(from Communist Voice #11, Dec. 15, 1996)
. Below are excerpts from two articles (and a footnote from a third) from the New
International#8. These articles give the stand of the trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, and are
criticized in the article How the SWP whitewashes the Castro regime.
From "Che's proletarian legacy and Cuba's rectification process"
by Mary-Alice Waters
Heart of rectification
, At the heart of the rectification process, volunteer labor as a social movement has been reborn -- like a phoenix. During the early years of the revolution voluntary work was "the brainchild of Che and one of the best things he left us," Castro noted on the twentieth anniversary of Che's death.
. Basing himself on some of Marx's most profound insights, Che explained over and over why it is that "man-as-commodity ceases to exist" only through volunteer labor. It is through voluntary work that social, collective labor becomes a school for communist consciousness and socialist administration, that work begins to change its character. Through volunteer labor man "starts to see himself reflected in his work and to understand his full stature as a human being through the object created, through the work accomplished. "
. This materialist understanding of the place of volunteer labor in the construction of socialism and communism has once again come to the fore in the Cuban revolution, after more than a decade during which it withered in the face of a diametrically counterposed political perspective.
. "Voluntary work," Che explained, is "based on the Marxist appreciation that man truly reaches his full human condition when he produces without being compelled by physical necessity to sell himself as a commodity. "
. As voluntary work becomes an increasingly weighty component of the organization of the labor of society as a whole, producing a growing portion of the product of this labor, the scope of the domination of the law of value--and of the modern fetish, the commodity fetish, that turns us all into objects--is progressively reduced.
. The movement that began with the relaunching of the minibrigades in the city of Havana a little more than three years ago rapidly took on mass dimensions. Tens of thousands of men and women threw themselves full-time into the challenge of building hundreds of child-care centers, apartment complexes, family doctors' office-homes, polyclinics, schools, bakeries, sports facilities, and more. The minibrigades have now been augmented by the expanding organization of volunteer construction contingents, a form of volunteer labor whose impact on the future of the Cuban revolution is potentially even more far-reaching.
. In the last two years more than sixty labor contingents, averaging 500 workers in each, have been established. They are concentrated in the construction industry. The largest and oldest of the contingents, the Blas Roca Contingent, now has some 2,600 workers organized in twenty-three brigades, building bridges, roads, airports, dams, hospitals, hotels, and similar major projects.
. The numerous brigades of these contingents have been organized in the same way the columns of the Rebel Army in Cuba's Sierra Maestra mountains were formed in 1957-58, when a few seasoned cadres of the first column divided off and organized a second column, and then a third and fourth column were created out of the first two. Each new column starts not from scratch but with the high level of norms and discipline already conquered by its founding cadres.
. Participation in the contingents is voluntary, subject to being accepted. A flexible workday of ten hours or more depends on the work to be completed. There is a single wage scale with no overtime pay or bonuses. Room and board is provided. Work discipline is not imposed by a separate layer of management personnel but is organized and maintained by the contingent members themselves. Equipment is cared for and kept running by the workers who use it. Administrative tasks are more and more taken on by the workers themselves, instead of being delegated to a distinct group of specialists increasingly distant from the work itself.
. The volunteer labor contingents, which have transformed the construction industry, are now being introduced in a few other industries in a measured way, in particular in the production of building materials. They are starting to have a broader impact on the organization of labor. Their example is providing new experience and insight touching on the central question in the transition from capitalism to socialism: How should the working class organize social labor in order both to build a new economic foundation and in the process to transform itself and its social consciousness?
. This was the question above all else that concerned Che.
. If the minibrigades continue to spread and expand their role, this will advance the entire rectification process, which is above all a political process, a restructuring of social priorities to meet the need of workers and farmers, not professional layers. Important as the minibrigades are, however, they are peripheral to the main organization of labor in basic industry, agriculture, and transport. The minibrigades set an example. They mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers from every layer of society to take on much-needed special projects. They cut across petty-bourgeois attitudes toward the working class and physical labor, and act as a giant school for learning to think socially. But the minibrigades can ultimately play only an auxiliary role that spurs economic development and the growth of class consciousness and confidence.
. If the minibrigade movement remains simply an adjunct to a system in which bureaucratic command planning dominates the organization of labor, then the inevitable result will be continued and increasing stratification, inequality, generalized corruption, the deadening of class consciousness, and the blocking of workers' control of production. Under such conditions, volunteer labor on the scale of the minibrigades will not be a means by which the working class can school itself in economic management and transform itself in the process of transforming the economic foundations of society. Instead, volunteer labor over time would be corrupted and turned into its opposite. It would become another administrative means to try to fulfill the bureaucratically conceived plan through work that is, in fact, neither voluntary nor productive. This is what happened in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, when the so-called Stakhanovite movement and its accompanying "volunteer" workdays became a thinly disguised program to increase the length of the compulsory workweek and the intensity of labor.
. Cuba has already experienced elements of this. The volunteer brigades of the 1960s and early 1970s were transformed into their bureaucratic negation and then largely eliminated with the argument that volunteer labor supposedly contradicts Marxist--in reality Stalinist--concepts of planning. Having experienced this kind of "volunteer labor," many Cuban workers remain to be convinced that the minibrigades and construction contingents represent a qualitatively different political course and class perspective, the one advanced by Che.
. Moreover, even among those who support the minibrigade movement in Cuba today, many express a degree of ambivalence about its future. They sense that the minibrigades alone cannot fundamentally alter the overall organization of labor and transform social consciousness. Other, more weighty changes must be made.
. Thus the advance from minibrigades alone to construction contingents and minibrigades broadens the battle to reorganize labor on a new foundation. The heavy battalions of labor in the factories, mills, and fields are beginning to be touched on this level for the first time since the rectification process began.
. The trade unions too will have to be transformed if rectification is to advance. This is not a
matter of changes in leadership personnel alone, but of political reorientation. They must become
organizations that are expanding workers' control and making new strides toward workers'
management--organizations of a revolutionary working class that is transforming itself as it leads
the building of a new society.
Nonproductive administrators and 'witch doctors'
. The advance of rectification poses a challenge to the middle-class pretensions and prerogatives of the grossly inflated ranks of nonproductive administrative and "professional" personnel. The introduction of the Economic Management and Planning System in the mid-1970s, largely copied from the Soviet Union, brought with it nearly a tripling of the number of administrators and officials, from 90,000 in 1973 to 240,000 by 1984. As Fidel Castro noted in a speech celebrating the second anniversary of the founding of the Blas Roca Contingent, there were some "enterprises with more people in the infrastructure than in direct work."
. With the inauguration of the contingents a revolutionary challenge has been taken up: to diminish the bloated ranks of nonproductive specialists; to increase the social and economic weight of the working class. At the beginning of August 1989, of the 28,000 workers incorporated in some sixty volunteer construction contingents, only 6. 4 percent were carrying out primarily administrative responsibilities.
. In 1988, while 55,000 new workers were incorporated into the work force, for the first time administrative personnel and other officials were simultaneously reduced by nearly 23,000.
. This reorganization of the division of labor goes to the heart of another question that Che understood to be central to the transition to socialism: the withering away of a specialized, and inevitably to some degree bureaucratized, stratum of administrators and officials. The working class itself--if better educated politically and technically, better equipped technologically, and increasingly confident of exercising control over the administration of the economy and state apparatus--progressively incorporates more and more elements of the necessary administrative tasks into its division of labor.
. The anti-working class technocrats and administrators with all their pretensions to social superiority and functional irreplaceability--the "witch doctors," Castro has called them--are threatened by the revolutionary concepts of Marx and Che that are being applied by the contingents as they set an example for the reorganization of labor in Cuba. The kind of division of labor that allows a layer that administers to derive a higher social status could begin to fade away--and with it, the privileges and petty-bourgeois self-esteem they have come to consider their due . . . .
. The rectification course set by the leadership of the Cuban revolution must also be seen in relation to the profound crisis now shaking the bureaucratic castes and shattering ruling parties in Eastern Europe and the USSR. The roots of this crisis are to be found in the system of organization of labor that has been imposed for decades on the working classes of those countries by a petty-bourgeois caste akin to the witch doctors Castro denounces. It is a system that relies on bureaucratic planning and individual and material incentives, not increasing workers' control, workers' management, and collective and political incentives. It depends on and reinforces the demobilization, demoralization, and depoliticization of the working class, not heightened communist and internationalist consciousness. It reinforces capitalist values and social norms, not the self-transformation of men and women as they transform the economic foundations of society. Ultimately this bureaucratic system--and the zigzag policies of the crystallized, petty-bourgeois social caste that promotes it--come into irrepressible conflict with nationalized property itself, because this anti-working-class political course is incompatible with building socialism. And these contradictions themselves deepen the crisis, as we are witnessing today.
. A variant of this system of organization of labor in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe--against which Che polemicized with such insight--was imposed throughout the Cuban economy in the mid-1970s as the Economic Management and Planning System. It rapidly began to produce the same social and economic consequences that have been institutionalized throughout the Soviet bloc for decades. It led to a decline in communist political consciousness and revolutionary perspectives in virtually every arena of daily social and economic activity.
. Alienation, cynicism, corruption, and political demoralization grew in the working class. Che's--and Fidel's--communist political perspective lost ground to those who thought building socialism was primarily a matter of administration by a talented and privileged few, and of mechanisms that would bring economic growth as an automatic process supposedly guided by skillful use of the law of value and other methods left over from capitalism.
. Those who though of workers as objects to be controlled, as incorrigible little animals capable of advancing only if tempted with a carrot or whipped by a stick, were setting more and more of the economic and social policy of Cuba. Those who, like Che and Fidel, believed in the revolutionary capacities of working people to take the organization of the economy in hand and build a socialist society--no matter what the obstacles, no matter what the odds, and to transform themselves in the process--were put on the defensive.
. The party, said Castro in December 1986, started "to go to pot," and the errors, if not corrected, could have eventually proved "irreversible," leading "to a system worse than capitalism. "
. Volunteer labor, as Castro put it, survived during this period only because it took refuge in internationalism and defense--in aid to Angola, Nicaragua, Grenada, and other countries, and in the birth of the Territorial Troop Militia in 1980 in the face of mounting imperialist military pressure following the revolutionary victories in the Caribbean and Central America.
. Regardless of these weaknesses and problems, however, the party and government in Cuba
remained qualitatively different from the so-called Communist parties in the rest of the workers'
states; thus, a qualitatively different road out of the developing morass was possible. A
revolutionary change of direction could be initiated, because a communist leadership and
politicized working-class vanguard existed in Cuba. The "lame nag," as Castro labeled the
Economic Management and Planning System, could be kept working for a while as a new course
was charted, the fight to win a majority to a communist perspective advanced, and a
revolutionary replacement for the "lame nag" conquered.
From footnotes to
"The politics of economics: Che Guevara and Marxist continuity
by Steve Clark and Jack Barnes
1. A workers' state can be popularly referred to as socialist (as in the name Union of Soviet Socialist Republics adopted at Lenin's suggestion, or the phrase "socialist Cuba") only if two conditions obtain: (1) the domination of capitalist property relations has been broken by the toilers; and (2) a government has arisen out of such a revolution that is headed by a communist leadership--a government committed to organizing the workers and exploited farmers to reorganize economic production and distribution along lines leading toward socialism, as part of the worldwide struggle against imperialist oppression and capitalist exploitation.
. The Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, and China remain workers' states, even if
horribly deformed. None of them, however, can accurately be referred to as socialist in the above
From "The politics of economics: Che Guevara and Marxist continuity"
by Steve Clark and Jack Barnes
. . . Depending on the caliber of its political leadership, on the size and experience of the working class, and on the pace of advances or setbacks in the world revolution, a workers' state can go forward toward socialism and in the process establish new social relations; or--as in the case of the horribly deformed workers' states in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China today--backward toward laying the social basis for the counter-revolutionary restoration of capitalism, as it reinforces the values and norms of bourgeois social relations. In fact, as the history of the past six decades has illustrated, these transitional societies can sink well below the highest points of human culture reached under bourgeois democracy. . . .
. What made it possible in Cuba to catch and attempt to rectify the dangerous and retrograde trends fostered by the policies adopted in the mid-70s is the fact that the central leadership in the government and Communist Party remains in the hands of a revolutionary cadre. The relatively privileged technocratic and petty-bourgeois layers that bloat the apparatus of state, party, and other institutions have proven unable to impose their anti-working-class perspectives and interests on the political course of the revolution--an outcome that could be achieved only by driving the workers and peasants out of political life and activity. . . .
. This period culminated in 1970 in the failure of the all-out drive to harvest and process ten million tons of sugarcane. . . . Moral exhortation and enthusiasm had been permitted to falsely parade as an application of Guevara's policies of voluntary labor and of organizing production and incentives to promote rather than retard communist consciousness and collective action by working people. . . .
. The strains inside Cuba as a result of these setbacks were among the factors that fostered the turn in the early 1970s toward greater reliance on methods borrowed from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the negative results of which are now being combated through the rectification process. This shift in course was ratified at the 1975 congress of the Communist Party of Cuba by adoption of the Economic Management and Planning System, based on the principles of the economic accounting system (increased reliance on enterprise profitability and other market-oriented criteria, individual money incentives, etc. ). The Economic Management and Planning System--referred to as "a lame nag with many sores" by Fidel Castro in his October 1987 speech on Guevara--remains in effect in Cuba today. . . .
. The law of value continues to operate, above all in sectors of the economy where small-scale commodity production still exists (peasant farms in the countryside, agricultural and handicraft cooperatives, small shops), as well as in the exchange of consumer goods between individuals and state enterprises. "We consider the law of value to be partially operative because remnants of the commodity society still exist," Guevara wrote in the February 1964 article. "This is also reflected in the type of exchange that takes place between the state as supplier and the consumer."
. Commodity relations, however, should not be equated with capitalist relations. Commodity relations and markets existed for thousands of years prior to the rise of capitalism, and to that extent the law of value operated during that entire historical period.
. Industrial capitalism, however, came into existence only at the point in history (in the mid-1700s) when commodity production and exchange began to be increasingly generalized and dominant on the basis of private ownership of industry, banking, and wholesale trade--when crossing the bridge from manufacturing to machinofacturing became possible. Rodriguez [a top Cuban official -- CV] slides over this decisive distinction between commodity relations and capitalist relations when he refers to the transition to socialism as "the period in which, while slowly leaving capitalism behind, we are building socialism as fast as we can" (emphasis added).
. But it is not capitalism that is slowly left behind in a country during the transition to socialism.Capitalism can and must be abolished in order to create the conditions to even begin building socialism. That task of abolition is accomplished with the expropriation by a workers' and farmers' government of capitalist property in industry, mining, major transportation, banking, and wholesale trade, and the establishment of a state monopoly of foreign trade. Only these steps open the door to the kind of economic planning by the working class that can lead toward socialism. That door was opened in the Soviet republic in 1918 and in Cuba in the second half of 1960.
. These revolutionary anticapitalist measures break the domination of the specific form of the law of value characteristic under capitalism: the establishment of prices of production through the competition of large capitals, determining an average rate of profit and apportioning a share of surplus value to particular individual capitals proportionate to their size. Under capitalism, these prices of production regulate the social allocation of labor, raw materials, and production goods among various sectors of the economy, and guarantee the growing together of industrial capital and banking and the reproduction and domination of bourgeois social relations, the inequitable distribution of wealth and income, and political rule by a relative handful of economically powerful bourgeois families.
. Accordingly, when big capital is expropriated, the anarchic competition that determines such allocation under capitalism can be consciously replaced with planned production and distribution in line with social priorities and needs that have been discussed and decided by working people....
. Even after the expropriation of capitalist industry and banking, it is still possible for blindly determined prices of production to begin to be reproduced and to determine--beyond any conscious decision and control by working people--the economic and social investment priorities of a workers' state.
. This tendency is inevitable if relations among state enterprises are conducted on a commodity basis--that is, if state enterprises (1) are forced into competitive markets to purchase needed raw materials, machinery, semifinished products, and other inputs, and (2) set the prices and find their own markets for the finished goods they produce. (To varying degrees, these procedures have prevailed for decades under the economic accounting system in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In Cuba they were generalized under the Economic Management and Planning System in the mid-1970s. )
. If the allocation of labor time, raw materials, semifinished goods, machinery, construction materials, and freight transport is established in this way, it is impossible to organize economic and social planning that diminishes the sway of the laws of motion of capitalism and leads toward socialism. Under such conditions, each enterprise functions increasingly on the basis of its own "profitability" rather than in line with a centralized national plan to advance social and political priorities. . . .
. To the contrary, in order to continue to advance, Cuban communists will confront the necessity of doing what Fidel Castro correctly insists has yet to be tried in Cuba: a serious attempt to put Guevara's proposals into practice.
. Such an effort to enter back onto the communist road not followed since the opening years of
the Soviet Union under Lenin's leadership has not yet been posed by even a small political
vanguard in any workers' state other than Cuba. The fact that a serious discussion of Guevara's
course in under way in Cuba as part of rectification is a tribute not only to the central leadership
cadre of the government and Communist Party, but above all to the internationalism, political
commitment, and revolutionary consciousness of broad layers of workers, farmers, soldiers, and
youth in that country.
Last changed on October 19, 2001.