New Cuba: Beachhead for Economic Democracy Beyond Capitalism
Source Dave Anderson
Date 14/04/28/15:21
New Cuba: Beachhead for Economic Democracy Beyond Capitalism
By Keith Harrington, Truthout | Op-Ed

The year 2012 may have been the
United Nation's International Year of Cooperatives, but 2013 may turn
out to be the more historic year for worker-ownership if the Cubans
have anything to say about it.

To listen to the mainstream American media, however, you'd never know
it. As a video supplement to a recent New York Times article makes
clear, the corporate press has already made up its mind on how the
story of Cuba's economic liberalization is bound to end:

"In a state defined by all-consuming communism for the past 50
years,capitalist change comes in fits and starts, and only at the pace
that the government is willing to allow."[Emphasis added]

In other words, Cuba's post-communist story ends just like China's -
in capitalism, because according to orthodox dogma, there's nowhere
else to go. Trapped by the limited possibilities of this dichotomist
capitalism-or-communism mentality, mainstream commentators lack the
perspective needed to appreciate (much less inform others) that a
transition away from a state-dominated command economy might
conceivably lead to a type of market that is very distinct from our
elite-shareholder-dominated and profit-fixated capitalist model.

But that is precisely the nuanced story we find in Cuba when we dig
just below the surface and consider the very guidelines the Cuban
government has adopted to steer the transition process. Since the
state unveiled its nuevos lineamientos or new guidelines for economic
development in 2010, the easing of government restrictions on private
entrepreneurial activity has only constituted a single aspect of a
much broader picture of change. Unfortunately, The New York Times and
its ilk have gotten so hung up on the privatization shift, that
they've left out crucial details about the types of private
enterprises the Cuban government is attempting to foster.

Specifically, the government is placing high priority on the
development of worker-owned-and-managed firms and has recently passed
a law intended to launch an experimental cadre of 200 such firms.
Under the law, workers - rather than government bureaucrats or elite
boards of directors - will democratically run the businesses, set
their own competitive prices, determine wages and salaries and decide
what to do with the profits they generate. In other words, Cuba's new
worker cooperatives will operate pretty much along the same lines as
their successful cousins in the capitalist world, including Spain's
Mondragon Cooperative Corporation.

But what sets the Cuban cooperative experiment apart and renders it
such an incredible opportunity for the global worker-cooperative
movement, is its occurrence in a political-economic milieu that is
currently free from the distorting effects of capitalist competition.
This is significant because while cooperatives have proven just as
competitive as capitalist firms in a capitalist context, when
capitalist profits and growth assume top priority, worker-owned firms
may be compelled to act more like capitalist firms and subordinate
core objectives such as worker empowerment and well-being, community
development and environmental sustainability. Indeed, as cooperatives
grow, even the percentage of actual worker owners in their ranks has
been known to decline, as we've seen with Mondragon.

In short, the worker-ownership movement could greatly benefit from a
national-scale economic environment that will allow cooperative
enterprises to develop according to their own particular democratic
nature and exhibit their true potential, free from the
profit-above-all dictates of capitalism. No country bears as much
promise in this respect than contemporary Cuba.

Nevertheless, for Cuba's experiment to work, all efforts should be
made to steer the economy and the behavior of the country's emergent
private entrepreneurial class in a direction that comports with the
ethos and objectives of economic democracy. Above all, this would
likely require severe restrictions, if not an outright ban, on the
entry of large foreign capitalist firms or the establishment of large
domestic capitalist firms. For, as economists such as Jamee Moudud of
Sarah Lawrence University and many structuralist thinkers have pointed
out, as jobs and tax revenues become dependent on the success of
capitalist firms, societies become constrained in their ability to
pursue developmental paths that do not prioritize capitalist
accumulation. Accordingly, during the early years of the cooperative
experiment, Cuba should seek to limit foreign direct investment to
cooperative or triple-bottom-line firms as much as possible,
facilitate joint-ventures between such firms and its own cooperatives
and continue to seek industrial loans largely from committed social
democratic partners such as Venezuela, and other "pink-tide" trade

Finally, the global cooperative movement must appreciate the historic,
strategic importance of Cuba's experiment and mobilize its resources
to support the effort. As observers of the situation have pointed out,
Cuba's experience with worker cooperatives is limited primarily to its
agricultural sector, and the establishment of a robust
non-agricultural cooperative sector will require serious provision of
training, technical support and worker acculturation. On this front,
the experience of successful worker-ownership movements in Argentina,
the United States, Spain and other countries could prove invaluable.
Such assistance might be coordinated with the help of organizations
such as Democracy at Work, the Democracy at Work Network, the
Democracy Collaborative and the Working World, all of which specialize
in helping worker cooperatives grow and thrive.

Of course, anyone can bolster this important beachhead for economic
democracy by simply spreading the word and helping plug the gap in the
media's coverage of Cuba's transition. Please help bust the myth that
markets mean capitalism for the new Cuba by sharing this article and
others cited here.

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