In the Constituent Congress of the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba (ANEC), in 1979, November 26 was established as Economist’s Day, in tribute to the appointment of Ernesto Che Guevara on that date in 1959 as First President of the Bank. National of Cuba and with the commitment to follow their example.
Many times when talking about El Guerrillero Heroico the significance of his action and example is limited to his liberation struggles in Cuba, the Congo and Bolivia, without remembering that one of Che’s essential contributions to the Cuban Revolution was his economic thinking. his work and conceptions on the construction of socialism, coinciding with the essential concepts of Commander in Chief Fidel Castro in that field.
On the eve of Economist’s Day, it is important to review some aspects of Che’s core ideas on the Political Economy of Socialism and especially when for some the solution to current problems is to completely free the market and reduce the role of the State in the economy. .
Che Guevara defended that socialist construction cannot rest on the spontaneous functioning of economic mechanisms, but requires control, supervision and a counterpart in the ideological and political order, capable of guiding and directing human action at all levels. including ethical and moral aspects.
The writer of these lines was an eyewitness of an informal meeting, in 1964, between Che and the economics students of the Universidad de Oriente, for which he asked them to wait until one in the morning because he was involved in other activities in Santiago de Cuba.
There he proposed the necessary rescue of the role of accounting, of control, and anticipated the serious risks that he saw for the then Soviet Union and the Socialist Camp for neglecting the ideological work and the mechanisms that must guarantee the efficiency of socialism for the benefit of the large majorities of the population.
Since the triumph of the Revolution in January 1959, Che assumed a set of responsibilities in the sphere of the economy, in the direction of the Industrialization Department of INRA, the Presidency of the National Bank of Cuba and finally as Minister of Industries. starting in 1961.
In all these positions he carried out intense work, and demonstrated by his example the importance of studying even in the midst of the most complex responsibilities, just as Fidel would also do throughout his entire existence.
Thus, he immersed himself in the study of Capital with Anastasio Mansilla, a Spanish-Soviet professor considered an authority on Marx’s work; He studied mathematics applied to economics with Salvador Vilaseca, a prominent Cuban university professor, and dedicated himself to researching what were then still almost unknown sciences in Cuba, such as linear programming and the incipient development of computing.
This entire process of gestation of Che’s ideas is formed alongside multiple controversies in the socialist field.
Che assumes in his theoretical analyzes the challenges of a country like Cuba that begins the transition to socialism from underdevelopment, something not foreseen by Marx and Engels in their works, together with the continuous aggressions of the United States against the Revolution since 1959 itself. Thus presenting a theoretical-practical contradiction between the aspiration to achieve the necessary leaps in material productive growth and the also necessary changes in social consciousness for the formation of a new society based on new values, substituting those generalized by capitalist society, capable of assuming socialism in its double economic and ethical dimension.
For Commander Che Guevara, socialism is not only a phenomenon of production, but a fact of consciousness, the formation of a new man constituted within his ideas an essential objective that would have to be assumed from the very moment we began socialist construction.
And he specified: «The new society has to compete very hard with the past. This is felt not only in the individual conscience in which the residue of an education systematically oriented towards the isolation of the individual weighs heavily, but also in the very nature of this period of transition with the persistence of commercial relations. The commodity is the fundamental economic cell of capitalist society; As long as its effects exist, they will be felt in the organization of production and therefore in consciousness.
Che warned that “socialism cannot be built using the damaged weapons that capitalism bequeathed us” and that their use could lead society to a dead end. His assertions from the 60s became bitter realities, when those models of socialism collapsed upon reaching the dead end he warned of.
He pointed out that “voluntary work is fundamentally the factor that develops the consciousness of workers more than any other” and described it as “antidote to the selfish and individualistic attitude that the capitalist system enhances in man, through the mechanism of his insatiable consumer society.
Che was the creator of the so-called Budgetary Financing System, to contribute to centralized planning, programming and strict control techniques, the introduction of computing for management, and the use of the budget as a planning instrument.
Fidel pointed out on the 20th anniversary of Che’s fall «(…) if we knew Che’s economic thinking, we would be a hundred times more alert, even, to lead the horse, and when the horse wants to turn to the right or left (… ) give the horse a good pull on the bit and place it on its path, and when the horse does not want to walk, give it a good spur. “I believe that a rider, that is, an economist, that is, a Party cadre, that is, an administrative cadre armed with Che’s ideas, would be more capable of leading the horse along the right path.”
And he added: “I have the deepest conviction that if this thought is ignored it will be difficult to get very far, it will be difficult to reach true socialism, truly revolutionary socialism.”