(Originally published on Monday, October 10, 2010 on the site www.diariodecuba.com)
In updating the model — a euphemism used to describe the changes that are taking place in the Cuban economy — what is happening is the same thing that happened with Spanish colonialism in the late nineteenth century. Spain took so long to grant autonomy to the island that when it did, in 1898, the war for independence was about to exhaust its every last drop of blood and even its last penny, as required by the motto of the stubborn president, Antonio Canovas del Castillo.
Although the declared ideological underpinning of Cuba’s totalitarian system is Marxism, its leaders ignored that the foundation of the materialist conception of history is the law of correspondence between productive forces and the relations of production, which, in his Contribution to the of Critique Political Economy, Karl Marx summed up something like this: “The totality of these relations of production constitute the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.”
When you reach a certain stage of development productive forces come into contradiction with the relations of production, that is with the property relations within which they have operated hitherto. From this point forward, the relations of production, ways of development of the productive forces become its fetters, opening a time of social revolution.
In absolute inconsistency with its ideological framework, the Cuban government replaced the Marxist thesis by voluntarism and, in parallel, accommodated itself to support from overseas, which prevented the formation of a national business structure. After the removal of foreign companies and large national enterprises it proceeded to liquidate small and medium enterprises, the climax of which endeavor came with the Revolutionary Offensive of March 1968, when more than 50,000 manufacturing establishments and services were closed or taken over by the government.
With this “triumph” the Government delayed the necessary reforms to put property relations in correspondence with productive forces. The results were immediate: a poor economy, lack of labor discipline, lack of workers for a successful outcome, morals molded to the survival, hopelessness, disbelief, apathy and mass exodus, which was reflected in a long chain of failures, some thunderous as that of the sugar harvest of 1970, demonstrating the unfeasibility of a “model” based on absolute state ownership.
If, before the current disaster, it had been still possible to make limited changes to the productive sphere, after the damage caused — from economics to the spirituality of Cubans — it is now impossible to introduce reforms in the material base without simultaneously (following Marx’s thesis) making changes in the legal and political superstructure. Currently, any governmental action aimed at increasing production and productivity, delivered from the totalitarian mentality is doomed to failure, again.
If an expansion of self-employment is aimed at providing employment for the million and a half workers to be laid off, and at generating outputs and services that the state is unable to create, then the list of 178 activities permitted will need to be annulled and replaced with a list of only the few things that are not permitted. The rest will be taken care of by citizens’ initiatives which have given ample proof of their potential, much more so in a country like Cuba with such a high level of education.
To stimulate the growth of this sector, instead of trying to avoid the formation of a national business, we should add a policy characterized by low taxes and bank credits, creation of wholesale trade, implementation of the rights of association and free access to information, which involve the implementation of human rights, the basis of human dignity.
Only in this way can Cubans come to have an interest in the changes. However, despite the statements about changing whatever is necessary to change, the ideological bonds and the responsibilities and interest incurred for more than half a century act as an impediment to the Government with regards to the political will necessary to make the structural changes that our reality demands.
This limitation of the Government did not make light of the attempt to update the model, as the measures being implemented generate a scenario more promising than the stagnation that has prevailed until now. Ultimately, the process of democratization has to be brought forward with the reforms. The limitations of the proposed measures themselves reveal the absence of a genuine willingness to change, and are generating new contradictions, at a time when changes inside and outside the country prevent any going back, as has happened in the past.
The update of the model must come, on the one hand, from self-employment rather than the revival of small and medium enterprises; on the other hand, the process requires a variety of forms of ownership and management that would enable real participation of workers through service cooperatives, self-management and private property, which in turn implies the putting in place the rights and freedoms for citizens’ civic participation.
This is about a process, although the initial impetus may be the preservation of power, the evolution of limited changes could lead to real democratization for Cuba. It is a challenge for the Cubans, especially those for whom the nation is greater than ideologies and political parties. Therefore, the problem is not to oppose the updating of the model, but to turn it into a step toward comprehensive change and the democratization of Cuba.