Did Castro steer Cuba towards socialism in the late 1980s?

by Mark, Detroit, in CV #11, December 15, 1996

In left-wing circles today, Cuba has been receiving renewed attention. In the past, the fake communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, or China were widely believed to be the socialist alternative. But with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, and with Chinese state-capitalism looking every day more like market capitalism under a tyrannical rule, the enthusiasm for these regimes has waned. Even the opportunist left groups that continue to defend the Chinese revisionist rulers have to grit their teeth to do so. Meanwhile, the groups that used to tout the "socialism" of the Soviet Union are mainly reduced to hoping that the present remnants of the old revisionist "communist" party will restore the rotten system of state-capitalist oppression. Of the regimes that have been touted as communist, Cuba is the one that still garners some enthusiasm among the left.

But Cuban "communism" is not following some fundamentally different path than the collapsed Soviet Union or the Chinese revisionist rulers. In fact, what attitude to take toward the Cuban regime has long been a dividing line between communism and its opportunist counterfeit. A slew of reformist, petty-bourgeois nationalist and phony "Marxist" trends are promoting Cuban state-capitalism and its revisionist rulers. Some, like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), fawn over the rhetoric of the Cuban elite as the pinnacle of communist wisdom today. Others have any number of criticisms of the regime, but nonetheless hold that Cuba is "socialist", or at least a "workers' state", or hail its alleged "anti-imperialism". In contrast, our group, the Communist Voice Organization, feels that the promotion of Castroism and the Cuban state-capitalist system has nothing in common with a revolutionary class stand or genuine communist principle.

The Cuban revolution which toppled the U.S. -backed Batista regime was a liberating event. An extensive land reform was carried out, a social-welfare system reduced the gross inequities of the old system, and the domination of U.S. imperialism ended. But the revolution died long ago. The Castro regime, which was never guided by Marxism-Leninism, eventually came under the sway of Soviet revisionism and a state-capitalist order was consolidated. While the higher-ups among the party and management bureaucrats solidified into an elite, the masses scraped to get by as the social safety net became frayed by several waves of austerity measures. But what of Cuba's much-vaunted "anti-imperialism"? Having rid itself of U.S. imperialism, Cuba's eventual integration into the Soviet imperialist bloc meant the return of dependence on a foreign power. This dependence led to the extreme crisis confronting Cuba as the Soviet Union fell apart. Nor did the Cuban leaders maintain a revolutionary stand against the Western capitalist countries.

Cuban state-capitalism on the way to private capitalism

Indeed, it's notable that the opportunist left's promotion of Cuba comes at a time when the old state-capitalist forms, which at first glance may have appeared "socialist", are to a large extent being replaced by more naked "free-market" reforms. The economic disaster that was kicked off by the collapse of the Soviet Union left the official economy in ruins. The output of goods and services in the official economy subsequently took a dramatic drop.(1) In this situation, the illegal black market economy has grown to huge proportions. With Cuban production way down, the peso does not have the ability to buy what the masses need. By 1993, the spread of black market trade in U.S. dollars was so large, that Castro decided to legalize the dollar market as there was no longer any way to police it.(2)

In similar fashion, other traditional private capitalist forces are being legalized. Small private businesses in services and manufacture are no longer black market activities and involve a sizable section of the working population. In 1994, various restrictions on the free-market sale of agricultural production from private farms were lifted. Judging from the size that these markets assumed when they were first permitted in the 1980s, it is quite likely that a majority of perishable agricultural products are sold in the free market.

The wide legalization of traditional capitalist forces also involves a big opening to outside capitalist investment. The Cuban authorities are offering up virtually all sectors of the state enterprises to joint ventureship with foreign capital, and offering very generous conditions to insure fat profits for the investors. Despite U.S. imperialism's long-standing efforts to strangle Cuba with an economic blockade, a significant amount of foreign capital is pouring in, and all indications are that it will grow larger and larger. Foreign investment has played a large role in elevating tourism to challenge sugar production as the most important sector of the economy.

But the market reforms of the last few years are not just a matter of giving wide play to the long-existing private capitalist forces at home and abroad. A process of privatization is well under way from within the state-capitalist enterprises. Some sizable state companies have been turned over to groups of top bureaucrats as their private property. Such companies operate outside of even the pretense of central planning, run on their own income, keep their own profits and even establish interlocking ownership/management relations with similar companies and foreign investors. In agriculture, the state farms which dominated agriculture have been divided up into competing co-ops who rise and fall on their own resources. These co-ops sell their production not only to the government, but also in the free markets. In essence, the success of some co-ops will be tied to the failure of others. In this manner, the laws of capitalist competition operate throughout Cuban agriculture in ways quite similar to ordinary capitalist countries. Meanwhile, in the economy in general, there are plans to shut down unprofitable state enterprises and carry out other rationalization measures that will result in widescale job loss. Supposedly the private sector will pick up the slack of the crumbling state sector and unemployment will be cured. Of course, the other revisionist regimes also promised salvation through the growth of the private sector and foreign capitalist investment, whereas the reality has been growing unemployment and widening gaps between the rich and poor.

Are recent market reforms a temporary retreat?

According to the Castro regime and its apologists, the market reforms that have been implemented since the collapse of the Soviet bloc do not discredit the Cuban rulers. They allege that such measures are just a temporary retreat and that the pursuit of socialism continues. Of course Marxist theory recognizes that to go from capitalism to communism involves a whole transitional period where various features of the old society will still have to be overcome, including some vestiges of the old economic order. Unexpected conditions, or wrong estimates about how quickly various remnants of capitalism can be abolished, may force retreats.

But such considerations cannot exonerate the Cuban revisionist rulers nor show that Cuba is really on the road to socialism. The history of Cuba since the revolution shows that the economy was long ago set up on state-capitalist lines heavily influenced by the Soviet state-capitalist policies of the mid-1960s. Cuba under Castro is not an example of a revolution temporarily employing some capitalist measures. Rather, the capitalist methods incorporated into the state sector were entrenched long ago. Despite various limitations on the market, these methods led to anarchic competition between enterprises, with the inevitable result of the growth of private interests within the state sector. Thus, such recent measures as turning state property outright over to members of the Cuban ruling class, or turning state farms into small-group property, are not a "retreat" from some alleged path toward socialism, but a partial transition from state-capitalism to private capitalism. In fact, in this regard, Cuba is following the policy of the last several years in Russia and other revisionist countries where officials of the state and party apparatus were able to lay claim to newly-privatized state enterprises.

Moreover, one cannot ignore the historic role of the black market economy in Cuba after the revolution when evaluating Cuban society. The issue isn't that the Castro government wasn't able to eliminate it at one stroke. But this has long played a significant role in the economy, and the government has, despite railing against it at certain times, generally tolerated the black market. The black market constituted another private capitalist sector in addition to the officially-permitted private farms and small businesses. Thus, what has long existed in Cuba is not a society on the way to socialism but a society where the general direction of the economy has been toward adopting more and more features of ordinary capitalism.

Was the Cuban "rectification" of 1986 a move toward socialism?

Of course, while a predominant state sector run with capitalist principles and a sizable illegal and legal market sector have been a constant for decades, there have been shifts in government policy. The emergency measures that have given wider reign to the market following the collapse of the Soviet Union is one example. But there have been periods when the Cuban leadership placed more limits on the private market and claimed it would rectify the capitalist practices that had been accumulating. Among a number of the American left groups that retain the outlook of the Soviet revisionist and trotskyite traditions, this has become part of their rationale for glorifying the Cuban rulers and pretending that they are defending socialism, or at least intend to get on with building socialism some time or other.(3)

One of the periods they point to with pride is the so-called "rectification" period that officially began in 1986. In this period, Castro began to bemoan a whole series of capitalist afflictions that had become widespread in Cuba. He traced their origin to the formal adoption in 1975 of the Soviet (state-capitalist) model. He decried the profiteering and corruption that was rife throughout the state sector and how each enterprise looked out only for itself and not for the good of society. And he ended the policy of allowing free peasant and artisan markets in the cities. At the same time, the Cuban rulers revived the name of the revolutionary martyr Che Guevara in order to chatter a lot about moving away from "material incentives" and toward more ideological motivations for the Cuban workers.

But what was really going on in this period? Did this period undo the state-capitalist system? Was Cuba now heading to a communist future? Was the talk against "material incentives" and for voluntary labor part of an overall revolutionary policy, or was it a cover to get the masses to accept austerity measures?

Behind the crackdown on free peasant markets

Let's look at the question of the crackdown on the private peasant markets. This is one of the most well-publicized features of the period. It is also widely argued by friends and foes of the Castro regime alike that this was an example of the Castro regime embarking on revolutionary measures.(4) Yet, while private peasant markets were being reduced, the system of government-subsidized goods also continued its long-term decline as a part of total consumer spending. From accounting for virtually all legal consumer purchases in 1970, it declined to 25% by the late 80s.(5) Meanwhile, official "parallel" markets played an even bigger role. These markets offer products not available through the ration system as well as goods that are available. But prices in the "parallel market" are several times higher than ration prices. The masses have to pay dearly for goods in the parallel markets, and a whole array of products are beyond their means altogether.

The various distribution systems for consumer goods in Cuba are a reflection of the class stratification that has solidified there. The masses have largely depended on modest allotments at government-subsidized prices. Those with higher incomes can afford to spend a lot in the parallel markets. And there are also the "dollar shops" for the fortunate few who accumulate enough U.S. currency to afford them. Of course, the black market has always available for those who can pay exorbitant prices.

The growth of the "parallel market" meant the growth of goods whose prices were essentially determined according to market principles of supply and demand. This took place at a time when the ration system allotments of such things as milk, sugar and kerosene were being reduced and when the prices of other basic necessities, such as public transportation and electricity, were raised. The government saved money by reducing allotments for the masses, and on the other hand, it reaped the income from high-priced goods sold in the "parallel market." In plain terms, while the government railed against profiteering in the private markets, it was assuming the role that the private profiteers had played. Thus, during the period of "rectification", the principles behind the distribution of goods to the population moved ever-closer to those typical of free-market capitalism.

"Production brigades": a new form of semi-private business

Another of the prominent features of the "rectification" of the late 80s was the creation of production contingents or brigades. By the end of the decade, about 37,000 workers were involved in 72 of these brigades, which were concentrated in the construction sector. It's notable that the initial experiments with this type of enterprise go back to 1981, in a period when market reforms were all the rage. It turns out these brigades operate much like private businesses. They were formed out of parts of state enterprises. The most gung-ho workers from the enterprises were chosen for the brigades. The brigade is self-administered and self-financing. It works on the basis of contracts from the enterprise, and it keeps the difference between the sum it is paid by the enterprise and its own costs. Since as much as 40% of wages in the brigade comes from profit-sharing bonuses, the workers' wages will drop a great deal unless the brigade turns a profit. Thus these brigades essentially operate very much like a capitalist business.

Allegedly, the "rectification" was supposed to combat the idea of "material incentives". But the whole point of these brigades is to dangle the promise of big bonuses in front of the worker. Moreover, the working class in the market capitalist countries is quite familiar with how such profit-sharing incentives can damage the conditions of the workers. Now it is true that workers in brigades often earned a good deal more in total earnings than other workers. But in order to do this, they had to endure workdays as long as 12-15 hours. In fact, the labor laws as a whole were waived for the brigade workers. When one considers this, the higher total wages don't look so great. Indeed, some statistics from an apologist of the regime suggest wages per hour may in a number of cases have dropped among these contingents.(6)

Other brigades

Other sorts of brigade-type units were established in this period as well that have been talked about as "voluntary labor." These brigades are variously referred to as "minibrigades", "microbrigades" or "social brigades". These brigades would also work on construction projects, such as housing or clinics. Some of these brigades were enterprise-based, with the enterprise paying the wages and the government compensating the enterprise for these payments. Others were community-based, with the government paying the wages and supplying construction materials. The labor code did not apply to these workers, either. Hence, they too worked extremely long work days. In addition, these workers were part-time labor who could be put out of work at any time and apparently were not entitled to unemployment compensation like non-brigade workers.(7)

Given these conditions, it is not surprising that worker complaints over miserable working conditions are reported even by ardent defenders of the system. As well, in 1991, there was a work stoppage by brigade members building facilities for the Pan American games. What angered the workers was the government's decision that after the games, the housing would be made available for tourists, not the workers. The government was forced to at least partially relent. Reportedly, shortages of materials has led to major problems retaining the overall brigade movement.

The role of the rhetoric about "voluntary labor"

Defenders of the Cuban regime try to paint the "rectification" period as a period when the regime was emphasizing communist principles. The regime's talk about "voluntary labor" and downplaying "material incentives" supposedly indicates moving away from capitalist methods and towards the ideal of working selflessly for the good of society instead of one's own direct benefit. A society moving on the road toward communism would certainly encourage instances of working in a dedicated fashion without regard to personal benefit. At the same time, Marxism recognizes that for the mass of workers to labor without regard for personal benefit, for this to be the rule and not the exception, certain material conditions have to be created. Only to the extent that material abundance is achieved, and society able to provide for the needs of the whole working population, regardless of their personal contribution to the total social output, will the mass of workers lose the habit necessitated by capitalism of expecting direct compensation for every minute worked.

But what was going on in Cuba during "rectification" was something quite different. As we have seen, some of the brigades were basically small business where typical capitalist methods were employed. As for the other brigades, the mere fact that workers volunteered for them does not show that they expected no material benefits for themselves, or their own brigade, in return. It seems that in a good number of cases, the workers simply wanted to get housing for themselves.(8) Given the major housing shortage, this was reasonable enough. But getting housing in return for work is not eschewing material rewards and has nothing in common with communist methods. Moreover, the productivity of a brigade worker figured heavily into how the housing was distributed, a definite material incentive.

In fact, the brigades were emergency measures undertaken by the Cuban rulers to deal with certain crises. Some useful construction got done. But that hardly proves the Cuban regime was revolutionary. In fact, if the extension of such emergency measures became the general policy, this would have not represented a communist policy. It is not merely a question of whether or not the labor was done for personal gain or society's. If a society has to rely on 12-14 hour work days for the bulk of the workers, then it is not a society that can accomplish any of the measures necessary to achieve socialism. It is a society where workers are too worn out to concern themselves with anything but making it through the next day, or revolting against their plight, a condition typical of capitalist society. It is a society that cannot provide the working class the living conditions, time or training that would enable the class to be able to run society. It would mean that governing the new society would fall exclusively to those who were economically and socially better off. Such conditions would tend to indicate a society divided between a ruling class and the ruled.

During "rectification", Cuba was not purging itself of capitalist evils and moving closer to communist methods, but was a state-capitalist society trying some different measures to maintain itself. It used talk about "voluntary" labor much like in the ordinary capitalist countries -- as a way to get the masses to accept austerity. The "non-material" incentives policy of the Castro regime has more in common with Reaganite volunteerism than socialism. "Rectification" not only meant that brigade members worked like dogs. Measures were also taken reducing the conditions of the bulk of the working masses. Besides the already mentioned cuts in rations and the price hikes for necessities, wage-cutting and heavier workloads were imposed on the workers in most sectors.(9) One way this was carried out was raising the "norms" that workers had to achieve before receiving bonus pay. The wage-cutting campaign was carried out with the hypocritical use of communist phrases about avoiding the dangers of wage disparities that could take place through a bonus system. But the attack was not carried out against a handful of very well-off workers, but against the majority of workers who were struggling to get by.(10) Moreover, the idea of chasing bonuses was not ended, but merely made more difficult to achieve. As well, the "model" for this period was the aforementioned production brigades where bonuses were emphasized, and in general, certain limits on how much bonuses could total were eliminated. Likewise, the "left"-sounding words of the regime against the bureaucracy were largely chiding enterprise bosses for not cracking down hard enough against the workers. Anti-bureaucracy rhetoric was also a rationale given for ripping up the labor code.

This rationalization drive meant large-scale discharges of workers from many workplaces. Supposedly, workers could only be laid off if there was another job awaiting them. Yet, while unemployment was around 2% in the mid-70s, by 1989 it had grown to 7%. In fact, the unemployed were not being reabsorbed into the workforce.(11)

The fate of central planning under "rectification"

Try as one might, there is no evidence of the Cuban regime taking up the socialist road during "rectification." In addition to those already mentioned, in this period certain measures are taken that reflected how anarchy in the economy was undermining central planning. These provisions came from two opposite directions. From one side, the influence of central planning over individual enterprises was relaxed. From the other, a handful of top party bureaucrats gave itself the right to run the economy on the basis of emergency directives that circumvented the central plan. These methods were dubbed "continuous planning".

The extension of enterprise autonomy in planning was begun in 1988, and by 1990 it was being applied in 900 enterprises comprising almost half of Cuba's mercantile production and about 38% of all workers in the productive sphere.(12) Cuban officials announced that the central plans would be no more than "general guidelines" "used to begin working out the economic plans."(13) In theory, at least, central planning bodies still had final say in how the economy was to operate under both the old and new plans. But the new planning method was supposed to deal with the fact that in practice, the enterprises were unwilling or unable to carry out the plans. This contradiction was supposed to be overcome by having the enterprise draw up its own yearly output plans, cost and profit estimates, etc. These plans could then be approved by the central planners or they could pressure for changes. But the contradiction could only be overcome in this manner if the central plan conceded to what each of the hundreds of individual enterprises wanted to do. In other words, this was a concession to the anarchy of production in Cuba.

As for the circumvention of the normal planning bodies during this period, this was begun in 1984 by a select group of bureaucrats organized by Castro. Actually, some supporters of the regime consider this the beginning of "rectification." This was portrayed as striking a blow at bureaucracy, but it only meant one section of the bureaucracy managed to impose its will on the others. In 1984, the revisionist Communist Party Political Bureau announced it was taking direct charge of the economy, and later this task was assigned to the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers. An apologist of the regime describes the effect of these measures as follows:

"The new structure meant that while one-year and five-year planning continued through the Central Planning Board (JUCEPLAN) and other ministries, a more flexible day-to-day operation of the economy and use of resources would be sought by the Executive Committee."(14)

Thus, there was a plan, but in essence, it was admitted that this plan could not be carried out. The direct running of the economy by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers reportedly ended in 1992, but the economy has been largely running on a series of emergency measures up to the present day. Thus, from 1984 to 1996, even the form of central planning has become a polite fiction. The further demise of overall planning is further evidence that "rectification" was not a period of socialist or communist measures.

"Rectification", privatization, and imperialist investment

While "rectification" was supposedly a period of anti-capitalist measures, this was actually the period when the role of privatization of state assets became more prominent. To get an idea of what these enterprises were like, one example is the Gaviota enterprise which catered to high-income tourists. The company began with an $88 million government loan. It issued stock purchased by the Cuban elite as well as foreign shareholders in Latin America, Spain, and France. Such businesses, known as sociedades anonimas, "behave as profit-maximizing entities and engage in joint ventures inside and outside of Cuba."(15) Another such company, Cubanacan, was started in 1987 to be "the primary Cuban corporation that engages foreign capital in joint-venture investments in the Cuban tourism industry."(16) Though the official government tourism agency, INTUR, was still much bigger than Cubanacan in terms of overall control of tourism, the Cuban government envisioned a huge growth in the significance of such firms. For example, INTUR statistics projected that by 1991, about a third of all rooms used by tourists would be under the control of Cubanacan and Gaviota alone.(17)

The growth of profit-oriented enterprises operating outside the state plan went hand-in-hand with the escalated courting of foreign capitalist investment during this period. Joint venture agreements were reached not only in tourism, but in an array of industries from electronics to petrochemicals and textiles. By 1990, Castro was letting foreign investors know that the Cuban government was willing to cut more generous deals with them than was apparent from the 1982 foreign investment code. Thus, while the emergency period following the collapse of the Soviet Union accelerated Cuba's drive to attract foreign investment, this drive to open Cuba up to foreign capitalist ventures was going on during the alleged "rectification" against capitalist influences.

In regard to foreign capital, it should be noted that austerity measures were in part undertaken to pay back huge debts to the Western imperialist countries. Slashes in textile allocations, sugar, and gas for motor vehicles for the masses meant more of these products were available for overseas sales. These sales were intended to get foreign currency for debt repayment and hard currency purchases from abroad. Likewise, cutbacks in electricity preserved more petroleum for foreign sale. It should also be noted that the Castro regime's long-standing reliance on foreign aid from the Soviet social-imperialists and their Eastern European allies also played its part in austerity. By the end of the 1980s, COMECON development aid, which had reached almost $900 million a year, virtually dried up. Cuba had relied on such aid to limit its need for the hard currency necessary for economic relations with the Western capitalist countries.

Does the "rectification" mark a fundamental change from before?

When the methods of the late 1980s are compared to the previous period, it suggests that far from "rectifying" the past evils of state-capitalism, the methods of the two periods are quite similar. In fact, in a number of important ways, the methods of the later 80s represent the formal acceptance of these evils. The past methods referred to in this article are those that began in the early 70s and were formalized with the 1975 adoption of the SDPE (System of Economic Management and Planning). (The first decade after the 1959 revolution, and its relation to the system in the 70s, is a complex issue meriting separate attention in later articles.) The SDPE system was the Cuban version of methods adopted by the state-capitalist Soviet Union in the 1960s. The idea behind it was that the crisis of state-capitalism could be overcome by widely employing market mechanisms throughout the state sector and giving further play to the private sector.

Under the SDPE system, enterprises were initially funded by the government, but thereafter were self-financing. The fact that they were supposed to meet state production quotas and the extent of price controls on consumer goods were features of the higher degree of state regulation these enterprises faced compared to those in the ordinary capitalist countries. But the fact that they had to rely on their own resources meant they were in a situation similar to businesses in ordinary capitalist countries. The primary interest of enterprises was not the good of society, but their own profits. As well, there was a built-in contradiction between government central planners and the separate enterprises. In such a system, the top managers do not own the enterprise, but since their success is tied to their enterprise, they assume the features of the capitalist manager of private property. In the "rectification" period, we do not see this situation reversed. Rather, we find the next logical step: state initiated enterprises that operate outside planning altogether, and that are controlled by a few top managers and shareholders.

Often it is argued that the end of the policy of allowing private peasant farmers to sell their goods in free markets in the cities showed how Castro was "rectifying" market methods. But, even if we ignore the fact that these markets were restored a few years later, this is not the case. As mentioned earlier, the Castro regime condemned the free peasant markets for profiteering. But because distribution of consumer goods had shifted to the government's "parallel markets", the market-style pricing remained while the government assumed the role of profiteer. The increasing role of parallel markets was a product of the SDPE period that was supposedly being opposed.

True, in the SDPE period, a series of measures that gave freer reign to small peasant farming, including on small plots by workers on state farms, were undertaken. But along with this, there are measures that appear to be in the other direction. For instance, there was a big effort to combine the small private plots into co-ops. From 1983 to 1989 the co-ops' membership roles increase from about 30,000 to over 80,000. Co-ops can play a role in a transition from small private farming to socialist state farms that are the property of all of society. But co-op agriculture has also been encouraged by a variety of capitalist regimes. In Cuba, despite the co-ops getting government assistance, the laws of competition that are typical under capitalism divided them between rich and poor. Thus, even apologists of the Castro regime admit that only about 40% of the co-op farms were doing well when "rectification" began while an equal number were buried under heavy debt.(18) The solution offered by "rectification" was dividing the co-ops back into smaller self-financing brigade units. Thus, rectification actually utilized still more market competition and restored smaller farms!

During the SDPE period, Cuba accumulated massive debts to the Western capitalist countries. The Western loans dried up in the late 1980s. But that is not due to Castro's choosing, but because Cuba was defaulting on its debts. During "rectification" the Cuban leadership bled the masses in part to pay off these debts. And the pursuit of foreign capital continued in another form. Thus, the effort to woo direct foreign investment began to take off during this period. Today, Castro is even auctioning off parts of the state sector to international capital.

As for the domination of Cuba by Soviet social-imperialism, that was common to both the "rectification" period and the previous one (and before that). With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the phony communist regimes of Eastern Europe, Cuba paid dearly for its leaders' reliance on the Soviet bloc. The Cuban economy went into a tailspin. Another constant between the two periods was the influence of the Soviet Union on Cuba's domestic and international politics. For example, certain of the Soviet-style economic measures were adopted under the pressure of the threat of cutting off vital Soviet oil shipments. Likewise, Cuba backed the worst imperialist adventures of the Soviet Union. Soviet influence also played a role the Castro government taking a more conciliatory stand toward Western capitalist countries. Cuba's former reliance on the Soviet Union has ended, but now Castro is depending on Western capitalist investment to save the day.

Socialism will only come with a fight against Cuban revisionism

This brief look at Cuba before and after "rectification" shows that while both periods naturally have unique measures, these measures did not move Cuba an inch toward socialism. The recent misfortunes of the island since the collapse of the Soviet bloc have speeded up some moves toward market reforms. But the idea that Cuba was a socialist country rectifying a few errors before that is absurd. The period after the mid-80s "rectification" continued to lay the groundwork for the disaster of the 1990s. The state-capitalist economy was already in crisis before the overwhelming disaster that hit it in the 1990s. The more naked market forms proliferating in Cuba these days continues a trend started long ago.

An important task today is to inspire enthusiasm among the workers and activists for a future communist society. The revisionist and trotskyite trends who still glorify the Castro regime, or still consider Cuba a revolutionary society that just need some reforms, are doing the workers no favors. Pretending that socialism exists in Cuba might comfort some, but only the truth can really serve the interests of the masses. Prettifying Cuban state-capitalism is of particular disservice to the Cuban toilers. For it is only when they see that there is some alternative to both the market and imperialism, and state-capitalist oppression, that they can take the first steps to rebuilding the Cuban workers' movement on a really revolutionary basis. <>


(1)According to a Cuban economist, the "gross social product" of Cuba declined by 24% in 1991 and another 15% in 1992. See the article "Cuban Politics before and after the 1991 Communist Party Congress" by Jorge I. Dominguez found on page 9 of the book Cuba at the crossroads: politics and economics after the Fourth Party Congress; edited by Jorge F. Perez-Lopez; University of Florida Press; 1994.

(2)Castro's speech of July 26, 1993 quoted on pages 162-163 of the book, Cuba's second economy by Jorge F. Perez-Lopez; Transaction Publishers; 1995.

(3)An example of the Soviet revisionist tradition is Marc Frank's book, Cuba looks to the year 2000; International Publishers; New York; 1993. Frank has spent a number of years in Cuba as the correspondent for the Soviet revisionist CPUSA's newspaper People's Daily World.

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is one of the groups out of the Trotskyite tradition that glorifies the Castro regime. See, for example, the book Che Guevara, Cuba and the road to socialism which reprints articles from the magazine New International, #8, published in 1991.

(4)The pro-Soviet revisionist, Marc Frank, offers a particularly revealing argument in this regard. He boasts that Cuba's "rectification" period actually was the forerunner of Gorbachev's "perestroika". That Cuban "rectification" and Soviet "perestroika" were largely similar, at least in the economic realm, is true. But Frank pretends that both reform efforts were attempts to rectify socialism. He turns a blind eye to the fact that both reform attempts extended capitalist methods and that the rhetoric against bureaucracy in both cases was both hypocritical and a cover for market mechanisms.

(5)Eckstein, Susan Eva; Back from the future: Cuba under Castro; p. 66; Princeton University Press; 1994.

(6)See Marc Frank's Cuba looks to the year 2000; p. 50. Frank does not mention the drop in per hour wages. But he does talk about how one brigade raised their salaries 20% by working 12-14 hour days. Assuming a pre-brigade standard work day of 8 hours, this means that it took 50-75% more hours to get the extra 20% of wages. If one also figures in that apparently the dispensed-with labor code included overtime rates, the lowering of wages becomes even more apparent. This book quotes the head of the "model" of the production brigade system, who happened to become a Politbureau member in 1991, arguing against overtime pay against Castro.

(7)Eckstein; p. 77. Eckstein indicates that when the labor laws were lifted for the other types of brigades created in this period, "the government avoided the fiscal and political costs involved in laying off professional (non-brigade -- Mk. ) builders" who received "70 percent of their former salary" while unemployed.

(8)Frank, Marc; p. 81. The author reports that brigades organized by labor unions involved "especially those (workers -- Mk. ) in need of housing" and that by 1991, 80% of the amount of housing units built by such brigades were distributed within the brigade.

(9)The exception to general wage cutting was that the wages of the lowest-paid agricultural workers was raised. Difficult conditions in this sector were causing workers to abandon it.

(10)Indeed, the complaint of the Castro regime was that almost everyone was surpassing the previous norms.

(11)Eckstein; p. 101. The figure of 7% comes from an interview conducted by Eckstein with Cuban government economists.

(12)In Cuban statistics, the productive sphere involves such things as industry, agriculture, and commerce. It is distinguished from the non-productive sphere which includes defense, education, health, government administration, etc.

(13)Frank; p. 59.

(14)Frank; p. 58-59.

(15)Zimbalist, Andrew; "Reforming Cuba's economic system from within" in Cuba at the crossroads: politics and economics after the Fourth Party Congress; p. 233.

(16)Maria Dolores Espino; "Tourism in Cuba: a development strategy for the 1990s?" in Cuba at the crossroads; p. 148.

(17)Ibid. ; p. 153.

(18)Frank, p. 115.

Back to main page, how to order CV, write us!

Last changed on May 14, 2011.
e-mail: mail@communistvoice.org