Cuba’s Constitution Shows Socialism to be Compatible with Capitalism

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The 20th century ‘socialist experiment’ could be said to be well and truly over after a draft update of Cuba’s constitution has been approved by the island’s National Assembly, sparking headlines about its abandonment of the aim to build a communist society. Considering this, I ask not simply what these amendments are, but if their implications are progressive, regressive, or a signal for the end of the communist project altogether.

Why Reforms?

The proposed 224-article constitution will replace the 1976 national charter engendered after Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement successfully overthrew the Batista dictatorship. After the infamous US embargo, failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and over 600 assassination attempts on Fidel Castro’s life, the Castro government faced continuous external threats and economic hardship working against its bid to stabilise the government and develop the island out of poverty towards communism.

Poster of Fidel Castro & Khrushchev | Credit: Keizers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Despite this, Cuba has done remarkably well, being the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and Syphilis, creating the meningitis-B vaccine in 1985, Hepatitis-B and Dengue vaccines. Furthermore, Cuban health workers participated in over 300,000 missions in 158 countries since 1969, abortion was legalized before the UK, housing was declared a “human right” post-revolution and a 99% literacy rate was achieved, exceeding many capitalist countries.

Nevertheless, the economic and political war imposed on the nation, particularly after the Soviet Union’s Collapse in 1989, saw Cuba enter an economic crisis known as the ‘special period’. It lost its Soviet subsidies and 80% of its trading partners, beginning a process of ‘market reforms’ and ‘liberalisation’ – code for privatization.

Cuba had formerly been strict on its overseas dealings. However, to improve the economy, the circulation of the dollar was legalised, devaluing the peso and abetting the black market where foreign tourism (which utilized the dollar) was significantly expanded. Cubans were enticed by its high-value (purchasing power) compared to the state peso, producing a disparity of wealth and goods (inequality) via dual-currency where goods formerly affordable via state currency that ensured equitable distribution with price controls and rationing, became increasingly expensive as the dollar allowed for mass purchase.

In addition, an agricultural free-market and private self-employment were allowed, including the dismissal of 1.8 million state-sector workers (about 36% of the labour force) in 2010, events indicative of privatization. Now, in the spirit of the enmeshing global consumerism it is possible to buy a house and hoard goods meaning that, like 80’s Thatcherism in the UK, their equivalent ‘council houses’ will be bought cheaply and to profit, commodity and rent prices will soar. The rich-poor disparity will continually increase as seen presently in countries like the UK which experiences stifling property and rent prices, homelessness and rising living costs after slow and continuing privatization. Property is no longer a ‘human’ right, but a ‘buyer’s right’ provided they can afford it, and the constitution prohibits private “concentration of property” to ease this consequence.

Thus, newly-elected Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged that Cuba is facing new realities, meaning the constitution was “obliged” to be updated. Among progressive policies of legalising same-sex marriage, the proposals reaffirm the overriding principles of a “socialist” economy and central economic planning, whilst giving formal recognition to the “the role of the market” and “private property”.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel | Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fotospresidencia_sv/ [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The constitution’s abandonment of the aim to build a communist society while retaining a socialist one is a telling phenomenon. Whether we hold to the Oxford English Dictionary’s orthodox definition of socialism: “A theory or system of social organization based on state or collective ownership and regulation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange”, viewed commonly as the transitionary stage from capitalism to communism.

Or, the modern liberal usage: “Now also: any of various systems of liberal social democracy which retain a commitment to social justice and social reform, or feature some degree of state intervention in the running of the economy”, is irrelevant. The fact that Cuba can retain this aim and (formally) abandon the communist project, shows ‘socialism’ in both forms to be in-line with, existing within and despite, capitalist dynamics. 20th century socialism correctly attempted to mitigate the worst effects of capitalism’s tendencies, the inequality and poverty that alienates us and permeates ever edifice of existence, all social conditioning.

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their social being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” – Karl Marx

When Woods and Grant write: “Socialist internationalism is not based on utopianism or sentimentality but upon the development of capitalist production on a world scale”, they correctly point out how the contradictions of capitalism themselves engender its abolishment. They hint at how Stalinism and other 20th century ‘socialist experiments’ mirrored capitalism in their drive for the total mobilization of the forces of production, of which Cuba has truly epitomized ‘socialism in one country’, it is one of the last to yield to market pressure.

Thus, Cuba no longer has the political and economic power to protect its citizens from capitalism’s excesses of artificial scarcity (poverty through lacking finances during abundant material goods), pollution, competitive and atomized social conditioning amid perpetual wage-slavery. Cuba’s joining with the intensification of Capital in the liberal so-called ‘democratic’ order, signals future inequalities yet has a cynically positive dimension where conditions in decline push us to act, and we are left only with the task of re-appropriating the means of production and utilizing their productive capacity to achieve post-scarcity abundance. The communist project, formally recognized or not, is eternal.

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