Home > General Politics > A note on Cuba, the Left and Private Capital

A note on Cuba, the Left and Private Capital

During the recent Communist Party Congress, the ‘cuentapropismo’ initiative was adopted after being presented to the country by the Cuban Trade Unions. It will consist of the legalisation of small enterprises, pertinent at a time when many state jobs are being cut, and the private sector increasingly relied upon.

Parallels are already being made to this initiative and the New Economics Policy (NEP) in Russia circa 1921.

Back then there was an economic crisis of epic proportions, war communism became the bane of the peasantry life, which culminated in mass refusals to plant more food than could be eaten owing to the confiscations by the state. Millions of Russians in the countryside had died from famine, which led to an uprising by the peasants, joined by sailors and other workers against war communism policies, who were eventually defeated by the Red Army in what came to be known as the Kronstadt Rebellion.

The NEP was a policy taken by Lenin to allow private enterprise limited freedom in order to raise productivity; in his words it was taking one step backwards in order to take two steps forwards later. It was not a long-term policy, but its use would take as long as it needed. It has been speculated that had Lenin not died a few years after its inception, and had Stalin not committed to central planning and the dismantling of NEP policies, laws for private capital might have been relaxed way past their eventual demise in 1928.

It was of ethical concern to all those involved with the Communist party – particularly the Left Opposition both within and out of the Bolsheviks – but the concession was that trade unions would protect workers in both the public and private sectors.

However, with the state legislating for the creation of a class enemy within the working class itself – the Nepman (rich business people) or the kulacs (better off peasantry) – and the fact that in 1928 Russian production had begun reaching levels not seen since 1914, the bargaining chip of the trade union within an economy which seems to be working, seems hardly a concession towards the achievement of full socialism.

If Lenin’s policy was towards a capitalism mandated by the state, would he really have bent down to union pressure in the face of workers’ rights versus a productive economy? In other words, since Lenin sacrificed socialism – the project he had worked all his life to pursue – for the gain of production, come what may – would he have sacrificed the conditions of a worker in the private sector, against trade union best wishes, for that same goal of increased industrial and agricultural production?

Unfortunately he died before any substantial answer to this question could be made, but its possibility cannot be ignored.

The difference between Russia and Cuba is that while Lenin freed up capital, not once did he give the impression that he’d stopped believing in the socialist model. However on the other hand, even Fidel Castro has been explicit on this: “the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore”.

This is where the comparison falls short. Lenin believed that a spell of capitalism would increase productivity – and it did – and then they could re-join the road to socialism. Then he died. Raul Castro has mentioned nothing about the cuentapropismo being a short term measure, in fact judging by his brother’s words, it looks quite the opposite. If history is anything to go by, for socialism to return to Cuba, Raul Castro needs to die. But then, perhaps if history is anything to go by, a new economic policy wouldn’t be such a bad thing as far as production is concerned.

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  1. July 30, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    What the Cubans are getting is a heavy dose of free-market reform with little in the way of a political opening. Raúl Castro’s own ideas appear to have followed the transition of the Chinese line from tyrannical statism to ruthless imposition of the free-market with little deviation.

    Cuba has for years resembled, not only the situation in the 1980s in the Soviet Union, but the description given of that era at the time by Mikhail Gorbachev’s Prime Minister, Nikolai Ryzhkov:

    “[We] stole from ourselves, took and gave bribes, lied in the reports, in newspapers, from high podiums, wallowed in our lies, hung medals on one another. And all of this – from top to bottom and from bottom to top.”

    What the Cuban leadership has perhaps learned from the collapse of communism in Europe is the ability of well-placed individuals to profit from the transition to a market-economy. With the military replacing the communist party as the guiding hand of the state – the military currently controls 60 per cent of the economy through the management of hundreds of enterprises in key economic sectors – some of the Revolution’s original generation are positioning themselves to cash in on the spoils of soon-to-be privatised industries.

    Although I would argue that even calling Cuba socialist is stretching it a bit. The workers have never been in control on that island.

    • July 30, 2011 at 10:15 pm

      Your conclusion comes close to a Left Communist position, not sure how much the AWL would think of that ;)

      You’re right in your analysis of course. The key notion here is the state containment of private capital, something which feeds into the post-communist lie, aiming to appease both the worker (this is still state capitalism, the trade unions hold sway, it’s necessary to pick up production) and the enterprise (the state is not naive to the already existing flow of private capital in Cuba, the black market etc., all we want to do is ensure it is to the benefit of Cuba as a whole, and not for the US – true enemies of free trade).

      If the full extent to your analysis is correct, it’s quite notable that the transition from state socialism to market reform has only just reached an important peak in Cuba, which nows begs the question: was the Cuban model a dead horse being flogged to the generations still in living memory of the revolution, or did it genuinely last this long without the full support of Russia?

  2. July 30, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Chavez appears to be, as always, following his Cuban comrades in whatever they do: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14351508

    Looks like he might travel in the same direction.

    • July 31, 2011 at 12:02 am

      fucking hell, I know cancer treatment in Cuba is highly regarded, but it seems odd that it can convert the most ardent socialist to enterprise-thinking

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