Raúl Castro has announced that the much-delayed congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) will take place in April 2011. The fifth congress of the PCC was held in October 1997, and the sixth has been postponed countless times. But after an interval of thirteen and a half years, the PCC’s (formally) highest body will finally meet.
The announcement is a sign that the leadership is confident that divisions and factional struggles within the ruling bureaucracy have been contained – at least enough that they won’t break out openly at the congress. The younger Castro brother has been appointing trusted figures from the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), which he personally led for decades, into all key political and economic positions.
The congress will discuss a 32-page document, the “Draft Guidelines for Economic and Social Policies”, which codifies the reforms that the government has undertaken since the summer. Raúl Castro told the PCC newspaper Granma: “It is not a reform, it is an modernization of the economic model. No one is thinking that we are going to cede property, we are going to administer it in a different way.”
The document enshrines attacks on the working class already underway, such as the firing of 500.000 state workers (20% of the island’s working population!) who are supposed to find new employment in private micro-companies (known as “cuentapropistas”, roughly: “working for oneself”).
These tiny companies will be allowed to expand massively, including the right to use wage labor. The food rations, which provide for some of the basic needs of the working population, will be eliminated, and the state canteens will no longer be subsidised.
But the document goes much further: the central planning of the economy will be rolled back across the board. Individual companies will be able to set the prices of their goods and services, and also the wages of their workers. The vaguest possible language promises to abolish “undue gratuities and excessive personal subsidies”, without mentioning who decides what is “undue” or “excessive”. One assumes this does not refer to the privileges of the bureaucracy.
Lastly, the document proposes major concessions to foreign investment in the form of “Special Development Zones”, reminiscent of the “Special Economic Zones” that played a central role in the restoration of capitalism in China. The document also promises strict compliance with the repayment of Cuba’s foreign debt.
The document is more interesting for what it doesn’t say than what it does. It can be necessary for a workers’ state, in times of economic crisis, to retreat and make concessions to imperialism, as was the case in the Soviet Union with the New Economic Policy of 1921. But the PCC’s document makes no mention of how to defend the planned economy against the increasing pressure of imperialist investment and the growing petit bourgeois sectors of “cuentapropistas”. In such a retreat, it can be necessary to increase wage equality in order to spur productivity. But the Cuban leadership actually attempts to blame “egalitarianism” for the low productivity of the working class, as if wage differentiation were a positive step towards socialism.
It almost goes without saying that the “guidelines” make no mention of the possibility of integrating the workers into the management of the economy.
In their totality, the PCC’s congress will be preparing steps towards a gradual and controlled reintroduction of capitalism, leaving political power with the ruling bureaucracy (part of which will transform itself into a new bourgeoisie). In this scenario, the FAR, whose officers manage billions of dollars in “joint ventures” together with imperialist corporations, will be the first to transform themselves from administrators of the means of production into genuine owners. Therefore, they should be considered the main social base of this form of restoration.
This is the process that was completed in China and Vietnam in the 1990s. The enormous pressure of US imperialism, just 90 miles away, has in the past prevented bolder steps by the Cuban bureaucracy towards capitalism: they are justly worried that if they open up the country too much, they will be swept away by the gusanos (Cuban exiles, literally: “worms”) returning from Miami.
This is the background of the increasing negotiations between the Cuban government and imperialist countries as well as the stronger semi-colonies in Latin America. The latter would be happy to break into the Cuban market while keeping their US competitors out. Most importantly, Brazil has signed extensive trade agreements with Cuba.
Spanish imperialism, with the most foreign investments in Cuba, is deeply divided about whether to support the bureaucracy’s reforms or push for the collapse of the Cuban system. The Cuban bureaucracy, with the moderation of the Catholic Church, was prepared to make some concessions to the “democratic” demands of the EU, releasing some pro-imperialist “dissidents”, in order to secure their support for a programme of capitalist restoration. But the bourgeois classes of Europe are still uncertain how to proceed.
These reforms toward capitalism, which began with the “Special Period” in 1991, have been extremely slow – but they will reach a tipping point where the increased quantity of the private sector in the Cuban economy transforms into a new social quality. Concretely, the survival of the planned economy, including all its benefits for the population, is in danger.
The workers of Cuba urgently need to discuss how this can be prevented. While the “Friends of Cuba” insist that the PCC’s proposals are being discussed intensively by the whole population of the island, their insistence begs the question: can there be any kind of democratic discussion without alternatives? How are programmatic alternatives to be submitted to the discussion?
In this context, the “friendly criticism” of Trotskyists from the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USec) or the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) of Alan Woods, is doubly catastrophic: they warn about the danger of capitalist restoration, but refuse to raise any kind of programme that could actually stop the elimination of the planned economy.
The bureaucracy allows some isolated criticism at the universities, but only within strict limits. The entire historical experience of degenerate workers’ states such as Cuba shows that the bureaucracy as an institution cannot be won for a socialist programme.
Only the working class of Cuba, which has been atomised for 50 years in bureaucratic “mass organizations” of the regime, can provide a fundamental alternative: eliminating the privileges of the bureaucracy, submitting the economic plan to the democratic-decision making of the working population, expropriating foreign capital on the island and above all fighting for a Federation of Socialist Republics of Latin America. This program of workers’ political revolution is the only alternative to the Cuban workers suffering the same catastrophe as their brothers and sisters in Vietnam.
by Wladek Flakin, Revolutionary Internationalist Organization, Berlin
The theses on Cuba from the Revolutionary Internationalist Organization from October 2010 are available to read online here.