingly, words cannot be used to convey a meaning they do not possess. If we say we're going to "rationalise" payrolls this implies employing "rational" methods and visions.

It's not superfluous, then, to stress the urgency of mobilising the "hundred eyes" of horizontal, democratic control. The experts, functionaries and labour leaders charged with deciding such a sensitive decantation [i.e. re-selection of the workforce] have to observe and smell — for all that could be lost — the deviation from the most valid concepts. Because — and those who read my columns will not be surprised — already in some place they have alleged that the non-basic sectors of the workplace will play the role of scapegoats, reducing the numbers of such workers as much as possible so as to not touch the rest. It seems correct, but in practice it distorts. Because, as I see it, when there is an excess of workers carrying out the core tasks of the workplace, costs will rise and productivity will decline even though the total workforce may have been reduced. 

Well, I don't know much about these things. [Yet] I've complied with the wishes of a reader. And I comply because the journalist is committed to the ends and interests of their country. 

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