Three capitalisms for Cuba
If we understand socialism to be what socialists say it is – a mode of production aimed at promoting equality based on the organized power of workers – then Cuba has never known socialism.
Based on this premise, the fundamental contradiction that has emerged in Cuba at this point is not economic in nature – between socialism and capitalism – but predominantly political, namely: between political power in the hands of a military dictatorship and a society organized in a top-down, corporate manner.
The scenario in Cuba is, therefore, completely different from that arising from the economic matrix harbored in the Marxist and liberal imaginations.
What these apparently extreme doctrines – Marxism and liberalism – have in common is that they share the naturalistic principle that the underlying driving forces driving history are to be found in the economy, whether as "infrastructure" or as a result of the "natural" regulation of production and the market.
But, strictly speaking, the economic order that prevails in Cuba is dependent on its political organization, and not vice versa. And this has theoretical consequences. Most important among them is that the island's economic transformation hinges upon its political transformation.
Now, if we accept the proposition that under the current conditions in Cuba politics takes precedence over economics, we are led to conclude that the alternatives for the future are fundamentally three.
- The persistence of a rigid State capitalism
- A descent into a savage form of capitalism
- The establishment of a type of social capitalism (or popular capitalism) based on interaction between a market economy and a civil and democratic political order.
It is State capitalism that has determined the island's destiny ever since Castro came to power. At its core it is equivalent to the dictatorial military elite that monopolizes all the country’s institutions. However, this State capitalism, especially after Cuba's rapprochement with the US and Europe, has undergone a certain process of modernization.
Under Raúl Castro there has been a slow drift away from the Stalinist scheme (total Statism) embodied by Fidel Castro, in an attempt to move closer to the Chinese scheme, based on the coexistence of private and State capitalism, controlled by the Party-State and the military leadership, structures managed by Castro at the top.
Between the rigid system of domination of the Russian school, represented by Fidel, and, from an economic point of view, the more flexible Chinese approach, represented by Raúl, there are certainly differences – but they are not great enough to merit any confidence that under the latter a process of democratization (social and economic) will be initiated. Raúl Castro, is not a Cuban Stalin in the way his brother was, but he is still far from being a tropical Gorbachev.
To be more precise: the adoption of "Chinese" forms of production by Raúl points towards the establishment of a capitalism with the State functioning as a kind of concessionaire (hotel capitalism, say derisively, some) characterized by the creation of certain areas to be controlled by private capital, which in Cuba – herein lies the big difference with China – are to be filled by foreign capital.
Unlike in China, where ever since the days of Mao there was always a place for an native entrepreneurial class (the so-called "national bourgeoisie"), in Cuba this class has never existed, which largely explains why the Cuban State's dependent nature has remained intact across different historical periods.
Cuba, after being one of the last Spanish colonies, became an American colony. And Castroism would transform it into a Soviet one. After the collapse of international communism, Cuba would be adopted by Hugo Chávez as part of a pie-in-the-sky project dubbed "21-st Century Socialism", already overturned by electoral rejections by the peoples of Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela.
If the "Raulist" State were to implode as a result of pressure from a world market over which the upper echelons of power have no control, i.e., if a double power vacuum were to occur, an economic and political one at the same time, the alternative of savage capitalism (Cuba as the Caribbean's Big Casino) cannot be entirely ruled out.
That savage capitalism which some also call "Miami capitalism" (as it proceeds from the Latin American business community, forged in that city) would open the way for the State being controlled by economic groups masquerading as political parties, an alternative that should not be considered unrealistic either. This has been the dominant trend in many post-Communist countries in Eastern Europe, many of which are controlled by financial magnates, business consortia, or even mafias. In this case Cuba's military State would be replaced by an economic State and not a political one.
The third alternative, which we might call social capitalism, like the other two, will depend upon the political development that takes place during and after Raul's domination. Its viability depends on the degree of politicization and civility that political and social organizations independent of the State can achieve, even acting in connection with dissident factions from Castro's formerly dominant block.
Given the fierce state repression, these organizations are still in a phase that could be called nascent. Only recently, i.e. since Fidel Castro stepped down, has the opposition, both in Cuba and in exile, shown a greater degree of unity and coordination.
However, we must not forget what historical experience has demonstrated: during times of opening up and transition, politics often acquires an extraordinary dynamic, spawning multiple political organizations and civil initiatives.
In other words, the possibility that in Cuba there will emerge a social market economy, guided by a new, more pluralistic and participatory State should not be ruled out either.
What is worthy of being underscored at this time is that Cuba's political and economic future will not arise from the adoption of a certain "model," as the technocrats imagine it will. Rather, the outcome will depend on the relationships arising from clashes, but also from dialogues, between various conflicting forces.
Obama's trip to Cuba can be seen, therefore, as an external push towards transformation in this direction. But nothing more than that: a simple push. What follows will depend on Cubans themselves.
Has Cuba's political transition begun, then?
We lack information to answer that question. We do not know, for example, what some members of the Party say to each other behind Raúl's back. Nor do we know the tone of the talks taking place within the regime's ideological apparatus (artists and intellectuals, for example). And we do not know what some generals mutter on those Sundays perfect for visiting family and chatting over beers under the beautiful island's scorching sun, with children are singing Mick Jagger songs in the garden – even if they are quite dated.