Friday, August 3, 2018

"Private property" in the constitution

Before and since the proposed new Cuban constitution (pdf) was released, there has been lots of talk about how it “could permit owning private property,” as a Washington Post editorial put it.

Sure enough, it deals with private property – but not exactly in that new-dawn-of-private-property way, which wouldn’t make sense because it is already permissible for Cubans to own private property, as we use the term. The vast majority of Cuban homes are owned outright with property titles and since 2011, residential properties are bought and sold on the open market. Many but not all individual farmers own their land and homes outright. Cars are owned and traded. Personal effects, of course, are privately owned.

What the new constitution does is to enumerate different kinds of property – and among these, to draw a distinction between personal property and private property. (See paragraphs 93 and 94 in the text linked above.)

The distinction is immaterial to a capitalist but significant to Marxists, and it goes like this: “personal property” refers to personal effects that have no economic purpose, while “private property” is defined as private ownership of means of production.

Hence a socialist constitution that stresses the state’s predominant economic role will also enshrine this concept of property, and with it the private sector’s role in the economy.

A narrow way to view this is that the constitution is catching up with reality, because private entities, both individuals and cooperatives in farming and other sectors, already own their means of production.

Another way to view it is as a more solid legal foundation for future legislation governing the private sector, such as the pending laws on enterprises and cooperatives.

If, that is, the Cuban government decides to take advantage of it when it comes time to write those laws.

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