Cuban CP congress ratifies economic guidelines – workers’ control and international socialism absent from discussion

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 licenses 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 licenses, 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 subsidised 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 Center 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, legalising 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 organised 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.

See also:

Where is Cuba going? Towards Capitalism or Socialism? (September 17, 2010)

Cuba 50 years later – where is the revolution going? Part One (Februray, 2009)

Which way for the Cuban Revolution? - A Contribution to the debate (October 25, 2010)