Understanding what is happening in Cuba right now is important to
understanding the tasks ahead for socialists, including those socialists who
ultimately want to create a science for the people. I offer the below as a
pretty good analysis of what it all means. Be sure to read the whole thing
whether you agree or not.


<> Cuba: Crash


As far back as ten years ago, an old pal of mine — much, much warmer to the
Cuban regime than I — described* Cuba *as a sort of jet airliner, circling,
circling and circling; a society up in the air and unsure where and how it
was going to land.

Looks now like the suspense is over. Time to buckle up your seat belts and
put your head between knees and pray you survive.

Just days after *Fidel Castro *said the Cuban economic model didn’t work and
then said he didn’t say it, the Cuban state has announced it is laying off a
million workers<>,
20% of the national work force.  So, I guess Fidel meant what he said he
didn’t say.  The layoffs had been rumored for months and come as little
surprise to most Cubans — though I think it fair to say that few predicted
the shock would be quite of this scale.

The Cuban trade unions of all people, in language similar to a *Thatcherite
*cabinet minister has applauded the move and has re-assured its nervous
members that nobody is really going to lose their job. Instead, they will be
transitioned into an expanded private sector. Service workers, like barbers
and taxi drivers, will be forced –for better or worse– to work for
themselves and to pay a Steve Forbes-like 25% flat tax for social services.
Others state employees will be “allowed” to form cooperatives.  Details are
sketchy but some factories might be semi-privatized. Some Cubans will be
allowed to open, or re-open small businesses like restaurants and so on. In
other words, a million or so Cubans (and their families) will be cut loose
to thrive or fail in a capitalist marketplace.

While the already wildly insufficient ration card will be maintained, state
subsidies on some basic goods are already being cut.

You can perfume this anyway you like but what we are seeing is a
second-drawer emulation of the Chinese model: the formal introduction of  an
expanded capitalist market(and all the class differences that come with it)
unaccompanied by any democratization of the political system.  In other
words, the worst of both worlds.

(Standby, now,  for the hilarious rationalizations for the introduction of
savage capitalism into the Cuban economy by “revolutionary” Castro
apologists here and abroad. NONE of whom will be able to say they had
previously called for or supported such a radical move bit now magically
think it’s great).

Make no mistake: This is is formal beginning of the post-Castro era and the
definitive end to any lingering illusions that Cuba was able to create a
new, more equal society.  It’s an oft-repeated joke, but one that is
absolutely true when Cubans wryly comment that ‘The only victory won by the
Cuban Revolution is the right not to work.”  True. True. True. It was meager
and always not enough. But everything in Cuban was given. Basically free
rent, free transportation, dirt cheap food staples and absolutely guaranteed
employment whether you showed up or not or if you performed any work or

Those days are now over.

Of course, the assurances that the laid off workers will all now be taken
care of by the new, larger, private sector are patently absurd. I think
readers of this blog, who actually live in a market society, know that*
 nothing* is guaranteed in the market.  Ask the 250 million rural Chinese
who have become permanent nomads how much they are guaranteed once the
state-granted “iron rice bowl” was snatched by similar capitalist reforms.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I think this sort of move has been inevitable for a
long, long time. The Cuban state cannot afford to bankroll the lives of all
its subjects. But the transition to as a civil as possible a market economy
should have begun two or three decades ago when it was already evident that
the Cuban system had failed. There might have been a much softer landing
rather than a jarring social crash.

And I do mean “system” because what exists in Cuba has never been and is not
* socialism*. It is *a freakish state plantation capitalism*.  Not only are
workers exploited directly by the all-powerful “people’s state” in which
they have no voice — but for two decades now the same Cuban state has acted
as a ruthless labor broker renting out portions of its oppressed and
powerless work force to foreign private capitalists who have been allowed to
set up shop in strategic sectors of the economy. The Cuban state charges the
foreign firm a market rate in hard currency and pays the worker a meager
Cuban wage while working for a Spanish, Dutch, Canadian or Mexican
capitalist cartel.

Dissident Havana-based writer Yoani Sanchez hits the mark when she

*One of the most frequent topics of discussions when talking about Cuba, is
whether the reality in which we live can really be called “socialist.” For
my generation, which grew up with books on Marxism, manuals on scientific
communism, and volumes of the writings of Lenin, it is difficult to find the
Cuban model in those works. When someone asks me about it I say that on this
island we live under state capitalism, or, as one perhaps could call it, on
the Party’s plantation… the family clan’s plantation…*

*My theory derives from those ancient books I was forced to study, where
there was one factor essential for characterizing a society as socialist:
the methods of production were in the hands of the workers. But what I see
around me is an “omni-proprietary” state, owner of the machines, the
industries, the infrastructure of a nation and of all the decisions made
about it. A master who pays the lowest possible wages and demands applause
and unconditional ideological fealty from his workers.*

*This miserly owner now warns that he cannot continue to employ more than
one million of those working on the public payroll. “To advance the
development and actualization of the economic model,” we are told payrolls
must be drastically reduced, while  opportunities for
see only the smallest and most controlled expansion. Even the Cuban Workers
Center — the only labor union allowed in the country — reports that the
layoffs will come soon and we must accept them with discipline. A sad
performance for those whose role it is to represent the rights of their
members vis-a-vis the powers-that-be and not vice versa.*

*What will the antiquated owner, who has possessed this Island for five
decades, do when his unemployed of today become the dissatisfied of
tomorrow? How will he react when the labor and economic autonomy of the
self-employed turns into ideological autonomy? Then we will hear cursing and
stigmatization of the prosperous, because any surplus — like the
presidential chair — can only be his.*

Well, you can agree or disagree with Yoani’s bitter attitude. But some
realities she suggests are undeniable even to those knuckleheads who think
this is just some or another “adjustment” in the ongoing work of the Cuban
Revolution. When you introduce a private sector, you formalize class
divisions.  Those divisions have long existed inside Cuban “socialism.”
Those who work in the “dollar sector” — in foreign-owned hotels, other
tourist sectors, and in some areas of foreign-owned enterprises, have been
able to, legally or otherwise, siphon off streams of hard currency. The end
result is that waiters, valets, maids and, of course, hookers, made upteen
times per month than a doctor or teacher.

Till now, this has been something that polite Cuban society just didn’t talk
about.  The new Cuba will now have to tolerate, somehow, people who are
getting openly wealthy while other less fortunate Cubans become their wage
slaves (without a real union). I don’t want to go all Marxist on you and
everything, but that new CLASS of self-employed and entrepreneurs are going
to want political representation as they grow. And they will get it. They
will either give rise to some sort of opposition, or much more likely, the
actually existing Cuban state will make a shift and will represent them.
Again, look at the Chinese model in which fabulously wealthy exploiters are
more than happy to be represented by a reptilian Communist Party which
serves to keep the workers nice and docile and ready to work 60 hours a

Likewise, Cuba is not only going to have a lot more rich people, it’s also
going to have a lot more poor people. All those people who are going to be
at the bottom of the private sector pyramid. You know, like the unemployed
and the homeless. I reckon that some of this might be mitigated for a short
period. But, remember, the state is already bankrupt. That’s why it’s laying
off one out of five of its workers.

One final thought that might interest only those engaged in Marxist trivia.
But much of the economic catastrophe in Cuba is a result not only of the
American embargo, but also because of* Fidel Castro’s* rather crude and
incomplete understanding of the Marxism he contends to embody.  *Marx *saw
“socialism” as an economic stage *superior* to capitalism.  He didn’t mean
morally superior. Marx meant that socialism, a society of equality, could
ONLY be built upon a fully developed and mature, indeed over-ripe, global
capitalist system. The ideal of socialism was to more equally distribute
wealth, not poverty. It wasn’t until* Stalin* himself bastardized and
perverted Marxist economic theory that any serious Marxist –anywhere–
believed  you could build socialism in one single
Let alone an impoverished third world island.

By now you have probably stopped reading so I might as well continue for
another few paragraphs.  In this regard, in the economic sphere, Castro is
one of the purest Stalinists in history.  There was no historical “law” nor
any moral reason why he couldn’t have led the revolution he did and even
proclaim his government “socialist.” But if he knew anything about Marxism
or just basic economics, he would have known that he had to *create* some
wealth, not just distribute the scarcity that he inherited.  To have
nationalized what Marxists call the “commanding heights” of the Cuban
economy in the early 1960′s — major industry, major services and major
financial sectors might have made a lot of sense and might have helped
accelerate Cuban economic development if done in the proper
political-economic framework.  But by 1965, Castro had gone way, way off the
rails as the state had literally expropriated one hundred per cent of all
economic activity (well, not exactly all activity as some peasants were
allowed to toil the land- but almost everything). That shoe shine boys and
snow cone vendors were nationalized and became state employees (!) were
merely comic relief.  The real tragedy resided in Castro eliminating all
small business, all private services and allowing no space for private
industrial or technological development, innovation and investment, even
within the bounds of a more just, more equal society (the bitter irony, of
course, is that a half century after the fact, he is forced to do so
anyway). FAIL.

For Castro a monopoly on political power was not enough, He demanded and
created an undemocratic monopoly on every aspect of economic life as well.
And I assure you, what Castro did in that regard, has NOTHING to do with a
Marxist conception of a society moving*toward* socialism.

OK. Enough of that. We can end this history lesson on a lighter note.`A
couple of decades ago as The Wall was crumbling, there was yet another
sardonic joke that became popular in Eastern Europe. It now, sadly, applies
to Cuba as well.  It went something like this:

Teacher: “Comrade Student Nikolai, what is the correct definition of the
word Communism?”

Student: (snapping to attention and beaming with self-satisfaction)” Comrade
Teacher, that is an easy question. Communism is the historical phase between
Capitalism and Capitalism.”

Michael Balter
Contributing Correspondent, Science
Adjunct Professor of Journalism,
New York University

Email:  [log in to unmask]

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor
have no food, they call me a Communist." -- Hélder Pessoa Câmara