Ché Guevara: cooperatives and the political economy of socialist transition Book section
In 2006, Che Guevara’s long-anticipated critical notes on the political economy of the USSR were published in Havana. Written outside Cuba between 1965 and 1966 and arguably his most important contribution to socialist theory, these notes were kept under lock and key for 40 years. It is easy to understand why Che’s analysis was considered too polemical or controversial for publication until recent years. Applying a Marxist analysis to the USSR Manual of Political Economy, Che concluded that the “hybrid” economic management system – socialism with capitalist elements – was creating the conditions for the return of capitalism.
Central to this conclusion was his evaluation of the role of agricultural cooperatives in the USSR, known as kolkhoz, which he regarded as introducing a capitalist superstructure into socialist society. This may surprise those who, because they were part of the scaffolding of Soviet society, regard cooperatives as integral to socialism itself. Since 1960, the kolkhoz farms were the only form of agricultural cooperatives in the USSR and Che’s notes on them are his only known comments on the cooperative form of production. It is important, however, not to impose newer concepts of what a cooperative is on Che’s concrete analysis of the kolkhoz.
Nonetheless, we can assert that Che viewed state ownership as necessary to secure the socialist transition process against contradictions which could emerge. In order for “state” ownership to be “social” ownership, increasingly decentralised and democratic control by workers over production was necessary. Between 1961 and 1965 he devised an apparatus within the Ministry of Industries (Ministerio de Industrias, MININD) to promote this process.