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Property Issues, State Farms and the Lessons Learned

Cuba: Property Issues, State Farms and the Lessons Learned
December 30, 2014
Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

HAVANA TIMES — Cuban society has experienced the class struggle in a
particularly intense manner. In 1961, the government announced it was
building socialism. Currently, this same government has undertaken a
program of reforms allegedly aimed at updating the system and making
socialism “prosperous and sustainable.”

Harsh observers could well point out that, as part of this reform
process, the country has rescued policies and mechanisms that existed in
the past. At a certain point in time, these mechanisms (such as the
market, foreign investment and private enterprises) were banned as
elements that were noxious for the new system and the new human being
that was being forged.

An even harsher observer could point out that part of Cuba’s
intelligentsia has taken to heart the remark made by former President
Fidel Castro, to the effect that it is foolish to claim to know how to
build socialism.

Other observers have severely criticized the supposedly socialist nature
of Cuba’s system. These critics point out that the fact the means of
production aren’t legally owned by individuals isn’t enough to affirm a
system is socialist. They argue that, if the means of production are
managed by a reduced caste of individuals grouped around State
apparatuses, if this class behaves with discretion and cannot be
questioned or removed by workers, if the fruits of labor are managed in
a non-transparent fashion by these same elites and if, as a result of
the above, inequalities in terms of quality of life and the
socio-political significance of human beings are reproduced, what we
have is simply another form of capitalism and exploitation.

Under these conditions, the State enterprise reproduces the alienation
of the proletariat just as capitalism does. It is no accident that
government politicians and philosophers have wracked their brains for
years, and continue to bemoan the fact that the majority of workers do
not feel they actually control the means of production. An unwanted
result of this is the enthusiastic misappropriation of State resources
by anyone in a position to do so, and the complete lack of interest in
preventing this shown by other workers.

In the course of decades, the government has launched innumerable
campaigns of a moral and political nature. It has conducted all manner
of social experiments through administrative, Party and trade union
structures…and met with the same, sterile results. I would add that this
should come as no surprise to anyone with basic knowledge of the
principles of political economy and Marxism.

The case of agriculture is particularly representative of this.
Following the Agrarian Reform of 1959, a great many plots of land came
under the administration of so-called “State farms.” As the name
suggests, these belonged to the State and were rigidly administered by
the Ministry of Agriculture bureaucracy.

According to the idealistic conceptions of Fidel Castro, these farms,
said to belong “to the entire people,” were the most genuinely socialist
enterprises in the world. There, the New Man would be forged, people
would work selflessly for the common good, etc., etc. Workers on these
farms would report the highest levels of productivity. They would become
responsible individuals and strongly feel they controlled the means of
production – the lands, machinery, facilities and resources employed in
agricultural production. These farms would prosper and supply the
country with a wealth of food and other products.

Reality, impertinent as always, would prove Castro wrong. These people’s
farms broke all imaginable records in terms of unproductiveness,
wastefulness and the misappropriation of supplies. As State subsidies
decreased, their plots of land became covered with marabou brush – even
before the workers abandoned the farms en masse.

In 1994, the Basic Units for Cooperative Production (UBPC) were created.
These were an ill-conceived attempt at offering farm workers a degree of
autonomy and sense of ownership. So many bureaucratic restrictions were
applied on these that the same disastrous practices of old continued.
Suffice it to mention that, in these supposed cooperatives, the
president of the collective was imposed on farmers from above. Farmers
at base level still were denied the right to decide what to produce, how
to do so, who to sell to and who to buy from.

In 2012, a series of measures aimed at strengthening the UBPCs were
announced. These were aimed at rectifying the conceptual problems of
1994, offering the farms true autonomy and finally giving workers the
sense that they controlled production. It is probably still too soon to
properly evaluate the results of this, but we have a number of
interesting lessons we can turn to.

A metaphor we could toy with is to consider Cuba’s industries as a
series of companies that are very similar to those agricultural units,
covered with a variety of urban marabou. The nationalization process
undertaken as of 1959 turned them into that oxymoron, companies “of the
people” strictly subordinate to the State bureaucracy.

No subsequent measure or experiment has been implemented with enough
wisdom and courage to grant worker collectives property rights. In part,
such ownership has oscillated between the center and periphery of the
command chain, but such oscillations haven’t altered the vertical and
authoritarian logic behind everything. The government is even willing to
grant foreign capitalists such rights, but it isn’t clear whether it is
willing to give Cuban entrepreneurs the same privileges. It never favors
the local working class, the only ones capable of building a socialist
society.

The nature of the ownership over the means of production is what
determines the nature of the social system, as Marx and common sense
tell us. Ownership, in turn, depends on the exercise of property rights,
not on abstract declarations made by political and administrative
superstructures. Now that we are entering a new stage that is full of
uncertainty, it would be worthwhile to ask ourselves how these issues
are handled.

Source: Cuba: Property Issues, State Farms and the Lessons Learned –
Havana Times.org – http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=108258

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