Thursday, March 10, 2011

Translation: Bohemia panel on economy (Part 1)

Bohemia, a weekly current affairs magazine, was founded in Cuba in 1908. Today it is a respected and well-read publication carrying in-depth analysis and commentaries. Below is the first of a two-part translation of a round-table discussion among academic experts convened by the magazine on work in Cuban society. In-depth discussions such as these in Cuba's revolutionary press have informed the grassroots debates, now concluded, in Cuban workplaces and neighbourhoods on the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines. The pictures and captions accompanying the online version of the Spanish original can be viewed by clicking the blue title above.

Bohemia panel on Cuban economy (Part 1)

By Delia Reyes and Vladia Rubio

Bohemia, October 13, 2010

Translation: Marce Cameron

Structural changes in the economic model aim to revalue the role of work in Cuba, say experts in the round-table discussion convened by Bohemia. The decentralisation of administrative decisions and individual responsibility and participation will be promoted, they agree. Work must be converted into a primary necessity through effective motivations and, together with the educative role of the family, the culture of [illicit incomes to supplement low wages] must be erased. The formation of work values must find support in real life and its examples.    
The adjustment of labour policy and its effects on the workplace — with more than half a million state-sector workers to be relocated [i.e. made redundant] — are only the tip of the iceberg of a more imperative necessity: to restructure the Cuban economic model and through this reassert the role of work.   
This urgency was underscored by nine prestigious academics brought together by Bohemia to participate in a round-table discussion to get to the bottom of work in Cuba: Drs Rigoberto Pupo, vice-president of the Cuban Society for Philosophical Research; Roberto Fabelo from the Philosophy Institute; Julio Cerezal Mezquita from the Central Institute of Pedagogical Sciences; masters degree holders Pablo Rodriguez from the Institute of Anthropology and Maria Josefa Luis from the Centre for Youth Studies; Juan Carlos Campos from the Centre for Psychological and Sociological Investigations; Luis L. Palenzuela from the office of the Attorney General of the Republic; researcher Rafael Alhama from the Institute of Labour Research; and Jose Lis Nicolau from the office of the Auditor General.      
From different disciplines and analytical perspectives, the specialists go into the causes of a certain devaluing of work in the Cuban economic model, as well as considerations as to how this situation can be reversed.

Rigoberto Pupo: The essence of humanity is expressed in labour; when this doesn't occur, whether due to paternalism or lack of incentives, it sickens society. If "from each according to their ability, to each according to their work" is not complied with — as Marx demonstrated in the Critique of the Gotha Programme — and if the criterion for distribution is homogeneity, then those who work more receive the same as those who contribute little.    

Jose Ramon Fabelo Corzo: Work is an organic and universal necessity, through which human beings produce and reproduce the material conditions of their own life; it is not exclusive to any particular social regime.

In the case of Cuba, when the Revolution triumphed it wasn't possible to begin distributing according to work, because had we followed the recommendation of the Marxist classics to the letter then, the Revolution would probably not have lasted the first year. The inherited deficit in terms of health, education and social welfare demanded a state that, with a certain degree of paternalism, was obliged to find resources. This opened the door to a tendency towards the state monopoly of [productive] property in order to be able to distribute equitably what little there was.    

This involved dangers, among them egalitarianism. As everybody received the same, this created a disincentive to work, to contribute individually. Social wellbeing, largely subsidised by the state, was severed from productive activity; at the same time, the idea that everything would be OK whether we worked hard or not so hard was encouraged. With the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe and the onset of the so-called Special Period, a paternalistic state emerged once again, doing everything it could to protect the people [from the worst effects of the economic crisis]. But these measures amplified the distortions between work and the satisfaction of needs.  

Today, in the present conditions, the degree of non-correspondence between work and social distribution must be reversed with absolute urgency.

Rafael Alhama: Fidel said an incisive phrase in 1997: "No revolution can substitute for work". But the fact is there were misrepresentations and distortions regarding work. Distribution was prioritised above accumulation and consumption. The latter were, and still are, the prerogative of the state institutions.     

We have to stitch together a study of what transpired: in the 1960s, the cost of living index and the  purchasing power of money were factors that permitted a dynamic. The 600,000 unemployed people which were then assimilated into the workforce left their mark on employment policies, which have been prioritised since then. Back then there was no real basis on which to consolidate a vision of economic and organisational rationality.

In the 1970s, after the approval of the [policy promoting the] scientific organisation of work, improvisation trumped forecasting. In the following decade, in the industrial sector alone, some 11 billion pesos at 1980s prices were invested. This is a huge amount for this economy, and it was coupled with the assimilation of more than 1.1 million new workers resulting from baby boom of the 1960s.

This was a propitious conjuncture in which to strive for the rational deployment of the workforce, but it was not taken advantage of. In that decade there was irrationality in the use of resources, disorganisation and underemployment became more acute. This situation was criticised by Fidel himself who described our economy at the time as "an old horse full of sores".

I'm going to give an example of the gravity of the situation regarding payrolls: in one of the last entities that I visited, a third of the operators supported two thirds of the other occupational categories — technicians, administrators, directors, service workers. One third and two thirds.

Pablo Rodriguez: Even when concrete conditions create the premises for the institution of a certain social relation, the historical subjects have responsibilities [i.e. people have to act on these premises]. I wouldn't go so far as to talk about paternalism in these first years of the Revolution; these were times in which a popular subject, profoundly empowered, participated and struggled to shape its destiny and became the master of its own history. 

The people continued being poor, but the psychological notion of poverty had been broken.
Later on, this popular subject was gradually displaced, and its place began to be occupied by bureaucratic structures, with decisions that were ever-more technocratic. This is one aspect of the construction of the paternalistic state and of the always-adolescent child, incapable of making decisions. In socialism, the popular subject and its capacity to find solutions to its problems cannot be forgotten.

Our society has achieved something that gives us tremendous strength: social property in the means of production. This is an historical advance that we must not renounce. Now, the problem is to abandon the state-centric, administrative model, and see all the potentialities within social property to free up the productive forces and break schemas.  

Juan Carlos Campos: In Cuban society the idea that only state employment is legitimate predominates, and this has not been the case for many years. Employment is gainful labour, and it may be formal, informal, legal or illegal.

In the 1990s, flowing from both the [post-Soviet economic] crisis and the measures adopted [to confront this crisis], a greater heterogeneity of society, the economy and of work emerged. Especially with regard to employment. Self-employment appeared. It was then that we began to talk about multiple economic spaces in Cuba. The state sector suffered, there were entire branches that were decapitalised. The budgeted sector was essentially not revived, and it absorbed a very large number of workers.

As it is currently structured, the Cuban economy cannot provide productive employment to the more than five million people that comprise the economically active population. But the socialist state remains committed to protecting people [from large-scale unemployment].   

Maria Josefa Luis: Work continues to be a necessity for Cubans; we should ask ourselves how a group of questions related to the functioning of society have negatively influenced the conceptions related to work. Perhaps the formation of new generations in this sense has been idealised a little.

How might young people have been influenced by arriving at a boarding school in the countryside [where studies were combined with manual agricultural labour] where the disorganisation is terrible, and they're not going to produce but waste their time? If in practice they don't receive appropriate attention before entering the workforce, if they see that they're not making the most of the workday, this is going to leave an impression on them. And when they're given a training placement after graduation, on many occasions they're not sent to where they should be, or they spend part of the eight hours of the workday doing nothing at all. That is to say, in these cases the youth enter the world of work with distorted conceptions.

Studies show that it's the family that has the greatest influence on the formation of the work ethic in the new generations. And there are youth who demonstrate how, with the survival strategies elaborated in the household — I don't know if they are legitimate, but some are illegal — they resolve material necessities, and at the same time they see no close relationship between work effort and the ability to satisfy their necessities.          

So, today there are certain cracks in the edifice of the conceptions that our social project promotes in relation to work, this being understood to mean not only the satisfaction of material necessities but also as a moral duty and an element of personal realisation.

Julio Cerezal: The investigations carried out by our institute (of Pedagogical Sciences) point to the existence of aspirations among our youth that are not realised through socially useful productive work.  

Currently there is an effort being made in education to inculcate a producer consciousness, but this cannot be learned in the same way as maths or physics. People are educated in society and in this socialisation process does not only take place in the classroom. The examples of life and of work must be the principal educational reference points; however, in practice this has not always been the case.     

(Translation to be continued)

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