Conceptualising Cuban socialism

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By Helen Yaffe June 19, 2017
Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Helen Yaffe's blog — On 1 June 2017, an extraordinary session of Cuba’s National Assembly of Peoples’ Power approved important documents which define the character, objectives and strategy of Cuban socialism into the post-Castro era. Since 2011, a programme of ‘updating’ the Cuban economic and social system has been underway, and these documents aim to establish the parameters within which those developments will take place. Helen Yaffe reports. Such measures are imperative given the greater space being opened up for market relations: private ownership and business, self-employment and foreign investment. Establishing social welfare and national development priorities will be essential to prevent market forces asserting a capitalist logic over Cuban development. Raul Castro will step down as President of the Council of State in February 2018,[1] and the Cuban leadership is working to strengthen the institutional basis of socialism to help safeguard its future when Cuba is no longer led by the ‘historic generation’ who carried out the Revolution.The National Assembly is the highest decision-making body in Cuba, with half of its 614 delegates voted up from Municipal and Provincial Assemblies, and the other half representing the mass, grassroots organisations. The documents approved are: Conceptualisation of the Economic and Social Model of Cuban Socialist Development (Conceptualisation) and the Guidelines of the Social and Economic Policy of the Party and the Revolution (the Guidelines). There was also discussion about a third key document, Basis for the Plan of Economic and Social Development up till 2030: Vision of the Nation, Axes and Strategic Sectors (Plan 2030).All three documents have been through a collective process of writing, analysis, modification and approval: consensus building practices which strengthen unity and commitment to socialist development. President Raul Castro described them as ‘the most studied, discussed and rediscussed documents in the history of the Revolution’. That is indicative of their importance.The GuidelinesIn 2007 the Cuban government created forums for everyone in the country to contribute to a ‘Great Debate’ about Cuba’s socio-economic problems and to suggest concrete solutions. Subsequently, the draft Guidelines were compiled, with proposals to address the issues raised. These were circulated for six months of public consultation prior to the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) in April 2011. After nearly nine million Cubans, out of a population of 11.2 million, debated the draft, 68% of the Guidelines were modified. The redrafted document returned to the National Assembly for further discussion, modification and approval. This formidable democratic process legitimised the Guidelines, which serve as the template for ‘updating the Cuban model’ to improve economic efficiency and productive capacity within a socialist framework. Numerous measures have been introduced since 2011 which implement the decisions they endorse. The Guidelines were updated again following the 7th Congress of the CCP in April 2016 for the 2016-2021 period.Following the April 2016 CCP Congress, the Conceptualisation and the Plan 2030 documents have been through a similar, though more selective, process of debate involving 1,600,000 Cubans in 47,000 meetings. These include members of the CCP and its youth wing, the Union of Young Communists (UJC), and representatives of the organisations of the masses and other sectors. On 19 May 2017, the three documents were approved by the Central Committee of the CCP. Further discussions took place in work commissions prior to the Assembly. A total of 208,161 changes were proposed. Consequently, 92% of the original Conceptualisation document was modified.Essentially these documents define the character of Cuban socialism: where it is going and how it will get there.[2] The three essential pillars of the ‘updated’ economic model are:1) Consolidation of the socialist state in its economic (enterprise), political (organs of peoples’ power and workers’ representation) and social (socialist welfare and cohesion) aspects.2) The introduction of a diversity of non-state forms of management and ownership.3) The primacy of planning which ‘takes into account’ the functioning of the market.Conceptualisation – where is it going?Cuban academics and government specialists worked on the Conceptualisation document for four years before it was presented to the CCP Congress in 2016. It is the first document to formally attempt to ‘conceptualise’ Cuba’s socialist system. It combines the theoretical base and essential characteristics of the economic and social model ‘to which we aspire’ as a result of the process of updating the system.It is not concerned with how Cuba’s economic and social model is updated, that is, the concrete measures to be taken and policies introduced to achieve the objectives. It presents the main changes necessary in order to ‘consolidate and advance the principles of our socialism and construct a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable socialism’. The order in which these descriptors appear does not change throughout the document. Sovereignty and independence are the only viable frameworks within which the other principles are deemed feasible. As Fidel asserted in 1998 during the Special Period: ‘Right now, we are basically defending the sovereignty and independence of our country and the achievements of socialism. If we can build a little bit of socialism we do it, but mainly we want to improve what we have done, to achieve excellence.’ Real ‘sovereignty’ means control over national resources and that denotes resistance to multinational corporations, finance capital and allied political interests which have stripped independence from underdeveloped nations.In the introduction, the Conceptualisation document highlights the Cuban feat of surviving the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the early 1990s, the gradual recuperation under the difficult conditions imposed by the US blockade,[3] international uncertainty and internal problems that have prevented social and economic development taking place at the required pace. It recognises Cuba’s structural problems, the result of economic underdevelopment. The principal problems outlined are: the imbalance between the availability and need for hard currency; the offer and supply of products and services; technological obsolescence; under-use and inefficiency of the productive base, infrastructure and the investment process. It flags up economic and social differences between Cubans which are not based on their work – arising from differential access to hard currency and inherited advantages – and the erosion of values, manifestations of corruption, crime, indiscipline and other forms of social marginalisation. It also lists the strengths perceived to facilitate the updating process, such as: unity and youth, majority support, universal social provision, strength of values, diverse and active civil society, potential economic capacity, and international prestige.The strategic objective is to promote and consolidate a prosperous and sustainable socialist society. The first chapter concerns ‘the principles of our socialism that sustain the Model’. These are: dignity, equality, and full human freedoms; the leading role of the CCP (a vanguard party, Martiana,[4] Marxist); socialist democracy based on the sovereign power of the people; the socialist state as the guarantor of freedom, independence, sovereignty, people’s participation and control, rights, and laws, and the people’s socialist ownership of the fundamental means of production, as the main form of national economic and socio-economic system based on the real power of the workers and communal ownership via the state.Chapter two on ‘ownership of the means of production’, notes that: ‘Property relations are determinants of any socio-economic system, given that the dominant form of ownership conditions the relations of production, distribution, exchange and consumption, that includes the appropriation of wealth.’ This is an essential point; property ownership is not a merely ‘economic’ fact, but has an impact on the reproduction of social relations, consciousness, class and ideology.Chapter three discusses ‘planned management of the economy’, asserting that: ‘The planning (management) system takes into account the presence of market relations, regulating the action of those laws and limiting the space for their operation, such that the laws of the market do not exert a leading role in the Model.’ It explains that: ‘The objective existence of the market is determined by the level of development of the productive forces, the heterogeneity of forms of ownership and management, the social division of labour in the national sphere and of our foreign trade.’ In revolutionary Cuba, there has always been recognition of the survival of market relations, expressions of the operation of the law of value. Indeed this was the principal theme addressed in the Great Debate, initiated by Che Guevara in the early 1960s.[5] These documents formally confirm the existence of small and medium private businesses in Cuba. This is a precondition for the introduction of urgently needed legislation to regulate and control them.Chapter four on ‘social policy’ states that the increased wealth created will be fairly distributed, listing economic and social rights but also referring to the importance of work as the source of welfare and prosperity. The ‘final considerations’ stress the importance of debate, the exchange of ideas, communication strategies, and ‘other actions that contribute to modifying obsolete conceptions and practices that constitute the main obstacle to updating the Model’. It asserts the role of the CCP in driving and controlling the updating process.Plan 2030 – how will it get there?Framed as the principal tool to achieve the objectives set out in the Conceptualisation document, the Plan 2030 document aims to ‘consolidate socialist planning as governing and defining in the national economic management system’. The document deals with 23 ‘guiding principles and central themes for elaborating the national plan of social and economic development’. The Plan, it states, needs to confront difficulties in every sphere and must be an exercise in participative construction that guarantees consensus to achieve the ‘vision of the nation 2030’: a ‘sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable’ Cuba.The six ‘strategic areas’ outlined are:
  • effective, socialist government and social integration;
  • productive transformation and international insertion;
  • infrastructure;
  • human potential – science, technology and innovation;
  • natural resources and the environment;
  • human development, justice and equity.
Each of these is divided into lists of general and specific objectives. However, like the Conceptualisation document there are no details about what policies will be formulated to achieve these objectives and how they may be implemented.The final section defines the ‘strategic economic sectors’ as those which:
  • represent a significant proportion of economic activity;
  • produce and export value added;
  • positively affect the balance of payments;
  • allow development of the productive sector and productive chains;
  • promote the internal market;
  • generate productive employment;
  • connect with new international technology paradigms;
  • remove logistical and infrastructural restraints;
  • contribute to sovereignty and national security;
  • promote environmental sustainability.
The actual sectors proposed as strategic are: construction; electro energy; telecommunications; transport, storage and trade logistics; logistics for network and hydraulic installations; tourism, including marine and nautical tourism; professional services, especially medical; non-sugar agro-industry and foodstuffs; pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and biomedical production; sugar-related agro-industry and derivatives; and light industry.The participative process behind the compilation of these documents serves to forge consensus and commitment to the collective process of building socialism in Cuba. The real test, however, will emerge in the practice of formulating, implementing and enforcing the policies required to achieve their aims. In practice, how can market forces be both encouraged, as a means of increasing employment and enterprise, and constrained, which is imperative to maintain the dominance of non-exploitative social-relations? These are the difficult challenges facing Cuban socialism.Helen Yaffe is author of Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2009 and a Fellow in the Economic History Department at the London School of Economics. Notes[1] He is expected to remain First Secretary of the CCP, possibly until 2021.[2] This summary is based on the first publicly circulated drafts, as the updated version had not been issued at the time of writing.[3] The US blockade is only mentioned a handful of times; a clear refutation of those who accuse the Cuban government of using the blockade as an ‘excuse’ for mismanagement and economic failure.[4] Following the ideas, actions and legacy of Cuban national independence hero José Martí.[5] See Helen Yaffe, Che Guevara and the Great Debate, Past and Present