Cuba fights corruption

‘What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is, therefore, in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it comes.’ (Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme)

In November 2005, Fidel Castro made a profound speech to leaders of student organisations in Havana, asking them to question the future of the revolution, and to consider whether the process could be destroyed by mistakes, corruption and bureaucratic tendencies (see FRFI 189 February/March 2006). Theft and unequal distribution of resources, he said, had become a growing threat. Castro’s speech sparked a large-scale debate among Cubans about the development of socialism in their country and how these problems can be overcome through self-criticism and mass participation.

Following the collapse of the socialist bloc, Cuba lost 85% of its trade and was forced to introduce the US dollar and elements of capitalist production. Cuba is emerging from this ‘special period’, sustaining a good level of economic growth, helped by a growing relationship with revolutionary Venezuela. The dollar is gone. It is because of this relative economic strength and stability that such debates become possible. With a higher life expectancy and steadily rising living standards, discussion can begin about how to build on the huge social progress already made. The debates are linked to the political and social offensive of the Battle of Ideas, launched in 2000 to push forward socialist development and deepen revolutionary consciousness throughout the whole of the population.

In October 2006 Juventud Rebelde, the newspaper of the Union of Young Communists (UJC), ran a series of three hard-hitting articles detailing research done by UJC cadres on theft and other problems undermining productivity in state services.* An example was given from a communal canteen in Havana: ‘What Violeta Guzman said was moving: “Here they serve us very little food and it’s of poor quality...It’s true that it is low-priced but then I have to go to the agricultural market to buy herbs and make a good sauce at home so that my sick son can eat it. I save no money at all and the purpose of the Revolution is to help us”.’ And the problem is not confined to catering:
• 52% of the workplaces checked by the UJC survey had problems of overpricing;
• popular food centres, workers’ cafes, service units, bakers and pharmacies all showed cause for concern;
• worst were agricultural markets, where in 68% of those inspected instances of ‘scams’ and cheating were uncovered.

These problems are being examined scientifically and optimistically by Cuban communists. Researchers from the Philosophy Institute have begun a project on socialist property in Cuba, ‘a stepping stone to an essential inquiry focused on more than just economic considerations’. According to the last of the three UJC articles, ‘to these scholars, socialism’s economic difficulties spring precisely from the fact that this is, historically, a very young system in which many things have yet to be changed’.

In his speech, Castro said that the biggest mistake of societies, including Cuba, which have attempted to build socialism, was to think that they really knew how to do it. Dr Ernesto Molina, an economist from the Higher Institute of International Relations, pointed to some basic facts: ‘capitalism created the working class, the bearer of socialist revolution. Socialism found its opportunity in the very heart of capitalism, but it was born in Third World countries and with the great mission of facing up to that huge industry.’ As a result domestic production has to be particularly competitive in order to deal effectively with global capitalist competitiveness, ‘the major external threat hanging over socialist property’.

‘In Cuba, a developing country, socialism was not born to a highly developed capitalist nation, as Karl Marx had described. We came into an underdeveloped economic structure that takes very long to change. The good news is, our socialist property can be planned, and therefore you have a long-term strategy in your hands.’

According to Dr Omar Everleny, of the Centre for Studies on Cuban Economics, ‘We put the blame on the special period, but the fact is that things were not working in the field of services even before 1989. There was a shortage of consumables and other irregularities that harmed everyone, even the hard currency outlets’. Raising the living standard of the people, he said, is the best incentive to tackle corruption: ‘It’s incredible, not to say impossible, to think that for a salary of little more than 200 pesos an employee is willing to offer a good service.’

Marcelo Yera, from the National Economic Research Institute points out that ‘In our case, around 3,800 state-owned enterprises comprising over 60,000 grassroots units have such responsibility [for planning]... having in Cuba a state enterprise system free from bureaucratic ties is perfectly feasible’. He continues:

‘One of transitional socialism’s economic principles is the centralisation of the main means of production, which doesn’t mean decision-making has to be as centralised. We need to maintain a proper balance between the often confused centralisation (strategic decision-making) and decentralisation (operational decision-making) ...We thought that by so doing socialism would be forever in place, but we had made a mechanical instead of a dialectical negation of capitalism when we adopted its best organisational practices which, as Che pointed out, have nothing to do with its exploitative nature.’

The key to the success of this transformation will be mass participation. In October the Cuban Workers Federation, which 96% of workers on the island belong to, held its 19th Congress. Their report pointed to the efforts of workers, particularly their contribution to economic advances over the past five years. The document calls for a genuine work ethic based on strict control over social resources and goods.

Mario Millet Ronquillo, a union leader from Santiago commented: ‘What we are proposing is trying to implement the fundamental law of socialism...from each according to his work and to each according to his capacity. Hopefully this can be implemented in all areas, at all work centres, and with all workers...Discipline has improved. I believe the union has a big task ahead and we have to continue strengthening the consciousness of the workers. We must demonstrate that the way to emerge from the special period is not through theft, but through awareness.’
Louis Brehony

* These articles are available on our website at with thanks to Walter Lippmann.

FRFI 194 December 2006 / January 2007


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