One of Che's essential contributions is, without a doubt, his Economic Thought.
Unfortunately, in recent times, when reminded, no reference is made to this edge of his thinking, even though his ideas about economic construction in socialism were fundamental at the beginning of our Revolution.
Since the triumph of January 1959, Che assumed a set of responsibilities that went through the Department of Industrialization of INRA, the Presidency of the National Bank of Cuba and finally as Minister of Industries, from 1961. In all these positions he developed intense work, but, above all, also devoted time to studies. Che was an extraordinary man in many ways, but his record in the study of economic issues in particular was very large. Che studied Capital with Anastasio Mansilla, a Spanish-Soviet professor, studied mathematics applied to economics with Salvador Vilaseca and devoted himself throughout that time to investigate what at that time were still almost unknown sciences such as linear programming in designs economic of the first years of the Revolution.
This whole process of thinking of Che occurs in a very complicated, very complex circumstance.
In the first place, between 1960 and 1965, economic reforms were taking place in European socialist countries that increasingly proclaimed the need to consider the market in the conditions of socialism, but with a vision where space was granted to the market, especially in the debates of the Soviet Union, was increasingly displacing, was placing in the background, the issues of planning.
Che learned about these debates and his proposals, and in the debate he formulated as a result of them, people who were very familiar with those debates and who also presented their points of view also incorporated them into the discussion in Cuba, as is the case of Charles Bettelheim - a French Marxist who was a defender of economic calculation (the formula used by the Soviets) - or that of Ernest Mandel - a Belgian economist, a Trotskyist in those years, who defended very different criteria in relation to these issues. Also very valuable economists such as Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy from the United States, and other Latin American economists who in one way or another contributed to the debate of Che and of which several works were published in Cuba in those years.
It was not an ideal situation for these debates without a doubt; the internal situation that Cuba went through in the early 1960s was a very complex: it was the time when sectarianism emerges in 1962, the Second Agrarian Reform that was approved considering the class struggle in the countryside in 1963, the Marquito's trial - a great process where the potential for division that the Revolution had in those moments and that led to the direct intervention of Fidel came to light -, the Fight Against Bandits itself in those years that will cover from 61 to 65 with a huge cost to the country - Fidel mentioned a figure of one billion dollars in those 5 years - and ends up say this stage by putting a limit on another painful process that is the betrayal of Rolando Cubela, a commander of the Revolutionary Directory in 1966.
All these processes were marking the Cuban reality from the political point of view, above all, that is why developing in that context, in the middle of that discussion, an economic debate that goes from the conceptual to the practical effects, was really a tremendous thing for those years and Che took it forward with great discipline and with great honesty.
First, Che understood very clearly that the transformations in the economy had a significant social and political impact and that there were very profound changes to be made in the scenario of the period of transition to socialism.
Here we must first highlight Fidel's experience and his essential agreement with Che's ideas since those early years. First, Fidel, like Che, had a critical assessment of other socialist thinkers and of the predominant thought: The Soviet thought of those years. But they also had criteria regarding how socialism was being built in other countries as controversial in that period as Yugoslavia, or the case of the Cultural Revolution in China.
For Fidel, as for Che, the system of economic management could not replace ideology and politics and was expressly stated in the First Party Congress. Similarly, in the speech of October 8, 1987 for the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of Che, there was a vindication of his thinking in general, but in particular of his economic thinking. It is a core discourse that we should not forget when analyzing the economic history of the Revolution. Fidel said something that Che put it another way but essentially the same, there is no economy without politics or politics without economy, he said it several times, he said it in the year 1981, he said it in 2003 and finally there is the tremendous speech of November 17, 2005, where Fidel makes a self-critical account of the construction of socialism and in particular in the case of Cuba, when it ends with that phrase that nobody knew how socialism was built and where it affirms with an enormous force a question that we cannot forget, that imperialism could not destroy the Revolution, but that we could do it with our own mistakes. It is a formidable teaching that is present in that discourse, which would be worth recapping because of the presence of their ideas and their value today, coinciding with Che's ideas.
Already in 1965 Che had said that in the Soviet Union he was on his way to capitalism, who was going to imagine it? 1965! This approach is written in the so-called "Prague papers." Che had a very complex idea in relation to the construction of socialism and there is a phrase that synthesizes it when he says “communism is a process of consciousness and not only a phenomenon of production, communism cannot be reached by simple mechanical accumulation of quantities of products made available to the people”; At a time when the shortcomings were still very strong, Che had a very long light in that regard and was able to say that it is not possible to reach communism if we concentrate the existence of man only on the elements of the material base.
I consider that the deepest axis of Che's discussions was around the problem of the market and the monetary-mercantile relations in socialism. This is a long-standing issue in the discussion of socialist construction, from the time of the beginnings of the Soviet Union, where successive approaches were reached, but far apart in time to a notion of what the market is in conditions of socialism. The essential approach that leads them to explain why the market remains is given by the impossibility of granting a directly social character to work in the initial conditions of socialist construction, due to the low level of development that society has. This means that, objectively, the market remains and exists in this sense as a social necessity in the absence of development that allows progress to a higher socialization.
This explanation, however, did not come that way, so quietly.
Already from the time of Marx and Engels and after Lenin it was conceived that the market in socialism was not going to be present because it would arise from a high level of development of capitalism itself, however, we know that this did not happen. The transition to a different society occurred just in the least developed country of the capitalist sphere that was the Tsarist Russia of that time. This leads Lenin to have to face a very difficult reality and to formulate something that Che would criticize later if it became generalized as a socialist regularity: The New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921.
After Lenin's death there was an attempt to explain why the market remains, why the merchant categories like money remain. There was an explanation of the Soviet economist Eugenio Preobrazenski, later retaken by Stalin, who says that "the market exists in socialism in the mercantile categories in a totally formal way, and that they do not play any role," which is a mistake because in reality it has an anchor in certain production relationships that remain at that stage, but that was an error that remained as an explanation for 40 years. That was the official interpretation of the monetary-mercantile relations at the time of the reforms in the 60s when a discussion is reached regarding the validity or not of the law of value.
It is at this moment that Che enters these discussions claiming that he accepts the validity of the law of value to some extent, but does not accept the indirectly social nature of work, and here it differs from what it would be, say, the most finished conclusion of this relationship.
For Che, that indirectly social character of work is transitory and bearable in the short term, however, life has shown us, we are still living today, that this process is not so simple. Che understood that the market treatment was based on the development of productive forces, not administrative decisions, that is, the market cannot be governed in socialism only with prohibitions or regulations.
PART 2 in January 2020
Dr. José Luis Rodríguez is the author of "Notes on Cuban Economy" and a researcher and professor at the University of Havana. Former Cuban Minister of the Economy and Planning a former Vice President of the Cuban Council of Ministers.
Back to Article Listing