Exposing Cuba’s enemies in the British press

Recent changes in Cuba’s wage system, removing the cap on bonuses for workers who meet or exceed production targets, were portrayed in the international media as a step towards capitalist restoration in Cuba. Guardian reporter Rory Carroll, a long-standing critic of Cuban socialism, was cock-a-hoop. But his crowing is premature for, as HELEN YAFFE points out in this response, salary scales are not new in Cuba, and this measure has nothing to do with the return of capitalism.

Rory Carroll’s article ‘Cuban workers to get bonuses for extra effort’ (The Guardian, 13 June 2008) was yet another misrepresentation of recent developments in Cuba. There has never been an ‘egalitarian wage system’, nor has ‘every worker’s wages been the same from a doctor to a street cleaner’ – as stated in the website interview with Carroll.

Carroll declares the ‘death-knell of the “new socialist man”, promoted by Che and Fidel, but Che himself devised a new salary scale, introduced in 1964, with 24 wage levels, plus a 15% bonus for over-completion. This scale linked wages to qualifications, creating an incentive to training, which was vital given the exodus of professionals and low educational level of Cuban workers. Like Marx himself, Che recognised the socialist principle: ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his work’ – which Carroll associates exclusively with Raul. Cuba has never claimed to be communist and therefore has never embraced the principle: ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, which expresses the attainment of communist society.

Barely mentioning the devastating effects of the US blockade, Carroll describes as ‘moribund’, the Cuban economy which has grown between 7 and 12% annually since 2005. And what kind of ‘impoverishment’ is Carroll referring to when he dismisses Cuba’s first-world standard, free, universal education and healthcare services – luxuries gradually being withdrawn in our own country? The Human Development Report now lists Cuba in the high-human development category.
The new regulation was introduced to standardise salary policy across the economy as part of the general implementation of the Enterprise Perfection System of economic management, operating in army enterprises since 1987. It also emerges out of the profound process of popular consultation in autumn last year, in which millions of Cubans made over 1.3 million concrete proposals for improving the economy. Low salaries and high food prices are a principal concern for Cubans, as they are for an increasing proportion of the world today.

Capped or not, bonus payments in Cuba are awarded for over-completion of the national plan in the production of physical goods or services, that is, in terms of use-values, not in terms of profitability or exchange values. Workers identify their own material interests with the material well being of the socialist state. Carroll also ignores the fact that bonus payments remain capped at 30% for various bureaucrats, technicians and economists, a measure to prevent the emergence of a technocratic elite.
The new salary incentives reflect Cuba’s push to reduce vulnerability to sharp rises in global fuel and food prices, rather than a return to capitalism. Recent policies aim to dramatically increase internal production and productivity, particularly in agriculture and exports. Carroll equates productivity with capitalism – but how efficient is this economic system which leaves millions unemployed because their work is not ‘profitable’, while millions of under-fives die every year of malnutrition and diarrhoea.

For 50 years, commentators on Cuba have predicted the collapse of the socialist Revolution. Carroll is repeating the same mistake.

FRFI 204 August / September 2008

*An edited version of this article was first printed in The Guardian newspaper on 20 June 2008.


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