To Save Without Changing: An Impossible Utopia
The Letters section in the daily paper Granma, published on Thursday, Jan. 29, included some opinions about the privatization of food in Cuba. Spontaneous or targets, their appearance in the official press demonstrates the necessary citizen participation in solving national problems and the damage from dividing Cubans by the simple fact of whether they support or oppose the opinions of power. Though late and insufficient, the publication of the Gonzalez De la Cruz’s opinions, without classifying him as a counterrevolutionary, is a small step but a step nonetheless.
Consider four of these opinions:
1 – “The situation we have is to not to try to privatize anything, because in practice it has already happened… What kind of social property are the centers of services and food in which the expenditures are the State’s, while the benefits with every kind of fraudulent and illegal origin go into the pockets of those who work there…” And he adds, “What would it mean to the State to eliminate the current farce of state property? Nothing more than the elimination of a colossal cost in salaries, social security, an enormous bureaucratic apparatus and a huge consumption of materials impossible to recover…”
2 – “The property, be it private or State, when it is in a social use it is valid. To blame private property in general as a return to capitalism and for this obvious motive, is like labeling the steam engine capitalist for having led to the development of this system…”
3 – “Historical materialism establishes that the economic base determines the superstructure… I wonder what morality is supposed to be emerging from this kind of state property that we have where State assets are used for people’s profit and plunder.”
4 – “… if we want to save our socialism, it is not enough to proclaim monotonous slogans, we must do it from inside with the necessary corrections, and soon.”
It seems that Granma is promoting a debate about privatization which, as Gonzalez de la Cruz said, is already happening in the worst way. It is the worst because the obsession with avoiding the formation of a Cuban middle class led to a sui generis privatization, without legal owners, which has been detrimental to the State as well as to society. This reality requires, sooner or later, a process of real privatization where Cubans can become legitimate owners. In March 2001, in a paragraph in Moral Citizen in the digital daily Encuentro en la Red, I wrote, “A huge and efficient network of products and services, at the margin of the law, functions across the breadth and width of Cuban territory. Offering articles both original and adulterated, from a sewing needle to a private detective, from a beautiful Caribbean woman to an astrological consultation, from shoe repair to the construction of mansions… lacking their own sites, the network uses those of the State, where they market and provide their services. From this the term Estaticular arose, that is the expenditures of the State and the profits of the individual. The principal source of supply is theft, with the consequent corruption…”
In the presentation Conceptual Aspects of Property, delivered at a seminar on the present and future of the civil Cuban economy Dec, 15-16 2000, I stated, “In society personal development is realized through social relationships and collaboration, and property is an instrument that allows this collaboration to take place… the choice is not between private property versus social property, but the ability to consider, at certain time and place and under certain conditions, what are the ways most advantageous to the development of the community, making the institution of property a foundation of social order.”
With regards to what morality is emerging from the kind of state property we have, the answer is simple: the morality that corresponds to the material base that sustains it. In the article Moral Citizen, I said, “What is the dilemma of the Cuban family if a job is not the main source of income? The answer is survival… If, moreover, this conduct is socially acceptable and each family in one way or another lives with and shares them, then this is morality, precisely the negative morality of survival.”
More recently in Cuban Agriculture: Change Everything That Must be Changed (2007, no. 7), I wrote, “When the relationship between ownership and appropriation is lost, as has happened in Cuba…, the result is that the citizens, dispossessed and prevented by law from being owners and/or receiving according to their contributions, rather than responding to heroic calls for productivity… they prefer to seem the means to survive through illegalities, deceptions, theft, lying, and appropriating the property “of all the people,” with the consequent damage and ethical deterioration of the citizens.”
In addition to the mandate of the martyrs, as Gonzalez de la Cruz said, there is one thing that cannot be ignored. In Cuban Agriculture… I said, “Both the practical thousand-year history, and the science of economics, have demonstrated the irreplaceable role of workers in increasing the production and productivity of work, an area in which property plays a valuable role… A reality absent from existing property relations in Cuba, which block full participation, in a country where economic potential lies precisely in the high quality of its citizens.”
In every era Cuban thinkers worried about the widespread promotion of small and medium-size property. The Bishop Juan Jose Diaz de Espada, produced a project in 1808 based on a diversified economy of small farmers; Jose Antonio Saco proposed the conversion of slave plantations into small parcel agriculture; Francisoc de Frias, Count of de Poos Dulces, believed that Cuba should be the country par excellence of small property and cultivation on a small scale; Enrique Jose Varona, both in the colony and in the Republic, counseled promotion of the small owner and building a national middle class; and Jose Marti believed that the Republic was in a state of equal rights for everyone born in Cuba, a place of freedom of expression and thought and of many small owners. So, since colonial times, they were creating an infinity of small properties that was consolidated with the concept of social function defined in the 1940 Constitution, and that gave birth to an important sector of small and medium-size Cuban entrepreneurs whose last protests were swept away with the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968. Then, in 1993, the timid reforms initiated, which responded more to the preservation of political power than to the needs of society, were halted by the counter-reform of 1996.
These and other opinions were raised many years ago. The only novelty is that, after the problem has worsened, other Cubans have returned to the subject and the official press publishes them without calling them enemies or counterrevolutionaries. The problem is that if you really want to find a solution to such serious problems you must have a real and inclusive debate, regardless of ideologies and the interests of the power, which inevitably will require structural changes. Progress toward effective citizen participation, or continue hurtling toward disaster.