Cuba: Viva la dissolution

Cuba definitely deserves our special attention because the hideous regime there calls itself socialist and people believe it. Current developments mean that things may start to get a bit more interesting. The current economic “reforms” are in full swing. Basically they are sacking about a million government employees while allowing them to set up small businesses and “cooperatives”. Also the fibre optic cable connection to Venezuela is complete and the government will now endeavor the tricky task of trying to manage wider use of the internet which is presently very limited.

Being basically a mix of feudalism and state capitalism, “socialism” in Cuba is a total disaster and needs a massive injection of “normal” capitalism to get any growth from its economy. Vietnam and China managed to get a lease of life from doing this. It will be interesting to see if Cuba can pull off the same trick. Any sort of socialist trajectory of course is out of the question because the privileged strata would suppress it and the populace at large are not subjectively equipped for the task, in any way shape or form.

I’ve got some books about Cuba on my Kindle which I have started to plow through. The first one is Persona Non Grata: A Memoir of Disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution by Jorge Edwards who was Chilean Charge d’Affaire in Cuba under Allende and is a famous novelist. Here are some interesting quotes from the book followed by a few comments.

Weeks passed in which the daily quota was not reached. The government railed against absenteeism in the fields; the vagrancy law was discussed, and that meant, in practice, imposing obligatory labor on the entire Island. The alternative would have been to create material incentives, to encourage the populace to work by means of market mechanisms; but in Cuba, according to Fidel’s theory, progress would be achieved by advancing simultaneously along the roads of socialism and communism. A return to material incentives would mean the reestablishment of capitalist alienation. In consequence, economic development came to a dead end: One either abandoned the system of moral and ethical incentives, which was what distinguished the Cuban Revolution from all the rest and made it the purest and most advanced model of socialism in the world to date, or by virtue of the implacable irony of events one turned volunteer labor into forced labor.
We talked about the new harvest, which was now in full swing. J.P. said that running a sugar mill is terribly hard, self-sacrificing work. He recalled the old owners of the great sugar mills before the Revolution, who even when they were in Havana never took their minds off the way the wind was blowing, the weather reports; they would constantly be on the telephone to the mill, where they had a hand-picked, very well paid manager, in spite of which they themselves would supervise the harvest when it reached a critical point, working from six o’clock in the morning until late at night. Now the machinery at the mills is old, finding spare parts is hard, the network of trucks and locomotives, which is the key element in the harvest, is in terrible condition.
“Why don’t they use that machinery?” I had asked, the first time I saw this phenomenon.
“Ah!” My interlocutor had raised his hands and answered me in a hushed voice, looking around secretively to see if there were any invisible electronic ears. “If you’re here a year, you’ll see them rust and slowly fall apart.”
“In an underdeveloped capitalist country-in Chile, for instance-agriculture’s not very highly mechanized, but if a farmer buys a tractor, since he’s either got to invest his own savings in it or get up to his neck in debt with the State Bank for it, he treats it like a baby, and he gets all the use he can out of it.”
“You’ll see!” my interlocutor had insisted. “The most striking characteristic of a socialist economy is its waste. Workers, clerks, who only have the right to one pair of shoes a year, look at those tractors and they see their shoes sitting there, rotting.”
“A certain kind of socialist economy, you mean.”
“Of course! True socialism doesn’t work that way. But the problem is, we’re surrounded with incompetents-idiots! Idiots!”
According to a Chilean official who has lived in Cuba, a young agricultural “technician” ordered hundreds of hectares of land plowed up so that a grass called pangola could be planted, when in fact the plant that he saw growing in those fields was pangola. But the Cuban peasants, the guajiros, not daring to object, followed his instructions.
I suspect that in the realm of officialdom, at least while I was a witness to it, the system was much more receptive to bureaucratic conformity-that is, to submissiveness-than to work of quality.


Moral incentives are going to be very ineffective if your efforts are undermined by the inefficiency around you and you do not believe that society and the economy are run for the general good. Anyway there is a limit to what moral incentives could achieve in the case of manual sugar cane harvesting. It is appalling work. The alternative to material incentives is not simply moral incentives. It is a mix of moral incentives and the work generally being something you want to do for its own sake. The latter requires both more advanced technology as well as changed relations between people.

The young agricultural technician story indicates a society more backward than capitalism and with a long way to go before you could talk about a new society or “the new socialist man”.

Submissiveness and conformity are not the attributes of “the new socialist man” and they are very much encouraged by political tyranny.

7 Responses to “Cuba: Viva la dissolution”

  1. 1 Dalec

    Sugar, Cuba? What are you talking about? Cuba is now a net importer of sugar. Sugar has almost no importance in the Cuban economy.
    That book you quote must be about 20 years out of date.
    If you must launch an attack on any of the countries that is not a supine lap dog of US Imperialism at least get your basic facts right eh.

  2. 2 byork

    Egypt is a long way from Cuba but just watch for an ‘Egyptian’ uprising in Cuba, once the US completely drops its stupid embargo against the island and the Castro brothers can no longer blame the ‘gringo’ for all their problems. Such uprising will be supported by Cubans outside of Cuba, too, naturally enough. And they will be very well placed to do so, once the travel restrictions are fully removed. And, of course, the Cubans will be supported by all of us who support the objectives of the struggle of the Egyptians, Libyans, etc., for the basics of bourgeois democracy.


    In the Summer of 1969, I made my way by tram from my home in Brunswick to the University of Melbourne in Parkville. I used to love going on to the campus – so exciting, scintilating ideas everywhere in the air, people questioning authority in ways I never could do at high school. (No-one in my family, on either side, had ever stepped foot onto a campus until I went to uni). It was my first year out of high school, having just passed my ‘Matriculation’ in 1968. I had been politically active at school but felt that university held out some thrilling prospects. (I did not attend Melbourne but the newer campus of LaTrobe, which was much easier to get into).

    Anyway, I was sitting on my own in the University Cafe and decided to check out the leaflets lying around the campus. Everyone was on vacation, but I found a leaflet entitled “Open Letter to Fidel”. It was written on behalf of “the New Left”. It was damning of his support for the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and, from memory, criticized his heavy-handed treatment of dissidents in Cuba.

    It made a lot of sense and helped steer me in the anti-Soviet direction when I was admitted to LaTrobe a month or so later. I was not going to join any group that supported the Soviet invasion or that idolized Castro. The Labour Club fitted the bill and, within it, the ‘La Trobe communists’.

    While most on the left nonetheless felt some sympathy for Castro – after all, he talked the talk and had overthrown a fairly ugly regime – this sympathy, the idea that he was mistaken rather than on the wrong side, didn’t last very long. Things became worse – and clearer – over time.

    Among my old comrades, who strongly influenced and shared my view back then, I now find, all these years later, that Castro has become a hero and Cuba a socialist model. Whatever happened? At which point in time did these old comrades drop their left-wing critique and embrace a system that, as David rightly put it, is “a mix of feudalism and state capitalism”?

  3. 3 davidmc

    The fact that the pseudo left has some time for the Cuban regime is one more reason to be really upfront in supporting its collapse.

    Furthermore, being rabid on the matter would work well in tandem with attempts to spark some interest in socialism – paradoxical as that might seem. Rabid socialists rabidly calling for the collapse of the Cuban “socialist” regime – sounds good. It would attract some attention.

  4. 4 Arthur

    Needless to add, Dalek’s claim that Cuba is now a net importer of sugar is total bullshit.

    There has been a catastrophic decline in production, recently resulting in the worst harvest in 105 years, but the wikipedia claim Cuba is now a net importer is just the sort of fantasy from hostile emigres that a complete pseudo-leftist caricature like dalek would duly report as some sort of “achievement” in defense of its heroic anti-imperialism.

  5. 5 Dalec

    Thanks Arthur,
    I offer no defence of the Castro regime or any other. It simply strikes me as passing strange that the only document that is cited is about some noble sugar farm owner in the distant past.
    Don’t worry Arthur no doubt there will be a revolution that installs another Batista for you to praise.

  6. 6 Dalec

    BTW, Arthur, Barry; It would be interesting to know your position on the Helms-Burton law.

  7. 7 davidmc

    Why would it be interesting dalec?

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