[Marxism] Is Cuba Done with Equality? Not so!

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Jul 17 03:25:01 MDT 2008

The following critical comments by Richard Fidler were submitted to
Socialist Voice in response to my article, "Is Cuba Done with Equality? Not
so!" His concrete additions and clarifications are a contribution to
clearing away the barbarous misrepresentations and oversimplifications about
wage scales in Cuba -- past and present -- that have tended to dominate the
discussion of the wage reform on the list.

1. It is not really pure "urban legend" to say that the pay for street
sweepers and brain surgeons differs by only a few dollars a month. The key
words here are "pay" and "dollars". Wage differentials have traditionally,
since the early years of the revolution, varied a bit (the scales being set
by the government, albeit in consultation with the CTC), but figures I have
seen indicate a ratio of highest to lowest in the range of 5:1. For example,
if the highest wage were 1000 pesos a month, the lowest would be 200 pesos -
figures that are within the current range I believe. But if these amounts
are converted from pesos (the internal Cuban currency) to "dollars"
(including CUCs, basically the U.S. dollar discounted by 10%), we have to
adjust for the value of the peso in CUCs, which is 24 pesos to the CUC
dollar. So 1000 pesos is, in dollar terms approximately, 40 dollars, while
200 pesos is 8 dollars, which yields a differential of 32 dollars a month.
Not much, in buying power. Our hypothetical brain surgeon will take some
time before she or he can purchase a personal computer, which goes for about
$1500 (CUCs) in Cuba.

Cubans are well aware of these differences. On the first day of my most
recent visit to Cuba this last March, I was in a farmers' market in Vedado,
Havana. A woman was selling ice cream for a posted price of $1. I gave her
one CUC (the only currency tourists are supposed to use). At first she
refused to take it, then reconsidered and laboriously counted out 23 pesos
in change (and then refused my proffered tip!). I found that the pesos were
handy later on for purchasing newspapers, at 1 peso each, for example.

As to "pay", the obvious point is that "incomes" in Cuba can't validly be
measured by individual wages; the social wage includes free health care and
education, low-cost housing, etc. And the major contradiction in Cuba, the
major source of disparities, is of course the contrast between the CUC
economy, to which only half the Cubans have access to any degree, and the
peso economy. The new permission to buy cellphones and computers will only
be exercisible by those with access to CUCs, and lots of them. This has
implications for proletarian democracy that go beyond the important
precondition that workers need to be relieved of basic survival exigencies
if they are to be able to play any decision-making role.

2. In the appendix, comrade Feldman addresses Adler's Ricardian point about
"productivity of machines", but it seems to me that productivity is in fact
already measured in Cuba according to enterprises and industries, that is,
in collective production environments, and those productivity differences
are reflected to some degree in the wage scales set by the government (with
CTC consultation). My understanding is that the government is now to
increase the weight of the productivity factor in wage determination, just
as it did earlier in factoring in education, age and other considerations in
order to manage income distribution, employment patterns, etc.

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