1970s >> 1979 >> no-894-february-1979

Running Commentary: Capitalism in Cuba

The overthrow of the hated Batista regime in Cuba, and its replacement by that of Fidel Castro, has provided a glut of romantic nonesense on which the left wing has feasted for the past twenty years.

Castro — bearded, bereted, camouflage jacketed — has been a sort of Biggles to these people and his henchman Che Guevera was even more glamourous — after all, he actually got himself killed fighting a guerrilla campaign.

So the Cuban uprising had to be proven good; after all it was supposed to have brought socialism to Cuba and so everyone should be happier, healthier, more free.

What actually happened was that Cuba suffered a fearsome bloodbath, many of the victims being Castro’s own supporters. Only now are they being released from gaol.

And now, twenty years after that event, Cuba is going through a process predictable to anyone who can recognise capitalism even when it wears a red star. Cuba concedes that it was not after all a socialist revolution and that its economy operates on the universal principles of capitalist society.

Cuban industries — all of them state owned — now operate under the goal of something called the “economic calculus”, which is another way of saying an obligation to produce profit. Any which fail this test are liable to be allowed to expire, like the industrial lame ducks which the Heath government once said they would abandon to their fate.

Efficiency and economy have now become favourite watchwords in Castro’s Cuba; industrial managers work under an ever heavier threat of dismissal if they fall below the expected standards — and perhaps hope that the sack is the worst that awaits them.

The realease of Castro’s political prisoners may well be linked to Cuba’s plans to develop a tourist industry, for which they are hoping to attract foreign investment, including substantial amounts from their old enemy the United Slates.

And — the final irony — little Cuba, which once nearly brought the world to its third — and perhaps its last — great war, is now flexing its own imperialist muscles with troops in Africa on the well worn pretext of protecting some small, defenceless power but in reality in order to establish a sphere of influence.

After twenty years of Castro the nature of Cuban capitalism is revealed starkly enough to convince anyone except those who subject themselves to a massive act of self deception.

Lock Outs

There are many ways, apart from referring to the official statistics, of judging the current state of health of British capitalism.

For example in times of rampant inflation many people will buy all sorts of rubbish rather than hold onto money. Hence the boom in the “antiques” trade, which leads to some very ordinary stuff being sold for pounds more than it costs in Woolworths.

Another guideline is the way in which employers deal with disputes with their workers. In the twenties and thirties it was quite usual for workers to be locked out, notably in the great battles in the coal mines which caused such suffering among the miners.

But of course the lock out is something an employer will consider only when trade is bad. When a boom is in swing he will be inclined to give in to his workers’ demands; only when in a slump will he see some advantage in shutting down the works rather than surrender.

The lock out has recently begun to come back into favour. The most publicised example has been the action of the employers at The Times and the Sunday Times; less publicised, but equally interesting, has been the lock out of 1400 branch managers and supervisors by the Provident Finance Group.

The Provident, whose credit cheques are well used — indeed often essential — in working class budgeting, recently offered its managers an 8 per cent rise, which they rejected. The managers began a campaign of obstruction, which the company responded to by sacking the lot.

Workers who get supervisory jobs often become strangely blind to their class standing and to the realities of capitalism. Perhaps the Provident lock out will turn out to be more than another symptom of capitalism’s malaises; it may teach a few workers that, although they wear suits to work and sit at a desk all day they are members of the exploited, degraded class who are constantly at war with their employers.

Chinese Deal

Are there any simple minded people left who still think that there exists between powers like China and Britain an ideological divide and that, until the Triumph of Right (whatever that may be) the twain shall never meet?

If so, recent events must have caused them a lot of discomfort. When Callaghan announced that Britain was going to sell the Harrier jump jets to China (in the teeth of opposition from Russia) he was showing only a fraction of the picture.

Trade between the two countries has been running at about £166 millions a year, with a big balance in China’s favour. Among the exports from Britain are heavy capital goods — chemical processing equipment, coalmining machinery and a steel plant from British Steel.

Last November a cheery Chinese Vice Premier, Wang Chen, took back to Peking a draft agreement which was designed to increase the trade between China and Britain to between £4,000 millions and £5,000 millions a year and to put British industry on a more equal fooling with the French and the West German.

The Harrier deal was a dramatic confirmation of these developing trade relations. No wonder Callaghan, as he left the Guadelope meetings with the other leaders of Western capitalism, could say “we have welcomed China into the community of nations . . .”

What Callaghan meant was that he welcomed China into the normal day by day trading — which also means the normal competition and disputes — of international capitalism.

He was also saying that China is just another capitalist power (although one which threatens to be a lot more powerful than many of its rivals) interested in the customary commerce of imports and exports, of investment and the building of factories where workers will be exploited, and in developing its armed forces to fight the wars of its ruling class.

He did not mention that at one time the contact between British and Chinese capitalism was supposed to be inhibited, even prevented, by great differences of principle over issues like democracy. In face of the facts, that would have been too much even for Callaghan.