China and Cuba’s New Economic Reforms

Che Guevara and Mao Zedong

The following article by Heiko Khoo is from

Cuban President Raul Castro and the Cuban Workers’ Federation have announced a plan to reduce the state workforce by up to a million workers in the near future, signaling the start of profound changes. Cuban society is undoubtedly in need of radical reform. At present the state employs around 80 percent of the workforce and planning is supposed to control the entire economic system.

The Cuban government recognizes that the old system of bureaucratic planning does not work; the state employs ice-cream sellers, taxi drivers and hairdressers, branches of economy where private operations and incentives are normal and natural. Hairdressing is one of the oldest private professions in the world, at least 6000 years old, and private taxis have existed since the first horse drawn carriages. There is no rational argument for public ownership of these sectors.

The consequences of excessive nationalization have been a number of severe economic distortions. Rations of food and essentials supplement meager real wages; the consequence is that to secure elementary commodities people are compelled to turn to the black market. The black marketeers and corrupt officials collaborate to enrich themselves, parasitically stealing from the public. In many branches “people pretend to work and the state pretends to pay them”. Lethargy sets in, which fosters support for reactionary forces, thus the young often look to the United States as the model of the good life.

On the other side, Cuba reveals the strengths of planned economies. In spite of the US embargo, Cuba has continued to surprise the world in its achievements in health, education and welfare. Compared to its meager per capita production, Cuba produces miracles in these sectors. With only $300 per capita spent on health care annually, Cuba has the highest ratio of doctors to population in the world, 64 per 10,000.

If China wanted to catch up with Cuba’s in this sphere, it would need about 8 million doctors and 11 million nurses, compared to 1.8 million doctors and 1.3 million nurses today (according to the World Health Organization.) The percentage of healthcare costs met by the state is over 95 percent in Cuba, as opposed to 55 percent in China. China’s total numbers of doctors and nurses is the highest in the world, and given the inputs, China’s achievements in healthcare since 1949 have been immense. But economic transformation has left general medical provision lagging behind. Many people are unable to afford the treatment or medicines they need, fostering anger and social discontent. With the Chinese government promoting basic healthcare for all, and trying to reduce social inequality, the speed of China’s social advance can be judged by how rapidly it reaches Cuban levels of healthcare provision.

Capitalist ideologues argue that health care is simply a black hole in the state budget; but the US government spends more than ten times as much on healthcare per capita as Cuba, yet with results that are only marginally better. In fact, where the private sector is permitted to plunder the state health service, colossal resources are wasted and public money is squandered for short-term benefits and private profit.

Fidel Castro sought to focus the technical and scientific resources of the Cuban nation on sustaining its healthcare model, and attaining breakthroughs in vaccines and medical sciences. The present scientific and technical revolution in medical care opens up extraordinary potential to those publicly funded healthcare systems that plan, develop and apply visionary ideas. In stem-cell research, biotechnology, genetic engineering and nanotechnology, revolutionary advances open up the possibility for the average healthy lifespan to reach 100yrs or more, in the foreseeable future.

Global research and development has been greatly promoted by the spread of communications technology and colossal advances in computing power. However, with multinational private companies dominating key domains of research and development, we face the danger that access to the results of the new sciences, will be rationed primarily by money. This can be prevented. With sufficient determination and support, Fidel Castro’s vision to transform Cuba into a world power in socialized medical science is realizable, and its healthcare model can bring immense benefits to the world.

China could easily meet all the consumer product needs of the Cuban people at low cost. This would alleviate many petty hardships for the Cuban people and undermine the inhumane and reactionary US blockade. When the USSR collapsed, the Cubans managed to survive without outside help; now both Venezuela and China are playing a big role in providing essential finance and support that permits Cuba to remodel its economy. The Cuban Communist Party wants to develop its economy while retaining public ownership of the commanding heights, and protecting the social benefits of the revolution. For China, with its booming economy, wealthy state enterprises, and colossal demand for quality socialized healthcare, there should be no limit to boldness in collaboration, investment and co-operation with Cuba.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

6 responses to “China and Cuba’s New Economic Reforms

  1. China once had a system like that during the Cultural Revolution. With the successful barefoot doctors being relieved from their duties, along with the health service system being privatized, just shows how much of a centrist Deng was. He claimed of wanting to uphold Mao’s policies, though had a shade of gray when it came to actual policies. Some good, some bad.

    I really do hope to see China bringing forth a single-payer healthcare system here soon. Though, Venezuela is in a need of such as well. What exactly is holding these two countries back?

  2. To BJ Murphy,

    “I really do hope to see China bringing forth a single-payer healthcare system here soon. Though, Venezuela is in a need of such as well. What exactly is holding these two countries back?”

    There is a difference between China and Venezuela, I think.
    China was developing a real workers dictatorship (until it is undone AFTER 1978) where alle still existing capitalist development (ideology and economically) was under control of that workers-state, as was al planning of production in function of needs.

    In Venezuela, the socialist revolution is still on going, by mobilising the workers and making them more conscious of their power and capabilities. There is still present a strong bourgeois participation in the politic and economic power. On different levels of power (for example the city-council of Caracas is in hands of oppositional people) the power is in hands of oppositional political parties and groups.
    You can say that the national democratic revolution is already far developed in Venezuela, time for the workers to proceed in the socialist revolution.

  3. This article is all about capital, technology, etc., not about class struggle. It repeats a lot of bourgeois cliches about the “inefficiency” of central planning. Cuba may have its problems but they should be approached from a proletarian revolutionary perspective, not this one.

    As for China, here is something from today’s (24 September 2010) New York Times, print only, page B2, headline “The Undervalued Chinese Currency”:

    China too has pressing priorities. Mr. Wen [Premier Wen Jibao] warns that a 20 to 40 percent appreciation of the renminbi, as American lobbyists want, could close Chinese companies, send rural workers back to their homes and threaten “major turnbulence in Chinese society.”

    I never hear a word about socialism or Marxism-Leninism coming out of China, only purely capitalist stuff like this. I don’t think anybody made this up. They don’t have to. A little “major turbulence in Chinese society” would be a good thing, I think. It would help us along to a LOT of major turbulence in US society, Marx knows we need it.

  4. “Hairdressing is one of the oldest private professions in the world, at least 6000 years old, and private taxis have existed since the first horse drawn carriages. There is no rational argument for public ownership of these sectors.”

    What the hell is that? Hunting and gathering is the oldest lifestyle in the world, and there is no rational argument for developing the technology that much!

    Argumentum ad historicum?

  5. VICE Premier Li Keqiang paid tribute to late doctor George Hatem, known in China by his Chinese name, Ma Haide, on the 100th anniversary of his birth Sunday.

    Li praised Hatem’s devotion to China’s revolution, construction and reform, most notably in the medical work he performed to prevent and treat leprosy in China. Hatem (1910-1988), worked for more than five decades to rid China of leprosy and venereal diseases.

    Hatem, of Lebanese ancestry and born in the United States, came to China in the 1930s and joined the Red Army, led by the Communist Party of China (CPC). He joined the CPC in 1937 and was the first foreigner to become a Chinese citizen after the founding of New China in 1949.

    His tomb is among those of famous artists, poets, musicians, soldiers and statesmen interred at Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery in Beijing’s Shijingshan District.

    Li met with Hatem’s widow, Su Fei, and other relatives.

    Li told the medical staff in China to take Hatem as an example in both medical ethics and skills. He also called on medical workers to make more efforts to promote health education and medical exchanges between China and other countries.

    Li also stressed the importance of medical care services at the grass-roots level as part of health care reform in China.

    Medical care services at the grass-roots level should be improved and there should be more competent medical workers available to ensure the public receives safe, effective and affordable medical treatment at their convenience, Li said.


  6. Well… what if Cuba chose China’s line over the Soviet Union from the start? Will it evade the Special Period?

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