Author Archives: Farber Samuel

BUILDING SOCIALISM IN CUBA: AS PRESSURE FOR ECONOMIC LIBERALIZATION GROWS, WHAT WOULD IT TAKE TO TURN CUBA INTO A SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY?

The Jacobin. October 12, 2016

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/10/alternative-cuba-socialism-left-opposition-worker-control/

 By Samuel Farber

 In July 2016, thanks to a 20 percent reduction in oil shipments from Venezuela, Cuba’s economy minister Marino Murillo announced a 6 percent cut in electricity and a 28 percent cut in fuel. Meanwhile, he ordered an immediate drop in public sector energy use, with consequent working-hour reductions for state employees, and warned of possible blackouts, raising the specter of the dark and hungry days of the Special Period of the nineties.

This turn of events delivered another blow to Raúl Castro’s attempts to establish a Cuban version of the Sino-Vietnamese model, which maintains a one-party state while opening the economy to private enterprise and the market.

RevolucionIn the political realm, this has meant a relaxation of state control over the citizenry. But this hasn’t been matched with democratization. For example, the 2012 emigration reform facilitated Cuban citizens’ movement in and out of the country, but did not recognize travel abroad as their right.

In the economic realm, the government has implemented a modest and contradictory strategy. For example, the agricultural sector’s structural reforms provide land leases for a maximum of twenty years; the Chinese and Vietnamese governments, in contrast, established much longer and, in some cases, permanent contracts.

The government now allows self-employment in few occupations (a little over two hundred). Had it opened it up for the whole economy — reserving only those sectors regarded as high social priorities, like medicine — the reform would increase available products and services.

Complementary changes introduced to bolster these structural reforms — like the establishment of wholesale markets and commercial bank credits — have been inadequate and ended up negatively impacting the reform program. In addition, the bureaucratic and inefficient Acopio — the state agency with the monopoly power to buy most agricultural products at prices established by the government — has slowed agricultural production. As a result, harvested produce has spoiled while waiting to be processed at government plants.

The Castro regime’s half measures will, more likely than not, push Cuba closer to a form of state capitalism without democracy. But there is a feasible alternative for the country.

No Recovery

Until this new crisis, the Cuban economy had partially bounced back after the worst years of the Special Period, which devastated the country in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late eighties and early nineties.

The country hit bottom between 1992 and 1994, when extreme food shortages led to an outbreak of an optical neuropathy epidemic that affected some fifty thousand people. Since then, the Cuban economy has surpassed the GDP it achieved in 1989.

But other indicators — such as real wages and pensions, which in 2014 were still at 27 percent and 50 percent of their 1989 level, respectively — never came back. Meanwhile, social spending is still falling, and family consumption is expected to decline 2.8 percent in 2016 and 7.5 percent in 2017.

Although the hunger of the early nineties is gone, Cubans still struggle to find enough food. The much-praised development of organic and urban agriculture on the island represents a relatively small part of agricultural production. As Cuban economist C. Juan Triana Cordoví pointed out, declining domestic production has forced hotels to import vegetables, including yucca, the root-vegetable mainstay of the Cuban diet. The small progress in sustainable agriculture doesn’t make up for the fact that food production has never regained its 1989 level and that more than half of Cuba’s food supply comes from imports, at an annual cost of $2 billion.

Many of the revolution’s gains in education and health have also been lost. The teachers who fled the educational sector’s low pay haven’t been fully replaced, and private tutoring — often provided by public school teachers in their spare time — has grown exponentially. In addition, numerous school buildings, libraries, and laboratories are crumbling. Before the start of the current school year, 350 schools were closed after they were found to be in dangerous physical condition.

The same applies to many hospitals and other medical facilities, which now operate with skeleton crews: the government sends large numbers of general practitioners and specialists to Venezuela and other foreign countries in exchange for oil or hard currency.

The regime’s contradictory reforms will likely pass with the historic generation of leaders. Second-generation bureaucratic officials are likely to fully commit to the Sino-Vietnamese model, perhaps tilting somewhat toward Russia’s capitalism, which combines massive oligarchic theft of state property with a nominal “democracy” that would give US Congress the political cover it needs to repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton law and remove the island’s economic blockade.

Besides winning the United States’s enthusiasm, this new generation of leaders will enlist foreign capital and at least a sector of Cuban American capital by reassuring them that the government will maintain total control over the state, the mass media, and the mass organizations — including state-controlled unions — to guarantee their new capitalist investors, foreign and Cuban, peace, law, and order.

Yet there are other economic models that are being talked about inside and outside the government, although in a rather discreet fashion due, in great part, to the political system that does not allow a full and candid exploration of ideas.

Free and Rational

Mainstream critics have for some time been arguing for the establishment of a free-market economy, which they present as the only “rational” alternative to the bureaucratic economic management of Communist Party rule.

This group covers a wide spectrum, ranging from a hard free-market stance to a more social-democratic welfare state perspective. In this latter grouping, moderate critics overlap with sections of the island’s academic economists, including members of the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana.

Yet hardly any of these critics have openly addressed the question of what to do with the most important part of the Cuban economy, the larger state-owned enterprises. Instead, they focus on establishing private PYMEs — the Spanish language acronym for small and medium size enterprises — although they haven’t clarified what “medium” actually means.

They have also supported the government’s move toward replacing the universal rationing system with one that subsidizes categories of people instead of products. Today, all Cubans, regardless of income, can receive a number of products at low, subsidized prices. The new system would only provide these products to the poorest and most disadvantaged, thereby rationalizing agricultural markets and reducing the government’s budget. The government’s recent reduction of the number of products distributed by this system marks the first step in this means-tested direction.

Finally, they imply that the state monopoly of foreign trade should end, and Cubans should be free to import all they can afford from abroad.

Tito in Cuba

Like all of the regime’s opponents, the nascent critical left — mostly composed of anarchist and social-democratic currents — has had to operate under close state monitoring and repression. These left-wing formations resist reductions to state benefits and — unprecedented in the Cuban left’s history — call for a worker-managed economy.

Interestingly, they never mention democratic planning or coordination among economic sectors. As a result, their version of worker self-management would create an economy of self-sufficient firms in competition with each other. This resembles the system implemented in Tito’s Yugoslavia from the 1950s until the 1970s.

This market socialism was locally self-managed, but regionally and nationally controlled by the League of Communists. It did increase worker input, decision-making, and productivity at the local level but, because of its competitive and unplanned nature, also created unemployment, sharp trade cycles, pay inequality, and notable regional disparities that favored the northern republics.

The workers’ powerlessness to decide on anything beyond what happened in their workplaces encouraged parochialism, isolating them from broader, national economic decisions. Workers felt no reason to support investment in other enterprises, particularly those located far away.

In the last analysis, as Catherine Samary points out in Yugoslavia Dismembered, Yugoslavian self-management could not confront either the bureaucratic plan or the market. The 1970s was the last decade of growth. Eventually a $20 billion debt led to the International Monetary Fund’s intervention.

The Yugoslav model is a fraught one to emulate in Cuban, then. Further making any kind of worker control unlikely, none of the government’s left-wing opponents have explained how it might be implemented in the absence of a workers’ movement or how it might operate if workers aren’t motivated to fight for those goals.

There are other voices on the critical left that reject any concession to private enterprise and capital on the grounds that capitalist enterprise by definition contradicts socialism. But they have been unable to answer the critical question of how a socialist and democratic Cuba could emerge from poverty and economic stagnation without concessions of any kind.

What is Possible

A growing number of Cubans on and off the island, see socialism — whether democratic or authoritarian — as an impossibility. A diminishing number of Cubans still regard it as either desirable or likely. Certainly, the island’s current economic conditions — combined with extraordinarily powerful international capital — make it hard to imagine a fully fledged form of socialism.

This view derives from a specific application of the general Marxist theory that rejects the possibility of socialism in one country, particularly when that country is economically underdeveloped and exists in a capitalist world currently unthreatened by socialist revolutions.

Besides having to face the hostility of its imperial northern neighbor, autarkic “socialist” economic development won’t fit for Cuba because the country still depends on oil imports. Further, its reliance on tourism and medical service, nickel and, to a lesser degree, pharmaceutical product exports and the dramatically shrunken sugar industry underline the foreign-trade character of Cuba’s economy. The island’s considerable integration into the capitalist world market prevents the establishment of a full socialist democracy.

This does not mean, however, that Cuba should abandon socialism. Instead, critics must think in terms of a transitional economy, a holding operation that can realistically be implemented until an international situation more favorable to socialism develops.

Classical Marxist political economy provides a model for what that possible holding pattern could be. This theory recognizes the greater role that individual, family, and small-scale production and distribution play in less-developed economies like Cuba.

In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Friedrich Engels distinguishes between modern capitalism — where production is a social act, but the social product is appropriated and controlled by individual capitalists — and socialism — where both production and its appropriation are socialized. Following this distinction, the productive property requiring collective work becomes the proper object of socialization, leaving aside individual and family production as well as personal property.

A transitional economy in Cuba would therefore allow for small, productive private property. This accommodation derives from a fundamental Marxist analysis of capitalism, not an opportunistic adaptation to liberal, free-market politics.

In Cuba, as in many other less developed countries, a transitional economy would subordinate a private sector of small enterprises ruled by market mechanisms under a commanding state sector that administers the island’s big industry — pharmaceuticals, tourism, minerals, and banks — through workers’ control and democratically coordinated and planned in a democratic polity. The government would strive, through its knowledge of market conditions and adequate economic forecasts, towards harmonizing the state and self-employed economy according to a definite plan.

Economic Obstacles

But we must first honestly assess the Cuban economy, which, even before a reduction in Venezuelan oil shipments provoked the current crisis, had been in a marked state of deterioration.

For one thing, its all-encompassing public sector is floundering. As the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal reminded us, the government has openly admitted that 58 percent of state enterprises function “deficiently or badly.”

Also, the island’s economic growth has been generally low, a situation that will only be aggravated by the current crisis. Cuban economist Pavel Vidal Alejandro estimates that Cuba’s GDP will not grow in 2016 and will likely shrink by almost 3 percent in 2017. This would mark the first year of negative growth in the last quarter century.

Important voices in the left opposition have argued against economic growth for ecological and other reasons. But improving most Cubans’ material conditions is a condition of a successful democratization. The alternative — continual stagnation and declining living standards — will encourage massive emigration. This represents a tragedy in itself, but would also undermine potential democratic and progressive — let alone socialist — opposition movements.

Alarmingly, the rate of new investment, necessary to replenish the existent capital stock, has become among the lowest in Latin America, dropping below 12 percent of GDP. Government forecasts indicate that investments will fall 17 percent in 2016 and 20 percent in 2017. This will result in a rate of gross capital formation slightly over 10 percent, barely half the rate of investment considered necessary for economic development

The deterioration of Cuba’s capital stock makes it impossible to maintain the current economic output and living standards, much less to expand them. As a result, the substantial increase in tourism — from 3 million visitors in 2014 to 3.5 million in 2015, and a projected 3.7 million by the end of 2016, sparked by the resumption of US-Cuba relations in December 2014 — has strained Cuba’s tourist capacity to its limit.

Further, President Obama’s elimination of restrictions on the remittances sent to the island by Cuban Americans has significantly worsened food and beverage shortages. Supply cannot meet the increase in demand.

The Cuban economy’s productivity also lags. Agricultural yields — with the exception of potatoes — are well below the rest of Latin America. In industry, biotechnology is the only sector that enjoys high productivity relative to the region.

Rising productivity isn’t just a profit-driven capitalist scheme. An economy that prioritizes reducing backbreaking labor, improving living standards, and maximizing leisure time can only do so if it also prioritizes making more with the existing workforce.

Che Guevara advocated what in effect was the “sweating of labor.” But better organization, technology, and — most importantly — worker control would have the same effect.

Control, in itself, represents a powerful motivator. The current low productivity comes from a bureaucratic system that systematically creates disorganization and chaos and does not provide workers either with political incentives — allowing them to have a say and control over what they do — or with material incentives — typical of the developed capitalist world — to motivate them. Guevara’s moral incentives failed: they were a method to get workers to take responsibility without power and to work harder without control or pay.

Ecological Obstacles

Much of the island’s left opposition to economic growth is grounded in environmental considerations. Cuba now confronts many serious ecological problems, including the increasing number of breakages and leaks in the old and poorly serviced water pipes all over the island. This has led to a massive loss of water, which often spills into streets and empty lots, and to the frequently inappropriate storage that many residents have been forced to resort to in response to the lack of water. Consequently, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits the dreaded Dengue illness, has proliferated.

Moreover, the growing number of pigs, poultry, and house-grown crops — part of the much-vaunted, but very problematic, urban agriculture movement — has combined with deteriorating garbage collection services to considerably increase the risk of urban health crises.

The recent government claims to have held off the Zika epidemic and almost eliminated the Dengue fever must be met with skepticism as long as these and other conditions that propitiate the spread of diseases remain.

Anti-growth sentiment among Cuban left-wing oppositionists was reinforced when, on a recent visit to Havana, the economist Jeffrey Sachs recommended that “the Cuban people don’t progress into the twentieth century.” As the left-wing journalist Fernando Ravsberg explained, Sachs argued that Cubans should not forget sustainability and concentrate on the development of organic agriculture, sowed without tractors and grown without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

If Ravsberg’s account is correct, Sachs’s argument fails to weigh the relative costs and benefits of environmentally conscious measures. Small and economical tractors, like those the Cuban government is planning to produce in association with US capital, do still consume oil. But oil’s negative environmental effects do not compare to the cost of human- and animal-powered agriculture. The latter model produces less food while requiring massive energy inputs from workers and animals.

Cuba’s history already proves this: the forced abandonment of motorized agricultural vehicles at the beginning of the Special Period constituted, in net terms, a huge setback for the Cuban people.

Also in the nineties, urban transport was demotorized, and many city residents turned to bicycles. They were later abandoned — not because Cubans abstractly preferred the infrequent and overcrowded buses or the expensive urban collective taxis (only a small proportion of Cubans own automobiles), but because bicycles don’t let workers arrive on time from distant working-class suburbs nor do they protect riders from tropical rains and winds from June until November.

The Chinese government has encouraged individual car ownership, which has contributed to the country’s overwhelming urban pollution. This should serve as a warning sign for Cuba to aim for the adoption of an effective mass transit system as an alternative environmental policy.

Finally, at a minimum, Cuba needs to improve on the 5 percent of its electricity derived from renewable sources, which is a quarter of the Latin American average.

The Politics of a Socialist Alternative

The move toward a socialist society does not only require a program, but also a politics. This requires using principled strategic and tactical considerations to engage with the government’s and various oppositionist currents’ proposals.

In doing so, Cuban socialists might find areas of overlap with the liberal Catholic and social-democratic critics. Those include proposals that would promote agricultural production and productivity, such as codifying individual farmers’ usufruct rights, eliminating the compulsory sale of agricultural produce to the government at prices dictated by the Acopio, and creating wholesale markets for small firms and individual producers.

In the field of urban employment, these proposals include forming cooperatives based on the initiative of interested workers, rather than on government diktats trying to dispose of so-called lemons — unprofitable enterprises or businesses that are difficult to administer on a centralized basis, like small restaurants.

At the same time, this new left will need to counter other proposals from those same groups. For example, they call for legalization of all forms of self-employment, including occupations that should be run on behalf of the public interest, like education and medicine.

The Left can respond to the call for free importation by arguing that a democratically run state should allocate foreign exchange on a strict priority basis, with social criteria that favor the most economically deprived sectors of the population and the purchase of capital goods that would most support the country’s economic development. Otherwise, affluent Cubans might waste the country’s relatively scarce foreign exchange on frivolous imports, such as expensive vehicles or luxurious furniture and household effects.

Socialists should also resist the dominant view — held by both critics and an increasing number of government economists — that the government should subsidize people, not products, that it should replace its universal subsidies with a system that provides for only the neediest citizens.

To be sure, those universal subsidies unnecessarily benefit wealthier Cubans. However, the critics of this program never mention their proposal’s downside, which is that it undermines social solidarity. International experience has shown that income-tested programs for the poor produce stigmatization and, as a result, lose political legitimacy over time, thus threatening their long-term funding and viability.

One answer to this problem would be the introduction of a sliding scale where everybody benefits in inverse proportion to their income. This would recognize differential need while maintaining maximum political support.

Socialists in the Marxist tradition understand that subsidies must be selective: if, under current conditions, everything was provided free of charge or sold below production costs, an economy would collapse in short order. Moreover, a relatively underdeveloped economy like Cuba’s has a much smaller surplus to leverage for free and subsidized goods.

But keeping the idea of universal subsidies alive leaves the road open for their future expansion as the Cuban economy becomes more productive and wealthier.

Liberal critics and the government itself support foreign investment as a means to deal with the Cuban economy’s undercapitalization. Many on the Left have opposed it, seeing it as the Trojan horse of capitalism and foreign domination. However, a policy of controlled and selective foreign capitalist investment is indispensable in the absence of a domestic developed-goods industry. These imports could bring in new machinery and renew transportation and utility infrastructure.

New investments from abroad can also have significant employment and multiplier effects that trigger the development of entirely new industries that complement and further develop the established ones.

Further, the impact of foreign investment on wages and working conditions could be negotiated by independent unions, which, among other things, should prioritize the immediate abolition of the Cuban government’s practice of collecting salaries owed to Cuban workers from foreign investors and then turning over to their citizens only a small fraction of the money collected. The government claims that they do this to finance social spending and other government operations. But the same goal could be achieved through a transparent and equitable tax system rather than through the government monopoly of the sale and control of labor.

It is true that worker-controlled production and powerful unions may deter foreign investment. However, an honest public administration and tax system as well as the existence of natural and human resources not reproducible elsewhere can also serve as a draw that supersedes those disadvantages.

Right-wing critics and oppositionists play down — if not ignore entirely — the crucially important issue of Cuba’s growing inequality. For the Left this presents a unique opportunity to push for independent unions, which, along with a progressive tax system, could be a more effective policy than the current one, in which the proliferation of bureaucratic rules harasses small firms and the self-employed.

This is not to do away with regulation entirely; it is necessary in occupational safety, health, pensions, and union rights. If these rules were administered — under worker control and supervision — by professional organizations rather than by a central bureaucracy, they would surely benefit workers, not owners. But to do so will require distinguishing between rules designed to protect the interests of the workers and those that protect the interests of bureaucrats.

Engaging with the specific proposals put forward by both the undemocratic government and by the pro-capitalist opposition sector, the Left will have the opportunity to formulate specific demands and to mobilize people to fight for them. This would build a movement — or at least a clear organizational pole — in spite of government repression and popular skepticism.

Cuba’s present regime will not permit the existence of other legal political parties, independent unions, or a free mass media. Of course, these elements constitute precisely the political setting that would facilitate the kind of transitional social and political system outlined here.

Nevertheless, the left opposition must talk about an alternative model that openly acknowledges both the possibilities and the difficulties involved in building a socialist democracy. This empowers people, rather than making them feel that nothing can be done to push the country in an anticapitalist, radically democratic, and socialist direction. But there is an alternative.

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CUBA’S CHALLENGE: WHAT DID THE CUBAN REVOLUTION ACCOMPLISH AND WHERE CAN IT GO FROM HERE?

BY SAMUEL FARBER, June 10, 2015

Original Essay from “JACOBIN” Here:  Cuba’s Challenge

Samuel Farber was born and raised in Cuba. He is the author of Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment.

When in the 1950s, along with many of my high school classmates, I became involved in the struggle against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, one of our teachers remarked that we had no real reason to criticize the state of our country because so many other nations in the region — such as Bolivia and Haiti — were much worse off than us.

His description of Cuba’s comparative position was accurate, but incomplete. On the eve of the 1959 Revolution, Cuba had the fourth highest per capita income in Latin America, after Venezuela, Uruguay, and Argentina.

And although average per capita income is an insufficient, and sometimes misleading, indicator of general economic development, other indicators support his picture of the pre-revolutionary Cuban economy: in 1953, Cuba also ranked fourth in Latin America according to an average of twelve indexes covering such items as percentage of labor force employed in mining, manufacturing, and construction, percentage of literate persons, per capita electric power, newsprint, and caloric food consumption.

Yet, at that time the country’s economy was also suffering from stagnation and the pernicious effects of sugar monoculture, including substantial unemployment (partly caused by the short sugar cane season of three or four months). Most importantly, the national indexes of living standards hid dramatic differences between the urban (57 percent of the population in 1953) and rural areas (43 percent), especially between Havana (21 percent of Cuba’s total population) and the rest of the country. The Cuban countryside was plagued by malnutrition, widespread poverty, poor health, and lack of education.

For my teacher, it seems, the fact that other people were worse off made him more accepting of his own life circumstances. But he was the exception. To the extent that Cubans compared themselves with the people of other countries, they preferred to look up to the much higher standard of living of the United States rather than console themselves by looking down at the greater misery of their Latin American brethren.

As a 1956 report of the United States Bureau of Foreign Commerce put it: “the worker in Cuba . . . has wider horizons than most Latin American workers and expects more out of life in material amenities than many European workers . . . His goal is to reach a standard of living comparable with that of the American worker.”

This underlines the fundamental mistake of assuming instead of ascertaining that comparisons of economic performance have any meaning to the people who live in those economies. Taken to an extreme, this mistake leads to an “objectivist” analysis that stands outside history as it is actually lived by its actors and is likely, as in the case of my high school teacher, to result in a conservative commitment to the existing social order, as opposed to a questioning of, or opposition to, the existing social order and its ruling group.

For those who are affected by it, economic development has a meaning that goes beyond economic data and requires an understanding of popular aspirations and expectations, which are based in part on the existing material reality and in part on past history.

In terms of its material reality, the Cuba of the fifties was on the one hand characterized by uneven modernity, fairly advanced means of communication and transportation — especially the high circulation, by Latin American standards, of newspapers and magazines — and the rapid development of television and radio. On the other hand, there were abysmal living conditions in the Cuban countryside.

As far as its history, the Cuba of the 1950s was still living the effects of the frustrated revolution of 1933, a nationalist revolution against dictatorship with an important anti-imperialist component and the participation of an incipient labor movement, then under Communist leadership.

Although this revolution had achieved some significant reforms equivalent in the Cuban context to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, it failed to achieve major structural changes in Cuban society, such as real national political and economic independence from US imperialism (beyond the abolition of the Platt Amendment in 1934) or any meaningful agrarian reform and diversification away from the one-crop sugar economy with all it implied in terms of economic instability, large-scale unemployment, and poverty.

These were the economic issues brandished by the Cuban opposition at that time to struggle for more or less radical reforms to the existing order, instead of pondering and celebrating Cuba’s comparative high rank among Latin American economies. Thus Eduardo Chibás, the leader of the reform Ortodoxo Party, of which Fidel Castro was a secondary leader, proposed in 1948 a series of modest reforms to improve the life of the Cuban rural population.

Five years later, after Batista’s coup against the constitutional government, Castro — in his “History Will Absolve Me” speech at his trial for his failed attack against one of Batista’s military installations — proposed a more radical series of measures, including giving property titles to peasants holding up to 165 acres of land, with compensation granted to landlords on the basis of the average income they would have received over a ten-year period. He also added new elements to his reform agenda, such as his radical plan for the employees of all large industrial, mercantile, or mining concerns, including sugar mills, to receive 30 percent of profits.

Fidel, 1956

Fidel and Rebels, 1956

After 1959

Immediately after the victory of January 1, 1959, in response to many Cubans’ pent-up expectations, Castro’s revolutionary government engaged in a vigorous policy of redistribution. There was an urban reform law to substantially reduce rents, a left-Keynesian policy of public works to combat unemployment, and a radical, albeit not a collectivist, agrarian reform law proclaimed in May 1959.

Then, in late 1960, in part in response to the hostility of US imperialism and in part based on the political inclinations of the revolutionary leaders, the large majority of both urban and rural property was nationalized by the Cuban state.

In April 1961, Castro declared Cuba to be “socialist,” and it became, in structural and institutional terms, a replica of the model in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Although Cuba’s one-party state placed more emphasis on popular participation than its equivalents in the Eastern Bloc, its political control was before long just as absolute.

Like the supporters of the Cuban status quo before the revolution, the supporters of today’s Cuban system assert that it is economically superior to other countries, particularly in Latin America. In terms of GDP — which, as previously mentioned, is not by itself a reliable indicator of economic well-being, although the Cuban government relies on it in a modified form — Cuba has fared poorly in comparison with its neighbors.

Whereas in 1950 Cuba ranked tenth in per capita GDP among the forty-seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, almost sixty years later, in 2006, it ranked near the bottom of the list, only ahead of Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Paraguay. GDP has increased little since then with a 2 percent average rate of growth in the last five years.

The government’s supporters point to Cuba’s achievements in education and health (in particular, its low infant mortality) as conclusive evidence for its more progressive economic policies. And indeed Cuba has performed very well in the Human Development Index (HDI), which combines income, health, and education statistics.

But while this index does a good job of measuring critical aspects of well-being in the less developed capitalist countries, it does not adequately capture the shape of state-socialist economies such as Cuba. It does not quantify the hardships that people suffer in countries where the economic problems of underdevelopment intersect with those particular to Soviet-style societies.

Take income, for example. Unlike capitalist societies, in Cuba, access to many luxury or high-cost goods is often obtained by the ruling groups through extra-economic, in kind, political means, rather than through the expenditure of monetary income. Although this situation has become more complicated since Raúl Castro took office in 2006 and expanded private economic activity to cover approximately 25 percent of the labor force, obtaining high-end goods still depends to an important degree on political access.

One example is traveling abroad. For the majority of Cubans who don’t have sufficiently wealthy relatives overseas, it is political access to state-sponsored travel — for example, officially sanctioned attendance to political, economic, cultural, or academic conferences — rather than private income that remains the principal way to venture outside the island.

A similar situation exists in terms of Internet access. In Cuba — a country with one of the lowest levels of web availability in Latin America and the Caribbean — many people can connect to the Internet only at their workplace or school, but only for strictly work-related purposes. Otherwise, they run the serious risk of being reprimanded or even losing their ability to go online.

Privately, they can get on the Internet by paying rates unaffordable to average Cubans, and only at tourist hotels or at the centers sponsored by the state telephone monopoly. However, free access to the Internet is the norm for those who are well-situated in terms of political power or have connections to those who do.

Besides the issue of monetary income, the HDI ignores other factors that make living conditions in Cuba difficult. These include the irregular supply and quality of food, housing, toiletries, and birth control devices for women and men. The same applies to the poor state of roads, inter-urban bus and railway transport (premium transportation services exist but are costly and therefore out of the reach of most Cubans), and the delivery of basic necessities such as water, electricity, and garbage collection.

The HDI does not quantify the hardships of daily life associated with these inadequacies either — for example, the amount of time people have to spend going from place to place and standing in line to obtain a wide variety of goods. Economic indexes can also be deceptive insofar as they don’t take into account the maintenance and upkeep of systems that deliver key services.

Take water, for example. Viewed in one way, Cuba ranks well in that regard, with 95 percent of its population officially having access to drinking water. But serious water shortages are a normal condition of life in Cuba. This is partially due to seasonal droughts in certain regions, particularly in the eastern half of the island. But the most important cause of that shortage is the deteriorated infrastructure — broken pipes and numerous leaks — going back to well before the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

For these reasons, more than half of the water pumped by the country’s aqueducts is lost, especially in the Havana metropolitan area. This is much of the daily material reality Cubans face, and it shapes their aspirations and expectations.

Strong Thumbs, No Fingers

The Cuban government and its supporters claim that most of these economic problems are the result of the criminal economic blockade of the island imposed, for more than fifty years, by the United States and which remains mostly in force despite the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

There is no doubt that the embargo has been damaging, particularly in the early years of the revolution, as Cuba was forced to reorient most of its economic activity towards the Eastern Bloc. Repealing the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and ending the blockade would be a very welcome development for both principled and practical reasons. Such a move would also considerably increase economic activity in Cuba, most likely in the fields of tourism and, possibly, biotechnology and the production and export of certain types of agricultural commodities such as citrus.

However, the US blockade did not prevent Cuba from trading with industrialized capitalist countries in Asia and Europe, and particularly with Canada and Spain. The principal obstacle to Cuba’s economic relations with those non-US industrial capitalist countries was Cuba’s own lack of goods to sell and thus its lack of hard currency with which to pay for imports, whether capital or consumer goods. Nevertheless, Cuba received more than $6 billion in credits and loans from many of the industrialized capitalist countries until Cuba suspended the service of these debts several years before the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

More important than the damage caused by the US economic blockade is Cuba’s inadequate capital, as well as other problems typical of economically less developed countries — the export of commodities such as nickel and sugar amid unstable world prices — which in turn interact with the myriad economic shortcomings and contradictions of Soviet-style economies, including the failures of agriculture and the scarcity and poor quality of consumer goods.

In truth, Cuba’s achievements and failures resemble those of the Soviet Union, China, and Vietnam before these countries took the capitalist road, suggesting that systemic similarities are more significant than national idiosyncrasies and variations on the general Soviet model.

Konstantin Chernenko fidel castro cuba ussr Soviet Leonid BrezhnevFidel and Leonid

Cuba shares with the USSR what the political scientist Charles E. Lindblom called “strong thumbs, no fingers.” Having “strong thumbs” allows the government to mobilize large numbers of people to carry out homogeneous, routinized, and repetitive tasks that require little if any variation, initiative, or improvisation to adapt to specific conditions and unexpected circumstances at the local level — precisely the tasks that require subtle fingers rather than undiscriminating thumbs.

This explains how a Soviet-style government can organize a massive vaccination campaign, while at the same time its bureaucratic, centralized administration and lack of “nimble fingers” prevent it from acquiring the necessary precision for timely coordination of complicated production and distribution in all economic sectors — especially agriculture, among the least homogeneous and predictable areas of the economy.

Cuba’s deficiencies, particularly in the production of consumer goods, also stem to a large extent from its principal leaders’ ideological inclinations. While these leaders have clearly favored the production and delivery of certain collective goods like education and health care, they have tended to be indifferent if not hostile to goods normally consumed by individuals or families.

This is rooted in a deeply ascetic strain of some leftist traditions. The most prominent and consistently austere among the revolutionary leaders was Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who as minister of industry in the early days of the revolution shaped many aspects of the Cuban economy.

When serious shortages of consumer goods began to occur in Cuba in the early 1960s, Guevara spoke critically of the comforts that Cubans had surrounded themselves with in the cities, comforts which he attributed to the way of life to which imperialism had accustomed people, and not to a standard of living resulting from the relative economic development of the country and especially to the working class and popular struggles in the pre-revolutionary era.

Guevara argued that countries such as Cuba should invest completely in production for economic development, and that because Cuba was at war, the revolutionary government had to ensure peoples’ access to food, but that soap and similar goods were non-essential. It is clear however, that his hostility to consumer goods was by no means specific to a war economy.

As he put it in his private reflections shortly after he left the Cuban government in the mid-1960s, “in Cuba, a television set that does not work is a big problem but not in Vietnam where there is no television and they are building socialism.” He added that “the development of consciousness allows for the substitution of the secondary comforts which at a given moment had transformed themselves into part of the individual’s life, with the overall education of society allowing for the return to an earlier era that did not have this need.”

Later, after the failure of the grandiose plans for economic growth that Guevara and other revolutionary leaders articulated, these ascetic politics came to be shared by the entire Cuban government leadership. They were soon consecrated in the Cuban revolutionary ideology as hostility to the “consumer society” of the economically developed world, a view that was never part of the ideology of the pre-revolutionary Cuban left, Communist or otherwise.

It was therefore entirely fitting that during the Cuban economic cycles associated with the spirit and politics of Guevara, the emphasis was always on capital accumulation instead of increased consumption. This was the case, for example, with the Guevarist-type economic period of 1966–1970 (shortly after he left the Cuban government).

As the prominent Cuban economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago points out, at this time the national plan called for a sharp increase in national savings that was to be generated by a cut in consumption through the expansion of rationing, the export of products previously assigned for internal consumption, and the reduction of imports considered unnecessary.

Material incentives sharply decreased, and the population was exhorted to work harder, save more, and accept deprivation with revolutionary spirit. Accordingly, the share of state investment going to the sphere of production increased from 78.7% to 85.8% between 1965 and 1970. This was indeed a Cuban high point of what the Hungarian theorists Ferenc Fehér, Agnes Heller, and György Márkus have called the “dictatorship over needs.”

The Special Period

Until the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban government was able to deliver for the majority of its people an austere standard of living that, on the whole, guaranteed a minimum of economic security and the satisfaction of basic needs, in spite of serious deficiencies in areas such as housing and consumer goods.

Notwithstanding the serious problems and contradictions of a Soviet-style economy, this was made possible by the USSR’s massive economic subsidies, which helped the Cuban government finance a generous welfare state with an extensive education, health services, and social security system. These massive subsidies were the result of Cuba joining the Soviet state as its junior partner in an international alliance that did confront strategic obstacles in Latin America (because the USSR was reluctant to challenge the US in its own sphere of influence), but that ended up being much more viable and successful in Africa despite some tactical differences.

Although overall literacy was at 76.4% before the revolution, it was much lower in the countryside; the government has succeeded in almost entirely wiping out illiteracy. It has also expanded secondary and higher education, promoting a substantial degree of social mobility facilitated by the massive emigration from the island of its upper class and large segments of its middle classes.

The dramatic enlargement of the military also allowed for the rise into officialdom of many Cubans of humble origin. Black Cubans in particular benefited, with the elimination of the informal but substantial racial segregation that had existed in pre-revolutionary Cuba, especially in the area of employment.

Racism was by no means eliminated. The Cuban government, implicitly identifying racism only with its segregationist form, soon declared the problem solved, with policies of “affirmative action” not even considered, in a context where blacks were not allowed to organize independently to defend their interests.

In general, however, Cuba became a more egalitarian society, attaining in the mid-1980s a Gini coefficient of 0.24 (although this measure also suffers from the political access problems discussed above). It was this, along with the growth of a nationalist and anti-imperialist consciousness that ensured a large base of popular support for the government. At the same time, however, critical voices even inside the Castro administration were systematically suppressed, and political dissidents (as well as petty offenders — Cuba has one of the highest imprisonment rates for common crimes) were jailed in large numbers.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc provoked a massive economic crisis, reflected in the quick and sharp 35 percent GDP drop. Cubans went very hungry in the first half of the nineties, the worst years of the crisis, leading to serious nutritional deficiencies that provoked an outbreak of optical neuropathy in 1991 that affected more than fifty thousand people until it was partially controlled in 1993.

Services such as public transportation went into a tailspin, from which they have only partially recuperated. Inequality has grown significantly, particularly between those with and without access to the hard currency provided by remittances from abroad. Real wages in the public sector, which still accounts for at least 75 percent of the labor force, dropped precipitously, and as late as 2013 they had only reached 27 percent of 1989 levels.

The “Special Period” also had a noticeable impact on the health care system, reducing the gains achieved in the previous thirty years. There are shortages of medical supplies and of family doctors and specialists, who are often working abroad as a part of international programs.

Patients have to even bring their own bedding to the hospitals, and “gratuities” to medical personnel have become increasingly common. Teachers have fled the education field in search of higher wages in other sectors such as tourism; at one point the government even tried to replace those educators with television sets and quickly trained high school graduates, with predictably negative results.

The system of social security, which made great advances in the 1960s with universal coverage and the unification of the previously existing patchwork of pension and retirement plans, went into a sharp crisis as the peso-denominated pensions fell to a fraction of their previous purchasing power.

Most importantly, during the quarter century that has elapsed since the fall of the USSR, the support of the regime has fallen quite substantially, particularly among young people. This does not mean that they have begun to openly oppose the government. They are far more likely to look for individual ways to resolve these problems. They would rather leave the island than politically confront a government that despite having released most political prisoners and allowed for a significant degree of social liberalization (for example, in terms of religion and emigration) still maintains a one-party state and an apparatus of repression. (Although it typically employs close monitoring, harassment, and frequent short-term arrests of dissidents instead of the long prison terms that were the norm under Fidel Castro’s rule.)

The Critique from the Left

Supporters of the government, especially abroad, continue to defend the system as if nothing happened during the last twenty-five years, and keep pointing to poor countries such as Haiti — which were worse off than Cuba before the 1959 Revolution — as evidence of how better off Cuba is. But for the most part, the Cuban people are not comparing their standard of living to those of other less developed countries.

Older Cubans are much more likely to compare their current hardships with the greater security and predictability they experienced before the Special Period, and remember nostalgically the early 1980s when the opening of the farmers’ markets, after the mass exodus from the Port of Mariel in spring 1980, allowed Cubans to reach perhaps their highest living standards since the 1960s.

For many Cubans, and particularly for the disenchanted young who are keenly aware of contemporary cultural trends in fashion, music, and dance, the existence of a large Cuban-American community in South Florida has also become a major standard of comparison.

And the nascent critical left in Cuba — like the oppositionists of the 1940s and 1950s — does not celebrate, in the manner of the official Communist party press and foreign supporters, Cuba’s good performance in the HDI. Instead, it is trying to organize under extremely difficult conditions, on behalf of the political liberties necessary to defend the standard of living of the Cuban people and open up the possibility for a popular and democratically self-managed economy and polity.

sam-farberSamuel Farber

 

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SHOULD CUBA REMAIN A ONE-PARTY STATE?

By Samuel Farber

Original here: One-Party State?

HAVANA TIMES — In Cuba the one-party state is a very controversial question that few of the left-wing critics of the Cuban regime have been willing to address. What follows is an attempt to explore, from the left, some of the issues around this topic.

In the first place, the abolition of the Cuban one-party state is one thing, separate and apart from the political system that would replace it, whether without or with many political parties. In reality the Cuban Communist Party (PCC, its Spanish acronym) is not a party – which would imply the existence of other parties – but the organ that monopolizes the political, social and economic life of Cuban society. This monopoly – explicitly sanctioned by the Cuban Constitution – is based, among other authoritarian mechanisms, on the control of Cuban society through the so-called mass organizations that function as transmission belts for the decisions taken by the PCC. For example, the CTC, the official trade union central, is the transmission belt that allows the Cuban state to maintain its monopoly of the organization of Cuban workers. Many left critics of the Cuban regime will agree that workers (and all other Cubans) should have the right to organize themselves independently of the PCC to struggle for their own interests. Taking this notion to its logical conclusion would imply the abolition of the one-party state system, including its control of the mass organizations that function as the transmission belts for the Cuban Communist Party.

Cuba’s dominant system is going through a transformation – likely to accelerate after the historic leaders of the revolution pass away – towards the Sino-Vietnamese model of state capitalism under the direction of the PCC, which means that the need to abolish the one party state system with its transmission belts will remain in effect.

The function of political parties

The modern political parties came into being in the nineteenth century as suffrage expanded. As sections of the ruling class felt increasingly threatened, they organized themselves politically to defend their class interests, typically in conservative, liberal and, sometimes, Christian parties. There have been times when a ruling party represented one whole social class, as was the case of the Tory party in the U.K. in various historical periods. More frequently, however, different parties have represented different sectors of the ruling class. Liberals and conservatives not only represented material conflicts within the ruling classes, as for example the interests of the great landlords against those of the new industrial capitalists, but also ideological conflicts of pre-capitalist origin concerning the power and role of the Catholic Church in society.

Aside from representing different sectors of the ruling classes, these parties also incorporated intermediate sectors of society, such as independent professionals and small businesspeople, and tried to coopt popular expectations and struggles in a manner that would not threaten the fundamental interests of the powerful. In many occasions, the so called middle classes and strata also organized their own political parties especially in parliamentary systems with proportional representation (which historically propitiated the creation of numerous parties.) In Cuban political history, we have the case of the Ortodoxo Party founded by Eduardo Chibás, a party principally based on the middle classes but with a growing multi class support. But the fact that this party implicitly or explicitly accepted Cuban capitalism does not mean that it was an expression or had an organic relationship with the ruling classes.

That means that, historically speaking, the relationship between class and party has not been unequivocal: the ruling class has usually not been a monolith and has generally not been represented by a single party. This has also been certainly the case with the working class, the representation of which has been assumed by such diverse parties as social democrats, communists and social Christians. In the case of the classical social democracy that represented the working class through its close links with the unions, its growing conservative tendencies were not merely ideological but also represented the growth of a union bureaucracy, which based on the power that the unions had acquired, had the possibility of extracting sometimes significant concessions from the ruling classes. These concessions helped to demobilize the workers and solidified a bureaucracy more concerned with protecting its huge investments in the union infrastructure than in risking everything in pursuit of a revolutionary break (like in the Europe of the first postwar period) or in resisting imperialist war making (1914). This was the history of the very powerful and supposedly revolutionary Marxist German Social Democracy, whose bureaucratic-oligarchic model was portrayed by the Italian-German sociologist Roberto Michels in his classic Political Parties.

With respect to the Russian Bolshevik party: although Stalinists as well as Cold War apologists in the Western world held on to the myth that there was no difference between the Bolshevik and Stalinist parties, numerous historians (Stephen Cohen, Alexander Rabinowitch and William Rosenberg among others) have demonstrated that before undergoing the process of bureaucratic degeneration that began with the Civil War that took place from 1918 to 1920, this revolutionary party was in reality quite pluralist and democratic. Among many examples, I can cite the fact that although Bolshevik leaders such as Kamenev and Zinoviev opposed the October Revolution, they continued to be important party leaders after the revolution, and that although Bukharin publicly adopted and agitated for a political line radically opposed to Lenin’s regarding the peace of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, he remained as party leader for many years afterwards. Far from the “monolithic unity” defended by the Castro brothers, the Bolsheviks were characterized not only for the plurality of political positions, but also for a chronic tendency to factionalism that generally did not become an obstacle to “unity in action.”

It is for all these reasons that almost 80 years ago Leon Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed harshly criticized the Stalinist theory about political parties and social classes that tried to justify the one-party state:

  congreso-machado-fidel-y-raul

 First Vice President Juan Machado Ventura, ex-President Fidel Castro and President Raul Castro at the last Communist Party Congress in April 2011: No end in sight for the CPP – for little while at least.

In reality classes are heterogeneous; they are torn by inner antagonisms, and arrive at the solution of common problems no otherwise than through an inner struggle of tendencies, groups, and parties. It is possible, with certain qualifications, to concede that “a party is part of a class.” But since a class has many “parts” – some look forward and some back – one and the same class may create several parties. For the same reason one party may rest upon parts of different classes. An example of only party corresponding to one class is not to be found on the whole course of political history – provided, of course, you do not take the police appearance for the reality.

With respect to the multi party systems of capitalist societies: there is no doubt that political democracy has seriously deteriorated throughout the world. Political parties are increasingly devoid of content and subject to the demands of the shallowest kinds of political marketing, a process that has been aggravated by the huge costs of political media campaigns, particularly in the U.S., which in turn has closed the access to the big media for nascent movements and candidates who oppose the existing system. Also, parliamentary bodies have been declining, and many of their powers have been taken over by the executive branches, which unscrupulously use the doctrine of state secrets to protect their newly assumed prerogatives. As a result, political apathy, ignorance, and abstention have become prominent features of capitalist democracy. While this is fatal to any notion of democracy built on the participation and control of an active and informed citizenry, is has certainly been convenient and highly functional to a capitalist system that structurally privileges private and corporate economic power at the expense of public regulation and democratic control from below.

After the One-Party State

But let’s suppose that Cuba’s one-party state will be abolished. Whether we want it or not, new parties will develop once repression and the legal and constitutional obstacles against independent party organizations have ceased to exist. Shall we demand then that those new parties are suppressed, or instead of that, shall we engage wholeheartedly in the propaganda and political and ideological agitation against the inevitable neoliberal and reactionary wave that generally has succeeded bureaucratic Communism throughout the world? Those are the circumstances, when we could struggle, for example, for a new Constitutional Convention to publicly debate the critical question of the kind of society that should replace bureaucratic Communism, debates that should include, of course, our arguments in favor of the construction of a socialism based on democracy and liberty. This debate would also be a strategy to prevent the immediate recourse to electoral campaigns and their marketing focused not on political programs but on individuals, many of who are going to be financed, among others, by the rich Cuban-Americans in Miami. To confront this plutocratic possibility, we could, for example, campaign for the exclusively public financing of all electoral activity, including free access to the mass media and distribution of public funds according to the popular backing for each political group.

But let us assume the optimal case – unfortunately very unlikely under the current circumstances – of a broad mass movement replacing the bureaucratic one-party system with a revolutionary and democratic socialism based on the fullest liberties and on worker, peasant and popular self-management. In that case, what would be the meaning of the unity that many Cubans have wished for? To the extent that there are common interests – material as well as ideological and political – we should aim for a unity based on joint political activities and negotiations to form alliances based on shared political interests and principles. But this need not be the “monolithic unity” propagated by Raul Castro and other revolutionary leaders, which has meant censorship and the suppression of different point of view even within the ranks of the revolutionary government. As Rosa Luxemburg put it, freedom is for those who think differently. It is mistaken and dangerous to assume that there will not be important conflict of interests as well as of points of view among the popular classes under a revolutionary and democratic socialism.

There is no reason to think that class conflict exhausts all possible social conflicts, including those based on strictly material questions. For example, one fundamental questions for any society, be it socialist or capitalist, is the rate of accumulation, or in other words, what part of economic production is to be immediately consumed and what part is to be saved to insure the reproduction of society and the improvement of the standard of living. In capitalism this is decided through the decisions of the ruling class within the framework of the market economy that favors and consolidates its power. Under socialism, this decision would affect every social group because it would determine the resources to be available resources for each work and community center. It is to be expected that differences over this question will develop between, for example, those who want to enjoy a better standard of living today and those who are more concerned with the standard of living of future generations. In that case, how would those differences and conflicts be organized into coherent and systematic alternatives so they are decided democratically? That would be the critical function of parties under socialism, educating and agitating in favor of alternative visions of the road that society can or should take.

It is well known that political parties, like many other types of organizations, have shown pronounced bureaucratic and oligarchic tendencies. But there are measures that can be adopted to compensate and fight those tendencies, such as combating the apathy and abstention among the rank and file through democratic debate and the continual practice of real power. An active, informed and involved membership in the affairs of their parties and society is the best guarantee against bureaucratization. There are also organizational measures that can reinforce that participation and control from below, such as mechanisms that assure its local and national democratic control of union and party functionaries, and the maximum transparency with respect to party policies and its internal functioning, aside from its right to remove any leader through party and union referenda. (There are people who have advocated a ban on reelection for union and party leaders. Although this proposal is worth discussing, I believe that it would be counterproductive and possibly undemocratic and in any case would not prevent manipulation on the part of the leaders that have been officially removed.)

I hope that this discussion on the one-party state continues. The topic is too important to ignore it; it is one of the kernels of the thoroughly undemocratic system ruling in Cuba.
—–

*Samuel Farber was born and raised in Cuba and immigrated to the United States before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. He has written many books and articles about Cuba including Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959. A Critical Assessment published by Haymarket Books in 2011

Cuba 1

The Party in Action in the National Assembly

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REACTIONS TO DECEMBER 2014 US-CUBA STEPS TOWARDS RAPPROCHEMENT: Farber, Feinberg and Piccone

SAMUEL FARBER, “THE ALTERNATIVE IN CUBA

Jacobin, December 22, 2014

 Original Article Here: The resumption of US – Cuban relations is a real victory. But Cuban workers face renewed economic liberalization with little political opening.

…………

Conclusion

Independently of the considerations that led the governments of Cuba and the United States to reach this agreement, it is a major gain for the Cuban people.

First, because it acknowledges that the imperial power of the US was not able to coerce the imposition of its socio-economic and political system, handing a victory for the principle of national self-determination. It is up to Cubans and Cubans alone to decide the destiny of their country. Second, because in practical terms, it can improve the standard of living of Cubans and help to liberalize, although not necessarily democratize, the conditions of their political oppression and economic exploitation, making it easier to organize and act to defend their interests in an autonomous fashion against both the state and the new capitalists.

This has been the case of China, where thousands of protests occur every year to protect the standard of living and rights of the mass of the population in spite of the persistence of the one-party state.

Contrary to what many liberals thought right after the Cuban Revolution, the issue was never whether the end of the blockade would lead the Castro brothers to become more democratic. That possibility was never and is not in the cards, except for those who believe that the establishment of Cuban Communism was merely a reaction to American imperialism instead of what Che Guevara admitted was half the outcome of imperialist constraint and half the outcome of the Cuban leaders choice.

What is real is the likelihood that the end of the blockade will undermine the support for the Castro government thereby facilitating the resistance and political formulation of alternatives to its rule.

That Cuba will be free from the grasp of US imperialism even if the economic blockade comes to an end is not likely. The more “normal” imperialist power broadly experienced in the Global South will replace the more coercive and criminal one of the blockade era, especially if a successful alliance develops between American capital and the native state capitalists of the emerging Sino-Vietnamese model, as it happened in China and Vietnam. Even at the purely political level, there are many conflicts that are clearly foreseeable, like, for example, one that was left unmentioned in the Obama-Castro agreement involving the return of revolutionary exiles, such as Assata Shakur, to prison in the United States.

With the passing of the historic generation of revolutionary leaders within the next decade, a new political landscape will emerge where left-wing opposition political action may resurface and give strength to the nascent critical left in Cuba. Some may argue that since socialism of a democratic and revolutionary orientation is not likely to be on the immediate agenda, there is no point to put forward such a perspective. But it is this political vision advocating for the democratic self-management of Cuban society that can shape a compelling resistance to the economic liberalization that is likely to come to the island.

By invoking solidarity with the most vulnerable, and calling for class, racial and gender equality, a movement can build unity against both the old and the emerging oppression.

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Richard Feinberg,DIPLOMATIC SHOCK AND AWE: OBAMA ELATES CUBANS,

|Brookings, December 22, 2014 9:00am

Original Here: Diplomatic Shock and Awe: Obama Elates Cubans

………………….

Focusing on Next Steps

The U.S. bureaucracy is now under pressure to transform Obama’s promises into deeds. The upcoming April Summit of the Americas in Panama sets a deadline for issuing the new regulations liberalizing travel and commerce. In a speech before the National Assembly on December 20, Castro announced that he would personally attend the Summit, where he would “express our positions with respect for all of the other heads of state.” So the Panama conclave will bring Obama and Castro face-to-face. They will want to be able to report real progress in warming relations and in improving the economic prospects of ordinary Cubans.

Already there is speculation that the Panama Summit will witness a second round of initiatives, fed by Obama’s pledge to discuss with Congress a formal and full lifting of economic sanctions.

Both governments have raised hopes. But the Cuban government, accustomed to operating in deep secrecy, will have to learn how to manage popular expectations in a more relaxed international environment—where the United States can no longer be blamed for its own economic mistakes. And if promises are kept, Cuba will finally enter a post-Cold War era where informed citizens have ready access to the Internet and a world of information.

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Ted Piccone ON CUBA, OBAMA GOES LONG AND CASTRO HOLDS ON”

Brookings, December 22, 2014 9:51am

Original Article Here: On Cuba, Obama and Castro

Introduction

It’s hard to overstate the sense of relief and joy that was felt in both Washington and Havana as Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro simultaneously announced a breakthrough in their two countries’ long-running hostilities. There was, of course, much anger and hand-wringing as well and a host of questions about what happens next. But it’s worth taking a moment to understand how both sides got to this point and why it portends a major shift in U.S. foreign policy and potentially, in Cuban society.

………………….

.Conclusion

The head-snapping confluence of events on December 17—the simultaneous presidential announcements and returning flights home of prized Americans and Cubans; the holiday season celebration of loss and redemption and hope in the Jewish, Catholic and Afro-Cuban traditions; and the powerful language employed by President Obama in particular—make this a watershed moment in U.S. foreign policy. It marks the beginning of the end of five decades of hostility between two proud neighbors with distinct systems of governance. It symbolizes the end of the Cold War just as tremors of a new cold war between Washington and Moscow are growing. It signifies a reset in U.S.-Latin American relations on the eve of an unprecedented summit meeting of all the region’s leaders. It recognizes the failure of comprehensive punitive sanctions against a general population in favor of targeted sanctions for specific transgressions, as recently adopted in the case of Venezuela. It underscores that democratic change cannot be imposed by external coercion but only by supporting indigenous citizen movements willing to take the difficult and brave steps to demand it themselves. It declares the end of the strangle-hold of a minority faction of Cuban-American hardliners on an important foreign policy issue that affects all Americans. And most importantly, it restores hope on both sides of the Florida straits that change will continue, as it must, to improve the livelihoods and rights of millions of citizens in both countries. It was the big enchilada.

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A Belated Brief Review: Samuel Farber’s “Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment”

Review by Arch Ritter

Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment. By Samuel Farber. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2011. Pp.ix + 369. $24.00 paper. ISBN: 1608461394.

book-cover-reduced-best

Samuel Farber’s volume on Cuba, as its title indicates, “attempts to present a historical analysis and evaluation of the Cuban Revolution since 1959.”  He approaches his analysis from “the left” but a democratic socialist left espousing genuine participatory democracy, with popular “self-mobilization fully respecting human and minority rights” (p. 4.)

Farber considers his work as “a form of advocacy and normative in its orientation”: 

“a political reflection on history and a search for a usable past which hopefully will support the new voices emerging in Cuba advocating a progressive transition toward a revolutionary and democratic form of socialism” (p. 5.)

While Farber’s work of course is not totally comprehensive, he takes a broad view, and includes national sovereignty, nation building and democracy, economic growth and social welfare, foreign policy, race and gender issues, the place of dissidents and critics from left to right, within and outside Cuba and then a summary and conclusion. Although Farber analyses the various issues over the life of the Revolution and also draws on pre-Revolutionary experience regarding the various issue areas, he brings each area into the 2000s and the 2010s. He also up-dates his work with an “Epilogue” on the Sixth Party Congress of April 2011 and comments on the reform process of the 2010s.

            Farber’s volume is thoroughly researched and documented. Indeed it includes 53 pages of footnotes that frequently include important substantive insights as well! His work draws on his own research and deep knowledge acquired over many years study, a comprehensive range of Cuban primary sources and the work of others analysts inside and outside Cuba.  Many observers and analysts of various aspects of Cuba’s historical experience since 1959 will be to some extent familiar with much that he writes about. However, it is enlightening and enjoyable to review in detail Farber’s well-written and well-organized discussion of these central dimensions of Cuba’s experience.

In view of Farber’s somewhat iconoclastic approach to his work, which is unabashedly “in a classical Marxist tradition” but also social democratic – or as he would undoubtedly prefer, “socialist democratic” – one might expect that he may come under s criticism from both the right and the left. But Farber’s work in fact seems uncontroversial, “mainstream” and “social democratic” in character. His analyses and evaluations are well balanced, objective and convincingly supported with painstaking and comprehensive presentation of evidence. This is a volume well worth reading for the “old Cuba hand” as well as for anyone wanting an objective analysis of Cuba’s experience since 1959.

imagesSamuel Farber

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Nueva Sociedad: “Cuba Se Mueve”

A special edition of Nueva Sociedad entitled, Cuba se mueve, has just appeared.  Nueva Sociedad is a project of the Frederich Ebert Foundation of Germany’s Social Democratic Movement. It is a pleasant surprise that the authors include contributors from inside Cuba such as Alzugaray, as well as outside Cuba including DBlanco, Dilla and Farber.

The Table of Contents is presented below with hyperlinks to the original essays.

NUEVA SOCIEDAD 242   Noviembre-Diciembre 2012

 Leonardo Padura Fuentes Eppur si muove en Cuba.

Elizabeth Dore Historia oral y vida cotidiana en Cuba.

Juan Antonio Blanco Cuba en el siglo XXI. Escenarios actuales, cambios inevitables, futuros posibles.

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso Las encrucijadas de la política migratoria cubana.

Juan Triana Cordoví Cuba: ¿de la «actualización» del modelo económico al desarrollo?

Alejandro de la Fuente «Tengo una raza oscura y discriminada». El movimiento afrocubano: hacia un programa consensuado.

Velia Cecilia Bobes Diáspora, ciudadanía y contactos transnacionales.

Samuel Farber La Iglesia y la izquierda crítica en Cuba.

Carlos Alzugaray Las (inexistentes) relaciones Cuba-Estados Unidos en tiempos de cambio.

 

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