The Trouble with Cuban Socialism

Last July 26, on the day that marked the eleventh anniversary of the Cuban revolution, addressing hundreds of thousands of citizens on the same rostrum from which he was accustomed to hail his victories, Fidel analyzed in detail the failure of the great ten-million-ton harvest. 1 To critical observers who followed from within or looked on from the outside the struggles and stresses that marked the attempt to lay the economic foundations of a new socialist society, this failure had not come as a surprise when it was first announced on May 11. What must have been surprising to those accustomed to the ways of politicians, on the right as well as on the left, was the resounding candor of the speech.

Under conditions normally prevailing in a free-enterprise economy like our own, the failure of one of the major industries to reach an anticipated output level, even by as much as 15 percent, would hardly be considered a national tragedy. In a centrally guided (socialist) economy, the failure to reach a production target which has been officially proclaimed the national goal must, indeed, be interpreted as a sign of a major breakdown.

Whatever its weaknesses may be—and as we shall see presently there are many—a strong socialist regime should be capable of concentrating ruthlessly all the economic and spiritual resources it commands on that single goal. The fact that, despite such capability and the obvious determination to make the greatest possible sacrifices, Cuba nevertheless harvested fewer than ten million tons of sugar leads one to conclude that these sacrifices must have been pushed to the extreme. If a driver is known to be determined to reach a speed of one hundred mph, but is seen to be going only ninety mph, one can be pretty certain that he has pushed the accelerator to the floor; had he actually reached the one hundred mph speed one could not be so sure.

Indeed, the list of subsidiary failures—subsidiary, that is, to the ten-million-ton sugar harvest—itemized in Castro’s speech is distressingly impressive. Milk production fell 25 percent in one year, delivery of steel 38 percent, the output of cement 23 percent, and so on, and so on. The proportion of normal working time spent by thousands of highly trained technicians away from their real jobs, and the portion of the normal school year which both students and teachers devoted to swinging the machete and loading the cut cane, must have, in many instances, approached 100 percent.

The poor performance by industry, agriculture, transportation, and distribution predicted by all of Fidel’s hostile as well as many of his friendly critics is now confirmed by the official figures. If before July 26 two different interpretations of the state of the Cuban economy were possible, a distressing unanimity now prevails: the high hopes for rapid growth have been disappointed; the situation is desperate, although, one must hasten to add, still far from hopeless. It is not surprising, however, that in the explanation of…

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