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      Che's Economic Thought

      Intervention by economist José Luis Rodríguez in the tribute made to Che for the 90th anniversary of his birth at the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) in 2018.

      PART 2

      However, even today, more than 50 years later, we continue to see that it is about controlling the market in that way and the results are in sight: the effect of the market, or the perverse effects of the market, if the market is not controlled. Construction of socialism only by administrative means is not possible.

      The ideas in this regard were developed to such an extent that already in his transit through Czechoslovakia when he returns from the Congo and was about to return to Cuba, he concludes very hard that "in the Soviet Union there was a return to capitalism"; and Che defends with emphasis that much more structured idea, which will appear later in this book, which was published in 2006 in Cuba, which would constitute the so-called Critical Notes to Political Economy. He already has a formulation based on the critical analysis he makes of the Manual of Political Economy of the Academy of Science of the USSR, where he bases how, in a socialist economy, the most important decisions must be taken centrally, but at the same time - contrary to what is often thought - a group of decisions should be decentralized and, above all, it indicates participation in decision making down.

      There is a huge amount of Che quotes in which he talks about the need for the plan to discuss, for the plan to get rich, for the plan to go from the base to the address, once the management has established certain parameters, which do not contradict central decisions, but which has to be complemented in that way. He was against the atomization of decisions as happened with the Yugoslav model, which he criticizes very strongly throughout these years. That is, in Che's conception, there was no contradiction between decentralization, participation and centralization of decisions, which unfortunately has been mostly misrepresented throughout later history.

      For Che it was clear - and I share that appreciation - that the existence of the market in socialism and planning is contradictory. There is no way around that. It may be that, at a given time, it does not seem like it, but in the long term the market is opposed to planning because it is a form of deregulation that does not allow the optimal decision making within society and Che understood it So.

      Therefore, the need to regulate the market in socialism has not only economic but social implications that, if not done properly, lead to what happened in the Soviet Union and in the European socialist countries: the so-called "Market Socialism", which was giving more and more space to the market and liquidated socialism.

      That was what happened with Perestroika next to Glasnost in the Soviet Union of those years.

      In Che's economic thinking, the concept of planning is fundamental, to the point of considering it as the essential category of this period of transition and as an economic category since 1964. There are several definitions of Che in this regard since his defense of planning was very strong, from a theoretical and practical point of view.

      Little is known about the fact that Che was one of the main leaders of the Central Planning Board (JUCEPLAN) - an organization created since 1961 - and participated very actively in its direction throughout all those years. In turn, he understood the role and limits of planning, that is, for Che, planning was not ideal, he knew that mistakes were going to be made, but that over those mistakes the advantages of planned management were far superior to what happened if the market was enthroned. Che had a very flexible, very clear understanding of what planning could potentially give, but it was also very clear that this is not achieved overnight, and that the processes were very complicated, just like the issues of popular participation in the discussion of the plans, and in that we are accompanied by the historical experience of how all these processes have been, still today to be traced.

      Hence, in Che and Fidel the awareness factor in the construction of socialism is essential. Historical experience has shown it because, if that factor did not exist, the resistance capacity of the Special Period, for example, would never have existed it was conscience of the people that resisted in those years.

      The inheritance of the revolutionary struggle, the thought of Marti, and Social Solidarity and Internationalism - two elements that Che greatly enhances and that have been somewhat submerged in the studies of his thinking - are essential elements in the formation of what It was called "The New Man", a concept developed by Che with concrete ideas and everyday practice.

      At present these issues have been retaken.

      For example, in the Conceptualization, the market and the necessary measures to regulate it are recognized and it has also been proposed that the concentration of property and wealth in natural and legal persons is not allowed. Although the need to define the limits of the concentration that is generated naturally in the space occupied by the market, are not fully resolved, that is, this is not resolved administratively, this has to be resolved by economic means and by political and social means.

      Market regulation methods have had multiple errors: pretending that administrative regulation trends, bans, capped prices, access limitations do not solve the problem. For Che, the elimination of monetary-mercantile relations came from the development of the productive forces, not from administrative prohibitions, and that is a very important idea that we have to rescue, because unfortunately the other ideas still prevail. And very important is what he said already in those years, that the fundamental thing is the state's competition against the non-state sector; that is, the state has to compete, it has to be imposed, but not because the state says so, but because the state shows that it is better than the market. That is a concept that apparently is very trivial, but it is not at all, because it is one thing to say that the state must be and another thing is for the state to do so. That is an element that is very clear in Che's ideas, the secondary role of taxes, the cost role that all these decisions have, and that must be assumed by society.

      It is essential, therefore, the political decision to compensate for the harmful effects of the market.

      That idea is also in Che, it is said now, but the implementation is missing, the way to do it. There is a social differentiation product of the presence of the market that does not come from work, read speculation, mercantilism, a whole series of factors that, if not compensated, pass the bill, erode the conscience of men.

      Che argued that this had to be compensated in some way, the socialist conscience for him had a key component to the same extent that it was adopted with popular participation in decision-making and control, underlined "Popular Control" which was what fundamental for Che. No administrative control, no audits, no administrative account passes that may exist; I do not say that this is not done, but it is not the fundamental thing, so that people feel that they are controlling their state, they have to participate in that conflict and that unfortunately is not what prevails so that there is a consensus when it comes to correcting or when criticizing what is not achieved.

      Therefore, for Che, practical political education in the creation of a social conscience was very important, as well as two instruments that were forgotten and today are dismantled: emulation and voluntary work.

      It is true that the emulation suffered major distortions, but one thing is the distortions and another its essence. Those of us who had the opportunity to be union leaders — I was in the 70’s— we know what moved the emulation and the teachings of Lázaro Peña in that regard. The emulation played an important role as a measure of support for the Revolution, and today I don't have to ask what we do as an emulation because there is practically no such movement and not even talk about volunteer work.

      A brief comment is enough to prove it: in the Labor Code of the year 1984, voluntary work appeared, but in the last one approved a few months ago, voluntary work disappeared, that is, the concept that was cardinal in Che for training disappeared in the education of people. These ideas simply disappeared from the scene of political work.

      Consequently, the study of Fidel and Che's legacy is fundamental. These legacies are seen through the economic history of the Revolution - which is yet to be done, because unfortunately there are more economic stories of the Revolution written outside Cuba than in Cuba - and the history of the construction of socialism in other countries, not to imitate but stop to know what should not be done, because the historical teaching of what should not be done to build socialism is overwhelming.

      Likewise, we must identify the differences very clearly, today we speak, for example, of the Chinese and Vietnamese models, but these economies define themselves as socialist market economies, which is different from having a socialist economy that has in mind the market that is what we aspire to. That is, starting there and ending with the consequences of one direction or another, it is an element that must be maintained in history because it is a vital teaching to know how to move forward in this direction and that Che identified very clearly.

      The economic literature exists, two books of the editorial project of the Che Guevara Study Center are available: The Great Debate, published in Cuba in 2004 and Critical Notes on Political Economy in 2006; there is also the initial work of Tablada Che's Economic Thought, published in the year 1987 and that Fidel mentions in the speech to which I alluded; the very valuable work of Fernando Martínez Heredia The ideas and the Battle of Che of 2010, which is a very interesting compilation, because it not only reflects what Che said but interprets it applied to our conditions; and two works by interesting foreign researchers in the field of economics, one of the English Helen Yaffe, Che Guevara Economy in Revolution, published by the José Martí Publishing House in 2011 and Che Guevara and the Economic Debate in Cuba of the Brazilian Luis Bernardo Pericá, winner of the Casa de las Américas Essay Prize, which places Che's entire debate in the international arena at the time it occurs.

      To conclude, I would like to raise some criteria that seem to me of the utmost importance.

      Assimilating Che's ideas is a process that implies, in the first place, to study in depth his thought and the environment in which it developed if one wants to identify its value and actuality. Secondly, it is about appreciating the universal validity of the concepts presented by him that - in my opinion - define the essence of socialist construction in Cuba: it is about the creation of a socialist conscience and culture, typical of what he called "the new man", completely oblivious to the submission to the ideology of the capitalist mercantile society and which tends to survive in the transition to the new society.

      However, this vision of the revolutionary work does not imply by any means ignoring the complexity of the creation of the material base of socialism in a society emerging from underdevelopment and where, as Che pointed out, it is not about ignoring the presence of the market, or of the material stimuli, but of locating them as phenomena contradictory with socialism, applying in its regulation the principle that they cannot be in any way prevalent in the conscience of the men who fight for a better world.

      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 and former Vice President of the Cuban Council of Ministers.

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