Laid-off Workers and Self-employment: A Critical Analysis / Dimas Castellanos

After exhausting all possible avenues to run the economy from a totalitarian concept, the Government has taken the path of reforms under the name of updating the model. Among the first measures announced are labor reform that will leave more than 1 million workers without jobs, and the expansion of the allowed variants of self-employment, including hiring labor. However, these measures show that the government has not renounced the totalitarian vice of ignoring totalitarian citizen participation and deciding everything from the state, which augurs new failures.

The exclusion of sectors or social groups in decision-making has been a constant in our history. Since the claims raised by Felix de Arrate in the mid-eighteenth century — with the exception of Father Felix Varela and then with José Martí, who conceived the idea of the modern republic with everyone participating — the movements and the figures who starred in the different episodes, whether it was Spaniards versus Cubans, the fight between status as a Spanish province versus autonomy versus independence, always represented the social classes they came from to the detriment of other classes or sectors on the island. The process initiated in 1959 with the stated purpose of finishing the struggles started in the nineteenth century, ended up reproducing the evil in its most developed form: those excluded by the state are not one sector, but the entire society.

The two closely related measures announced recently are attempts to correct serious errors. Labor reform is a failure of the policy of “full employment” imposed against all economic logic, with the intention to display artificially to the world the superiority of the Cuban system, while the promotion of self-employment is an attempt to lessen the impact of current layoffs and the failure of absolute state ownership. Both measures, past and present, were implemented by the state, ignoring participation of citizens, which is impossible without the existence of a civil society, understood as an interrelated system of associations, public spaces, rights and freedoms, which form the basis the exchange of views, consultative behavior and decision making, without further authorization by those who make the laws.

When the state abrogates civil society, as has happened in Cuba, it can impose its decisions; what it cannot achieve is a positive outcome. Hence, the implementation of fundamental rights and freedoms constitutes a prerequisite for overcoming the current structural crisis, whose root causes lie precisely in the absence of the freedoms that underpin human dignity, What peculiarities of the new scenario allow the State, after all of its failures, to continue deciding the destiny of the nation by itself? In the first place, the State has the advantage of being almost the sole owner of the means of production, which allows no opposition reforms, only special interests, without relying on external forces.

Secondly, as I have stated in other articles, the social changes usually occur under the direction of new forces which take power, while in Cuba, the initial actor is the same force that has held power for more than half a century, which facilitates, in the absence of an independent civil society, its determining the starting point, speed, depth and direction of change. And third, as the logical alternation of power did not exist, the force that has ruled for the past half century is responsible for everything good and everything bad that has happened, which explains its return to self-employment while it doesn’t speak of its own error with the Revolutionary Offensive 1968, which eliminated most small property. Finally, fourth, because the powers-that-be act on their own personal interests or those of the group that influences their conduct.

This explains that in neither of the two cases do they recognize the mistakes committed, because the Revolutionary Offensive of March 1968 eliminated at a single stroke tens of thousands of small landowners, many of whom employed contracted labor and offered goods and services that the State was never able to supply. As a result of the totalitarian desire to control everything and to prevent the formation of a middle class, they ignored both foreign and domestic experiences. Because in Cuba, from the Bishop Juan José Díaz de Espada in the early nineteenth century, until Julio Sanguily in the twentieth century, passing through José Antonio Saco, Francisco de Frías, Enrique José Varona and Jose Marti, innumerable thinkers argued the need to promote both a diversified economy of small farmers as well as a national middle class.

By eliminating the small proprietor, inefficiency appeared as State enterprises assumed everything, resulting in the emergence of another vast network of production and services, at the margin of the Law, which, lacking a supply of raw materials, tools and spare parts, led to widespread theft, renamed with verbs such as “to escape,” “to fight,” and “to resolve,” setting off behaviors which survive today, having become part of the predominate morality of today’s survival.

Effectively turning citizens into prisoners distorts the economy and even makes it a factor in the material and spiritual poverty of the nation. It requires a social structure that guarantees the participation of all citizens, with legal rights and conception of property coexisting and cooperating in various forms, because ownership, whether individual, family, cooperative or state, fulfills the social function of mobilizing the capacity and initiative of individuals to produce; thus every form of ownership should be allowed to exist and coexist to support this function.

There can be no return to the stagnation, nor simply an engagement in criticizing the measures, but rather changes need to be encouraged from a critical position so that they can transcend simply updating the model and lead to the path of democratization, that is to say that Cubans must be freed of their function as “the masses” and become active participants in defining their own nation.

September 22, 2010