Cooperatives

17
Jun

 

September 26, 2011 — First posted at Cuba’s Socialist Renewal, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission — Cooperatives and Socialism: A Cuban Perspective is a new Cuban book, published in Spanish earlier this year. This important and timely compilation is edited by Camila Piñeiro Harnecker (pictured above). Avid readers of Cuba’s Socialist Renewal will recall that I translated and posted a commentary by Camila, titled "Cuba Needs Changes" [also available at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal], back in January. Camila lives in Cuba and has a degree in sustainable development from the University of Berkeley, California. She is a professor at the Centre for Studies on the Cuban Economy at Havana University, and her works have been published both in Cuba and outside the island.

Camila hopes her book may be published in English soon. In the meantime, she has kindly agreed to allow me to translate and publish this extract from her preface to Cooperatives and Socialism with permission from a prospective publisher. I hope that sharing this extract with readers will make you want to read the whole book. If it does become available in English I’ll post the details here. If you read Spanish you can download the 420-page book as a PDF here or here.

At the end of the text you’ll find the footnotes and table of contents, translated from the Spanish — Marce Cameron, editor Cuba’s Socialist Renewal

Preface to Cooperatives and Socialism: A Cuban perspective (extract)

By Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, translated by Marce Cameron

 

This book arises from the urgent need for us to make a modest contribution to the healthy “birth” of the new Cuban cooperativism and its subsequent spread. Given that cooperatives are foreshadowed as one of the organisational forms of labour in the non-state sector in the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Sixth Cuban Communist Party Congress, the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Centre approached me to compile this book. The Centre has made an outstanding contribution to popular education aimed at nurturing and strengthening the emancipatory ethical values, critical thinking, political skills and organisational abilities indispensable for the conscious and effective participation of social subjects. The Centre considers it timely and necessary to support efforts to raise awareness about a type of self-managed economic entity whose principles, basic characteristics and potentialities are unknown in Cuba. There is every indication that such self-managed entities could play a significant role in our new economic model.

For this to happen we must grapple with the question at the heart of this compilation: Is the production cooperative an appropriate form of the organisation of labour for a society committed to building socialism? There is no doubt that this question cannot be answered in a simplistic or absolute fashion. Our aim here is to take only a first step towards answering this question from a Cuban perspective in these times of change and rethinking, guided by the anxieties and hopes that many Cubans have about our future.

When it is proposed that the production cooperative be one – though not the only – form of enterprise in Cuba, three concerns above all are frequently encountered: some consider it too “utopian” and therefore inefficient; others, on the basis of the cooperatives that have existed in Cuba, suspect that they will not have sufficient autonomy[1] or that they will be “too much like state enterprises”; while others still, accustomed to the control over enterprise activities exercised by a state that intervenes directly and excessively in enterprise management, reject cooperativism as too autonomous and therefore a “seed of capitalism”. This book tries to take account of all these concerns, though there is no doubt that more space would be required to address them adequately.

The first concern is addressed to some extent with the data provided in the first part of the book regarding the existence and economic activity of cooperatives worldwide today. This shows that the cooperative is not an unachievable fantasy that disregards the objective and subjective requirements of viable economic activity. Thus, the experiences of cooperatives in the Basque Country, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela that are summarised in the third part of the book demonstrate that cooperatives can be more efficient than capitalist enterprises, even on the basis of the hegemonic capitalist conception of efficiency that ignores externalities, i.e. the impact of any enterprise activity on third parties.

The efficiency of cooperatives is greater still if we take into consideration all of the positive outcomes inherent in their management model, which can be summarised as the full human development[2] of its members and, potentially, of local communities. The democratic abilities and attitudes that cooperative members develop through their participation in its management can be utilised in other social spaces and organisations. Moreover, genuine cooperatives free us from some of the worst of the negative externalities (dismissals, environmental contamination, loss of ethical values) generated by enterprises oriented towards profit maximisation rather than the satisfaction of the needs of their workers.

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Category : Cooperatives | Cuba | Marxism | Socialism | Blog
17
Jan

Bus/Taxi Coop in Cuba

Cuba is poised to be the first country in the world to have cooperatives make up a major portion of its economy. It is a laboratory for a new society.

By Cliff DuRand

Cuba is engaged in a fundamental reshaping of its society. Calling it a renovation of socialism or a renewal of socialism, the country is re-forming the economic system away from the state socialist model adopted in the 1970s toward something quite new. This is not the first time Cuba has undertaken significant changes, but this promises to be deeper than previous efforts, moving away from that statist model. Fidel confessed in 2005 that “among the many errors that we committed, the most serious error was believing that someone knew how to build socialism.” That someone, of course, was the Soviet Union. So, Cuba is still trying to figure out for itself how to build socialism.

To understand the current renovation it is important to distinguish between ownership and possession of property. The productive resources of society are to remain under state ownership in the name of all the people. Reforms do not change the ownership system. Reforms are changing the management system, bringing managerial control closer to those who actually possess property. So while the state will continue to own, greater autonomy will be given to those who possess that property. In effect, Cuba is embracing the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that decisions should be made at the lowest level feasible and higher levels should give support to the local. This means more enterprise autonomy in state enterprises and it means cooperatives outside of the state.

It is expected that in the next couple years the non-state sector is expected to provide 35% of the employment. Along with foreign and joint ventures, the non-state sector as a whole will contribute an estimated 45% of the gross domestic product (PIB). Hopefully coops will become a dominant part of that non-state sector.

Cooperatives

Already 83% of agricultural land is in coops. Much of that has been in the UBPCs (Basic Units of Cooperative Production) formed in the 1990s out of the former state farms. But these were not true cooperatives since they still came under the control of state entities. Now they are being given the autonomy to become true coops.

Even more significantly, new urban coops are being established in services and industry. 222 experimental urban coops are to be opened in 2013. As of 1st of July, 124 have been formed in agricultural markets, construction, and transportation. A big expansion in this number is expected in 2014.

In December 2012 the National Assembly passed an urban coop law that establishes the legal basis for these new coops. Here are some of its main provisions:

  • A coop must have at least 3 members, but can have as many as 60 or more. One vote per socio. As self-governing enterprises, coops are to set up their own internal democratic decision making structures.
  • –Coops are independent of the state. They are to respond to the market. This is to overcome the limits that hampered some agricultural coops in the past.
  • –Coops can do business with state and private enterprises. They will set their own prices in most cases, except where there are prices established by the state.
  • –Some coops will be conversions of state enterprises, e.g. restaurants. They can have 10 year renewable leases for use of the premises, paying no rent in the first year if improvements are made.
  • –Others will be start-up coops.
  • –There will be second degree coops which are associations of other coops.
  • –Capitalization will come from bank loans, a new Finance Ministry fund for coops and member contributions. Member contributions are treated as loans (not equity) and do not give additional votes. Loans are to be repaid from profits.
  • –Coops are to pay taxes on profits and social security for socios.
  • –Distribution of profits is to be decided by socios after setting aside a reserve fund.
  • –Coops may hire wage labor on a temporary basis (up to 90 days). After 90 days a temporary worker must be offered membership or let go. Total temporary worker time cannot exceed 10% of the total work days for the year. This gives coops flexibility to hire extra workers seasonally or in response to increased market demands, but prevents significant collective exploitation of wage labor.

This is a big step forward for Cuba. Since 1968 the state has sought to run everything from restaurants to barber shops and taxis. Some were done well, many were not. One problem was worker motivation. Decisions were made higher up and as state employees, workers enjoyed job security even with poor performance. However, their pay was low. Now as socios in cooperatives they will have incentives to make the business a success. The coop is on its own to either prosper or go under. Each member’s income and security depends on the collective. And each has the same voting right in the General Assembly where coop policy is to be made. Coops combine material and moral incentives, linking individual interest with a collective interest. Each socio prospers only if all prosper.

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Category : Cooperatives | Cuba | Socialism | Solidarity Economy | Blog
5
Mar

Using Coops and Other Ownership Forms to Build Upon the Foundations Began by Hugo Chavez

[Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal urges its readers to consider taking out a subscription to Monthly Review, where this article first appeared.]

By Michael Lebowitz

March 2014 — Monthly Review — It is now one year since the unfortunate death of Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2013. Shortly after, the editors of Monthly Review quoted a letter from István Mészáros to John Bellamy Foster which described Chávez as “one of the greatest historical figures of our time” and “a deeply insightful revolutionary intellect” (“Notes from the Editors” in the May 2013 Monthly Review). Whether Chávez will be remembered over time this way, however, depends significantly on whether we build upon the foundations he began.

As important as his vision and his deep understanding of the necessary path (so clearly demonstrated by his focus upon communal councils as the basis of a new socialist state—“the most vital revolutionary achievement in these years,” as the editors indicated) was Chávez’s ability to communicate both vision and theory in a clear and simple way to the masses. As demonstrated by Chávez’s articulation of the concept of “the elementary triangle of socialism,” that is what revolutionaries must learn to do.

Following Marta Harnecker’s long interview with Chávez (later published as Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution by Monthly Review Press), he asked her to come to Venezuela in 2003 to serve as his advisor and explained that he wanted someone around him who would not hesitate to criticize him. And that’s how we ended up in Venezuela. At the beginning of 2004, I became an adviser to the Minister of the Social Economy and, during that year, Marta and I became convinced that it would be important to create a center which could bring together foreign advisors who supported the Bolivarian Revolution. Accordingly, she proposed to Chávez that an institute be established for this purpose; he agreed, and, after we assembled people and found a home for the Institute (ultimately in the Ministry of Higher Education), the Centro Internacional Miranda (CIM) was formed in early 2006.

Since it was clear that Chávez would be re-elected in December and would be thinking seriously about directions for the new mandate, those of us involved in CIM decided to prepare a series of papers proposing initiatives which we felt could advance the process of building socialism in Venezuela. Although several of us engaged in these discussions, ultimately only three of the CIM directors (Marta Harnecker, Haiman El Troudi, and I) completed papers for transmission to Chávez in early December. In what follows, I include an excerpt from one paper I prepared plus a second paper subsequently developed in response to Chávez’s reaction to the first.1

Building new productive relations now

Everyone understands that it is impossible to achieve the vision of socialism for the twenty-first century in one giant leap forward. It is not simply a matter of changing property ownership. This is the easiest part of building the new world. Far more difficult is changing productive relations, social relations in general, and attitudes and ideas.

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Category : Cooperatives | Marxism | Socialism | Venezuela | Blog
6
Sep

Worker Self-management in Jackson, Mississippi

Chokwe Lumumba, Mayor of Jackson, MS

By Ajamu Nangwaya
SolidarityEconomy.net via Rabble.Ca

Ajamu Nangwaya participated in the recent Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy 2013, speaking about the potential for worker self-management in the City of Jackson, Mississippi, following the historic election Chokwe Lumumba as mayor. This article, Part 1 of 2, is based on Ajamu Nangwaya’s presentation to the conference, and is part of our ongoing focus on labour and workers’ issues [8] this week on rabble.ca.

Sept 3, 2013 – “We have to make sure that economically we’re free, and part of that is the whole idea of economic democracy. We have to deal with more cooperative thinking and more involvement of people in the control of businesses, as opposed to just the big money changers, or the big CEOs and the big multinational corporations, the big capitalist corporations which generally control here in Mississippi.” [1] – Chokwe Lumumba

"Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children." – Amilcar Cabral [2]

I am happy to be a participant at the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy 2013 and to be in the presence of worker cooperators, advocates of labour or worker self-management [9] and comrades who are here to learn about and/or share your thoughts on the idea of workplace democracy and workers exercising control over capital.

Worker self-management or the practice of workers controlling, managing and exercising stewardship over the productive resources in the workplace has been with us since the 19th century. Workers’ control of the workplace developed as a reaction to the exacting and exploitative working condition of labour brought on by capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. Many workers saw the emancipation of labour emerging from their power over the way that work was organized and the fruit of their labour got distributed.

I believe we are living in a period that has the potential for profound economic, social and political transformation from below. It might not seem that way when we look at the way that capitalism, racism and the patriarchy have combined to make their domination appear inevitable and unchallenged. But as long as we have vision and are willing to put in the work, we shall not perish. We shall win!

On June 4, 2013, the people of the City of Jackson, Mississippi, elected Chokwe Lumumba, a human rights lawyer and an advocate of the right to self-determination of Afrikans in the United States, as their mayor. That is a very significant political development. But that is not the most momentous thing about the election of Chokwe Lumumba. The most noteworthy element of Lumumba’s ascension to the mayoral position is his commitment to economic democracy, "more cooperative thinking" and facilitating economic and social justice with and for the people of Jackson.

The challenge posed to us by this historical moment is the role that each of you will play in ensuring a robust programme of worker cooperative formation and cooperative economics in Jackson. We ought to work with the Jackson People’s Assembly, the Malcolm Grassroots Movement and other progressive forces to transform the city of Jackson into America’s own Mondragon [10]. It could have one possible exception. Jackson could become an evangelical force that is committed to spreading labour self-management and the social economy across the South and the rest of this society.

The promotion of the social economy and labour self-management could engage and attract Frantz Fanon’s "wretched of the earth" [11] onto the stage of history as central actors in the drama of their own emancipation. By promoting the social economy/labour self-management and participatory democracy by civil society forces and structures (the assemblies), Chokwe and the social movement organizations in Jackson are privileging or heeding Cabral’s above-cited assertion that the people are not merely fighting for ideas. They need to see meaningful change in their material condition. The development of a people controlled and participatory democratic economic infrastructure in Jackson would give concrete form to their material aspirations.

Amilcar Cabral was a revolutionary [12] from Guinea-Bissau in West Afrika whose approach to organizing and politically mobilizing the people could provide insights and direction to our movement-building work. In order to build social movements with the capacity to carry out the task of social emancipation, we need to organize around the material needs of the people. The very projects and programmes that we organize with the people should be informed by transformative values; a prefiguring of what will be obtained in the emancipated societies of tomorrow.

As an anarchist, I am not a person who is hopeful or excited by initiatives coming out of the state or elected political actors. More often than not, we are likely to experience betrayal, collaboration with the forces of domination by erstwhile progressives or a progressive political formation forgetting that its role should be to build or expand the capacity of the people to challenge the structures of exploitation and domination. I am of the opinion that an opportunity exists in Jackson to use the resources of the municipal state to build the capacity of civil society to promote labour self-management.

Based on the thrust of The Jackson Plan [13], which calls for the maintenance of autonomous, deliberative and collective decision-making people’s assemblies and the commitment to organizing a self-managed social economy [3], which would challenge the hegemony or domination of the capitalist sector, I see an opening for something transformative to emerge in Jackson. As revolutionaries, we are always seeking out opportunities to advance the struggle for social emancipation. We initiate actions, but we also react to events within the social environment. To not explore the movement-building potentiality of what is going on this southern city would be a major political error and a demonstration of the poverty of imagination and vision.

Primary imperatives or assumptions

There are four critical imperatives or assumptions that should guide the movement toward labour self-management and the social economy in Jackson. They are as follow:

1. Build the capacity of civil society

We should put the necessary resources into building the requisite knowledge, skills and attitude needed by the people to exercise control over their lives and institutions. In the struggle for the new society, we require independent, counterhegemonic organizational spaces from which to struggle against the dominant economic, social and political structures.

In any labour self-management and social economy project in Jackson, we must develop autonomous, civil-society-based supportive organizations and structures that will be able to survive the departure of the Lumumba administration. If the social economy initiatives are going to operate independently of the state, they will need the means to do so. Therefore, the current municipal executive leadership in Jackson should turn over resources to the social movements that will empower and resource them in their quest to create economic development organizations, programmes and projects.

2. Part of the class struggle, racial justice movement and feminist movement

When we talk or think about social and economic change in the City of Jackson, it is not being done in a contextless structural context. We are compelled to address the systems of capitalism, white supremacy/racism and patriarchy and their impact on the lives of the working-class, racialized majority. It is critically important to frame the labour self-management and the solidarity economy project as one that is centred upon seeking a fundamental change to power relations defined by gender race and class.

The worker cooperative movement ought to see itself as a part of the broader class struggle movement that seeks to give control to the labouring classes over how their labour is used and the surplus or profit from collective work is shared. The solidarity economy and labour self-management will have to seriously tackle oppression coming out of the major systems of domination and allow our organizing work to be shaped by the resulting analysis.

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Category : Capitalism | Cooperatives | Elections | Solidarity Economy | Working Class | Youth | Blog
20
Jun

Vietnamese Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (right) with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro.

PART 1, THE VIETNAM CASE

By Harry Targ

Diary of a Heartland Radical

Introduction

The weight of history bears down on humankind such that, paraphrasing Marx, people make history but not precisely as to their own choosing. The rise of capitalism out of feudalism in Northern Europe spread over the centuries to Africa, Asia, and Latin America ripping asunder traditional patterns of economic, social, and cultural relations. A new political economy dynamic, now called “neoliberal globalization,” spread across the face of the earth extracting natural resources, enslaving and exploiting human labor power, and expanding production and distribution such that by the twentieth century the whole world was touched. The impact of capitalist globalization included enormous scientific and technological advances, significant increases in the capacity to sustain life, coupled with the capacity to exploit, destroy, kill, uproot traditional cultures and communities, and defile the human landscape.

Capitalism created a global empire. It also created global resistance. The drive to construct empires and to build economic, political, and cultural hegemony stimulated revolution, non-violent resistance, and desperate efforts to create new forms of social and economic being. During the period since World War 11, socialist regimes and radical nationalist movements have challenged the hegemony of U.S., European and Japanese capitalism. The twentieth century socialist project disintegrated for a variety of reasons but its loss spurred new and diverse forms of resistance that complicated the rule of “victorious” empires. The economic, political, and military crises of the early 21st century, coupled with renewed resistance raised the specter of new “21st century socialist” visions. These visions became concrete programs, again paraphrasing Marx, that were not precisely of peoples’ choosing but necessary transitional steps to socialism nonetheless.

Vietnamese History

Southeast Asia, a diverse space geographically, culturally, politically, and economically, has experienced many kinds of imperial rule and resistance. Vietnamese national identity emerged about 100 BC as a result of Chinese expansion and resistance to it among indigenous kingdoms. But China established its hegemony over Vietnam from 200-900 AD. After that time Vietnam consolidated its independence.

During the 1850s Vietnam came under the domination of the French. Occupied by France, Indochina (now Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) became a classic colony. The Japanese military conquered Indochina during World War II. The Japanese had collaborated with the old French colonial administrators and land owners to control the Vietnamese people. After the Japanese were defeated, the Vietnamese people rose up to challenge the French effort to reestablish their old colony.

From 1946 to 1954, revolutionary forces led by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh fought and won a victory against the French. At the Geneva Conference, 1954, the war was settled. The United States, however, in violation of the main agreements reached, established a puppet regime in South Vietnam that became the basis for continuing war on the Vietnamese people. The Vietnam War, with the U.S. replacing the French, continued until 1975, when the Saigon military collapsed. Finally, after short and brutal battles with hostile forces in neighboring Cambodia and a short war initiated by China in 1979, violence ended. Now the Vietnamese had to rebuild their country and begin constructing the socialist society they had struggled for since the end of World War II.

Post-war reconstruction was initiated after “the U.S. military and their allies dropped four times the tonnage of bombs used in World War II in Vietnam, which is equivalent to 725 nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than 3 million Vietnamese were killed and 4 million were wounded. At the same time, the U.S. military used up to 80 million liters of chemicals to ‘clear’ the land.” (Tran Dac Loi). Agent Orange sprayed liberally over the entirety of Vietnam from 1961 and 1971 affected millions of Vietnamese and U.S. soldiers and poisoned the land. Unexploded ordinance and descendants of Vietnamese exposed to Agent Orange/Dioxin remain part of the Vietnamese experience today. The devastation of land and people was reinforced by a U.S. initiated economic blockade of Vietnam that lasted from 1975 until 1994.

From a Socialist Command Economy to Doi Moi (a socialist-oriented market economy)

Tran Dac Loi, Vice-President of the Vietnam Peace and Development Foundation, wrote about post-war economic policies in Vietnam in an essay in Vietnam: From National Liberation to Socialism (Changemaker, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, forthcoming). Loi explained that after the war against the United States ended the newly united Vietnamese nation adopted a centrally-planned socialist economy.

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Category : Capitalism | Cooperatives | Cuba | Socialism | Vietnam | Blog
26
Feb

By Circles Robinson

Havana Times, Feb 26, 2013

Vicente Morin Aguado interviews non-Marxist US socialist Grady Ross Daugherty

HAVANA TIMES — Over several weeks of difficult back and forth emails (it’s hard to imagine the slow speed and high cost of Internet in Cuban hotels), I attempted to clarify the thinking of Grady Ross Daugherty [2], the leader and founder of the “modern cooperative socialist movement” in the United States and who is a regular reader of HT.

HT: What place do you see for cooperatives in the current reform process taking place within Cuba’s socialist experiment?

Grady Ross Daugherty: Thanks for characterizing Cuba’s half-century post-capitalist period as an “experiment.” An experiment is a way of testing a reasonable hypothesis. If we look at the Cuban model as an experiment, as a modifiable work in progress, its performance can be altered to achieve greater prosperity and progress.

In our discussion, we need to keep in mind that most types of cooperatives require a certain basis of legal private ownership, assuming we want them to be functional. For example, agricultural cooperatives require the ownership of cultivated land and the families homes — not usufruct rights — if we hope them to be effective and make Cuba self-sufficient in production.

HT: Regarding the issue of ownership, I began to understand your non-Marxist position prior to our exchange. It may seem like a digression, but it’s good to point out something as controversial as your self-declared non-Marxist yet socialist position.

GRD:  Since its origins in the nineteenth century, the socialist movement was mutual and cooperative. This was something notable in France and England, where workers and farmers were eager to own land and the instruments of production as their property. They didn’t want ownership in the hands of private capitalists or government officials.

I think that if Cuba’s political leaders can clear their minds about the theory of state monopoly and its consequent personality cult, typical of the founders of Marxism during the nineteenth century, Cuba will be a socialist country in the long term.

Marx and Engels instilled prejudice against private property, pointing to it as a cause of society’s ills and as something antithetical to their aim of “scientific” socialism. Nevertheless, for cooperatives to be real they require ownership, which supposedly would be “capitalist” – as opposed to state-run or scientific forms like “socialist” ones.

Despite this, harsh reality has led Cuban politicians to take a fresh look at cooperatives. They’re beginning to look at socialism as an ongoing experiment.

HT: Of course Marx criticized Proudhon, the father of French cooperative and mutualist socialism, considering him petty bourgeois for all his vacillation and wavering, which is typical of his social class.

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Category : Cooperatives | Cuba | Socialism | Solidarity Economy | Blog