Monday, October 03, 2011

Camila Piñeiro Harnecker on Cooperatives and Socialism in Cuba

Camila Piñeiro Harnecker "holds 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. She is also, incidently, the daughter of Chilean-Cuban journalist and author Marta Harnecker (who now lives in Venezuela) and her late husband, Manuel "Red Beard" Piñeiro, who headed revolutionary Cuba's state security and intelligence service for many years."  Camila Piñeiro Harnecker: ´Cuba needs changes, to take us forward rather than backwards', Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Jan. 15, 2011.

Piñeiro Harnecker has been interested in the organization of economic enterprises in forms other than western style corporations for some time.  In line with the fundamental thrust of the Lineamientos (Economic and Social Policy Guidelines) adopted by the Cuban Communist Party at its 6th Party Congress in 2011, that serve as the blueprint for the current toolbox of changes contemplated in Cuba's economic organization, one that prohibits recourse to the corporate form (and the aggregation of capital) by individuals for the purpose of engaging in collective economic activity), she has been exploring cooperatives as an alternative form of aggregate economic organization.  

(From Camila Piñeiro Harnecker: `Cuba needs changes, to take us forward rather than backwards', Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Jan. 15, 2011.)

I reiterate once again what is obvious to anyone who knows Cuban reality: that we must change innumerable structural aspects of the organisation of our society in all spheres of economic, political, juridical, communication, etc., life. We must break the inertia of so many years of not addressing the root causes of the grave problems that wear us down and degrade us and provoke a generalised and justified discontent.

However, it's important that we realise that something as simple as any change will not necessarily allow us to solve the problems and advance towards what we want. Since we are human beings with the capacity to think and be sensitive to the fact that the negative consequences of erroneous measures will fall on the most vulnerable people, and those who have sacrificed themselves the most for a better future for all of us, it seems to me important to try to do it as best we can. We must also avoid derailing what has been achieved to date, above all the humane outlook that characterises us.


The managers and workers will be really motivated when they are able to democratically manage their enterprises, and [when] one of the many managerial decisions they make is how to distribute the net earnings among themselves, after the payment of taxes and other financial commitments, as well as ensuring the availability of their working capital, investment funds and reserves. Only in such a situation will the workers really be motivated to make an optimum effort and ensure that their work colleagues do the same, because individual interest joins with the collective interest of the enterprise achieving the best possible results. That is to say, it's not necessary to choose between individual material and spiritual ["moral"] incentives, it is possible to do both simultaneously if we democratise the management of enterprises.

What I propose is that both [the hiring of labour and market exchange by small capitalist enterprises] are legalised and strictly regulated, but that we at the same time do promote, through credit and other state assistance, that both state and non-state (cooperatives and other forms of self-management of small and medium enterprises) are managed democratically and that they establish horizontal exchange relations that respond to social interests. If we understand the "market" or market relations as simply relations of horizontal exchange that are not necessarily guided by the logic of narrow individual benefit, then our differences are not so great. But I do think that it is important to recognise that for horizontal exchange relations to internalise the social interest, it is essential that first of all we identify these social interests through democratic planning mechanisms; for which it is evidently also indispensable to democratise our political system, in such a way that the local governments have the powers they need so that their public administration really is democratic and effective.
(From Camila Piñeiro Harnecker: `Cuba needs changes, to take us forward rather than backwards', Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Jan. 15, 2011.)

Piñeiro Harnecker has now published a collection of essays that she has edited in which the issues she has been exploring are developed in substantially more detail:  Cooperativas y socialismo: una mirada desde Cuba (Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, editor; La Habana: Editorial Caminos 2011)(ISBN 978-959-303-033-5).  The table of contents is reproduced below:


Prólogo/ 7
Camila Piñeiro Harnecker

Parte 1 ¿Qué es una cooperativa?

1 Una introducción a las cooperativas/ 31
Jesús Cruz Reyes y Camila Piñeiro Harnecker

2 La construcción de alternativas más allá del capital/ 55
Julio C. Gambina y Gabriela Roffinelli

Parte 2 Las cooperativas y los pensadores socialistas

3 Cooperativismo y autogestión en las visiones de Marx, Engels y Lenin / 71
Humberto Miranda Lorenzo

4 Cooperativismo socialista y emancipación humana. El legado de Lenin/ 103
Iñaki Gil de San Vicente

5 El Ché Guevara: las cooperativas y la economía política de la transición al socialismo/ 132
Helen Yaffe

6 Las bases del socialismo autogestionario: la contribución de István Mészáros/ 167
Henrique T. Novaes

Parte 3 Las cooperativas en otros países

7 Mondragón: los dilemas de un cooperativismo maduro/ 191
Larraitz Altuna Gabilondo, Aitzol Loyola Idiakez y Eneritz Pagalday Tricio

8 Cuarenta años de autogestión en vivienda popular en Uruguay. El “Modelo FUCVAM”/ 219
Benjamin Nahoum

9 Economía solidaria en Brasil: la actualidad de las cooperativas para la emancipación histórica de los trabajadores/ 245
Luiz Inácio Gaiger y Eliene Dos Anjos

10 Autogestión obrera en Argentina: problemas y potencialidades del trabajo autogestionado en el contexto de la poscrisis neoliberal/ 272
Andrés Ruggeri

11 De las cooperativas a las empresas de propiedad social directa en el proceso venezolano/ 301
Dario Azzellini

Parte 4 Las cooperativas y la construcción socialista en Cuba

12 Las cooperativas agropecuarias en Cuba: 1959-presente/ 321
Armando Nova González

13 La UBPC: forma de rediseñar la propiedad estatal con gestión cooperativa/ 337
Emilio Rodríguez Membrado y Alcides López Labrada

14 Notas características del marco legal del ambiente cooperativo cubano/ 366
Avelino Fernández Peiso

15 Retos del cooperativismo como alternativa de desarrollo ante la crisis global. Su papel en el modelo económico cubano/ 397
Claudio Alberto Rivera Rodríguez, Odalys Labrador Machín y Juan Luis Alfonso Alemán

The volume was made available courtesy of ASCE and Joaquin Pujol and was made available by Arch Ritter in his blog, The Cuban Economy: New Publication from Cuba: Cooperativas y Socialismo: Una Mirada Desde Cuba, Oct. 3, 2011.  The complete document is available hyperlinked here: Cooperativas y Socialismo: Una Mirada Desde Cuba, La Habana: Editorial Caminos, 2011.

Those who wish for a taste of Piñeiro Harnecker's ideas in English might review a translation of portions of the preface to the work, Camila Piñeiro Harnecker: Cooperatives and socialism in Cuba, Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Sept. 26, 2011 (Preface to Cooperatives and socialism: A Cuban perspective (extract) By Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, translated by Marce Cameron):
We hope that those who, on the basis of the Cuban experience, doubt that it is possible for a cooperative to be truly autonomous and democratic will find this concern adequately addressed in the first part of the compilation. Here, when we explain what a cooperative is, we point to the basic differences between a cooperative and a socialist state enterprise. In a genuine cooperative, the participation of the cooperative members in management does not depend on the enterprise management council deciding to involve them more in decision-making; such participation is a founding principle, concretised in the rights of members established in the internal rules of functioning and exercised through bodies and decision-making procedures that are drawn up and approved by the cooperative members themselves. Although the degree of autonomy of the new Cuban cooperatives will depend, of course, on the content of the anticipated legislation on cooperatives and on the implementation of the regulations it establishes, the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines seem to indicate that they will be granted the powers of self-management that characterise cooperatives everywhere, and without which democratic self-management is impossible. We hope the legislation resolves the deficiencies of the current legal framework for Cuban agricultural cooperatives, which are analysed in the fourth part of this book.


What differentiates a production cooperative (referred to hereafter as “cooperative” since we emphasise this type[4]) from other forms of enterprise organisation is emphasised, based on an analysis of the cooperative principles[5] that have contributed to the success of these organisations since the emergence of the first modern cooperatives. These early modern cooperatives understood the imperative of achieving an effective enterprise management that would allow them to survive within the more savage and monopolistic capitalism of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. To the degree to which cooperatives have observed these principles in their daily practice, they have benefited from the intrinsic advantages of this form of enterprise. These advantages ultimately derive from a democratic management model that permits the harmonisation of individual interests with those of the collective (i.e. of the common interests of cooperative members) and even, though in a less axiomatic way, with the social interests of the local communities with which they interact the most.

The observance of these principles is also what allows cooperatives to reduce the inevitable corrupting effects of the capitalist surroundings in which the majority of them have developed. The capitalist environment privileges individual over collective solutions; makes it difficult to achieve equality by generating and reproducing differences in abilities and social status among cooperative members; denies them the time needed for democratic decision-making; punishes genuine acts of solidarity; and promotes the super-exploitation of human beings and nature. While this undoubtedly limits the horizon of human emancipation – the overcoming of the barriers that stand in the way of us fulfilling our human potentialities – an emancipatory dynamic has always been latent in genuine cooperatives. The capitalist environment is not an absolute barrier to cooperatives becoming spaces in which these principles are put into practice, and in which the values that such practices instill may develop. The experiences of successful cooperatives presented in this book demonstrate the economic and ethical-political potential of these organisational principals, above all when cooperatives that embody these principles are able to link up with other self-managed entities, and when they promote the approval of laws and regulations that undermine the prejudices that exist regarding cooperatives in the legal framework and in the practices of capitalist enterprises and state institutions.

The rationality that drives a cooperative, as with all forms of genuine self-management, is the necessity for a group of people to satisfy common needs and interests. It is based on the recognition that they share collective interests that correspond to some degree with their own individual interests, and that it is collective action that allows them to pursue these interests most effectively. This, together with the recognition that all its members are human beings with the equal right to participate in decision-making, results in democratic management in which the cooperative members decide not only who the leaders are and how revenues should be allocated, but also how to organise the process of production: what is produced, how and for whom.

Piñeiro Harnecker's book is worth reading, especially for those who can read Spanish.  It provides a window on the conceptual difficulties of efforts to engage functionally in economic activity grounded in private interactions between market participants while avoiding the forms of market structures that would reduce the state to a mere market organizer and protector.  Piñeiro Harnecker made that clear at the start of her essay:

Cuando en Cuba se propone a la cooperativa de producción como una —no la única— forma de organización empresarial, es común encontrarse sobre todo con tres preocupaciones: unos la conside- ran demasiado “utópica” y por tanto ineficiente; otros, a partir de las formas que ha tomado en Cuba, sospechan que será insuficientemente autónoma o “demasiado parecida a la empresa estatal”; y otros, habituados a un control de la actividad empresarial por un Estado que interviene de manera directa y excesiva en la gestión, la rechazan como demasiado autónoma y por tanto un “germen del capitalismo”. Este libro intenta tener en cuenta todas estas inquie- tudes, aunque sin dudas se requiere de más espacio para tratarlas adecuadamente. (From Cooperativas y Socialismo, supra, at 7-8). ("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 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." Translation by Marce Cameron)
Those difficulties continue to make the form of corporate organization particularly troublesome for regimes, like that of Cuba, which view juridical or legal persons that constitute the aggregation of popular power as threatening to the state unless the state owns or controls these organizations. See, Larry Catá Backer, Corporate Governance at the Crossroads: Cuban Marxism, Private Economic Collectives and Free Market Globalism, Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2005.

Cooperatives are viewed as a means of economic aggregation that avoids the problems of corporations in their relationship to the state and society--shareholder wealth maximization, avoidance of corporate social responsibility principles, and labor exploitation  (Piñeiro Harnecker, supra, at 28: "Asimismo, para evitar la concentración de riqueza que explica los altos impuestos aplicados a los cuentapropistas, debería sobre todo promoverse que el nuevo sector no estatal adopte preferentemente el modelo de gestión cooperativo, donde los beneficios son distribuidos de forma equitativa entre sus miembros y que favorezcan en alguna medida las comunidades aledañas." Ibid.).  Yet, like the corporate form that remains the sole province of the state, the problem of autonomy remains a key issue.  It is the issue that raises, for the Cuban political economy, the ideological question of the extent of the role of the state in the planning of economic decisions, that is whether the state will set the general goals and objectives of economic activity or whether the state will direct more precisely the economic choices of individuals and cooperatives at an operational level.

The managerial autonomy of the collective that makes up the cooperative – the ability of this group of people to make decisions independently – is the key reason why the historical experiences of socialist construction have rejected their relevance to the building of socialism and have relegated them to agriculture or marginal economic spaces. Some see in autonomy a disconnection from, or a wanting to have nothing to do with, social interests and the strategic objectives embodied in the socialist economic plan, and ask the following questions: Is it possible to “hitch” an autonomous enterprise to a planned economy? Can a cooperative respond not only to the interests of its members but also to wider social interests? When one thinks in terms of absolute autonomy and authoritarian (i.e. undemocratic) planning, if the interests of collectives (groups) are considered a priori to be indifferent to social interests, then the answer is obviously negative. The authors of this book are motivated by the certainty that the answer is affirmative. We argue the case here, though we are unable to respond to all of the questions about how this can be achieved in practice. (Camila Piñeiro Harnecker: Cooperatives and socialism in Cuba, Links: International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Sept. 26, 2011 (Preface to Cooperatives and socialism: A Cuban perspective (extract) By Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, translated by Marce Cameron))
Piñeiro Harnecker highlights both the peculiarities of the Cuban discussion about economic reform and engagement in global economic movements, and its distance from the path followed by the Chinese Communist Party since the 1980s. Cuba is seeking to forge a third path between the market oriented economic model fo the West and the pattern of economic control developed by the great Asian Marxist Leninist states.  It remains committed to a significant degree of central planning, and suspicious of autonomous aggregations of capital or individuals not directly controlled or managed by the state.  It has sought to build these notions into its international and regional economic planning to the same extent it seeks to base it internal economic model on those principles.  Backer, Larry Catá and Molina, Augusto, Cuba and the Construction of Alternative Global Trade Systems: ALBA and Free Trade in the Americas (May 20, 2009), University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 31, No. 3, 2010. Within that environment, cooperatives, so benign in China and Vietnam, assumes a more problematic place in the Cuban political economy. 

Whether the experiment will succeed remains to be seen, but the search for forms of economic organization that are not necessarily grounded in shareholder wealth maximization, and that serve social goals, even those controlled by the state apparatus, may provide insights and models of use elsewhere and for other purposes.

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