Author Archive

2
Mar

‘Seek Truth from Facts’ carved in stone

By Hu Angang and Mao Jie

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal

Vol.5 No.1 January 1, 2013 | Updated:2013-02-19 10:51

To understand a country as complicated as China, one must delve into China’s complex national conditions, history, and national policies, and seek to identify both the core elements affecting change in the country and the key forces influencing its long-term development.

China’s huge social progress is the result of constant efforts to understand China, to draw plans for China, to develop China, and to transform China. It is the result of a perpetual process of practice, policy-making, appraisal, and adjustment which has played out since the beginning of efforts to establish socialism in what was an underdeveloped Oriental nation. The history of the People’s Republic of China tells us that no success is greater than the formulation of a good overall strategy, while no failure is greater than the formulation of a bad one. Any attempt to identify the “China road” or summarize the “China experience” must begin with an examination into the success of China’s policy-making.

Deng Xiaoping once said, “Just as in the past we achieved all the victories in our revolution by following this principle (of seeking truth from facts), so today we must rely on it in our effort to accomplish the four modernizations.” Representing a major achievement in the adaptation of Marxism to suit conditions in China, and being the quintessence and soul of Mao Zedong Thought, seeking truth from facts is the ideology, the organizational line, the core values, and the paramount principle that the CPC adheres to in its policy-making activities.

In summarizing the experiences and lessons of China’s policy-making, Hu Jintao pointed out that above all else, the reason why we made mistakes at certain points in the past, and even encountered serious setbacks, was because the guiding principles we adhered to at those times were detached from the realities in China. In addition, he also pointed out that above all else, the reason why the Party, drawing on its own strength and that of the people, was able to correct its mistakes, overcome its setbacks, and forge ahead triumphantly, was because it reasserted its commitment to the principle of seeking truth from facts. Past experience clearly indicates that if we are able to uphold the principle of seeking truth from facts, the likelihood is that we will make the right policies; whereas if we are unable to uphold this principle, the likelihood is that we will make the wrong ones. Seeking truth from facts is the policy-making philosophy of the CPC, and the secret to the success of China’s policy-making.

Seeking truth from facts is the unique policy-making philosophy of the CPC

The Constitution of the CPC clearly states that the Party’s ideological line is to proceed from reality in handling all matters, to integrate theory with practice, to seek truth from facts, and to verify and develop the truth through practice. It says that all Party members are required to adhere to this ideological line, explore new approaches, boldly experiment with new methods, be enterprising and innovative, work creatively, constantly assess new developments, review new experiences, solve new problems, enrich and develop Marxism in practice, and advance the endeavor to adapt Marxism to Chinese conditions.

There is no governing political party in the West that has been able to do what the CPC has done: to define a policy-making philosophy in the form of a supreme political document. Taking the recently held national conventions of the Republican Party and Democratic Party of the United States for example, we can see that these events revolved around one thing: “running for the presidency.” That is to say, the purpose of each party’s convention was to present an “election program” for the presidency, and to choose a presidential nominee and his running mate (candidates for the vice-president). The only measure of success for a party’s convention is to have its candidates “elected.” This is a typical feature of bourgeois politicians. There is a saying in the West: “A politician thinks about the next elections—the statesman thinks about the next generations.”

No governing party in the world except the CPC has the experience of combining the most enduring search for a policy-making philosophy with the policy-making practice of the largest scale.

This dictates the uniqueness of seeking truth from facts as a policy-making philosophy. Being both unique and highly original, seeking truth from facts is a policy-making philosophy with distinctly Chinese characteristics. As a policy-making philosophy, it represents a meeting point between theory and practice, a vividly rendered epistemology and methodology, and an action guide for the CPC in policy-making. Moreover, seeking truth from facts is the theoretical sum of China’s experiences in policy-making, representing an original theoretical achievement. Western scholars are accustomed to interpreting China using Western conceptual models, with some even believing that seeking truth from facts is a localized form of Western pragmatism. This not only shows that they lack a clear understanding of themselves, but also demonstrates the bias with which they typically view China.

The policy-making philosophy of seeking truth from facts can be attributed to three sources

Mao Zedong classically defined seeking truth from facts as follows: “facts” refers to all things that exist objectively in the world; “truth” refers to the intrinsic links that exist between objective things, or in other words, objective laws; and “seeking” refers to the act of identifying these laws through the process of study.

The policy-making philosophy of seeking truth from facts has three important sources: classical Chinese philosophy, Marxism, and Mao Zedong Thought.

First, seeking truth from facts both draws from and transcends classical Chinese philosophy. In this sense, it is a historical concept. On one hand, seeking truth from facts has drawn from and remodeled the idea of “rule by the Tao” in classical Chinese philosophy. Advocating the grasping of objective laws during the process of development, seeking truth from facts has actively discarded the idealistic and metaphysical aspects of classical policy-making philosophies and clearly defined that the basis for “seeking truth” must be “facts.” In other words, decisions must be based on ample understanding and consideration of objective facts. This is an embodiment of the Marxist principle of proceeding from facts in everything, and it is able to avoid the randomness and misuse that are associated with “rule by the Tao.” On the other hand, seeking truth from facts has overhauled the explanatory philosophy of classical Chinese thought, which was attached to feudal politics, by freeing policy-making philosophy from the role of providing justification for feudal rule and safeguarding feudal authority, and turning it into an action philosophy and practice philosophy for contemporary China in its revolution, construction and reforms.

Second, seeking truth from facts has inherited and built on the principles of Marxism. In this sense, it is a scientific concept. Marxism is a science. Its historical materialism and materialist dialectics have laid down an epistemological and methodological foundation for seeking truth from facts. Marxism holds that the first nature of science is objectivity. Seeking truth from facts demands that policy makers respect objective national conditions, act according to local conditions, and do the right thing at the right time. In other words, it demands that policy makers adhere to the principle of scientific policy-making. In a certain sense, the process of adapting Marxism to suit Chinese conditions has revolved around the formation and development of the idea of seeking truth from facts. The very essence of adapting Marxism to suit Chinese conditions is to combine the universal truths of Marxism with China’s revolution, development, and reforms in an attempt to identify a scientific philosophy that can be used to guide China.

Third, seeking truth from facts is the quintessence and soul of Mao Zedong Thought. In this sense, it is a developing concept. The two basic principles of Mao Zedong Thought are the dialectic unity of theory and practice and the dialectic unity of subjectivity and objectivity. On one hand, seeking truth from facts is a policy-making philosophy that emphasizes retrospection, believing that in making policy decisions one must continuously study new conditions, summarize new experiences, and solve new problems along with the development of practice and objective changes. On the other hand, seeking truth from facts believes in the evolution of policy-making, holding that correct policy decisions are not made in one go, but through a continuously repeating process. On this basis it advocates that one must properly balance the dialectic relations between relative truth and absolute truth, and between the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom. Viewing truth as a developing concept dictates that policy-making must be viewed as a developing process. Meanwhile, seeking truth from facts is also a people-oriented policy-making philosophy. Mao Zedong pointed out that the most important aspect of Marxist philosophy does not lie in understanding the laws of the objective world, and thus being able to explain it, but in applying the knowledge of these laws actively to change the world. One of the greatest contributions to Marxism made in the adaption of Marxist theories to suit China has been to further emancipate the factor of “people” by stressing the significance of subjective initiative during the policy-making process. This transcends the basic principle of proceeding from reality alone in all endeavors. In Deng Xiaoping’s words, this is what we refer to as the “emancipation of the mind.” In order to give play to subjective activity, a policy maker is required to adhere to the principle of emancipating the mind. Emancipating the mind is a prerequisite for seeking truth from facts, and seeking truth from facts is an inherent requirement for emancipating the mind. To make a decision in line with the principle of seeking truth from facts does not mean that one is taking measures without considering changes in circumstances, nor does it mean that we can rest on our laurels once that decision has been made. On the contrary, seeking truth from facts is a concept that pertains to constant development and constant renewal.

How are policy decisions made according to the philosophy of seeking truth from facts?

Seeking truth from facts is a historical concept, a scientific concept, and a developing concept. Therefore, only by adhering to a historical, scientific and developing approach to decision making, and ensuring that we proceed from China’s realities in everything, can we make policy decisions that accord to the philosophy of seeking truth from facts. Then, what is the methodology for this kind of policy-making? The answer does not come from a text book, but from experience in policy-making, from the experience of the people, and from local experience. On this basis, we can sum up this methodology in three aspects:

First, true knowledge comes from practice. This refers to the fact that knowledge and theory come from practice, and must also be applied in practice. Mao Zedong said, “Knowledge begins with practice, and theoretical knowledge is acquired through practice and must then return to practice. The active function of knowledge manifests itself not only in the active leap from perceptual to rational knowledge, but—and this is more important—it must manifest itself in the leap from rational knowledge to revolutionary practice.” Practice is both the criterion for verifying truth and correctness and the criterion for verifying falsehoods and mistakes. Therefore, in the course of policy-making, we need to attach great importance to the application of policies/trials in practice. The success of contemporary China can primarily be attributed to the importance that has been attached to practice. China has become the most active and creative practitioner of policies in the world.

Second, policies come from the people. This refers to the fact that policy decisions come from the people, and must return to the people again. This was the basic method of leadership advocated by Mao Zedong. The policies of the Party are guidelines under which the Party leads the people in taking action. A good policy should reflect the social situation, comply with the aspirations of the people, and conform to popular will. Therefore, we need to fully listen to the opinions of the people during the decision making process. This is what we refer to as “consulting the people.” At the same time, we need to adapt to the needs of the people to the greatest extent. This is what we refer to as “asking the people what they need.” In its policy-making activities, the CPC strives to gather as much information as possible, channel as much wisdom as possible, and represent as many opinions as possible, so as to turn the aspirations, demands, and interests of the people into a means of action that can be put into practice. Unlike in the West, where policy-making power is yielded, democratic participation in China involves the all-round participation of the people in the policy-making process. China has developed brand new experience with regard to achieving a dialectic unity between scientific policy-making and democratic policy-making.

Third, decisions originate locally. This refers to the fact that policy decisions are made locally, and must be implemented locally. This was the methodology that Deng Xiaoping advocated for China’s reforms. Making policies in a country as large, as populous, and as developmentally unbalanced as China, one not only has to deal with the significant uncertainty, dissymmetry, and incompleteness of information and knowledge, but must also assume all manner of political, social, and economic risks. It is impossible to govern China with one kind of innovation, one model, one policy, or one standard. This dictates that local authorities, who have access to more information, are closer to the people, and who are more familiar with local conditions, should be given greater power and room to maneuver in policy-making. Local policy-making should become the “springhead” of policy-making by the central authorities, whose decisions should be made on the basis of having integrated local policies from around the country.

These three aspects constitute the methodology of seeking truth from facts. They are not only interlinking and interactive, but also embody an inherent logical relationship: a particular kind of social practice results in a particular kind of social theory; and a particular kind of social theory guides the development of a particular kind of social practice. All three of these aspects can be found throughout the process of historical, scientific, and developing policy-making, progressing constantly as the policy-making process goes on. Both theory and practice involve risks, and there is no such thing as automatic success. Under many circumstances failure is a common occurrence. This is very similar to the practice of repeated experimentation in natural science, in which new discoveries and new successes always come after many failures. Scientific policy-making is not about not making mistakes, but about making fewer mistakes, and learning from failures. In particular, it is about avoiding the repetition of past mistakes and blunders, and being good at achieving greater success from fewer failures.

A policy-making philosophy is a philosophy of making comprehensive policies. Seeking truth from facts is not an isolated policy-making philosophy, but a collection of ideas on policy-making. In order to be able to seek the truth from facts, we must perform a penetrating analysis of the ideological connotations of seeking truth from facts and strengthen the development of systems, mechanisms, and talent in policy-making. Then, how do we strengthen the development of systems and mechanisms in policy-making? And how do we guarantee successful policy-making whilst also ensuring that mistakes are able to be promptly corrected?

There are two foundations of seeking truth from facts: investigation and study; and democratic centralism. These are fine traditions that the Party has held to in its policy-making activities over a long period of time. They also constitute the basic method and the core mechanism of policy-making activities. Much like the policy-making philosophy of seeking truth from facts, they are also original approaches to policy-making that China has created, being the product of our long-term experiences in revolution, development, and reforms.

Firstly, investigation and study. Investigation and study embody the values of scientific policy-making. Deng Xiaoping said that one only has the right to speak after he has conducted investigation and study. We must proceed from objective realities in raising issues, summarizing experiences, and working out policies, regardless of whether we are in a meeting, making a proposal, or drafting a document. This is what seeking truth from facts is about. The CPC has always regarded investigation and study as the prerequisite for all policy-making efforts. In his essay “Oppose Book Worship,” Mao Zedong said, “Investigation may be likened to the long months of pregnancy, and solving a problem to the day of birth. To investigate a problem is, indeed, to solve it.” A correct strategy can only come from practical experience, and from investigation and study. Chen Yun said the hardest thing about making a decision is getting the facts straight first. Ninety percent of our time should be devoted to studying the situation, and ten percent to making a decision. Only then will a policy decision be well founded.

There are two basic characteristics of investigation and study:

First, investigation and study emphasize the mass line. In order to do a good job of investigation and study, we need to be truly in touch with the people. The people play the principal role in creating history and engaging in social practice. Seeking truth from facts is a historically materialistic policy-making philosophy that is based around the people. Only by recognizing the experiences of the people and channeling their wisdom is it possible to point out the right way forward. Where the experiences and opinions of the people are discarded, not even the most talented of leaders will be able to lead well. The mass line is an effective means of preventing dogmatism and subjectivism. Getting into communities, ascertaining the situation among the people, and “from the masses, to the masses” constitute the basic methods for investigation and study.

Second, investigation and study emphasize a developing approach to policy-making. Given that facts are constantly changing, developing, and progressing, the search for the truth must also keep up with the pace of progress. Seeking truth from facts is a policy-making philosophy that takes changing national conditions as its object of study. This means that it is a dialectical, materialist policy-making philosophy. Mao Zedong said that our investigation will be a long-term one. He also said that we are the ones conducting investigations today, but in the future, it will be our sons and our grandsons, and only this way will we be able to constantly understand new things and obtain new knowledge.

Secondly, democratic centralism. Democratic centralism embodies the values of democratic policy-making. It is the fundamental organizational principle of the CPC, as well as the fundamental organizational principle of the Party for policy-making. By establishing centralized policy-making on the basis of the mass line, China has created a model for driving scientific policy-making through democratic policy-making.

On one hand, democratic centralism requires that we follow the mass line. To do this, we must provide widespread opportunities for the public to express their views, bring the opinions (scattered, unsystematic) of the public together (and turn them into centralized, systematic opinions after studying them), relay these opinions back to the public by means of publicity and turn them into the opinions of the public, ensure that the public can adhere to these opinions, put them into practice, and test whether or not these opinions are correct. After this, we must gather together public opinions again, and see to it that the public continue adhering to these opinions. This is an endless repeating process. Each time the decisions we make will become more correct, more vivid, and richer than before. This is the Marxist theory of knowledge and a basic method of leadership. It is an important mechanism for collecting information for policy-making, and a channel which allows us to gain a grasp of facts.

On the other hand, democratic centralism requires that we implement collective policy-making with democratic supervision, and establish a leadership which not only has a core, but which is also a collective, so as to guard against the dangers of personality cults and patriarchal styles of work. The basic principle of policy-making under democratic centralism is that the individual is subordinate to the organization, the minority is subordinate to the majority, and the lower level is subordinate to the higher level. All major issues must be collectively discussed and concluded by Party committees on an issue by issue basis in accordance with the principles of collective leadership, democratic centralism, deliberation case by case and decision by meetings. This is an important mechanism for preventing and controlling risks in policy-making. It is a safety catch to ensure that the truth is sought.

Likewise, democratic centralism is also a repeating process that goes from democracy to centralism and then back again. This is conducive to both drawing on collective wisdom and reaching consensus, and conducive to both making the right policy decisions efficiently and correcting erroneous policy decisions promptly.

Seeking truth from facts is the secret to the success of China’s policy-making and the magic key to winning victories

Seeking truth from facts is the secret to the success of China’s policy-making. A country’s capacity and potential for policy-making are fundamentally determined by that country’s policy-making philosophy. The policy-making philosophy of seeking truth from facts has become China’s core soft power in national governance. We should fully uncover the theoretical connotations of seeking truth from facts, draw from historical experiences and lessons, continuously promote the improvement of China’s policy-making capacity, and enhance China’s ability to make strategic decisions as well as its ability to adjust and adapt.

The eruption and spread of the international financial crisis, for example, has fully exposed the fact that the political parties and governments of the West are unable to promptly correct erroneous policies, that they are unable to agree on counter proposals despite repeated discussions, that they are unable to take action even after a decision has been made, and that they are powerless to do anything at all. The result is that they are still in the midst of crisis. This has smashed the blind faith that people have long had in the West. Rarely do we see a better or more relevant example of how the West is powerless to cope with the onset of crisis.

In contrast, China’s performance in this global test has been the best. In 2007, before the international financial crisis erupted, the GDP of the United States was 4 times that of China. But by 2011, this gap had shrunk rapidly, with the GDP of the US being only 2.1 times that of China. In the same period, the number of employed people in the United States decreased from 146.1 million to 139.9 million, whereas the number of people employed in China’s urban areas increased from 309.5 million to 359.1 million. These figures reflect the uniqueness and superiority of China’s distinctive policy-making approach of seeking truth from facts.

In the past, China’s success depended on seeking truth from facts; in the future, China will continue to rely on seeking truth from facts to succeed. We must adhere to a historical, scientific, and developing approach to policy-making, proceed from reality in all endeavors, adhere only to the facts and refrain from blind faith in books, in higher authority, and in things foreign, continue to independently identify China’s experiences in scientific policy-making and democratic policy-making, and guide our great endeavors through our conscientious and confident application of theoretical achievements in adapting Marxism to suit Chinese conditions.

In a word, seeking truth from facts has always been the fundamental requirement of Chinese Communists in understanding and transforming the world, the basic method of thinking, working, and leadership adhered to by our Party, and the key that has allowed the Party to lead the people to constant victories in revolution, development, and reform.


(Originally appeared in Red Flag Manuscript, No.22, 2012)
Note: The authors are from Tsinghua University.

Category : China | Marxism | Socialism | Blog
26
Feb

By Circles Robinson

Havana Times, Feb 26, 2013

Vicente Morin Aguado interviews non-Marxist US socialist Grady Ross Daugherty

HAVANA TIMES — Over several weeks of difficult back and forth emails (it’s hard to imagine the slow speed and high cost of Internet in Cuban hotels), I attempted to clarify the thinking of Grady Ross Daugherty [2], the leader and founder of the “modern cooperative socialist movement” in the United States and who is a regular reader of HT.

HT: What place do you see for cooperatives in the current reform process taking place within Cuba’s socialist experiment?

Grady Ross Daugherty: Thanks for characterizing Cuba’s half-century post-capitalist period as an “experiment.” An experiment is a way of testing a reasonable hypothesis. If we look at the Cuban model as an experiment, as a modifiable work in progress, its performance can be altered to achieve greater prosperity and progress.

In our discussion, we need to keep in mind that most types of cooperatives require a certain basis of legal private ownership, assuming we want them to be functional. For example, agricultural cooperatives require the ownership of cultivated land and the families homes — not usufruct rights — if we hope them to be effective and make Cuba self-sufficient in production.

HT: Regarding the issue of ownership, I began to understand your non-Marxist position prior to our exchange. It may seem like a digression, but it’s good to point out something as controversial as your self-declared non-Marxist yet socialist position.

GRD:  Since its origins in the nineteenth century, the socialist movement was mutual and cooperative. This was something notable in France and England, where workers and farmers were eager to own land and the instruments of production as their property. They didn’t want ownership in the hands of private capitalists or government officials.

I think that if Cuba’s political leaders can clear their minds about the theory of state monopoly and its consequent personality cult, typical of the founders of Marxism during the nineteenth century, Cuba will be a socialist country in the long term.

Marx and Engels instilled prejudice against private property, pointing to it as a cause of society’s ills and as something antithetical to their aim of “scientific” socialism. Nevertheless, for cooperatives to be real they require ownership, which supposedly would be “capitalist” – as opposed to state-run or scientific forms like “socialist” ones.

Despite this, harsh reality has led Cuban politicians to take a fresh look at cooperatives. They’re beginning to look at socialism as an ongoing experiment.

HT: Of course Marx criticized Proudhon, the father of French cooperative and mutualist socialism, considering him petty bourgeois for all his vacillation and wavering, which is typical of his social class.

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Category : Cooperatives | Cuba | Socialism | Solidarity Economy | Blog
24
Feb

The Shocking Savagery of America’s Early History

Bernard Bailyn, one of our greatest historians, shines his light on the nation’s Dark Ages

By Ron Rosenbaum
Smithsonian magazine, March 2013

It’s all a bit of a blur, isn’t it? That little-remembered century—1600 to 1700—that began with the founding (and foundering) of the first permanent English settlement in America, the one called Jamestown, whose endemic perils portended failure for the dream of a New World. The century that saw all the disease-ridden, barely civilized successors to Jamestown slaughtering and getting slaughtered by the Original Inhabitants, hanging on by their fingernails to some fetid coastal swampland until Pocahontas saved Thanksgiving. No, that’s not right, is it? I said it was a blur.

Enter Bernard Bailyn, the greatest historian of early America alive today. Now over 90 and ensconced at Harvard for more than six decades, Bailyn has recently published another one of his epoch-making grand narrative syntheses, The Barbarous Years, casting a light on the darkness, filling in the blank canvas with what he’s gleaned from what seems like every last scrap of crumbling diary page, every surviving chattel slave receipt and ship’s passenger manifest of the living and dead, every fearful sermon about the Antichrist that survived in the blackened embers of the burned-out churches.

Bailyn has not painted a pretty picture. Little wonder he calls it The Barbarous Years and spares us no details of the terror, desperation, degradation and widespread torture—do you really know what being “flayed alive” means? (The skin is torn from the face and head and the prisoner is disemboweled while still alive.) And yet somehow amid the merciless massacres were elements that gave birth to the rudiments of civilization—or in Bailyn’s evocative phrase, the fragile “integument of civility”—that would evolve 100 years later into a virtual Renaissance culture, a bustling string of self-governing, self-sufficient, defiantly expansionist colonies alive with an increasingly sophisticated and literate political and intellectual culture that would coalesce into the rationale for the birth of American independence. All the while shaping, and sometimes misshaping, the American character. It’s a grand drama in which the glimmers of enlightenment barely survive the savagery, what Yeats called “the blood-dimmed tide,” the brutal establishment of slavery, the race wars with the original inhabitants that Bailyn is not afraid to call “genocidal,” the full, horrifying details of which have virtually been erased.

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Category : Racism | US History | Blog
16
Feb

 BY SAM TANENHAUS
Progressive America Rising via The New Republic

Feb 10, 2013 – With Barack Obama sworn in for a second term—the first president in either party since Ronald Reagan to be elected twice with popular majorities—the GOP is in jeopardy, the gravest since 1964, of ceasing to be a national party. The civil rights pageantry of the inauguration—Abraham Lincoln’s Bible and Martin Luther King’s, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s swearing in of Joe Biden, Beyoncé’s slinky glamor, the verses read by the gay Cuban poet Richard Blanco—seemed not just an assertion of Democratic solidarity, but also a reminder of the GOP’s ever-narrowing identity and of how long it has been in the making.

“Who needs Manhattan when we can get the electoral votes of eleven Southern states?” Kevin Phillips, the prophet of “the emerging Republican majority,” asked in 1968, when he was piecing together Richard Nixon’s electoral map. The eleven states, he meant, of the Old Confederacy. “Put those together with the Farm Belt and the Rocky Mountains, and we don’t need the big cities. We don’t even want them. Sure, Hubert [Humphrey] will carry Riverside Drive in November. La-de-dah. What will he do in Oklahoma?”

Forty-five years later, the GOP safely has Oklahoma, and Dixie, too. But Phillips’s Sunbelt strategy was built for a different time, and a different America. Many have noted Mitt Romney’s failure to collect a single vote in 91 precincts in New York City and 59 precincts in Philadelphia. More telling is his defeat in eleven more of the nation’s 15 largest cities. Not just Chicago and Columbus, but also Indianapolis, San Diego, Houston, even Dallas—this last a reason the GOP fears that, within a generation Texas will become a swing state. Remove Texas from the vast, lightly populated Republican expanse west of the Mississippi, and the remaining 13 states yield fewer electoral votes than the West Coast triad of California, Oregon, and Washington. If those trends continue, the GOP could find itself unable to count on a single state that has as many as 20 electoral votes.

It won’t do to blame it all on Romney. No doubt he was a weak candidate, but he was the best the party could muster, as the GOP’s leaders insisted till the end, many of them convinced he would win, possibly in a landslide. Neither can Romney be blamed for the party’s whiter-shade-of-pale legislative Rotary Club: the four Republicans among the record 20 women in the Senate, the absence of Republicans among the 42 African Americans in the House (and the GOP’s absence as well among the six new members who are openly gay or lesbian). These are remarkable totals in a two-party system, and they reflect not only a failure of strategy or “outreach,” but also a history of long-standing indifference, at times outright hostility, to the nation’s diverse constituencies—blacks, women, Latinos, Asians, gays.

But that history, with its repeated instances of racialist political strategy dating back many decades, only partially accounts for the party’s electoral woes.

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Category : Hegemony | Racism | Blog
5
Feb

By Atlee McFellin
SolidarityEconomy.net via Common Dreams

In a recent article about success in the sharing economy, Van Jones explained the degree to which sharing, crowdfunding, and other similar concepts are fundamentally transforming the economy as we know it. He turned to examples like Zipcar, Solar Mosaic, AirBnB, and Couchsurfing to show this transformation happening on the ground.

For the few who don’t know, Jones founded Green For All, one of the central organizations within the growing green economy movement. His tremendously poignant article makes one wonder to what extent this sharing economy is similar to the green economy and how are we to understand their relatedness theoretically and organizationally? One could certainly say they have much in common, from the role the above-mentioned firms play in helping protect the environment by crowdfunding solar panels or reducing people’s need to own their own car.

It’s one thing to see what ideas or outcomes they have in common. For the broader purposes of looking towards our collective potential to fundamentally transform the economy, it’s also important to look at how they relate to one another organizationally. This two-part series attempts to do just that. The first part looks at the green economy movement theoretically and organizationally, while the second part looks at the sharing economy, solidarity economy, and new economy to make the case for a New Economy Coalition acting to unite them all.Credit: New Economy Institute

Even though the green economy has been growing in the U.S. for decades, its birth into mainstream social consciousness very much began with the push for a Green New Deal as an immediate solution to a collapsing economy in late 2008. We saw the potential for job creation through public investment with the Green Jobs Act prior to the collapse and the subsequent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. (1)  The hope behind the push for a Green New Deal is based upon FDR’s New Deal legislation in the 1930s and the works of economist John Maynard Keynes. The focus is a massive reinvestment by the government into the economy. With a Green New Deal that investment would be focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transportation, improvements to the electrical grid, and other carbon-reducing strategies for job creation.

Category : Capitalism | Ecology | Technology | Blog
1
Feb

The AP’s High-Impact Three-Part Series on Joblessness and Stalled Recovery

Middle-Class Jobs Cut in Recession Feared Gone for Good, Lost to Technology

By Associated Press

NEW YORK, Jan 25 2013 — Five years after the start of the Great Recession, the toll is terrifyingly clear: Millions of middle-class jobs have been lost in developed countries the world over.

And the situation is even worse than it appears.

Most of the jobs will never return, and millions more are likely to vanish as well, say experts who study the labor market. What’s more, these jobs aren’t just being lost to China and other developing countries, and they aren’t just factory work. Increasingly, jobs are disappearing in the service sector, home to two-thirds of all workers.

They’re being obliterated by technology.

Year after year, the software that runs computers and an array of other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful and capable of doing more efficiently tasks that humans have always done. For decades, science fiction warned of a future when we would be architects of our own obsolescence, replaced by our machines; an Associated Press analysis finds that the future has arrived.

“The jobs that are going away aren’t coming back,” says Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of “Race Against the Machine.” ‘’I have never seen a period where computers demonstrated as many skills and abilities as they have over the past seven years.”

The global economy is being reshaped by machines that generate and analyze vast amounts of data; by devices such as smartphones and tablet computers that let people work just about anywhere, even when they’re on the move; by smarter, nimbler robots; and by services that let businesses rent computing power when they need it, instead of installing expensive equipment and hiring IT staffs to run it. Whole employment categories, from secretaries to travel agents, are starting to disappear.

“There’s no sector of the economy that’s going to get a pass,” says Martin Ford, who runs a software company and wrote “The Lights in the Tunnel,” a book predicting widespread job losses. “It’s everywhere.”

The numbers startle even labor economists. In the United States, half the 7.5 million jobs lost during the Great Recession were in industries that pay middle-class wages, ranging from $38,000 to $68,000. But only 2 percent of the 3.5 million jobs gained since the recession ended in June 2009 are in midpay industries. Nearly 70 percent are in low-pay industries, 29 percent in industries that pay well.

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Category : Capitalism | Technology | Working Class | Blog
27
Jan

 

Economic crises do not automatically undermine capitalist power and lead to working class victories. Chris Walsh looks at Antonio Gramsci’s theories about capitalism, hegemony, and an effective working class strategy.

 

By Chris Walsh
International Socialist Group
Aug 37, 2011

Capitalism is currently experiencing the worst crisis in living memory.  Austerity packages across the Western world are the deepest and most savage for generations.  Millions are being thrown out of work; working conditions are constantly under attack; wages have stagnated (in real terms) for years; the cost of living continues to soar.  Surely the economic conditions are ripe for a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system? Yet seizing the assets of the rich is only on the agenda for a minority of the working class. Why is this?

Consent and Class Leadership

The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci noted that since the dawn of capitalism there had been many crises, but very few had resulted in any serious attempt by the workers to overthrow capitalism.  Economic crises, on their own, were not enough to lead to a workers revolution.  Gramsci states that in a class-based society, the dominant class maintains its authority through a combination (to varying degrees) of force and ideological persuasion.  He called this two-pronged approach ‘authoritarian-populist hegemony’.

On the one hand there is the systematic use of force or coercion by the state, what Lenin described as "special bodies of armed men, prisons etc." In this way, the state ensures its domination over the workers.  Even in advanced capitalism, the infliction of violence, or the even the ambient threat of violence, are a continued reality as a means of exerting mastery, e.g. the imprisonment of political activists or the deployment of the police or army to break up strikes.  However the threat of violence is often concealed and social order is maintained through leadership in the field of ideas.

Thus, the dominant class rules by inflicting force where necessary, but winning consent where possible.  Consent is negotiated by convincing the workers that the demands of the present order are ‘natural’ or at least the best case scenario for all.  The ruling class competes, for instance in the sphere of parliamentary politics or journalism, to prove themselves worthy of ‘intellectual and moral leadership’.  This is not the function of the state proper, but of ‘civil society’, the institutions of cultural and ideological production (schools, universities, the media, the family etc.).  Since the ruling class largely controls the institutions of learning, media etc, it is able to win the consent of the subordinate classes and thus maintain the system in its present form.  By these means it is able to ride through economic crises and protect its position as the dominant class in society.

Consent is only achieved by a day-to-day negotiation between the immediate aims of the workers and the ideological leadership of elements of the dominant class.  Gramsci repeatedly emphasizes that the masses are not intellectually passive:

There is no human activity from which every form of intellectual participation can be excluded: homo faber cannot be separated from homo sapiens. Each man, finally, outside his professional activity, carries on some form of intellectual activity, that is, he is a ‘philosopher’, an artist, a man of taste, he participates in a particular conception of the world, has a conscious line of moral conduct, and therefore contributes to sustain a conception of the world or to modify it, that is, to bring into being new modes of thought.

The aim of the ruling class is to persuade the masses that their agenda represents ‘common sense’.  They can achieve this by making analogies – often spurious analogies – between policies and the daily experience of ordinary people.  For instance, British politicians and pundits have successfully convinced some workers that cutting the deficit is the most immediate and urgent problem for any government (e.g. because sovereign debt is "like a credit card").  Actually, this is nonsense.  Sovereign debt is not directly comparable with any form of private debt, least of all credit card debts.  Furthermore, the idea that unleashing harsh austerity upon the working class will directly cut the deficit is highly contestable.  Even many ruling class economists now reject this argument and predict that austerity will only stunt economic growth and produce ‘blowback’ in terms of a double-dip recession.  Thus, the ruling class is perpetually divided between competing strategies: an all out ideological offensive to put a populist spin on austerity; and the incorporation of elements of dissent on particular issues, e.g. new taxes on the bankers and the billionaires.  Ideological leadership thus involves negotiation and brinksmanship, between competing capitalist interests on the one hand, and the workers’ material needs and common sense ideas of ‘fairness’ on the other.

Dominance and Incorporation

We are surrounded by a system of indoctrination that serves to legitimize the backward institutions of the capitalist order, like private property, the family, and wage labour.  From birth, almost everything that a member of the working class is exposed to, from nursery rhymes to school textbooks to newspapers, reinforces either subtly or explicitly the validity and superiority of the current system.  The oppressed masses accept their lot consensually because of the success of capitalist hegemony.  This explains why the majority of people in 21st century Britain do not want, nor recognize the necessity for, a revolution that will overthrow the capitalist system and replace it with a workers’ state.  Capitalist ideology is inescapable.

However, it would be crude to suggest that hegemony is simply ruling class ideology enforced upon the workers in order to make us think the way they do.  It’s more nuanced than that.  Hegemony is a set of contested ideas, constantly in flux, striving for the continued acquiescence of the workers through demonstration of the ruler’s right and ability to rule.  The ideas within ruling class hegemony have to change in order to maintain the popular support of the masses.  This is done by making concessions to the workers and addressing, or at least seeming to address, some of their needs and wants.

Historically, the ruling class have kept workers’ revolts at bay by allowing economic concessions to their needs or popular desires (wage increases, welfare provision etc.) but such allowances have to be made in terms of culture and ideology also.  For instance, the media will play on the concerns or fears of elements of the working class by including them in the cultural output of the ruling class. 

Consider crime.  Many workers have a ‘common sense’ fear of crime, and bourgeois hegemony mutates to reflect and also to lead these concerns.  There are a whole host of television programmes about the tackling of crime and the restoration of law and order: Cops, Crimewatch, Police, Camera, Action, Night Cops, Cops With Cameras, the list goes on, seemingly, ad infinitum.  In showing programmes like these, the ruling class simultaneously stoke the fears of a layer of the working class whilst attempting to resolve these fears by visualizing the victorious reconciliation of social order.  In this way, they can make political capital and solidify their competence as society’s ‘intellectual and moral’ leaders.

If we consider the recent riots in London and other parts of the country, the backlash from the government and the media is a classic case of authoritarian-populist hegemony.  The response of the State can only be described as brutal.  Incredibly harsh sentences were dealt out to anyone having anything to do with the riots, including 2 young men who were sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for suggesting on Facebook that people in their own towns should emulate the uprisings in London.  Had the unrest gone on any longer; the government was prepared to use rubber bullets and water cannons on our streets.  Coupled with the State’s draconian backlash was a hysterical outcry by civil society, particularly the media.  It was almost impossible to find any voice in the media addressing the real causes of the events.  Instead we were subjected to newsreel after newsreel, article after article decrying the moral decay of certain parts of the country and in particular the young people of today’s Britain.

The perpetrators of this particular challenge to the status quo were immediately locked up, preventing them from creating any more trouble for the ruling class and also sending a message to anyone who might consider doing something similar in the future.  As well as being imprisoned, the rioters have undergone a mass character assassination from both the State and civil society.  Cameron has described the communities that rioted as "broken" and "sick", whilst elements of the media have painted anyone involved as simply criminals who took to the streets because they enjoy behaving badly.  It was not uncommon to hear broadcasters suggest that the army be deployed on the streets.

The real issue of the economic crisis and the harsh austerity that has destroyed the communities that most of the rioters came from and robbed them of any real opportunities in life, is deflected.  The uprisings in London should have been a series of events that working class people across the country could sympathize with and rally around; but instead, bourgeois hegemony has allowed for a mass condemnation of those involved and an opportunity for the State to prove its ability to rule because it is "tough on crime" and can keep people safe from such disturbances in their own areas.

Strategy and Power

Having considered the role of both the State and civil society in keeping the workers subordinate to the bosses, it is now useful to consider Gramsci’s military strategy.  Gramsci stated that in any attempt to win state power there are two forms of struggle that revolutionaries can engage in: a War of Movement and a War of Position.  The former is a swift attack, directly upon the seat of state power, with the objective of immediate overthrowing the government and replacing it with a workers’ state.  This strategy is clearly inapplicable to the conditions of Britain or any form of ‘advanced capitalism’ today.  A War of Movement can only be launched if civil society is weak and there is thus popular support from workers for an insurrection.

But a War of Position is a feasible strategy.  This is a revolutionary struggle within and against (and perhaps, to an extent, for) civil society, set over a longer period of time, against the hegemony of the ruling class.  (As long as this hegemony remains stable, a workers revolution cannot even be considered).  In a War of Position, we must recognize that set-backs and retreats are inevitable.  If the War of Movement is a sprint, the War of Position is a marathon; not simply an event, but a process.  It is through this protracted struggle that we aim to create working class hegemony.  We must aim to undermine ruling class hegemony and garner mass support and subscription to working class ideology.

It would be naïve to think that the best strategy for revolutionaries to gain influence and bolster working class hegemony today is to depose the ruling class from the institutions of civil society.  The links between the State and civil society are far too deep and intricate for this to be a realistic possibility.  The heads of the capitalist institutions of hegemony (schools, universities, television stations, newspapers, news websites etc.) are, for the vast majority, of the same class background as the heads of State. 

Such positions are nearly always filled by people coming from a private school background, very often from Oxford and Cambridge, the same as most of the millionaires in the current cabinet.  These positions are rarely open to anyone from a working class background. The recent Newscorp scandal proves just how deeply the connections between the State and civil society run.  To try and fight the establishment to take control of civil society as it stands would be to fight the ruling class on its own terms and its own soil.  This is not a viable strategy to break bourgeois hegemony.  Instead, we must create our own working class institutions, in the workplace and beyond and demonstrate our own abilities as a class and present an alternative to subversion to greedy managers and politicians. In attempting to hegemonize society with working class ideas we must cast the net wide and draw in as many working class people as possible to the struggles that concern or affect them.  By increasing workers’ participation in political struggles, we can promote, and prove in practice, the possibility of working class self-organization and self-determination.  In this way we can prove that, as a class, we are capable of running society and that the bosses are superfluous to our needs.

United Front

As a means of drawing workers into struggles, Gramsci, like Lenin and Trotsky, was a great exponent of the united front.  By drawing working class people together around one particular issue or campaign, revolutionaries are able to have a far greater influence on society than if they only relate to ‘card-carrying’ Marxists.  In terms of today’s struggle: millions of people in Britain are opposed to the cuts but only a handful would describe themselves as Marxists or revolutionaries; they may hold very different beliefs, on any number of issues, to a revolutionary socialist but this is of no importance.  If these people can come together and form a united front around the one issue of opposition to the cuts, then we have a far larger and more powerful oppositional force to the ruling class than if we squabble over whatever petty differences we may have.  Gramsci recognized the centrality of the united front to revolutionary organization.  He believed that the united front was not just a tactic to be utilized in one particular campaign and then jettisoned, but an on-going strategy to constantly draw more and more working people into struggles against the ruling class.  Only through the continuation of this strategy can we hope to build serious influence in society and seek to undermine ruling class hegemony.

We must also seek to spread our ideas to as wide an audience as possible through the media.  The function of propaganda cannot be underestimated.  We have already noted that the mass media is almost exclusively a platform for ruling class ideas to be broadcast.  However, with the recent exposure of corruption and malpractice within news outlets; the constantly growing new forms of media (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, live blogs etc.); and the realisation by more and more people that institutions like the BBC are far from impartial (note the reportage on Palestine and the recent public sector strikes to name but a few), we have a terrific opportunity to promote our own ideas to a mass audience.  The news outlets of the establishment are losing credibility rapidly and people, in growing numbers, are looking to alternative ways of following the news.  Videos on Youtube can ‘go viral’ in a matter of hours and Twitter is growing at a spectacular rate.  These are just two examples of ways in which radical ideas can be broadcast to the masses and working class perspectives can penetrate a massive audience like never before.

It may seem that we have a considerable way to go before working class counter-hegemony can begin to rival that of the capitalist class, but class struggle develops unevenly.  As Lenin said, "Sometimes decades pass and nothing happens; and then sometimes weeks pass and decades happen".

The capitalist class is in deep crisis.  Ruling class ideology is being questioned by greater numbers of people every day; the bourgeois media is increasingly being seen as the propaganda machine that it truly is; and people are genuinely looking for an alternative to the crisis-ridden capitalism that drives them increasingly deeper and deeper into poverty.  Now is the time to organize and build within workplaces and communities and not allow the capitalists to ride through yet another crisis unscathed.  The ground is fertile for revolutionaries to engage the masses in class struggle against our oppressors, and this is what we must do. The united front must be utilized in a serious and genuine way in the months and years ahead.  It is our only hope for victory.

Category : Hegemony | Marxism | Strategy and Tactics | Working Class | Blog
25
Jan

Gramsci’s Leninism

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The revolutionary left needs Gramsci; now more than ever

By Chris Walsh
International Socialist Group
June 21, 2012

The legacy of Antonio Gramsci is one of the most fiercely contested in the Marxist tradition. Gramsci’s lineage is claimed by myriad schools of thought for innumerable theoretical purposes, both within and out with Marxism. There is scarcely a social science that hasn’t incorporated Gramsci’s key concepts into its literature: often presenting the Italian as an ‘acceptable’ Marxist and almost never confronting the possibility that he was a thinker and activist of the same political ilk as Lenin. In the history of Western Marxism, perhaps the major debate of the last fifty years has been around the question of whether Gramsci’s politics were a continuation of, or a break from, the Leninist tradition.

The major task of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks was to begin to articulate a revolutionary strategy for socialists operating in the advanced capitalist West where the conditions were fundamentally different from those in absolutist Russia. To engage in such a project is enough, for some, to draw a distinction between Gramsci’s politics and Lenin’s. However, this is a shallow conclusion to reach; since in the early 1920s, no one was more acutely aware as Lenin that a different revolutionary strategy would be necessary for the West.

In the 1970s, a new wave of theory which relied heavily on a (mis)reading of Gramsci began to emerge from within the Communist Parties of Europe. This loose variety of perspectives became known collectively as Eurocommunism: centred on the idea that Gramsci’s concept of ‘War of Position’ sanctioned a reformist road to socialism; the Communist Parties that adhered to this new perspective began to see electoral work as their political priority and quickly began to discount much of the politics of their Leninist heritage.

In Britain, Eurocommunism was championed by the Marxism Today journal, headed up by writers like Martin Jacques and Stuart Hall. Such figures had good reason to detach Gramsci from the Leninist tradition: they wanted to drive a theoretical wedge between themselves and the Stalinist USSR’s ‘cult of Lenin’; they were deeply pessimistic from decades of defeats for the hard-left and wanted to articulate a new socialist strategy which jettisoned the unmarketable old verities of their failed Marxism-Leninism, like ‘The Dictatorship of The Proletariat’. Gramsci, they thought, was their ticket to such drastic revision and they purposefully tried to distance his thought from that of Lenin. These were, of course, politically motivated men. Their own conclusions were neither impartial nor strictly scholarly but dictated by their own specific agenda of radical left-wing reorientation and renewal, in a time of deep crisis for the left.

It is important here to clarify some, often ignored but crucial, points: Firstly, the concept which has become synonymous with Gramscian thought, ‘hegemony’, was not an original concept of Gramsci’s, but one that he learned from Lenin and was widely used by leading theorists of both the Second and Third International. Gramsci’s use of the term is not a departure from, nor contradictory to, the Russian’s usage but is in fact a continuation and development of the same concept. Secondly, although it has been popular for decades to characterise Gramsci’s hegemony as an alternative strategy to the increasingly unfashionable concept of The Dictatorship of The Proletariat, Gramsci never intended it thus; in fact the two concepts were, in the Italian’s mind, very much complementary. In fact, Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks was an attempt to carry on Lenin’s legacy after his death.

Lenin and the West

As already mentioned, Lenin knew all too well that a different revolutionary strategy was required for the West. In 1921 he specifically outlined to the Russian communists the necessity of the theorisation of a strategy for Western workers which was suitable to their own conditions. He specifically regrets that the program set out at the Third Congress was scarcely comprehensible to the non-Russian mind:

"At the Third Congress, in 1921, we adopted a resolution on the organisational structure of the Communist parties and on the methods and content of their activities. The resolution is an excellent one, but it almost entirely Russian, that is to say, everything in it is based on Russian conditions. This is its good point, but it is also its failing. It is its failing because I am sure that no foreigner can read it…Second, even if they read it, they will not understand it because it is too Russian. Not because it is written in Russian – it has been excellently translated into all languages – but because it is thoroughly imbued with the Russian spirit. And third, if by way of exception some foreigner does understand it, he cannot carry it out." (Lenin; ‘Five Years of the Russian Revolution and the Prospects of the World Revolution: Report to the Fourth Congress of the Communist International’; Lenin’s Final Fight: 1922-23; p111)

The strength of the resolution was in its detail, specificity and ability to focus on the minutiae of organisational questions. Its weakness was that the specifics of the Russian social and economic conditions were exceptional and thus completely alien to the Western worker. Worse still is the fact that even after dedicated study of the Russian conditions leading to an understanding of the revolutionary organisation and practice of the Russian communists, this knowledge could become a fetter to the Western revolutionary if taken dogmatically since their own road to workers revolution would be so radically different to that of the Bolsheviks. This led Lenin to lament that "We have not learned how to present our Russian experience to foreigners." In order to rectify the oversights from the previous congress, he stressed to his compatriots that, "We Russians must also find ways and means of explaining the principles of this resolution to the foreigners. Unless we do that, it will be absolutely impossible for them to carry it out."

The key task for the Communist International at this point was to ‘translate’ the Russian experience into the many vernaculars of the European workers. No two states have identical form or conditions, and certainly the Russian situation was particularly far removed from those of the more advanced capitalisms in Europe.

War of Manouvere & War of Position

One of Gramsci’s greatest contributions to revolutionary Marxism was his formulation of the dual strategies of War of Manouvere and War of Position. The former, as carried out by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917, was conceived as an appropriate strategy for socialists operating within societies where capitalism was still underdeveloped. It involved an insurrectionary advance upon the state which is only possible when the ruling class within society maintain their superiority to the subaltern classes by sheer force, with little or no acceptance of their superiority from the masses. In such a situation, the subordinate classes do not consent to the class leadership of the bourgeoisie but are forced into acquiescence by the vast apparatuses of state violence, "special bodies of armed men, prisons, etc." as Lenin outlined in The State and Revolution.

The War of Position, on the other hand, is a more patient and protracted strategy. This involves not just an attack upon the bastions of state power, but a lengthy period building up to this moment in which class alliances are forged and ideological leadership amongst the subaltern classes is strived for. Gramsci explains the differing conditions that demand each respective strategy:

"In the East, the state was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous; in the West, there was a proper relation between state and civil society, and when the state tottered, a sturdy structure of civil society was immediately revealed. The state was just a forward trench; behind it stood a succession of sturdy fortresses and emplacements. Needless to say, the configuration of the state varied from state to state, which is precisely why an accurate reconnaissance on a national scale was needed." (Gramsci, Antonio; Prison Notebooks, Volume III; trans. Buttigieg; p169)

In this particular passage Gramsci identifies the state as being the fortress surrounding civil society. At other times he presents the converse, that civil society protects the state. There is no ultimate truth regarding the formulation of advanced capitalist states since "the configuration of the state varied from state to state". The key point to note is that in the West there was a far more mature relationship between the state and civil society. The state in the advanced capitalist West ensures the continuation of the domination of the capitalist class through a far more complex method of governance than the brute coercion of the underdeveloped Eastern state. There is a far more effective deployment of a combination of both coercion and consent. The more advanced that the capitalist state becomes, it utilises less and less force and becomes increasingly reliant on gaining consent from the masses to maintain the hierarchical status quo.

It is important to note at this point that the population is by no means duped into such an arrangement. The ideology of the ruling class purposefully appeals to certain needs, desires or fears that are actually held by the subaltern classes. These appeals are made upon different issues at different historical points and are obviously dictated by the specific conditions in any given society. They can be anything from: the restoration of law and order/domestic security; national security; concerns around the size of the state apparatus; anger at ‘benefits culture’, appeals to fairness. All of these were deployed in Margaret Thatcher’s political project. All of these fears were stoked by Thatcher and her allies, predominantly through the role of the media in endorsing them wholeheartedly and giving little or no platform to any voice of dissent.

When the ruling class ideology becomes so widely accepted that the oppressed classes are willing to subscribe to it; when alternatives cannot be found, or if they exist but can’t gain any traction; this is when the ruling ideology becomes, what Gramsci called, ‘common sense’. This ideological shift in society becomes so stable that even the following political administrations seemingly have to subscribe to it. This is when a political project becomes truly hegemonic. This is what was achieved by the radical project of Thatcherism, so that the next Labour government after Thatcher’s reign completely embraced and continued her neo-liberal project.

The Integral State

In the traditional Marxist duality of state and civil society; the ideological apparatuses such as the media, schools, universities, the family etc. are considered to be institutions of civil society. Gramsci recognized that in advanced capitalist society, such an assignment is not completely accurate. Civil society and the state become so inextricably linked that both must be tackled concurrently. If we consider the influence that powerful figures in society can have upon the state and vice versa: whether it be wealthy donors to political parties having a say in policy or decision making; or media tycoons who have such a vast influence upon the population that they play a decisive role in who is elected to office; it is clear that the power in society does not simply lie within the state proper.

This is why Gramsci formulated the concept of the ‘integral state’. In this formulation, the state and civil society are not two distinct entities but two component parts of the same organism. There is a dialectical relationship between the two parts so that the capacities of the state to act are always dependant upon the balance of class and social forces, and the role of actors, within civil society.

It is a common misinterpretation of Gramsci that the War of Position is fought within civil society, and once hegemony is ensured, the state lies unprotected for the workers to lay hold of. When we consider the concept of the ‘integral state’ it becomes obvious that this is incorrect. The integral state is everything; one unitary ‘state-form’ that encompasses both civil and political society. The state proper and civil society prop each other up in a symbiotic fashion. A working class revolutionary movement must attack both at once. The strategy of the united front must be in constant deployment. The oppressed must be organised and drawn into constant and increasing struggle with the state and the ruling class. This must be given organisational form in the shape of new workers institutions and revolutionaries must always strive to ensconce politics into them, continually raising the consciousness and organisation of struggle in a dialectical interaction.

Civil Hegemony = War of Position = United front

We must understand that Gramsci’s conception of hegemony cannot be comprehended in isolation from his other major prison researches. We are offered the equation: ‘Civil Hegemony = War of Position = United Front.’ The United Front is the strategy implemented in order to unite the subordinate classes in conflict with the state; Civil hegemony (the starting point of, and always progressing towards, political hegemony) is the leadership of the oppressed classes on the terrain of civil society; and War of Position is the steady, incremental advance of the proletarian-led alliance of the oppressed to subordinate the dominant hegemony, and when possible, manouvere for control of the apparatuses of the state. Each component part of this formulation is essential to the unity of the strategic whole.

If any one is discounted, the strategy is rendered unintelligible and certainly un-workable. Leadership (hegemony) can only be established within civil society once the various oppressed classes have forged some form of allegiance (through the United Front) with the proletarian vanguard that will lead the struggle against the ruling class in the fields of both civil and political society. I will argue, and seek to demonstrate through a close textual analysis, that each component part of the equation owes a great deal to the influence of Lenin.

Lenin’s Hegemony (Leadership)

As we have already noted, Gramsci adopted his concept of hegemony from Lenin. We should also remember at this point that hegemony for Gramsci, in any given pre-revolutionary period, simply means leadership of the subaltern classes, brought together in struggle by the United Front. Although Lenin doesn’t often use the word hegemony, this has often mistakenly been interpreted as an absence or irrelevance of the concept from his discourse. As Buci-Glucksmann puts it:

"The majority of commentators, anxious to stress the decisive contribution made by Gramsci, or more subtly, to oppose Gramsci to Lenin, end up by underestimating the place of hegemony in Lenin’s work and remaining almost completely silent on the Third International." (Buci-Glucksmann, Christine; Gramsci and The State; p174)

However, it is not difficult to find examples of the concept in his writings from long before 1917. Let us consider the following passages from Two Tactics of Social Democracy, written in 1905:

"All the usual, regular and current work of all organizations and groups of our Party, the work of propaganda, agitation and organisation, is directed towards strengthening and expanding the ties with the masses." (Lenin; Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in The Democratic Revolution, Lenin: Selected Works; p51)

"In a word, to avoid finding itself with its hands tied in the struggle against the inconsistent bourgeois democracy the proletariat must be class-conscious and strong enough to rouse the peasantry to revolutionary consciousness, guide its assault, and thereby independently pursue the line of consistent proletarian democratism." (Lenin; Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in The Democratic Revolution, Lenin: Selected Works; p85)

As early as 1905 Lenin recognises that class alliances must be made with the other subaltern classes in order to engage in effective revolutionary struggle. This is especially true in countries where the proletariat is not quantitatively the largest class. As well as forging this alliance of the oppressed, the proletariat must establish the trust and loyalty of the other component classes and lead and dictate the form of their revolutionary activities (just as in Gramsci’s formulations). At this conjuncture, Lenin identifies the united front as a tactic, suitable to the specific period, rather than a strategy. One could easily argue that it was suitable for Russia in 1905 but quite ill-fitting to the conditions in which Gramsci operated in Italy. However, the United Front eventually establishes a more permanent role in Lenin’s thought. It wasn’t until much later, specifically at the beginning of the Third International that the united front was recognized as a strategy for the age rather than merely a specific manouvere. I will return to, and address, this point later when dealing with the theory and practice of the ‘last Lenin’ and its significance to Gramsci.

Lenin’s overall strategy for proletarian revolution was evidently vindicated in October 1917. After the October Revolution, the concept of hegemony – class leadership of the oppressed – begins to appear far more frequently in Lenin’s writings, and it appears in a more developed form. In 1918, in The State and Revolution, we read:

"Only the proletariat – by virtue of the economic role it plays in large-scale production – is capable of being the leader of all the working and exploited people, whom the bourgeoisie exploit, oppress and crush, often not less but more than they do the proletarians, but who are incapable of waging an independent struggle for their emancipation." (Lenin; The State and Revolution; Lenin: Selected Works; p281)

No other class other than that of workers has been prepared by its position in the mode of production for such a role; No other class is organized through labour in such large groupings and social conditions; No other class has the skills to continue production and lay the foundations for the new socialist society in the eventuality of the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

The Dictatorship of The Proletariat (Domination)

At this point, after the revolutionary deposition of the capitalist class, Lenin’s ‘hegemony’ acquires another vital aspect to its overall meaning, one that we also find in the writings of Antonio Gramsci; namely, domination. Now we see hegemony as necessary not just in order to lead the oppressed classes in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie; but also as essential to the proletariat to maintain its class domination and quell the "desperate resistance of the bourgeoisie". This period in which the proletariat assumes the position of society’s ruling class is by no means the completion of the workers’ revolution. It is simply the transitional period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The workers revolution is only complete when all classes have been abolished from society.

Now, the distinction, falsely forged in desperation by the Eurocommunists and reformists of all shades, of Gramsci’s notion of hegemony and Lenin’s understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat is exposed to all as wholly inaccurate. Simply put, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the mobilization of "a ‘special coercive force’ for the suppression of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat". (Lenin; The State and Revolution; Lenin: Selected Works; p275) In other words, Gramsci’s understanding of the ‘domination’ aspect of hegemony is identical to Lenin’s ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.

In the writings of both Lenin and Gramsci, the proletarian-led, revolutionary alliance of the exploited remained essential before, during and after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. This working class leadership was coupled with a post-insurrectionary working class domination and suppression of the deposed capitalist class and the counter-revolutionary forces it would mobilise in a furious attempt to reclaim its lost superiority. In Gramsci’s first notebook he writes:

"A class is dominant in two ways, namely it is "leading" and "dominant." It leads the allied classes, it dominates the opposing classes. Therefore, a class can (and must) "lead" even before assuming power; when it is in power it becomes dominant, but it also continues to ‘lead’." (Gramsci, Antonio; Prison Notebooks, Volume I; trans. Buttigieg; p136)

Compare this with Lenin’s outline of the strategic necessities of the revolutionary process, again written in 1918:

"In every socialist revolution, however – and consequently in the socialist revolution in Russia which we began on October 25, 1917 – the principal task of the proletariat, and of the poor peasants which it leads, is the positive or constructive work of setting up an extremely intricate and delicate system of new organizational relationships extending to the planned production and distribution of the goods required for the existence of tens of millions of people. Such a revolution can be successfully carried out only if the majority of the population, and primarily the majority of the working people, engage in independent creative work as makers of history. Only if the proletariat and the poor peasants display sufficient class-consciousness, devotion to principle, self-sacrifice and perseverance, will the victory of the socialist revolution be assured." (Lenin; The Immediate Tasks of The Soviet Government; Lenin: Selected Works; p402)

The overthrow of the bourgeoisie does not herald the birth of a new socialist society; it is merely the transitory stage of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The socialist revolution is only complete when classes have been eliminated from society and thus the state, whose very raison d’être is the suppression of the subordinate classes to ensure the continued superiority of the dominant, is rendered superfluous. The socialist revolution is only completed when a new, completely unprecedented state-form comes into being: the workers state; "which is no longer really a state." (Lenin; The State and Revolution; Essential Works of Lenin; p301)

The alliances forged before the insurrectionary movement must be maintained and continue to be led by the workers in order to construct the new social and economic conditions for socialism and allow the revolutionary process to progress beyond the temporary moment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Lenin writes in 1919:

"Classes have remained, but in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat every class has undergone a change, and the relations between the classes have also changed. The class struggle does not disappear under the dictatorship of the proletariat; it merely assumes different forms." (Lenin; Economics and Politics in The Era of The Dictatorship of the Proletariat; Lenin: Selected Works; p503)

Although Lenin and Gramsci use different language, it is evident that they are describing the same organisational, revolutionary practice. Just as the relative absence of the actual word ‘hegemony’ in Lenin doesn’t denote an omission of the concept; neither does Gramsci’s seldom use of the phrase, ‘the Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ in the Prison Notebooks signify its absence from his thought.

The ‘Last Lenin’

The most significant themes of Gramsci’s carceral writings: Hegemony, War of Position and the United Front; as we have seen, were all taken directly from Lenin. Gramsci’s biographer, Alastair Davidson remarks that, "Leninism at its end-point and gramscianism at its beginnings are closely linked." (Davidson, Alastair; Gramsci & Lenin: 1917-1922; The Socialist Register, 1974; p146) This does not go far enough. Gramsci’s prison writings carry Lenin’s theoretical baton after the Russian’s death. They seek to articulate his final strategic thoughts in a period when Leninism had been crudely distorted and Lenin’s true legacy was fiercely contested, if not always openly, within the Communist International. Gramsci formulated his ideas at the same time as the Comintern was committed to the strategic folly of the Third Period and the abandonment of the United Front. In Lenin’s final years, he realised that the United Front was no longer merely a conjunctural manouvere but in fact the only suitable strategy for the age. Gramsci took the minority position of being faithful to this Lenin. Peter Thomas writes:

"The struggle for ‘civil and political hegemony’, the attempt to construct a proletarian hegemonic apparatus, was Gramsci’s attempt to remain faithful to Lenin’s last will and testament and to deploy the qualitative advance in the development of the concept of hegemony in Western conditions. Far from leading away from the classical thesis of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Gramscian theory of proletarian hegemony posits itself as its necessary ‘complement’. War of Position is now not only the ‘only possible’ strategy in the West; as an application of the mass class-based politics of the united front, it has become the sine qua non of a revolutionary politics that wants to produce a politics ‘of a very different type’ on an international scale." (Thomas, Peter D; The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism; p239)

In light of the evidence, there can be absolutely no question of whether or not Gramsci was a Leninist. His Leninism was far richer and more dynamic than any variant professed by his contemporaries. By crudely cleaving Gramsci from the Leninist tradition, the Eurocommunists and their ancestors present a picture of the man and his theory which is not only historically inaccurate, but opportunistically incomplete. We must reclaim his legacy from its wide-ranging abuse in political discourse and just about every other field of social science.

In the 21st century when much of the left have abandoned Lenin for being antiquated and outmoded, we must look to Gramsci in order to help define what Leninism means today and its relevance to revolutionary struggle in our age. The Leninist left’s dreary re-reading of The State and Revolution and What Is To Be Done?, as if a solution to the many crises that confront us today will magically materialise from within the text, will provide little insight into the questions and tasks presented by the ever advancing and transforming (and increasingly crisis-ridden) capitalism of today. Dogmatism is our enemy within. Gramsci’s dynamic Marxism can aid in undermining the dogma that silently retards us. The revolutionary left needs Gramsci; now more than ever.

Category : Strategy and Tactics | Blog
22
Jan

 

By Gar Alperovitz and Steve Dubb
Alternet, Jan 15, 2013

Most activists tend to approach progressive change from one of two perspectives: First, there’s the “reform” tradition that assumes corporate control is a constant and that “politics” acts to modify practices within that constraint. Liberalism in the United States is representative of this tradition. Then there’s the “revolutionary” tradition, which assumes change can come about only if the major institutions are largely eliminated or transcended, often by violence.

But what if neither revolution nor reform is viable?

Paradoxically, we believe the current stalemating of progressive reform may open up some unique strategic possibilities to transform institutions of the political economy over time. We call this third option evolutionary reconstruction. Like reform, evolutionary reconstruction involves step-by-step nonviolent change. But like revolution, evolutionary reconstruction changes the basic institutions of ownership of the economy, so that the broad public, rather than a narrow band of individuals (i.e., the “one percent”) owns more and more of the nation’s productive assets.

1. A People’s Bank

One area where this logic can be seen at work is in the financial industry. At the height of the financial crisis in early 2009, some kind of nationalization of the banks seemed possible. It was a moment, President Obama told banking CEOs, when his administration was “the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” The president opted for a soft bailout, but that was not the only possible decision.

When the next financial crisis occurs – and many experts think it will —a different resolution may well be possible. One option has already been put on the table. In 2010, 33 senators voted to break up large Wall Street investment banks that were “too big to fail.” Such a policy would not only reduce financial vulnerability, it would alter the structure of institutional power.

Nor is an effort to break up banks, even if successful, likely to be the end of the process. The modern history of anti-trust and finance suggests that the big banks, even if broken up, will ultimately regroup. So what can be done when breaking them up fails?

Traditional reforms have aimed at improved regulation, higher reserve requirements and the channeling of credit to key sectors. But future crises may bring into play a spectrum of sophisticated proposals for more radical change. For instance, a “Limited Purpose Banking” strategy put forward by conservative economist Laurence Kolticoff would impose a 100% reserve requirement on banks. Since banks typically provide loans in amounts many times their reserves, this would transform them into modest institutions with little or no capacity to finance speculation. It would also nationalize the creation of all new money as federal authorities, rather than bankers, directly control system-wide financial flows.

More striking is the argument of Willem Buiter, the chief economist of Citigroup, that if the public underwrites the costs of bailouts, “banks should be in public ownership.” In fact, had the taxpayer funds used to bail out major financial institutions in 2007-2010 been provided on condition that voting stock be issued in return for the investment, one or more major banks would have become essentially public banks.

Nor is this far from current political tradition. Unknown to most, there have been a large number of small and medium-sized public banking institutions for some time now. In fact, the federal government already operates 140 banks and quasi-banks that provide loans and loan guarantees for an extraordinary range of domestic and international economic activities.

The economic crisis has also produced widespread interest in the Bank of North Dakota, a highly successful state-owned bank founded in 1919. Between 1996 and 2008, the bank returned $340 million in profits to the state. The bank enjoys broad support in the business community, as well as among progressive activists. Legislative proposals to establish banks patterned in whole or in part on the North Dakota model have been put forward by activists and legislators in more than a dozen states.

2. Move to Universal Healthcare

That austerity and failing reform might open the way to "evolutionary reconstructive" institutional change is also suggested by emerging developments in healthcare.

Cost pressures are also building up—and, critically, in ways that will continue to undermine U.S. corporations facing global competitors, forcing them to seek new solutions. The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects that healthcare costs will go up from the 2010 level of 17.5 percent of GDP to 19.6 percent in 2019. It has long been clear that over the long-haul cost pressures are ultimately likely to force development of some form of single-payer system —the only serious way to deal with the underlying problem. 

A national solution may come about either in response to a burst of pain-driven public outrage, or more slowly through a state-by-state build-up. Massachusetts already has a near universal plan. In Hawaii, health coverage (provided mostly by nonprofit insurers) reaches 91.8 percent of adults in part because of a 1970s law mandating low-cost insurance for anyone working 20 hours a week. In Vermont, Governor Peter Shumlin signed legislation in May 2011 creating “Green Mountain Care.” Universal coverage, dependent on a federal waiver, would begin in 2017 and possibly as early as 2014. In Connecticut, the legislature in 2011 authorized a “SustiNet” non-profit public health insurance program, which it aims to launch in 2014. In all, bills to create universal healthcare have been introduced in nearly 20 states.

3.  Build Community Wealth

“Social enterprises” that undertake businesses in order to support specific social missions now increasingly comprise what is sometimes called a "fourth sector” (different from the government, business and non-profit sectors). Roughly 4,500 not-for-profit community development corporations are largely devoted to housing development. There are now also more than 10,000 businesses owned in whole or part by their employees; nearly 3 million more individuals are involved in these enterprises than are members of private sector unions. Another 130 million Americans are members of various urban, agricultural and credit union cooperatives. In many cities, “land trusts” are underway using an institutional form of nonprofit or municipal ownership that develops and maintains low- and moderate-income housing.

In Cleveland, Ohio, an integrated group of worker-owned companies has been developed, supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities. The Cleveland effort, which is partly modeled on the 85,000-person Mondragón cooperative network, based in the Basque region of Spain, is on track to create new businesses, year by year, as time goes on. The goal is not simply worker ownership, but the democratization of wealth and community building in general. Linked by a community-serving non-profit corporation and a revolving fund, the companies cannot be sold outside the network; they also return 10 percent of profits to help develop additional worker-owned firms.

A critical element of the strategy points to what is essentially a quasi-public sector planning model: Hospitals and universities in the area currently spend $3 billion on goods and services a year—none, until recently, from the immediately surrounding neighborhoods. The “Cleveland model” is supported in part by decisions of these substantially publically financed institutions to allocate part of their procurement to the worker-co-ops in support of a larger community-building agenda. Numerous other cities are now exploring efforts of this kind, including Atlanta; Pittsburgh; Amarillo, Texas; and Washington, DC. Related institutional work is now underway, too, through the leadership of United Steelworkers, a union that has put forward new proposals for a co-op-union model of ownership.

Another innovative enterprise is Market Creek Plaza in San Diego, a $23.5 million, mixed-use, commercial-retail-residential development. The project was conceived, planned and developed by teams of community members working with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. Market Creek Plaza is also a green project, and aims to expand to become a transit-oriented village with 800 units of affordable housing and extensive facilities for nonprofit organizations. The project has restored 1,400 linear feet of wetlands, while generating 200 permanent jobs (70 percent filled by local residents), provided 415 residents with a 20-percent ownership stake in the project, and generated $42 million in economic activity (in 2008).

4. Leverage City Assets

Yet another arena of institutional growth involves municipal development. By maintaining direct ownership of areas surrounding transit station exits, public agencies in Washington, DC, Atlanta and elsewhere earn millions, capturing the increased land values their transit investments create. The town of Riverview, Michigan has been a national leader in trapping methane from its landfills and using it to fuel electricity generation, thereby providing both revenue and jobs. There are roughly 500 similar projects nationwide. Many cities have established municipally owned hotels. There are also nearly 2,000 publicly owned utilities that provide power (and often broadband) to more than 45 million Americans, generating $50 billion in annual revenue. Significant public institutions are also common at the state level. CalPERS, California’s public pension authority, helps finance local community development needs; in Alaska, state oil revenues provide each citizen with dividends as a matter of right; in Alabama, public pension investing has long focused on state economic development.

5. Organize for the Long Haul

You can think of the slow buildup of democratizing strategies as the pre-historical developmental work needed to clarify new principles for larger scale application. Just as in the decades before the New Deal, state and local experiments in the “laboratories of democracy” may suggest new larger scale approaches. The new direction has four aspects; democratization of wealth; community, both locally and in general; decentralization in general; and substantial but not complete forms of democratic planning. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Democratization of Wealth: Institutions like public banks challenge the idea that private corporate enterprise offers the only possible way forward. They also help open new ways of thinking about how to get meaningful larger scale democratization. Historically, cooperatives and other federations also helped establish institutional and organizational support for explicit political efforts in support of specific policies. Critically, they also help stabilize local community economies, since such institutions tend to be anchored locally by virtue of their democratic ownership structure.

Rethinking Community: If you want to alter larger patterns of wealth and power, you have to build a culture that reconstructs “community.” In economic terms, building community means introducing and emphasizing practical forms of community ownership. In the Cleveland effort, for example, the central institution is a community-wide, neighborhood-encompassing non-profit corporation. The board of the non-profit institution includes representatives both of the worker cooperatives and of key community institutions. Worker co-ops are linked to this (and to a revolving fund at the center), and though independently owned and managed, they cannot be sold without permission from the founding community-wide institution. The basic principle is that the effort should benefit the broader community, not only or simply workers in one or another co-op.

Decentralization: Can there be meaningful democracy in a very large system without far more rigorous decentralization than is commonly assumed in the United States? It is a commonplace that Washington is “broken.” But part of the problem has to do with scale. We rarely confront the fact that the United States is a very large geographic polity: Germany could easily be tucked into Montana. The United States is also very large in population—currently more than 310 million, likely to reach 500 million shortly after mid-century.

Decentralization in these circumstances is nearly inevitable, and if the continental nation is too large and most states are too small to deal with economic matters, what remains is the intermediate scale we call the region— a unit of scale that is likely to become of increasing importance as time (and population growth) go on. The question is almost certainly how to regionalize, not whether to do so—what powers to maintain at the center and what powers to relegate to various smaller scale units. The principle of subsidiarity—keeping decision-making at the lowest feasible level, and only elevating to higher levels when absolutely necessary—is implicit as a guiding principle.

Democratic Planning: A well-designed planning system can change relationships between firms, the community and the market. Planning also needs to be democratic at all levels.

Take a look at Brazil’s innovations in participatory budgeting, where citizens determine major public expenditures – an idea that is gaining traction in Chicago. So far these experiments have definite limits since they are restricted to municipal budget decisions. But if the practice can be extended in scope and scale over time, it could provide an important mechanism for increasing meaningful democracy.

High-speed rail and mass transit are another area in which we can think about larger scale planning approaches. The United States has limited capacity to build equipment for any of this. But when the next crisis occurs in the auto or other industries, a public bail-out might restructure firms so that we could use public contracts needed to build mass transit and high-speed rail in ways that also help support the development of quasi-public national and community-based firms—both to produce what is needed and simultaneously to help stabilize local communities.

6. Cut Corporate Power Down to Size

To deal with economic issues, ecological challenges and local community stability, we must also come to terms with corporate power dynamics. Public corporations are subject to Wall Street’s first commandment: Grow or die!” You can’t just wish or regulate that idea away.

In addition to carbon emissions, countless studies have documented growing energy, mineral, water, arable land and other limits to unending growth. Yet the trends continue: The United States, with less than 5 percent of global population, consumes 22 percent of the world’s oil, 13 percent of world coal, and 21 percent of world natural gas. From 1940 to 1976, Americans used up as large a share of the earth’s mineral resources as did everyone in all previous history.

At some point, a society like the United States that already produces the equivalent of over $190,000 for every family of four must ask when enough is enough. As Juliet Schor has argued, one key change is to encourage less consumption and more leisure time. That means reforming unemployment insurance policy to encourage work sharing, changing government labor practices to model shorter working hours, and discouraging excessive overtime. We need to restore balance on a personal level, but we can’t ignore the big systemic challenges. As former presidential adviser James Gustav Speth has observed: “For the most part we have worked within this current system of political economy, but working within the system will not succeed in the end when what is needed is transformative change in the system itself.”

As a matter of cold logic, if some of the most important corporations have a massively disruptive and costly impact on the economy and environment—and if experience suggests that regulation and anti-trust laws are likely to be largely subverted by these corporations—a public takeover becomes the only logical answer. This general argument was put forward most forcefully not by liberals, but by the founders of the Chicago School of economics. Conservative Nobel Laureate George Stigler repeatedly observed that regulatory strategies were “designed and operated primarily for [the corporation’s] benefit.” Henry C. Simons, Milton Friedman’s mentor, was even more forceful. “Turned loose with inordinate powers, corporations have vastly over-organized most industries,” Simons held. The state “should face the necessity of actually taking over, owning, and managing directly…industries in which it is impossible to maintain effectively competitive conditions.”

For many decades, the only choices to many have seemed state socialism, or corporate capitalism. When traditional systems falter and fail, new ideas spring to life. Little noticed by most observers, handholds on processes of potentially important new forms of change have been quietly developing around the country. These changes build upon each other to create an evolutionary process that has the power to transform the way we live – for the better.

Category : Capitalism | Socialism | Strategy and Tactics | Blog
17
Jan

Under Construction

Our Historical Tasks at the Primary Stage of Socialism and Several Issues Concerning China’s Foreign Policy

By Wen Jiabao
Premier, PRC

China Daily, March 2007

I. Our Historical Tasks at the Primary Stage of Socialism

A keen appreciation of China’s national conditions and its historical stage is the basis for our Party to put forward theories in a scientific way and adopt correct principles and policies. It is also a key prerequisite for ensuring the success of all our endeavors.

China is at the primary stage of socialism, and will remain so for a long time to come. The primary stage means a stage of underdevelopment, which manifests itself, first and foremost, in the low level of the productive forces. Therefore, we must unswervingly take economic development as the central task and go all out to boost the productive forces. However, when we talk about the primary stage, we should not just think about the underdeveloped productive forces. We should also recognize that the socialist system still has room for improvement and that it is not yet a mature one. Comrade Deng Xiaoping pointed out that in essence, socialism is about liberating and developing the productive forces, eliminating exploitation and polarization, and ultimately, it is about achieving prosperity for all. This means that in consolidating and developing socialism, we must be clear about and focus on two major tasks: one is to liberate and develop the productive forces to vastly increase the material wealth of the whole society, and the other is to achieve social fairness and justice, fire the creativity of the whole nation and promote social harmony. The two tasks are interconnected and reinforce each other. As a holistic endeavor, they should be pursued throughout the historical course of all the development stages of socialism. Without the sustained and full development of productive forces, it will be impossible to achieve social fairness and justice, an essential requirement of socialism. Without gradual progress in social fairness and justice along with the growth of productive forces, it will be impossible to give full play to the initiative and creativity of all the people and ensure sustained and full development of productive forces. In implementing Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of “Three Represents”, following the scientific thinking on development and building a socialist harmonious society, it is critical that we have a full and scientific understanding of the essence of socialism.

When China began to build socialism, it was way behind developed countries in terms of productive forces. It will take a fairly long historical period before China can achieve industrialization and modernization. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and particularly since the introduction of reform and opening-up policy, China has greatly enhanced social productive forces and its overall national strength, and markedly improved the well-being of its people. China has achieved a historic leap from meeting the basic living needs for its people to making life moderately prosperous for them. However, given China’s huge population, weak economic base and development imbalances between urban and rural areas and among different regions, its low level of productive forces remains basically unchanged. While continuing economic reform, we have steadily proceeded with reform in the political system. Socialist democracy and legal system are being enhanced, and the Chinese people are playing an increasingly active role in political affairs. People’s political, economic, cultural, social and other rights are duly protected. Nonetheless, China’s socialist market economy and its democracy and legal system are not yet fully developed. Social unfairness, graft and corruption still exist. The socialist system is not yet mature. Therefore, China still has a long way to go before it can move to a stage higher than the primary stage of socialism. It remains a developing country. Regarding the overall long-term development of socialism, Comrade Deng Xiaoping made a keen observation in 1992 in his remarks during his inspection tour to south China: It will take a very long historical period to consolidate and develop the socialist system, and it will require persistent struggle by many generations, a dozen or even several dozens. We can never rest on our oars.

In the process of reform, opening-up and modernization, we will gain a deeper understanding of what is socialism and how to develop socialism, and we will be able to enrich and advance socialism by adhering to the principle that practice is the only criterion for testing truth. In this connection, two points must be made clear: First, we need to have a full and profound understanding of the basic conditions of China at the primary stage of socialism. To build a country of more than one billion people into a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized and harmonious modern socialist country is an unprecedented endeavor in human history. It is a historical mission that requires persistent and arduous efforts. Second, we must press ahead with reform and encourage innovation. Comrade Jiang Zemin pointed out, “The great progress our people have achieved under the leadership of our Party in reform, opening-up and modernization in the past more than 20 years has been possible because of the theoretical innovation, institutional innovation, scientific and technological innovation we have pursued.” In pursuing reform and innovation, we should not only benefit from and carry forward the inexhaustibly rich and valuable experience our Party has gained in the long years of socialist development and reform; we should also boldly draw upon all the progress of human civilization and all advanced business and managerial expertise that embody the laws governing modern social production. This is the only way for our socialist system to gain strength in competing with the capitalist system. It is with this in mind that we say that socialism is like an ocean which never runs dry as it admits hundreds of rivers. It will take a considerably long historical process for socialism to gain maturity in terms of both theory and practice. Therefore, we must unswervingly adhere to the basic lines of the Party for the primary stage of socialism for the next 100 years and persist in carrying out reform and innovation to ensure enduring vigor and vitality for socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Leading officials at all levels should develop historical and global perspectives and view things from an overall and strategic angle. Only with a full and deep appreciation of the long-term nature of the primary stage of socialism and our historic mission can we truly understand why we have adopted the policies we are pursuing today instead of any other policy and work with stronger commitment, determination and creativity.

II. The Period of Strategic Opportunities for China’s Development

The first 20 years of this century will be a period of important strategic opportunities for China. We must not miss it, and we must make full use of it. To embrace this period of strategic opportunities and make good use of it is of utmost importance to our goal of building a society of moderate prosperity in all respects and building socialism with Chinese characteristics.

China did not have many major opportunities for development in its history. In modern times, China closed itself and fell victim to imperialist aggressions. As a result, China lost an opportunity for development and fell behind. After the founding of New China, great achievements were made in its socialist development endeavors. However, we missed a major development opportunity because of some big policy mistakes, and particularly the disastrous ten-year-long “Cultural Revolution”. Opportunity is rare. When it presents itself, we must seize it, or it will be lost for good. In the past 28 years of reform and opening-up, China’s economy has maintained fast and sustainable growth. This is a miracle. Will China have another period of opportunity in the future? My answer is yes. How long will it last? This will depend on what domestic and foreign policies we follow and on our ability to respond to new developments.

Profound and complex changes are taking place in the world, and many new international developments deserve our close attention. But the overall international environment is a favorable one for China. Peace and development remain the general trend of the times and no major war is likely to break out. It is fully possible for us to have a fairly long-term peaceful international environment and a favorable neighborhood environment. History shows that those remaining backward are invariably despised and bullied by others. We must seize the favorable international opportunities to speed up our development. Achieving development is the overriding principle. It is the basis for solving all problems in China and for China to conduct effective diplomacy. Competition between states is based on strength. There are major principles and secondary principles, and the latter should be subjected to the former. Then what is the major principle? It is to accomplish the central goal of socialist modernization drive. People of all walks of life in China should recognize the larger interest of the modernization drive, comply with it and work to advance it.

III. Take the Path of Peaceful Development

China takes the path of peaceful development. This is made necessary by its national conditions, cultural traditions and its embracing of the global trend of development. And, in the final analysis, it is determined by the nature of China as a socialist country led by the Communist Party of China and by the goal of achieving socialist modernization in China. What is the essence of the path of peaceful development? It is to foster a peaceful international environment to develop itself and, in turn, promote world peace with its development. Taking the path of peaceful development is an initiative that has both external and domestic dimensions. Thus, we must keep firmly in mind our overall interests on two fronts, both internal and external.

Domestically, we need to rely mainly on our own effort in pursuing development. We should promote development by expanding the domestic demand to meet the people’s growing material and cultural needs. China is the most populous country with a vast territory, relatively rich resources and a market of huge potential. All this has made it possible for China to achieve development mainly through its own efforts. In the course of development, China is bound to encounter bottleneck constraints in areas such as natural resources, energy and the environment. But thanks to years of hard work, we have succeeded in embarking on a path leading to all-round, coordinated and sustainable development. Our goal is to foster and implement a scientific thinking on development and build a resource-conserving and environment-friendly society. At the same time, we must give a strong impetus to the modernization drive by continuing to deepen our reform, opening wider to the outside world and removing institutional obstacles to development. It is important that we send a clear message to the world that China will achieve its development mainly through its own efforts, and this will help fundamentally remove misgivings in the international community that China is bound to engage in external plundering and expansion when it reaches a certain stage of development. As China develops itself, it will make greater contribution to both the development of its neighborhood areas and that of the whole world.

Internationally, we should advocate peace, development and cooperation and pursue an independent foreign policy of peace. China works to uphold its independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity, makes judgment independently on the merit of each international issue and takes position accordingly. It does not use ideology and social system as a criterion in conducting diplomacy, nor does it impose its values on others. China does not enter into alliance with any country or country group. It does not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, nor does it allow others to interfere in its internal affairs. China opposes hegemonism and power politics and will never seek hegemony. In conducting foreign exchanges, we should fully implement the independent foreign policy of peace. This means we should live in friendship with all other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, and treat all countries, whether big or small, rich or poor, strong or weak, as equals. It means we should work for a just and equitable international political and economic order which is based on equality, respect and mutual benefit and whose ultimate goal is to build a harmonious world. It means we should follow the principle of mutual benefit and mutual respect in expanding overseas business ties and conducting cultural exchanges. And it means we should follow a defense policy that is defensive in nature and do not engage in arms race or military expansion. Since it suffered bitterly from imperialist aggression and oppression for more than a century after the Opium War (1840-1842), China knows just too well what foreign aggression and oppression will bring to a nation. We are sincere and firm in our commitment to taking a path of peaceful development.

To take a path of peaceful development is a strategy and foreign policy to which China is committed. It is definitely not an expediency. In following this guiding principle, we should seize opportunities, remain unswayed by provocations and concentrate on our development, and we will not seek a leadership role in the international arena. It is thanks to following this policy that we have been able to gain more room for the conduct of China’s diplomacy. As China’s overall national strength and international standing grow, the international community will have higher expectation on China. One might ask if it is still necessary for China to follow this policy. The answer is yes, as there is no reason whatsoever to change it. Of course, we should remain actively engaged in international affairs. China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a member in other important international organizations. We should make full use of this favorable condition to uphold China’s fundamental interests. We should take an active part in the formulation of international rules to work for a fair and equitable international political and economic order. We should be actively involved in economic globalization and promote international and regional economic cooperation to achieve mutual benefit and win-win progress.

IV. Cultural Development and Exchanges

If China is to gain respect of the international community, we must grow our economy, advance science and technology and ensure that our people live a prosperous and happy life. We must also raise the educational level of our people, improve democracy and legal system and raise cultural and ethical standard. In recent years, at the same time of speeding up economic development, we have endeavored to promote political and cultural development and the building of a harmonious society, and we have given high priority to cultural exchanges with other countries. We have thus fostered an image of China as a country that is committed to reform and opening-up, a country of unity and dynamism, a country that upholds equality and values friendship, and a country that is sincere and responsible. As a result, China is increasingly viewed in an objective, rational and friendly light, and there is growing call for strengthening cooperation with China. All this has created a favorable external environment for China’s modernization program. Therefore, we should enhance cultural development and exchanges and view it as a key endeavor in building socialism with Chinese characteristics in all respects.

Cultural diversity should be respected. There are more than 2,000 ethnic groups in the world. Human civilization has evolved and enriched itself through interactions among different ethnic communities. Diversity of world culture and civilization has existed for centuries and will remain so in the future. Science, democracy, legal system, freedom and human rights are not something peculiar to capitalism. Rather, they are common values pursued by mankind in the long historical process and they are fruit of human civilization created by mankind. It is only that at different historical stages and in different countries, they are achieved through different means and in different forms. There is not just one model for the realization of these values. The diversity of civilization is a reality, whether you face it or not. It is the coexistence, interaction and convergence of different cultures that have promoted human progress. Cultural diversity in the world should be recognized. Different cultures should not discriminate against, be hostile to or exclude each other. They should respect and draw on each other’s strength, and this will make it possible to create a harmonious and colorful human culture.

China should take its own path in enhancing democracy. We never view socialism and democracy as something that is mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, we see a high degree of democracy and well developed legal system as the inherent requirement of socialism and a key important feature of a mature socialist system. We are fully capable of building China into a country of democracy and rule of law under socialist conditions. We should explore ways to develop democracy with Chinese characteristics in light of China’s particular conditions. We should focus on efforts to promote economic development, protect lawful rights and interests of the people, fight corruption, increase public trust in government, strengthen government functions and enhance social harmony. And we should continue the reform in the political system by expanding democracy and improving the legal system. This will enable other members of the international community to better appreciate and accept the path of development taken by the Chinese people.

We should fully improve the educational level of the Chinese people. This means giving a high priority to the development of education. The government must work with a stronger sense of responsibility to extend and consolidate compulsory education. More efforts should be made to develop vocational education and improve higher education. The scientific and cultural level of the whole Chinese nation should be uplifted. That requires a major effort to foster values and ethics among the people and accelerate the establishment of a system of values and ethics which is in keeping with the socialist market economy and which carries forward the traditional virtues and values of the Chinese nation. In particular, high priority should be placed on fostering a sense of honesty and integrity so that the public will have greater sense of integrity and credibility. In international exchanges, we should be credible and trustworthy, act in good faith and honor commitment. Thus, we need to ask people to act in a civilized way in their contacts with foreigners, respect local laws, regulations and customs and behave properly in public places overseas so that they will contribute to promoting China’s culture and its image. As more Chinese are traveling overseas, we should strengthen foreign-affairs administration and crack down hard on crimes such as smuggling, human trafficking and drug trafficking to ensure order in people-to-people exchanges.

We should expand cultural exchanges with other countries. Cultural exchanges are a bridge connecting the hearts and minds of people of all countries and an important way to project a country’s image. The rich and profound Chinese culture, which has a time-honored history, has made significant contribution to the progress of human civilization. The traditional Chinese culture is noted for its many luminous ideas: the philosophical precept of “harmony without uniformity”, the political belief that “people is the foundation of the nation”, the educational guideline of “respecting teachers and valuing education”, and the moral ethic of “do not do to others what you would not have them do to you”. We should use various forms and means, including tour performance and exhibition, Chinese language teaching, academic exchange and sponsoring culture year activities, to promote Chinese culture and increase its appeal overseas. We should implement a “going global” cultural strategy, develop culture industry, improve the international competitiveness of Chinese cultural enterprises and products, increase the export of books, films, TV programs and other cultural products, so that these Chinese cultural products and particularly the best of them, will reach the rest of the world.

We should conduct public diplomacy in a more effective way. We should inform the outside world of the achievements we have made in reform, opening-up and modernization in a comprehensive, accurate and timely manner. At the same time, we should be frank about the problems we have. We should be good at using flexible and diversified ways in conducting public diplomacy programs. We should use persuasive ways to communicate with the international community to ensure that our message is effectively put across. We should work to enable the international community to develop an objective and balanced view on China’s development and international role, so as to foster an environment of friendly public opinion for China.

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