May 1st Always Makes You Think

By Agustín Lage on April 26, 2022

photo: Bill Hackwell

This commentary will be published several days before the celebration of International Workers’ Day, on this May 1, 2022. It has been 136 years since that Saturday in 1886 when 200,000 workers in Chicago went on strike to demand the 8-hour workday; and every celebration of this day always makes us think.

No longer was that strike, as in previous history, a battle for the sovereignty of a nation-state. This was a battle for social justice.

In Cuba, many years later, we are fighting the same battle. But we are doing it from a Revolution in power, and we are fighting not to lose the social justice we have conquered, and to conquer more.

The risk of losing it comes from the economic difficulties, and also from the possible wrong solutions to those same difficulties.

The workers, those of 1886 and those of today, have always known (we have always known) that the real solutions to economic and social problems are collective solutions. All of us who will be marching in the squares this May Day know that. We can explain it better or worse, according to the expressive capacities of each one, but we all know it. The path of individualistic solutions (to which many worryingly look) is the path of non-solution, of the expansion and perpetuation of social inequalities.

Therefore, whatever solutions we creatively design, we cannot renounce the objective of having an economy with the capacity to permanently redistribute wealth and prevent the expansion of inequalities. And that is called Socialism.

That is also why, whatever the landscape of diversity of economic actors we (correctly or almost) build, and in which there is room for many and diverse ones, the main combatant of the battle must be the Socialist State Enterprise (including the Small and Medium State Enterprise).

We cannot analyze this issue with the reductionist superficiality of the economic technocracy, because the problem has deep cultural roots. We face an economic challenge, but also, and I would say mainly, a cultural challenge.

The tax regime, the property regime, the wage policy and the system of social protection that a society builds reflect the part of the fruit of labor that men are willing to share with other men. Sharing beyond their individual retribution, beyond their family, beyond even their small labor collective. And this willingness to share is a cultural construct.

There are cultural and value factors that determine whether economic strategies work or not. They will determine whether, in the process of transforming the economy to adapt it to the new technological realities, efficient decentralization and entrepreneurial initiative will win out, or selfishness and corruption will win out.

Equally important among the cultural determinants of economic strategies is the ability of everyone to understand the distal consequences of each decision of the moment. This distal vision in each of us also determines the attitudes we take towards today’s problems and choices. We must know how to position ourselves before each option, not only in terms of its consequences for today, but also in terms of its effects on society in more distant terms, and of the risks of irreversibilities, if our culture allows us to see them. Those who fail to see them will unfortunately remain hostage to the winds of ideas of the moment. We know of other societies that have made this collective mistake, and we also know what happened afterwards.

When we ask ourselves whether or not the values of Cuban culture lead us to want an equitable and supportive society, we emphatically answer, based on our history, that YES, that is what the Cuban people want.

We cannot pretend to reach this equitable and supportive society only with a good tax policy, which is essential, but not enough. The resources derived from income taxes have never been enough. Trying to sustain social justice only with taxes would lead us to an insurmountable contradiction: to collect more taxes we could need a sector of the population that has a lot of profit, much more than others, which is the opposite of what is wanted. Keeping the levers of the economy and the channels of redistribution in the hands of the socialist property of all the people is the only possible guarantee of social justice.

This reasoning is valid for any sector of the economy, but it is especially valid for the economy with the highest technological content, based on knowledge management, because that knowledge arose from social investment in education and science, which in turn comes from the collective wealth of all Cubans.

That (and more) is what we scientists and technologists are going to say as we participate in the May Day marches, as part of the working class that we are.

Reconciling the objectives of economic efficiency with those of distributive justice is the main strategic task. This includes distributive justice between workers in the non-state and state sectors; and also distributive justice between workers in different enterprises and sectors within state ownership. The expansion of inequalities beyond a certain (culturally determined) threshold does not generate more motivation to work, but less. Social inequalities, all of them, engender behavioral distortions and fragmentation of social consciousness.

How well we manage this delicate balance between equity and economic stimulation depends on the achievable motivation for entrepreneurship and work. Entrepreneurial initiative that, in the new world technological realities, has to be an initiative distributed throughout the economy, and in all forms of property. The socialist formula “to each according to his work”, infinitely fairer than that of capitalism, nevertheless contains its share of injustice, because men are not all in equal possibility of being productive at each concrete moment.

In Cuba the distribution to the citizens of the benefits of education and health (among others) does not follow a socialist formula. It goes beyond that and follows a communist formula: “to each according to his needs”. And our culture, for the most part, embraces that ideal.

The challenges of the construction of Socialism have always been in the relations between economy, science and culture.

We know, without naivety, the enormous complexities of the task, but we are convinced that we can achieve it, because we trust in the values of the human being. We also know, equally without naivety, that there are many who do not trust in those values, or worse, who have stopped trusting, bending under the weight of material difficulties or attracted by individual solutions, here or abroad. That’s up to them with their intellectual bitterness.

We, the workers, those of production and those of science, will continue to fight for the simultaneous and interdependent objectives of social justice, national sovereignty, socialism and prosperity. José de la Luz y Caballero defined justice as “the sun of the moral world”. And we are not going to fight in the shade.

Source: Pupilia Insomne