Cuba Today and the Future of Cuban Socialism: A Response to the Observations of William Smaldone

By Campbell, Al | Monthly Review, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Cuba Today and the Future of Cuban Socialism: A Response to the Observations of William Smaldone


Campbell, Al, Monthly Review


In the April 1996 issue of this magazine, William Smaldone presented his observations and interpretations from his participation in the Seventh Conference of North American and Cuban Philosophers and Social Scientists in Cuba in June 1995. This brief article is motivated by the following two considerations:

1) There have been a number of changes in Cuba over the last year that impact on several of the issues considered by Smaldone. Among these are an improved economy, a decision by the leadership of the revolution to increase the attention paid to political work and the goal of socialism,(1) and increased statistical information on the extent of the economic downturn in the early 1990s. This article will discuss these recent developments.

2) Smaldone's title "Observations on the Cuban Revolution" correctly suggested the nature of his article as a series of observations and reflections. What was not clear in the article was what the author thought the sum of his observations had to say about the overall situation in Cuba, specifically in regards to the long term Cuban goal of attempting to build socialism. Each observation was presented clearly, each tree was sketched sharply. But what was the nature of the forest?

Five Important Issues on Cuba and Socialism

In this section I will briefly consider five points discussed by Smaldone. My real concern of course goes beyond what I consider to be correcting this particular article. I believe that what I consider to be errors and prejudices in Smaldone's vision of Cuba are common among many progressives and leftists in the United States. Beyond that, I think that many progressives and leftism in the United States do not appreciate the importance of the discussions and experiments on social structure now going on in Cuba to the current worldwide debate on the desired nature of socialism.

Point 1. "In many ways socialist Cuba must now rethink its project from scratch." (p. 21) This is certainly not the situation Cuba faces, and understanding the way the real situation differs from this is essential for understanding the possibilities for Cuba to transcend the present problems, in a way directed toward socialism. What is true is that Cuba must now rethink all aspects of what it thought of before as its goal of socialism, and that some of these aspects will be rejected, while others will be maintained. That is in fact being done throughout the country. What is not correct is that they must do so "from scratch." Essential to the Cubans' ability to get through the present difficulties in a way consistent with their goal of building socialism is what they achieved from 1959 to 1989. On the one hand there was the impressive economic growth (quite different from the picture of economic performance generally held in the United States). On the other hand there was sweeping economic transformation.

It is worth pointing to a number of careful and balanced studies of the growth and transformation of the Cuban economy since 1959, because many on the left who are sympathetic with Cuba's goals have bought into the "Cuba has done a lot to provide basic services to its poor but its economy has always been a mess" description. The six articles on the economy in Transformation and Struggle (1990, Halebsky and Kirk, eds., Praeger) constitute one set of such studies, in English, collected in one place, that gives a many sided appreciation of the extent of the transformation. Their titles reflect the diversity of the aspects of the economic transformation addressed: "The Cuban Economy: a Current Assessment" by Jose Luis Rodriguez (now Minister of the Economy and Planning), Agricultural Policy with Social Justice and Development" and "The Supply of Consumer Goods in Cuba" by Egenio Balari, "Agricultural Production Cooperatives and Cuban Socialism" by Mieke Meurs, "Cuba's Economic Diversification: Progress and Shortcomings" by Andrew Zimbalist, and "Some Reflections on the Cuban Economic Model" by Claus Brundenius. …

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