Class in Post-Revolutionary Society - Part 1 July 9, 2004 by RedStar2000
Socialism is a class society; communism is a classless society.
This seemingly "simple" truth has to be said over and over again.
Why? Because it's all to easy to "blur" them together...and the consequence is an endless muddle.
The last refuge of those who wish to acquire or retain a position of privilege is confusion.
This must not be allowed to happen.
One of the problems that arises when we try to talk about communist society is that, if we are not very careful, the present-day ideas of capitalist society "sneak in" to our discussion without us really being conscious of that happening.
It's a mistake I've made myself...more than once.
It's not a matter of trust, if someone isn't pulling their weight they don't receive the benefits of society.
This is a good example. In class society, we're so used to thinking in terms of "work = food", that the notion is carried forward into classless society.
It's wrong on several levels.
1. People don't like to sit on their asses doing nothing...it gets boring.
2. But the alternative, in class society, is working according to someone else's instructions in order to enrich that someone else.
3. In classless society, people will gravitate towards the work that they themselves find rewarding; it is "human nature" to engage in purposeful activity. Only those with severe psychological problems can "sit on their asses" indefinitely.
4. The basics of a dignified human life will be available to all for the asking...without regard to their work. Work that others regard as "important to the welfare of society" will be rewarded with prestige. Demonstrated competence in such work will be rewarded with status.
5. Those unfortunates who take "more than they need or can use" from the social product will likely be regarded as "obsessive-compulsives" -- they act from some deep-rooted insecurity that made sense (of a kind) in class society but is no longer "appropriate behavior" in communist society. A pattern of such behavior would likely result in some restrictions being imposed on what they can take...and the strong suggestion that they should seek professional help.
Some of these same points can be made about the other questions raised here.
There is unlikely to be much need for a professional police force in communist society; though it's possible that very specialized "police work" might exist...homicide, sex crimes, forensics, etc. These functions would be exercised by people who both wanted to do this kind of work and were "good at it".
Neither the state (which wouldn't exist) nor individuals would "own" houses...ownership is a concept belonging to class society. You would be the user (occupant) of a housing unit until you decided that you no longer needed it...and then someone else would be the new "user". It wouldn't "belong" to anyone.
Whenever we speak of communist society, it's really important to try as best we can not to let the old ideas of class society "sneak in" while we're looking the other way.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 1, 2004
Yes, they are serious questions; they're generally subsumed in what's called the "transition period" between capitalism and communism.
The features of this period are highly controversial on the left.
The Leninist paradigm asserts that a "workers' state" must be set up to "manage the transition".
This will, in essence, be capitalism without capitalists; that is, all the characteristics of the present society will be retained but there will be no class of people who benefit from the private ownership of the means of production.
So people will still have jobs, receive paychecks, go shopping, etc. There will still be "high status" jobs that "pay well" and "shitwork" that pays shit. There will still be cops and an army and jails and prisons.
There will still be bosses and workers.
The libertarian communist/anarchist alternative posits that communism begins on "day one" of the "transition period".
That means that no attempt is made to establish a "new state" after the old capitalist state is smashed and its personnel dispersed.
Power is devolved to workplace, municipal, and regional federations established to perform specific functions...getting the power back on, arranging the transport and distribution of food, etc.
Even on the local level, there's no need for a "general, all-purpose public authority".
Which is another way of saying that there is no "lever of power" to "govern" matters overall.
Communism will likely begin with the free distribution of basic necessities for use. Then it will spread to more and more things until the market is squeezed out of existence and money is meaningless...there's nothing to buy with it.
Workplace collectives will be extensively re-organized to produce for the needs of the new society...I imagine that spare parts will be a big priority.
We probably won't be producing many "big ticket" items in the first decade or two...it will take some time to figure out how to organize production when people are free to "do as they please".
Initially, communism will be a "simpler" economy than capitalism.
Like the capitalists, the Leninists assert that without a "source of command", nothing will "get done".
Real communists and anarchists assert the contrary; ordinary working people are perfectly capable of organizing any task that they set their minds to and successfully completing it.
Ultimately, the dispute over the "transition period" is a dispute over "human nature" and what it is possible for our species to accomplish.
If the capitalists and the Leninists are right, then the communist/anarchist attempt to establish communism will collapse in chaos, hunger, and the demand for an authoritarian leader/party to establish order...followed by despotism and the re-establishment of capitalism.
If the real communists and anarchists are right, then we will be forever free from wage-slavery and class society.
What's your choice?
First posted at Che-Lives on May 7, 2004
My question is, when a Communist/Anarchic society is set up, how are the big quick changes going to be prevented? How can we ever be certain beforehand that there is not any more steps in the evolution of societies worldwide? What happens if there is an ideology that has not yet come into existence? How can we plan for what we are not aware of at this current time?
"Big, quick changes" in the Marxist paradigm have material causes...ultimately resulting from "big changes" in the means of production (technological innovation).
Consequently, the only way to "prevent" such "big changes" would be to stop people from innovating new technology.
Since that's most unlikely to happen, the answer to your question is that "big, quick changes" cannot be prevented.
The Marxist paradigm "ends" with communist society...beyond this, the waters are "uncharted". Marx in one of his famous quips said that communism would mark "the end of pre-history and the beginning of truly human history"...but that's not very helpful.
A "new ideology" would have to have some kind of material basis in order to be of interest to more than a handful of people.
I have no idea what that material basis might be (presumably a new and unanticipated technology).
You are quite right in expressing the difficulty in planning for the entirely unknown. The only thing I can suggest is to attempt to develop plausible future scenarios and plan for them.
There's really nothing we can do about historical "wild cards" (a charismatic new religion, for example) until someone actually throws one down on the table.
But as far as "returning" to some form of class society...well, consider our own times. People who would advocate the re-establishment of feudalism or slavery would find few listeners. Most people would find such ideas too absurd for words. Once in a while someone actually tries to do it (in a commercial setting)...and they go to prison for it.
I think there are really two "versions" of communism that have a different appeal to different people.
One is that communism will be a "stable" and "happy" society where people will, at last, find "peace" and "contentment".
The other, and I think more realistic, is that communism will be even more "restless" and "full of strife" than capitalism...but over matters that will be different than those that presently exist.
There may no longer be wage-labor, nation-states, racism, sexism, etc. People won't fight one another about those things any more than people today would fight over the "rightful king" or who should be the next Duke of Cesspoole.
What would they fight over? Perhaps it will be like the account I read of one of Igor Stravinsky's works performed in Paris...his "new music" provoked fist-fights in the audience between avant-gardists and traditionalists.
In terms of history I see no reason why our future cannot be as colourful (and bloody) as our past...
I don't know about the "bloody" part but you are almost certainly right about the "colorful" part.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 17, 2004
I couldn't help but feel this was directed towards me in some way.
No...more towards the generalized feeling among many that communism is a "warm & fuzzy", almost womb-like, environment.
Possibly this may turn out to be the case, but I would be greatly surprised if it did.
Humans are a cantankerous and contentious species, as far as I've seen, and it's difficult to believe that they will just "settle down and be nice"...ever.
For racism and sexism to not exist then we must all freely reject it and I can't see that happening unless some of us employ bad faith in order to feel Universal love.
Universal love, whatever that might be, is not required. Universal respect -- or the public appearance of that -- will do the job nicely.
One need only compare Yugoslavia under Tito and the same place under his successors to see what can be achieved with a little effort...and what happens when that effort ceases.
People may have as many "bad thoughts" as they wish -- or act in "bad faith" as you put it -- but any "bad deeds" or advocacy thereof will run into some intolerance with teeth.
In England we're forever having 'good, old Victorian family values' rammed down our throats and this has entrapped many a person in the nostalgic conservative trap. Many people evoke great historical figures or times in order to influence the masses...they're just giving them the side of the story they wish to hear.
Well, you are speaking of a particular ruling class tactic in a specific historical situation (the present).
It may evoke nostalgia, but I doubt very much if the average person in your country takes it very seriously.
In communist society, there may be passing nostalgic fads for this or that earlier era...people may play at being businessmen and workers, the way some people now play at being lords and ladies (what is a "renaissance faire" but an exercise in nostalgia?).
But the actual historical record of the last pre-communist societies will be rich and easily accessable...a suitable selection of 20th century movies would give a vivid picture of "what it was really like" -- a devastating blow to anyone who actually took nostalgia seriously.
Indeed, virtual reality might well be advanced to the point where you could directly experience, for example, the less savory aspects of class society...a few hours in a trench during one of the mutual slaughters (called, for some reason, "battles") of World War I would be a pretty good antidote to "war nostalgia". Feel the cold, the hunger, the weariness, the fear; hear the artillery fire, the clatter of machine-guns, the screams of the dying; smell the piss and the shit and the blood; etc., etc.
A "renaissance faire" wouldn't be much fun if people suddenly started dying of the plague right in the middle of the festivities. (It was a rather ugly and quite spectacular death according to contemporary accounts.)
Usually, nostalgia is a harmless diversion...but should it become a problem, there will be people quite skilled in presenting a more realistic account of things.
I think they will be heard...and will prevail.
First posted at Che-Lives on May 18, 2004
Our economy is highly socialised, internationalized and complex...
But the larger economy can only be understood in a complex representative process -- involving planning, but also struggle, and involving key issues of line (in one part of the economy) that are relevant to other parts of the economy.
This is a "nagging problem" whenever the question arises of "how socialism will actually work" or "how communism will actually work".
As framed, the problem seems to "demand" a "solution" of staggering proportions. All of the decision-making power that is presently dispersed among members of the capitalist class must be concentrated in one "place" -- an enormous economic planning and administrative bureaucracy.
It will hardly be "representative" in any but the most nominal sense; it will perforce be run by "professional managers" who will be appointed to their positions. Ordinary workers "need not apply".
There may or may not be some process of formal "ratification" by actual representatives or even by referendum...but it would be nominal. The details of a plan for a single year would take a human life-time to actually read and comprehend.
This vision of post-capitalist society is not very attractive except on the grounds of its practicality. It would "work" -- presuming minimal competence on the part of the planners.
(Contrary to popular opinion, central economic planning did work in the USSR. If it did not produce an abundance of consumer goodies, that was simply because such an abundance was not part of the plan.)
For the ordinary worker, things would not change much. S/he would still get up every morning, go to work, take orders from egotistical morons, get a paycheck every Friday, and seek escape in whatever visual, audio, sexual, or chemical distractions that happened to be available.
This was how ordinary people actually lived in the old USSR. It's pretty much how people live in Cuba today.
The wide-spread assumption among communists is that "this" is "the best we can do". Ordinary workers are "too backward" to master the complexities of a modern economy...at least for many decades or even centuries to come. Without competent supervision and expert advice, they will screw things up so badly that "everyone" will welcome counter-revolution.
Is that true?
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on May 28, 2004
I don't agree at all. The solution needs to combine central planning with local initiative. A central plan is not "the center makes all decisions" -- but that the overall direction of society (the proportions of investments, the general level of relations in production, the plan for what is produced and what isn't) -- in its largest dimensions -- correspond with the interests of the people and the ongoing revolution.
Picky. The center makes all the decisions that count! Local initiative can only take place within the context of the center's decisions.
For the center to make rational decisions, it must gather and process enormous amounts of information. It must also periodically verify that information; send out people to actually "do inventories".
Modern information tools will make that task much less onerous than it was in the days of the USSR. And there's no reason in principle that planning algorithms can't be developed over time.
But the real dilemma is in that phrase "the interests of the people and the ongoing revolution".
Who decides that?
The planners could, of course, do that. But the practice in the USSR and China was to treat that decision as a political one, to be decided at the very highest levels of the party.
To be sure, there were "consultations" and "recommendations" and "summary evaluations" and all that stuff...but the final decision was made at the very top, and people were expected to implement that decision in a disciplined way.
In the USSR, missing your quota could have a serious impact on your life-expectancy! From what I've read, in China everyone at the bottom just lied...and the lies got bigger and bigger as they passed upwards through the bureaucracy until they were extravagant fantasies when they reached the top.
Super-computers can't solve that problem; at some point a human has to enter data...and if it's in their material interests to falsify that data, they'll do it. I would and you would too!
[Mao's] approach was to diminish the existence of classes (and the gap between mental manual) by finding new ways to involve "ordinary workers" at all levels (three in one committees, local initiative on key parts of the decision process, local plans coordinated with state plans.)
Not bad ideas...but still well within the top-down paradigm. Modern corporations do much the same sort of thing these days...attempting to transfer limited initiative to lower levels of the organization while preserving key decision-making power at the top.
What undermines such schemes is the fact that, sooner or later, the people at the bottom discover the limits of the "power" that they've been "granted" by the top. Enthusiasm is supplanted by indifference, cynicism, and even corruption.
Also redstar's visions of "this must mean hacks run everything" ignores (and leaves out) the role of the revolutionary party -- which not only concentrates the most dedicated leading forces of the masses and the revolution, but in a wavelike way must expel (or remold) forces that are conservatizing, and must bring forward fresh new revolutionary forces to play a leading role.
All well and good...but that didn't happen in either the USSR or China.
And I'm not sure how much it would have helped matters even if it had happened. I'm sure there actually were a lot of dedicated people in the USSR and China that genuinely tried to "make the system work"...I didn't say they were "all hacks".
My point is that a managerial bureaucracy (both in economic management and in the party itself) is exceptionally "fertile ground" for "growing hacks".
I've mentioned this before but it's worth reminding you again. During the GPCR, Mao's line was that "only 5% of the party cadre are capitalist-roaders" while a small number of "ultra-leftists" put up a "big-character poster" damning "95% of the party cadre as capitalist-roaders".
Who was right?
It is not very attractive? I am amazed. If we uproot environmentally poisonous practices, or end urban sprawl, if our planning promotes mass transport instead of more highways, if we end the use of poisonous wastes, or prevent dumping of bullshit (all using the command mechanisms of the revolutionary planning system) -- how is that not VERY ATTRACTIVE?
This socialist economy is one of the goals of the revolution, and one of the precious fruits of the revolution. It is a road to better conditions.
What you are describing here is class society "with a human face".
What you are not describing is the abolition of wage-slavery.
Thus my point stands: people would still live pretty much like they do now.
I don't agree with this at all. It is completely untrue.
Your second sentence does not follow from your first.
But more importantly, I don't think you have any rational grounds for asserting that things will be fundamentally different in your version of a socialist economy.
If the experiences of the USSR and China are legitimate evidence in this discussion, then how can you deny that wage-labor will still exist? That money will still exist? That some will be financially rewarded more than others? That some will have enormous amounts of political power and influence while others will be powerless? That criticism of the party leadership (especially from the left) will be severely punished? That corruption will start "small" and swell to gigantic proportions?
Isn't all this what class societies do as they age?
I know, you think that a dedicated elite of conscious revolutionaries with state power can stop this from happening.
Lenin and Mao thought the same thing.
They were wrong. So are you.
Notice the experience of a quarter of humanity, and the innovations of Maoist China are simply ignored with the click of a keyboard.
Very well, here's the experience of "a quarter of humanity".
1. They killed their landlords and dispossessed the wealthiest of their numbers.
2. They went back to growing rice and wheat and raising pigs and poultry.
3. Once they tried to make steel...but they didn't know what they were doing and the "steel" was useless scrap.
4. After Mao died, they started moving to the cities in large numbers.
Did I leave anything out?
First posted at AmotherWorldIsPossible on May 30, 2004
But I just want to point out (again) here the profound mix of ignorance and arrogance that fuels these anticommunist arguments.
I think I'll take this opportunity to point out for the first time that calling me names -- ignorant, arrogant, anti-communist -- does not constitute a substantive reply to my arguments.
The answer is that your glib little jibe here is gibberish.
Mao said two things: a) that only a small handful of party cadre were die hard capitalist roaders. and (b) that most party officials and most factory heads (he said 95%) were following the capitalist road.
But most people in power were following a revisionist line, while not actually being wedded to that line in a die-hard way.
Indeed? How do you suppose Mao knew that? "Dialectics"?
To an ordinary mortal like myself, it seems to me that when 95% of your party officials are following a capitalist road, they are revisionists...and so is your party!
If one knew the personal details of a given individual's politics, then one might be able to say with some degree of certainty how "strong" their adherence to this or that position might be.
I know "Jane" and even though she follows a revisionist line, she has doubts and questions about its wisdom...I think she could be won over to a real communist position. "Joe", on the other hand, really is a conscious and articulate revisionist...completely hopeless. If he doesn't have a portrait of Khrushchev on his wall, he should have!
Did Mao personally know all the cadre in the Chinese party?
You know he didn't. He made an optimistic guess (so much for "dialectics") and his guess was wrong.
There were some forces (not ultra-leftists, but "left in form, right in essence") who called for "overthrow all."
They wanted to target all officials and destroy the vanguard party. This would have quickly led to the end of the Chinese revolution and they were opposed.
Great! So instead the guys who were "right in form and right in essence" (the party itself!) won out and the Chinese revolution did end.
Stop reading "U.S. News and World Report" for your capsule poison bits on socialism.
Funny coincidence. A very long time ago, when I was 11 or so and just becoming interested in politics, I actually did have a subscription to U.S. News & World Report. But I did not renew and have not read it since.
Perhaps you could start with Hinton's book "Fanshen" which is an unparalleled examination of the way a revolution actually unfolded in a Chinese village, and how the people liberated themselves with communist leadership.
I've read it, though also a long time ago.
Those events were also a long time ago. I'm sure there is much "speaking bitterness" in China now...but no one is listening except the police.
In other words, like your every discussion of socialism, this "example" you raise is confused and twisted.
Why don't you cease blaming your facial features on the mirror?
20th century "communism" produced poor results in many crucial respects. Do you think that those facts will "go away" if you "just don't talk about them"?
Or that you can use "dialectics" to change defeat into victory? Like "water into wine"?
Even within the constraints of your own paradigm, you must account for the failure of the Chinese revolution in such a way as to be able to make a convincing case that "you can do it right next time".
I don't envy you the task.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on May 30, 2004
Socialism = capitalism (temporarily) without capitalists
How can this "outrageous" thing be said?
In a word, because it's true.
Why? Because in each and every one of the 20th century countries that called themselves "socialist", there were two groups of people who stood in a different relationship to the means of production -- which is the Marxist definition of class.
Most people, just like here, owned nothing but their labor-power...which they had to sell to an employer in order to remain alive.
Under "socialism", the only employer (with a few rare exceptions) was the state apparatus.
Now it's not as if the socialist state apparatus was utterly monolithic; under varying circumstances, different parts of the apparatus competed for labor with other parts of the apparatus...particularly during periods of rapid industrialization.
And another important difference was that some part of the state apparatus had to give you a job...even if it was "make-work" and socially useless.
So it was "better" than ordinary capitalism in the sense that the "ultimate threat" that hangs over every worker's head here -- homelessness and starvation -- did not exist. On the other hand, not having evidence of employment could result in imprisonment and compulsory (slave) labor...so the "whip" was always ready to hand if required.
Rationing of basic consumer goods (food, housing) also helped...the kind of absolute deprivation that yet afflicts modern capitalism was not a normal feature of "socialism".
But one very important thing was the same as we have here; there was an elite that managed and controlled the means of production according to their own interests. The vanguard party -- and especially its leading members -- had the power to make all substantive political and economic decisions for the entire society...without regard for the wishes of the working class or even the wishes of ordinary party members.
Indeed, a bloated repressive apparatus -- police, prisons, army, labor camps, etc. -- was a prominent feature of those regimes. Outright massacres were not common but not unknown...very much like modern capitalism. Prisons and labor camps were genuine hell-holes -- torture was either occasional or common, depending on which accounts you find most credible. An unknown but substantial number of people died from the poor conditions.
Thus, the party elite could impose its will (for a considerable period of time) without concerning itself with possible resistance from the working class.
Just as in capitalist countries, workers had a lengthy list of "legal rights"...and just as here, any attempt to exercise those rights risked imprisonment or death.
What was it actually like for the ordinary person to live under "socialism"?
Well, you got up every morning and went to work. The pace of your job, under most circumstances, was far less exhausting than under capitalism...and in some situations, it didn't even matter if you showed up at all. When you got off, there wasn't much to do...entertainment was a low priority under "socialism" and what little there was tended to be too expensive for ordinary people. If you could afford a bottle of booze (and found a state store that had some), you and your friends could drink yourselves into oblivion.
You spent a big part of your life dealing with shortages of basic consumer needs...and when you did find something desirable, you bought as much of it as you could -- bartering the items you didn't need with friends who had a surplus of things that you did need. The party elite in all of those countries had first crack at consumer necessities and ordinary people had to "make do" with whatever was left over.
The party elites did not live in the kind of obscene luxury characteristic of modern capitalism...it was probably more like what we would call "upper-middle-class". Even so, it was far above what the ordinary person in those countries lived like.
There was a surplus of political rhetoric, flag-waving, etc. -- mostly ignored by ordinary people since they knew they had no voice in "important matters".
Over time, the "revolution" became as meaningless as "the 4th of July" here...just so much background noise.
And that was true in the party elite as well...especially as their standard of living rose much faster than that of the ordinary person. As a proto-capitalist class, they had contact with the capitalist world and saw what real luxury was like. It was only a matter of time before they began to "want some of that" for themselves...a particularly pronounced trend among the sons and daughters of the elite. Towards the end, massive corruption became the norm...the USSR by 1990 most closely resembled Enron and met the same fate.
As the old generation of revolutionaries died off, the new elite shed their "socialism" like worn-out clothes...who cares what Stalin or Mao said compared to what Bill Gates says or what Alan Greenspan says or, hell, what Madonna says!
But what about "the transition to communist society" and "the withering away of the state"?
Hah! You might just as well ask what happened to the "Second Coming of Christ".
Communism was never "on the agenda" in any of those countries...nor was there ever any serious attempt to devolve state power to the working class itself. All there was, besides the red flags, was great leader worship, vulgar nationalism, intrigue, corruption...and economic development required for the emergence of modern capitalism.
In the modern imperialist world, Russia and China are now "players"...they've "made the cut".
Ok, what about a proletarian revolution in an advanced capitalist country? Would "socialism" turn out the same way?
If Marx was right, only a transitional state under the control of the working class itself would avoid the unhappy fate of 20th century "socialism". His view was that all state officials must be elected and recallable at all times...and must be compensated at the same rate that ordinary workers are compensated. At no time did he suggest that a particular "party" of "Marxists" should be in unlimited command of the proletarian state.
I'm personally not confident that even that would work; if there is a "political center of gravity" it will inevitably attract exactly the kind of people that you don't want to have "in charge" of anything...people who think they are "especially fit to rule others".
The rather unlikely quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson is appropriate here. The idea that most people are born with saddles on their backs while a few are born booted and spurred, ready to ride, is one that is "passing out of history".
If he did say that, he was being wildly optimistic...especially for a guy who owned slaves himself. Nevertheless, it is passing out of history, if all too slowly.
Let's speed it on its way.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on June 27, 2004
In this post, redstar demonstrates what for him is a typical strategy. He starts from a social category. He then applies this category in a broad and ahistorical way, disregarding any relevant fact or history (in fact, usually relying far less upon facts than the prejudices produced by decades of anti-communist myth-making). In other words, he substitutes an abstraction for reality. Here, it’s ‘socialism,’ but elsewhere it’s been ‘peasants,’ ‘prohibition,’ or whatnot.
In case you hadn't noticed, this is a message board. I am not writing a dissertation on socialism (or anything else) but rather a summary evaluation.
If you think my evaluation is incorrect, fine. But to reproach me for lack of scholarly rigor (anti-communist mythology, indeed!) is completely out of order.
Which, in fact, you acknowledge further on in your post...
Turning to redstar’s comments, much of what he has to say has the ring of truth, if by ‘socialism’ one means ‘soviet revisionism.’ Redstar might find a lot of common ground with, say, Raymond Lotta in his critique of the Soviet Union. Or for that matter, Bob Avakian...
Well, how about that! The "ring of truth", is it? What else did you think I was trying for? The "ring of falsehood" perhaps?
One can imagine redstar saying, if somebody points out that life expectancy for the Chinese peasantry went from 27 years to 69 years, "but they STILL died!"
What was the change in the life expectancy of the English proletariat between 1844 and 1874?
Earlier in this paragraph you constructed an elaborate analogy to illustrate what could have been said in a much clearer way.
You assert that in China (but for some reason not in the USSR?), there were people struggling for the transition to communism and, of course, people struggling for a return to capitalism.
I'm absolutely certain that you are right about that...and so what?
The people who sincerely wanted communism in China were in a dismal situation, to say the least. They could petition for more decision-making power at the local level and hope that the higher-ups would agree (or at least look the other way)...and perhaps even find a few sympathizers in the ranks of the party elite.
But what do you do when your village party-boss is the son-in-law of a regional party-boss? Even if you catch him with his snout in the treasury, he's probably going to get away with it and you, if you raise a public fuss, may get some first-hand experience with Chinese prison life.
Is it worth the risk?
On the larger scale, you assert that China was actually "moving towards communism" until, at some point, that motion ceased and turned retrograde, back towards capitalism.
I don't find that a particularly credible hypothesis on its face...the objective test would have to be to what extent the state apparatus visibly "withered away". That would show that a transition to communism was actually taking place.
The same would apply to income inequality, access to consumer goods, freedom of job and residential mobility, etc.
I suggest an alternative hypothesis: when an old ruling class is overthrown, the leaders of that revolution quickly perceive the material advantages of their new lives and, "line" to the contrary notwithstanding, move to institutionalize those advantages.
"Good intentions", by themselves, will always replace one class society with another.
In addition, Myrdal shows that there was little material benefit from being a Party member. And here, as in any number of books, it is clear that the masses exercised considerable authority over party members, up to demanding their dismissal.
There are, as I'm sure you know, enormous numbers of first-hand accounts of life in China during the Mao period, written by both westerners and Chinese. Many are very positive and many are very negative. To critically evaluate all of these sources and put them into a coherent picture of what Chinese society was "really like" would be the work of a lifetime.
Even if there was "little benefit" in being an ordinary party member, the package got "sweeter" as you moved up the ladder...as is always the case in a class society.
In addition, the masses might well "demand" that a local party member be "dismissed", but did that mean he got dismissed...or just transferred?
At a more general level, Marx noted that socialism comes into existence with the birthmarks of capitalism. These birthmarks (class divisions, commodity production, the law of value, contradictions between mental and manual labor, urban and rural areas, men and women, etc., etc.) are not there because revolutionaries put them there. They are there independently of anyone’s will, and there is no magic wand which will eliminate them. And they find their expression in the policies and attitudes of actual humans, resulting in class struggle.
No kidding...but the question remains: to what extent do the revolutionaries wage that class struggle to win? To actually make that transition to communism that is the point of all this?
Changing the color of the flag or even the color of the official rhetoric doesn't seem to have much effect.
...the Maoist take on socialism is both vastly different and vastly superior to what redstar outlines. It actually deals with the complexity of social reality and doesn’t seek refuge in idealism.
Different, yes. Superior? Let the people decide.
I’d suggest that anyone who cares about the people and has their interests at heart would have no problem recognizing that there is an absolutely huge, indeed insurmountable, difference between the two different political lines represented in the responses to that women’s situation. I’d also suggest that anyone who refuses to see the difference is de facto taking the wrong side.
Interesting. Usually, I hear that "you don't really care about the people" crap from reformists...who charge me with indifference or even an actual desire to see people suffer because I decline to join in their latest fashionable crusade to "help people".
In fact, there are human "dramas" of people giving disinterested assistance to others in every form of class society...and being praised for their unselfishness, etc.
In the USSR, the popular saying was "Americans have dollars; Russians have friends".
At the risk of "looking like a terrible person", I would point out that the transition from capitalism to communism is not about "red Mother Teresa's".
It's about power...who has it and who doesn't!
In China, the masses didn't have it.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on June 28, 2004
England’s life expectancy had everything to do with centuries of colonialist plunder and exploitation, extraction of the wealth produced by millions of slaves, etc., which is why England’s life expectancy was twice that of Indian and Africa in the mid 19th century. China’s more than doubling in 20 years was not due to slavery, colonialism & genocide or even a significant increase in wealth, but instead on the socialization of the means of production, transformation of the economy, creation of rural health centers, training of "barefoot doctors," etc.
Funny, I was always under the impression that increase in life-expectancy had to do with things like modern sewer systems, water purification, stuff like that.
Who would have guessed that imperial plunder had anything to do with it?
Having done so, in part by reading many hundreds of works on China, I feel fairly confident in the claims I’m making.
Don't we all? We all read a large number of books; we all form impressions of "what China was like" from our readings; and we disagree.
Someone who did nothing but study China in the Mao period, reading literally thousands of first-hand accounts, consulting the Chinese archives, etc. might in the course of a life-time's labor be able to produce a definitive analysis.
In the absence of such a reference, it's your impressions vs. mine.
For some reason, my confidence is at least as great as yours.
Must be "idealism" on my part.
Liu Shao-Chi, for example, was dismissed as a result of the demands of the masses. But the more important aspect is not the dismissal of cadre but their transformation. Liu was dismissed because he refused to change.
Or he simply couldn't "fake it" as well as all the others (like Deng!)...who, in fact, did not change at all!
We know this, of course, because of what happened after Mao died.
In the era of imperialism, [class contradiction] is primarily manifested between countries. Putting aside the question of internal class enemies, calling for the withering away of the Chinese state at a time when the country is threatened by two nuclear super-powers is to call for the massacre and subjugation of the Chinese people by imperialism.
I disagree with that hypothesis...but I admit that it's a terrific excuse for postponing communism indefinitely.
Why do you bother calling yourself a communist at all...if your analysis is such that communists can never actually implement a communist line?
All you can actually deliver -- in the very best of circumstances -- is a "strong socialist state" (with a heavy dose of welfare) that is deliberately unaccountable to the masses.
Even if the "whole world" was "nominally socialist", some countries would be "social imperialist" and thus others would have to retain their huge armies and swollen bureaucracies.
Perhaps in a thousand years, eh?
Whether the leading ideas of society are expressed as "Serve the People" or as "To Get Rich is Glorious" has everything to do with whether society is progressing towards communism or regressing towards capitalism. And if it’s the former, the masses can demand the ouster of the president and win. If the latter, the masses can demand a few reforms & get run over by tanks.
No, I don't think progress "towards communism" is measured by slogans; if there's no real material change in objective class relationships, then the slogans will change to reflect what's really going on.
There were many people in the party elite who were already convinced that "to get rich is glorious" long before the sign-painters were called.
First posted at AnotherWorldIsPossible on June 29, 2004
It's pure Marxism in action and let me tell you, I would absolutely love to be able to use 45 to 50 percent of my wages on personal use. I have never in my life been able to spend 45 percent of my wages on personal items while still having my basic needs cared for.
By contemporary accounts, you'd do a lot more standing in line...although there'd be people willing to stand in line for you in exchange for some cash. I have no information on how trustworthy such folks would be.
But it's not "Marxism in action" though, pure or impure. It's simply a more "humane" and possibly less exploitative variant on what we have now.
How much more "humane" is highly controversial, of course.
In the modern era, it will not take very long to make sure that the standard of living is equal for all citizens of the state.
Well, one would certainly hope so...but there's no way to really know that ahead of time.
Speaking strictly of pre '53 USSR, I cannot see where the vanguard party did anything but attempt to ensure that the next generation of soviets had an equal standard of living with those in the West.
Perhaps those were their intentions -- we are not "mind readers" here.
But had that indeed been the case, one would think that Soviet planners would have devoted more investment to light industry and housing construction than they did.
Soviet agriculture likewise left much to be desired.
As far as I know, I have never heard of any wealthy vanguard members pre-1953 in the USSR.
As I noted, there was nothing like the obscene personal wealth seen under capitalism visible in the USSR, China, etc.
But there were, for example, special stores open only to party members in the USSR. You couldn't buy a mink coat or a Rolex (even a fake one)...but there was plenty of good food on the shelves and toilet paper was always in stock.
Post-1953, you are absolutely right, the Party betrayed the people.
Was it personal "villainy" that was at fault...or simply a reflection of class relations that had existed for more than a generation?
I don't think the question is "how many" were killed or imprisoned but "who" were killed or imprisoned. As history has shown us in regard to the Communist movements of the past, once the party "let up" on counter revolutionaries, it was systematically destroyed from the inside out.
I agree that the "debate" on "how many" is fruitless. But were those who were arrested, sent to the prisons and the labor camps, and who subsequently perished due to the harsh conditions "all" counter-revolutionaries?
That seems highly improbable to me.
It was most certainly on the agenda; however you must realise that it's impossible to create a communist society while the international market remains capitalist. Stalin initially tried to trade internationally using a marxist assessment of value with near disastrous results.
This is a contention worthy of more elaboration. To my knowledge, foreign trade played a very small role in the Soviet economy in the Stalin era.
When I discussed this question with American Maoists, I pointed out that if a society is actually progressing towards communism, it would show visible signs of that...most notably an obvious "withering away of the state apparatus".
Their response, and presumably yours as well, was that international political conditions did not "permit" the state to "wither away" or even visibly move in that direction.
Very well. But what assurances do we have that a socialist society would ever decide to begin dismantling its state apparatus? (Except in order to restore open capitalism, of course.)
The only possible way this could happen is if the State itself had a plentiful supply of every natural resource it required to maintain its population within its own boundaries. Have you ever seen this happen, without leading to social and industrial stagnation?
The argument that autarkies (entirely self-reliant economies) are "doomed" to social and industrial stagnation is not one that I'm equipped to dispute.
In principle, I don't see why that should necessarily be the case...but perhaps there are reasons of which I am not aware.
Well, if it makes you happy then we can re-name the vanguard party to simply "representatives of the people who are in no way an actual decisive force"
You jest...but such a change would, in my view, be a rather good idea. If conscious communists were to abandon the idea that "history" has "chosen them" to rule, they might become both better revolutionaries now and a good deal more trustworthy in post-capitalist society.
I suppose it's about trust with us old cats RS; you prefer to put your trust in millions of people to do the right thing, I prefer to put my trust in a few people to do the right thing.
Historically, trust in small numbers has not worked out very well.
I find that the fewer amount of people that must be watched the better.
Yes, it's easier to see when a despot fucks up...but it's also much harder to do anything about it.
First posted at Che-Lives on July 10, 2004
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Class in Post-Revolutionary Society - Part 1 July 9, 2004
Demarchy and a New Revolutionary Communist Movement November 13, 2003
A New Type of Communist Organization October 5, 2003
The "Tools" of Marxism July 19, 2003
Marxism Without the Crap July 3, 2003
What is Socialism? An Attempt at a Brief Definition June 19, 2003
What is Communism? A Brief Definition June 19, 2003
A New Communist Paradigm for the 21st Century May 8, 2003
On "Dialectics" -- The Heresy Posts May 8, 2003
|...no compromise with capitalist despotism!
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