The social problems of Cuba are similar to those of Africa. In size, Cuba is a tiny country with great socialist ambitions and achievements in contemporary anti-imperialist history. In Africa the majority of the countries are similarly tiny but burdened with visionless leadership attached to the apron strings of imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and capitalism. Cuba, all the same, like any African country on the African continent, requires the unification of Latin America and the Caribbean within which united whole it can realize its potential to the full. Hence, the recent efforts that the late Hugo Chavez made in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States with the support of the Cuban leadership.

These efforts have been inspired upon the two centuries old heroic undertakings in Latin America and the Caribbean by patriots following the example of Simon Bolivar and Jose Marti. Such patriots have waged armed struggles to free the sub-continent from imperialism. In the current period, the successful anti-imperialist military adventures under the inspiring leadership of Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara are the fountain from which some African revolutionaries have drawn their inspiration to confront imperialism on African soil. The physical presence and participation of Cuban internationalist forces in the African armed struggles remain in Africa’s mind. This chemistry between Cuba and Africa makes Cuban concerns an African concern.

In the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the emergence of an ideological uni-polar world, the Cuban Revolution has been under severe stress. Travellers to Cuba, who are sympathetic to the aspirations of the Cuban Revolution, are disturbed by scenes of apparent retrogression to capitalist tendencies. Intellectuals from outside and within Cuba are similarly disturbed. The pressure of imperialist, capitalist and neo-colonialist forces in advancing this retrogression has arrested the attention of many local and internationalist solidarity forces of anti-imperialism. These latter are not looking on in despair; they are examining the current situation through the prism of criticism and self-criticism. The point is to save the Cuban Revolution for humanity.

The problematic of the Cuban situation raises for African revolutionaries important questions of defining Revolutionary Pan-Africanism. Central to these questions is the place and role of the working classes in the exercise and control of state power. In the quest to build a socialist united Africa the centrality and resolution of this question in the definition of Revolutionary Pan-Africanism in favour of working class hegemony are the guarantee for consistency in the prosecution of a solidly unshakeable African Revolution. Petite-bourgeois revolutionarism, characterized by unwarranted secrecy and embedded in privileged bureaucratism that is structurally isolated from the working classes, proves to be the historical guarantee for certain failure in socialism.

In the articles and papers presented below, the first is a traveller’s report upon a visit to Cuba by Patrick Larsen. The next contribution by the Cuban communist, Jorge Martin, follows as the second article.  The third contribution to the debate is by Frank Josué Solar Cabrales, another Cuban communist.  The fourth, by Alan Wood, is a participating visitor’s analytical report of proceedings at an intellectuals’ conference in Cuba prior to the Communist Party of Cuba Congress in 2011 . After that conference in April 2011 Jorge Martin writes again in the fifth paper. 




Patrick Larsen

March 3, 2011

This was published just about six weeks before the Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (on April 16 – 19, 2011) that ratified the new economic guidelines.

The Cuban Revolution had always caught my attention. How was it possible for a planned economy to survive on a small island, less than 90 miles from the most powerful imperialist country on earth? Why didn’t Cuba fall in the early 1990’s together with the Soviet Union? What is the current situation in the island and what are the perspectives for the future?

These were some of the questions that I asked myself before my recent trip to Cuba. During the following couple of weeks I travelled across parts of the country, to get at least a taste of the complex situation facing the Cuban Revolution.

Capitalism abolished

Cuban flag. Photo: Aaron Escobar

Cuban flag. Photo: Aaron Escobar

The first thing that really springs to the eye, is the fact that Havana is so different from other big Latin American cities, not to speak of the metropolitan centres of Europe. There are no skyscrapers to be seen, nor any commercial billboards from multinational companies. The old colonial buildings in the Gothic style still stand, something which gives the city a unique cultural and historical heritage.

Another striking feature of Havana is that the extremely visible inequality, which you find in all other Latin American cities, is absent. You don’t have that stark contrast between the super-rich bosses and the poor slum dwellers, which dominates Caracas, Quito or the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

No doubt, prostitution, alcoholism and drugs also afflict Cuba, but they are nowhere as widespread as in the rest of the continent and it is actually mainly confined to the tourist-areas. The same goes for the crime rate, which is remarkably lower than in Venezuela. Lumpen elements and homeless are a rarity in this society, so different from Venezuela, which still suffers from decades of the most extreme form of capitalist free market policies, “neo-liberalism”.

The revolution has made important leaps forward, transforming the lives of Cubans. Education is where it has probably gone the furthest, giving the possibility to study free for everyone, including higher University degrees.

Other conquests include the right to free abortion and the remarkable record low of 4.5 per 1,000 infant mortality rate. Compare this to Brazil, a much more developed economy, which still only manages to achieve 20 per 1,000.

The New Inequality

Tobacco workers. Photo: Vgenecr

Tobacco workers. Photo: Vgenecr

However, there is another side to the present situation. These major advances are being undermined by the capitalist elements that inevitably come in with the big inflow of foreign currency. During the special period of the 1990’s, Cuba was forced to step up tourism as a way of dealing with the consequences of the fall of trade relations with the USSR.

As I quickly grasped, a new inequality between those who have access to the tourist industry and those that do not, is developing. The CUC is the convertible peso, which can be exchanged for dollars. One CUC equals twenty-five Cuban Pesos or Pesos Nacionales, as they are also called.

Whereas a school teacher or a metal worker will receive a monthly salary of 400 Cuban Pesos, equalling some 16 CUCs, the same amount can be earned by a taxi driver in three or four days. And many of the imported products can only be bought in shops which sell in CUCs, thereby excluding a decisive layer of the population.

Meanwhile, the government is removing a number of products from “La Libreta”, i.e. the food ration book, which previously gave all Cubans access to very cheap food-stuff. During my stay, Granma [the official Cuban Communist Party newspaper] reported on the decision to remove price regulations for toothpaste and soap.

These are all imported goods and therefore highly expensive for Cubans, something which is being aggravated by the criminal U.S. government imposed trade embargo on Cuba. The blockade is a huge problem for the Cuban economy, as it limits both the country’s ability to export and to import cheaper consumer products en masse.

In many hours of conversations with Cubans from different walks of life, I learnt that most people have to resort to trickery, simply to make ends meet by the end of each month. They even have a term for it, in Cuba it is called “resolver”, which means “to solve”.

This implies that every family tries to get someone inside the tourist economy, whether registered or unregistered, whether as an official receptionist or simply as someone who provides services, such as taxi-drivers, etc. for tourists every now and then.

But it also involves many people being forced to indirectly steal from their workplace – something which would have been considered impermissible by ordinary working people in the past. This happens when a taxi driver only registers two rides to Miramar while he in fact has done three, or when a barman serves a soft drink with 270ml, which should in fact contain300ml – and then keeps the rest, to sell on the black market.

Problems of corruption and bureaucracy

Speaking to Monica, a veteran Communist, I get the impression that even those layers most loyal to the revolution are extremely concerned. She argues that Cuba is heading towards a new “Special Period”, as a consequence of the world recession and the fall in tourism and also because of the devastating effects of the 2008hurricane disaster:

The new generation has only lived in a period of sacrifice and more sacrifice. They don’t remember the struggle against Batista nor the first decade of the revolution, with those marvellous debates and experiments we had at that time. They only know austerity.

Colonial buildings in Havana. Photo: Rudi Heim

Colonial buildings in Havana. Photo: Rudi Heim

But according to Monica, perhaps the worst thing is that many people see the bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption which is flowering in many state institutions, with some top managers taking advantage of their positions to make lots of money.

She gives me the example of Rogelio Acevedo, the former manager of Cubana de Aviación (the state airline), whose chaotic workings are familiar to me, after a two-day delay of my own flight. In March 2010 Acevedo was removed from his position after being involved in a corruption scandal, where he had used the planes of the company to do unregistered transport work, in order to pocket the profits himself.

When I tell Monica of the experiences of workers’ control in Venezuela, explaining to her the example of the INAF plant in Aragua, she nods approvingly. “I remember such control mechanisms from the early years. There were similar projects in Cuban factories at that time. But over the years we forgot this method…” It is clear that the only effective way of fight against corruption and bureaucracy is workers’ control over the running of the economy and the administration of public affairs.

Santiago: Fortress of the revolution

In the eastern part of the island, support for the revolution is certainly more solid than in Havana. Santiago, Cuba’s second largest city, has a very revolutionary tradition, going back to the first Cuban revolution of 1933. It was home to the activity of such outstanding figures as Antonio Guiteras, the radical left-nationalist who expropriated American enterprises from his position of minister, in the short-lived 1933 government of Ramon Grau San Martin.

Santiago and the neighbouring regions of Holguín and Granma were also places where the sugar cane workers managed to set up soviets during the 1933 strikes. Santiago was also the stronghold of the urban underground struggle against Batista, led by the courageous revolutionary youth Frank País.

In Santiago I noticed that many of the social projects are in better shape than in the capital and the negative effects of tourism are of course much less felt here. More products seem available in national currency, as opposed to the situation in Havana where numerous consumer goods can only be bought with CUCs. However, average wages are also lower here in Santiago, around 400 Cuban pesos per month, which is barely enough to survive.

In the University of Santiago there are many students who discuss the future and are worried about the present situation. They explain that huge advances that have been made in terms of education, but they also look forward to the pre-congress debate in the Cuban Communist Party, where they believe that a profound discussion must take place about the new measures that the government is proposing.

Reactions to the new measures

In September last year the government announced new and rather drastic measures: The dismissal of one million state sector workers and the plan for the creation of hundreds of thousands of additional licences for “self-employed”, small scale businesses.

Everyone agrees that something needs to be done, that the present situation cannot be maintained. That is why people are inclined to accept these measures as a way forward. But at the same time, most Cubans that I spoke to, have family or friends that will lose their jobs and this obviously creates uncertainty. What will the future hold? Are there enough markets for such a huge amount of “self-employed” businesses?

Havana from above. Photo: Henryk Kotowski

Havana from above. Photo: Henryk Kotowski

There has already been a lot of experience with small businesses over the years. Carmen, an owner of one of the “Casas particulares” (bread-and-breakfast guest houses) in Trinidad, informed me that there are more than 900 of them just in that town. As tourism has dropped, this means that many of them had to close down.

A friend in Santiago told me, that the main problem isn’t really the small businesses, as long as they are kept in check, but rather the fact that the new measures will allow further foreign investment and he fears that this will begin a process where imperialist capital will drown the revolution and roll back all its achievements in education and health services.

Most people for now have a “wait-and-see” approach towards the new measures, but there is also genuine concern about the way things are going. Especially among the intellectuals and in the University, there is a thirst for ideas and many Cubans are eager to discuss and hear the experience of other revolutions.

Some conclusions

It seems that the main reason why Cuba survived the collapse of the Soviet Union is due to two factors. On the one hand there is the personal authority of Fidel Castro. In contrast to Gorbachev, Honecker and the other leaders, Fidel had led a revolution himself and the heroic revolutionary struggle against the Batista regime was still alive in the collective memory of the Cuban people.

On the other hand, the revolutionary crisis and the sharp turn to the left which kicked off the 21st century in countries such as Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela, gave oxygen to the Cuban revolution. Materially, it provided Cuba with oil and foreign currency from Venezuela, but it also cut across the ideological isolation to which the revolution had been condemned previously.

But the world crisis of capitalism, together with the 2008hurricane disasters, has had its effects on the weak Cuban economy. It does indeed seem that the country is heading towards a new Special Period, but this time without Fidel Castro at the head of the government and more generally speaking, with the historic leadership of the Cuban revolution in its absolutely last stage (apart from Fidel and Raúl, the only one left from that heroic group onboard the Granma who remain in the government today is Ramiro Valdés and all of them are older than 75).

This can be extremely dangerous, because the imperialists are eager to destroy the revolution once and for all. The main reason why they have always detested Cuba was not in the main due to material interests (which they also have) but rather the political significance of having a planned economy, which showed in a concrete way the advantages of a society in which capitalism and the private profit motive have been abolished.

The overall impression that I had upon leaving Havana was that the future of Cuba will be largely decided by the outcome of the battles in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and the rest of Latin America. Internationalism was always a key element in the Cuban Revolution, not only because of Che Guevara’s desire to spread the revolution to the Congo and Bolivia, but also because of Cuban involvement in Angola and today with the Cuban doctors, teachers and nurses stationed in Venezuela and Bolivia.

If the revolution is spread to these countries and if capitalism is abolished, this would provide the pre-conditions for a genuine planning of the huge natural resources of these countries. But just as in Cuba, in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia it will be necessary to expropriate the capitalists, bankers and landlords if these countries are to obtain genuine national independence from imperialism.



Towards Capitalism or Socialism?


Jorge Martin

September 17 2010

The lack of genuine workers’ democracy, in which ordinary working people participate directly in managing the state and the economy, is one of the main threats to the revolution. It breeds demoralization, scepticism, cynicism and generally undermines the revolutionary morale of the people. If it is combined with a situation in which the basic needs are not met, the purchasing power of wages decreases and everybody is aware of corruption and theft going on at the top of the state, then it becomes a real counter-revolutionary danger of the first order…

In our opinion, the only real way forward for the Cuban revolution is revolutionary internationalism and workers’ democracy. The fate of the Cuban revolution is intimately linked to the fate of the Venezuelan revolution and the Latin American revolution in the first instance, and to the world revolution more generally…

It is not an accident that Lenin and Trotsky paid such a lot of attention to the building of the Third (Communist) International. A narrow nationalist attitude was entirely foreign to their outlook. In the same way, Che Guevara embodied the internationalist spirit of the Cuban Revolution. Che understood that, in the last analysis, the only way to save the Cuban Revolution was to spread the revolution to Latin America, a cause for which he was prepared to sacrifice his life.

Jorge Martin

On September 13, 2010 a statement by Cuba’s trade union (CTC) published in Granma announced a whole series of sweeping changes in the country’s economy. These measures are the result of the serious economic crisis affecting Cuba, which has been hit hard by the recession in world capitalism. This underlines Cuba’s dependence on the world market and the impossibility of ‘building socialism in one country’.

Cuban flag. Photo: Aaron Escobar

Cuban flag. Photo: Aaron Escobar

The most striking of the measures announced in the CTC statement was the cutting of 500,000 jobs in the state sector by March 2011, as part of a process of reducing one million jobs. Around 85% of Cuba’s workers, 5 million, are employed in the state sector, so this would mean firing 20% of these 10% within the next 6 months.

The statement further explained that these workers will have to move to the non-state sector, through an increase in licenses for self-employment and family run businesses, some workers taking over their small business units and running them through cooperatives, the leasing of state-owned premises and businesses to be run by the workers themselves, etc.

Job losses

In the past, workers who were made redundant would receive their full basic wage until they were allocated to another job. But now these 100% subsidies will be limited to one month, after which the workers will receive a further benefit of 60% of their basic wage which will be prolonged in time according to the length of their previous employment: those who have worked up to 19 years for a month, or two months for those having worked between 20 and 25 years, three months for those accumulating 26 to 30 years, and for a maximum of five months for those having worked more than 30 years.

Moreover, those remaining in state sector jobs will have their pay linked to productivity, a measure which had been already announced by Raul Castro but which not all companies had implemented because of the deep economic crisis that the Cuban economy has gone through.

The statement also repeated points made previously by Raul Castro to the effect that “oversized social spending” has to be reduced, and that “excessive subsidies” and “unwarranted gratuities” had to be eliminated. This seems to announce a complete overhaul of the welfare state system, moving from universal benefits to means tested benefits. It will probably mean the elimination of the rationing card which gives all Cubans access to a basic basket of heavily subsidized goods, mainly food. The expansion of self-employed licences in reality will mean the legalization of a de facto situation in which many Cubans have been forced to make ends meet by getting involved in the black market.


For the first time, small private businesses will be allowed to hire waged labour, and they will have to pay social security contributions for workers they employ. Those who will take advantage of the expanded licences for self-employment and family run businesses will have to pay into a new tax system, including 25% social security contributions and taxes on profits of between 40% (for restaurants) to 20% for those renting out rooms.

The state hopes to increase tax revenue on the self-employed and small business by 400%. There are already in Cuba 170,000 cuenta propistas self-employed people working legally and there is probably a similar amount in the black market. This is down from a peak of 210,000 during the opening up of the economy in the early 1990s.

Money wages in Cuba are relatively low, but Cubans receive heavily subsidized or free housing, transportation, education, healthcare and foodstuffs through the rationing card. The problem is that the social wage no longer allows Cubans to live and they have to do a large percentage of their basic shopping in convertible pesos (CUC) which are exchanged at 1 for every 24 Cuban pesos in which they receive their wages.

The CUC shops are run by the state and operate on the basis of high mark-ups as a way for the state to recover hard currency which Cubans obtain through remittances from abroad and their legal, semi-legal and illegal dealings with tourists.

Other measures announced recently include the extension of the duration of leases of land to foreign investors, from 50 to 99 years. This measure was explained as providing ‘better security and guarantees to the foreign investors’ particularly in the tourist industry. There is already talk of Canadian companies building luxury resorts complete with 18-hole golf courses on the island.

Cuba at the mercy of the world market

The measures announced, and others that have already been announced or that are in the pipeline, threaten to increase inequality, develop the private accumulation of capital, seriously undermine the planned economy and start a very powerful process towards the restoration of capitalism. All of these measures are the result of the serious economic crisis that Cuba has been facing in the last two years.

Hotel Nacional in Havana. Photo by Scatuchio.

Hotel Nacional in Havana. Photo by Scatuchio.

 As we explained in an earlier article (Cuba 50 years later – part two), the Cuban economy is extremely dependent on the world market and as a result, suffers heavily from the movements of the capitalist economy. First, the price of oil and food increased massively in 2007-08. Cuba imports about 80% of all the food it consumes, a total of US$1,500 million, mainly from the US. Then, the price of nickel collapsed from a peak of US$24 per pound down to US$7 per pound in early 2010. As a result of these factors, the terms of trade fell by 38% in 2008 alone.

The world recession also affected negatively the important tourist industry and the remittances of Cubans abroad which amount to US$1,100 million. To all these negative factors we have to include the devastation caused by three hurricanes in 2008 which caused loses worth nearly US$10,000 million.

Cuba is now heavily dependent on the export of professional services (mainly doctors to Venezuela) for its income in hard currency which then allows it to purchase goods on the world market. This export of medical services is worth US$6,000 million a year, three times the income generated by tourism.

The combination of all these factors led to a record trade deficit of US$11,700 million in 2008 (up 70% from 2007) and a current account balance of payments deficit of over US$1,500 million in the same year (in comparison with a US$500 million surplus in 2007). Cuba is not a member of any international financial institution and in the context of the worldwide credit crunch and the US blockade it proved impossible to obtain any additional lines of credit. This led Cuba to default on its payments to foreign creditors by mid 2008 (Cuba’s foreign debt was US$17,820 million in 2007, or around 45% of GDP).

After having grown steadily in 2003-07, reaching peaks of 11.2% and 12.1% in 2005 and 2006, the rate of growth sharply contracted to 4.1% in 2008 and 1.4% in 2009. In 2008 the state had the biggest fiscal deficit of the decade, 6.7% of GDP, and was forced to implement a programme of adjustment, including a massive reduction in imports (including food).

All these figures paint a picture of a Cuban economy which has a very weak base and is heavily dependent on the world market. To summarize, you could say that Cuba exports raw materials (nickel), agricultural products (sugar), but mainly professional services (doctors), and receives income from tourism and the remittances. With the hard currency it earns, it has to import almost everything, from food to manufactured goods, not to speak of capital goods.

This really shows, not in a theoretical way, but in the cold language of economic facts, the impossibility of building socialism in one country. This was not possible in the Soviet Union, which after all, was a country spreading over a whole continent and with massive natural resources. It is even less possible in a small island 90 miles from the most powerful imperialist power on earth.

Collapse of Stalinism

What is truly amazing is the fact that the Cuban revolution has managed to resist after the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union, on which it was completely dependent from an economic point of view (this is explained in more detail in Cuba 50 years later – part two). This is a testimony to the deep roots the Cuban revolution still has within the population. The so-called Special Period showed the determination of a whole people not to allow themselves to be enslaved again.

Crowd celebrating the Cuban Revolution on 26 July. Photo by stttijn.

Crowd celebrating the Cuban Revolution on 26 July. Photo by stttijn.

 So what attitude should we take to these proposals? It is true that, in itself, the opening of small businesses is not a negative measure. A planned economy does not need to nationalize everything, down to the last barber shop. This was always a Stalinist caricature. In Cuba the nationalization of all small and medium enterprises took place as part of the “Revolutionary Offensive” in 1968, when 58,000 small businesses, mainly in the cities, were expropriated. Ice cream vendors, barber shops, shoe repair shops, etc, all were nationalized.

This was a completely unnecessary step, which only resulted in the creation of a further layer of bureaucracy to oversee and manage these really small productive units. In the transition towards socialism, it is inevitable that elements of capitalism will continue to exist alongside the elements of a socialist planned economy. That includes a certain number of small businesses, shops and small peasant plots, etc.

In itself, that should pose no threat to socialism, as long as the key points of the economy remain in the hands of the state, and the state and industry are in the hands of the working class. On that condition, and only on that condition, a small private sector could and should be allowed, as long as the state maintains firm control over the commanding heights of the economy.

In the 1920s the Russian revolution was forced to make concessions to private production (mainly in agriculture) and offer concessions to foreign capital, through the New Economic Policy. Lenin was even prepared to offer to lease parts of Siberia to foreign capitalists. Given the extreme poverty of the young Soviet state, the Bolsheviks had no means of developing the colossal mineral potential of that huge region.

In exchange for investment and foreign technology, both of which the Revolution lacked, Lenin was prepared to allow foreign businessmen to open factories and mines on Soviet territory, employ workers and make profits, on condition that they respected Soviet labour laws and paid taxes. But the prior condition for making such concessions was that the working class, under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, maintained control of the state. In reality, these offers were rejected because the imperialists were determined to overthrow the Soviet state, not trade with it.

However, such historical analogies have definite limits and can be misleading. The truth is always concrete. It is not a question of repeating general truths about the transitional economy but of analyzing concrete facts and trends. We have to ask ourselves the basic question: in the given historical context, what will the concrete results of these policies be for Cuba?

The first problem is that Cuba has an extremely weak economic basis. The second is that it is only a few miles from the most powerful capitalist economy in the world. The third is that, as a result of years of bureaucratic mismanagement, the state owned enterprises are in a very bad state. Last but by no means the least, the workers have no sense of controlling the industries where they work and therefore no interest in questions such as productivity, efficiency and so on. There is a general sense of malaise and discontent that can lead to a mood of alienation that can pose the most serious danger of all to the future of the Revolution.

Everybody agrees that the present situation cannot continue, that “something must change” and “something must be done”. The question of questions is:what is to be done?

Will these measures work?

The notion that the problems of the Cuban economy can be solved by promoting the private sector is a most serious error, and one that can pose serious dangers for the future of the Revolution. This is shown by experience. There have already been some test cases for the privatization of small businesses, including the leasing out of barber shops and one taxi firm.

A tobacco plantation. Photo by Monkey Cat.

A tobacco plantation. Photo by Monkey Cat.

The results have been uneven. Some barbers find that they cannot generate enough profits to afford the lease and tax they have to pay to the state, others are thriving. Taxi drivers in one firm where they are now forced to lease their vehicles from the company have complained that they have to work extremely long hours just to cover what they have to pay for the use of the taxi.

It is not clear how these businesses will be able to get credit or how efficiently they will be able to get supplies, etc. The experience of peasant cooperatives and private agricultural producers has not been very successful, as they have had to deal with an extremely bureaucratized state system for purchasing their produce, delays in payments, problems in accessing fertilizers and seeds, etc.

An official document refers to many of these newly created businesses collapsing within one year. This does not allow much room for optimism! Unlike the reforms in the 1990s this time private businesses will be allowed to employ waged labour. This will create a sizeable legal layer of private small capitalists: we are talking about 250,000 new licences on top of the existing 170,000. It is inevitable that this layer will develop its own interests and outlook.

A gulf will open up between the private and public sectors. In a situation where the state is not able to produce good quality industrial and manufactured goods, the private sector will tend to grow at the expense of the state sector. In other words, the capitalist elements will grow and the socialist elements will retreat. The idea that the state can keep the capitalist elements under control is utopian. To the degree that the private sector becomes stronger, the market elements will assert themselves.

Two contradictory and mutually exclusive tendencies will exist side by side. Sooner or later one of them must prevail. Which one? That sector will ultimately prevail which attracts most productive investment, and on that basis, succeeds in achieving a higher level of labour productivity and greater efficiency. The present moves to relax the restrictions on foreign investments will mean a rapid increase in the flow of foreign capital to the private sector, starting with tourism and spreading to other key sectors.

The battle between the two trends will not be won by ideological speeches and exhortations but by capital and productivity. Here the crushing weight of the capitalist world economy will prove decisive. The main threat to the planned economy does not come from a few taxi drivers or barber shops but from the penetration of the world market in Cuba and from those elements in the bureaucracy who, privately, favour the market economy as opposed to a socialist planned economy.

Let us speak frankly: There is a strong current amongst Cuban economists, which is advocating these measures because they are in favour of abandoning the planned economy altogether, introducing market mechanisms at all levels and opening up the country to foreign investment in all sectors. That is, they are in favour of capitalism.

These people are basically proposing a “Chinese way”, although, because of the strong criticism which has developed in Cuba against China amongst left wing intellectuals, they prefer to talk of the “Vietnamese model”. The change of terminology is irrelevant. A rose with any other name will smell as sweet. And capitalism with any other name will smell as bad.

Regardless of how they want to describe their model, the proposals are clear. ‘The state should no longer plan the economy but regulate it’, ‘manufacturing and agriculture should be opened to foreign investment’, etc. No doubt the intentions of those proposing these measures are of the best. But the way to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the restoration of capitalism would be Hell for the people of Cuba, even if some do not yet recognize the fact.

Long ago, Fidel Castro rejected the “Chinese model” because it was just another name for the restoration of capitalism. But even if we were to consider this option, it would immediately become clear that it cannot apply to Cuba. The concrete conditions are completely different. Cuba is a small island with a small population and few resources. China is a vast territory with over a billion inhabitants, many resources and a powerful industrial base.

The huge Chinese peasantry has provided China’s capitalist enterprises with a vast reserve of cheap labour, which has constantly supplied the factories of Guandong with workers who work under virtual slave conditions for very low wages. The only thing that a Cuban variant would share is the last: low wages.

A capitalist Cuba would resemble neither China nor Vietnam, but rather El Salvador or Nicaragua after the victory of the counter-revolution. It would soon revert to a similar situation that existed before 1959 – one of misery, degradation and semi-colonial dependence. And irrespective of the intentions of those responsible, the measures which have already started to be implemented, will unleash a powerful movement towards the restoration of capitalism, which would destroy all the conquests of the revolution. It is the entry to a very slippery slope, and once it starts it will be difficult to stop.

Corruption and bureaucracy

But, some will say, we cannot continue as before! No, we cannot. But before we prescribe the medicine it is first necessary to have an accurate diagnosis of the disease. If we think that the problem is one that is inherent in the nationalization of the means of production, then we must be in favour of privatization and market economics. But we do not accept that this is the case.

The superiority of a nationalized planned economy was demonstrated by the colossal successes of the USSR in the past. These successes were undermined by the bureaucratic distortions that flowed from Stalinism and the corruption, swindling and mismanagement that are the inevitable consequence of a bureaucratic regime. Over a long period these things cancelled out the gains of the planned economy and undermined it. That is what led to the collapse of the USSR, not any inherent defect of central planning.

All those in Cuba who consider themselves communists and are worried as they see the gains of the revolution being endangered should study the lessons of the degeneration of the Russian revolution. It was the parasitic existence of the bureaucracy, itself a consequence of the isolation of the revolution in a backward country, which finally led to the restoration of capitalism with the catastrophic social collapse which accompanied it. The bureaucratic planning of the economy led to wastage, mismanagement and corruption. Finally the bureaucracy decided to become themselves the owners of the means of production.

The problem of corruption and bureaucracy in Cuba has already been denounced by Fidel Castro himself, in an important speech to university students in 2005. More recently the matter was taken up in a sharp way by Esteban Morales, honorary director of the Centre for US Studies at the University of Havana. In an article published on the website of the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), he clearly identified the main counter-revolutionary threat in Cuba today:

We can have no doubt that the counter-revolution, little by little, is taking positions at certain levels of the State and Government. Without a doubt, it is becoming evident that there are people in positions of government and state who are girding themselves financially for when the Revolution falls, and others may have everything almost ready to transfer state-owned assets to private hands, as happened in the old USSR.

He explained how the problem with the black market and corruption is not so much that there are people outside the main shopping centres offering products which are not found in the shelves of the shops, but rather those who are supplying them. In a further article, Morales explains how:

The real corrupt people are not so much those who sell powdered milk, not even those who sell durable goods outside the very doors of the shopping centres, but those who from their positions in the government and the state, control and open the doors of the warehouses.

Morales explains how corruption at all levels of the bureaucracy is in fact more dangerous than the so-called dissidents, which have no roots or support amongst the population, since:

the same people, which dissidents have no impact upon right now, if they are affected by a mood of corruption, mistrust in the leadership of the country, if they witness immorality in the handling of their resources (because the resources belong to the people, and that should not be just a discourse), amidst a situation of economic crisis, which has not been overcome, will become demoralized and will weaken their resistance in the political struggle.

Shortly after publishing his original article, entitled Corruption: The true counter-revolution? Morales was expelled from the Communist Party, despite protests from the members of his local branch, and his article was removed from the UNEAC website.

As he himself explains, Esteban Morales is a convinced communist with more than 50 years of struggle behind him. He then wrote a further article in which he denounced these methods since they have a demoralizing effect on revolutionaries and communists. He insisted on linking the problem of corruption to the question of bureaucracy and made an appeal to the rank and file members of the party to wage a campaign against both.

He argued that the rank and file organisations of the party should not limit their actions and discussions to their local area, but take on the problems as a whole. The current situation, he said:

‘prevents the rank and file organisations of the party from projecting their criticisms to the tops, which would be very important in terms of control of the activity of the higher bodies by the rank and file’. He continued by pointing out that ‘the most important part of the Party is its membership, not its leading bodies at any level. Such deformation was paid for dearly in the USSR’.

Clearly, Morales is addressing one of the central aspects of the problems facing the Cuban revolution. When Raul Castro took over, he opened up a widespread national debate about the future of the revolution. Hundreds of thousands, millions of people, participated in the debate and contributed their ideas on how to improve the revolution. This was a debate that generated genuine enthusiasm. However, there was no real mechanism through which the people who participated could decide the outcome of this debate. Thousands of proposals were made, sent up, but nobody heard about them anymore. In reality it was not so much a genuine process of decision making, but rather a consultation which is very different.

The lack of genuine workers’ democracy, in which ordinary working people participate directly in managing the state and the economy, is one of the main threats to the revolution. It breeds demoralization, scepticism, cynicism and generally undermines the revolutionary morale of the people. If it is combined with a situation in which the basic needs are not met, the purchasing power of wages decreases and everybody is aware of corruption and theft going on at the top of the state, then it becomes a real counter-revolutionary danger of the first order.

Another example of this is the delay of the VI Congress of the Communist Party which was supposed to have taken place last year, after an already long delay of 12 years since the V Congress in 1997. There are many amongst the members of the party who share the concerns of Esteban Morales. They fear that sections of the bureaucracy will lead the restoration of capitalism as happened in the USSR. There are many indications of this ferment to the left within Cuba.

What way forward?

It is clear that the status quo cannot be maintained indefinitely, but are the measures being introduced a way forward, or a step back? One can say that, under unfavourable conditions, the Revolution must sometimes be prepared to take a step back. And it is customary to refer to Lenin and the NEP in this context. As a general proposition, it is undoubtedly correct that sometimes it is necessary to retreat. But a general who retreats must be careful not to turn a retreat into a rout. And what is completely unacceptable is to confuse a tactical retreat with outright surrender.

The Bolsheviks were never under any delusion that it was possible to build socialism in backward Russia. Lenin pointed out many times that in order to consolidate the gains of the Revolution and advance to socialism, the victory of the socialist revolution in one or more advanced European country was necessary. That would have been possible if it were not for the cowardice and betrayal of the leaders of the European Social Democracy. But once the Russian Revolution was isolated in conditions of frightful backwardness, a retreat was inevitable.

The measures defended by Lenin were clearly explained as a temporary setback, because of the delay of the world revolution, not a way forward. The Bolsheviks, led by Lenin and Trotsky, continued to stress the need for international revolution to come to the aid of Soviet Russia and fought against the creeping bureaucratization of the state institutions and to preserve workers’ democracy. All their hopes were based on the perspectives of the international socialist revolution.

Photo by alittlefishy.

Photo by alittlefishy.

It is not an accident that Lenin and Trotsky paid such a lot of attention to the building of the Third (Communist) International. A narrow nationalist attitude was entirely foreign to their outlook. In the same way, Che Guevara embodied the internationalist spirit of the Cuban Revolution. Che understood that, in the last analysis, the only way to save the Cuban Revolution was to spread the revolution to Latin America, a cause for which he was prepared to sacrifice his life.

The objective conditions for the victory of the socialist revolution in Latin America are a thousand times more advanced today than in 1967. The Venezuelan Revolution, together with Cuba, has provided a rallying point for the revolution in Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries. The initiative taken by President Chavez to launch the Fifth International, dedicated to the overthrow of imperialism and capitalism, should receive the most enthusiastic support of the Cuban revolutionaries. This is the hope for the future!

In our opinion, the only real way forward for the Cuban revolution is revolutionary internationalism and workers’ democracy. The fate of the Cuban revolution is intimately linked to the fate of the Venezuelan revolution and the Latin American revolution in the first instance and to the world revolution more generally.

It is not a question of ‘exporting our model’, but of giving active support to the revolutionary forces which are fighting against imperialism and capitalism in Latin America and beyond. Instead of making concessions to capitalist tendencies, the Cuban revolution should be arguing clearly for the expropriation of the oligarchy, the capitalists and imperialism, as the only way forward in Venezuela, in Bolivia, etc. This is precisely the lesson that can be drawn from the living experience of the Cuban revolution itself. Only the expropriation of imperialism and the Cuban capitalists allowed the revolution to advance after 1959.

But an internationalist policy will not solve the needs of the Cuban people here and now! Of course, not! We are not utopians. Neither do we confuse strategy with tactics. It is necessary to combine a revolutionary internationalist policy with concrete measures to solve the economic problems in Cuba. The question is: how is this to be achieved? In our opinion, the measures proposed will not provide a lasting solution. They may temporarily succeed in eliminating or alleviating certain shortages and blockages, but only at the cost of causing new and insoluble contradictions in the medium and long term.

It may be that a section of Cuban society may welcome the proposed reforms, on the assumption that ‘something is being done’. But when the full effects are felt, that mood will change. The only real way to improve labour productivity is to make the workers feel that they are the ones in charge, that is, by introducing the widest measures of workers’ democracy into industry, society and the state.

Fidel Castro in 1959. Photo from Library of Congress.

Fidel Castro in 1959. Photo from Library of Congress.

The Cuban people have shown repeatedly that they are prepared to make sacrifices to defend the Revolution. But it is essential that the sacrifices should be the same for everybody. Down with privilege! We must return to the simple rules of Soviet democracy that Lenin put forward in State and Revolution, not for communism or socialism but for the day after the Revolution: that all officials be elected and subject to the right of recall, that no official should have a wage higher than that of a skilled worker, over a period of time the rotation of all positions (if everyone is a bureaucrat, no one is a bureaucrat), no standing army but the arming of the people.

Che Guevara insisted on the importance of the moral element in socialist production. That is obviously true but it can only be guaranteed in a regime of workers’ control, when every worker feels that he or she is responsible for taking the decisions that affect production and every aspect of life. However, given the serious problems that exist, some element of material incentives will be necessary.

The basic principle, at this stage, will remain: from each according to his ability, to each according to the work performed. This implies the existence of wage differentials, as was also in the case in Russia immediately after the Revolution. But there should be a ceiling on differentials, which should tend to reduce in the future, to the degree that production increases and with it, the wealth and well-being of society.

But the biggest incentive is clearly when the workers feel that the country, the economy and the state belongs to them; and that can only be achieved if it is the workers themselves who take all decisions and all elected officials are accountable to them. Only on this basis can the socialist base of the Cuban Revolution be defended and the capitalist counterrevolution defeated.

What is the alternative?

When the leaders of the Communist Party in China originally began their programme of reforms, they had no idea that they were preparing the way for capitalist restoration. But the introduction of some market measures (in the name of efficiency) has, over a long period of time, led to the restoration of capitalism, with a massive increase in inequality, the destruction of the social welfare system, etc.

Fidel Castro in 1959. Photo from Library of Congress.

Fidel Castro in 1959. Photo from Library of Congress.

Those who have benefited from this process were not the workers and peasants but the bureaucrats. It is no surprise therefore that sections of the bureaucracy in Cuba are looking to China as a model. Some people might be impressed by the growth in GDP in China, overlooking the massive social contradictions which have accumulated. In any case, the application of the “Chinese way” in Cuba, would not even lead to economic growth, but rather to the rapid and catastrophic collapse of the planned economy. Foreign multinationals, from Spain, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and others, which are already operating in Cuba, are looking at this process and already positioning themselves. What are they after? Raw materials, cheap labour and the favourable climate of the island, that is, the re-colonisation of Cuba.

Important sections of the US ruling class are already questioning whether the blockade is the most intelligent policy in order to undermine the Cuban revolution, or whether they are missing opportunities for investment to other countries’ multinationals. The restoration of capitalism in Cuba would throw the island back to the 1930s, dominated by foreign capital, and a playground for tourists from advanced capitalist countries. But this is not a foregone conclusion.

Within Cuba there are many who are rightly concerned about the current situation but who do not want a solution along market lines. If a clear alternative based on revolutionary internationalism and workers’ democracy is presented, this could rally thousands of honest communists, veterans, intellectuals, youth and workers, who are not prepared to let the revolution be destroyed either by imperialism or by inside forces. In order to go forward, first we need to go back to the programme of Lenin!



A Contribution to the Debate


Frank Josué Solar Cabrales

(A Cuban Communist)

October 25, 2010

Although it is painful to admit it, one can draw many parallels between today’s Cuba and the situation in the USSR towards the end of the 1980s. The very thought of it makes my blood run cold and my hair stand on end, because there the outcome was fatal, something we must avoid at all costs here. The similarities can be observed in the complex social and economic landscape: political apathy among young people, bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, waste, as well as in the measures proposed to deal with the problems… The Revolution must continue to be for all and for the good of all, but the way to do this is by keeping power in the hands of the majority of working people and defending it from those who seek to overthrow it

Frank Josué Solar Cabrales.

Photo: exfordy

Photo: exfordy

The Cuban Revolution is facing one of the most complex moments in its history. On the island there is a fairly general consensus that important changes must occur in our society. The debate is over the pace and scale that this will assume, as well as its content and nature. Important aspect are the limits, and how far these changes can go without crossing the threshold and violating principles or affecting the very essence of the system we have defended for 50 years and for which we have given our soul, heart and life.

In general, the measures that have been taken and those that are intended are a response to the need to boost the Cuban economy, to increase productivity and efficiency, to revalue the national currency and wages, and achieve import substitution, especially in food production. In short, what is intended is to revive an economy hit very hard by underdevelopment, the loss of its main markets and sources of supplies as the result of a genocidal economic blockade imposed by US imperialism, and also by internal bureaucratic obstacles and other mistakes.

The attempt to introduce these measures will take place in very difficult conditions of ceaseless harassment of the Revolution and plans to destroy it. Apparently, the forthcoming reforms are mostly intended to use market mechanisms, material and wage incentives in the search for efficiency and increasing productivity, starting with agriculture.

Such measures, although they may be quite legitimate and even necessary for the survival of a society in transition to socialism in the midst of harassment and isolation, must be understood for what they are: a retreat forced by circumstances, a necessary but temporary evil, and never as a way forward or as some kind of alternative for the construction of socialism. That is one thing, but it is quite another to accept inequality as something tolerable, normal, inevitable and even healthy for the functioning of the system.

Without a clear perspective that understands these measures as something temporary, there is a risk that, with continued isolation, at some point these economic reforms will acquire their own dynamic, proceeding in crescendo towards a slow and subtle capitalist restoration, and the social distortions the measures themselves have created, would in the end be turned against the Revolution.

To continue along this road will inevitably strengthen the pro-capitalist sectors in Cuban society and severely erode the social values of solidarity and social equality. A restoration of capitalism in Cuba would be a total disaster from every point of view for our people.

A society in transition to socialism, as Cuba is, by definition, is a society in which elements of the old and the new exist side by side, in a contradictory relationship. What needs to be determined then is which of them overcomes the other, which elements become dominant.

I believe that the fundamental question we all need to ask today is: to what extent the current campaign against free public services and subsidies, against egalitarianism and certain principles of social equality, will affect the fundamental social conquests of the Cuban revolution? It is a contradiction in terms to claim to be building socialism by promoting inequality, or accepting it as normal or inevitable. That’s what capitalism does quite well.

Precisely the liberal platform of capitalism, its central ideological discourse, is to speak about opportunities and rights for everyone, but to add that it is impossible for everyone to live equally. According to this argument, income inequality is normal.

To the degree that socialism is obliged accept a certain level of inequality during the transitional period as a necessary evil, it must nevertheless strive from day one to bring about its gradual and sustained reduction.

The opposite approach, that of promoting inequality and using it as a stimulus to productivity, only leads to capitalism. It is impossible to have an economy that functions on a capitalist basis and maintain a socialist political and social model.

Payment by results and the use of salaries as an incentive to produce, do not make the workers work “according to their abilities” but rather beyond them, just as under capitalism, which brings about overexploitation and pushes them to the very limits of their strength, pressurized by their material needs and those of their family. The final outcome will be to prioritize the individual solutions over collective ones, leading to competition between workers and firms, which is the exact opposite of the spirit of socialism.

The economic levers of capitalism only produce more capitalism. Even some of those which have been tentatively tested have yielded results well below expectations. Pragmatism, practicality and the empirical approach, will not lead us to any port other than capitalism. This boat needs a project as a compass, one which is debated and agreed by all.

This is doubly dangerous in the context of the global culture war being waged by imperialism, attempting to make us believe that no other life is possible except one under capitalism, which is more ruthless and effective than ever, paradoxically when the system is passing through one of the worst crises in its history, and resembles a leaky vessel that is letting in water on all sides. Nor never has it had more influence in Cuba than now. It is therefore highly dangerous that we unconsciously contribute to the theoretical and ideological justification of capitalism.

The apparent impasse facing the Cuban social project comes from the impossibility of building socialism in one country. Faced with the delay of the Latin American revolution, the adopting of market reforms is seen as the only possible solution. And it is true that, even if it were to develop the full potential of workers’ democracy, the Cuban Revolution still cannot escape the harsh economic conditions of backwardness imposed by isolation and the deep distortions in the project that flows from it. In the words of Marx, all the old crap of capitalism resurfaces again and again.

For us, the spreading of socialist revolution throughout Latin America is a matter of life and death. For this and other reasons I think that we, as Cuban revolutionaries, should enthusiastically welcome the proposal of President Chavez of creating a Fifth International, and we should become one of its main promoters. For the Cuban revolution an internationalist policy is not only a moral obligation or a tradition, it is also a question of survival.

The false idea that a balanced dose of socialism and market economics can combine and coexist, providing a viable long term solution, is a dangerous illusion. And just as dangerous is the idea that pretends that changes in the economic sphere will have no correlation or impact on the political structures, as if the two were completely separate compartments.

As socialism is primarily a matter of consciousness, and not just a bread and butter issue, how things are produced is just as important as what is produced. So, for the construction of socialism, the color of the cat is every bit as important as if it catches mice. You cannot aspire to a higher level of society if the wealth obtained is achieved through relations of production that foster inequality, exploitation and competition.

The only way for the planned economy to increase productivity in a different way to capitalism is through workers’ control. This is also the best antidote against corruption. There can be no other administrative or bureaucratic substitute. For example, the Central Comptroller of the Republic may be useful to some degree, but no amount of control from above will solve the problem, because it will not go to the roots of the problem. Time and again history has shown how ineffective reforms from above and bureaucratic solutions are in the process of building socialism. Socialism means that the power must be in the hands of the workers, not merely nominally or formally, but in practice and in fact.

The bureaucracy cannot control itself. In this aspect, we should not ignore the warnings of committed and prestigious intellectuals against the danger that parts of the bureaucracy are consolidating their economic positions, “just in case”, anticipating a turn toward capitalism and ensuring their future well-being in such a scenario.

Although it is too early to determine where this process will lead us, I believe that there are three key elements to consider:

1 – The current balance of forces and the accumulated political and cultural heritage of the Cubans are very favorable to the socialist project. Those who dream today of a capitalist restoration in Cuba lack all legitimacy and public acceptance.

2 – The initial strong willingness and desire of the political leadership of the Revolution and the Cuban people to preserve socialism in Cuba at any cost, as the only guarantee to maintain the social gains achieved and to ensure our existence as an independent and sovereign nation. However, regardless of our intentions, many of these changes could unleash forces which acquire their own dynamics and escape our control.

3 – The international variables, especially the development of the revolutionary process in Venezuela will have a decisive influence in one way or another to the final outcome in Cuba.

The challenge before us, the same as in any revolutionary process when we are faced with reaction, is to build a parliament in a trench, fighting an enemy that will use our weakness and disunity skillfully. That conditions everything. But in this trench there is no alternative to the working people’s parliament.

There are very positive signs. For example, the repeated references to the central role to be played by workers in the fight against corruption and inefficiency, as well as in economic discussions on the plan in each workplace. Also the appeals made by Raul himself for a greater democratization of our Communist Party and the governmental and political structures.

Democracy should be neither an ideal abstraction nor the bourgeois masquerade that conceals the dictatorship of capital, but the democracy of the working majority in this country, exercising effective power and control from the bottom up. There are also the debates, generated as a result of Raul’s speech, the debates at the congresses of the CTC [Confederation of Cuban Workers], the FEU [Federation of University Students] and the UNEAC [National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba], in addition to the constant appeals from the country’s leadership for a frank and open discussion between revolutionaries, as a suitable and healthy method for finding a solution to our problems.

This has been the practice of the Revolution at various times in its history. Remember for example the discussion process of the Appeal to the Fourth Congress of the PCC, or the workers’ parliaments in the most acute crisis in the days of the Special Period. What is necessary is to turn those experiences into a permanent and functioning system.

One of the fundamental differences between socialism and capitalism, and therein lies one of its advantages, is the broad popular participation upon which it must be built. While capitalism is interested in excluding as many people as possible from the exercise of power and from the political process, socialism, as a condition for its very existence, must develop to the full potential the political inclusion and presence of the people in decision making. The natural state of socialism must be the broadest democratic debate among revolutionaries.

And the profound shortcomings we still have in that respect are a very serious problem. It is necessary that the choice of the way forward should come out of a broad national public debate on all the key issues, so as to incorporate the people into the decision. In that sense I consider as counterproductive the fact, first, that the results of the discussions that took place throughout the country following the speech by Raul on 26 July [2007] in Camagüey were kept secret, and second, that the measures derived from them were studied and determined by only a group of people in the leadership of the Revolution, without popular participation. I also think that the Congress of the Party should not be delayed any longer. The need for it is increasingly clear.

Among the factors that enabled us to withstand the tremendous blow that the fall of the USSR and the subsequent Special Period represented, I think there were three main ones: first, and most importantly, the presence of Fidel, who, with his enormous political and moral authority, became the main cohesive element of all the people in facing up to what was coming.

Secondly, that the generation of those days maintained closer and firmer personal ties with the founding years of the Revolution, with its epic and romantic moments, the literacy campaign, the Bay of Pigs, and the Angola campaign, and had lived through a kind of socialism in the 1980s, with relatively high levels of material consumption and social justice.

Thirdly, that the arguments used to stimulate resistance corresponded essentially to political motivation: it was [an appeal to] a people conscious of their conquests and aware of what was at stake, and that refused to be enslaved again, or to lose its sovereignty, and was ready to face any sacrifice or challenge.

Today, the prospect of facing a new Special Period with acute financial constraints unfortunately finds us in somewhat different conditions. Fidel is no longer, at least formally, in charge of the country and the Revolution, and his physical ability has been diminished by age and by a serious health problem that meant he was on the verge of death.

Together with him, the historic leadership of the revolution are reaching their biological limits, and the renewal of the revolutionary leadership remains pending. The experience of the current generation of youth is practically limited to the Special Period, with its shortages, the inequalities and the profound economic, political and social contradictions, originated within Cuban society, which have affected even to a greater or lesser extent, our beautiful and sacred daughters: healthcare and education. The constant erosion of healthcare and education has led to a decline in the values, spirituality and the socialist way of life we have practiced for five decades. To this generation, the speeches about justice and welfare of the Revolution often have no basis in reality, or, even worse, are moth-eaten old slogans, worn out and hackneyed.

Finally, the solution to the current situation is being sought by appealing to pragmatic economic measures, and not the mobilization of the political reserves of our People.

The political system that we’ve had for the last 50 years has been based almost exclusively on the extraordinary charisma and leadership of Fidel. The People’s full confidence in him, in his approach and his leadership has effectively secured the unity of the country, the defense of the revolution and the socialist project and allowed us to defeat all the ravages of imperialism. But the void left by him cannot be replaced by any other person. In the last analysis, the only guarantee that this tremendous power will not fall into the hands of people like Roberto Robaina, Carlos Lage, Felipe Perez Roque, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and many others, is to redesign our political model by extending workers’ democracy and popular control.

It is vital that we have a united, solid Communist Party, with greater internal democracy and an environment of frank and open discussion of ideas among revolutionaries.

Today one of the most dangerous phenomena for the continuity of the socialist alternative is the widespread de-politicization and de-ideologization that we see present in appreciable sectors of the youth. Unconsciously, the official discourse reinforces this trend by laying heavy stress on pragmatism, instead of political motivations. As far as I can see, appeals to “practical solutions”, combined with abstract appeals to consciousness, will and ethics have very limited effects.

Although it is painful to admit it, one can draw many parallels between today’s Cuba and the situation in the USSR towards the end of the 1980s. The very thought of it makes my blood run cold and my hair stand on end, because there the outcome was fatal, something we must avoid at all costs here. The similarities can be observed in the complex social and economic landscape: political apathy among young people, bureaucratic inefficiency, corruption, waste, as well as in the measures proposed to deal with the problems.

The most dangerous capitalist restoration could come from supposedly revolutionary talk about keeping all our social gains, while “ceasing to be so stubborn in economics”, “modernizing”, “adapting to what is”, “accepting the inevitable”, “opening up to the world and the market” with all its power, contradictions and consequences.

The icing on the cake of such a view would be national reconciliation: the idea that we are all Cubans, we have had enough of fighting amongst ourselves, that we may be able to build a national project in which everyone fits, reaching a peaceful compromise – of course, on the basis of free enterprise. This idea is as utopian and dangerous as any attempt to appease the counterrevolution, either internal or external. It would not even give us time to change our minds. They have plans for the future that are radically different from ours, and it is impossible to make them compatible. The Revolution must continue to be for all and for the good of all, but the way to do this is by keeping power in the hands of the majority of working people and defending it from those who seek to overthrow it.





Alan Woods

November 21, 2010


(The author was present at the Conference on ‘Socialism in the XXI Century’ organized under the auspices of the Havana Institute of Philosophy by ‘Cuba, Theory and Society’. the author, Alan Woods, was among a small number of foreign guest speakers. The three-day Conference started on November 3, 2010.)

Alan Woods with Juan Sánchez Monroe

Alan Woods with Juan Sánchez Monroe

The meeting, which was held in the Cuban Institute of International Relations (ISRI), was attended by about a hundred prominent Cuban intellectuals, academics and veterans of the Communist Party, including several members of the Central Committee. It was held at a critical moment on the history of the Cuban Revolution, when the future of the Revolution will be decided in one way or another.

During the course of the conference, the date of the long-awaited congress of the Cuban Communist Party was finally announced. It will take place in April of next year and will debate a number of proposals regarding the economy contained in the document Draft guidelines for economic and social policy (Proyecto de lineamientos de la politica economica y social), copies of which were immediately snapped up from the news vendors’ stalls.

In this context, the discussions about the meaning of socialism in the XXI century took on a very concrete, relevant and urgent character. The vociferous campaign against Marxism and socialism that reached a deafening crescendo after the fall of the USSR has been echoed by revisionists who are doing everything possible to introduce bourgeois ideas into the labour movement. The struggle against bourgeois ideology is therefore an urgent task, and nowhere more urgent than in Cuba and Venezuela.

In the course of three very intense days, many hours were spent discussing themes such as crisis of capitalism, socialism and science, the national question (introduced by Juan Sanchez Monroe, a former ambassador to Yugoslavia and the Ukraine), the revolution in Latin America, Marxism and the ideas of Bolivar and Marti (introduced by veteran Cuban communist Olivia Miranda Francisco) and many other questions. To deal with every contribution would be an impossible task, which I will not even attempt to do. I will therefore limit my report to what I was able to jot down in my notes. As many points have had to be reconstructed from memory, this must not be taken as a stenographic report but rather my impressions of it.

The first session

Cross section of meeting

Cross section of meeting

On the first day, Juan Luis Martin Chavez gave a devastating indictment of capitalism on a world scale. He pointed out that the three richest men in the world have a greater income than the 48 poorest countries. Humanity is threatened by environmental degradation on a vast scale. Desertification threatens 250 million people or one third of the earth’s surface (4,000 million hectares). Vast sums are wasted on arms while 1.2 billion people live on the edge of starvation. He gave the figure for total world arms spending as $1.1 trillion, with the USA accounting for 48 percent of world arms production.

In recent years there has been considerable interest in the ideas of Trotsky in Cuba. In the course of the conference, several people mentioned The Revolution Betrayed as a book that explained what had happened in the USSR – a subject that obviously has enormous importance for Cuban communists. The historian Felipe de Jesus Perez Cruz gave a very good Marxist analysis of Stalinism and the reasons for the collapse of the USSR, quoting from the book by two Cuban authors, Ariel Dacal and Francisco Brown, Russia: from real socialism to real capitalism (for which I wrote the introduction).

In his speech, comrade Felipe stressed the importance of the Bolshevik Revolution (‘something that had never been seen before that changed the history of the world’) that was brought down by ‘mistakes and corruption’. Here are some of the points he made:

Lenin had tried to combat the rise of bureaucracy by emphasizing the need for control by the workers and peasants and the soviets. But after Lenin’s death, there was a process of bureaucratic degeneration.” Felipe delivered a blistering attack on Stalinism, which he said ‘was responsible for the physical liquidation of the Old Bolsheviks.’

In theory it was socialism but in practice power was in the hands of a minority of functionaries and administrators. The workers were alienated from control of production, the state and the Party. Recruitment to the bureaucracy was on the basis of unquestioning loyalty to the ruling circle, a privileged layer that took all the decisions and was hostile to all criticism. All criticism was seen as counter-revolutionary. The intellectuals were silenced and subject to censorship or self-censorship.

He explained how under Stalin and his successors a growing part of the wealth produced by the working class was absorbed by the bureaucracy. This ended in the crisis of the 1980s, and ultimately capitalist restoration. “I am convinced that if we don’t want to repeat what happened in the USSR we must return to the ideas of Lenin,” he said.

Replying to questions and discussion, Felipe said:

Instead of the word bureaucracy, I prefer to use the word funcionariado (officialdom – civil service). What I mean is rule by a group that has its own interests and is defending them. When the funcionariado takes power and wields it against civil society, it becomes a bureaucracy. The officials cannot transmit their privileges to their children as property, so they do so through political power and corruption. Can we build socialism like that? After Lenin died the potential of the Russian Revolution was lost. We now need to redirect the Cuban Revolution. In Cuba there are many forms of direct democracy that can be developed, including the trade unions.

On the second day the chair was taken by Juan Sanchez Monroe. The subject was ‘socialism in the XXI century’. The first speaker Juana Rosales Garcia, who pointed out that the Venezuelan Revolution has opened up a fruitful debate with the participation of thinkers from different countries, including Noam Chomsky, Istvan Meszaros, Alan Woods and Mike Lebowitz.

She was followed by Olivia Miranda Francisco, who stated that after the fall of the USSR there had been a period of confusion ‘even in organizations calling themselves “socialist”’ She attacked the detractors of Marxism and stressed that the genuine ideas of socialism go back to Marx, Engels and Lenin. ‘In the debate on socialism in Latin America there has been a deafening silence on the ideas of the founders of socialism – including Mariategui – and the first socialist revolution. Mariategui, Marti and Mella all had a close connection to the collectivist indigenous traditions of Latin America’, she affirmed.

She continued:

The struggle cannot only be against imperialism. It must also be against capitalism. Mariategui and Fidel Castro both excluded the bourgeoisie from the revolutionary popular bloc, which consists of the workers, peasants and progressive intellectuals under the leadership of the Party. Only under socialism can full independence be achieved.

‘Socialism of the XXI century’

Alan Woods addresses the meeting

Alan Woods addresses the meeting

I spoke on the subject “Socialism of the XXI century: nothing new under the sun”. A paper I had written on the subject had already been printed and distributed ( The following is a rough transcription of my speech:

I am glad to see that the title of this session is ‘socialism in the XXI century’ and not ‘socialism of the XXI century’. The latter suggests something entirely new and original, different from anything that has gone before. In reality, there is nothing new here: only a regurgitation of old ideas taken from the utopian socialists in the prehistory of the movement.

It calls to mind the story of Aladdin in the 1001 Nights, when a crafty old wizard goes through the streets crying: ‘new lamps for old’. Aladdin’s girlfriend, who was not very bright, exchanges his valuable old lamp for a new shiny one, which is utterly worthless, and lands in a mess as a result.

The theory of socialism of the XXI century, however, has one great advantage over all other theories: nobody knows what it is. It is an empty bottle that one can fill with any content.

We must put this in its correct context. In the last period we have witnessed an unprecedented ideological offensive of the bourgeoisie against socialism and Marxism. The worst thing is that this noisy campaign has had an effect inside the communist movement worldwide. All kinds of revisionist ideas are circulating, and the most serious thing is that they are being echoed by people who call themselves communists.

The assertion that the “free market” gives better results than a nationalized planned economy can easily be answered by an historical example. In Britain in 1940, when things were very serious, with Hitler’s armies poised to invade, what did the British ruling class do? Did they turn to “free market” policies? Did they say: everyone must do their own thing? No, they nationalized the war industries, they centralized and introduced measures of planning. Why? Because they give better results.

The USSR defeated Hitler’s armies because the colossal superiority of a nationalized planned economy enabled them to produce more and better arms and machinery more rapidly than the Germans, who had all the productive resources of Europe behind them. The advantages of a planned economy are also shown by the transformation of backward Russian tsarism into an advanced modern economy that had more scientists than the USA, Japan, Germany and Britain together.

In the end the USSR was undermined by bureaucracy. But bureaucracy is not an inherent result of a planned economy. It is a product of backwardness, as we see in Pakistan and Nigeria, which have nothing to do with socialism. A nationalized planned economy needs democracy as the human body needs oxygen. I do not speak here of the fraudulent bourgeois democracy that is only a fig-leaf for the dictatorship of the big banks and monopolies, but of a genuine workers’ democracy as advocated by Lenin in State and Revolution – the control of the working class from the bottom up.

Speaking in the debate the economist Professor Ernesto Molina said that he read an article by Dietrich in Rebelion, which he replied to, quoting Lenin’s words on Rosa Luxemburg “sometimes an eagle can swoop lower than chickens,” adding humorously: ‘I must make a self-criticism. I now realize that Dietrich never flew higher than the chickens.’

One of the speakers from the floor, Fabio Grobart, a son of one of the founders of the Cuban Communist Party, emphasized the need for an internationalist policy. Another veteran Cuban communist, comrade Olivia Fernandez, said: ‘I am glad Alan Woods has stressed the question of Marxism. I wish to emphasize the point that whatever problems have arisen in socialism, it is not the fault of Marxist theory but the [incorrect] interpretation and application of these ideas.” And she quoted the words of Che Guevara: ‘Socialism and communism are a process of searching and discovery.’

Somebody asked: ‘What is wrong with an unfinished theory [referring to the “theory” of socialism of the XXI century]?’ To this I answered as follows:

We need to have a more rigorous approach to ideas. If this were a conference of physicists, just imagine that somebody says: ‘I have not done any experiments and have no proof whatsoever, but here is my theory.’ Such a person would be laughed out of the room. Or just imagine going to the dentist with a toothache and the dentist says: ‘Actually, I have never studied dentistry, but open your mouth anyway and I’ll have a go.’ You would run out of the surgery. Or a plumber knocks at the door and says: ‘I know nothing about plumbing, but let me get my hands on your central heating.’ You would throw him out of your house. But when it comes to Marxism, it seems that anything goes. Well, that is not the case. The ideas of Marxism are essentially the same as 150 years ago. This or that detail may have to be modified, but what is astonishing is how little needs to be changed.

The Chinese road?

Cross section of meeting

Cross section of meeting

The debate on Cuba was opened by the economist Ernesto Molina, who began by listing the waste and inefficiencies that are inseparable from bureaucratic methods. He then went on to express his opposition to subsidies that the Cuban state pays for basic foodstuffs and other necessities (“we can’t afford them”):

As long as the capitalist world market exists, prices must reflect world market prices. Cuba is a small open economy in a turbulent capitalist world. We have always had to import goods and we must maintain our armed forces for defence. We have some big tasks to tackle, for example on the sphere of housing. Some of the problems we can solve within Cuba. Others are outside our control, in the world market.

After the fall of the USSR we managed to resist. The main thing is for the people to be united. We must defend our conquests. But the state cannot control everything…

In her speech about Vietnamese and Chinese “socialism” Gladys Hernandez Pedraza clearly indicated the dangers of following this line. While the figures indicate important gains in economic growth, this has been at the cost of huge and growing social inequality. In China there is inequality between “haves” and haves not”, between town and countryside, between East and West and between Chinese and non-Chinese nationalities, she said. Officially, 270 million Chinese are on low wages. Both China and Vietnam are facing serious environmental problems. In Vietnam the rivers, deltas and cities are badly affected. The contradictions in Chinese society are “explosive” she explained.

The general attitude towards the “Chinese model” was negative. Jorge Santana said frankly: “We cannot speak of socialism in China.” Speaking from the floor I stated that what was happening in China was a warning for Cuba:

When Deng Xiaoping began his reforms in China he had no plan to go back to capitalism. But after 30 or 40 years of ‘market reforms’ the movement to capitalism assumed an irresistible character. The conditions of the Chinese workers in the privatized industries are reminiscent of the conditions described by Engels in The Conditions of the Working Class in England or the novels of Charles Dickens.

The decline of theory has been reflected in terminology. The constant references to “neo-liberalism” imply that there are different kinds of capitalism – a “good” capitalism, Keynesianism or capitalism with a human face, and a “bad” capitalism (neo-liberalism). In fact, the crisis of capitalism renders reformism impossible. The huge deficits force the bourgeoisie to attack living standards and take back the concessions made in the past in such areas as health, housing and education. All Cubans are aware of the importance of these things and would not be happy to see them abolished in the name of “market socialism”.

It seemed to me that most (if not all) of those present were well aware that in talking of the Chinese (or Vietnamese) model, we are talking about capitalism. I pointed out that the so-called market socialism was a contradiction in terms. You can have socialism or a market economy, but you cannot have both. Yet among some layers there is clearly an attempt to confuse the issue, referring in ambiguous terms to ‘a market economy with a socialist orientation’ – whatever that might mean!

Workers control

Jorge Santana, Concepción Nieves Ayús and Fabio Grobart

Jorge Santana, Concepción Nieves Ayús and Fabio Grobart

On the last day, the central question was finally debated: the future of the Cuban Revolution. The session was chaired by Jorge Luis Santana Perez, who on the first day had quoted the words of Rosa Luxemburg: the only alternatives before humanity are socialism or barbarism.

Speaking from the floor, an economist (I do not recall his name) said: “After 50 years I am not at all satisfied with the way we have run the socialist economy. Just look at agriculture. We statized all the land but we were not able to cultivate a big part of it. Let us take the bull by the horns. We made a serious mistake at all levels by copying the model of the USSR. We confused state property with state control. The worker does not control production – that is what Marx called alienation. There has been a lot of talk as to whether we produce commodities or not. But we have to produce goods the value of which should reflect the costs of production.’

Juan Sanchez Monroe said: ‘I have seen all this before. I have heard the same discussions. In Russia, where the greatest revolution in history took place, there was a Party with 20 million people at its head. But what happened? Why was it overthrown? It was because we could not achieve the quality in the area where it was most important – in the goods produced for human consumption – to satisfy the requirements of the people.’

I was interested to hear what Camila Piñeiro Harnecker would say. Since the subject she was speaking on was The Risks of expanding non-state enterprises in Cuba and recommendations as to how to avoid them, I assumed she would make out a case against privatizations.

From her written contribution I could see that Camila is opposed to the introduction of capitalism and wage labour, but I found her contribution to be insufficiently clear. For example: ‘Sometimes it is necessary to admit non-public elements, but this must be considered temporary and something to be overcome.’ ‘Non-state enterprises can be socialist. A work collective must be able to run its own factory. Consumers also.’ etc. This seemed very much like advocating co-operatives, which can easily be a stepping stone to outright privatization.

The most positive side of this speech was the emphasis on workers’ control: ‘Workers must feel motivated, part of the decision-making process.’ That is one hundred percent correct and goes to the heart of the problem. But this was spoiled, in my view, by an excessive stress on “horizontal” (as opposed to “vertical” control). It is a regrettable tendency of some “twenty-first century socialists” to lay stress only on control, and not on ownership. But, important as the question of control is, the question of ownership – that is, property relations – remains decisive. Workers control, unless it leads to nationalization, can only be a transient phase and can be realized only partially. Under no circumstances can it be posed as an alternative to nationalization.

Confusion on what is meant by workers’ control would be disastrous for Cuba, as it was for Yugoslavia. The Leninist conception of workers’ control and management has nothing in common with the anarcho-syndicalist notion whereby the railway workers would run the railways, the miners the mines, etc. Such a notion would have the effect of pitting factory against factory, worker against worker, worker against peasant, producer against consumer and so on. It would be the cause of great inequality.

In such a system, those workers in the more efficient and productive factories would be better off than those in the older and less efficient factories. They would end up with the mentality of proprietors and would act as such. This would undermine central planning utterly and deal a fatal blow to the nationalized planned economy. Thus “horizontalism”, despite the good intentions of its supporters, would lead directly to the capitalist market. For this reason, we firmly defend central planning and nationalization and are implacably opposed to any kind of privatization (except for some small shops and businesses) and “horizontalism”.

The Leninist idea is completely different. We are the most fervent defenders of centralized planning, but this must be accompanied by the democratic control and administration of the working class at all levels, both in drawing up the plan and putting it into practice. In this way, centralism and democracy are not incompatible but completely inseparable. The voice of the workers is heard at every level of the process, which involves a free flow of information and comments, from “top” to “bottom” and from “bottom” to “top”.

When we speak of workers control we do not have in mind only the workers of the particular enterprise, but the working class in general. A whole series of issues like safety, working conditions, etc., will be directly in the hands of the workers, but the general plan must be decided by the whole of society, reflecting the general interests and priorities of the working class as a whole. That is what we mean by central planning.

What if there is a conflict between the views of a particular workplace and the general interest? In that case, the latter must take precedence over the former; just as in any democracy the minority must accept the views of the majority. One possibility would be run the workplaces on the basis of a tripartite committee, composed of one third from the state, one third from the trade unions, and one third directly elected by the workforce. However, for this to succeed, it is essential that both the unions and the state should be under the democratic control of the working class.

Speaking from the floor in the course of this debate, I said:

‘I hesitated before speaking in this debate because the problems of the Cuban Revolution can only be solved by the Cuban people, and in the first place the Cuban communists. However, the fate of the Cuban Revolution is a matter of great importance, not only for the Cuban people, but for the workers of the whole world. The liquidation of the gains of the Cuban Revolution would be a terrible setback for the labour movement in Latin America and internationally. We have seen a catastrophe in Russia and now China and Vietnam are going the same way. We don’t want to see a repetition in Cuba.

‘Let us speak clearly. There are people in Cuba who would like to go back to capitalism. They think that things will be better. They are wrong. It is said that people do not work in Cuba and in a market economy those who work are rewarded and those who do not are sacked. But that is not true. When the bosses close a factory they do not distinguish between a good worker and a bad one. All alike are thrown on the streets. Do not believe that things cannot be any worse. They can be a whole lot worse! We must not jump from the frying pan into the fire!

‘Now to the point: we know that capitalism is an unjust, inhuman and wasteful system. Anything you like. Nevertheless, capitalism works, and has been working for about two hundred years. By the way, it is not the case that there is no planning in capitalism. In every capitalist enterprise there is a plan. The problem arises outside the enterprise, in the anarchy of the market, where everything is decided by the blind play of market forces, by the law of supply and demand.

‘One can say that the market acts as a rough and ready control that limits waste, corruption and inefficiency. If a particular firm goes too far in this respect, it will have to close, driven out of business by more effective competitors. But what happens in a socialist planned economy? If all the major firms are nationalized, how can we prevent corruption, waste, mismanagement, bureaucracy and inefficiency? There is only one way possible: the conscious control of men and women through workers’ control and management, as Lenin explained many times.’

Jorge Luis Santana, quoting from The Revolution Betrayed, pointed to the danger of capitalist restoration in Cuba:

‘I ask myself to what extent our ideas are correct and realistic? What do communism and socialism mean for the average Cuban today, or for the world today? We need a cause to defend and hope for the future in a world that is torn by wars and crises. We need a profound analysis of our old positions, a complete remodelling of revolutionary positions on a world scale. We need to innovate as Lenin did.’

Discussion in the Institute of Philosophy

Alan Woods addresses Institute of Philosophy

Alan Woods addresses Institute of Philosophy

After the Workshop had finished I was invited to deliver a lecture to the teachers and students of the Havana Institute of Philosophy on the subject: why the USSR fell. This was the very day the Sixth Party Congress had been announced. In his introductory remarks, comrade Jorge Santana said: ‘Cuba is today a melting pot of ideas and nobody can say that Alan Woods is not part of this.’

Whereas at the conference the time available for contributions was limited by the large number of speakers, I was able to speak for an hour, in which I attempted to explain the reasons for the collapse of Stalinism on the lines of The Revolution Betrayed and Ted Grant’s Russia, from Revolution to Counterrevolution.

What surprised me favourably was the degree of agreement among virtually all who spoke. Nobody expressed any real differences with the analysis I had provided, including veterans of the Communist Party. There was a lot of interest and a lively session of questions and contributions. Here are some of the comments (I was not always able to get the names):

‘In the CPSU there were supposed to be 18 million Communists. But they were not able to prevent what happened. They were waiting for a lead from the top, and when it never came they were disoriented.’

‘Yes, but if you were to ask people today, many would say: things were better before…’

‘The big failure was a lack of freedom to discuss. This did great damage to art and culture. It was a closed culture, not open to ideas from the outside.’

‘What happened in the USSR was not inevitable. It could have been prevented.’

Somebody asked about the theory of state capitalism, to which I replied:

‘The so-called theory of state capitalism is a theory that explains nothing. It is wrong in theory and disastrous in practice. If one characterizes the Soviet Union as state capitalism, then it must have the law of motion of capitalism: booms and slumps, which was not the case. One is then left with the conclusion that there is a social system called state capitalism, which is completely unknown to Marxism, a form of capitalism that is capable of a long period of high growth rates and no unemployment, that is to say, a system that is historically progressive in that it develops the productive forces to an unheard-of degree. This would require a fundamental revision of all the basic postulates of Marxism. One would have to re-write the three volumes of Capital.

‘In fact, no such revision is necessary. In The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky provided a Marxist explanation of the phenomenon on the lines of the classical ideas of Marx and Lenin. This analysis has stood the test of time.

‘While superficially attractive, the theory of state capitalism was disastrous in practice. When faced with the threat of actual capitalist restoration in Russia, what could the defenders of this theory say? That there was basically nothing to choose between the two things? That it made no difference if nationalized property was privatized? It is only necessary to formulate the question concretely to see the mess one gets into with confused theories.’

I was pleased to note that my most recent book Reformism and Revolution has aroused a lot of interest in Cuba. The one copy in the library of the Institute of Philosophy has been read so much it was in a sorry state, and the few copies I was able to bring with me were in much demand. The editorial Ciencias Sociales, which previously published the Cuban edition of Reason in Revolt, has agreed now to publish Reformism and Revolution.

The debate has begun

Discussion with students

Discussion with students

I also spoke at Havana University and in another meeting of Latin American and Cuban students. I was invited to speak at the University of Santiago, but had to refuse because of lack of time. For the same reason, I was unable to speak at a meeting of Venezuelan students that was to be organized in the Venezuelan embassy.

From my brief visit, one thing is clear: everybody in Cuba has an opinion about the economic changes proposed for the Party Congress.

While it is possible to draw comparisons with Russia, there are also important differences. By 1989, the October Revolution was a distant memory for most Russians. The old traditions had been buried by the bureaucracy for decades. But in Cuba the Revolution took place within living memory. Most Cubans are fiercely proud of the gains of the Revolution and would not be prepared to surrender them without a fight. The same goes for members of the Communist party, who are painfully aware of the catastrophe that capitalist restoration has meant for the people of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

In private conversations, many expressed their firm opposition to any attempt to drag Cuba down the capitalist road. Juan Sanchez Monroe told me: ‘Do you know how many people I have known in Russia and Eastern Europe have committed suicide, have hanged themselves or put a bullet in their brain? No, nobody speaks of such statistics, but there are many. That must not happen here.’

The Party Congress is eagerly awaited and expectations are high. The future of the Cuban Revolution is too important to be decided by a small group. There must be a thorough and democratic discussion at all levels, starting with the Congress. This debate has already begun.



Workers’ Control and International Socialism Absent from Discussions


Jorge Martin

June 7, 2011

The long delayed VI Congress of the Cuban Communist Party took place on April 16-19 in Havana and discussed the Guidelines on Economic and Social Policy for the Party and the Revolution. The Congress was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when Fidel Castro proclaimed the ‘socialist character of the revolution’.

The fate of the Cuban revolution is of enormous importance for revolutionaries all over the world and particularly in Latin America. The International Marxist Tendency stands unconditionally for the defence of the Cuban revolution and it is precisely for this reason that we feel the need to comment on the debates taking place within it. This was always the policy of the great Marxists who understood that the movement against capitalism had to be, by its very nature, international and regularly commented on and participated in the revolutionary movement in different countries.

The first observation that should be made, and this is clearly stated in the introduction to the Guidelines, is that the Cuban economy faces a serious crisis. To the impact of the world crisis of capitalism (with a collapse in the prices of raw materials, a decrease in revenue from tourism, an increase in the price of food), we have to add the devastating effects of hurricanes. All this is compounded by the blockade and the embargo unilaterally imposed by the United States.

At bottom, the main problem is the isolation of the revolution to one single island. It is impossible to build socialism in one country and this is even more the case on a small island with very few natural resources, which is therefore completely dependent on the world market. The collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe revealed this in an extremely cruel manner.

The discussion on the way forward for the Cuban economy therefore does not take place in ideal circumstances, but in conditions where room for manoeuvre is extremely limited and there is strong pressure to look for “concrete” solutions.

According to the official report to the Congress there was a very wide ranging process of discussion of the Guidelines, involving millions of Cubans. This is not surprising as the feeling of impasse in Cuban society is extremely acute. However, we think that the debate was in fact limited because of the way in which it was raised.

First of all, the Cuban Communist Party is supposed to have a congress every five years, but instead of this, 14 years had passed since the previous congress. In the interim period there have been many debates in Cuba and many decisions have been taken, but there has been no organic channel through which the members of the party could have influenced party policy.

Secondly, the Guidelines document is extremely limited in its scope. Any discussion about the future of the Cuban revolution should start from an analysis of the world situation, the crisis of capitalism, the development of the Latin American revolution with its progress and contradictions, the impact of the Arab Revolution, the re-awakening of the class struggle in Europe and how all these factors affect the Cuban revolution. The document does not mention any of these, other than the immediate impact of the crisis of capitalism on the Cuban economy, and after a short two and half page introduction, it goes straight into a list of some 300 very specific Guidelines.

In this way, the discussion became centred on the details of each one of the different measures proposed, rather than being a more wide ranging discussion about the general problems of the Cuban revolution and their relationship to the world situation of the class struggle.

Furthermore, some of the proposals made in the Guidelines had actually already been announced as decisions or even been implemented before the actual congress took place, thus, greatly limiting its actual power. For instance, the document talks of the need for “eliminating inflated staff numbers” in the dominant state sector of the economy, but already in September last year the reduction of one million of the five million state sector jobs was announced. The expansion of self-employed licences that the Guidelines also propose, has actually already taken place, with around 200,000 being granted in the last few months.

The main thrust of the measures proposed and then approved by the Congress (with some small modifications) goes towards expanding the private sector of the economy. This is to be done through the expansion of self-employed work licences, the licensing out to workers of small business units and the expansion of the sectors in which foreign investment is allowed. In order to achieve greater efficiency, more autonomy will be given to the managers and directors of state-owned companies and they will deal with each other and with the private sector through market relations and commercial contracts. As a result, loss-making state-owned companies will be closed down.

There is also a marked emphasis in material incentives to workers in order to stimulate productivity, allowing for wider wage differentials linked to production and productivity increases. At the same time there is a growing campaign against what is described as ‘excessive subsidies and unwarranted gratuities’ which should be ‘gradually eliminated’. The subsidized basket of basic food products, which all Cubans receive now through the Libreta rationing card, will be abolished.

All these measures taken together clearly will provoke an increase in social inequality in Cuba. Omar Everleny, a leading Cuban economist, deputy director of the Centre for Studies on the Cuban Economy (CEEC), makes it crystal clear in an article in Le Monde Diplomatique where he says what is being proposed is a “brutal” change: ‘Yes, some will lose out with the reforms. Yes, some will become unemployed. Yes, inequality will increase. But these already exist, what we have is a false equality. What needs to be determined now is who really deserves to be further up’. Everleny admits that he is looking to the model of Vietnam, ‘which has a lot to teach us’.

The document and all the official speeches at the Congress underline that these measures are not about abandoning the state ownership of the economy or the planning principle. ‘The economic system that will prevail in our country will continue to be based on the socialist property of the whole people over the fundamental means of production,’ declares the introduction. Guideline number 1, however, already qualifies the statement: ‘the system of socialist planning will continue to be the main way of directing the national economy (…) Planning will take into account the market, having an influence over it and taking into consideration its characteristics’.

Quite clearly the statements against capitalism and in defence of socialism, reflect a deep rooted feeling amongst millions of Cubans that they do not want to abandon the system that has guaranteed them healthcare, education and in general social welfare standards that are far superior to the rest of capitalist Latin America and a vast improvement on the situation before the revolution. Let’s be clear about this, despite all the problems of bureaucracy and corruption which plague the Cuban economy, these social conquests of the revolution are the direct result of the abolition of capitalism, and any attempt towards the restoration of the market economy will lead to their destruction. One just has to turn one’s eyes towards neighbouring Jamaica, Dominican Republic or Haiti to see what capitalism would look like in Cuba.

This mood was very aptly described in the following anecdote: ‘This February, workers at a clinic in central Havana met to discuss the lineamientos. Its 291 proposals include performance-based pay, legalizing market prices and a review of social programmes. The document was approved unanimously, in just a few minutes. But the workers stressed their attachment to Cuba’s health and education systems – some things should change, but not those. The secretary of the meeting made a note of their comments, although nobody really knew whether or how they would be taken into account.” (Cuba’s new socialism – Renaud Lambert, Le Monde Diplomatique).

The problem is that in a weak economy like Cuba, any openings towards the market can unleash a process of class differentiation and of penetration of capitalism, reflecting the superiority of the world capitalist market in terms of productivity of labour. Regardless of the stated intentions and principles expressed in the Congress documents or the Constitution, the forces of the market economy in Cuba are extremely powerful, precisely because they are backed by the world market and once unleashed they will have a dynamic of their own and can prove very difficult to control.

Despite the straight-jacketed character of the Congress discussions a number of very interesting things emerged. It is clear that a large number of the amendments that were finally made to the original text went in the direction of slowing down market measures. For instance, the abolition of the Libreta rationing card will now be gradual and take into account the income levels of the population. The idea of reducing one million jobs from the state sector, half of those by April 2011, proved to be impossible to implement, due to strong resistance from workers in the different workplaces, particularly faced with the harsh reality that not many viable alternatives were being offered. All this shows that there is a healthy, instinctive resistance, to any attempt to move towards the market and do away with some of the social conquests of the revolution. The Economist, that mouthpiece of the ruling class, while applauding the measures approved, complained bitterly that ‘in practice change is moving slowly’.

Also, during the pre-congress debate the idea of the need for workers’ participation in the running of the economy has been discussed, though not in a formal or organized way. A letter was published in Granma in January dealing with the question of the way managers and directors are appointed in state-owned companies. The author, E. Gonzalez, pointed out that since the wages of workers were going to be linked to the results obtained by the company, the workers should have control over them. ‘In my opinion it would be prudent to conceive of the participation of the workers in the leadership of socialist government enterprises through the election, ratification or replacement of cadres…’

Commenting on this in the Havana Times, Daisy Valera wrote that ‘the idea of E. Gonzalez concerning workers’ control, though brilliant, is not new; it has been understood by all those who have struggled for a system more just than capitalism.’ Valera went on to quote Lenin’s “Draft Regulations for Workers’ Control” and she concluded: ‘Therefore I would suggest the comrade replace the word “prudent” with others such as “necessary” or “indispensable” if he/she is referring to workers’ control and the election of their representatives by the workers themselves. This idea is ratified by all the classics of Marxism as well as in Cuba, which has a Leninist constitution and therefore makes it more than justified that power should be in the hands of the workers.’

This is absolutely correct. As a matter of fact, the most effective form of incentive, and the only effective way of fighting corruption and bureaucracy is precisely workers’ control over the economy and society in general. However, this was not officially discussed and is not mentioned in the Guidelines as Cuban university professor Julio Cesar Guanche points out in his appraisal of the Congress: ‘The Guidelines do not mention the participation of the workers, nor deepen the development of forms of control by the citizens over mercantile activities’. He also mentions a number of principles which he says should be introduced like: ‘rotation of public officials, limitations in time in the terms of office of all public officials, the election of state officials which carry out public functions as opposed to the usual methods of appointment, (…) the autonomy of mass and social organizations’ (A political passion – about the celebration of the VI congress of the CCP).

 As a matter of fact, all these measures are part of those advocated by Lenin in State and Revolution for a workers’ state in order to combat and prevent bureaucracy (together with the fact that no public official should receive a wage higher than that of a skilled worker and the right of recall of elected public officials).

 This is one part of the equation: the need for workers’ control and management over the economy, society and politics. The other part of the equation is the understanding that the fate of the Cuban revolution is inextricably linked to the development of the world revolution. On that front the situation now has clearly completely changed from the situation that Cuba faced in the early 1990s after the collapse of Stalinism. Now it is capitalism which has shown, in the eyes of millions of working people all over the world, that it is a failed system.

The masses have started to move, first of all in the revolutionary wave which has swept Latin America over the last ten years. Playa Girón [the Bay of Pigs], 50 years ago, proved two things: one, that any genuine national anti-imperialist revolution guaranteeing basic reforms for the majority of the population could only be consolidated by breaking with capitalism; two, that a people in arms defending a revolution can defeat the most powerful imperialist country on the planet. Today, those same conclusions should be understood by revolutionaries in Latin America. In Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, etc. only the expropriation of the capitalists and imperialists can guarantee the reforms that have already been achieved. In the last instance, these revolutions can only be defended, not through diplomatic manoeuvring, geopolitics and appeasement, but by the people in arms.

But the movement is not limited to Latin America; it has now spread to the Arab world and also to the advanced capitalist countries, as shown by the movements in Wisconsin, the general strikes in France, Portugal, Spain, etc. More recently the upsurge of the youth in Spain and the rebellion of the Greek people against the IMF and the World Bank have shown a growing questioning of the capitalist system everywhere.

It is imperative for Cuban communists to discuss these developments in detail and throw themselves into the debate about the struggle for socialism worldwide, as this is the only way forward for the Cuban revolution.

CREDIT: The articles and papers here are credited to  In Defence of Marxism, which is the website of the International Marxist Tendency.