‘To each according to his contribution’
Apparently a Dr Helen Yaffe has decided to complain to the Guardian about their article on Cuba’s return to capitalism. This was a subject which I took an interest in and indeed wrote some brief remarks on, here. What is particularly at issue is the reintroduction of a greater differentiation in wages, decreed by Raul Castro, which many have interpreted as being among the first steps towards a shift to Chinese-style capitalism. It is this which Dr Yaffe wishes to interpret as socialistic.Dr Yaffe writes as follows:
“Like Marx himself, Che recognised the socialist principle: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work” – which your article associates exclusively with Raul. Cuba has never claimed to be communist and therefore has never embraced the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”, which expresses the attainment of communist society.”
That’s the singularly most self-serving reading of Marx I’ve ever come across. It gets worse when Yaffe tries to argue that the Guardian (and myself and others who made the same point independently) is equating ‘increased productivity’ with capitalism, which is her rather snotty way of mentioning the changing wage scale that will increase wealth disparity in Cuba. Obviously Yaffe can’t be much of an economist or else she’s just not paying enough attention.
The events in Cuba seem to be restoring the potential for free capital accumulation, which is the basis of the capitalist economy. Far from being merely about wages, there is much rumour circulating that people are going to be allowed to do things with their money other than accumulate material goods. The restriction of capital (in these circumstances, productive money) accumulation has formed the basis of centrally planned economies since the October Revolution.
‘To each according to his contribution’ has also been around since the Marx’ Critique of the Gotha Programme. It was the basis for Lenin’s New Economic Policy of stimulating productivity in order for the state to gather enough capital so that they could pursue a policy of rapidly building up heavy industry. The tussles over how far to extend this, particularly among the peasantry, were a huge element in the divisions between Bukharin on the Right of the CPSU, and Trotsky on the Left.
On the surface this seems to justify Yaffe’s proposition that what Raul Castro is doing is concordant with the principles of Marxism. Yet the point of Marx’ comment was to illustrate that ‘communism’ is not simply conjured up out of air. It is created on the basis of that which goes before, i.e. the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, the socialist appropriation of the means of production etc. Marx described ‘to each according to his contribution’ as a regressive throw back to capitalism.
All of Marx’ work was based on the idea that contradictory forces in society were at work to constantly destabilize and restabilize the current relations of production; this is the essence of dialectics. It was Marx’ view that the potential existed for the emergence of a socialistic society and from that a communistic one. One can hardly characterize Cuba as being one step along the route to either. Cuba is one of the Stalinist states which has suffered brutal repression and the hardship engendered by a parasitic bureaucratic caste.
What Yaffe can’t cover up for all her invocation of the spectre of Marx is that Cuba hasn’t even managed to fulfill ‘to each according to his contribution.’ If one considers how Lenin phrased it, in State and Revolution, it becomes obvious precisely how Cuba’s change is not merely about ‘productivity,’ however benevolent Yaffe can make that sound. At every step one can see the need for democratic controls permeating Lenin’s model.
Every member of society, performing a certain part of the socially-necessary work, receives a certificate from society to the effect that he has done a certain amount of work. And with this certificate he receives from the public store of consumer goods a corresponding quantity of products. After a deduction is made of the amount of labor which goes to the public fund, every worker, therefore, receives from society as much as he has given to it.
Determining what constitutes socially-necessary work, regulating consumer goods and limiting potential inequity and determining what share of labour goes to the public fund and how to use that public fund; each of these things requires democratic regulation of the productive forces of every notional socialist society. This very thing is precisely what each socialist revolution has categorically failed to deliver, for a variety of reasons which are irrelevant to the current discussion.
Yaffe’s attack upon the notion that Cuba is returning to capitalism tries to use the notion of continuing inequality to justify Cuba’s extension of that inequality as socialistic. She tries to do this in a bureaucratic vacuum for which Marxist theory was not meant. In such circumstances Yaffe reduces Marx to dogma, and selectively quoted dogma at that. We should reject her analysis completely and keep our eyes fixed on what Raul Castro’s reforms lead to next.