Monday, March 26, 2012

Translation: Constitutional changes needed

Here, a Granma reader argues that Cuba's socialist Constitution needs to be amended in line with the transformation of Cuba's socialist-oriented economic model, in particular the legalisation of small private businesses. I commented on the need for such constitutional amendments in a May 2011 post. You can read an English translation of the Cuban Constitution here.  

The author says that legalising small private businesses is not a step towards socialism, but a necessary retreat in order to advance. The reference to Lenin recalls Lenin and Trotsky's New Economic Policy in Soviet Russia in the early 1920s, an experience that the architects of Cuba's new socialist economic model have no doubt studied in depth.

Much confusion has resulted from the word "socialism" being used interchangeably, in Cuba and elsewhere, to mean two very different things: a society in which the state, money and social classes have withered away — the communist society envisioned by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, conceivable only on a world scale — and a post-capitalist, communist-oriented society such as Cuba that is confined by international isolation to the beginnings of the transition from capitalism to communism. 

An example of such ambiguity can be seen in the letter below, in which the author states that "the employment of wage labour by individuals" contradicts "to some degree the socialist character of the socio-economic system." 

What is meant by the word "socialist" here?

If "socialist" is synonymous with communist society, then wage labour would indeed contradict the character of this mode of production. In such a society the distinction between labour and leisure would have been transcended, the compulsion to work giving way to free creative practice. The generalisation of automated production would make possible the satisfaction of the rational needs (which are not the same as the consumerist cravings stimulated by capitalism) of all members of society. There would be no need to ration access to goods and services via wages.

Cuba is light years from this lofty objective.

If by "socialist" is meant a communist-oriented society at the beginnings of the transitional epoch, such as Cuba today, then (as I argued in my previous post) the only absolute requirement with respect to property forms is that the "commanding heights" of the economy  large-scale industry in which labour is objectively socialised  are social property. Self-employment, small private businesses and cooperatives whose market relations are subordinated to central planning by the socialist state are in no way incompatible with such a society.

The Co
nstitution and the updating of socialism 

By J. C. Mora Reyes, Granma letter, March 23, 2012

Translation: Marce Cameron

I’m one of the many who are grateful for this space for opinion and public debate, proof positive that all viewpoints are valued. Grateful that it exists and that diverse opinions can be expressed honestly, without any taboo topics, sparking the interest of the citizens regarding matters that concern everyone and that serve to spur participation as both a necessity and a right.

In this spirit I’d like to express an opinion on a question that is, in my view, of fundamental importance.

While modifications to the Constitution of the Republic are a recourse that should not be used excessively, there is no reason to not make such changes if they are necessary and feasible.

I offer by way of example certain measures, above all those related to the employment of wage labour by individuals, that contradict to some degree the socialist character of the socio-economic system. The Constitution prohibits, explicitly and categorically, exploitation (Articles 14 and 21, Paragraph 2), and for good reason. The inclusion of such a prohibition in the Constitution is not an error committed in the past, but an authentic expression of the new society to which we aspire but which lies beyond the realms of possibility in this historical moment – though other laws uphold indispensable worker’s rights, such as the minimum wage and retirement pensions on the basis of employer contributions.

It’s pointless, and doomed to failure from the outset, to try to argue that exploitation and socialism can be reconciled. The people’s intelligence, education and capacity for critical thought would not allow it. On the contrary, it will be readily understood if it is explained with complete honesty – proof of the respect that is always appreciated – that to legalise this kind of work, which is contrary to how we have conceived of it up to now, far from being an advance, as some claim, implies, as Lenin would say, a retreat to new positions from which to wage the revolutionary struggle, positions that are advantageous tactically and strategically in terms of the Revolution’s objectives.

The Constitution will have to be amended to address crucial questions such as those mentioned above, but in such a way as to leave room for retreat without abandoning the path of building socialism. Which, by the way, goes beyond simple declarations: we can declare ourselves to be loyally carrying on with socialist construction while making mistakes that lead to its demise, above all if we lack clarity on the scope of such fundamental issues which oblige us to seek solutions to economic problems today.

If we want to strengthen the institutionalism that is indispensable for the improvement and updating [of the socialist economic model], this must be done on the basis of the legality that flows from the Constitution. In other words, nothing must be done if the letter of the Constitution does not permit it, lest we undermine it or weaken its regulatory role in the legal, economic, political and social spheres, with the serious consequences this implies. We must be flexible in the search for the forms, ways, methods and procedures to implement what emanates from the Constitution, always within the limits it establishes.

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