Cuba, Che Guevara, and the Problem of “Socialism in One Country”
The presidential elections in Cuba may have marked the end of an era. On the face of it, Raúl Castro’s decision to step aside symbolized, more than anything else, the departure of the revolution’s historical generation and the process of rejuvenation of the Cuban leadership—a process that had begun much earlier than the Western media cared to acknowledge. Detractors of the Cuban government have been quick to express their regrets over the unbroken continuity of its socialist project and to predict, once again, the island’s eventual return into the capitalist fold.
The disintegration of the Soviet bloc thirty years ago and every policy change by Cuba have triggered speculations that the breakdown of socialism, the wholesale introduction of economic liberalization, and the restoration of capitalism in Cuba are imminent. By adding pressure from the outside, the objective of the U.S. blockade of Cuba has been just that: the destruction of the Cuban revolution’s economic base. But looking at Cuba’s relative isolation in a world of consumerism, indifference, and reactionary politics—in addition to the policy adjustments it has already been compelled to make—one does not have to be an enemy of the Cuban model to cast doubts on its viability.
It is indeed legitimate to ask whether, in the long run, Cuba as a socialist society can “survive” in a hostile environment. Or rather, how Cuba, and therefore socialism in one country, can hold up and develop against the economic, cultural, and military encirclement of U.S. imperialism in particular and the capitalist system in general. Dialectically, external contradictions take effect by means of internal contradictions and, if it were not for the Cuban people’s persevering resilience, the U.S. embargo and other capitalist pressures could have been enough to seriously undermine Cuba’s political and economic independence.
The Political Economy of Socialist Transition
From the early days of the Cuban Revolution, strengthening the internal and external conditions of its survival has been of great concern to its protagonists, even though their approach has never solely been a defensive one. After the seizure of power, converting the rebel army into a more regular defense force was perhaps the easiest task. However, shaking up the economy and developing a planning system as the basis of Cuban society’s socialist transition has been a completely different story. At the time, two of the most delicate and urgent economic measures to be taken—industrialization and the transformation of the banking system—were assigned to Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
In November 1959, only two months after he had started to organize the Department of Industrialization at the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), Guevara also took on the presidency of the National Bank of Cuba. In this function, he directed six major operations to stop capital flight and regain control of the country’s financial resources: 1) the withdrawal of Cuban gold reserves from the United States, 2) the introduction of foreign trade licenses, 3) the nationalization of the banking system, 4) the termination of Cuba’s membership in U.S.-dominated international finance institutions, 5) the setup of a foreign trade agency, and 6) the pivotal replacement of banknotes. Following the first U.S. sanctions in October 1960, Guevara led a two-month trade mission to the Soviet Union, China, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and North Korea. At that point, he already had trade experience from his travels to Yugoslavia, North Africa, and Asia the previous year.
In February 1961, Guevara was instrumental in establishing the Ministry of Industries, which he headed up until his departure for the Congo four years later. Simultaneously, he continued to be active as a military commander and as one of the architects of Cuba’s new State Security Department that organized support to liberation movements in Latin America and Africa. The fact that he stayed at the Ministry of Industries for so long shows that he considered it necessary to domestically consolidate the revolution before turning to international projects. Despite its continental inclinations and Guevara’s own aspirations abroad, the Cuban leadership’s top priority was implementing and deepening the economic conditions of the country’s first phase of socialist transformation, while in no way neglecting international conditions impacting the revolution. Guevara only renounced his functions in the Cuban leadership when he was confident that the systems he helped put in place were mature enough to advance without him.Before leaving for his final undertaking in Latin America, Guevara spent three months in a small summerhouse near Prague, codenamed Venkov (Czech for “the cottage”), preparing a book on the political economy of socialist transition. In one of his notes for the book, he posed and implicitly denied the rhetorical question: “First of all, can communism be built in just one country?”Ernesto Che Guevara, Apuntes Críticos a la Economía Política (Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2006), 203. An English-language edition, Critical Notes on Political Economy, has been announced by Ocean Press several times but appears to be unavailable as of yet. Only a chapter on Marx and Engels has been published in English so far. For an extensive contextual analysis of Apuntes, see Helen Yaffe, Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution (London, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). The question referred to statements by the Soviet Union’s Academy of Sciences in its Manual of Political Economy, which had been widely used for training government employees in countries receiving Soviet aid. The core of Guevara’s notes from this period revolve around a critical assessment of the Manual and his disapproval of the economic, social, and political consequences of Soviet practices—from V. I. Lenin’s New Economic Policy to the ensuing politics of “socialism in one country” and “peaceful coexistence.”
The book project fit in with the discussions Guevara had initiated during his years at the helm of Cuba’s Ministry of Industries, which came to be known as the Great Debate. While the discussions centered on advocating for the Ministry’s Budgetary Finance System over the so-called Autofinancing System or Economic Calculus applied in the other socialist economies, their scope included the fundamental issues determining the period of transition from a capitalist to a socialist economy, both from a Cuban and an international perspective. Moral values and “facts of consciousness” were Guevara’s major concerns, and his most comprehensive analysis of their significance in socialist development can be found in one of a series of articles published in the Ministry’s magazine, Nuestra Industria, throughout 1963 and 1964.Ernesto Che Guevara, On the Budgetary Finance System, in Bertram Silverman, ed., Man and Socialism in Cuba: The Great Debate (New York: Atheneum, 1971), 122–56.
In a Ministry meeting on October 2, 1964, Guevara cautioned his staff against conflating the definitions of socialism and communism, pointing out that socialism, as the period of transition between the capitalist order’s destruction and the building of communism, could not be conceived in a linear way. He reminded them that, “if you read Lenin attentively,” an additional period can be distinguished: a period of socialist construction that “moves from the establishment of workers’ power until the moment when society can be called socialist, i.e., when the means of production will all be in the hands of society, when there will be no exploitation of human beings by other human beings, etc. Rewarding according to labor will determine the period spanning from socialism to communism, while under communism rewarding will be according to need.”Ernesto Che Guevara, appendix to Apuntes, 338–39.
Noticing that “the political economy of the period of transition is still missing entirely,” he tried to provide some of the main analytical elements for understanding and transforming “a period during which workers’ power is established, where the decision to move towards socialism has been taken, and where nevertheless a whole series of production relations closely linked to capitalism persist.”Guevara, appendix to Apuntes, 339. Guevara thought that these relations could be overcome by more or less centralized planning and the gradual shift in emphasis from material to moral incentives.
Referring to the extent to which the law of value still applies in a socialist economy surrounded by market economies, Guevara concluded, in the same meeting, that socialist planning finally enabled humanity to “break and create economic laws”—a capacity, however, “which cannot be reduced to the development of the productive forces in one country, but which implies the development of socialism on a world scale, because socialism is a global system and influences the entire world.”Guevara, appendix to Apuntes, 342.
“Socialism in One Country”
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels had expected the socialist revolution to take place after the full development of the productive forces, and therefore in the most developed capitalist economies first. This view was based on the observation, as expressed in the Communist Manifesto, that the bourgeoisie had not only “forged the weapons that bring death to itself,” but also created those “who are to wield those weapons,” that is, the modern working class. In notes that came to be known as the German Ideology, they wrote: “Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples ‘all at once’ and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with them.”Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975), 49.
In preparation for writing the Communist Manifesto, Engels drafted a list, known as Principles of Communism, in which, in 1847, he noted:
Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone? No. Large-scale industry, already by creating the world market, has so linked up all the peoples of the earth…that each people is dependent on what happens to another.… [I]t will develop more quickly or more slowly according to whether the country has a more developed industry, more wealth, and a more considerable mass of productive forces. It will therefore be slowest and most difficult to carry out in Germany, quickest and easiest in England. It will also have an important effect upon the other countries of the world, and will completely change and greatly accelerate their previous manner of development. It is a worldwide revolution and will therefore be worldwide in scope.Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 6, 351–52.
Based on these assumptions, more than half a century later and under changed international conditions, advanced capitalist accumulation was still considered a prerequisite for the start of a socialist revolution. This is what Lenin referred to when, in 1915, he stated that “uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone.”Lenin, On the Slogan for a United States of Europe, in Collected Works, vol. 21 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), 343. His assessment of the Russian situation after the forced abdication of Tsar Nicolas II in March 1917 was that, due to the peasant character of the country, “the Russian proletariat cannot bring the socialist revolution to a victorious conclusion. But it can give the Russian revolution a mighty sweep that would create the most favorable conditions for a socialist revolution, and would, in a sense, start it. It can facilitate the rise of a situation in which its chief, its most trustworthy and most reliable partner, the European and American socialist proletariat, could join the decisive battles.”Lenin, Farewell Letter to the Swiss Workers, in Collected Works, vol. 23, 372.
In the first years after the October Revolution, its leaders expected to be at the beginning of a process of world revolution, which they considered indispensable for the development of socialism in an economically underdeveloped (“backward”) country like Russia, under conditions of military encirclement and limited resources. They had high hopes for the rise of the German working class, which at the time was considered the most advanced despite the nationalist opportunism of its social-democratic leaders during the First World War and their ignorance of “the international functions of the German working class” already pointed out by Marx in 1875.Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 24, 90. But revolutionary upheavals in Germany were rapidly smothered in blood. From prison, only months before her assassination, Rosa Luxemburg commented bitterly: “It is not Russia’s unripeness which has been proved by the events of the war and the Russian Revolution, but the unripeness of the German proletariat for the fulfilment of its historic tasks.”Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, in Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson, eds., The Rosa Luxemburg Reader (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004), 283.
The more it became clear that the Russian Revolution’s consolidation could not depend on the workers’ movements in the West, the more the Bolsheviks saw themselves forced to attempt a breakthrough within their own confines. As foreseen by Lenin a decade earlier, the economic consequences of the antagonism between proletariat and peasantry, or between urban and rural interests, began to determine their policies. In the meantime, counterrevolutionary troops supported by the imperialist powers had been pushed back by the Red Army and solidarity movements in the capitalist centers helped prevent further military incursions.
Defending the adoption of the largely market-oriented New Economic Policy in 1921, Lenin concluded in retrospect:
When we started the international revolution, we did so…because a number of circumstances compelled us to start it. We thought: either the international revolution comes to our assistance, and in that case our victory will be fully assured, or we shall do our modest revolutionary work in the conviction that even in the event of defeat we shall have served the cause of the revolution and that our experience will benefit other revolutions.… Before the revolution, and even after it, we thought: either revolution breaks out in the other countries, in the capitalistically more developed countries, immediately, or at least very quickly, or we must perish. Actually, however, events did not proceed along as straight a line as we had expected.Lenin, Report on the Tactics of the Russian Communist Party, in Collected Works, vol. 32, 479–80.
A year later, Lenin even affirmed that “as early as 1918 we regarded state capitalism as a possible line of retreat.”Report to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, in Collected Works, vol. 33, 421.
Nevertheless, it took the leadership of the young Soviet Union another five years or so until they definitively subordinated the prospects of international revolutionary movements to the protection of immediate national interests. A year after Lenin’s death in 1924, “socialism in one country” became the paramount policy doctrine, replacing international solidarity with geopolitics, or, in Guevara’s words, “internationalism with chauvinism.”Guevara, Apuntes, 145. The acknowledgement of a failing world revolution turned into denial of its necessity and the conviction that everything had to be subordinated to the defense of domestic interests, again at the expense of revolutionary potential elsewhere. As a policy, it had repercussions on the Soviet Union’s own transformation processes. Glorification of the existing system replaced critical analysis. Assuming that Lenin would eventually have tried to rectify the course of things, Guevara ironically reproached him for having made “two major mistakes, the first one was the New Economic Policy, the second one was to have died, albeit not on purpose.”Guevara, Apuntes, 345.
Socialism in one country has never been a well-founded theoretical concept, even when it continued to be closely related to the deterministic view that capitalism would succumb to its own contradictions, or that the development of the productive forces would almost automatically lead to socialism. Ever since its inception, the phrase hardly evolved beyond a mere justification of realities and practical policies. It was, as Jean-Paul Sartre put it, an “ideological monstrosity” at “the root of the institutionalization of the Russian Revolution.”Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason, ed. Arlette Elkaim-Sartre, vol. II (London: Verso, 1991), 98–104 With dogmatic determination, both Joseph Stalin and his opponents dug their heels into the slogan with out-of-context Lenin quotes and, in the end, it only served to justify political purges and to keep Communist parties around the world under “Moscow’s” thumb. It kept Trotskyist and Maoist parties bogged down in pointless debates. The Soviet Union continued to support organizations in the West, as well as liberation movements in what came to be called the third world, but its orientation and the support extended to other forces were increasingly conditioned by narrow geopolitical considerations.
Rather than fostering revolutionary movements wherever they emerged in order to weaken the capitalist system’s grip on people’s lives, countless initiatives were sacrificed, left with little support, or actively stopped. Organizations and popular uprisings were instrumentalized in questionable coalitions for the good of “socialism in one country” and, subsequently, “peaceful coexistence,” with devastating consequences for the international communist movement and peoples at large. Examples of this are known too well to be enumerated here. The doctrine of socialism in one country has become a metaphor for defensive ideology substituting itself for offensive revolutionary praxis, which is “dangerous and egoistic in a profound sense, because it morally disarms the peoples and would cause socialism to forget the other, slower, peoples in the emulation process.”Guevara, Apuntes, 204.
In the new capitalist world order created by the Second World War, revolutionary dynamics shifted from the workers’ movements in its centers to the anticolonial and anti-imperialist liberation struggles in its peripheries. After the Chinese Revolution and the Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu, guerilla warfare became the predominant form of struggle against the old colonial powers and neocolonial expansion. The third world, initially termed by a sociologist to describe the emerging Non-Aligned Movement, became the consciousness of a battlefield for what Franz Fanon called the creation of “manifold Dien Bien Phus.”Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 70.
From the outset, Cuban revolutionaries had an internationalist perspective, even though every social revolution is first a struggle for self-determination, occurring, consolidating, and developing within a national context. Political sovereignty and economic independence were the main objectives of the Cuban guerilla war, which turned into one of the first social revolutions driven by a majority of peasants and rural workers in alliance with the urban working class and the intelligentsia. After the seizure of power, their first international contacts were established with the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement.
While critical about the realities of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, Cuban revolutionaries were convinced that the development of socialism in Cuba had to go hand in hand with revolutions elsewhere, particularly in Latin America, in order to divide the imperialist forces and thus take away some pressure off the Cuban Revolution. For them, the “continental character” of their struggle was a matter of protecting its domestic outcome but also a matter of revolutionary identity with the poorest masses, based on their personal experience and political affinities from their time in exile. In the tradition of José Martí, they understood Latin America as a single patria or nation and “the independence of Cuba as an integral part of the Latin American revolution.”Informe de la Delegación Cubana a la Primera Conferencia de la OLAS (Havana: OLAS, 1967), 30.
Contrary to U.S. propaganda and widespread belief, the Cuban leadership, including Guevara, never tried to spread their convictions by fomenting “social unrest” abroad. When they talked about the “organization of a continental front,” they were referring to authentic struggles already taking place in almost every corner of Latin America. Cuba did all it could to help and bring these together, but its main credo, persistent to this day, was “to convince by example,” sending out “moral missiles” by pursuing its own social revolution. Its prestige alone was enough to inspire anti-imperialist struggles worldwide, including the left in the West and various movements in the United States. Guevara, who considered his own job “a function of orientation,” defined the Cuban Revolution’s significance as “the power of its moral influence. ‘Moral missiles’ are such a devastatingly effective weapon that they have become the most important element in determining Cuba’s value.”Guevara, Apuntes, 336; Ernesto Che Guevara, Táctica y Estrategia de la Revolución Latinoamericana, in Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9 (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977), 226.
Even so, Cuban leaders did not expect a social revolution to hold in a single Latin American country alone: “The Yankees will intervene because of shared interests and because the struggle in Latin America is decisive.… They will try to destroy the new state economically, in a word, they will try to annihilate it. Given this overall panorama of Latin America, we find it difficult to believe that victory can be achieved in one isolated country. The response to the unity of the repressive forces must be the unity of the popular forces.”Guevara, Táctica y Estrategia de la Revolución Latinoamericana, 237–38.
For Guevara, with regard to the wider world, it was crucial to support any people fighting for independence and to intervene “wherever the balance of power offers the least margin,” because “each time a country is torn away from the imperialist tree, it is not only a partial battle won against the main enemy but it also contributes to the real weakening of that enemy, and is one more step toward the final victory. There are no borders in this struggle to the death.”Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 265–66. He said this in a speech in Algiers in February 1965, two months before leaving for the Congo and two months after he had told Josie Fanon that, in the same vein, the defense of the Cuban Revolution was “not just a defensive struggle but at the same time an offensive battle against imperialism.”Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 337.
Of course, the Cuban leadership could not neglect the possible repercussions of their foreign policy on the island’s national security. Guevara had warned State Security staff in May 1962 that “the attitude of Latin America is intrinsically tied to our future and our revolution’s destiny.” Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 199. But for Cuba, international solidarity remained unconditional and largely independent of geopolitical motives. It has ranged from providing humanitarian aid to Chile in 1961 and medical care for Chernobyl victims in the 1980s to present-day literacy and health campaigns by thousands of Cuban volunteer teachers, technicians, and medical staff across the world. At their request, the country provided weapons, training, and medical care to guerilla movements in Algeria and Latin America. In addition to the military training mission in the Congo headed by Guevara, Cuba also assisted a dozen African liberation movements and governments with military advisors. Between 1975 and 1988, it sent up to fifty-five thousand troops to help push back South Africa’s invasion of Angola.
In sync with Guevara’s activities in Africa and Bolivia, the Cuban leadership hosted two major meetings of revolutionary organizations: the Tricontinental Conference in January 1966 and, eighteen months later, the Conference of the Latin American Organization of Solidarity, which included the continent’s guerilla movements “in order to elaborate a common strategy to fight Yankee imperialism.” Stokely Carmichael and other black militants from the United States attended as special guests.
In his Message to the Tricontinental, written just before leaving for Bolivia in October 1966, Guevara outlined a strategic perspective, stating that “imperialism is a world system, the last stage of capitalism—and it must be defeated in a world confrontation.”Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 364–69. For an English version, see Che Guevara, Message to the Tricontinental (Havana: Executive Secretariat of the Organization of the Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, 1967), available at http://marxists.org. His ultimate objective was to help the Vietnamese Revolution by opening up a second front, asserting that it was Latin America’s task to create “the world’s second or third Vietnam, or second and third Vietnam,” based on the consideration that “the confrontations of revolutionary significance are those that put the entire imperialist apparatus in check.”Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 364–69.
Concretely, Guevara’s efforts in the Congo and Bolivia consisted of trying to lay the foundations for what eventually were to become “international proletarian armies.” In the words of Harry Villegas, one of the guerrilleros who joined Guevara in both undertakings,
in elaborating his strategy, given the struggles already under way in different countries of the continent, Che envisioned the possibility of forming a guerrilla nucleus, a mother column that would pass through the necessary and difficult stage of survival and development. Later on, it would give birth to new guerrilla columns extending outward toward the Southern Cone of Latin America, giving continuity to a battle that would become continent-wide in scope.Harry Villegas, Pombo: A Man of Che’s Guerilla, With Che Guevara in Bolivia 1966–68 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1997), 31.
In this endeavor, the overarching principle was to lead by example, and Guevara, too, may be reproached for having “died, albeit not on purpose.” In his notes from Prague, he had written: “We are lending our modest grain of salt, fearing that the enterprise exceeds our strengths by far. At least, what remains is the testimony of our attempt.”Guevara, Apuntes, 33.
Cuba’s Economy Today
Two years into the Cuban Revolution, Paul Baran pointed out that it was “not merely a political revolution.… The acid test of the purely political rather than social nature of any such upheaval is its reversability.” Paul A. Baran, Reflections on the Cuban Revolution, in The Longer View (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 391.
The acid test of the Cuban Revolution’s irreversibility came with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), of which Cuba had been a member for more than two decades. As a result, Cuba’s foreign trade fell by 80 percent, manufacturing capacity utilization by 85 percent, GDP by more than 35 percent. The U.S. government deepened the crisis by ramping up economic sanctions in 1992 and 1996, paralyzing trade and financial transactions in dollars, and permanently costing the Cuban economy 10 percent of its GDP.
Fortunately, as early as 1985, the Cuban leadership had already dismissed the Soviet Union’s politics of perestroika and, the following year, launched a Rectification Campaign that helped the country get through the worst hardships of what came to be known as the Special Period. The main objective of this campaign was to rectify the excessive centralization of economic decision-making and the size and makeup of the country’s bureaucracy. Its underlying philosophy was explained by Fidel Castro as a return to Guevara’s “economic thoughts,” which conceived of the socialist process as, above all, a “phenomenon of consciousness.”Fidel Castro, Por el Camino Correcto (Havana: Editora Política, 1989), 45.
By reinvigorating the local councils and introducing the direct election of delegates at the provincial and national levels, the rectification process strengthened people’s participation in developing and implementing social and economic policies. It heightened the political motivation and accountability in different industry sectors, diversified and decentralized power generation, and increased self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs by sustainable cultivation, biotechnology, and urban agriculture.Fernando Martínez Heredia, Desafíos del Socialismo Cubano (Havana: Centro de Estudios sobre América, 1988). After much discussion, it opened up the economy to foreign investment in order to fight the chronic currency deficit and, in 1993–94, more than half of state-owned agricultural land was conceded to Basic Units of Cooperative Production, with more freedom in decision-making. Foreign investments in the tourist industry, supported by considerable Cuban resources, became the real engine of economic recovery, followed by major foreign and domestic investments in nickel mining, as well as credits from China, Brazil, and Venezuela.
However, building socialism under conditions of capitalist encirclement has its economics. As a small island economy, in order to achieve minimal levels of productivity, Cuba has to produce goods at scales larger than its national market. To this end, it has to have access to financial markets, it needs to import significant parts of the production inputs, and it has to find markets willing to absorb the products that are exceeding national consumption. After the demise of COMECON, the only way to restore capacity utilization and productive employment was to engage with and in the capitalist world market. Aware of the risks for its socialist project, the Cuban leadership aimed to give new impetus to the rectification process by proposing the “actualization” of the Cuban economic and social development model. Following five years of discussions with broad popular input, the Cuban leadership presented a first set of guidelines for this program in 2011 “to guarantee the irreversibility and continuity of our socialism.” After further popular consultation, an updated version of the guidelines was adopted in 2016, together with a comprehensive Concept for Cuba’s Economic and Social Development Plan until 2030.Partido Comunista de Cuba, Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución para el Período 2016–2021 (Havana: Partido Comunista de Cuba, 2017), 1–47; Partido Comunista de Cuba, Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista (Havana: Partido Comunista de Cuba, 2017), 1–54.
One of the first consequences of the “actualization” of the economic model was the dismantling and reorganization of nonproductive workplaces and the expansion of the nonstate sector, including self-employment and cooperatives both in agricultural and nonagricultural occupations. So far, the move has affected about half a million jobs and mainly applies to the service sector and petty-commodity producers. In order to prevent any concentration of capital and property, business ownership is limited in numbers and size. A new law facilitated the lease of idle land to individual farmers, providing them with access to microcredits and enabling them to sell produce to hotels and restaurants. Health care, education, defense, and arms-related institutions remain excluded from any kind of privatization and foreign investment. Monetary unification has been planned for the near future, strengthening the local peso and doing away with the convertible peso that was introduced in 1994 as a temporary solution to the Special Period’s currency problems.
Perhaps most important to the new model is the decentralization of decision-making, comprising a major shift from the central state institutions to regional and local bodies, as well as to the state sector’s enterprises. Decentralization is also to impact the country’s comprehensive planning system, expected to become more flexible and reactive, leaving more space for indirect control mechanisms. Nonetheless, all documents and government statements related to the actualization process insist that “the socialist planning system will continue to be the main way to direct the national economy.”Partido Comunista de Cuba, Lineamientos, 3; Conceptualización, 16.
In Cuba, education and health care are free and of a high quality, but a huge gap still remains between people’s income and their needs, and between the resources and needs of the country at large. Social realities determine people’s consciousness, and pressures from the outside—both present and future – should not be underestimated, nor should the effects of modern communication technologies and four million tourists every year.
The fact remains that maintaining and transforming the country’s socialist development does not depend on internal conditions alone. As long as Cuba has to go against the tide of present-day international realities, its process of socialist development will continue to be an extremely complex and difficult one. Thus, the question is hardly whether the Cuban Revolution can survive, but whether its isolation in a capitalist world will be broken by other social revolutions. Instead of making that tourist trip “before it’s too late,” we better ask ourselves how we can help create two, three, many Cubas.
Feature image: The safehouse in Ladvi near Prague, where Che Guevara wrote his Critical Notes on Political Economy between April and July 1966. Photo: Ron Augustin.
Posted on Monthly Review January 2019.
|↑1||Ernesto Che Guevara, Apuntes Críticos a la Economía Política (Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2006), 203. An English-language edition, Critical Notes on Political Economy, has been announced by Ocean Press several times but appears to be unavailable as of yet. Only a chapter on Marx and Engels has been published in English so far. For an extensive contextual analysis of Apuntes, see Helen Yaffe, Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution (London, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).|
|↑2||Ernesto Che Guevara, On the Budgetary Finance System, in Bertram Silverman, ed., Man and Socialism in Cuba: The Great Debate (New York: Atheneum, 1971), 122–56.|
|↑3||Ernesto Che Guevara, appendix to Apuntes, 338–39.|
|↑4||Guevara, appendix to Apuntes, 339.|
|↑5||Guevara, appendix to Apuntes, 342.|
|↑6||Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975), 49.|
|↑7||Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 6, 351–52.|
|↑8||Lenin, On the Slogan for a United States of Europe, in Collected Works, vol. 21 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), 343.|
|↑9||Lenin, Farewell Letter to the Swiss Workers, in Collected Works, vol. 23, 372.|
|↑10||Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 24, 90.|
|↑11||Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, in Peter Hudis and Kevin B. Anderson, eds., The Rosa Luxemburg Reader (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004), 283.|
|↑12||Lenin, Report on the Tactics of the Russian Communist Party, in Collected Works, vol. 32, 479–80.|
|↑13||Report to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, in Collected Works, vol. 33, 421.|
|↑14||Guevara, Apuntes, 145.|
|↑15||Guevara, Apuntes, 345.|
|↑16||Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason, ed. Arlette Elkaim-Sartre, vol. II (London: Verso, 1991), 98–104|
|↑17||Guevara, Apuntes, 204.|
|↑18||Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 2004), 70.|
|↑19||Informe de la Delegación Cubana a la Primera Conferencia de la OLAS (Havana: OLAS, 1967), 30.|
|↑20||Guevara, Apuntes, 336; Ernesto Che Guevara, Táctica y Estrategia de la Revolución Latinoamericana, in Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9 (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1977), 226.|
|↑21||Guevara, Táctica y Estrategia de la Revolución Latinoamericana, 237–38.|
|↑22||Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 265–66.|
|↑23||Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 337.|
|↑24||Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 199.|
|↑25||Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 364–69. For an English version, see Che Guevara, Message to the Tricontinental (Havana: Executive Secretariat of the Organization of the Solidarity of the Peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, 1967), available at http://marxists.org.|
|↑26||Guevara, Escritos y Discursos, vol. 9, 364–69.|
|↑27||Harry Villegas, Pombo: A Man of Che’s Guerilla, With Che Guevara in Bolivia 1966–68 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1997), 31.|
|↑28||Guevara, Apuntes, 33.|
|↑29||Paul A. Baran, Reflections on the Cuban Revolution, in The Longer View (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 391.|
|↑30||Fidel Castro, Por el Camino Correcto (Havana: Editora Política, 1989), 45.|
|↑31||Fernando Martínez Heredia, Desafíos del Socialismo Cubano (Havana: Centro de Estudios sobre América, 1988).|
|↑32||Partido Comunista de Cuba, Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución para el Período 2016–2021 (Havana: Partido Comunista de Cuba, 2017), 1–47; Partido Comunista de Cuba, Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista (Havana: Partido Comunista de Cuba, 2017), 1–54.|
|↑33||Partido Comunista de Cuba, Lineamientos, 3; Conceptualización, 16.|
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