Monday, November 7, 2011

Translation: Cooperative bakeries debate

In the previous post I promised to also translate two earlier contributions to this debate in the letters pages of Granma. Here they are.

The leasing of bakeries: a different viewpoint 

J. Bernal Camero, Granma letter to the editor, October 7, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

I don’t think the idea of leasing the bakeries to the workers is wise. Nor do I believe it will eliminate theft.

It would seem that theft in the bakeries is generated by the nature of property. Private property has engendered every kind of theft and is the champion when it comes to the variety of methods employed, beginning with the most subtle of them all – the exploitation of man by man. There is theft in every kind of cooperative all over the world, including those based on families, and in every type of business. From ancient times to the present day there is theft and deception between buyers and sellers.

I interpret and understand the policy of leasing [small productive and service entities] to be aimed fundamentally at creating jobs and guaranteeing services or products that the state cannot adequately provide. But this is not the case with the network of bakeries that exist throughout the length and breadth of the country, in which the state has made numerous investments and has employed a sizeable number of workers in a stable manner.

The state has provided a basic nutritional necessity with imported flour even in the most difficult economic circumstances, among them this long Special Period, which I don’t know if anyone can tell us when it will end, considering the serious international crisis situation and that of the production and commercialisation of food in Cuba.

I don’t deny that we can study and get up and running non-state bakeries where it may be advisable for various reasons, and that this would benefit the state [by relieving it of a burden] and the consumers, but I am convinced that the production of bread in state enterprises, if we do it properly, may be better, more secure and more beneficial than other options.

Finally, if I were a baker I’d vigorously protest at the characterisation of thieves levelled against an economic sector which, like all sectors, needs to do better and has the potential to do so in the framework of socialist production. 

Let’s not be dazzled by production and services based on self-employment or other non-state forms, as we were dazzled in an earlier time by state production and socialism. Everything is going to require the intelligent improvement of our socialist society as a whole without despising small-producer property, leaseholders and others that integrate our economic system and the dedication and effort needed to advance systematically in the satisfaction of our material and spiritual necessities.*    

Bakery/cake shop mural, Old Havana, Cuba
More on the leasing of bakeries

O. D’Angelo Hern├índez, Granma letter to the editor, October 14, 2011-11-06

Translation: Marce Cameron (the Spanish text is here)

I’m going to refer to the interesting opinion expressed by J. Bernal Camero on the topic, published in the October 7 edition.

This is a very important issue whenever the forms of the leasing of service and other enterprises appear in the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines for the updating of the economic model, and it’s one of the measures about which little is known.

Camero’s starting point is the opinion of others that leasing is a solution to the theft of merchandise. I’m not going to refer to this controversial topic, though it could be said that a greater sense of responsibility towards the enterprise – encouraged by collective forms of property ownership or management (cooperative or communal management, etc.) that give the workers more of a stake in the results of work and in the growth of collective awareness, as well as the organised action of the consumers in this regard – could lead us towards possible solutions.

I support, resolutely, the promotion of the various forms of leasing, above all when they imply collective management by the workers that would facilitate the democratic mechanisms of election [of managers], the equitable distribution of the earnings and the social responsibility of the enterprise in question.

It would be possible to apply this in multiple production and service activities, on the basis of consultations with the workers and with the population.

I agree with Bernal Camero, however, that we would have to cautious in deciding which are the necessary sectors. In the case of the bakeries, whose production and price are subsidised by the state, I believe it would be impossible to offer the bread that is now available through the ration book if the bakeries were converted to other forms of enterprise management, given that any other form of production (cooperative, etc.) would necessitate making a profit on sales.

The possible bedazzlement alluded to by Camero towards other, non-state forms [of enterprise management] makes some sense if we see them, as has happened, as urgent measures to be generalised immediately. But one thing is certain: the state enterprise, in its current form, tends towards inertia and the “detachment” of the worker from the conditions and the results of their work. The hoped-for feeling of being a socialist proprietor that this form should generate is often not achieved due to top-down management and centralisation that is alien to the work collective.

I agree with the disproportionate emphasis on what can be achieved with self-employment, if it is seen as “the” solution; it could lead to greater individualism. Small [productive] property has its place in the economy but I’d bet on more socialised forms of property, even encouraging the partnership of the self-employed with their communities and with other forms of economic activity.

Forms of ownership and management that foster “the freely associated labour of socialism”, as Marx called it – which do not necessarily pass through the current form of the state enterprise without co-management or worker self-management – would be paths towards the creation of a democratic culture and a greater sense of collective and social responsibility. However, this cannot be implemented, in my opinion, as a top-down and generalised formula without taking into account the inclinations and the willingness of the workers and the specific conditions of each sector of production and services at a given time.

This would mean taking one step at a time, “without haste but without pause” [as Raul Castro has said], which would allow us to progress with an advanced form of social organisation, in which the intelligent combination of forms of property or management would spur social and economic development towards another conception of the socialism that we need. 

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