[Prefatory Note, June 2007: For a few months after returning from this trip to Cuba in August 1969 I argued that Cuba was some kind of new form of democracy. I soon came to my senses, however. I've forgotten now what my line of reasoning was. It probably had to do with the overwhelming support across the population that the revolution enjoyed. It really seemed like a majoritarian movement, not a minority controlled one. I had only been studying radical social philosophy for a couple of years when I made this trip with a group from the Committee of Returned Volunteers. So I'm not sure how valuable these musings are now. Anyway, this is what I was thinking about then. One question I asked over and over again, everywhere we went, until my companions and the guides were totally sick of it and begged me to stop, was about workers control. I wanted to know whether it existed in Cuba. It didn't. All in all, this was one hell of a stimulating month. I grew a beard there, which I've never shaved off. I did eventually get to go sightseeing in Mexico City too, in June 2002. On the way to Cuba we had a 2-3 day lay over in Mexico City. Instead of going out to see the city, I stayed in the hotel and read essays about Cuba I'd brought along. My companions thought I was crazy, and I probably was.]
Preparation and Orientation Session. Brief background and origin of trip. Why and how the trip was planned and decided upon. The orientation: (1) key interests in democracy and decision-making; the whole question of tyranny versus democracy; the whole thing about Castro; propaganda; freedom of the individual, especially in art; education. (2) question of how group will function; reluctance about selecting leaders; the question of group spirit, group consciousness; whether we operate as a group or as individuals; problem over our night out swimming and conflicts created there; no natural leadership emerged because of John, Sue, Brian; they shaped the structure of the group. Other topics of discussion: peace corps, general agreement on most issues although there are several quite liberal people. The get-together party: the whole thing about the FBI photographers and the resulting paranoia. The delay in Mexico – tested the operation of the group as a functioning unit. Freedom: what type of freedom? Question of the criteria: group creation of criteria or individually; what kind of criterion – collective versus individualistic. Nature of freedom in U.S. and Cuba; each society inculcates an ideology; each government resists its enemies. Clear that it is a question of a fight between peoples with different values, given your belief that socialist way of life is better.
Arrival. Very relieved to get to Cuba. Felt safe. Very ironic because Cubans photographed us also, but it seemed to be a different thing. We trusted them. We got a great welcome, cocktails, etc. Were met by our four guides; the bus was ready and waiting; it seemed very relaxed; the flight was great; took the bus to the Hilton; five o'clock in the morning. Slept until noon the next day; breakfast at noon in dining room.
Dining Room at Hilton. Very simple. One menu. Gave me a feeling of knowing where things were. Even though menu was far above average I still got the feeling of scarcity. Eating in a fancy hotel but surrounded by ordinary people, not rich ones. Lots of young people in the hotel. Also a lot of foreigners – Russians, Italians, French – technicians. Hotel was fairly well kept, but the rugs were dirty, and the pipes were noisy; the thermostat was broken; it was a little run down.
Exhibition. Great pop-art display on the commercialism of imperialistic domination and its overthrow by the revolution. It refuted the idea that you work for money; rather you work for social value, social consciousness. Slide flashes and posters of revolutionary films and other posters. Really terrific. Felt very strongly that this kind of psychic attack on enemy, using pop art, is needed to begin to get through to the American people.
Ice Cream Pavilion. People line up for hours. You can get three dips maximum for a dollar. The line has turned into a socializing place, comparable to old Latin American Square.
Restaurants. Very strong demand. Have to que up in mornings to get reservations for evening. People have money to spend. Restaurants are state owned.
Meeting with First Group. Very exciting meeting with first CRV group which came to Cuba a few weeks before we did; fast exchanging of news. Aubrey talked about meeting with NLF. Group discussed whether to hold news conference. Lot of good info from first group: don't pump Cubans so much, probably won't be able to get what you want out of ICAP, etc. Try to get each day's schedule at beginning. Try to stay at least a week in one place. Don't go jumping around the country. Try to get to oriented. Personal contacts are the most valuable.
First days of work. The women fertilized citrus trees. The men hoed weeds in coffee patches. The men really were wiped out the first day. We live in a plush camp. Another student group (Cuban) joined us. After the first get-acquainted exchanges, there has been very little discussion or interaction. Couldn't figure out why. We work 8:30-11:00; 2:30-5:00. Leaders here do not drive very hard.
Discussion. Had a discussion after first day of work. Was a free night. Wanted to go over some of our experiences so far. Main issues were:
(a) The question of incentives. Most people we meet seem very enthusiastic about the revolution. They work hard; extend their voluntary service. Our guides disagreed with Huberman & Sweezy's claim that labor is utilized to only 50% of capacity because people don't work hard. It is partly a question of what is a humane work day. Most people seem to be working hard from moral incentives.
(b) The question of regimentation. We couldn't get anywhere on this. Our guides' answers were always that work was voluntary. Mass mobilizations are not perceived as regimentation. Rather the people are devoted to meeting the collective goals.
(c) Militarism. Have to be very careful about this. You can have people's armies. Still, the spread of military structures, hierarchies, etc. is a dangerous thing.
(d) We discussed the role of the party. It is a key thing. Parallel structures. You have to be recommended for party membership by your work group. Party members seem to get special respect and authority.
(e) Beginning awareness that the question of democracy, freedom of the individual in socialist society, is the wrong focus. Why? Because they do not hold `individual autonomy' as an absolute value. They look to the group. They are `collectively oriented'. They have leaders. Their leaders set goals for the society, goals which serve the needs of the people. They trust their leaders and accept the goals. They participate in achieving the goals. The whole question of democracy – at least in this sense of individual autonomy – is simply not a problem here. The party is the vanguard. Yet, they claim that the party reflects the will of the people. Both claims cannot be true – at least on any given issue. What probably happens is that the party accepts some resistance as legitimate and modifies its policies. Other resistance is seen as `counterrevolutionary' and is treated with `political education'. Maybe the whole Kantian framework of `moral autonomy' of the individual is the wrong focus. Can't have it. There will be some basic framework, some rules of the game. Have to maintain those rules against the enemy. Reread Durkheim! Economic democracy, massive participation in the economy.
(g) Central importance of basic acceptance of the plan. They trust the leaders, grant legitimacy to the government, to Fidel, to the planners, to the plan. The basic framework is not up for debate. How to achieve socialist society is up for debate. Loli claims to be free. She can criticize anything she wants. (Obviously she can't criticize Castro and the revolution per se (or can she?). Loli also says that in her various organizations there is democracy. They choose their own leaders. Examine the complex ways the individual is related to society.
(h) Had a long discussion about the `Grab a Cuban' problem. Question of our relationship to Cubans. Don said he felt our questions were forms of attacks, were based on critical assumptions, weren't really friendly and nice. We were being critical, doubting Thomases. We decided to take it easy. Don't pump Cubans so much for information, but relate to them as human beings.
Democratic Socialism. Really difficult to penetrate and make any sense out of the structure of power. We seem to be talking past each other. Cubans do not seem to be concerned about things we ask about. They answer in ways that don't satisfy us. This is especially true on this whole of question of democracy, the power structure, and decision-making. The Cubans do not have workers control in the traditional sense of the word. They have a centralized structure of authority. People accept this overwhelmingly. But this is not the whole story. Within this structure there seems to be maximum participation, room for individual initiative, and so forth. Cubans do not appear to be regimented, brow-beaten masses, coerced into labor, suppressed, mobilized. Quite the contrary. One gets the feeling of real democracy. On the surface that is, we, as Americans, perceive the structure as an authoritarian one, but in reality an entirely different social process is going on. It is as if a democratic social life existed within a fairly standard hierarchical structure of power. Cubans are not concerned about the structure of power in the same way we are (e.g., there is never any mention of community, local control, never any use of the term democracy, except in contexts raised by us). There are probably several reasons for this.
First of all, the contrast between the structure before the revolution and now must be fantastic – and it is an obvious improvement. Before the revolution they had real dictators, ruthless, brutal dictators. They had large landlords. What they have now seems infinitely democratic – the party.
Second, they can see that the system is working in their behalf. Their conditions are improving dramatically. So it is true in fact that the will of the majority is being expressed. (See ch. 4 in Lockwood for Castro's whole discussion of democracy.)
Third, they are massively involved. Practically every member of the society belongs to one or two mass organizations, all of which are working directly toward the improvement of society – the Federation of Women, Youth Centennial Columns, and dozens of others. These groups practice self-discipline within the framework of the authority structure. They select their own leaders. They practice self-criticism. They `punish' people who get out of line. (There is no punishment in reality – the group talks to `naughty' members and tries to educate them, puts social pressure on them to do what they are suppose to do).
Fourth, there is very considerable equality. For example, management personnel at the copper mine were said to get less money than the miners themselves. If those in positions of power and responsibility do not have social and economic advantages a lot of the problems of hierarchy are eliminated. That is, our deep-seated concern for getting democratic structures of power stems from our experience in a capitalist society where power leads to wealth and results in exploitation of the masses. If power is not connected with disproportionate wealth, i.e., with inequality, then perhaps the whole problem of democracy shifts focus. In fact, the question of power is merely the reverse of the problem of inequality. The two things go hand in hand. In Cuba, though, they seem to have been separated. You don't have equality of power, but you have equality in other respects. What has happened it seems is that a ruling elite has decided to distribute the wealth equally. The elite has decided to work in the interests of the people and to incorporate large numbers of men and women into the process. They are leaders who are serving the needs of the people.
Fifth, the rationality of the plan lends it legitimacy. Cuba is a small country. The issue of 'local control' is out of place here. Cubans feel they do control their country, for the first time. They are now in charge of things whereas formerly the country was owned by foreigners. There is a tremendous sense of autonomy then on the national level. It's not necessary for it to be on the local level also, i.e., the country is not fragmented. This is a crucial point. There is a sense of the nation working out its own destiny. Everyone is participating. Would clearly be irrational to have each region being autonomous. Our attempt to find community control here, of schools, farms, etc. is really missing the point. Cubans have a tremendous sense of `nation control' – for the first time in their history – after 100 years of struggle for liberation.
Films. Lucia. A very good study on women's liberation. See the write up in the xeroxed article. I didn't like the last part. Thought it was out of character with rest of film. Should have selected more successful male. Also, first two male figures had not been explicitly anti-women. Last figure was explicitly anti-woman. LBJ. Technically brilliant, but the whole concept was false. Implied that Johnson was behind the assassination of the two Kennedys and Martin Luther King. Air Force training. Very militaristic, nationalistic portrayal of Cuba's air strength. Could have passed for the Strategic Air Command.
CP Member. We talked with #2 man in the party in this region, in charge of organizing the organizers. Gave us the usual stress on agricultural and technological developments. Very reluctant to discuss institutional structures at first. Talked a lot about private small farmers, education in the area, role of the party and selection of party members. Asked us about the Peace Corps.
Selection of Party Members. We have been told the same story many times. Workers in a given unit elect a group of vanguard workers, the best workers among themselves. Then the party selects the members from among these. Ultimate say is with the party, not workers. If member goes bad, can be expelled from party.
Relation of Party to Administration. In talking with the forestry man the intricate, complex relation between party members and other administrators became a bit clearer. The head of the forestry plan is a party member – an original militant (member of the University Student Militant Group, one of three pre-revolutionary groups). Yet he doesn't know much about forestry. He is learning now. There are seven sub-departments in his outfit. Some are headed by party members. Others are not. Yet, within each sub-department there is a small nucleus of party members. In case of conflict between non-party member technician who heads a department and the party members in that unit, a discussion is held to resolve the conflict. They try to discuss and arrive at consensus. If the issue can't be solved, they send it to a higher level of authority for resolution.
Two things stand out in this. (1) The strong drive toward resolution of issues through discussion and debate with the goal of reaching consensus. (2) The unwillingness of party to over-rule non-party technicians on a given level of operation. Rather, it is pushed upstairs. The party also has technicians. Eventually it will be possible to reach a consensus about the issue in a given decision-making body. This whole discussion was very enlightening. It seems that to be competent in a job is not sufficient qualification for party membership. Otherwise all administrators would be party-members. One also has to have the right political attitudes and history, be a militant, be ideologically sound, etc. The party is the supreme power, yet within any work unit there is complex interaction going on between it and other non-party workers. There were 36 party members at the Forestry Department. They plan to take in 40 new members next year, as they haven't increased the size of the party for several years.
Forestry. There was no reforestation program before the revolution. In last few years they have planted 40 million trees. They hope to get 100 million more planted in next several years. There are about 100 million natural trees in the region. They plant pine trees for lumber, and some precious woods (mahogany). Have improved method of planting until mortality rate is reduced to 3%, in comparison with 30% loss at the beginning of reforestation program. They are planting standard varieties at present but experimenting with new strands. Sawmills are very inadequate at present. Will have time in future to develop them. Hope to meet domestic needs, export precious wood. The department employs 1500-2000 men. They need 3000 at least for the plan. Very serious labor shortage.
Guane Regional Development Plan. Finally got an overall picture of the region. Saw a map indicating agricultural plans for crops, locations of New Towns, hydroelectric and irrigation plans. The Region (Guane, one of four in the province of Pinar del Rio) is headed by a man who is simultaneously a member of the party (and head of the party in the region) and head of the plan for the region (i.e., an employee of INRA – National Agrarian Reform Institute). So the functions of the party and the administration of development are combined in one person. He has two deputies: (1) a political director; we spoke to him at the camp; (2) and a deputy in charge of agricultural and industrial development (we spoke with him at INRA headquarters for the region). Each man oversees several departments, e.g., forestry, tobacco, citrus, coffee, irrigation (for the agricultural chief), political education, ideology (for the political chief). These departments are again subdivided. I described the forestry section in the notes above. The relation between party and administration is described above also, except that all top positions are party people (the top man, his two deputies and probably also the department chiefs within each of the two broad divisions, political and agricultural, e.g., the forestry chief was a party member). Technical competence takes second place to party membership at this level, as both forestry chief and the #2 man in charge of agricultural and industrial development claimed no special technical competence. Both had acquired technical knowledge on the job.
As for the plan itself, the stress is on citrus right now but in fact the area is divided equally between (1) cattle (pasture), (2) citrus, (3) forests, and (4) coffee, with about one quarter for each, with some small areas devoted to mangos. There is one large dam complex and numerous other artificial lakes. Two new towns have already been completed (Sandino and one near our camp). Several more are planned, in carefully selected locations relative to labor needs of agriculture, transport, and water. A port will be built later when the crops start coming in. Needless to say, none of this existed before the revolution. Labor shortage will be serious when trees start bearing fruit, but the nation will mobilize youth and unskilled labor to solve this need just as it has the sugar cane harvest. Both #2 men we talked to, as well as the forestry chief, were very impressive men, well not ``impressive'' but certainly competent-looking and intelligent.
It is clear what is happening here. A group of men have come to power who are bent on developing the country along rational, scientific lines. They have drawn up comprehensive plans. They have imported equipment, trained technicians, and mobilized people to help with the work. The mass organizations are significant in this respect. They draw the people into the plan. Federation of Women. Various Brigades. Young Communists. And all the other groups. Young people are incorporated through groups like the Centennial Youth Brigade and through the regular school system. The educational system is a crucial thing. Have to build schools and train teachers. We visited a sixth grade school in which kids from all over the region had been brought to try to upgrade their education (a boarding school).
The improvements in the region are obvious and striking – herds of cattle, roads, dams, schools, orchards, forests, coffee fields – all where none existed before. No wonder people support the revolution. It is such an obviously intelligent thing to do, and everyone is participating in this and feel they are participating, i.e., they are conscious of the significance of their work and of their contribution to the development of the country.
Copper Mine. The mine was started in 1919. Copper was discovered by a local peasant. He took some stones to the Major of the city. Major and local lawyer ended up owning the mine that was built. Taken over by American firm in 1921. American firm sold out to local Cuban engineer several months before big vein was discovered. Had been mining only on the surface with strip mining. From 1949-1961 the mine was Cuban. Nationalized in 1961. All American technicians left. Was a real struggle to keep mine going, but they did. Mine never shut down. Got help from East Europe, from Chile, Canada. Mine has four shafts – one main one now, two for air ventilation, one other. Depth of mine is now at 1030. Maximum is expected to be 1080 or so. Output of mine decreases as depth of shaft increases. Mine has produced 11 million tons of copper since 1911. One and a half million tons since the revolution. Output is limited by capacity of the shaft and there is no way to increase it. Equipment is very old. About a million tons of known reserves, so mine will last another decade, unless more copper is discovered. Used mostly for export. Get $1400 a ton, can sell all they produce. 3% copper in original ore. This is processed on premises to concentrate into 30% copper substance (green powdery stuff – 3 tons needed for one ton of copper).
More interesting: the organization of work. There is a union and an administration or management. There are party members in both groups, but not all are party members. Union meets periodically with management but apparently in an advisory capacity only. It has no power to overrule management, although this same drive toward consensus (e.g., his answer when asked about conflict was ``We talk it over.'') Salaries are set by the National Mining group. Are other basic policies? Management is appointed by National board also. Some are CP, others aren't. There is a wage differential ranging from 180 to 400 (appr.) depending on level of skill. Chief Engineer, when asked about any plans to equalize wages responded automatically that it would be silly to pay skilled laborer as much as unskilled, thus showing that he at least had no image of equal wage scales. What this means about moral incentives I do not know. Workers have won awards for the last couple of years for exemplary workmanship. They have a system of voluntary labor (on Saturdays) that doesn't sound so voluntary. They don't have to go if they don't want to, but most do most of the time. If the department doesn't make its quota they hold a meeting to discuss the matter and ask for voluntary extra work. Also we have to consider the very real improvement in living conditions in the town. Everything is free now – food, rent. Safety has been improved drastically. Only 3-4 accidents in last 3 years, whereas before the revolution it was 5-6 deaths a year, and frequent mass accidents. Five hundred men work in shaft in four six-hour shifts. Another 700 work above ground. Management also runs several other mines in the area (north coast of Pinor Del Rio).
Copper mine was significant for me. Destroyed any notions or illusions I might have had about workers control in Cuba. Whatever is going on here it is not workers control in the usual sense of the word. Workers have no control over selection of management or over production policies. Their role seems to be limited to discussing work problems with management. They do not set wages. Their organization seems to be mainly a mobilization mechanism to generate enthusiastic participation in the production plan determined externally. The question, is though, could it be any different in a centrally planned socialist society. The whole idea of local autonomy for the copper mine doesn't make sense at all in a rationally planned socialist economy. It would tie workers artificially to the mine. How could they function without government support, or without a market for the goods.
Still, why do they have both management and union. Why not simply workers? Because there has to be some technical leadership. Maybe the best people aren't to be found among current workers.
Private Small Farmers. Fifty percent of land in Guane is small farmer (private). All of these farmers are organized (voluntarily it seems, with total cooperation) into Agricultural coops, whose main function is to give labor to farms in crisis. Huberman & Sweezy's discussion seems okay by and large. State gives technical assistance if farmer agrees to go along with the plan and sells produce to the state. They have eliminated the private market in food. All food is channeled through state distribution systems. Cubans keep stressing the importance of `Consciencia' of farmer. Have political education campaigns. Wives are in Women's Federation. Yet it is clear that all kinds of real constraints have been constructed. It is an ingenious plan. The state makes it so attractive, so advantageous, that farmers sell out to the state. And even if they don't, farms will slowly shift to the state anyway as children move off farms, and they can't sell the farm to anyone except the state. As the agricultural revolution gains momentum, farmers want to be part of it. They see the great things going on on state lands. Also, no advantage to having more money. Scarce goods are rationed and distributed according to need. None perceives small farmer as a threat. They will not become a future privileged class.
Fishing Co-op. Very interesting thing. Very little fishing before the revolution (as with everything else). Only a few rowboat fishermen. No Coops. Then they organized a coop. Slowly increased the size of the fleet (up to 15-18 now). Building a boat right there in Cortez. 128 members of the coop. 36 on fixed salaries (163-192-210 pesos). Others contract to work 20 days a month and meet a quota, but no fixed salary; paid according to catch. Average for non-fixed salaried fishermen is 130 pesos a month. Fixed salaried work 22 days a month. Pay by catch may be as high though in any given month as 200 pesos). Main reason for remaining on commission basis is desire to fish alone and set hours, i.e., individual freedom. All fish is sold to cooperative. After local consumption needs met, they ship rest off for export or elsewhere in Cuba. Fish for lobster 9 months a year, for other fish in remaining 3 months (Red Snapper, White fish). Board of Directors of Coop elected from fishermen, no direct representation of Minister of Fisheries, although all production goes to them and Coop is completely incorporated into regional plan and national fishery development plan.
Here once again the state has devised an ingenious way of incorporating everyone into the plan while still giving feeling of allowing some men to go their own way. There is no private market in fish, i.e., individual fishermen cannot sell fish to people in the town; all fish is sold to the coop. The coop distributes it to the town and exports the rest. Yet men do not have to go on a fixed salary. All fishermen do and perhaps have to belong to the coop. But within the coop they can either be fixed salary or commission. Coop loans money at no interest to non-fixed salaried fishermen in bad months, to be repaid the next month.
The place looked very rickety. Old and poor equipment. Yet it does work. They do catch fish.
Key thing here, once again, is how an apparently democratically run group of workers (coop with board of directors elected from workers) is nevertheless integrated into centralized state planning system. This is a more complex version of workers control than existed in the copper min. Funny combination of local control and centralized planning. Seems to work. Everyone was enthusiastic about it. They had a real sense of progress (e.g., described rapid increase in size of fleet). Real sense of participation. Felt it was a just, fair arrangement.
Sixth Grade School. Key thing here was way she (the director) handled the questions of discipline and individual versus collective study. The children are organized into brigades and each brigade is responsible for upkeep of its dorm, and for discipline problems. If someone is `naughty' a meeting is called and other members of the brigade discuss the matter with the child. The director indicated that virtually all problems are solved in this way; there is no punishment at the school. But these brigades do not set the rules. Rules are made by the ministry of education. But this didn't seem to bother anyone here. It wasn't seen as important. It could be that a very democratic process is going on within what seems to be an authoritarian system. Textbooks and exams are standard and set by the Ministry of Education. Question of individual vs. collective study more complex (I just didn't get it straight maybe). It seems that the kids do their homework individually but then come together in a group for discussion and to go over lesson with an assistant.
Very rigorous daily scheduling. Is a boarding school. Get to go home 2 days a month. All of them hope to go on to higher schools of one kind or another. People brought here from all over the region to try to upgrade their training. Kids seemed very healthy and alive, not at all regimented or suppressed, very spontaneous and free looking. Not fearful, self-restrained, or disciplined. Yet well behaved.
State Farms. Visited a state farm. It had a large open air cafeteria, a large open air meeting hall, a chicken farm, lots of cattle, experimental tobacco station for the region, general store, hospital, new houses scattered around for workers. Was very nice. Young woman dentist in the hospital was beautiful. Didn't learn much about organization of the farm. Were too tired. Never really sat down with head of farm to talk. Tried to do this on bus but it never got off ground. Was obviously a well-run outfit. Had 500 employees. The tobacco center did soil analyses, mainly, for anyone in the region in order to guide them about planting and fertilizers. There are lots of state farms in the region of Guane, ten I think.
Pioneers. An organization similar to Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Co-ed. Not weekly, but several major events a year. Go to weekend camp in summer. Heavy stress on Political Education. Also, explaining why Cubans do not believe in God. Question that arose in my talk with young man in charge of group was once again about individual versus collective. It seems that Pioneers is a semi-military organization. The children salute, are organized into platoons with leaders. They are given `stars' for good behavior. They memorize a code of conduct which stresses loyalty to nation, nationalism, patriotism. How does this differ from Boy Scouts? Only thing he could think of was the criterion for evaluation. Guide assured me it was collective not individualistic, i.e., individuals were encouraged to be social. Bright but anti-social people not elected to vanguard Brigade. Very complex question it seems to me. Evaluation and rating, i.e., power of superiors over ones life chances by control of `grading' and `promotion' clearly present in classic form. This is precisely what we are struggling against in the states.
New Towns. Visited two new towns. San Dino and another ex-co-op. Very nice indeed, especially the ex-co-op. Small well-kept houses. Vigorous kids. Lots of trees and fruits. Stopped in and visited three houses and talked with families. Each family has a garden in back. San Dino much bigger. Not quite as nice because more poorly kept. Still has school, hospital, crafts center, plaza, shopping center, nursery.
Cigar Factory. Very exciting visit to Habana's largest cigar factory. There are three other smaller factories in Habana and supposedly about 100 others in the country. The manager claimed that this factory produced 7 million cigars a year. Have a wide variety of cigars in shape, color, and strength. Dozens and dozens of labels. The interesting thing for me, once again, was the organization of work, wages, and union-management relations. The cigar rollers are paid a base rate on basis of making the norm of 115 cigars a day. If they make less they are docked (it is said). If they go over 115 they get more money, so much per cigar. The norms it is claimed are set by management (and the ministry) together with the workers. They get together in meetings to discuss the norm. Now the crucial thing is whether anything really happens in those meetings. Are they merely rubber stamp meetings or are there cases where the norms set by management are changed. (This problem has occurred in many instances elsewhere.) The workers have the usual advanced workers group and the union. These certainly serve the function of keeping morale high and of organizing volunteer labor. Whether it has any real control over even internal work conditions it is hard to tell, but I think it does. The manager said an interesting thing. He claimed that it was really a mistake to think in terms of management versus workers. He said there was no longer any contradiction between them. They were all workers and they all had the same objectives, to work hard for the revolution. Management is no longer in a position to exploit the workers and therefore there were no contradictions. This is a good argument to follow, especially when management gets no more money than workers. In other words, the whole thing seems to be based on moral incentives, on enthusiasm for the revolution, on willingness to work hard to develop Cuba. The manager was a party member who didn't know the tobacco industry. He used to be something else. He didn't seem to have a grasp of the details of tobacco: how to judge quality, the export-import situation. Seemed very much a political figure. Several workers told us how much better off they were now than before – worked all year now, had free rent and education. One really serious problem. Women were segregated into separate departments and defined as unskilled and paid less. We couldn't get a straight response to this.
Can a hierarchical structure function democratically? Idea for an essay: Might try to build an article around the situation encountered many times here where an apparently hierarchical structure operates in a democratic fashion because of the near complete consensus on the basic aims. We saw this at the university yesterday in the discussion about student-faculty relations. We have seen this many times in our questioning about workers management, primary schools, CDR. Key idea: When you have basic agreement on the framework then the structure becomes merely a way of implementing the goals. Since the goals are accepted (perhaps even generated) by everyone, perception of and resistance to the structure of authority as a tyrannical authority do not develop. Get back to Weber's thing – legitimacy (remember John's devastating criticism of that however, i.e., a matter of real controls, not legitimacy. This criticism however might be invalid for the Cuban experience.
Shipyard. We visited the shipyard up the street and stumbled into our best explanation yet of volunteer work and the meaning of the revolution on the workers level. (Bill has told us about the very privileged position of the fishing industry. He fished with them for a month. They get all they want of everything. High salaries. Don't have to stand in line for ice-cream. The justification being that they are out for weeks at a time and need to make up for what they have missed.) This shipyard was very busy. Don't of course make the big ships for Cuba's new fleet of ships. They are made in Japan, Sweden. They make smaller ships. The man who showed us around was Secretary of Advanced Workers in charge of Voluntary work. There are two other secretaries – financial and general. They have eliminated the union. Whole internal thing is now being run by advanced workers. They still have managers, however, appointed by the Ministry of Fisheries. But he said that management does more voluntary work than anyone else. Quotas for work come down from above. This man didn't seem at all worried about management. Of course the secretary in charge of voluntary work can be expected to be enthusiastic about voluntary work. But he was so genuine. An old tough wiry sort of worker. Small in stature. Looked like a shipbuilder. Why do they have to do so much voluntary work? (1) First of all, the labor shortage. They have men in the Zafra and in the Greenbelt. They all go out to greenbelt on weekends occasionally. So they are making up for lost men as well as the need to make the quota. They go way over their quota every month. They had a chart on a board with the names of 800 men working there, with number of hours of voluntary work this period. Highest was 250 or so, lowest 10-15%. About 10% of men had not done any voluntary work at all. (Don't know what happens to these men. Probably a matter of not being elected to leadership position. Lots of social pressure undoubtedly, but evidently no financial punishment. This is all speculation. We have never talked to a worker who didn't do voluntary work. (2) Secondly, Consciencia Economica. This man gave us a really great answer to our question ``Why do you work so hard?'' He went into long explanation of how underdeveloped Cuba was, what a good thing the revolution is, how important it is to earn foreign exchange so Cuba can develop, how important the fishing industry is to the plan, how necessary all work is, how everyone has their job to do and everyone contributes. Two key things about this shipyard: the economic consciencia and voluntary work, and the elimination of the union.
The Brewery. This is the most advanced form of workers democracy that we have encountered so far. They are on the verge of eliminating management appointed by outsiders, i.e., the ministry. At present time there are four administrators in the factory: (1) the head of the advanced workers, (2) head of the Communist Party in the factory, (3) head of the Young Communists in the factory, and (4) a man from the outside appointed by the ministry. But the outside man is about to be eliminated and the whole administration of the plant, within the framework of the plan, taken over by the workers themselves. Of course, all the major parameters are set by the plan – wages, production quotas, distribution of the product – but within the plan they will have workers control. Is this a meaningful thing? Yes! It means they have eliminated a managerial class on the level of the factory which has higher monetary rewards and serves as main driving force behind productive effort. The motivation is based squarely on the interests of all workers. In the inevitable feedback from plant level to central plan, the workers will have a direct voice. They are in direct control of internal plant matters and in direct control of interaction with central planning board. There are five beer plants in Cuba. This is the largest. Nearly totally automated. Only 150 men per shift. Plant left over from before the revolution.
Moral Incentives and Workers Democracy. Art McHughen put his finger on key point about workers democracy. To extent the incentive to work is based on moral incentives, i.e., on workers willingness to work, democracy is built into the very structure of the economy. If workers lose enthusiasm or start being absent or slow down or stop doing voluntary work then the administration has to either resort to coercion or else find out what is bugging them and correct it. The very foundation of the economy then tends to ensure that the will of the people will prevail. Actually, the phrases `material' vs. `moral' incentives is an incorrect formulation of the problem. It is a question of `willing' labor vs. `forced' labor. Does the worker work voluntarily because he understands the necessity of work. Or is he forced to work out of fear of starvation or concentration camps. This whole problem came up in a discussion of absenteeism. If workers get food and rent and clothes free; if money is practically useless because goods are rationed and everyone has 2-3 thousand in the bank anyway, why work? In Cuba people still work for a wage, it is true, in order to buy food and clothes. Nevertheless, they work hard, and even do voluntary work, because they are enthusiastic about the revolution they are making. Absenteeism is a problem here though and could get to be a serious problem. If so, it would force the government to slow the pace of development probably, and increase consumption and leisure time and cut back on capital investment.
The Greenbelt. The whole area surrounding the city of Habana has been incorporated into a single agricultural plan. I originally thought (from Huberman & Sweezy probably) that the plan was designed to make Habana self-sufficient in vegetables and fruits and other things. But this is not the case. They have planted the entire area in coffee and citrus fruits in order to utilize Havana's labor supply for planting, weeding, and harvesting these labor intensive crops. It is simply one of many specialized plans in agriculture. It was started 2-3 years ago. Have nearly finished planting the area at this time. Still have to build roads, dams. The most interesting aspect of the whole thing is the mobilization of Havana residents to work in the Greenbelt. This is the real significance of the area, other than its purely economic aspect. It is a way of getting a lot of people into productive labor. This is a fantastic thing.
We did productive labor with ICAP this morning in the Greenbelt. Every government agency is assigned a certain area in the Greenbelt which they are responsible for. Since everyone who works is in some government agency (the state owns industry, recreation, etc) they all have obligations to do productive labor. I tried to get a figure on the percent of people in Havana who actually do productive labor. Of course I couldn't find out. Everyone is supposed to do it, on weekends. Well we went out with a whole bus load and truck load of people this morning. The women said only two of the women were from ICAP, the rest were foreigners. But that is where foreigners are supposed to work. I wish I had found out how many of ICAP employees were there among the men. We had a really great time. Got up at 5:00, missed our bus, finally got to work at 8:00, worked til noon. Happened to get lucky. Hit a party day. They were celebrating Uruguay's independence day. Had a gal there from Uruguay. Gave a really first rate political speech. Then had a party. Two cases of rum. Sandwiches. Work, Politics, Food – a winning combination.
The University and the Question of Contradictions in the Power Structure. We visited the university and heard a general description of the structure of the university, which was pretty boring. Things got more interesting for me when I questioned him about why Cuba seemed to be reproducing all the false divisions of social sciences – political science, psychology, economics, sociology. He said, ``These are well established fields of knowledge.'' We could have had a long argument. The political science department, as he described it, was unusual however. Concerned mostly with active politics and applied sociology. Nevertheless, when talking to a sociology major I got feeling it was a standard and fairly straight takeover of Western European and American sociology. They start out with Comte and Spencer. They want to learn methodology. I would have thought they might have regrouped the division of social knowledge now, before they set up their university, especially since they are marxists. Evidently they haven't perceived yet that social sciences emerged in a peculiar situation in the West and are closely linked with that whole situation. (This would be an opportunity to come to Cuba for me.) But the real argument came out over their claim that there weren't any contradictions in the University between faculty and students. Why? Because everyone is working for the Revolution. Moreover, there is very close association between professors and students. Also, they now have an experiment to eliminate grading for their brightest students. They do not seem to have been concerned with evaluation and authority in the same way as we have. This is true across the board, not only in the university but in all areas of social life. They are not bothered by authority in hierarchical structures. They have a job to do – they have an enormous consensus on this, on the goals, on the job, on the overall framework. They are looking for a way to do it. Given the enormous consensus they have at this time – and it is truly remarkable – they don't have a minority problem.
Moreover, they don't seem concerned about individual liberty, do not perceive it as a problem, as it isn't for them. Individual liberty (see below on this whole problem) is not a problem for the majority of Cubans. They agree with the set up, believe the ideology, feel they are free. (Durkheim makes more and more sense.) I disagree with the argument that there are no contradictions. Why? Contradictions arise out of unequal power, when one group has power to influence the life-chances of another group. This is the case in the university. Professors evaluate and grade students. What they say about students affects their futures. They have not eliminated this, although they do have the one experiment for bright students. But the Cubans might be right after all, however. The Cuban situation is very different. First of all, the wage differential is small, so the financial importance of a favorable evaluation is less. Everyone works. Work has a different significance. People contribute in the best way they know how to the revolution. This is the ideal at least. To the extent then that real equality exists and to the extent that all work is seen as valuable the punitive aspects of evaluation have been greatly reduced or even eliminated. To the extent however that privileges remain, bureaucratic privileges for example, evaluations are important. Whether a person gets into the Party, whether he gets an important job, these are probably the things that people really want. I have witnessed obsequious behavior toward a party member by a person wanting desperately to be admitted to the party. This same thing might happen in the university, in spite of the fact that students and teachers do productive work together, which might only give students more opportunity to polish apples. I would suspect that the power of the professor would distort the whole interaction. But I might be wrong. I wish I could witness the interaction. They said that students do have power. They have representatives on the key faculty boards. When problems arise students and faculty discuss it together and try to resolve the problem. Hopefully this is not at all the kind of discussions students at Columbia University have with faculty. With final decision-making remaining with the faculty, discussions of this sort support the power structure. Students are in fact serving in an advisory capacity only. Faculty takes into account student ideas and complaints and then make their own decisions. In the U.S. there are real conflicts of interest between students and faculty, however. Maybe the conflicts have been eliminated here. That's the way they explained it. Both want to do everything possible to improve education and the country and they are working in a political and economic context where that is possible. They stressed very much the whole revolution of the university. Was thoroughly reorganized in 1961. Feel the situation is changing rapidly. Very creative things being done. One key important thing I haven't mentioned – all students do practical work, usually in teams, on real problems related to their specialties.
The Problem of Individual Freedom for Artists in a Socialist Society. One of the consistent themes pursued by people in our group from the first day almost has been problem of individual freedom for artists in Cuba. On way down, Gerry, Sue, David, and I examined this at length, mainly because of Gerry's intense feeling of her inherent `right' to do her thing, to pursue art as a value for itself, wherever it leads, without regard for society. She was worried that the artist in Cuba would be forced to conform to the party line. Her question was, ``Would I be allowed to take photographs of raindrops in Cuba?'' The answer to that is an obvious yes. The arts are fantastically alive in Cuba. Vibrant. Creative. Vigorous. There is a lot of stress on them. They are into everything. A really fine poster effort. They make excellent films. They have experimental drama, lots of drama in Havana, and are making an effort in the countryside also. There is a very broad definition of acceptable art. Of course, outright counter-revolutionary things are not produced. The key industries – films, radio, posters – are directly controlled by the state. So there is no problem. With painters and writers there is a different problem. But they are less worried about painting and literature and drama. They don't have the mass impact that film and radio do. They provide materials. One case has arisen. An outstanding author wrote a book which was judged `critical of the revolution' by all concerned. The debate was whether to publish it or not. The National board of Culture said no. The Union of Writers and Painters said yes. The book was published with a preface by the Union stating it was considered anti-revolution (not counterrevolutionary). Resources are limited for films. They can't even afford to publish counter-revolutionary materials, even if the materials constituted no threat at all to the state. The point is that Cuba is making a revolution. They are in a fight with a very powerful enemy – western imperialism. Can't allow people to fight them from within. That would threaten their whole position. Some have felt that eventually there might be a problem within the cultural sphere, but not now. They are handling it okay for now. Stress is on the economy (as it should be I think). If stress doesn't shift somewhat at appropriate time to greater stress on culture could lead to a lot of discontent. But not now. People are too busy building the new Cuba. So I think as far as Cuba is concerned the situation is clear. There is no serious problem here. Artists have freedom within a very broad framework. Cubans are not dogmatic about this. Not making the mistake the Russians did. Art and culture is thriving and growing in Cuba.
The issue has raised interesting questions for social theory however. This is what I have been interested in. It raises the question of the relation between the individual and the society. The main question: Is the very concept of 'individual freedom' a product of western European thought as it has evolved in the last several centuries. Certainly in medieval times there was more of a sense of `corporate community' in which the individual was seen as an aspect of community. It can be asked for example whether the individual does have a right to do his thing, to be apathetic for example. One could argue no. The individual is a social being, a part of society, and depends on social, cooperative efforts for his very being. There is no inherent right to spend energy, time, resources on `extraneous' activities. Time and resources for art is something achieved by the whole society. Freedom of expression is first of all an economic problem. Have to have leisure and materials and teachers. Furthermore, since `community' is a basic fact of human life you could argue that anytime any individual threatens to undermine society they don't have a right to do this.
The trouble with this is that it depends obviously on the value of the society being threatened. Some societies are not worth preserving. This in fact sums up the struggle in the world today. The American ruling class believes their capitalist society is worth preserving. They put down people who threaten their system. Cubans believe their socialist society is worth preserving. They put down people who threaten their way of life. The point is that all human societies have a framework, a set of values or norms, a `way of life', and core institutions which are essential to their way of life. In short, all societies have a party line.
Part of the party line in the individualistic, capitalistic West is `individual freedom'. This exists to a very large extent in places. In a stable society like the U.S. people can speak out. I believe, and repression of the radical movement proves, that if dissent becomes a real threat this dissent will not be tolerated. The Cuban stance toward the ``counter-revolutionary'' and the U.S. response toward the ``communist'' are exactly comparable. This gets us to Durkheim's claim that freedom is possible only within the ``moral consciousness'' (i.e., consciencia). The individual without the `moral consciousness'' is pathological. The atomized, isolated individual is distorted, deformed, dehumanized. Real freedom is possible only through community. This is disturbing because so much of the thrust of American radicals is toward greater individual freedom and autonomy, not toward consciencia. This is the struggle between liberalism and socialism, between western individualism and socialism. Have to get straight Marx's roots in the Enlightenment. The ultimate objective is still, in Marx, the fullest development of the individual. This is done through rational control of society and economy. Real freedom begins after basic needs are fulfilled, when work and specialization have been overcome. I might point out that the very terms `individual' and `society' distort our thinking. What exists is a process of complex interaction between individuals, the product of which is `society', the product of the interactive process. Individuals are formed in the process and also can influence the process.
Notes on the `group' problem (as Americans in Cuba). We did not know how to work together. We didn't know how to disagree. People are too sensitive on the one hand. They are defensive and interpret everything in `ego' terms. On the other hand people are very harsh and blunt. They really attack, disagree very strongly. People are constantly `put down' by others. A lot of people have been bothered about being put down, shouted down and excluded. It's not just a question of ideas, but of getting along in general. Personality conflicts have been severe and very destructive. We simply haven't been able to work together. We don't know how to be supportive, but tend to be threatening. There is also the problem of `ego trips'. The problem of the group has been described many times as `selfishness'. People are selfish, almost everyone is selfish. Everyone is struggling for the top spot in prestige, each in his own way. The problem of individualism. It permeates our whole life style. Our whole lives are based on this outlook. We do not know how to be together. There are very divisive elements in the group, almost everyone is divisive in some way or another.
New Questions and Focuses.
1. How does the distribution system work? Is it capitalist or what? What is the role of money? What is the number of commodities left? How do factories get the materials they need?
2. What is the incentive for managers to meet their quotas? Material or moral? Shift away from workers a bit to managers. How are they paid? Do they get bonuses for fulfilling the plan?
3. Try to straighten out the whole thing about small private holdings. What percent of total agricultural production is still coming from private farms? What percent of income of peasants come from their private plots, not from state lands? Need to explore fully the whole relation between the private farmer and the state farms. How have they been integrated into the plan?
4. Keep trying to discover whether there exists substantial consumer privileges for the bureaucrats.
5. How does the Cuban price system work? How are prices determined? Do they keep track of the real costs of production?
6. Try to see Cuba's labor situation as an effort to eliminate alienated labor, as the emancipation of labor.
7. Explore further the relations between management and worker. This is crucial. What kind of interaction? What kind of participation? What is the function of unions?
Some Lessons from the Cuba Trip.
1. It showed the necessity of American radicals getting together, and forming a united front. The fight is too important to be able to afford internal division. The trip highlighted the whole problem of working together and defeating individualism.
2. It helped straighten out the whole stress on and confusion about `democracy', or at least it threw the whole thing into a new light because of Cuba's different handling of the authority question. They stress discipline.
3. It put the proper stress on the final objective – socialism, building the new society. It helped us see around such reformist tendencies in the U.S. movement as `community control'. This is good if seen in the proper light.
4. It put the clear stress on the real enemy – U.S. imperialism. Our real task is to end exploitation of men by men, which is inherent in a class society based on private appropriation of the nation's wealth. To defeat vested interests of those who benefit from the present unjust society will require a fight. They will not give it up voluntarily.
5. We learned a lot about `workers democracy'.
6. We got a lot of new insights about the theoretical problem of the nature and structure of the new society, the economics and politics of a socialist society.