In a June 19 post in his blog, “Diary of a Heartland Radical,” on the occasion of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, Harry Targ wrote:
Those in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution should support economic reforms being introduced on the island that reflect the best principles of the Cuban Revolution: independence, democracy, and human well-being. The clearest manifestation of these principles is reflected in the development of work place cooperatives in both cities and the countryside. Cubans are being encouraged to engage in work that produces goods and services for their communities in ways that empower workers and decentralize production and decision-making. Educating the American public to the fact that Cuba is embarking on new economic arrangements that encourage work place democracy contradict the media image that the people are embracing entrepreneurial capitalism.
Secondly, the paragraph implies that the Cuban revolutionary project did not have a commitment to the empowerment of workers and workplace democracy prior to the adoption in 2012 by the National Assembly of Popular Power of the new economic and social model. But this is not at all the case. Since the 1960s, in state enterprises and in cooperatives, workers have been organized, freely electing their leaders, who serve in joint committees with managers in the decision-making process and in the development of the enterprise. Moreover, the workers’ federation, along with parallel mass organizations of women, students, and neighborhoods, have a constitutionally-mandated voice in the commissions of the National Assembly, itself formed by structures of popular democracy. The agricultural cooperatives formed in the 1960s have been among the most successful enterprises, in terms of productivity as well as the development in practice of a process of participatory democracy from below, and this is one of the reasons that the new model encourages the expansion of cooperatives to other sectors.
The changes underway in the new economic and social model are significant, but change is not new in revolutionary Cuba. The Cuban scholar Jesus Arboleya describes seven stages since 1959 prior to the adoption of the new economic and social model. See “The Cuban revolutionary project and its development in historical and global context” for a description of the stages in the evolution of the Cuban socialist project as well as for a description of Cuban structures of popular democracy, which are distinct from representative democracy.
The motivation behind and the characteristics of the new economic and social model are complex. I would say that above all it is driven by a desire to increase productivity, in order to comply with the expectations of the people. The policies adopted in the early 1990s in response to the collapse of the socialist bloc have been successful in providing for the needs of the people. The difference in the material conditions of the people between 1993 and now are stunning. But the recovery has not kept pace with the expectations of the people, and there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with material conditions, leading to an erosion in revolutionary fervor (but not opposition to the revolution). So the revolutionary leadership, always in tune with the pulse of the people, is committed to improving productivity and material conditions, in order to keep the people on board in support of the revolutionary project. To this end, they have adopted many strategies, such as expansion of cooperatives and self-employment, a loosening of restrictions on foreign investment, and encouragement of criticism of customs and procedures that create problems or inhibit productivity.
In the conclusion to his post, Harry asserts that we have “an opportunity to educate Americans to the reality that the United States is not ‘the indispensable nation,’ but one among many with virtues and flaws.” I would go further in describing our task of educating the people of the United States. We should teach that the US government is a government of, by and for the corporations and the wealthy, and that we should follow the example of our brothers and sisters in Latin America, who have used electoral processes to cast aside traditional political parties that represent the elite and to put into power new parties that serve as delegates of the people.
Key words: Cuba, socialism, US intellectuals