Che’s ideas are absolutely relevant today: A speech by Fidel Castro (Part Three)

For example, voluntary work, the brainchild of Che and one of the best things he left us during his stay in our country and his part in the revolution, was steadily on the decline. It became a formality almost. It would be done on the occasion of a special date, a Sunday. People would sometimes run around and do things in a disorganized way. The bureaucrat’s view, the technocrat’s view that voluntary work was neither basic nor essential gained more and more ground. The idea was that voluntary work was kind of silly, a waste of time, that problems had to be solved with overtime, and with more and more overtime, and this while the regular work-day was not even being used efficiently. We had fallen into a whole host of habits that Che would have been really appalled at.

If Che had ever been told that one day, under the Cuban revolution, there would be enterprises prepared to steal to pretend they were profitable, Che would have been appalled. Or if he’d been told of enterprises that wanted to be profitable and give out prizes and I don’t know what else, bonuses, and they’d sell the materials allotted to them to build and charge as they had built whatever it was, Che would have been appalled.

And I’ll tell you that this happened in the fifteen municipalities in the capital of the republic, in the fifteen enterprises responsible for house repair; and that’s only one example. They’d appear as though what they’d produced was with 8,000 pesos a year, and when the chaos was done away with, it turned out they were producing 4,000 pesos worth or less. So they were not profitable. They were only profitable when they stole. Che would have been appalled if he’d been told that enterprises existed that would cheat to fulfill and even surpass their production plan by pretending to have done January’s work in December.Che would have been appalled if he’d been told that there were enterprises that fulfilled their production plan and then distributed prizes for having fulfilled it in monetary value but not in goods produced, and that engaged in producing items that meant more monetary value and refrained from producing others that yielded less profit, despite the fact that one item without the other was not worth anything.

Che would have been appalled if he’d been told that product norms were so slack, so weak, so immoral that on certain occasions almost all the workers fulfilled them two or three times over. Che would have been appalled if he’d been told that money was becoming man’s concerns, man’s fundamental motivation. He who warned us so much against that would have been appalled. Work shifts were being shortened and millions of hours of overtime reported; the mentality of our worker was being corrupted and men were increasingly being motivated by the pesos on their minds.

Che would have been appalled for he knew that communism could never be attained by wandering down those beaten capitalist paths and to follow along those paths would mean eventually to forget all ideals of solidarity and even internationalism. To follow those paths would never develop a new man and a new society. Che would have been appalled if he’d been told that a day would come when bonuses and more bonuses of all kinds would be paid, without these having anything to do with production. Were he to have a group of enterprises teeming two-bit capitalists — as we call them — playing at capitalism, beginning to think and act like capitalists, forgetting about the country, the people and high standards (because high standards just didn’t matter; all they cared about was the money being earned thanks to the low norms), he would have been appalled.

And were he to have seen that one day they would not just take manual work subject to [quantitative] productions norms — with a certain logic to it, like cutting cane doing many other manual and physical activities — but even intellectual work, even radio and television work, and the here even a surgeons’ work was likely to be subject to norms — putting just anybody under the knife in order to double or triple his income — I can truthfully say that Che would have been appalled, because none of those paths will ever lead use to communism. On the contrary, those paths lead to all the bad habits and the alienation of capitalism.

Those paths, I repeat — and Che knew it very well — would never lead us to building real socialism, as a first and transitional stage to communism. But I don’t think Che was that naïve, an idealist, or someone out of touch with reality. Che understood and took reality into consideration. But Che believed in man. And if we don’t believe in man, if we think that man is an incorrigible little animal, capable of advancing only if you feed him grass or tempt him with a carrot or whip him with a stick — anybody who believes this, anybody convinced of this will never be a revolutionary; anybody who believes this, anybody convinced of this will never be a socialist; anybody who believes this, anybody convinced of this will never be a communist. Our revolution is an example of what faith in man means because our revolution started from scratch, from nothing. We did not have a single weapon, we did not have a penny, even the men who started the struggle were unknown, and yet we confronted all that might, we confronted their hundreds of millions of pesos, we confronted the thousands of soldiers, and the revolution triumphed because we believed in man. Not only was victory made possible, but so was confronting the empire and getting this far only a short way off from celebrating the twenty-ninth anniversary of the triumph of the revolution. How could we have done all of this if we had not had faith in man?

Che had great faith in man. Che was a realist and did not reject material incentives. He deemed them necessary during the transitional stage, while building socialism. But Che attached more importance — more and more importance — to the conscious factor, to the moral factor. At the same time, it would be a caricature to believe that Che was unrealistic and unfamiliar with the reality of a society and a people who had just emerged from capitalism. But Che was mostly known as man of action, a soldier, a leader, a military man, a guerrilla, an exemplary person who always was the first in everything; a man who never asked others to do something that he himself would not do first; a model of a righteous, honest, pure, courageous man. These are the virtues he possessed and the ones we remember him by. Che was a man of very profound thought, and he had the exceptional opportunity during the first years of the revolution to delve deeply into very important aspects of the building of socialism because given his qualities, whenever a man was needed to do an important job, Che was always first there. He really was a many-sided man and whatever his assignment, he fulfilled it in a completely serious and responsible manner.

He was in INRA [National Institute of Agrarian Reform] ad managed a few industries under its jurisdiction at a time when the main industries had not yet been nationalized and only a few factories had been take over. He headed the National Bank, another of the responsibilities entrusted to him, and he also headed the Ministry of Industry when this agency was set up. Nearly all the factories had been nationalized by then and everything had to organized, production had to be maintained, and Che took on the job, as he had taken on many others. He did so with total devotion, working day and night, Saturdays and Sundays, and he really set out to solve far-reaching problems. It was then that he tackled the task of applying Marxist-Leninist principles to the organization of production, the way he understood it, the way he saw it.

He spent years doing that; he spoke a lot, wrote a lot on all those subjects, and he really managed to develop a rather elaborate and very profound theory on the manner in which, in his opinion, socialism would be built leading to a communist society.

Recently all these ideas were compiled, and an economist wrote a book that was awarded a Casa de las Américas prize. The author compiled, studied, and presented in a book the essence of Che’s economic ideas, retrieved from many of his speeches and writings — articles and speeches dealing with a subject so decisive in the building of socialism. The name of the book is The Economic Thoughts of Ernesto Che Guevara. So much has been done to recall his other qualities that this aspect, I think, has been largely ignored in our country. Che held truly profound, courageous, bold ideas, which were different from many paths already taken.

In essence — in essence! — Che was radically opposed to using and developing capitalist economic laws and categories in building socialism, he advocated something that I had often insisted on: Building socialism and communism is not just a matter producing and distributing wealth but is also a matter of education and consciousness. He was firmly opposed to using these categories, which have been transferred from capitalism to socialism, as instruments to build the new society. At a given moment some of Che’s ideas were incorrectly interpreted and, what’s more, incorrectly applied. Certainly no serious attempt was ever made to put them into practice, and there came a time when ideas diametrically opposed to Che’s economic thought began to take over.

This is not the occasion for going deeper and deeper into the subject. I’m essentially interested in expressing one idea: Today, on the twentieth anniversary of Che’s death; today, in the midst of the profound rectification process we are all involved in, we fully understand that rectification does not mean extremism, that rectification cannot mean idealism, that rectification cannot imply for any reason whatsoever a lack realism, that rectification cannot even imply abrupt changes.

Read Part Four.