On the anniversary of the start of the Cuban Revolution, two social scientists who have followed it closely look at Cuba’s socialist project today. Economist Al Campbell is professor emeritus at the University of Utah and an editor of the International Journal of Cuban Studies. Mark Ginsburg is a Visiting Scholar in International Educational Policy at the University of Maryland.
Since the Revolution came to power January 1, 1959, Cuba has been creative in facing the many challenges in building socialism in a former neo-colony, a process made all the more difficult by the unrelenting hostility of the U.S. Now, after six decades of struggle, it is still evolving its own model. We will look at the challenges and contradictions Cuba faces today and how it is responding. In many ways, Cuba’s model is similar to what has been called 21st century socialism. This is reflected in its official guidelines for its evolving social and economic model of socialist development, and its 2019 Constitution. These represent a departure from the 20th century model of socialism of the Soviet Union. Politically, a major process of decentralization is unfolding, with political decisions being moved to regional and community levels. Economically, two parallel processes are occurring. State productive decisions are being moved from the central ministries to the state productive units, and to local state bodies. Simultaneously, non-state non-capitalist forms of production like cooperatives and self-employment, and also capitalist forms of production both in joint ventures with foreign capital and by strictly domestic capital, which have always existed throughout the revolution, have dramatically increased. The significant increase in non-state economic and political actors has further developed the openness of Cuba’s important democratic institutions. Can this remain socialist? Some fear a restoration of capitalism, with a private sector of the economy able to employ wage labor, will increasingly come to dominate first the economy and then politics. The pandemic and the resulting collapse of tourism, one important sector of the economy, has presented a new challenge. Building socialism in the midst of a neoliberal world is fraught with difficulties under even the best of conditions.