Guevara the economist? Workers short-changed
Guevara the economist? Workers short-changed
Submitted on 29 August, 2009 – 09:10
Solidarity 3/157, 20 August 2009
Paul Hampton reviews Che Guevara: The Economics of Revolution by Helen
Yaffe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)
A late night meeting of the Cuban leadership towards the end of 1959.
Fidel Castro looks around the room and asks for "a good economist" to
become the president of the National Bank of Cuba. Half asleep, Ernesto
"Che" Guevara raises his hand. Castro replied with surprise: "Che, I
didn't know you were a good economist", to which Guevara exclaimed: "Oh,
I thought you asked for a good communist!" (Yaffe 2009)
This apocryphal story, told by Osvaldo Dorticós, president of Cuba from
1959 until 1976, serves to indicate the apparently accidental nature of
Che Guevara's involvement in running the economy of the Cuban state.
Guevara is better known as a leader of the guerrilla army that overthrew
the hated dictator Batista at the end of 1958. Guevara played a leading
role in the reconstruction of the Cuban state, including the training of
the Rebel Army and the creation of the G-2 security apparatus. I've
discussed Guevara's Stalinist politics previously — see "No hero of
ours" (Solidarity 3/57, 2004) and "How should Che Guevara be
commemorated?" (Workers' Liberty 1/43, 1997).
Helen Yaffe's book argues that Guevara's "most significant contribution
remains largely unknown", and that, "his life and work as a member of
the Cuban government from 1959 to 1965 have received scant attention
from historians, social scientists and other commentators". Guevara was
appointed Head of the Department of Industrialisation in the National
Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA) in October 1959, becoming Minister
of Industries (MININD) from February 1961 until 1965. He was also
briefly President of the National Bank of Cuba in 1959-1960.
The claim of neglect is not entirely true. A collection of articles on
Guevara's economics, Man and socialism in Cuba: the great debate edited
by Bertram Silverman was published in 1971, while the Mandelite
Trotskyist Michel Löwy produced a short but glowing tribute, The Marxism
of Che Guevara: philosophy, economics, and revolutionary warfare in
1973. More recently, the Cuban government itself has also made use of
Guevara's legacy — particularly during the Rectification period in the
late 1980s. In this context, Carlos Tablada's Che Guevara: Economics and
Politics in the Transition to Socialism (1989) covered some of the same
Nevertheless Yaffe's book contains new material that merits discussion.
It is the product of a PhD thesis, involving 60 interviews with nearly
50 of Guevara's closest collaborators. It reviews Guevara's so-called
"great debate" about economic planning in the mid-1960s, but also lesser
known elements, such as his critique of the Soviet manual of political
Yaffe assumes that Cuba is socialist and has been so since the early
1960s. This assumption sets the framework for the assessment of Guevara.
However she does not make the case that Cuba is socialist. The reason
why is very simple: it is not possible to define Cuba as socialist
without abandoning the central tenets of Marxism.
Socialism for classical Marxists and for the AWL means the
self–emancipation of the working class. It means that the the working
class acts consciously for its own interests. It has its own forms of
struggle — strikes, workplace occupations etc; its own organisations —
unions, committees, its own party; and it creates own particular forms
of democratic rule, e.g. workers' councils (soviets). This is not a
pipe-dream or an ideal — it is the reality of the high points of decades
of workers' struggle from Russia in 1917, when workers took power, to
Poland in 1980. And there was a precedent in Cuba in August 1933, when
embryonic Soviets were formed in 36 sugar mills, along with workers'
militias, food committees and land distribution.
The July 26 movement (M26J) was simply not a working class movement. The
M26J was self-declared as "Olive Green" in 1959, with a moderate
bourgeois programme and a largely petty bourgeois and déclassé
leadership heading a peasant army numbering a few thousand. It was
headed by a Bonaparte figure in the shape of Fidel Castro. The movement
did involve other forces, including in urban areas. The M26J had its own
trade union front (FON), but its attempted general strike in April 1958
failed in most places.
In the revolution of 1958-59 there were no Soviets, no dual power, no
factory committees and no workers' party. The general strike called by
Castro at the beginning of January 1959 took place after Batista fled
and his army had disintegrated. It helped forestall a military junta
backed by the US, but the strike was in reality closer to a holiday to
celebrate the fall of the dictator.
No socialism is possible without the conscious, active role of the
working class. There is no "unconscious socialism", no workers' state,
however "deformed" or "degenerated" created without the agency of the
working class. There are no "blunt instruments", no locums or
substitutes capable of making socialism as replacements for the working
class. The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the
working class itself. Or else it is not socialism.
If the Castroites did not lead the working class to power, then the
social formation that exists in Cuba is not socialism but a class
society. The key question in any society is how the surplus product is
pumped out of the direct producers. Under socialism, the surplus product
would be democratically controlled by the working class. If the working
class does not rule politically, it does not rule at all. This is the
fundamental dividing line in determining the class character of Cuba.
What sort of class society was created in Cuba? In my view it was
Stalinism, on the model of Stalin's rule in Russia after 1928, but also
China from 1949, Eastern Europe 1945-89 and Vietnam. Cuba since 1960 has
been a class society with a Stalinist form of exploitation: the state
owns the means of production, and a totalitarian bureaucratic ruling
class controls the state and extracts the surplus product from workers
and peasants. In other words the direct producers are exploited
directly, with the state providing the means of subsistence in return
for absolute control over the product.
This is not a capitalist mode of exploitation, though Stalinist
societies do tend to evolve towards capitalism, given their material
backwardness and the pressure from the world market.
Yaffe's abject failure to engage with this reality is a fundamental flaw
of the book. Her assumption is not only made about Cuba — the persistent
references to "the socialist countries" suggest she also believes
societies like Stalin's USSR went beyond capitalism.
How far Cuba was and is from socialism is indicated in Yaffe's book,
which inadvertently reveals the meaning of nationalisation under Castro.
In 1960 Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir visited Cuba, around the
time that the sugar mills were nationalised. Yaffe recounts the tale,
recalled by Orlando Borrago Díaz, Guevara's deputy from 1959 to 1964.
Borrego was called up during the night by Guevara and told that they
eeded to find 200 people by nine the next morning to run factories and
sugar mills. The need was desperate: legislation had been rushed through
in a special night-time cabinet meeting in the face of increasingly
acrimonious actions by the US.
Borrego said: "I nearly had a heart attack! Where were we going to find
them? I only knew about three people with any accountancy experience.
Half an hour later Che called me again and said Fidel had an idea, a
solution. There was a boarding school with 200 youngsters aged between
15 and 20 years old, training to be teachers…
"Fidel said: 'We will nominate them as managers of the factories'. I was
shocked! Minutes later Fidel called to tell me to go the school to wake
them up even though it was the middle of the night. He arrived at 4am.
The students went mad with joy, throwing their things up in the air."
Yaffe argues that the unions in the sugar mills supported this action.
However the episode indicates that the workers had no control over the
process. The incident also shows the Castroites' contempt for workers –
the job of administration was given to some unqualified outsiders, while
the workers were not considered capable of taking over the running of
The "planning" process was bureaucratic, top-down with at most an
opportunity to rubber stamp decisions made from above. Interviewed by
Maurice Zeitlin in 1962, Guevara was asked: What role do the workers
take in the actual creation of the national economic plan? Guevara
answer was candid but revealing: "They take no part in the creation of
the first plan. After the first plan has been worked out by the Central
Planning Commission, the specific plans are sent to the enterprises, and
from there to the factories, and in the factories to the assembly of
workers, where the factory plan is discussed. Here the workers discuss
the possibilities of the plan for the factory and send the revised plan
back up for approval, and then it becomes law. In this way the workers
have a voice in the plan of the factory, but not in the national plan."
(Bonachea and Valdes, Che: Selected Works of Ernesto Guevara, 1969)
Yaffe argues that workers did have some say at factory level. She cites
the Committees for Spare Parts set up in 1960, as the first workers'
committee established in industry.
In 1961, Advisory Technical Committees (Comités Técnico Asesor – CTAs)
were set up in every work centre and every nationalised industry.
Finally, "Production Assemblies generalised the active role of the CTAs
among the entire workforce. They involved a meeting of all the workers,
advisors, technicians, engineers and administrators linked to each
workplace, at quarterly, if not monthly intervals." Yaffe argues that "a
minimum of 70% of the workers must participate or Assemblies had to be
cancelled. Trade unions, the party and other mass organisations were
responsible for mobilising workers to participate".
However these bodies were also little more than top-down schemes, like
Japanese quality circles and codetermination (mitbestimmung), designed
to involve workers in their own exploitation. They were widely
criticised at the time, including within Cuba, something Yaffe
Again, Guevara's own testimony bears witness to the real state of
affairs. Speaking on The People's University TV programme on 30 April
1961 he said: "In other words, the leaders of the country in close
identification with their people consider what is best for the people
and put that into numbers, more or less arbitrary though, of course,
based on logic and judgement, and send them from the top down: for
example, from the Central Planning Board to the Ministry of Industries,
where the Ministry of Industries makes the corrections it deems
appropriate since it is closer to certain aspects of real life than the
"From there it continues downward to the enterprises, which makes other
corrections. From the enterprises it goes to the factories, where other
corrections are made, and from there to the workers who must have the
final say on the plan."
He went on to say: "I was reading a little news sheet we have here. It's
hardly worth mentioning, but it's a Trotskyist newspaper whose name I'm
not sure of. [Voice in background tells him it is Voz Proletaria.] It
criticised the Technical Advisory Committees from a Trotskyist point of
"The trouble in fact with the Technical Advisory Committees is that they
were not created by mass pressure. They were bureaucratically created
from the top to give the masses a vehicle they had not asked for, and
that is the fault of the masses. We, the 'timorous petty bourgeoisie',
went looking for a channel that would enable us to listen to the masses'
voice. That is what I want to emphasise. And we created the Technical
Advisory Committees, for better or worse, with the imperfections they
very likely have, because they were our idea, our creation, that is, the
creation of people who lack experience in these problems. What was not
present at all, and I want to stress that, was mass pressure… "
(Guevara, Cuba's Economic Plan, in George Lavan, Che Guevara Speaks, 1967)*
Yaffe's fallback is to blame the context. As she put it: "It must be
recognised, meanwhile, that the persistently punitive US blockade,
terrorist attacks and political machinations against Cuba have limited
the feasibility of decentralising management to the Cuban masses. It has
been necessary, therefore, to integrate workers from the masses into the
central apparatus of government. The decentralisation to which Guevara
aspired has not yet been achieved."
This is entirely disingenuous. The absence of workers' democracy makes
workers less likely to defend the government in the face of US
aggression. And workers' democracy is the essence of socialist relations
of production, the very oxygen that permits the working class to rule
itself and to administer a modern economy, with a division of labour and
specialisation. The persistent absence of workers' self-management is
concrete proof that Cuba is not any kind of socialism.
Yaffe attempts to argue that Guevara's attitude towards the working
class was somehow different from the rest of the regime.
She quotes an article in Trabajadores from July 1961, in which Guevara
outlined two distinct responsibilities for the unions: to promote the
goals of the government among the workers and to defend the immediate
material and spiritual interests of the workers. However she quotes the
main emphasis — increasing production. Guevara wrote: "The trade unions
are intimately linked to a rise in productivity and to work discipline,
two pillars in the construction of socialism… the superior weapon of the
working class, the strike, is precisely the weapon of the violent
definition of class contradictions, which cannot occur in a society on
the path towards socialism."
A similar ambivalence was illustrated in Guevara's interview with
Zeitlin. Asked, can the workers strike, if they feel it is necessary?
Guevara answered: "I believe yes! We maintain, that a strike is a defeat
for the government and for the working class. For example, we had a
24-hour strike — which was solved politically as all strikes must be.
The strike occurred 14 months ago. Now there are no strikes." (Bonachea
and Valdes 1969)
Yaffe says nothing about
the effective suppression of independent trade
unionism in Cuba by the Castroites. In November 1959, they imposed
Stalinists on the CTC union federation, and in the following months
purged most of the union leaders, including M26J supporters elected
after 1959 (and not hangovers from the Batista period). The government
imposed Lazaro Peña as general secretary of the CTC in 1961. Peña
previously held the position when the Stalinist party (PSP) was in
alliance with Batista between 1938 and 1947.
However the book does reveal unintentionally the real nature of
industrial relations in Cuba under Guevara. He organised for a new
salary scale to be introduced in 1964. All wages were grouped into eight
categories and there was a 15% differential between the eight hourly
wage rates. (2009) Yaffe made a big fuss of this in The Guardian last
year (20 June 2008), arguing that Cubans had long experienced wage
differentials. The point entirely missed is that these wage scales were
imposed from above; they were not the product of collective bargaining
but rather of top-down diktat.
Yaffe like others ascribes exaggerated significance to the debate in
Cuba between 1963 and 1965 involving leading members of the Cuban
government, and some European intellectuals.
The discussion ranged over the role of the law of value, the way
planning was organised, and about the place of material and moral
On the one side were those who supported the Soviet Auto-Financing
System (AFS), which meant "financial decentralisation for enterprises
which functioned as independent accounting units responsible for their
own profits and losses and, in the case of INRA, was similar to the
khozraschet model of cooperative farms in the USSR". On the other was
the Budgetary Finance System (BFS) advocated by Guevara and operated by
his ministry. (Yaffe 2009)
Both sides took their cue from Stalin: the former from his last article
on economics (1952); the later from his political economy during the
1930s. Both adopted a mistaken view of the law of value as operating
initially under "simple commodity production", a logical construct
and/or historical period suggested originally by Engels at the end of
his life but not found anywhere in Marx's economic writings. The problem
with this approach is that it treats the law of value as principally a
theory of prices. But Marx accepted that actual prices are not simply
determined by values (i.e. quantities of socially necessary labour time)
even under capitalism. In fact Marx's real insight, derived from his
exposition of the value-form, was to uncover exploitation beneath the
veneer of equal exchange under capitalism. Yaffe appears unaware of
Yaffe is convinced that Guevara's view was right. "Guevara stated that
'value' is brought about by the relationships of production. It exists
objectively and is not created by man with a specific purpose. He agreed
that the law of value continues under socialism. Guevara insisted that
commodity-exchange relations between factories threatened transition,
via 'market socialism', to capitalism. He stressed central planning and
state regulation as substitutes to such mechanisms. Cuba, he argued,
should be considered as one big factory… Guevara believed that a
socialist country's task was not to use, or even hold the law of value
in check, but to define very precisely the law's sphere of operation and
then make inroads into those spheres to undermine it; to work towards
its abolition, not limitation." (2009)
Under the BFS, cost-cutting not profit was the key to evaluating
enterprise performance. BFS enterprises did not control their own
finances. They could not get bank credit. However she concedes that "the
origin of the BFS lay in the capitalist corporations of pre-Revolution
Cuba". Yaffe goes as far as to say that "Guevara's vision was of Cuba
Socialista as a single factory operating under what today is known as
Just in Time techniques to achieve the greatest possible efficiency, via
rational organisation, maximum returns on investments and a focus on
Perhaps Guevara's critique of the USSR as heading for capitalism had
some traction. However the BFS was also a bureaucratic, top-down system
of planning, with no democratic means through which workers could
exercise their power. Some of the differences were exaggerated. Yaffe
concedes that others were cosmetic: "Guevara insisted on changing the
titles of various functions to dissociate them from capitalist concepts…
So profit is renamed 'record of results'." The debate was actually
between different forms of bureaucratic planning within different
Yaffe also discusses the significance of Guevara's advocacy of "moral
incentives" in production. She argues that for Guevara, voluntary labour
was "not obligatory".
This is rather naïve. Even TUC figures for the British economy estimate
that five million workers are doing over seven hours unpaid overtime a
week. It also contradicts Cuban reality. Yaffe states that by 1964,
trade unions in the Ministry of Industries "agreed to accept 40 hours'
pay for a 44-hour working week", what she laughably calls "creating
another form of voluntary labour".
Guevara also considered "socialist emulation" to be a fundamental
component of the BFS. Super-productive workers received material rewards
including cash, but mostly goods such as refrigerators, housing,
vacations and travel to Eastern Europe. He also believed that people
were more inspired to participate in emulation by the example of
outstanding workers. Yaffe cites the case of Reinaldo Castro who became
famous in the 1962 sugar harvest for hand-cutting 11 tons a day in
nationwide emulations. In 1963 he cut 25 tons in eight hours and the
following year was named National Hero of Work. (2009) The problem for
Yaffe is this kind of labour discipline is indistinguishable from
Stakhanovism during high Stalinism in Russia in the 1930s.
It was the absence of workers' democracy, workers' control and workers'
self-management that made these methods appear necessary in bureaucratic
Cuba. Sam Farber made the key political point about how a real socialist
society would deal with these issues: "Classical Marxism, besides
assuming that socialism would take place in a society with a relatively
high level of material abundance and cultural advancement, emphasised
not 'moral', but what could be called 'political incentives' that
involved democratic control of the economy, polity and society,
including the control of the workplace by the workers.
"According to this approach, only by participating and controlling their
own productive lives would people become interested and responsible for
what they do for a living day in and day out; that is, only thus would
they get to care and give a damn. In this sense, workers' democracy was
seen both as a good in itself — people taking control of their lives —
and as a truly productive economic force. ("Visiting Raúl Castro's
Cuba", New Politics, 43, 2007)
Yaffe also makes a defence of another form of work discipline in
operation in Cuba, namely labour camps. She argues that the
Rehabilitation Centre at Guanahacabibes was not really coercive, because
Guevara's ministry "sent only management personnel there, not production
cond, going there was optional".
She admits that Guanahacabibes was an extension of the hard labour camp
set up by the Department of Education of the Rebel Army on Cayo Largo in
1959 for soldiers under reprimand. From mid-1960 the armed forces
ministry set up a work camp at Guanahacabibes and sent soldiers there as
a form of punishment. They were joined by students who had abused
foreign scholarships and been expelled from socialist bloc countries. In
1961, Guevara began sending MININD directors to Guanahacabibes to assist
the labour force, as did other ministries. "The men slept in the open
air until they had made tents, then wooden huts, then houses of cement
and iron…. A report in November 1962 listed 56 people there under
Guevara said in January 1962: "To Guanahacabibes are sent people who
should not go to prison, people with more or less serious failings of
revolutionary morality with the simultaneous sanction of removing
themselves from their posts. In other cases it is not a punishment but a
kind of re-education through work. The work conditions are hard, but not
bestial… no one should go to Guanahacabibes who does not want to go,
leave and work somewhere else." (2009)
Apparently, when one of the founding members of the Department of
Industrialisation, Francisco Garcia Vals, was sent there, Guevara
visited every weekend to play chess with him and ensure that he
understood the reprimand. (2009)
Yaffe argues that the history of Guanahacabibes as a "rehabilitation
centre", and one involving hard labour, "presents a conceptual
challenge", "raising the spectre of the harsh reality of such camps in
other socialist bloc countries". It does much more than that.
In an economy where the state was the main employer, the "choice" to
work somewhere else rather than go to the camp was hardly a free one.
More significantly, Guanahacabibes has to be put into the context of
hundreds of other prisons where convict labour routinely takes place,
producing clothing, construction, furniture, and other factories as well
as agricultural camps at it maximum and minimum security prisons. It
also needs to be put in the context of the military draft of 16 to 45
years olds, and the deployment of recalcitrant workers in the Military
Units to Aid Production (UMAP). These all represent forms of systematic
exploitation, oppression and coercion by a state that dominates its
The supporters of Che Guevara maintain that he somehow broke from
Stalinism in his last years. They cite his remarks about the USSR after
the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and his view that Russia had
imperialistic relations with the Third World.
Others such as Ernest Mandel have gone further, stating that Guevara and
the revolutionary leadership were some sort of "unconscious
Trotskyists". I have previously argued that Guevara may have become
disillusioned with the USSR, but far from becoming a Trotskyist he
instead moved closer to the Maoist variant of Stalinism. Yaffe's book
provides some proof of this. Guevara stated in December 1964:
"There are some useful things that can be taken from Trotsky's ideas. I
believe that the fundamental things which Trotsky based himself on were
erroneous, and that his later behaviour was wrong and even obscure in
the final period. The Trotskyists have contributed nothing to the
revolutionary movement and where they did most, which was in Peru, they
ultimately failed because their methods were bad. Comrade Hugo Blanco,
personally a man of great sacrifice, [had] a set of erroneous ideas and
will necessarily fail."
He added: "In many aspects I have expressed opinions that could be
closer to the Chinese side: guerrilla warfare, people's war, in the
development of all these things, voluntary labour, to be against direct
material incentives as a lever, a whole set of things which the Chinese
also raise…" (Yaffe 2009)
Further proof of Guevara's lasting commitment to Stalinism is also found
in Yaffe's book. Between 1965 and 1966, Guevara made critical notes on
the Soviet Manual of Political Economy, whilst in Africa. The notes were
smuggled back into Cuba by his wife Aleida March, who passed them onto
Borrego, who kept them under lock and key for forty years. (2009)
Although it is true that the notes were not written for publication, nor
were they brought together as a text, it is fair to say they reflect
Guevara's thinking close to the end of his life.
Guevara argued that after Marx and Lenin, "the fountain of theory had
dried up", "leaving only some isolated works of Stalin and certain
writings of Mao Tse-Tung as witness to the immense creative power of
Marxism". He stated: "In his last years, Stalin feared the consequence
of this lack of theory and he ordered a manual to be written which would
be accessible to the masses and deal with all the themes of political
economy up to the present period." (Yaffe 2009)
Guevara criticised Lenin for the original move towards market
mechanisms. He wrote: "In the course of our practice and our theoretical
investigations we have discovered the most blameworthy individual with
the name and surname: Vladimir Ilich Lenin… Our thesis is that the
changes brought about by the New Economic Policy (NEP) have saturated
the life of the USSR and that they have since scarred this whole
This seems bizarre. The NEP was a limited opening by an emaciated
workers' state recovering from civil war. It's possible to debate the
merits of NEP, but the point here is that Guevara misses out the whole
period of Stalin's forced industrialisation and collectivisation, where
market mechanisms were largely obliterated. Stalin may have permitted
them in the last years of his life, but not before presiding over a
whole period suppressing the law of value in the USSR.
The Soviet Manual criticised Stalin's thesis that commodity production
under socialism represents a break on the development of the productive
forces leading to the need for direct exchange between industry and
agriculture. Stalin, it stated, failed to fully appreciate "the
operation of the law of value in the sphere of production, in particular
as far as concerns the means of production". Despite Stalin's
responsibilities for embedding capitalist levers, never mind his other
crimes, Guevara still regarded him as less reactionary than the authors
of the Soviet Manual. He wrote: "In the supposed errors of Stalin is the
difference between a revolutionary and a revisionist attitude. He saw
the danger in commodity relations and attempted to pass over this stage
by breaking those that resisted him." (Yaffe 2009)
In any case Guevara did not spurn Soviet backing to Cuba. Guevara's
notes also indicate how far he was from revolutionary Marxism, and
inadvertently how far Cuba was from socialism.
According to Yaffe, he argued that, "In dependent (oppressed) countries,
foreign investment turns the working class into relative beneficiaries
compared to the dispossessed peasant class, whose plight they ignore".
He also claimed that, "The working class in developed countries do not
unite with national liberation movements in a common front against
imperialism. They become the accomplices of the imperialists from whom
they receive crumbs…" The dismissal of the working class in the main
capitalist centres went further: "The working class in the i
countries strengthens in cohesion and organisation, but not in
consciousness"; and: "Today we describe could describe as the labour
aristocracy the mass of workers in the strong countries with respect to
the weak ones". (Yaffe 2009)
Guevara also criticised the Soviet Manual's claim that under socialism
trade unions were important organisations of the masses with the right
to monitor the state on completion of work and protection legislation.
He wrote that "trade unions appear anachronistic, without meaning" and
complained of "the bureaucratisation of the workers' movement" (2009)
Of course, the Soviet "unions" were no such entities — they were state
labour fronts tied to the bureaucracy, just like their Cuban
counterparts. However Guevara's rejection of the role of unions under
socialism was real enough.
Yaffe makes a great deal of Guevara's prediction that capitalism would
re-emerge in the USSR unless it changed course. Of course this is what
happened after 1991. But this was hardly a novel prediction in the
mid-1960s. Semi-Stalinists such as Paul Sweezy, not to mention the
Chinese state after the Sino-Soviet split, also made similar claims.
Yaffe argues that Guevara's outstanding contribution was "to devise a
system of economic management that gave expression to his Marxist
analysis in practical policies, applying his theory of socialist
transition to the reality of 1960s Cuba and its level of economic
development". Since she fails to prove Cuba has anything to do with
socialism, and in fact indicates the anti-working class character of
Guevara's political economy, the book must be judged a failure.
But Yaffe's interest in Guevara has a contemporary echo with greater
pertinence. During the 1990s, the Cuban state allowed more space for the
functioning of market mechanisms. Some 300 firms linked to the military,
such as GAESA, Aerogaviota and UIM were set up, along with
semi-autonomous state agencies, including Cubanacan, Artex and Cubalse.
The Enterprise Perfection System (EPS), which measures production in
capitalist management terms i.e. "profit", was generalised. Joint
ventures in tourism, nickel, telephone, oil and citrus, with capital
from Spain, Canada, Mexico, Italy, the UK and China were established.
And 150,000 small enterprises were permitted.
Although much of this remains, the move towards the market has been
In 2003, US dollar payments between Cuban enterprises were abolished and
replaced by payments in Cuban convertible pesos. In 2005 financial
autonomy was removed from Cuban enterprises and their reserves
transferred to the central bank. Yaffe says that the number of mixed
enterprises (Cuban state and private/foreign capital) operating in Cuba
decreased from 403 in 2002 to 236 in 2006, and accounts for less than 1%
of employment. (2009 p.267, p.269)
Yaffe believes that the result of these measures is "a degree of
financial centralisation not seen since Guevara's BFS" and is "to limit
the sphere of operation of capitalist mechanisms introduced via foreign
capital diminishing their impact on Cubans as producers and consumers".
(2009 p.269) She denies that Cuba is undergoing a Chinese-style
market-opening. In other words she appears to celebrate the stalling of
the process as a vindication of Guevara's approach in the earlier period.
That the transition to capitalism in Cuba has slowed, stalled even, is
indisputable. This is because Fidel Castro has lived longer than most
expected. Raul Castro, the chief advocate of the Chinese road, will not
press ahead while the Bonaparte is still alive.
Guevara's economics are no place of refuge for Cuban workers. They will
not find a means to overcome their exploitation in the political economy
of mildly dissident Stalinism. Cuban workers will need to break free of
such icons and ideas and rely on their own self-organisation to overcome
the twin travails of capitalism and Cuban Stalinism.
*According to the US SWP's Joseph Hansen, Guevara went on television the
following day to apologise for misrepresenting the "Trotskyist
comrades". (Dynamics of the Cuban Revolution, 1978). This does not
detract from Guevara's assessment of the status of these bodies.
Guevara the economist? Workers short-changed | Workers' Liberty