Monday, November 1, 2010

International Left Debates Cuba’s New Economic Measures

First published in Socialist Voice, November 1, 2010

by Richard Fidler
This issue of Socialist Voice draws attention to further commentaries on the implications of the sweeping economic and social measures announced by the Confederation of Cuban Workers (CTC) on September 13. We publish here excerpts from and links to articles by Jorge Martin, the international secretary of Hands Off Venezuela; Frank Josué Solar Cabrales, a social sciences professor in Santiago de Cuba; Helen Yaffe, a scholar in Britain who specializes in Cuba’s revolutionary history; and Ike Nahem, a leading activist in Cuba solidarity work in New York City.

The CTC statement was initially published on the back page of that day’s issue of Granma, the official Cuban CP daily newspaper. An unofficial English translation is available. Detailed regulations governing the implementation of the decision have now been published in the Official Gazette (Spanish only). See issues no. 11, 12 and 13 (labelled “Extraordinaria Especial”).

Jorge Martin’s article, “Where Is Cuba Going? Towards Capitalism or Socialism?” provides some detailed information on the measures and outlines some of the major economic problems confronting Cuba today as a result of the world capitalist recession. He concludes:

“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 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.”

However, Martin sees hope in developments elsewhere in Latin America:

“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.”

Cuban Communist Frank Josué Solar Cabrales, in “Which Way for the Cuban Revolution? – A Contribution to the Debate,” shares Martin’s concerns but sees some grounds for optimism:

“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 [Castro] himself for a greater democratization of our Communist Party and the governmental and political structures. …

“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.”

However, Solar Cabrales points to some “profound shortcomings we still have in that respect.”

“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.”

Helen Yaffe is the author of Che Guevara, The Economics of Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan), a valuable account of Guevara’s thinking on the political economy of Cuba and, more generally, of societies attempting a transition to socialism. In “Cuba: the Drive for Efficiency within Socialism,” she contrasts Cuba’s present economic situation with the disastrous crisis it experienced as a result of the collapse of the Soviet bloc, once the country’s main trading partner. She cites statistics indicating a turnaround in Cuba’s current situation and is optimistic for “future advances.” The new measures, she says, are a sign that “prospects are improving.”

“The type of major adjustment currently proposed in the employment structure could not be risked in a period of vulnerability. Since 2007, the Cuban government has promoted debate and discussion at all levels of society in an effort to achieve national consensus about the need for such changes. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction to economic problems, it is likely that employment changes were in fact postponed until the present period in which prospects are improving and certain preconditions have been established.”

Yaffe dismisses concerns that the new measures will further increase the size of Cuba’s “informal sector” of those who are unemployed, under-employed or lacking steady employment. In her view, the opposite will happen.

“… only a small minority of Cuban workers will be self-employed. Their income will be progressively taxed, they will pay social security and be carefully regulated.

“The result will be to increase both government income and the provision of goods and services in certain areas, leading to price reductions and falling incomes for those operating in the informal sector. This, along with a continued rise in state-sector salaries, will reduce the relative benefit for individuals operating outside the formal sector.  Accompanying the employment changes is a restructuring of the education system to decrease the number of university students and increase technical training and manual skills.”

In “Behind the New Economic Measures in Cuba,” Ike Nahem likewise sees the mass layoffs of state employed workers and related measures as a step forward for the revolution and indeed for the world working class.

“There will be in Cuba no growth of mass unemployment – or as Marx put it a ‘reserve army of labor’ that suppresses the cost of labor power for capitalist employers – and the subsequent growth of poverty and destitution as is now becoming the norm in all of the advanced capitalist economies not to speak of dependent ‘Third World’ capitalist economies. Individuals let go from redundant, unproductive state and government positions will be able to return to university or technical schools for specialized training, with wage support, for new jobs in addition to those choosing to be self-employed, or join newly established co-operatives. Savings from the reductions in state expenses and budgets will go to preserve social services, modernize and improve free medical care and education, and so on. Cuba’s advances in implementing these measures and confronting its serious economic weaknesses is deeply in the interests of the world working class and is in reality a great aid in the developing struggles against capitalist austerity worldwide. …

“What the revolutionary government in Cuba is attempting to consciously and deliberately implement is a process that will lead to the numerical growth, social expansion, growing political weight of industrial workers, agricultural workers, and working farmers – private-family and cooperative. This will be greater than the inevitable rise in petty-bourgeois layers involved in retail services, brokerage, and speculation. These class demographic changes will emerge out of the accompanying decline (a good thing!) in the numbers of bureaucrats in state institutions and enterprises whose official jobs breed demoralization insofar as they register nonproductive activity which, in the framework of scarcity and economic pressure,  can foster corruption and thievery.

“The concomitant growth of petty bourgeois layers will undoubtedly foster relative social inequality, but, of course, this has been happening and reproducing anyway in the form of the so-called ‘black market’ and illegal economic activity unregulated by the workers’ state. And if labor productivity and the social surplus product increases, within the framework of the workers state, the material basis (and also the political basis) for advancing social equality will also advance. Increases in labor productivity and a radical expansion in agricultural output will allow for large savings in foreign exchange currency that can then be used for industrialization and the ‘light industry’ production of consumers products and quality services.”

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Widely divergent analyses. Largely missing so far, in the international debate, are the hard facts on how the new measures are being implemented in Cuba and how the Cubans are responding to this sharp new turn by their revolutionary government.

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