Socialist Cuba's economic reorganisation

Ezequiel Morales from the Instituto Cubano de Amistad con los Pueblos (ICAP — the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples) spoke with Hamish Chitts from Direct Action on May 9 after Morales had spoken to a workplace meeting of Brisbane bus drivers organised by the Rail, Tram, Bus Union and the Australia Cuba Friendship Society.

ICAP was founded in 1960 to strengthen friendship and solidarity between the peoples of the world. From the beginning, ICAP helped coordinate the international brigades that came from around the world to support Cuba through aid in agriculture, construction and other parts of the economy. Now it continues to facilitate visits and exchanges between friendship organisations. The institute organises international delegations to visit Cuba and receives and distributes humanitarian aid from international solidarity groups.

The following is the second article in a series based on Morales’ interview with Direct Action. Here he discusses the reorganising of Cuba’s economy.

Question: In April, after a long public consultation, the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party endorsed a significant reorganising of Cuba’s planned socialist economy. Could you explain the reasons for this reorganising?

Answer: The first thing I want to say is that the decision taken in the congress was the final part of a very long social process in Cuba. Whatever was discussed in the Communist Party on April, 16, 17 and 18, was based on what had already been previously discussed among the Cuban people — in their communities, in the neighbourhoods, in schools, in the workplace. It was discussed and debated in the newspapers that you can buy for 20 Cuban cents at any stand in Cuba. We all knew before that meeting what was being proposed. We discussed this with fellow workers, with our neighbours, and we had the possibility to provide our opinion of new items which should be included, items to be removed, issues to be dealt with, and more than 180 opinions taken out of the millions of opinion were taken into consideration at the congress of the Communist Party. So, I would say this was not a decision of the congress of the Communist Party; it’s a decision of the whole society. That is why I think it’s very important and the result will be really excellent, because it’s not something that someone has imposed; it’s something the people have been dealing with.

Now, you asked me the reason for that. Sometimes people say this is change, and I don’t really like to say change; I have seen it in so many other places before. It’s only a question of re-ordering our labour. Anyway, we are not afraid of changes. Fidel, in the year 2000 on May 1 gave a very important concept of revolution. He said, “Revolution is to have a sense of the historical moment we are living in, revolution is to change whatever needs to be changed”. Historical conditions in Cuba are not the same now, not in Australia, not in any other country of the world, as they were 20 years ago. We are going through a very strong global economic crisis, natural disasters, wars, increases in oil prices, shortages of sources of energy. Cuba is not an isolated island outside the planet. Cuba is an island on the same planet. So we have to adapt our society, our country to the economic situation, the international situation, without changing our main principles of socialism, which is looking after the welfare of the whole society.

Those are the reasons for the so-called changes, but what we’re doing is really re-ordering the labour force to get a better, more efficient and productive economy. It is not a lay-off of half a million people, as some say. Those people who are no longer needed in their place of work will be reallocated to another workplace or offered another possibility among so many, like self-employment, or they are given land on lease so that they can work the land, sell their produce and get another way of living. It is not only the Communist Party, it is the unions and the workers themselves who are involved in the decisions on the reorganising of labour.

In other words, there are no changes. It’s a way of re-ordering the Cuban economy because no state, no state of the world could continue with that boulder on their shoulders in the economic situation of the world. If the state continues subsidising so many things, we will start subsidising people, not products, not goods. And, in terms of economy, we want to make it more productive so that salaries in Cuba get a real role as an incentive for workers to work to their ability.

Question: At a meeting in Sydney in April, which was part of the Australia Cuba Friendship Society National Consultation, you said that under the new economic re-ordering, while there will be more non-state enterprises, there won’t be any private bosses. Could you explain that?

Answer: Self-employment, we would not say “enterprises”. It’s a question of being given the possibility to use your capability, your skills, in any sort of operation. Let’s say you are a journalist, but apart from being a journalist you know how to do plumbing. You are no longer needed at the journal to be a reporter, but you are a plumber, so you can start your small workshop with two people, two of your friends, two of your family. The state will grant you money so that you can start your small business, but it’s not a company. Small businesses, like interpreters, like babysitting, like hairdressers, like cobblers, and blacksmiths, carpenters — all those things we really need for the welfare of the people. So, that’s why I said there would be no bosses. If we had a small business you would not be my boss and I would not be your employee; we both would be two workers working in conjunction to make that small business run.

But it is good that you ask that question because people say, “Well, new companies in Cuba, new foreign investment, you are destroying the situation in Cuba”. No, no, that’s not what is happening. We have foreign investment, we’ve had foreign investment before from different countries of the world but, due to the current situation, we would not promote any new investment in those areas which are really top priorities in Cuba, like housing, education, water supply, electricity, anything which means a social achievement. We would not put in jeopardy those things or the revolution. So, going back, there are no new companies, that’s why there are no new bosses: just small businesses which are being created among two or three people to produce together important social services.

Question: At the same meeting in Sydney you also said that there would be new economic measures that would prevent a class of rich people emerging in Cuban society. How is Cuba going to do that?

Answer: With something that is absolutely new in Cuba, the payment of taxes. We know nothing about taxes; we have never paid taxes before. Although some people who let private rooms or have a small restaurant were paying taxes to the state. It’s something which is really new in Cuba, so I cannot give you final details of how it will work, but it’s a way that salaries can be controlled to ensure that no wealthy class develops to change the principles of socialism. You will get more from your labour if you work harder, but not by exploiting someone, not by exploiting any other worker. So there will be a high tax for those who earn more. Through the taxes and through regulation you will be provided the possibility to get a good salary, but not the possibility to be wealthy at the risk of humiliating or exploiting one of your co-workers.