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Brass Tacks Cuban Leap

By David Blumenthai.

IT HAS BEEN a year since the State Department decided that letting people go to Cuba would not spread the cancer of communism back home. If you look around a little, you can probably find someone who has been there. First-hand accounts have multiplied the trickle of information which Americans had about Cuba two years ago and the picture which emerges is of a promising but troubled society.

In March, 1968, Castro launched a "Revolutionary Offensive" to push Caba towards the final stage of the socialist transformation, a fully communist society. Though the results of the plunge are not yet in, Castro's effort faces immense obstacles. If Cuba's great leap does fail, its setback, and China's in similar attempts, will call into question some tenets of the Marxist-Leninist theory which Castro claims is pointing his way.

The Revolutionary Offensive is actually a hodgepodge of programs which share a common aim; the elimination of the last vestiges of capitalism in Cuba. At the outset of the campaign the Cuban government quickly confiscated the 55,000 private businesses which had continued to flourish in the absence of efficient state distribution of products. Though 30-40 percent of Cuba's arable land remains in private hands, the government also began curtailing the free market in the agricultural sector, insisting that farmers sell an increasing quantity of their products to the state at government prices.

The Revolutionary Offensive seeks the elimination of any lingering "capitalist mentality" as well as capitalist institutions. Cuban workers now are expected to work out of love of labor rather than out of desire for gain. The aim is to replace "material incentives" in the economy and government with commitment to the revolutionary principles of the society.

To some extent the government's campaign to develop revolutionary dedication among the workers is an attempt to make a virtue of necessity. As part of the Revolutionary Offensive Castro wants to launch Cuba on the way towards economic development. Cuba is to build 24,000 miles of roads by 1975, increase its cultivated land by 65 percent in the next ten years and complete the mechanization of the sugar industry by 1975.

All this requires an immense program of capital accumulation (the state plans to re-invest 30 percent of the total GNP each year, beginning in 1969). In a poor country, capital accumulation means cutting down consumption and putting in extra hours of labor with no material compensation. Since most of Cuba's foreign exchange (crucial to importing machinery) comes from sugar exports, it will try to boost its sugar crop, falling since the early days of the revolution, to a total of ten million tons. The key to achieving this goal is voluntary labor, by students, intellectuals, and urban employees, who spend about a month each year doing unpaid work in the cane fields.

The campaign to substitute moral for material incentives in the Cuban economy has an ideological justification independent of its practical advantages. The concept of creating a "new man" -for that is an acknowledged aim of the Offensive-is pivotal in classical Marxist-Leninist thinking about society at the stage of communism. Communism, writes Lenin in State and Revolution presupposes "both a productivity of labour unlike the present and a person not like the present man in the street..." Development of the means of production increases the productivity of labor and permits the transformation of man's consciousness. Abundance eliminates the need and desire to accumulate material things, and men "voluntarily work according to their ability."

The Marxist-Leninist vision of the "new man" goes beyond denying material rewards. The "new man" forgoes status rewards as well. Under communism there are no status differentials among men since hierarchies cease to be necessary in a society where men work out of love of labor.

LENIN ADMITTED that this vision was tinged with utopianism. He refused to specify how long after the initial overthrow of capitalism it would be achieved. Nevertheless, a theoretical goal of Marxist-Leninist states continues to be the development of a "new man." Before Cuba, only China had tried to create him.

China's example during the Great Leap Forward of 1957 does not offer much hope for the success of the Cuban venture. Relying heavily on ideological and moral incentives to clicit an outpouring of voluntary effort, the Chinese embarked on a program of rapid development in both the agricultural and industrial sectors. They halted all private economic activity, taking over private plots on communes and eliminating the small free markets. Consistent with Marxist-Leninist theory, they announced the beginning of the withering of the state and dismantled their apparatus for economic planning. At the enterprise level, workers' committees frequently took over the management of factories and communes.

The result was a tremendous fall in productivity and exhaustion and disillusionment among peasants and workers. In 1960, facing economic crisis, the Chinese returned to the centralized, hierarchical system of the pre-1957 period. They also relaxed restrictions on the private sector, thus admitting that their. reliance on moral incentives had failed.

The Revolutionary Offensive is different from the Great Leap Forward in some very important ways. First, Cuba is a much smaller country, and a more prosperous one. Also, the Cubans have not gone to Mao's ideological extreme. Far from dismantling their apparatus for state planning. they have been trying to improve it, frequently with the help of U.S. economists. The Chinese deemphasized technology in spurring productivity, and relied instead on applying more manpower. The Cubans appear much more conscious of the need for technology. The Chinese made the mistake of trying to develop industry and agriculture simultaneously, and thus deprived both of enough resources to function. The Cubans are concentrating exclusively on agriculture and the light industry associated with it.

Nevertheless, the success of the Cuban effort is far from certain. Cuba is short of trained managers, and in some factories has relied on worker self-supervision. In many of these factories worker productivity has been falling. "Once you take the bosses off people's backs." says one Harvard economist just returned from Cuba. "you don't have people doing the onerous tasks they have to do." And while there is little doubt that masses of students and intellectuals have been doing volunteer work in the cane fields, few observers can tell whether they are there because they want to be or because they are coerced.

The dilemma of the "new man" is crucial to socialist states. If they are rooted to rely on economic incentives, and on the ambitions of worker and students to rise in administrative hierarchies, then they must give up the goal of an egalitarian society.

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