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.