With reports of the inclusion in the new Cuban constitution of clauses reifying and protecting private property, an analysis of revisionist trends and the ongoing project for capitalist restoration in Cuba and beyond has once again become relevant for the world communist movement. According to TeleSUR, reporting on a series of statements from Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, the new draft constitution set to be submitted to the National Assembly of People’s Power will include articles that officially re-establish private property as one of the forms of ownership recognized by the state. This, they say, is to help foster “sustainable socialism” and answer the persistent problems of imperialist maldevelopment and the collapse of the socialist bloc. This is not an isolated occurrence, as it comes on the heels of more than a decade of incremental reforms that have opened the door to the recognition of new spheres in the Cuban economy, including foreign investment and self-employment among Cubans.
The Cuban government, as well as its supporters and the detractors, all admit that this is only an acknowledgement of an already existing state of affairs. It is well known that even while Cuba did not officially recognize private property, private property and proprietorship has existed functionally as a facet of the emergency measures resulting from the crisis of the 1990s, and intensifying after the ascension of comrade Raul to the head of the Communist Party and government. So if this was the case, why does the constitutional change matter? To push back against those critics of the Cuban government who insist that this measure does not matter since it only represents an acknowledgement of an existing policy, we believe that there is a qualitative character to these reforms. There are many cases where the de facto return of private property under socialism, or simply its toleration in certain circumstances, is acceptable and necessary.
Notwithstanding the revisionist misuse of the memory of NEP in Russia, Lenin and later Mao underscored the importance of strategic retreats when necessary, and we should not be so sure of ourselves to think that we will never have to make such difficult decisions as they did. That said, they are as Lenin called them: strategic retreats. They are not methods of crafting “sustainable socialism” nor are they benign in character. They represent dangerous infrastructural concessions to the capitalist superstructure, and Lenin did everything in his power to make that point known. We have seen the result of such measures’ mismanagement, and the ideological trends that are responsible for and benefit from that mismanagement.
When building socialism, especially in countries maldeveloped by imperialism or rising from semi-feudal conditions, or simply those completely devastated by war, there is no universal answer to the question of how long we must utilize the state and economic machinery of capitalism. However, echoing Che in his criticism of the Soviet Union’s revisionist and rightward turn, it is imperative to understand these as nexus of bourgeois ideology and class power, and therefore we must move to eliminate them whenever and wherever it is possible. But things do not always go to plan, and in crisis or catastrophe, where the state infrastructure is lacking or nonexistent, unable to handle an issue from the center, the toleration of the reemergence of markets might become necessary to save the socialist state from catastrophic instability or the people from deep immiseration. Simply put, we cannot prefigure our response to every situation, and must respond to material conditions as they are, and we must do so in a communist way.
In Cuba, the bleeding edge of economic reform is in the sectors of tourism and foreign investment. From the standpoint of the state, their reasoning in relying on these two elements concerns the lack of industrial development in Cuba that continues to make it dependent on other countries for technology and finished goods. This is a result of the maldevelopment of the Cuban economy first by the imperialists and colonialists, and then by the Soviet social-imperialists in their refusal to aid Cuba in the diversification of its productive base, preferring that they remain a predominantly sugar-producing country. When the USSR collapsed, Cuba had no other country to rely on for aid and development, so foreign investment was indeed the only option available. This is not unique to socialist countries. Generally the ability for socialist countries to capture technology and capital necessary to advance their position is good, but only so long as it is subordinate to the proletarian dictatorship, with constant vigilance against the ill-effects that proceed from the haphazard application of the law of value..
The problem is complicated by the fact that all the bureaucratic roles and institutional frameworks needed to interact with this kind of investment creates, even within the state sector, a kind of bourgeois consciousness through the day-to-day realities of their work. Despite the fact that it is not necessarily reactionary to seek out foreign investment, all the institutions and instruments that must arise to sustain it become themselves bourgeois fifth columns, and should be understood as temporary and alien to the socialist project. Further, all deals for investment must be judged upon their unique merits, and one should never assume that all investment is good investment. Many deals, especially those offered by the monopoly capitalists of the imperialist countries, include clauses and conditions which will attempt to deprive the proletarian dictatorship of its sovereignty nationally and internationally. Those functionaries dealing with such investment should be kept at arm’s length, and subordinated to the Party that puts proletarian politics in command of all things.
In Cuba, as in all the other revisionist countries, a firm trust between the foreign investment functionaries and the party has been built in favor of the growing autonomy of the bourgeois class. Their attitudes toward investment have become so loose that they look constantly for ways to further enshrine it as a seemingly permanent element of the new Cuban state. People who should have been criticized for their utilitarian approaches and attitudes as functionaries of these bourgeois sectors have become important forces in the Party. Despite their ostensible loyalty to the Communist Party, the true loyalty of these individuals is to expand the roles and interests of the growing private sector, displacing actual proletarian power in the process. The same logic is applied in the tourism sector, which has become the driving force for the explosion of private ownership in Cuba.
The justifications for the initial boost to the tourist sector are reasonable, if we were to assume they would be kept in check by the proletarian state and party, as it was the least dangerous way of capturing foreign hard currency—dollars especially—in large amounts to be used in purchasing goods necessary for the country’s survival. In practice the problem was two-fold. First of all the Cuban state did not really regulate the collection of this hard currency, and it became circulated both within the country on a local basis as well as ending up in the hands of the state. Locally, its circulation helped to feed the growing independence of the private sector, as these currencies are not regulated by the state, but are accepted in trade. Secondly, as in all other areas, the overoptimism of the party, the inclusion of the sectors’ functionaries in the highest decision-making bodies, and the expansion of the tourist sector for the sake of expansion has driven the runaway growth of private ownership and market relations in Cuba.
Along with the growth of market relations, it has also helped to grow a dissident class that feigns loyalty to the Communist Party and its principles, while displacing whatever proletarian power remains. Now, the talk of expanding tourism in the country is no longer anchored to the proletarian dictatorship, and proletarian politics are no longer in command of its development. Instead, these functionaries point to the rising purchasing power of some urban Cubans as evidence of the “socialist” nature of these reforms, promising that they are not contradictory with communism based on the relative benefits to the people as a whole. What they do not want to emphasize, however, is how the growth of this market demands new protections and greater allowances, a further weakening of the binds on the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois impulse. It does not serve to complement the state economy, but to grow at its expense. While the negative effects, aside the obvious issues of sovereignty arising from transforming a section of the populace into a servile mass for western tourists, are for the moment hidden by the market’s size, we will no doubt see the increasing stratification and corruption that such a sector demands, and the weight it puts on all regulations that prevent that stratification.
The right-wing mismanagement of these measures by the Cuban state exposes some general truths. Firstly, that wherever these mechanisms are employed, and where capitalist property relations exist, they must be dictated by, and responsible to, the socialist state. To give special provisions or “rights” to the continuation of these practices, or to enshrine them in core documents limiting the power of the party or state is disastrous for socialism without exception, and is contrary to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Whereas the socialist state may sometimes under duress be forced to make concessions for the sake of its continued existence, this cannot be done through tying the hands of the state and party with bourgeois “rights” that ensure the existence and legitimacy of the bourgeois class against the proletariat. That is what this development means in Cuba. Of course, this is an outgrowth of existing revisionist trends that have been inspired by a lack of caution in the implementation and toleration of certain relations, as well as a historic emulation of the revisionist Soviet Union. These new developments represent a high watermark in the achievements of the bourgeoisie in its quest to destroy all vestiges of proletarian politics in the Cuban party and state.
Capitalist relations, even when employed by, or existing under, the influence of the socialist state, are tumorous growths that threaten the vitality of the proletarian dictatorship at every turn. The longer they exist, shaping material conditions, the more they aid the reconsolidation of bourgeois class power and displace that of the proletariat. So even while existing without guarantees, lacking decree or constitutional status, these relations fester and, like a cancer, grow at the expense of socialism. Such relations cannot exist harmoniously in socialism, but only temporarily, lest they overtake it. In Cuba, such wariness is not demonstrated by the many giants in the party and state, who say that such measures help to make socialism “sustainable” in Cuba. Comments like these amount to a tacit admission that the central tenets of Marxism go “too far” and that the reification of bourgeois relations in the state will correct these “errors” in practice. Their lack of caution in their commitment to the growth of this toxic sector is evidence of the seriousness of the situation regarding capitalist restoration in Cuba.
Beyond the growth of the private sector, these reforms, even within the state sector, and the for-profit and market mechanisms introduced in Cuban planning have also contributed to the “rear guard” of capitalist roaderism, that undermines the socialist state and contributes to the logic driving the development of the private sector outside of it. The issue of revisionism is not simply one of decree and constitutional rights, but it is through legal structures that their advances are cemented, and the frontlines are explicitly set in the class struggle persisting under socialism. It is one thing to acknowledge the economic conditions in the country and recognize that private property persists in practice, and another to offer legitimacy to these relations to further their development outside the sovereignty of the proletarian dictatorship. Responding to material conditions with “pragmatism” and bourgeois concessions always appear to the revisionists to be rational politics, but they are not socialist politics.
The revisionists in Cuba do not betray that they entirely comprehend the consequences of enshrining private property rights in a constitutional capacity. To them, this will help ensure the vitality of the state, and the “modernization” of the economy. In fact, it represents an epochal change in the class struggle in Cuba in favor of the bourgeoisie, both in and outside the state. Even for the revisionists, it is a double-edged sword. As the roots of the bourgeoisie in Cuba grow, fed through the incremental takeover of institutions and expansion of codified class power in the state and society, they will displace proletarian power and crack the facade of the state. Eventually, when the bourgeoisie in Cuba is strong enough, and the economy has reached the tipping point, even the revisionist “communists” will prove an obstacle to the supremacy of the law of value in governing society, and it will be cast aside entirely. Simply because it did not happen in the 1990s, does not mean that the threat of collapse does not loom.
For the proletariat and their representatives in the Cuban Communist Party, this is not necessarily the end of the road. The gradual corrosion of the proletarian dictatorship from the inside out proceeds quantitatively, producing qualitative leaps. This is one such leap, but it is not the last. They must rally to defeat these measures, and even if they cannot chase out private ownership entirely, they must ruthlessly attack all areas where it has been enshrined by the traitors and bourgeois roaders. We are bound to get a glimpse into the actual state of consciousness in Cuba with the scheduled plebiscite on the new draft constitution, but given the extent of the changes to the constitution, it will be difficult to say for sure what the consensus on the issue of private property is. Nevertheless, we should maintain faith in our comrades in the Cuban Communist Party that the ongoing march back to capitalism is not unopposed. To resign ourselves and the Cuban proletariat to hopelessness is defeatist, but we should not understate how dire the situation really is.
Outside Cuba, we should strive to better understand the process of capitalist restoration and the revisionist trends that feed it. This not only strengthens our understanding of socialist governance but helps us develop a deeper internationalist connection to the proletarian movements elsewhere in the world. We must not simply be idle spectators, but invested and responsible actors in the world struggle against capitalism-imperialism. We reject those who say that we must not investigate and analyze such things in Cuba or in other nominally socialist countries, on the basis that it is “left-opportunist” and immaterial. On the contrary, our analysis should bring us closer to those revolutionaries in the Cuban Communist Party and elsewhere who actively reject and move against the rightist deviations in the party, and learn from the mistakes and successes in governing Cuba for over half a century. It is right-opportunist and anti-Marxist to say that we must close our eyes to the political development of every movement but our own.
That said, we should not resort to useless and ultimately pedantic whining particularly virulent among many left-communist sects. We should organize our thoughts in helpful and productive ways, not just stating the facts, but analyzing them. There is a discrete left-opportunist trend that seeks to throw all developments in Cuba post-1959 into the dustbin and forget about it. This does as little for us as the right-opportunist line; both fail to grasp the full reality of revisionist corrosion and capitalist restoration in Cuba, although one cloaks itself in stultified theory. We should not stop at holding out hope for the legitimate Communists in Cuba, but should actively unite with them and learn from them.