This article grew out of a debate on the Internet with supporters of Tony Cliff's "state capitalist" theory. This theory posits the existence of capitalism in places like the Soviet Union. What you could say on behalf of Tony Cliff himself is that the theory was based on a thorough investigation of class relations in the former Soviet Union.
Any theory can rapidly turn into dogma and "state capitalism" is no exception. I noticed an eagerness to apply this category to Cuba by his supporters on the Internet in the absence of any supporting data, either historical or economic. I rose to the challenge and presented the case that Cuba was socialist, not capitalist. The information that I provided below was received with stony silence by the Cliff supporters.
Availability of Basic Goods and Services per Capita--Cuba 1958-1978 (1958 = 100)
from Claes Brundenius, "Growth With Equity: The Cuban Experience (1959-1980)", World Development Vol. 9, No. 11/12(1981) pp. 1083-96
1. Decline in clothing figures can be explained by the fact that a lot of raw material for the textile industry was imported from the US and needed to be replaced by local inputs, a structural transformation that was long and difficult.
2. Lack of growth in housing is because priority for the construction industry was given to building infrastructure, schools and industrial plants.
3. Gains in health took place despite the fact that 1 out of 3 doctors left Cuba in the first 3 years of the revolution. The infant mortality rate in Cuba, up until the recent economic crisis, was one of the lowest in the developing world.
4. The illiteracy rate in Cuba went from 23.6 percent to 3.9 percent in less than one year. This was corroborated by UNESCO and described as a feat unequaled in the history of education. In 1979 compulsory schooling embraced 92 percent of all children between 6-16 years old, and more than 1/3 of the total population was attending some form of school.
Private Schools in Cuba were abolished in 1961. Before 1961, roughly 15 percent of grade school students and 30 percent of high school students attended private schools which were primarily white. This had led to a 2 tier system in which under-financed public schools were attended by blacks and poorer whites, while the private schools were confined to the privileged elite. This is the state of affairs, of course, that is emerging in the United States.
After the abolition of private schools, the bulk of Cuban students started attending fully integrated schools where blacks and whites received equal treatment.
The Cuban revolution also attacked racism in housing. It instituted an immediate 50 percent reduction in rent and eventually ownership of the houses was granted to the former tenants. Thus, more blacks as a percentage of the population own their homes in Cuba than in any country in the world according to Lourdes Casal ("The Position of Blacks in Brazilian and Cuba Society", Minority Rights Group Report No. 7, pp. 11-27)
Getting women out of the home to join men as equal partners in the work-force has been a real challenge to the woman's movement historically. How has the Cuban revolution fared?
Between 1953 and 1974, there was a 14.1 percent increase in the number of salaried women in the national work force. Even more significant were the changes in the kind of work women did. In 1953 domestic work represented 25 percent of the total female work force, but by 1970 this occupational category had disappeared.
Another change involved the elimination of underage women in the work-force. In 1953, women ten to fourteen years old represented 10.9 percent of the work-force, but by 1970 nearly no women workers could be found in this age category.
Finally, certain sectors of industry, which had been traditionally closed to women before the revolution now saw the highest percentage of female employment, including textiles, beverages, tobacco, chemicals, food and graphic arts. So reports Max Azicri in "International Journal of Women's Studies", Vol. 2, No. 1 (1981).
Behind these stark statistics is the living reality of positive change in the lives of poor Cubans after the revolution. It explains their defeat of the contra army and their US backers at the Bay of Pigs. It also explains their willingness to put up with the difficulties of life under embargo and economic crisis.
Behind these changes also is the fierce will of the Cuban revolutionaries who didn't wait until "civil society" had matured before they took gun in hand and overthrew Batista. No other country in Latin America or the Caribbean made as much social and economic progress in as short a time as Cuba did in the early and middle years of the revolution.
This progress was made at the expense of the rich and many middle- class Cubans. The Cuban revolution followed, in other words, the opposite trajectory of the "trickle-down" policies of recent US administrations such as Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Resources in Cuba were diverted from the cities into the impoverished countryside. The Cubans who did not want to make a sacrifice in the name of social justice fled to Miami.
Cuba's experiment in socialism may or may not survive the US embargo, the end of Soviet support, or the current economic crisis, which affects not only Cuba but every developing, agriculture-based country. But whatever the eventual fate, the model that has existed will continue to inspire Latin Americas for generations to come.
What explains these improvements others than the existence of a government dedicated to reducing class oppression? There can of course be no other explanation other than the will of the Cuban Communist Party to build socialism. As to the underlying dynamics that propelled the Cuban revolutionaries on the path toward socialism, we can consult James O'Connor's superb "Origins of Socialism in Cuba" written in 1968, and available from Monthly Review Press in New York. O'Connor is better know today as a primary theorist of red- green issues but his early work on Cuba is first-rate and deserves to be consulted today for not only excellent information about Cuba but as a model of Marxist analysis.
What did Cuba look like under Fulgencio Batista, the dictator who Castro toppled?
The social and economic contradictions of the island then were typical of nearly all Latin American countries that had been exploited historically by imperialism.
The Cuban economy was based on export agriculture. The main crop was sugar, followed by tobacco, cattle and coffee. Agricultural resources were underutilized. For the hacienda owner, this was no problem. It might mean spending January through March in the US or Europe, shopping or attending the opera. For the farm worker, this meant unemployment and suffering. In 1954, for instance, Cuba's 424,000 agricultural wage earners averaged only 123 days of work; farm owners, tenants and sharecroppers also fared poorly, averaging only 135 days of employment.
Unemployment led to all sorts of hardship. 43% of the rural population was illiterate. 60% lived in huts with earth floors and thatched roofs. 2/3 lived without running water and only 1 out of 14 families had electricity. Daily nutrition was terrible. Only 4% of rural families ate meat regularly. Most subsisted on rice, beans and root crops. Bad diet and housing caused bad health. 13% of the population had a history of typhoid, 14% tuberculosis and over 1/3 intestinal parasites.
The main cause of backwardness in the countryside was the cartel nature of agriculture, particularly the sugar industry. A production quota was assigned to each cane grower, based on figures originating from 1937. The quota was divided into 2 export quotas, one for the US and one for the rest of the world, and 1 quota for special reserves. The reserve quota was a major problem since it caused over 1/5 of Cuban land to lay idle.
The quota system also fostered inefficiency and prevented the rational use of agricultural resources. Primarily, it inflated costs and discouraged new investments. Clearly, the goal of modernizing and rationalizing agriculture was not "socialist". Any capitalist reformer could have taken a look at Cuba and said that capitalism needed to be unleashed in order for the economy to develop. The cartel structure should have been smashed and productive agricultural practices encouraged.
It was actually Fulgencio Batista's desire to reform the Cuban economy which motivated his seizure of power and many of his policies in the 1950s. He created public "New Deal" types of agencies to foster agricultural development. Included was the Agriculture and Industrial Development Bank, organized in 1951 to provide cheap credit to Cuba's farmers and home industry. The Cuban Bank for Foreign Commerce was established in 1954 in order to finance Cuban exports, especially coffee.
These institutions and the rhetoric that accompanied their formation had an unexpected impact on the consciousness of the Cuban people. They conditioned the people to accept a more "activist" type of government and raised expectations of rural society. It was this change in consciousness that paved the way for the Cuban revolution, especially when Batista failed to deliver what he had promised.
What accounted for this failure?
It can be primarily explained as the inability of capitalism to provide rapid development in a neocolonial society, no matter what the intentions are of reformist regimes. In Cuba, this meant that Batista could not break the power of the cartels, which exercised political power. It also meant that specialization in export commodities gave the Cuban economy a distorted aspect. Land and labor were utilized poorly. A mixed agriculture could lift the technical skills of the workforce. A plantation economy based on sugar cane condemned rural Cuba to backwardness.
In addition to the straitjacket imposed on production by the Cuban bourgeoisie, there was the additional penalty paid by Cuba's dependence on the United States. The volume of sugar that entered the United States was set by the US Congress and subject to the whims of the American economy. Cuba needed economic independence but there was no motivation for the native ruling classes to fight for it.
One other particular feature of the Cuban political economy which fueled the revolutionary movement of the 1950s was the widespread corruption. The excellent "Godfather Part II" dramatized this state of affairs and, if anything, understated the degree of corruption. In higher circles of the public economy, graft accounted for about 1/4 of state expenditures. A high official of the Batista regime stated, "In the years preceding the revolution, the average amount of graft in public works (alone) cost as much as the works themselves." Corruption, it should be added, was wiped out by the revolutionary government in a couple of months.
If capitalism had been condemning Cuba to backwardness, what hopes could be placed in the working-class, the historical agent of social transformation. Jorn Andersen, quoting the bourgeois journalist K.S. Karol, commented that the revolution did not involve the working- class. I will have much more to say about this in a subsequent post, but it is important at this point to take a cold, clinical view of the state of the organized labor movement in Cuba in the 1950s.
The leaders of Cuba's most powerful unions owed their position not only to the ranks, but to the political bosses who ran the country. They also had developed a relationship to Batista that was decidedly non- confrontational. Batista actually had a "pro-labor" policy not too unlike Peron's in Argentina. He supported a compulsory check-off of dues in 1955. Strikes with narrow economic aims were almost invariably won by labor. In 1958, a bad year for the island economy, four thousand telecommunications workers got wage increases ranging from $15 to $35 monthly, and the oil workers received raises ranging from 7 to 13 percent. Racist hiring practices were also widespread in Cuban industry and the unions did little to fight them.
It was necessary for a revolutionary government to introduce a more rational method of wages and labor classification. The "aristocracy" of labor in Cuba had no intrinsic interests in these types of changes and was lukewarm to the more thoroughgoing anticapitalist aspects of the revolution. They would of course prefer to see an end to the Batista dictatorship, but looked forward to nothing more than melioration within a capitalist framework. When the July 26th Movement took strong measures to overturn the traditional role of labor in Cuban society, some sectors of the left interpreted this as simply a means of consolidating political control by the Castro "dictatorship".
The reality, however, was that elimination of, for example, double time pay on the Cuban waterfront was absolutely necessary for the economy to move forward. In tobacco manufacturing, new work norms shocked the existing factories. In one plant, employment was reduced by 20% as superfluous workers were sent to technical schools of one sort of another. Casual and part-time employment was eliminated, however, thereby raising the income of non-privileged workers. To approach the Cuban revolution from a narrow economistic or trade union perspective is a big mistake.
The Castro government instituted a series of structural economic changes that resolved many of the long-standing weaknesses of the economy. These changes must be understood in class terms. While Batista and Castro both stressed "development", it will be obvious that Castro's path followed an entirely class dynamic.
Since Cuban capitalism was mostly based on agriculture, it would be useful to review the changes that took place in this part of the economy. From its beginnings in radical agrarian reform, the Cuban revolution rapidly began to attack private property at its roots. This left Cuban agriculture as one of the most purely socialist in character the world had ever seen.
Agrarian reform was the most important "class" question the Cuban revolution faced. The agency that took charge was the newly-formed National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), most of whose leadership was drawn from the battle-tested guerrilla ranks. The Communist Party, like their cothinkers in the Spanish Civil War, counseled moderation to the "barbudos", but the Castroites paid no attention.
Cattle ranchers were first on INRA's hit-list. In Camaguey province, the cattle-raising heartland, the local INRA chief ordered the confiscation of all large and medium sized ranches. In 1959, 900 ranches totaling over a million hectares became state property. The confiscations actually led to some economic chaos not entirely dissimilar to what occurred in the USSR in the late 1920s as many of the bigger ranches rapidly liquidated their assets. The Cuban revolutionaries made a political calculation that such sweeping transformations would strengthen the revolution in the long run since the elimination of the latifundio would garner it support from the land- starved rural masses.
Since sugar cane was the linchpin of the Cuban economy, the rural workers based in this sector could serve as a powerful locomotive for the revolution. They outnumbered the middle-class sugar farmers by five to one. They were also the favored class of the revolution which promised to bring full-time employment, higher wages, medical care, education and recreational facilities to the deprived countryside.Thus the large and middle-sized farms were confiscated in an effort to provide a better life for the workers. By the end of 1960, the state controlled most of Cuba's productive farmland: 4 million hectares of sugar and ranch land and over 2 million acres of rice, tobacco and other properties. The rural bourgeoisie had been expropriated.
Now that the land belonged to the state, what development strategies could be carried out? Cuba's prospects were good. Unlike the Soviet Union, China or Nicaragua, the Cuba revolution inherited an economy that was not devastated by civil war. The factories, fields, ports, railroads, and communications were in good shape. Neither was there the runaway inflation that paralyzed development efforts in Nicaragua. The Cuban Peso was at a par with the US dollar when Batista was overthrown.
Since the Cuban bourgeoisie had not made efficient use of the generous holdings of land at its disposal, the government calculated that two birds could be killed with one stone. Unemployment would be attacked by creating state farms out of the confiscated properties. Also, Cuba's trade imbalance could be remedied by making better use of farmland, thereby increasing export commodities. These interrelated goals became the driving-force behind agrarian planning.
Planning went through two general stages: January-December, 1959; to 63; from 1963 on.
In the first phase, Castro attempted to divert land from sugar production into the production of food crops. The notion was that Cuba needed to rely less on food imports. The government also expected to use advanced technology in the sugar fields to increase yields in the reduced acreage.
This phase of planning was quite daring and reflected growing confidence in Cuba's rural proletariat and impoverished peasants. First, INRA ordered the immediate, large-scale diversification of agriculture on sugar cooperatives and state farms. Almost overnight, Cuba's farmers and workers were expected to transform agriculture from a more or less monoculture based on sugar to one more closely resembling Western Europe's more variegated farmlands. Rene Dumont, a French agronomist who later would become hostile to Castro, put forward an extreme version of this policy.
This phase of agricultural planning looked better on paper than it did in reality. The big problem was that Cuba lacked the technical education and training of the rural popular classes to carry it out. Like Nicaragua and the USSR, Cuba was hampered by the poor cultural conditions inherited from the previous regimes. Castro had hoped that the pre-revolutionary slogan of "sin azucar no hay pais" (without sugar, there is no Cuba) would be a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, Cuba could not bypass objective conditions. It was forced to retreat and make sugar the central focus of all development efforts. If enough revenues could be generated from the sale of sugar abroad, then investments into technical training could allow diversification of Cuban agriculture in the future.
All of these calculations, needless to say, were made on behalf of the Cuban proletarian and poor peasantry in the countryside. As opposed to Algeria, where they were simply "inputs" into a technocratic development model, the Cuban revolution put the people first.
By comparison, the third phase of agricultural planning from 1963 on was much more realistic. Not only did it make the decision to focus on sugar production, it also decided to pursue the advantage of becoming integrated with the world socialist economy. Unlike Algeria, which opted to forge alliances with Western banks and multinational corporations, Cuba elected to cast its fate with the planned economies of the USSR and her allies. By 1965 this strategy began to bear fruit, as production rose by 25 %.
The turn toward more intensive export agriculture required more irrigation, fertilizer and mechanical equipment than ever before. Unlike the unproductive cartel economy of Batista's days, the socialist farming sector of Cuba was driven at full force. Workers were more productive than ever because they felt that they had a stake in the system. The growth of hospitals, schools and recreational facilities in the countryside, an end to unemployment, and sharp attacks on racism convinced the rural masses to produce harder than ever since they were in essence producing for themselves.
As the revolution deepened and took on more and more of a proletarian character, profound political changes began to take place within Cuba. These changes also acted upon the tempo of the revolution, adding fuel to the locomotive that was pushing it in a more and more radical direction. Once Castro had decided to align himself with the workers, he never turned back. He was never one to waver.
In Edward Boorstein's "The Economic Transformation of Cuba", we discover the ways in which ordinary workers, including blacks--the most oppressed--asserted themelves:
By October 1960 most of this administrative and technical personnel had left Cuba. The Americans and some of the Cubans were withdrawn by the home companies of the plants for which they worked, or left of their own accord: they found themselves unable to understand the struggle with the United States, unwilling to accept the new way of life that was opening up before them.
The Revolutionary Government had to keep the factories and mines going only with a minute proportion of the usual trained and experienced personnel. A few examples can perhaps best give an idea of what happened.
Five of us from the Ministry of Foreign Commerce, on a business visit, were being taken through the Moa nickel plant. In the electric power station--itself a large plant--which served the rest of the complex, our guide was an enthusiastic youngster of about 22. He did an excellent job as guide, but his modesty as well as his age deceived us and only toward the end of our tour did we realize that he was not some sort of apprentice engineer or assistant--he was in charge of the plant. I noticed that he spoke English well and asked him if he had lived in the States. "Sure," he answered, "I studied engineering at Tulane." As soon as he finished, he had come back to work for the Revolution and had been placed in charge of the power plant.
In another part of the complex, the head of one of the key departments was a black Cuban who had about four years of elementary school education. He had been an observant worker and when engineer of his department left he knew what to do--although he didn't really know why, or how his department related to the others in the plant. Now to learn why, he was plugging away at his minimo tecnico manual--one of the little mimeographed booklets which had been distributed throughout industry to improve people's knowledge of their jobs.
And so on throughout the Moa plant. The engineer in charge of the whole enterprise, who had a long cigar in his hand and his feet on the desk as he gave us his criticisms of the way our Ministry was handling his import requirements, was about 28 years old. His chief assistants were about the same age and some of them were obviously not engineers.
Yet Moa was made to function. Even laymen are struck with its delicate beauty--a testament to American engineering skill. 'Es una joya'--it's a jewel, say the Cubans. It is much more impressive than the larger but older nickel plant at Nicaro. Shortly after the nickel ore is clawed out of the earth by giant Bucyrus power shovels, it a pulverized and mixed with water to form a mixture 55 percent and 45 percent water. From then on all materials movement is liquids, in pipes, automatically controlled. The liquids move through the several miles of the complex, in and out of the separate plants, with the reducers, mixing vats, etc. Everything depends on innumerable delicate instruments, and on unusual materials, resistant to exceptions high temperatures and various kinds of chemical reaction. The margin for improvising in repairing or replacing parts is small-much smaller than in the mechanized rather than the automated Nicaro plant. Yet the Moa plant was in operation when we were there: two of the main production lines were going-and all four would have been going jf it had not been necessary to cannibalize two lines to get replacement parts for the other two.
Except that Moa was an especially complex and difficult operation, jt was typical of what happened throughout the mines and factories, and far that matter in the railroads, banks, department stores, and movie houses that had been taken over. The large oil companies had expected that the Cubans would not be able to run the oil refineries. But they were wrong. When a co-worker and I talked to the young administrator of the now combined Esso-Shell refineries across the bay from Havana, he said, only half-jokingly, that he was about two lessons ahead of us in his understanding of how the refinery worked--and I wondered how it was kept going. But we had been around the ten minutes earlier and there it was--going.
A textile plant was placed in the charge of a bearded young man of about 23 who had impressed Major Guevara with his courage and resourcefulness in the Rebel Army. The former Procter and Gamble plant, which each year turns out several million dollars worth of soaps, and tooth paste, was run by a former physician who, besides being generally able, knew some chemistry. For many months, the Matahambre copper mine was in the charge of an American geologist, a friend of mine. After coming to Cuba to work for the Revolution, he had been pressed into service, though he was not a mining engineer and had never run a mine, because he was still the most qualified person available. He had to educate himself rapidly in mine ventilation; this was one of Matahambre's biggest problems at the time. I went through the mine with him once end it was obvious from the way the men treated him that he had gained their respect for the way he was handling his job.
Once an economist from the Ministry of Industry and I visited a large plant near Matanzas that produced rayon for tires, textiles, and export. We sensed at the plant that the harassed, outspoken administrator, almost the only engineer left, was all but sustaining the whole operation by himself. We got into a conversation about him with one one of his assistants. It turned out he had a bad leg of some sort which was giving him trouble; his father, who had owned valuable property in the nearby swanky bathing resort at Varadero was out of sympathy with the Revolution; and his brother, also an engineer, had left for Venezuela or some such place. But there he was, holding a meeting with his staff at 11 P.M., using all his energy to help keep the rayonera going.
When you walked through a Cuban factory, you didn't need to be told that it was under new management--you could see and feel it everywhere. In the Pheldrake plant for producing wire and cable, formerly owned by Dutch and American interests, the whole office of administration was filled by men in shirt-sleeves who were unmistakably workers; the engineers had gone and the workers had taken over. On the main floor, a group of them were struggling--using baling wire techniques--to repair one of the extrusion machines so that the wire required by the Cuban telephone industry could be kept coming. In a large tobacco factory, the administrator was black; in the metal-working plant formerly owned by the American Car and Foundry Company, the head of a department turning out chicken incubators was black. Black people had not held such positions before the Revolution.
Under Fidel Castro's leadership, the Cuban revolution until recently has been something of an exception. It had not gone through a Thermidor-like process as so many other revolutions have undergone. Instead of sliding backwards into reaction and repression, the Cubans have deepened the revolutionary process, made it more egalitarian and challenged imperialism with an audacious foreign policy. The explanation for this can be found in the exceptional leadership personified by people like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and in the favorable objective circumstances afforded by the expansion and strengthening of the socialist world following WWII.
It is important to realize that the July 26th Movement that took power in 1959 was much less developed as a revolutionary party than the Bolshevik Party of Soviet Russia. Yet this Bolshevik Party degenerated and became more petty-bourgeois, incorporating millions of apparatchiks into its ranks while the July 26th Movement evolved into the Cuban Communist Party, one of the most battle-tested and accomplished revolutionary parties in the 20th century.
Early in 1959, the revolutionary government headed by Fidel Castro consisted of a nineteen man Cabinet, the National Bank and other key economic institutions, and the rebel army. By early 1960 only five of the original Cabinet members remained in their posts. Revolutionaries replaced reformers in the National Bank and the rebel army purged itself of anti-Communist elements.
The basic cause of these changes was differences over the ownership of private property and the direction that the Cuban economy would take. Cuban society was divided over these issues and this was reflected at the top in the ruling circles of government.
The struggle over the role of private property involved four distinct tendencies.
The first of these was the tiny group of big bourgeoisie who opposed Batista. While they welcomed the introduction of political liberties and end to corruption, they were appalled by the attacks on private property and went into opposition almost immediately. They were a marginal force.
The second of these was a much broader milieu of educated and urban middle-class elements who either joined with the July 26th Movement or identified with it. They thought the revolution should satisfy the most basic social needs of the population but only within the context of bourgeois democracy. This group had neither an independent political base nor the confidence of Fidel Castro who oriented more specifically to the rural popular classes.
The third was the PSP (Communist Party). On paper this Moscow- oriented group, like all others, was for the elimination of private property. In practice they had a temporizing "go-slow" attitude. It warned Castro against the sweeping agrarian reform and thought he was moving too hastily in the period of nationalization of industry in 1960.
Finally, there were the revolutionaries grouped around Fidel Castro. They had backgrounds in the ill-fated Moncada attack of 1953, the subsequent Granma assault, the urban underground movement and the Student Directorate, a Fidelista current. This group had two defining characteristics. It believed in armed struggle. It also believed in carrying out its program no matter the consequences. The most telling role they played was in driving forward the great agricultural transformations of 1959-1960.
This was most dramatically expressed in the repression of Hubert Matos, a rebel military officer who had not fought with the guerrillas but had supplied them with reinforcements and arms. (Matos in some respects resembled Eden Pastora, a former guerrilla who thought the Sandinista government had turned "Communist" and went to armed opposition from bases in Costa Rica.) Matos had become the chief of INRA, the agrarian reform agency, in Camaguey. Matos was an anticommunist and did not support let alone initiate many aspects of the Agrarian Reform. Instead of carrying out expropriations of cattle ranches and sugar plantations in the province, he spent most of his time delivering fiery anticommunist speeches to bemused soldiers in the Rebel Army. Castro dropped the ax without mercy. Matos was removed by his post in October 1959 and thrown in prison.
As it became more and more obvious that Castro meant business, the middle-class reformers took up the struggle against him. As he became shorn of this base of support, Castro turned more and more to the PSP which, for all its faults, had no special dedication to private property. The PSP, while by no means a revolutionary party, had some loyalties to the working-class that it was based on. This made it a more trustworthy ally to the revolutionaries grouped around Fidel Castro. Of course, radicals who hate "Stalinism" more than they love revolution would never have made a maneuver like this.
The July 26th Movement, the PSP and the student-based Revolutionary Directorate and some small left groups fused into the Integrated Revolutionary Organization (ORI) in July, 1961. The PSP used its influence in the new formation to carry out some bureaucratic power-plays. This came immediately to the attention of Fidel Castro who launched an attack on Anibal Escalante, the head of the former PSP. In the words of the Second Declaration of Havana in February of 1962, Escalante was singled out for "sectarianism, dogmatism and a lack of broadness in analyzing each social layer." He and the cadres loyal to him were then purged from the party. Marxists who describe Castro as a "Stalinist" of course lack the means to analyze this struggle.
Castro took additional measures to prevent the Moscow loyalists from hijacking the revolution. He was careful to keep the Rebel Army, the People's Militias and the police apart from the PSP dominated ORI. Castro did not have to quote chapter and verse of "State and Revolution" to make the point that he understood the nature of the state. Castro is no catechist.
Behind all of these organizational maneuvers, there was another story taking place at the grass roots. Castro was taking measures to win him popularity among the workers and peasants and cement their loyalty. His sweeping measures against capitalism in the countryside paid handsome dividends to the working-class. In February, 1959, only 27.9 per cent and 51.6 per cent of the rural and urban labor forces, respectively, earned $75 a month or more. In February, 1961 the percentages had risen to 39.1 and 59.5 per cents. At the same time unemployment had dropped from 29.6 per cent of the work force in January 1959 to 20.9 per cent in January, 1961.
As the government deployed more and more rural health and educational programs, the support deepened among the poorest. Smaller farmers also enjoyed the abolition of rent and the ready availability of cheap credit, machinery and technical aid.
Every single one of these measures favored the poor and working- class. This was a government that had taken an entirely different path than all the other reformist governments of Latin America. For a precedent, one would have to look elsewhere, namely Soviet Russia.
The political evolution of the Cuban revolutionaries has been a subject that has preoccupied scholars, especially anticommunists. They, unlike the acolytes of Tony Cliff, are preoccupied with the question of how Castro managed to keep his Marxist rather than his capitalist beliefs a secret when he was in the hills fighting against Batista.
The Cubans were a breed apart. They were driven to put practice before ideology for a number of reasons. In the first place, the sort of liberal-reform ideology that motivated the middle-class parties in Costa Rica had never sunk deep roots in Cuba. Castro had very few illusions in moderate reform.
The official Communist line on revolution in a country like Cuba had little appeal for him as well since it placed ill-founded hopes in this very same middle-class. The PSP had the typical cautious attitude of Latin American CPs and could not envision a model unlike the USSR or China's. They, like our Trotskyists, had a very limited political imagination.
Castro eventually began to openly embrace Marxism. At a trade union convention in November 1961, he said that the revolution was "of the humble, by the humble, and for the humble." The revolutionary government was one of "the working-class and the peasantry." In the following month he publicly announced to the world that he was a "Marxist-Leninist", a claim that tiny groups in advanced capitalist countries that have much more modest achievements are never shy about making.
Castro's embrace of Marxism could be challenged by some on the left since he has not larded his speeches with references to the 18th Brumaire. The case of Che Guevara, a chief architect of Cuban socialism, is much more problematic for sectarians since Guevara was solidly in the Marxist tradition.
Che Guevara had some of the most interesting insights into the problems of socialist construction since the days of Lenin. He is better known as a guerrilla fighter, but his essays on planning and other economic matters deserve to be better known.
The main importance of Guevara is that he provides an alternative to the false dichotomy set up between Stalinist "planning" and the implicitly capitalist logic of "market socialism". During our fierce debate over "market socialism" on the Marxism list, any number of Guevara's statements could have been brought to bear on the discussion.
Guevara was a stickler for accounting and controls, as was Lenin. At a speech given to a ceremony to winners of socialist emulation awards in the Ministry of Industry in October of 1965, he described the importance of controls:
"Rigorous controls are needed throughout the entire organizational process. These controls begin at the base, in the production unit. They require statistics that one can feel confident are exact, as well as good habits in using statistical data. It's necessary to know how to use statistics. These are not just cold figures--although that's what they are for the majority of administrators today, with the exception of output figures. On the contrary, these figures must contain within them an entire series of secrets that must be unveiled. Learning to interpret these secrets is the task of the day.
"Controls should also be applied to everything related to inventories in a unit or enterprise: the quantity on hand of raw materials, or, let's say, of spare parts or finished goods. All this should be accounted for precisely and kept up to date. This kind of accounting must never be allowed to slip. It is the sole guarantee that we can carry on work with minimal chance of interruption, depending on the distance our supplies have to travel.
"To conduct inventory on a scientific basis, we also have to keep track of the stock of basic means of production. For example, we must take inventory of all the machinery a factory possesses, so that this too can be managed centrally. This would give a clear idea of a machine's depreciation--that is, the period of time over which it will wear out, the moment at which it should be replaced. We will also find out if a piece of machinery is being underutilized and should be moved to some other place.
"We have to make an increasingly detailed analysis of costs, so that we will be able to take advantage of the last particle of human labor that is being wasted. Socialism is the rational allocation of human labor.
"You can't manage the economy if you can't analyze it, and you can't analyze it if there is no accurate data. And there is no accurate data, without a statistical system with people accustomed to collecting data and transforming it into numbers."
Guevara had confidence that socialism could be built if the proper resources and management were allocated to the task. He believed in technology and progress. Like Lenin, he admired many of the accounting and management breakthroughs found in the advanced capitalist countries.
Lenin was preoccupied with these matters immediately after the birth of the new Soviet state and minced no words about the value of strict accounting controls. In the "Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government" written in the spring of 1918, Lenin said:
"The state, which for centuries has been an organ for oppression and robbery of the people, has left us with a legacy of the people's supreme hatred and suspicion of everything that is connected with the state. It is very difficult to overcome this, and only a Soviet government can do it. Even a Soviet government, however, will require plenty of time and enormous perseverance to accomplish it. This 'legacy' is especially apparent in the problem of accounting and control--the fundamental problem facing the socialist revolution on the morrow of the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. A certain amount of time will inevitably pass before the people, who feel free for the first time now that the landowners and the bourgeoisie have been overthrown, will understand--not from books, but from their own, Soviet experience--will understand and feel that without comprehensive state accounting and control of the production and distribution of goods, the power of the working people, the freedom of the working people, cannot be maintained, and that a return to the yoke of capitalism is inevitable."
Those with a superficial understanding of Soviet economic history might assume that the link between Lenin and Guevara is Stalin. The popular notion we have of Stalin surrounded by technocrats planning out every last detail of each five year plan to the last turbine in the last electrical generating plant is nothing but a myth. Stalin was opposed to planning, accounting and controls.
Stalin chose arbitrary target-dates for big projects and demanded their completion on schedule. His main interest was getting the job done, no matter how slipshod the results. Every plan submitted to him was speeded up. The professionals who prepared the plans were appalled. Eventually Molotov got rid of these professionals and replaced them with yes-men.
The unplanned character of the Soviet economy forced continuous compensations and administrative controls. If a construction crew would not work twelve hours a day to complete a road, then additional foremen and cops were necessary to control them. As more and more bottlenecks appeared, more and more "interventions" were required to keep the whole ungainly machine going. Thus a command economy built on a centralized pyramid model grew up in the 1930s. This had nothing to do with Lenin's original intent.
When the Cuban revolution was in its infancy, economists in the Soviet bloc were grappling with the aftermath of Stalin's command economy. Their tendency was propose that markets be introduced in order to make these top-heavy economies more efficient. They thought that the market could make better investment decisions than a bureaucrat.
In many cases, the market socialists took inspiration from the NEP of the early 1920s. Wlodzimiers Brus, a Polish economist, wrote the following:
"The adoption of the New Economic Policy partially changed the situation among theoreticians. It became necessary to work out theoretically the function of the forms of market relations between city and countryside, along with the consequences stemming from the resurgence of the commodity-monetary economy in the socialist sector itself (economic accounting). Analysis of the market and of the conclusions for planning was to occupy an important place in both economic policy and theoretical discussions. The question of money was taken up.
"The first signs began to appear at the time of a change in opinion among Marxist economists on the relationship between the plan and the market. For some, the idea that the market and commodity-money forms were the opposite of planning began to be transformed into the conception of the market as a mechanism under the plan."
Guevara resisted the temptation to adopt NEP-like mechanisms. He saw the consequences of market reforms in Eastern Europe in the mid- 1960s and understood their underlying capitalist logic. On a trip to Yugoslavia in 1959, he characterized the situation as one in which, "In broad strokes, with an element of caricature, you could describe Yugoslav society as managerial capitalism with socialist distribution of the profits." The model for Cuba would not be the NEP or current- day Yugoslavia or Poland, but the original vision Lenin had for the Soviet Union: planning within the context of a socialist and egalitarian society.
Guevara laid out his main ideas on socialist construction in a so-called "budgetary finance system." According to Carlos Tablada, author of "Che Guevara: Economics and Politics in the Transition to Socialism", Cuba would draw upon the following measures to make a planned economy work:
--advanced accounting techniques that permitted a better system of controls and an efficient, centralized management; as well as studies and practical application of methods of centralization and decentralization by the monopoly corporations;
--computer technology applied to the economy and management, and the application of mathematical methods to the economy;
--techniques of programming production and production controls;
--use of budgetary techniques as an instrument of financial planning and controls;
--techniques of economic controls through administrative means;
--the experience of the socialist countries.
Che summed up the spirit of the system as follows:
"We propose a centralized system of economic management based on rigorous supervision within the enterprises, and, at the same time, conscious supervision by their directors. We view the entire economy as one big enterprise. In the framework of building socialism, our aim is to establish collaboration between all the participants as members of one big enterprise, instead of treating each other like little wolves."
If accounting and controls was all there was to Guevara's concept of socialism, we would be unimpressed. After all, isn't what the United States and other advanced capitalist countries going through today nothing but an exercise in bottom-line mentality. Wouldn't Guevara's seeming obsession with efficiency and control crush the human spirit? At the same time he was writing articles on the necessity to introduce technology into the Cuban economy, students at Berkeley University, many of whom were sympathetic to the Cuban revolution, were demanding not to be "mutilated, folded or spindled." The mid-1960s were a period when large-scale computing had begun to be felt everywhere, including the liberal arts universities.
Key to understanding the relationship between the overall goal of efficiency and the importance of putting people first can be found in Guevara's approach to the Marxist category of value. It would be value that would mediate between society and the economy.
Simply put, Guevara believed that the law of value operates as a "blind, spontaneous force" under capitalism. Socialism, on the other hand, would allow conscious action upon the law of value in accordance with an understanding of the greater needs of society. In his Manual of Political Economy, Guevara spells out the way the socialist state can make use of the law of value.
"We consider the law of value to be partially operative because remnants of the commodity society still exist. This is also reflected in the type of exchange that takes place between the state as supplier and as the consumer. We believe that particularly in a society such as ours, with a highly developed foreign trade, the law of value on an international scale must be recognized as a fact governing commercial transactions, even within the socialist camp. We recognize the need for this trade to assume a higher form in countries of the new society, to prevent a widening of the differences between the developed and the more backward countries as a result of the exchange. In other words, it is necessary to develop terms of trade that permit the financing of industrial developments even if it contravenes the price systems prevailing in the capitalist world market. This would allow the entire socialist camp to progress more evenly, which would naturally have the effect of smoothing off the rough edges and of unifying the spirit of proletarian internationalism.
"We reject the possibility of consciously using the law of value in the absence of a free market that automatically expresses the contradiction between producers and consumers. We reject the existence of the commodity category in relations among state enterprises. We consider all such establishments to be part of the single large enterprise that is the state (although in practice this has not yet happened in our country). The law of value and the plan are two terms linked by a contradiction and its resolution. We can therefore state that centralized planning is the mode of existence of socialist society, its defining characteristic, and the point at which man's consciousness is finally able to synthesize and direct the economy toward its goal--the full liberation of the human being in the framework of communist society."
The legacy of Che Guevara is found in his deeds and his words. The Cuban revolution is a continuing monument to the determination of the Cuban people to choose a socialist model. Study of the Cuban revolution will provide rich examples of not only how to organize to take power, but how to use it beneficially.
I strongly urge others to study Che Guevara's writings and Marxist studies of the Cuban revolution, such as James O'Connor's. This is a revolution that needs our help. The more intelligent our understanding of Cuba is, the better prepared we are to defend it. Defense of these last bastion of socialism will also help us to sustain the cause of socialism elsewhere. With all of its flaws, Cuba remains an alternative to the misery and oppression of the semicolonial world.