“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future”
Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize for Physics
The recently concluded 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) placed greater emphasis than the previous one on the subject of the conceptualisation of the development model. The 15-page document in which the characteristics of the model are presented, with the declared intention of promoting analysis among Party and Young Communist League members and the mass organisations, started circulating at the end of May of this year.
The document shows an unprecedented conceptual solidness and coherence in this type of texts. However, just with a first reading it is possible to find space for two preliminary commentaries. One referred to what is affirmed in the introduction: “it is not the concern of this document to present how to update the model, the concrete measures and actions to achieve these objectives, which corresponds to others.” It is not convenient to leave “to others” the definition of the forms of action. Those who determine the what must participate in the definition of the procedures; that is, the how. Cuba’s experience and that of other countries shows that the procedures undertaken by persons different from those who defined the concepts frequently prevent achieving the objectives, because the first do not have an in-depth conceptual identification with the principles of the model. It is also necessary to mention here the absence of a reference to the indispensable policy of research to back the implementation of the model.
The second commentary that the document motivates lies in that the phrase “updating of the model” immediately leads to the idea that there existed a previous model and that now it is a question of doctoring it a bit. It is very difficult to demonstrate that we had a model here, with everything this implies. We had a group of guidelines of the six previous PCC Congresses – “all of them almost forgotten,” as the president said himself – and a group of laws that frequently conflicted. At the most we could affirm is that they contained only a group of implicit intentions.
On the other hand, the document prioritises and says a great deal about the object; that is, the objective social construction, but very little about the subject – the human capital – that is capable of fully carrying out the task. One must wait for paragraphs 114 and 115 for the first reference to the role of officials, who are the principal executors of the model. In this point, the document – despite its general quality – shows a very weak relationship to the definition of the historic subject, whose hard core are the executives and their main responsibility in the execution of the processes implied in the model. I believe that everything stems from this matter; that is why it must have priority.
Regarding the issue, Cuban society has received two powerful messages. The first, sent very early on, in 1960, by Che Guevara (Ernesto, 1928-1967) in his well-known essay El cuadro, columna vertebral de la Revolución (The Official, the Backbone of the Revolution). The second, in 1975, during the 1st Congress of the PCC, which issued a pertinent and detailed resolution about the policy on officials. It would be difficult to sustain the affirmation that both messages were heard in depth.
The first to recognise this was President Raúl Castro, who has spoken about the issue on several occasions, even with certain bitterness, referring to the activity as “lack of rigour and vision,” whose deficiencies have led to “not being able to have a reserve of experienced and mature substitutes, and with sufficient preparation.” This resolution about the policy on officials could also be included in the documents of the PCC which have been “almost all forgotten, without having been complied with,” as is specified in the main report to the 6th Congress of the PCC.
Learning how to lead became a specialty when in 1908 Harvard University created a programme for engineers and economists – the two principal sources to assume leadership posts – with a view to raising their professional level in the science of management, which socialism has underestimated. Later that university created a model for the development of leaders that it gradually started exporting to more than 50 countries and used as a powerful instrument of domination.
The socialist countries “threw the baby out with the bathwater” and assumed that, together with cybernetics, management was a bourgeois science which should not be paid too much attention. The disastrous postulate that “leading is not a profession, but rather a task,” derived from that, probably one the most serious mistakes committed by socialism.
The Soviets were the ones who contaminated the rest of the socialist countries, Cuba included, with this primitive concept. In general, our programmes for the training of officials have been weak, insufficient and without a long-term orientation, demonstrating an acute contrast with the tendencies that predominate in the world in the advanced countries, where these programmes are given top priority and have an average of between 1,500 and 2,000 hours. Meanwhile, the current official programmes activated after the 6th Congress of the PCC only reach 300 hours (graduates in business and public management). As a positive feature, we must point out that a selection is made of the most outstanding graduates who pass an advanced course of one year.
Each time a head of State or leader who visits us is received in the country, the daily Granma publishes a biographical synthesis of this personality. I have noted down the principal data of a great number of them, from Ecuador, China, Iran, the Russian Federation, Mexico, Gabon, the King of Lesotho, the secretary general of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the prime minister of Namibia, the president of Cape Verde, the prime minister of Guinea-Bissau and Pope Francis, just to mention these. All of them have one or two master’s degrees and the majority has PhDs. There are many countries that give priority to the training of their high-ranking leadership segment, according to rigorous international standards. They choose the candidates for high-ranking posts at least 10 years in advance and make them follow a long-term training plan which, in many cases, includes programmed exchanges with the country’s scientific leaders.
In short, if in these times there doesn’t exist in Cuba an identification of a significant group of young people with talent and committed to the model/vision of country which we defend and subject to a long-term development plan, the future of the nation is in danger.
Optimising relations between science and government
According to experts, it was the British government, during World War II and before the threat of fascist Germany, which discovered the need to establish organic ties with the country’s scientific community, with the aim of raising the quality of the decisions related to conducting the war. This practice was subsequently extended to issues of politics and economy in the western developed countries and the so-called “think tanks” emerged, made up by experienced scientists and researchers who were closely linked to the governments.
The experts of the impetuous development of China, for example, attribute great importance to this factor of integration between the country’s scientific elite and the government structures. Seven thinking groups annexed to the leadership of the Communist Party were created there, designed to deal with wide-ranging and flexible criteria on all the issues related to the organisation of the model, under the single principle established by Den Xiao Ping (1904-1997), who led the country since 1978 until his demise. He turned the idea of “development with socialist orientation” into a key concept, in which the category of development assumed the character of factor of determination.
Another aspect very linked to this take off of the Asian giant – which some do not want to mention – was the return to the country of thousands of Chinese scientists and business executives who were sent to the United States in the 1980s. A total of 100,000 young talents went to study in U.S. universities and approximately half of them stayed to live there. The Chinese government did not carry out reprisals against them; on the contrary, they maintained good relations with their families.
In the two following decades, those young people joined the U.S. scientific business community and many of them reached relevant positions. At the start of the new century, as a result of an intelligent policy of the Chinese government, thousands of representatives of that intelligentsia started returning to the country and found employment in the fabric of the scientific and institutional community of the State and the government. Today, for example, the Chinese minister of science and technology is one of those young people who for years held important posts in the sphere of research in large U.S. industrial consortiums. It was a brain drain but the other way around. Many consider this fact as one of the decisive factors for the success of the Chinese model.
As to Cuba, the situation is a bit contradictory.
In the first place, the Cuban scientific movement displays a marked asymmetric character. On the one hand there is a standard international development in the sphere of biosciences and some of the technologies; on the other, there is a relatively inferior level of sciences that have a direct relationship to human behaviour: the economy, sociology and psychology, among others.
In second place, one can observe a zigzag movement in the dynamics of relations between science and government. Thus in the 1980s the Cuban government (Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers) inserted in its offices a group of experienced researchers with a realistic knowledge of the social and economic activity of the country, and who had a rather direct participation in government matters. The dismantling of that entire apparatus of advisers who were replaced with young leaders without a scientific formation must be attributed to Carlos Lage (vice president of the Council of State of Cuba between 1993 and 2009).
In recent years, the government has made significant efforts to reinitiate more structured relations with the country’s scientific community, without – in my opinion – achieving the levels of interaction that existed before, especially in economic and social sciences, which are decisive for the construction of the model.
The difficulties lie, on the one hand, in that the scientific personnel must learn to manage a language with a greater orientation toward the practical, without underestimating theory; and on the other, that the government officials must be prepared to challenge the specialists on their own ground.
From European socialism and other contemporary development modalities
In the prologue to the first volume of Capital, Marx affirmed: “a nation can and must learn from the other.” That has an enormous currentness for Cuban socialism and learning in three aspects:
- The first refers to the need to complete an interpretation of the depth of European socialism, about which only its mistakes have been recognised and its good points have been set aside, and they were many, which is still a pending subject.
Even though in the 1990s there was a relatively abundant literature about the causes of the collapse of European socialism, the majority were written by the adversaries of the system and barely circulated in Cuba. The analysis of that experience is a common patrimony for all the countries that try to build a post-capitalist society. A certain deficit is perceived in the interpretation about the nature of the new system, which is characterised by unchaining during its first stages a spiral of complexity, whose development pace is faster than the speed of the take-off of capacities the subject needs – the leader segment – to understand satisfactorily the dynamics of the unchained processes. Thus a great many of the decisions that aim to regulate these processes assume an erratic character, especially in the sphere of material production.
- A systematic assessment of the Cuban experience to identify – through continuous monitoring – the correct decisions and the mistakes. Though there are some valuable studies – mainly by some PhDs – about economic and social subjects, we could affirm that they are still in a stage of quantitative development. It is too soon to expect works of synthesis that contain qualitative assessments of the Cuban experience.
- The follow-up of the experiences of contemporary projects, of the socialist kind – China and Vietnam – as well as of emancipatory character that have emerged in Latin America. Those from the capitalist countries that have some rationality are not excluded here.
A model is a fiction, a representation of a segment of exterior reality, a vision of the future that is shaped in the mind of persons. Its quality and pertinence depend on the level of professional preparation of the actors, in this case the members of the scientific community and the State officials. Between the structure and properties of both as organisation and the real construction of the model there is a reciprocal interaction.
The State is the principal instrument to build the model; the correct deployment of the model depends on its attributes – intellectual capital, moral integrity. Once it advances in its construction, the demands to the state apparatus and the scientific community start emerging from its own nature. Both must prick up their ears to interpret effectively the signs that the model sends from its concrete realisation.
The level of introduction and functioning of the model, in practice, will increase to the extent that it starts acquiring systematic properties; that is, that a pertinent adaptation takes place in the relations between its different elements. It is decisive to identify the different functions that each one has carried out, especially distinguishing those that play the role of driving force; that is, that introduce energy in the process. Of these elements, the principal one is the one related to the development of the human capital responsible for introducing the intellectual and ethical capacities in the different levels of the leadership subjects.
Thus, the model must have systematic properties to be able to pass them on to reality itself and reduce its chaotic tendencies. It is above all a question of managing knowledge, whose principal actors are parliament and the executive power of the nation, where the fundamental decisions for the country are made.
Compared to other nations, Cuba does not have a public administration university career. One was created in the University of Havana in the 1940s, when subjects related to the State administration and its principal administrative procedures were studied. But it was eliminated by the 1962 higher education reform. In recent years two training modalities were created in this field: a master’s degree in public administration in the University of Havana and a graduate’s degree on the same subject in the branch schools of the organs of the central administration of the State; but the university career is missing.
It is necessary to abandon the idea that the capacity for control and strength of the State resides in the amount of officials – who know very little – and assume the principle that the good state administration depends on few officials who know a great deal.
Decisive role of the organs of formation of awareness of the social system’s sustainability
One of the key factors for the sustainability of a social system resides in the ability of the dominating class to make its system of values – its vision of the world – prevail and impregnate the majority of the citizens of the different social segments. The centuries of capitalist experience, the development reached in the techniques of manipulation of consciences, have allowed it to gain a great deal of space in this field. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in the socialist society – including ours -, which has also underestimated the development of behavioural sciences and their subsequent application to politics, technologies of construction of consensus, its introduction in the educational system and the use of the mass media.
The educational system: the Cuban standards in that sphere remain higher than those of the countries of the South and even very close to those of some advanced countries; but the influence of the traditional focuses still weighs too much. Those visions are far from the focuses of the vanguards in the qualitative transformations of their educational models, like Switzerland and Israel (political considerations apart). In Cuban education the memory factor and reiteration still predominate, and cognitive independence is insufficient in its different levels. Education based on the solution of problems is still an exception and the transition of an educational model anchored in low level cognitive skills – memory and teaching passivity – toward one where high-level cognitive skills predominate – solution of problems and creation of knowledge communities – advances at a very slow pace. In the TV programmes devoted to the problems of education the subjects related to the repair of schools, distribution of uniforms and the completion of the teaching staff predominate. The educational philosophical core that sustains the systems is barely spoken of.
The system’s core is to teach students to adapt to the social relations more than orienting them toward the dynamics of continuous and complex changes that characterise the contemporary society to which Cuba is integrated.
In the early 1960s I heard one of the best education ministers we have had launch the slogan of “all the talents to production.” A few years before, the Japanese projected a different one: “all the talents to education,” knowing that the teaching profession is the father and mother of all professions. Some 20 years later, the Japanese surprised the world by creating a society that became an example of efficiency and productivity, to become a country of reference on a world scale. They carried out a vertical reform of the educational system by simultaneously establishing its different levels based on the generalisation of the concept of creativity and knowledge oriented toward the solution of non-structured problems, which are the majority of the ones faced by the productive and non-productive organisations.
However, we must mention an extraordinary added value of our educational system: its humanist aspect. Forming persons to whom, in their majority, are passed on personal resources higher than the international ones, sufficiently effective to have the advantage of surviving in any other country and achieving satisfactory levels of self-realisation and personal “happiness.”
The university careers – for example engineering and medical sciences -, the master’s degrees and PhDs – which in the rest of the world cost thousands and thousands of dollars -, are free in Cuba. Afterwards, many leave the country to other parts of the world to exploit the knowledge received as a gift, to reach higher standards of living thanks to the benevolence of the socialist State. We hope that someday they will be grateful for this.
The media: television and press: The world is moving toward a civilisation based on image, sound and shows. The globalisation of the mass media and their growing internationalisation has left Cuba out of this process.
The Cuban signal of Cubavisión reaches more than 50 countries and includes a special daily newscast about Cuba for the Cubans who are abroad on a mission. As viewers we cannot exclude the almost two million who form part of the diaspora.
In recent decades, the capitalist class has increased its resources to take over the media and turn them into apparatuses for the creation of awareness and of values, which of course are related to its interests.
In contemporary society there are examples that show how the power of the media establishes and replaces governments, independently of the interest of the majority of the citizens.
Herbert Marcusse (1898-1979, a Jewish-German sociologist of U.S. nationality) dedicated some of his books to the role of the media in contemporary society. In one of them he affirmed that one of the most reliable ways of getting to know the reality of a country was to watch many hours of TV programmes and make an active interpretation of their messages. It is worthwhile putting this into practice.
Television and, to some extent radio, reflect almost like no other entity the spiritual physiognomy and the predominant values of a country. The commentaries included here are based on the many hours of watching TV programmes from several European countries, from which we would have some things to learn, compared to the Spanish one and that of the Latin American countries, of which not much can be expected. It is not a question of not recognising the manipulating function of television in the hands of the dominant groups, but rather of evaluating its efficiency.
The first thing that calls attention is the space taken over by opinion programmes characterised by debate and the assessment of the interesting problems of social reality. The country’s most lucid minds – according to my hosts – are frequently summoned to participate in programmes where discussion and controversy predominate. I believe that that is was our television lacks, despite the fact that in many aspects it is above international standards. Our TV programming is consumed by music and sports, overflowing certain limits. Our “celebrities” – paradigmatic personalities of a society – are concentrated in singers and their bands; also in the athletes, outstanding or not. Way above our scientists, the thinkers and businesspeople, among which there are many internationally renowned figures and which barely appear on our screens; the future of the nation depends more on them, and the media does not make this known to our people. Finally, there is no debate because there is little thinking.
With respect to the press, something similar happens to what occurs in other media. In many countries, the major writers and outstanding representatives of the intelligentsia leave an extensive journalistic work. That is not the Cuban case. Carpentier (Alejo, 1904-1980) did so before the Revolution and very little after it; Cintio Vitier (1921-2009) and Alfredo Guevara (1925-2013) – outstanding intellectuals of the Cuban 20th century – never had a permanent column in the press with big print runs.
Recently, the dean of the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana, Raúl Garcés, in his paper published on Cubadebate, “Siete tesis sobre la prensa cubana” (Seven Theses about the Cuban Press), characterised this in the following way:
“We have frequently supplemented the reasoned judgement with propaganda, the interpretation with figures, the news with events, the argument with the adjective, the wealth of the processes with the caricature-like synthesis of their results.”
Such an authorised opinion does not exempt an extension of my commentary.
In conclusion, in general our media are designed as radars that only forecast good weather – as a tendency -, but they have little capacity to perceive the storms.
Mariel’s challenge, Obama’s visit and U.S. investments
The creation of the Mariel Special Development Zone is one of the best decisions made by the country’s leadership. Probably no other event would have an equivalent significance in the prosperity and sustainability of the Cuban model. Three of the principal factors that back it are the following:
- The increase in the flow of world trade in the last decade placed the Panama Canal on the verge of collapse since it did not have the capacity to incorporate the megaships of 12,000 containers (it only had it for those of 4,600). These new container carriers decrease by 50 per cent the transportation cost.
- The maps of the principal container routes worldwide show that the most intense flow is located to the north of the Cuban western provinces, where the lines coming from Europe and those of the U.S. east coast meet. The port of Mariel shows advantages for transit and storage that no other Caribbean port has.
- The expansion of the Panama Canal and the start-up of the planned new canal in Nicaragua – financed by China – will change the structure and characteristics of world trade in a few years. Cuba has a privileged geographical position to insert itself into transnational trade.
Many experts consider that this is a unique opportunity for Cuba, not seen in the last 200 years. Though some area countries (Costa Rica, Panama, Jamaica) are undertaking similar projects, none of them has the advantages of the Cuban project. Mariel means facing the challenge of wrestling – intellectually speaking – with the transnational managements that have a global perspective of businesses, high-level professional personnel, with a rigorous multilingual formation obtained in the elite business management schools of the advanced countries. This challenge implies not only the political-ideological component but also that of the theoretical-conceptual of high demands.
The transnational capital is sharpening its teeth to pounce on a country whose labour force is more qualified than the rest of the countries of the south and that is used to low wages. It is a threat and an opportunity at the same time, which will put to the test the island’s capacity to absorb foreign investments without affecting its sovereignty.
This matter forces me to return to the level of training of those who lead, those who take care of the assimilation of the investments as well as port work. About the former there is proof that they have been formed in Chinese ports in the Pacific area, but not that there are projects for the long-term formation that would include training in the mother ports of northern Europe.
A variable in this area of development which for two reasons merits special attention is the one related to U.S. capital. The first reason is that the southern part of the United States and the Caribbean region and north of South America are a natural economic zone, with multiple geographical-spatial advantages, as is also, for example, the border with Canada. The second is that, in the last World Bank productivity report by nations the U.S. companies have left Japan and Germany behind and only give in to Malaysia and Switzerland. This would lead to the U.S. proposals to probably have marked economic advantages for Cuba, ahead of other investors, which means a very risky temptation, considering the declared intention of the U.S. government to maintain the same objectives the blockade had, but with different methods, making good the well-known thesis of German philosopher and military Von Clausewits (1780-1831), but inverted: “politics is the continuation of war through other means.” That’s what President Obama came to Cuba to do, changing the scenario of confrontation with the Cuban leadership to a terrain in which they consider themselves having that advantage.
Another healthy scenario would be to have a well-structured model about the qualitative and quantitative aspects of foreign investment and the place U.S. companies will have in them.
The large scale challenge of ICTs
In their forecasts for the future of humanity, all the futurologists include as an essential factor for social development the assimilation and use of the new technologies. To interpret the situation of the Cuban case it is necessary to mention three facts that condition its dynamics:
- First: Cuba was the continent’s vanguard in this sphere in the 1970s when – through the initiative of the Commander-in-Chief (Fidel Castro) – it built a strictly Cuban computer, very close to international standards.
At present, for example, in such an important indicator as the use of Internet by the population, we find ourselves in the rear guard group (25% per 100 inhabitants), with similar levels as in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Haiti, according to the latest reports by the International Telecommunications Union.
- Second: The recent impact in Cuba of the Zunzuneo project (an attempt carried out in 2013 by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States/CIA to subvert the Cuban political system through information technology resources) which is a factor we must recognise to explain the cautiousness with which the country’s leadership is acting in this field. The U.S. intelligence services have developed application techniques of the Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) for subversion and ideological divergence. It is true that this means a not-too-small risk; but, in this fundamental matter for the development of the nation, the greatest risk is to not confront the risks. It is essential to expand our capacities for the conscientious and effective acceptance of this challenge.
- Third: In a recent period, our adversaries opened personal accounts on Twitter for President Raúl Castro and First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel to include in them apocryphal messages with divergent purposes. This confirms the thesis that each space we leave empty is taken up by them.
Strategic to adapt the non-state sector to the new demands of the model’s development
Cuban officials have said through diverse means that in the budgeted enterprises and units there is a surplus of approximately 1.8 million persons. From 2010 to date, half a million of them have been absorbed by the private sector. It is assumed that a considerable amount should be assimilated by the non-agricultural cooperative movement.
In a short period of time, more than 30 per cent of the country’s labour force will be in the non-state sector of the economy.
In his report to the 6th Congress of the PCC in 2010, President Raúl Castro had already made a call to unburden the Cuban State of many of its tasks. “The excessively centralised model that currently characterises our economy will have to move with order and discipline and the participation of the workers toward a decentralised system.”
This process not only includes the state-run enterprises, but also the private sector, the self-employed – after the 7th Congress, small enterprises – and the cooperatives. The Cuban State’s space for action has been sensitively reduced in the last five years.
Cooperative work and the one exercised by individuals in the food and agriculture sector represent 43 per cent of the land’s work. At the same time, it has also started to grow in the non-agricultural sector, with the approval of some 500 cooperatives in 2015, the majority located in urban areas. Their development will have an enormous impact on the life of the nation in a very short period of time. Thus the need to intensify the study of that work modality in order to foresee its possible deformations, as has happened in the experience of the historic socialism.
The cooperative movement was consolidated in Europe in the mid-19th century in the context of the capitalist society, mainly generated by those who were on the margin of the dominant class, joining the efforts of groups of persons to survive in the face of the capitalist system and driven by their individual needs.
In the case of socialism, they have a completely different genesis; they emerge because of the State’s need. This contributes to explaining why to a great extent they have had a different development, mainly in European socialism, an experience we must study. That experience of socialism and cooperatives, during the course of several decades, demonstrated over there serious deformations that it is necessary to foresee with time. The studies carried out about the issue show that the results were terrible: private enterprises disguised as cooperatives emerged, made up by social layers with different interests and at times opposed to that of the majority of citizens, which generated processes of corruption on a large scale that contaminated wide-ranging sectors of the social body.
The cooperatives, like the enterprises, have in their ranks a malignant cell – the search for profits and material wellbeing of its members -, which are activated when they find favourable conditions, like the lack of control and professional and ideological training of its leaders. Ignorance is fertile ground for the emergence of pathological lesions that little by little contaminate the rest of the system’s elements.
In his first trips to the extinct Soviet Union, Che became aware of those deformations and described them in a text written in the 1960s and recently published, “Apuntes críticos a la economía política” (Critical Notes on Political Economy; Ciencias Sociales publishers, 2012). His capacity for anticipating is surprising when he pointed out the proof of errors that would cause incalculable damages that would end with the collapse of the entire system.
According to Che, the question started with the investigation of the economy “that is marching through dangerous paths…from the intransigent dogmatism of the times of Joseph Stalin (Soviet leader who governed from 1929 until his death in 1953) has come an inconsistent pragmatism…this does not refer to a certain field of science; it happens in all aspects of life of the socialist peoples.”
But Che goes beyond that when he affirmed that “during the course of our theoretical investigation we discovered a great culprit, with name and surname: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.” (1870-1924).
He then presents his ideas on the origin of the mistakes that, in his opinion, resided “in the changes which took place as a result of the New Economic Policy, which have taken such deep roots in the life of the USSR that they have marked with their sign all that stage.” And he concludes by expressing a premonition, surprising because it was made 40 years before its appearance: “they are returning to capitalism.”
These warnings by Che have more currentness than ever if we consider the scenarios our nation faces today. Che’s discrepancies with Lenin cannot be a source of gossip or swept under the carpet. The mistakes of consideration about the complex social reality must be considered as something natural – like in the work of any scientist -, many of them caused by situational factors or limitations, as can also be found in the work of Karl Marx (1818-1883). (2016)
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