has echoed round the world.
Photograph: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA
Cuba: from communist to co-operative?
Fidel Castro's admission that Cuba isn't working doesn't mean a change to capitalism – far from it
o Stephen Wilkinson
o guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 September 2010 15.00 BST
Fidel Castro's wry comment to US journalist Geoffrey Goldberg that Cuba's economic system isn't working has become an aside that has echoed round the world as columnists and commentators have seized upon it as the confession of a man preparing to meet his maker.
However, as it is wont to do with Cuba, the world's media (especially that which is vehemently opposed to socialism) is perhaps reading a little too much into the comment. Fidel is a keen media watcher himself and seeing the attention his remark has received will surely be clarifying his views in the days to come, but you can be sure it will not be to say that capitalism is the answer. (Indeed, elsewhere in the Goldberg interview he told his interlocutor that he was still very much a dialectical materialist.)
So what exactly did the old man say? To be specific: "The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore," was his answer to being asked if he believed it was something still worth exporting. That is hardly an admission of total failure. He clearly thinks it worked once, and since he does not elaborate on the reasons why he thinks it doesn't work now, it is premature to assume that he is chucking in the towel.
Nor can the statement be interpreted as him saying that socialism per se has failed – merely that Cuba's current model of it no longer fits the times. He has consistently held the view that there are as many models of socialism as there are countries that try it out. As a Marxist he believes that the particular circumstances of each society and the peculiarities of their histories affect the character of whatever politics they might have – be they communist or capitalist.
What the statement really means is that he agrees with his brother that the way the Cuban system is currently configured has to change, but watch the space carefully – this does not automatically imply that free-market capitalism is the answer – far from it.
Since being handed power by his brother in 2006, Raúl Castro has taken measures to reform the economy, including using some market mechanisms and allowing more citizens to work for themselves. In order to shrink the state (and the deficit – Cuba is in the same boat as the rest of us), something like a million government workers are set to lose their jobs in the coming months.
The government has recently handed out more than 2.5m acres of land to individuals and co-operatives, in order that they produce more food, and has accordingly loosened controls that prohibit Cubans from selling fruit and vegetables. In an effort to build a modern tourism infrastructure it has eased property laws to give lease periods of up to 99 years for foreign investors.
However, at the same time the government has announced that workers will be encouraged to take over the ownership of the companies in which they work. In a move that the government has actually called a deepening of socialism, the Cubans are about to launch what could potentially become the biggest co-operative project the world has ever seen.
The government is saying that the old centrally planned Soviet-style of socialism has finally hit the buffers – a new form of socialism is required, in which the state ceases to be the administrator of economic activity but the regulator. That's a different model of socialism – it may not work either – but it is not capitalism.
JG: The Cuban people know very well what would a return to USA's savage capitalism entail. It would mean thousands sleeping on the streets, children asking for pennies (as I have seen in Mexico), hunger, greed, gambling, and a return to Yankee imperialist exploitation. Cubans will make pragmatic changes in their system. There will not be a transition to capitalism.