Socialism Is Not a Chance Option for Cubans

A speech by Francisco Soberon Valdes, head of Cuba’s National Bank, to the National Assembly, December 2005

Source: A CubaNews translation by Ana Portela. Edited by Walter Lippmann.

During 2005, our country achieved an extraordinary economic growth that proved the certainty of the economic strategy designed by compañero Fidel.

These results compel us, now more than ever, to meditate profoundly about the actions that must be taken and the distortions that must be solved to guarantee the sustainability of our economic growth.

To cover this subject, I would begin by emphasizing that for 46 years the Revolution has always tried, even under the worst of circumstances, to assure as equal a distribution as possible, as corresponds to the moral values of our socialist system.

Under capitalism, absolute insecurity about the future and the threat of being literally crushed by that fierce and inhuman system forces persons to use all their physical and intellectual resources, not only to obtain a daily survival but, also, to try to create a monetary reserve that could free them, at least partially, from this distressing insecurity.

In our socialist system this climate of uncertainty disappears and man is guaranteed a large part of his basic necessities, regardless of his contribution to society.

Compañero Fidel once said that the Revolution would not achieve its highest moral values until we are capable of producing more as free men than as slaves. I believe that, in this area of social consciousness, we have not yet achieved those high values.

Under these circumstances, it is of utmost importance that the distribution of goods and services is clearly and directly linked to the standard of living with the effort of each from the position he occupies in our economic structure.

Certain actions undertaken during the special period, others absolutely necessary and others inexcusable errors, moved us away from this strategic objective. The main results of this situation have been greater levels of inequalities and tendencies of wasting the resources of the state.

Looking upon it from a distance, it becomes evident that the only thing that can definitely make up, in socialism, for the extortion applied to workers in capitalism, without lowering efficiency is a true understanding of the need to work, not for fear of hunger and helplessness but with the desire to develop the country and raise the standard of living of everyone. However, the urgent daily necessities also demonstrate that, to satisfy them, we cannot wait to travel along the long road required for this conviction to become generalized and become daily actions.

Perhaps one of the most complex problems faced by a socialist revolution is achieving effectiveness in economic management without giving up the strategic, political objectives of creating a communist consciousness. The reason is simple: while we work to forge a communist consciousness, material necessities are urgently present and solutions must be found in an ever more anarchic, unjust and even dangerous world for the survival of Third World countries.

I believe that to solve this evident contradiction we must find economic formulas based on our specific conditions that, during the period, in which a communist consciousness is forged and guaranty a greater contribution of each to our socialist society.

Delving into this subject, we must remember that, in our country, there are highly subsidized prices for certain products and basic services presenting two different situations for the common citizen, depending on whether he receives incomes that are not a result of his work in the state sector, with a rapid rise of monetary resources that sometimes permits him to choose whether or not to work without affecting his standard of living.

It is not necessary to go into discussions to conclude that it is simply catastrophic for the economy of a country and, ethically and morally, unacceptable that someone of working age can live comfortably without the need to work.

As for the worker who lives with his salary, he finds himself in a difficult situation because the money he earns may be more than he needs for controlled products. However, it is not enough to buy products that are also necessary but which are sold at market prices.

All these factors contribute to a situation where the salary no longer truly motivates him to keep his work and, often, his labor link with the State is sometimes kept and others, for a number of reasons, some honorable ones such as self esteem and a sentiment of revolutionary duty; but others do not feel the same things, unfortunately, including covering up for criminal activities.

I would add something more: there is a prevalent feeling in many compatriots, perhaps, subconsciously, a pernicious concept: struggle to obtain material goods, as much as possible, for him and his family regardless of his contribution to society; without establishing any link between duty to contribute and right to receive. This latter is particularly damaging in cases, where, due to the post occupied, that person has authority over important material wealth, becoming a primary factor of corruption and fraud.

There is one obvious and simple truth that we must not forget and that is often ignored. In whatever space of society (a town, a city, a country) there are limited quantities of material goods of variable degrees of scarcity and a limited number of necessities because the human being is never satisfied with what he has but aspires to have more. Precisely, this is what capitalism relies on to promote an uncontrolled consumerism that sickens and underrates human spirituality.

Socialism confers dignity upon man and frees him from that alienating consumerism; there can be no fairer formula to solve this contradiction than what Marx explained more than a century ago: each should use to the full his capacities and receive according to his work.

As compañero Fidel has explained our present system of distribution does not correspond to that principle. Among the causes we can observe that goods and services are offered at prices highly subsidized without taking into consideration the contribution to society and source of incomes of those who receive them.

Looking at it from a social level, the idea of goods and services guaranteed for all equally does not seem to be wrong.

However, under the new conditions created since the special period, with the sector of the population receiving incomes in foreign currency from abroad or high amount of national currency from legal or illegal activities ruled by the severe rules of market; such a system is highly vicious. It is nothing less; a formula that provides the same benefits to those who receive a modest salary through their work for the state, in contrast to those who receive incomparably higher incomes in foreign or national currency without contributing in any significant way to the economy of the country. In many cases, getting involved in activities counter to the proper road of our society including the theft of resources, from that same socialist state that has to manage to deal with the privilege of these disproportionate subsidies.

Paradoxically, the present system of highly subsidized distribution aimed at guaranteeing the basic needs to those who live from their salary and at their cost, also, benefits a rather large number of persons who receive incomes in foreign currency or higher salaries in national currency to such an extent that they can cover the subsidized products and services for a year for a fraction of their incomes.

Lastly, as compañero Fidel has repeated, the present system of distribution induces a good part of the population to spend their time redistributing according to their preferences through such a primitive and disturbing bartering system of products they receive in the ration book or “redistribute” buying and selling rationed products at market prices according to their preferences and possibilities. At the same time it is more complex to confront the great promoters of the black market because, for example, they can sell five pounds of sugar from a family who use less sugar than allotted in the ration book; or a thief who has stolen ten sacks of sugar, often taking advantage of his position in the distribution chain of controlled products, for his criminal purposes.

Summarizing, in addition to the morally valid principle of an equal distribution we are promoting the social and economic toxic privilege of conferring power to the dollar; benefiting those who profit from the necessities of the people and protecting those who produce less allowing them to sit back and pleasantly enjoy the high profits derived from state subsidized products and basic services obtained at ridiculously low prices if compared to their level of income.

The weakness and paternalism of many cadres responsible for directing economic institutions of the country are factors that aggravate more all these problems.

Concluding this analysis I dare to affirm that the best alternative to achieve our political and social objectives that has been applied in the case of electricity taxes promoted by compañero Fidel, raising prices and making salary adjustments according to the social importance of each person in his work. This formula gradually reduces the inequalities created or increased during the special period; aids the necessary financial equilibrium, contributes to establish a direct relationship between the quality and quantity of goods and services produced by each and the money received for his work; and will lead us eventually to rid ourselves of the ration book that would be, undoubtedly, a great important step in the current strategy of the Revolution to achieve a maximum of savings, a growing efficiency and economic invulnerability.

I understand that this position could be a difficult reasoning point for several generations that we observed in controlled distribution, an unquestionable right of irreversible character.

However, I subscribe in mental peace, the conclusion that Marx reached in 1875 when he wrote: “…Rights can never be greater than economic structure nor cultural development of the society it has set up.”

Upon expressing these ideas we run the risk that some may consider that we are trying to imply that persons only work for money. That would be a grotesque interpretation of socialism, of a most vulgar relationship that any ignorant person can realize in capitalism. It is something that is much more complex and difficult.

What is at risk is how to achieve a formula of distribution that would impulse each to give their maximum to the economy because when this is done it is good for that person, his family and for society and, at the same time, prevents the activities of those who have found questionable means to receive high incomes without contributing to the national economy, to abusively benefit from the work of those who create wealth for the country.

Also, it is simply inadmissible to perpetuate a system that propitiates the U.S. to graciously receive the benefit of the emigration of highly qualified Cuban professionals, formed free of charge by the sweat of our people and to make this abuse more onerous; take advantage of the remittances sent by emigrants (that are a significant part of the salary they would receive because of their excellent qualifications) to have in Cuba a humiliating purchasing power. This is morally and ethically offensive for those of us in our country who constitute the support of our society and, as our only material benefit, receive a modest salary in national currency.

Lastly, I would like to offer the following thought:

In the USSR the errors made led to popular unrest caused, among other reasons, because of the poor functioning of the economy and its effect on the deterioration of the standard of life of a great part of the population. Under these conditions, after more than 70 years of socialism the only thing left for it to do was to dissolve the Communist Party and, with this action, bury a nation founded by the thousand fold glorious October Revolution, with the wave of a pen and piece of paper.

This is an historical lesson that we must never forget if we want to preserve our socialist revolution and together with that, our Cuban nationality, that would disappear the same way and at the same time that socialism ceases to exist in Cuba. To prevent this from happening we must achieve an economic situation “whereby the Republic is self sufficient”, as demanded by Rubén Martínez Villena in his vibrant Lyrical Civilian Message.

It is true that in our specific situation, we have a colossal safeguard of Socialism that is our faith in our people, in Fidel and Raul. But if we do not manage to continue to increase the standard of living of the population and guarantee a program of sustainable development we are running the risk that these great personalities will become the only pillar that maintains this system and then we would be denying the affirmation of the Commander-in-Chief whereby our population made the historically constitutional decision that socialism is not a chance option for Cubans but a future we have freely chosen with irreversible character.