The Cooperative as a Proletarian Corporation: The Global Dimensions of Property Rights and the Organization of Economic Activity in Cuba

Backer, Larry Catá | January 1, 2013

Since the 1970s, the relationship between productive property, and the state and individual has been contested in Marxist-Leninist nations. Though China has moved to permit robust private activity and the private aggregations of capital in corporate form, Cuba has strictly adhered to traditional communist principles. In the face of recent financial upheavals, Cuba is seeking to liberalize its approach to economic organization, but in a way that would retain a state monopoly of the use of the corporate form while opening a small and well-managed consumer oriented private sector. Among the most innovative alternatives being developed is the cooperative, which has the potential to develop into a useful form of what this Article calls a proletarian corporation. But innovation faces substantial hurdles. This Article examines in Part II the context for the development of this new approach to cooperative organization. Part III then turns to a close study of the cooperative and its constraints, starting with a consideration of the agricultural cooperative as template for changes. It then turns to a critical consideration of the development of a theoretical basis for changing the function and operation of cooperatives developed by Cuban intellectuals, and ends with an examination of the transposition of that theory into the guidelines for restructuring the Cuban economy (Lineamientos) adopted by the Cuban government, and then articulated through a regulatory framework. Part IV then briefly considers the role of the cooperative in efforts to internationalize the Cuban economic model through vehicles such as the Alianza Bolivariana. This Article concludes that while the cooperative fits nicely within Cuba’s efforts to develop a complex and well-integrated program of economic organization, its theoretical elegance remains in tension with the realities of Cuban politics. This tension increases the risk that cooperatives will be reduced to little more than a means of privatizing central planning.