Abolition of the Wages System, Cuban Style
During the Summer of 1967 Fidel Castro announced that a communist community was being set up by several thousand members of the Union of Revolutionary Communist Youth on the Island of Pines (now renamed the Island of Youth).
“Here (said Castro) we propose not only to revolutionise nature but to revolutionise man, to revolutionise society, it being given that the objective conditions exist on the island for making this possible, for it is a very sparsely populated region, a region that is to be fully technically developed, a region where the most enthusiastic of our youth are now gathering to work and build. We will attempt to transform this region into a social experimental centre where we must try to work out, as far as possible and with the vanguard of our people, the problems which are involved in creating a communist society.”
Since then thousands more young people have settled in the area, committing themselves to stay for at least three years, although the authorities hope that most will remain permanently. Forty thousand of them are labouring to build from scratch a thriving agricultural-cum-industrial economy. Prefabricated buildings are being thrown up, hydro-electric complexes constructed and the extensive marshlands reclaimed.
For the individual, most basic requirements are supplied free—accommodation, food, cigarettes and so on—but low wages are still being paid. They range from 80-130 pesos, which is a good deal less than the salaries earned by workers on the Cuban mainland. According to a recent visitor to the Island these wages are needed by the islanders to support parents and relatives left behind and also for holidays when they return to the money-conscious Cuban mainland.
What are we to make of this “social experimental centre”? The most that can be said for it is that, like the kibbutzim and other utopian settlements, it does demonstrate that people can live on a cooperative basis. But the Island of Pines must be seen within the context of the overall state capitalist economy. The enthusiasm and sacrifice of thousands of young people is merely being used by the ruling class in Cuba to develop the economy of a backward area. The wealth which the islanders are creating does not belong to the Cuban “people” but is appropriated by the state, which in turn is in the hands of a class of party bosses and bureaucrats.
No doubt in the process many of the young people involved will become disillusioned and drift away thinking that they have witnessed the failure of socialism, when all they will have experienced is the “communism” of the barracks.