[Marxism] The Economy of the New Human Being

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Oct 9 07:09:59 MDT 2007

(This is the text of two of the four pages in yesterday's special Che
supplement to JUVENTUD REBELDE. Takes up and argues against the notion
that Cuba is likely to move toward a capitalist-oriented market system,
Discusses the fall of the USSR and the writings of Micheal Lowy on Che.)

The Economy of the New Human Being
With Raul Castro's recent call for structural changes in the Cuban economy, 
Che Guevara's earlier ideas on the economic incentives allows us to rethink 
Socialism of the 21st Century

By: Amaury E. del Valle
2007-10-08 | 14:41:41 EST


Commander Che Guevara speaking at the Cuban Federation of Workers on
December 16, 1963.Commander Che Guevara speaking at the Cuban
Federation of Workers on December 16, 1963. Photo: Liborio NovalZoom

Most of the work of Che Guevara is still a mystery to study. His life
is closely linked to intellectual work that, as he confessed in a
letter in February 1964, can sometimes seem a little "obscure,"
precisely because it was written mainly when "my watch read past

However, to read it slowly is to find a great many reflections, some
of them marked by the historical moment in which he lived, while
others that are still incredibly valid. Many of his thoughts were
ahead of the times that we have experienced over the last several
years, such as the collapse of what he called the "Soviet model of

In his writings and discussions, Che was most concerned with the
economy, national and international policy, and liberation struggles.

Needed Pillars

Che's economic thought is not an undecipherable riddle or a
theoretical Minotaur impossible to defeat. Even in its unfinished
nature it can be summarized, as he did in his essay El socialismo y
el hombre (officially titled "Socialism and Man" in the 1960s). In a
prophetic phrase that still remains as a challenge, he said "To build
communism, we have to build a new (person) at the same time that we
build the material base."

One of the pillars of Che's economic concepts was precisely the
creation of a structure in which the most important element would be
not only the satisfaction of the basic needs of people, but also
their education, in order to make them aware of themselves as being
the real owners and main beneficiaries of the means of production.

One of the essential moments in his thought was the controversy about
the direction of the newly born socialist economy in Cuba, between
1963 and 1964. The argument emerged from issues that were merely
national, and eventually became a debate over the appropriateness of
the economic model implemented in the socialist countries at that

Regarding the matter, Che himself warned against "blind apologetics;"
he criticized those who wanted to import experiences that were alien
to Cuban reality, saying that "The law which supposedly governs the
transition from socialism to communism is a mechanistic and
conservative concept, an attempt to put Soviet reality in step with
the theory, to put aside all analysis and ignore the harsh problems
that would arise if a truly revolutionary course were taken."

In his work "Neither Imitation Nor Copy: Che Guevara and the Pursuit
of a New Socialism," researcher Michael Löwy says that, contrary to
the tendencies of copying the Soviet model that was in fashion in his
time, the guerrilla commander believed that building socialism was
"an heroic attempt to create something new, the pursuit -interrupted
and unfinished- of a different paradigm for socialism, which in a
many aspects was radically opposed to the 'really existing'
bureaucratic caricature."

Other Che specialists think similarly to this, especially regarding
the debate on Cuban economy between 1963 and 1964, when they
acknowledge that at the time there were evident tensions and
contradictions between the ideals of the Cuban Revolution and those
of the leadership in the Soviet Union. The internationalist ideals of
the socialist national liberation of the Cuban Revolution were
opposed to the Soviet system and its ideology, which despite being
mechanistic and subordinated to "building of socialism in one
country," was the strongest force operating and speaking on behalf of

It was not in vain that Che himself highlighted the "great boldness"
of questioning not only the model of socialism implemented at the
time, but also the role of the USSR itself in the international
arena, which he thought many times behaved like an imperialistic

In a speech he made in Algeria in February, 1965, he said openly,
alluding to the USSR, that "there won't be socialism if there is not
a change in conscience among peoples that leads to a attitude of
solidarity; this must change both at the individual level and in the
society in which socialism has been or is being built, and worldwide,
because of all the peoples who are subjected to imperialist

Cuban economist Osvaldo Martinez referenced Che's own words, when he
said that it was "heresy" and "audacity" to refer to a plan to write
a true Marxist political economy, one which was non-apologetic, but
more like a "scream from the bottom of underdevelopment."

There is not doubt that the objective of Che -and of Fidel Castro and
other revolutionaries- was to establish a framework of thought
characteristic of the Cuban Revolution, which was far from what was
then understood as "Marxism-Leninism."

What had been feed to Cuba and the rest of the world under that name
were no more than professed "truths" that were held up as being
eternal, when in fact they responded more to the concrete realities
of the USSR -even distorting Marxist theory- than to truly creative
and "ecumenical" thought about socialism, as Che called it in his

To Build the 21st Century

Aspects that most concerned Che in his reflections were the search
for economic efficiency, the application of science and technology as
the means of increasing production levels, and especially the use of
the moral incentives as a complement and even a necessary support for
people's attitudes toward work.

In "Socialism and Man in Cuba"
he referred directly to this idea when he affirmed that "The pipe
dream that socialism can be achieved with the help of the dull
instruments left to us by capitalism (the commodity as the economic
cell, profitability, individual material interest as a lever, etc.)
can lead into a blind alley. And you wind up there after having
travelled a long distance with many crossroads, and it is hard to
figure out just where you took the wrong turn. Meanwhile, the
economic foundation that has been laid has done its work of
undermining the development of consciousness. To build communism it
is necessary, simultaneous with the new material foundations, to
build the new (person)."

Equally, in a letter sent to Fidel before his departure to the Congo,
he maintained that "communism is a phenomenon of conscience; you
don't arrive there through a leap into the void, a change in the
productive quality, or the simple clash between the productive forces
and the productive relations. Communism is a phenomenon of
conscience; it is necessary to develop that consciousness in people,
where individual and collective education for communism is a
constituent part of them. We cannot measure in terms of per capita
income the possibility of entering the communist stage... "

However, Che did not have his back turned to reality; nor was he an
incurable idealist, as some have wanted to paint him - trying to
mystify his figure so as to minimize his thought.

A profound observer, constantly studying and an untiring traveller,
he quickly concluded that socialism would be going down the wrong
road if it attempted to compete with the overproduction of
capitalism, precisely the basis upon which that entire system of
exploitation is built.

"The communist model of production presupposes a considerable
abundance of material goods, but not necessarily a strict comparison
with capitalism," he held, when asserting that instead of
disproportionate production, "planning and economic efficiency" would
be imposed. These were pillars of his theory in the field of

"We have a great gap in our system: how to integrate the person into
their work in such a way that is not necessary to use what we call
material disincentives, how to make each worker feel the vital
necessity to support their revolution and, at the same time, make
work a pleasure... ", wrote Che in that same letter to Fidel.

He himself questioned the situation about which he assured it was
necessary to "thoroughly study." He proposed in a meeting of at the
Ministry of Industries "to fight with all our force so that moral
incentives replace the material incentives to the degree possible and
within the shortest time possible. This means we are establishing a
relative process; we are not excluding material incentives, we are
simply saying that we should fight for moral incentives to become, in
the least possible time, the decisive factor in the performance of

However, he didn't assume a utopian position and reject the necessity
of recognizing material rewards to those who work better than others.
He maintained that "workers must be rewarded, but not with money
based on the percentage they have exceeded the norm, but by their
capacity to acquire a greater capacity. Let's take the example of
someone going to school ... and graduating with a higher
qualification. Returning to the workplace with the new qualification
would automatically translate into a wage increase - that is to say,
a material incentive... "

A promoter of voluntary work, which characterized him as a true
revolutionary, the economic thought of Che went into such specific
details, given his position as the minister of Industry, that he
ended up theoretically and practically involving himself in the
determination of how wages would be determined in the socialist
society in the making.

"How much is invested for the work of a soldier and how much for a
teacher? How much for a minister and how much for a worker? Lenin,
in"State and Revolution," had an idea (Marxist) that rejected the
comparison of officials' salaries and those of laborers, but I am not
convinced that his reversal is correct," questioned Che when
criticizing the "Fundamentals of Political Economy" of the Academy of
Sciences of the USSR, then taken almost like a "Bible" for socialist

He himself responded, analyzing the reality he saw in the Soviet
Union and Cuba, that "the real essence of all of today difficulties
is the false conception of the communist person, based on a long-term
economic practice that tends to and will continue to tend to make
people just a number in the production process through the lever of
their material interest." He also noted that "trying to raise
productivity by individual rewards is falling even lower than

Educating the new person with a new approach to production was the
principal thesis championed by Che, although it was not always well
understood, or applied, neither in Cuba nor in the Soviet Union.

Foretelling the Soviet Collapse

Perhaps the importance of Che's economic thought, in the light of
current events and the challenges faced by Cuba, have not been
weighed enough.

This is partly because many of his writings were not published until
recently, and also because of the mystification of Che as a guerrilla
commander and a man of action has often overshadowed his side as a
philosopher and a Marxist economist - self-taught but well trained.

While in Prague, after leaving the Congo, Che wrote to Orlando
Borrego, one of his closest collaborators. The said that he was
thinking on "initiating a work on the manual of Political Economy
from the Academy," referring to the material from the Academy of
Sciences of the Soviet Union.

These notes, which were unpublished only recently, as well as others
he wrote down in the Bolivian jungle on philosophy, are some of the
most illustrious of Che's visions on socialism, and especially on the
Soviet Union.

His worry came as a result of his visit to that country, a year and
half earlier, in which he perceived some "dangerously capitalists
arguments" in his exchanges with Soviet leaders and academics.

Fueled by the controversy about the Cuban economy in the construction
of socialism -of which Che was a main actor in its first years- the
idea of the thirst for profits and productive competition with
capitalism being the driving force of development worried him

Argentinean academic Néstor Kohan said, "Guevara believed that in the
transition to socialism the survival of the law of value had to be
surpassed by socialist planning or... there would be a return to

Likewise, he criticised the siren songs of the praised Soviet manual
of Political Economy that spoke of the "general crisis of
capitalism," a phrase about which he said "people must be careful..."
"Crumbling" has a clear meaning in language; a fully grown man cannot
undergo any more physiological changes, but he's doesn't agonize. The
capitalist system has reached its total maturity under imperialism,
yet it has not taken full advantage of its possibilities at the
current moment and has great vitality. It is more precise to say
"fully developed" or to say that it has reached the limits of its
possibilities for development.

At the same time, Che was not convinced that the Soviets were
knocking at the doors of communism, as they asserted; nor did he
believe that setting economic goals to compete with capitalism was
the ideal way of reaching that objective. As he said,"no one can set
'bread and butter' goals for reaching communism."

This double characteristic of criticising capitalism while rejecting
"sanctified" models was the largest contribution of his economic
work, unfinished and based on notes, it was an effort "aimed at
inviting people to think, to take Marxism with the seriousness this
giant doctrine deserved."

That is the reason why Che could formulate that warning thirty years
prior that "The Soviet Union is returning to capitalism." At the same
time he set the foundations for the path to the socialism for its
construction in the 21st century, which was intended to break with
any narrow simplification of political economy. As he said in a 1965
interview with the Algerian newspaper The Avant-Garde, "this new
society is the result of conscience."

Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
writer - photographer - activist

More information about the Marxism mailing list