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Are There "Laws" of History? June 9, 2003 by RedStar2000

These are very recent posts. Although the nominal topic concerned Maoism, the subject quickly became more general...are there "laws of history" in the sense that Marx and Engels thought?


Maoism is a variant of Leninism designed for application in countries with large peasant majorities.

It begins by mobilizing poor and medium peasants against rich peasants and landlords, on a program of land reform. It proceeds then to attacking the urban elite...generally colonial bourgeoisie. Ultimately, as a result of victorious peasant revolutions in the underdeveloped world, the working class in the advanced capitalist countries will be impoverished, refuse to defend the empire, and make communist revolution.

What actually happens: the victorious peasant revolutionaries, after a generation or two of "communist" militance", proceed to establish capitalism.

Why? Not because Maoists are "evil" or "traitors". It is because the material conditions in those countries dictate that capitalism is the only stage they are capable of establishing.

If Marx and Engels were right, you cannot "will" communism into existence in a pre-capitalist/colonial country. Only advanced capitalist countries possess the wealth and level of technological/cultural development that make communism possible.

So wish the Maoists well in their endeavors and always defend them against U.S. imperialism...but don't have any illusions about what they will actually do if and when they come to power.
First Posted at Che-Lives on June 7, 2003


Can there be a socialist democracy built in the far east with the help of a revolution in, let's say, Germany?

Damn good question! I don't think so...but it would involve so many variables that it's hard to say.

Suppose there had been, as all the Bolsheviks (not just Trotsky) expected, a proletarian revolution in Germany in 1919-1921.

Recall that Germany was not exactly in great shape at that point; the English fleet was still blockading German ports and there was actual starvation in Germany.

Clearly, the new German "government" would attempt to work out a quick & sloppy food for technology barter arrangement. With a ready supply of material goods at hand, the Bolsheviks could have made their peace with the Russian peasantry and not had to rely on grain requisitions at gunpoint.

Things would have improved in both countries by a substantial amount...assuming, of course, that international capitalism did not occupy or attempt to occupy Germany itself, and they might very well have tried to do so.

Now, let's jump forward to, say, 2075...when the western portion of the European Union (or whatever it's called by then) has a communist revolution. By sheer coincidence, at that very point in time, Afghan Maoist armies inflict a final humiliating defeat on the occupation forces there and enter Kabul in triumph, proclaiming a "Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat & the Peasantry" (a common Maoist formula, if I'm not mistaken).

To the extent that the new regime in Kabul is dictatorial, it can be least verbally. To the extent that it is democratic, it will be dominated by the peasantry...and the class interest of the peasantry dictates the rise of capitalism.

Is there anything that the new EU "government" could do that would change the outcome of events in Afghanistan?

If so, I can't see what it would be. An infusion of capital and technological assistance would certainly speed the transition to capitalism in Afghanistan and make it less burdensome on the Afghanis...but, as I recall someone saying, when you teach a peasant how to be an aircraft mechanic, what you have is an aircraft mechanic who dreams of buying as much land as he can as soon as he can...he has no committment to modern civilization; it's just an expedient to get the money to buy land. It takes at least decades, perhaps a century, to change the outlook of a whole people from one level of civilization to another.

So I think Trotsky and all the other old Bolsheviks were wrong about this; there really wasn't much of anything that communist regimes in all of western Europe could have done to help the Russians advance to communism in less than a century.

The one exception to this might be a case where the advanced communist country is very large and the new peasant regime happens to be in a very small country. One could then, possibly, simply overwhelm the culture of the small peasant country...literally flood it with communists plus advanced technology and education on a massive scale. The recipients of such "assistance" would be so bewildered by the massive changes going on in their midst that perhaps a single generation would be sufficient to firmly implant communist consciousness.

First Posted at Che-Lives on June 7, 2003

It's not really a matter of what people "want" to build.

The Maoists are perfectly "sincere" communists who really do "want" to build communism.

But "sincerity" and "desire" are irrelevant compared to material forces.

As a simple illustration, consider the great genius Leonardo da Vinci. He investigated the possibilities of human flight five hundred years ago...and would certainly have attempted to build a flying machine if he could have done so. But he lacked the tools to make the tools to make the tools to build a working aircraft...though he might have built a glider if he had persisted.

The present-day Chinese Communist Party actually claims, if I'm not mistaken, that they are "managing" the necessary capitalist phase and will someday resume the path of socialism/communism. Some people even believe that.

I'm not one of them.

The Russian Mensheviks were a rather sordid bunch, from what I've read of them. They attacked the Bolsheviks for attempting to build socialism in an underdeveloped country; when the Bolsheviks had to introduce the "New Economic Policy" (an admission that the Mensheviks were right), the Mensheviks turned around and attacked the Bolsheviks from the "left", accusing them of "betraying socialism". Like I say, a pretty sleazy bunch of folks...interested in any "weapon" that would serve to "discredit" the Bolsheviks. Nevertheless, they seem to have been right in their original criticism of the Bolshevik perspective. In the Russia of 1917, socialism had zero chance, no matter who did what.

Yes, both China and Taiwan will someday have (always assuming Marx was right) communist revolutions, real ones.

And, in the long sweep of history, there was really no difference between the accomplishments of Mao and of the Nationalist refugees on Taiwan...they both, in different ways, prepared the foundations of modern capitalism for their respective countries.

They had no choice.
First posted at Che-Lives on June 7, 2003


Your view of the peasants is stuck in this chauvanistic western view of the world.

I said in my earlier post on this subject that we should always defend the Maoists--successful peasant revolutions--against U.S. imperialism. Where is the "chauvinism" there?

A real chauvinist would say that colonialism is "good" shatters the old economic order in the colonized country and brings them all the faster into capitalism. Indeed, I think it could be shown that Marx and Engels themselves were at least moderately sympathetic to British imperialism in India (see their accounts of the "Indian War" of 1857)...because the British were building railroads in India. They saw this as the first step in changing the "means of production" in India...and thus the first step on the long path through capitalism to communism for that poor and backward land.

I think it's "healthier", for want of a better word, for countries to find "their own paths" through capitalism to communism. That the Maoists have volunteered to serve this purpose is fine with me; better them than some multi-national corporate vampire that will simply loot and plunder until the colonized country is drained dry. Marx and Engels to the contrary notwithstanding, I think it could be demonstrated that the British East India Company was worse for the long-run development of India than if that country had been allowed to find its own capitalist road.


In the USSR the peasants along with the workers built Socialism, people said it couldn't be done but it was.

Yes, but what kind of "socialism" did they build? Marx addressed this question in passing once or twice; he called it "barracks socialism" and "Prussian socialism" "equality of misery". He said that this is what you would get if you tried to build communism in a backward country. He didn't say that the consequence would be the rise of capitalism; blame that one on me. But I think that's a "Marxist" conclusion and it is certainly verified by history thus far.


If anything you're becoming far too dogmatic (for want of a better word) here, saying that 'Socialism' was impossible in Russia and it's inevitable a peasant based revolution will lead back to Capitalism. You're doing what you criticise us dear 'Leninists' of, holding someone (Marx) in divine light and that he was and is always right. Not taking in any circumstances and having this set out path which is right and anything else has or 'had zero chance'.

Actually, a peasant revolution doesn't so much lead "back" to capitalism (with a colonial bourgeoisie) but forward to modern capitalism. In the Russia of 1913, British and French oil & mining companies owned Russian resources; now, Russian oil companies want a chunk of Iraq (and, likely, other places).

See the difference? The same will soon be true, if it has not already begun to happen, in China...and, for that matter, India. All new "players" in the "great game" of capitalism...doing their part to bring about a new era of wars and revolutions.

I'm afraid the fact of the matter is that Lenin, for all his grasp of "the dialectic", was fundamentally an idealist with regard to Czarist Russia. I know that he and all the other Bolsheviks said that there was "zero chance" for socialism in Russia without a socialist revolution in western Europe...but I don't think they really believed it.

Perhaps it came from growing up in a country like Russia in the Czarist era...a land of royal decree and the knout, a land whose principal national hero was and remains Peter "the Great"--who tried, without success, to impose 18th century enlightenment at swordpoint on a 10th century country.

But Stalin was more competent; he and the old Bolsheviks actually did raise Russia out of the feudal darkness, at the cost of enormous human sacrifice. He and all the old Bolsheviks, including Lenin, sincerely thought they were on the road to communism and they were...they just overlooked the fact that that road always passes through capitalism on the way.

Is that "dogmatic"? Perhaps it is. But, thus far, it is what history has repeatedly taught us.
First posted at Che-Lives on June 7, 2003


But what are you saying, that Marx and Engels were 'Chavaunist'?

Not really. But they did share the euro-centric outlook common in that era. At least they wrote as if they did.

It was thought at that time that primitive societies were stagnant, for the most part, unless they suffered some external colonization. What is actually the case is that what starts a "primitive society" on the road to development is a matter of contingency...but something always does. It's just necessary to recognize that a few thousand years here or there has no meaning in the larger picture. It was an accident that Europe was the first; it could well have been China instead.


...but it is possible for the people of the third world to build Socialism in what is the era of Imperialism and has been for the last 90 years.

That is what Maoists assert directly and what Lenin and Stalin suggested indirectly. But assertions are not of much value here...the "edifice" of "socialism" collapsed so quickly in Russia and China because there was no underlying support in the class structure of those places. It could be maintained only at gunpoint...and eventually the gun got too heavy.


But if countries are able 'to find their own path' then what makes you so sure about this 'inevitability'?

It's based on the fact that you can set out to accomplish anything you want, but the laws of nature will stop you from doing certain things, no matter how badly you want to do them.

Likewise, if Marx was right about consciousness being dependent on the stage of economic development of a given society (in turn resting on its level of technological development), then no matter how desperately you want to transform a predominately peasant economy into a socialist or communist economy, it can't be done. Even with foreign assistance from a developed socialist economy, the outcome is the rise of capitalism.

This is what has happened everywhere so far. How is it that people still think that "willpower" can be substituted for actual economic development...and still call themselves "Marxists"?


I don't think it's a case of saying the people of the third world face a choice in that they can either 'progress to Capitalism' on the back of either a 'Maoist-Peasant Revolution' or the big Corporate Empire.

I think that's exactly the case.


For all your hatred of 'History' and 'Personalities' you appear to be using both a lot to back up your point.

Good grief, I don't "hate history". Where did you get that idea? I do think that it is unhealthy (this time it's exactly the word I want) to develop an emotional and psychological identification with some historical figure such that you can "only" see things through his eyes...and feel compelled to defend him even on those occasions when he was clearly wrong.

Nor do I see anything wrong with using historical personalities as illustrative of class outlooks. Khrushchev was raised a peasant; it was "natural" for him to bring that outlook to the Kremlin and take the first steps towards the formal restoration of capitalism.

And as we both have noted in prior discussions, those who worship at the shrine of Trotsky don't realize that he would have done, for the most part, the same things that Stalin is condemned fact, most of Stalin's policies were first advocated by Trotsky.

Material reality is far more important than personalities in explaining what actually happens.


But what you appear to be saying is that the revolutions in the Phillippines, Nepal, India are all for nothing because it's 'inevitable' that all it would do is end up with 'Capitalism'.

I am saying exactly that. It will (possibly) be a more humane form of transition if the Maoists win...and will certainly take place somewhat more quickly. But, to repeat (over and over again, I know), class reality determines the outcome. That's Marxism.


...but today it's a different ball game.

Easy to say; hard to prove. The evidence seems to suggest that the rest of this century (at least) will resemble 1870-1945 much more than 1945-1992. But there's nothing inevitable about the details, so we'll see.


Is the Iraqi workers resistance to Imperialist invasion not only futile but not neccessary or infact maybe they should just welcome the U$ and their Corporate allies because they are more 'progressive'?

It depends on what you mean by "futile?" I haven't seen much in the entire Arab "nation" (of which Iraq is only a part) to convince me that most of those people have yet escaped a "feudal" mind-set, even though most of the feudal institutions are decaying or have disappeared.

Capitalism is "on history's agenda" for those folks...and the only question is what kind of capitalism. A colonial capitalism subservient to western multi-national corporations or a "home-grown" variety more "in tune" with local conditions and traditions?

The Iraqi and other Arab resistance to imperialism will, if successful, result in the "home-grown" variety; on the other hand, it looks to me like the U.S. has long-term plans for de-facto annexation of the oil-rich portions of the Middle East...a program which we obviously oppose in any way we can.

But any talk of socialism or communism there is just talk at this point and for a long time to come. Even if you could "establish socialism" there, it would be "barracks socialism"...and wouldn't last.

Does that strike you as extraordinarily "gloomy" or "pessimistic"? I apologize if it does; I don't mean to "rain on people's parade" or "dampen their enthusiasm" for communism.

But I don't believe in illusions, not even "communist" illusions, not even in "a good cause." It is better, I think, to know the truth no matter how "grim" it may be and be prepared to deal with that...than to suffer from illusory hopes and have them smashed on the rocks of reality. Look at all the ex-communists of the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s...what pathetic reactionaries they became, not because they were "evil", but simply because their hopeful illusions about what was really possible at that point in history were utterly destroyed.

Insofar as one person can do anything, I would like to help the new generation of communists see things with clear eyes.


...but Marx would of felt far more at home in a Cambodian factory or Phillippine ghetto than the conditions of their 'western European' counterparts), same conditions that the workers of 19th Century Europe were in. So was the Paris Commune 'inevitable' in it's 'failure'? I don't think so.

Well, actually the Paris Commune didn't "fail", it was crushed by the French bourgeoisie in alliance with the German invaders.

But let's play "what if?" (the historian's secret vice). Suppose that the Paris Commune had marched on Versailles (as Engels suggested) and seized the treasuries of the Parisian banks (as Marx suggested) resulting in victory throughout France. What happens next?

The working class is a majority in Paris and a few other French cities; the peasantry is still the majority of the country. Sooner or later, this majority makes its presence felt...though the forms of that might differ dramatically from one country to another. The peasants want a free market in land and agricultural products; the urban proletariat has little interest in the former and is opposed to the latter.

Kind of sounds familiar, doesn't it? It it's a universal social process.


But Russia and countless other examples have shown that 'History thus far' supports the view that Socialism can be built by the peasants in alliance with the workers.

But it is only "barracks socialism" and it only lasts for a little while.


It is a fact and it's been shown that in this era of Imperialism, Capitalism collapses and will collapse at it's 'weakest link'.

Yes, a "Marxist rationale" (a patch) was needed and duly invented to "explain" how backward Russia could make a proletarian revolution when Marx said things would happen differently.

Like most if not all of the "patches" on Marxism, it begins by ignoring class realities and ends in fantasy. There is simply no such thing as "capitalism's weakest link"...the idea is nonsense, a bit of verbal slight-of hand.

There were real material causes for the great uprising of February 1917 in Russia...a bourgeois revolution was the only alternative to total collapse into (temporary) barbarism. And it was the urban proletariat that made that the Russian bourgeoisie were far too weak, divided, and demoralized.

Once made, however, the huge peasant majority in Russia set to work at once...seizing the landed estates, killing every aristocrat they could catch, and having a great time altogether, dismantling the last remnants of feudalism.

But note that the urban Russian proletariat was, in fact, first generation workers...most of them recent immigrants to the cities. Their minds were the minds of peasants much more than that of a modern class conscious worker.

It takes time for a whole population to change its fundamental outlook on the world.

So yes, capitalism was "weak" in Russia...but in the minds of the peasant majority, it was what they really wanted. In the long run, they got it...though I suspect they're not all that happy with the outcome.


...but is it your view now that the Indian proletariat is capable of building Communism without the 'inevitability' of any 'revolution' turning into 'Capitalism', have the workers in India entered this stage where they are like their 'western Euopean' counterparts?

I doubt it...there is still that huge peasant majority in the countryside. I suppose if one or two of the most developed parts of India could "split off" from the rest, some very interesting things might be possible. But the Indian bourgeoisie would resist that ferociously, so it probably can't happen.

In Asia, I think Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand are the most likely places for the first true communist revolutions there...though the coastal Chinese provinces are getting there.

But. there I go, speculating again...


Again you're with the whole 'always' and 'inevitable' thing. There was nothing 'inevitable' about the restoration of Capitalism in either USSR or the PRC. That both nations/people and most of all the 'leaders' made mistakes and miscalculations which led to the 'failure' of Socialism/Communism in both nations merely shows nothing is 'inevitable' in this world.

Yes, Marxists (like me) inevitably catch a load of flak for use of the word and concept of inevitability.

All of the bourgeois historians (including the so-called "Marxist" ones) emphasize contingency or chance in the outcome of historical processes.

So that's a real dispute. Are there "laws" of history (even probabilistic ones) or does everything "just happen" in a more or less random fashion?

I would argue that the details are determined by chance but the "big trends" are determined by probabilistic "laws". Feudalism is followed by capitalism is followed by communism is a "big trend" that I think is "inevitable"...barring unusual circumstances. (If a giant meteor crashes into the Earth, the new agenda for the survivors will be the transition from savagry to barbarism.)

What some people call "mistakes" and other people call "crimes" or "betrayals" are things I regard as "details". Had one set of "mistakes" and "crimes" not taken place, others would have replaced them to the same effect and with the same outcome.

Had there been no Marx, there would still have been a "Marx". Had there been no Lenin or Stalin or Mao or Trotsky, there would have been others that would have played a similar role. All kinds of details could have been different as a matter of chance...but Russia would still have made the transition from feudalism to capitalism in one way or another.

That is what I mean by "inevitability" in history and I think it makes more sense than anything else I've come across.

Of course, it's not as much "fun". You don't get to play "StalinAngel vs. TrotskyDevil" (or vice versa) when you adopt a Marxist perspective. The reason such games are so popular--even in the left--is because most people who want to be leftists are still thinking "like" bourgeoisie...still caught in the idealist trap of thinking that simple willpower combined with good intentions is sufficient to do anything one wishes.

No, that's not how things really work.
First posted at Che-Lives on June 8, 2003
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