By Robert Zaretsky
THE STONE / NYT Op-Ed
Nearly 50 years ago, Guy Debord’s “The Society of the Spectacle” reached bookshelves in France. It was a thin book in a plain white cover, with an obscure publisher and an author who shunned interviews, but its impact was immediate and far-reaching, delivering a social critique that helped shape France’s student protests and disruptions of 1968.
“The Society of the Spectacle” is still relevant today. With its descriptions of human social life subsumed by technology and images, it is often cited as a prophecy of the dangers of the internet age now upon us. And perhaps more than any other 20th-century philosophical work, it captures the profoundly odd moment we are now living through, under the presidential reign of Donald Trump.
As with the first lines from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “The Social Contract” (“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”) and Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” (“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”), Debord, an intellectual descendant of both of these thinkers, opens with political praxis couched in high drama: “The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.”
In the 220 theses that follow, Debord, a founding member of the avant-garde Situationist group, develops his indictment of “spectacular society.” With this phrase, Debord did not simply mean to damn the mass media. The spectacle was much more than what occupied the screen. Instead, Debord argued, everything that men and women once experienced directly — our ties to the natural and social worlds — was being mulched, masticated and made over into images. And the pixels had become the stuff of our very lives, in which we had relegated ourselves to the role of walk-ons.
The “image,” for Debord, carried the same economic and existential weight as the notion of “commodity” did for Marx. Like body snatchers, commodities and images have hijacked what we once naïvely called reality. The authentic nature of the products we make with our hands and the relationships we make with our words have been removed, replaced by their simulacra. Images have become so ubiquitous, Debord warned, that we no longer remember what it is we have lost. As one of his biographers, Andy Merrifield, elaborated, “Spectacular images make us want to forget — indeed, insist we should forget.”
For Marx, alienation from labor was a defining trait of modernity. We are no longer, he announced, what we make. But even as we were alienated from our working lives, Marx assumed that we could still be ourselves outside of work. For Debord, though, the relentless pounding of images had pulverized even that haven. The consequences are both disastrous and innocuous. “There is no place left where people can discuss the realities which concern them,” Debord concluded, “because they can never lastingly free themselves from the crushing presence of media discourse.” Public spaces, like the agora of Ancient Greece, no longer exist. But having grown as accustomed to the crushing presence of images as we have to the presence of earth’s gravity, we live our lives as if nothing has changed.
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David Harvey: ‘The Left Has to Rethink Its Theoretical and Tactical Apparatus.’
FROM ROAR MAGAZINE. David Harvey, one of the leading Marxist thinkers of our times, sits down with the activist collective AK Malabocas to discuss the transformations in the mode of capital accumulation, the centrality of the urban terrain in contemporary class struggles, and the implications of all this for anti-capitalist organizing.
AK Malabocas: In the last forty years, the mode of capital accumulation has changed globally. What do these changes mean for the struggle against capitalism?
David Harvey: From a macro-perspective, any mode of production tends to generate a very distinctive kind of opposition, which is a curious mirrored image of itself. If you look back to the 1960s or 1970s, when capital was organized in big corporatist, hierarchical forms, you had oppositional structures that were corporatist, unionist kinds of political apparatuses. In other words, a Fordist system generated a Fordist kind of opposition.
With the breakdown of this form of industrial organization, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries, you ended up with a much more decentralized configuration of capital: more fluid over space and time than previously thought. At the same time we saw the emergence of an opposition that is about networking and decentralization and that doesn’t like hierarchy and the previous Fordist forms of opposition.
So, in a funny sort of way, the leftists reorganize themselves in the same way capital accumulation is reorganized. If we understand that the left is a mirror image of what we are criticizing, then maybe what we should do is to break the mirror and get out of this symbiotic relationship with what we are criticizing.
In the Fordist era, the factory was the main site of resistance. Where can we find it now that capital has moved away from the factory floor towards the urban terrain?
First of all, the factory-form has not disappeared—you still find factories in Bangladesh or in China. What is interesting is how the mode of production in the core cities changed. For example, the logistics sector has undergone a huge expansion: UPS, DHL and all of these delivery workers are producing enormous values nowadays.
In the last decades, a huge shift has occurred in the service sector as well: the biggest employers of labor in the 1970s in the US were General Motors, Ford and US Steel. The biggest employers of labor today are McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Walmart. Back then, the factory was the center of the working class, but today we find the working class mainly in the service sector. And why would we say that producing cars is more important than producing hamburgers?
Unfortunately the left is not comfortable with the idea of organizing fast-food workers. Its picture of the classical working class doesn’t fit with value production of the service workers, the delivery workers, the restaurant workers, the supermarket workers.
The proletariat did not disappear, but there is a new proletariat which has very different characteristics from the traditional one the left used to identify as the vanguard of the working class. In this sense, the McDonalds workers became the steel workers of the twenty-first century
If this is what the new proletariat is about, where are the places to organize resistance now?
It’s very difficult to organize in the workplaces. For example, delivery drivers are moving all over the place. So this population could maybe be better organized outside the working place, meaning in their neighborhood structures.
There is already an interesting phrase in Gramsci’s work from 1919 saying that organizing in the workplace and having workplace councils is all well, but we should have neighborhood councils, too. And the neighborhood councils, he said, have a better understanding of what the conditions of the whole working class are compared to the sectoral understanding of workplace organizing.
Workplace organizers used to know very well what a steelworker was, but they didn’t understand what the proletariat was about as a whole. The neighborhood organization would then include for example the street cleaners, the house workers, the delivery drivers. Gramsci never really took this up and said: ‘come on, the Communist Party should organize neighborhood assemblies!’
Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions in the European context where Communist Parties did in fact organize neighborhood councils—because they couldn’t organize in the workplace, like in Spain for example. In the 1960s this was a very powerful form of organizing. Therefore—as I have argued for a very long time—we should look at the organization of neighborhoods as a form of class organization. Gramsci only mentioned it once in his writings and he never pursued it further.
In Britain in the 1980s, there were forms of organizing labor in city-wide platforms on the basis of trades councils, which were doing what Gramsci suggested. But within the union movement these trades councils were always regarded as inferior forms of organizing labor. They were never treated as being foundational to how the union movement should operate.
In fact, it turned out that the trades councils were often much more radical than the conventional trade unions and that was because they were rooted in the conditions of the whole working class, not only the often privileged sectors of the working-class. So, to the extent that they had a much broader definition of the working class, the trades councils tended to have much more radical politics. But this was never valorized by the trade union movement in general—it was always regarded as a space where the radicals could play.
The advantages of this form of organizing are obvious: it overcomes the split between sectoral organizing, it includes all kinds of “deterritorialized” labor, and it is very suitable to new forms of community and assembly-based organization, as Murray Bookchin was advocating, for example.
In the recent waves of protest—in Spain and Greece, for instance, or in the Occupy movement—you can find this idea of “localizing resistance.” It seems that these movements tend to organize around issues of everyday life, rather than the big ideological questions that the traditional left used to focus on.
Why would you say that organizing around everyday life is not one of the big questions? I think it is one of the big questions. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and everyday life in cities is what people are exposed to and have their difficulties in. These difficulties reside as much in the sphere of the realization of value as in the sphere of the production of value.
This is one of my very important theoretical arguments: everybody reads Volume I of Capital and nobody reads Volume II. Volume I is about the production of value, Volume II is about the realization of value. Focusing on Volume II, you clearly see that the conditions of realization are just as important as the conditions of production.
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September 26, 2011 — First posted at Cuba’s Socialist Renewal, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission — Cooperatives and Socialism: A Cuban Perspective is a new Cuban book, published in Spanish earlier this year. This important and timely compilation is edited by Camila Piñeiro Harnecker (pictured above). Avid readers of Cuba’s Socialist Renewal will recall that I translated and posted a commentary by Camila, titled "Cuba Needs Changes" [also available at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal], back in January. Camila lives in Cuba and has a degree in sustainable development from the University of Berkeley, California. She is a professor at the Centre for Studies on the Cuban Economy at Havana University, and her works have been published both in Cuba and outside the island.
Camila hopes her book may be published in English soon. In the meantime, she has kindly agreed to allow me to translate and publish this extract from her preface to Cooperatives and Socialism with permission from a prospective publisher. I hope that sharing this extract with readers will make you want to read the whole book. If it does become available in English I’ll post the details here. If you read Spanish you can download the 420-page book as a PDF here or here.
At the end of the text you’ll find the footnotes and table of contents, translated from the Spanish — Marce Cameron, editor Cuba’s Socialist Renewal
By Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, translated by Marce Cameron
This book arises from the urgent need for us to make a modest contribution to the healthy “birth” of the new Cuban cooperativism and its subsequent spread. Given that cooperatives are foreshadowed as one of the organisational forms of labour in the non-state sector in the Draft Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Sixth Cuban Communist Party Congress, the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Centre approached me to compile this book. The Centre has made an outstanding contribution to popular education aimed at nurturing and strengthening the emancipatory ethical values, critical thinking, political skills and organisational abilities indispensable for the conscious and effective participation of social subjects. The Centre considers it timely and necessary to support efforts to raise awareness about a type of self-managed economic entity whose principles, basic characteristics and potentialities are unknown in Cuba. There is every indication that such self-managed entities could play a significant role in our new economic model.
For this to happen we must grapple with the question at the heart of this compilation: Is the production cooperative an appropriate form of the organisation of labour for a society committed to building socialism? There is no doubt that this question cannot be answered in a simplistic or absolute fashion. Our aim here is to take only a first step towards answering this question from a Cuban perspective in these times of change and rethinking, guided by the anxieties and hopes that many Cubans have about our future.
When it is proposed that the production cooperative be one – though not the only – form of enterprise in Cuba, three concerns above all are frequently encountered: some consider it too “utopian” and therefore inefficient; others, on the basis of the cooperatives that have existed in Cuba, suspect that they will not have sufficient autonomy or that they will be “too much like state enterprises”; while others still, accustomed to the control over enterprise activities exercised by a state that intervenes directly and excessively in enterprise management, reject cooperativism as too autonomous and therefore a “seed of capitalism”. This book tries to take account of all these concerns, though there is no doubt that more space would be required to address them adequately.
The first concern is addressed to some extent with the data provided in the first part of the book regarding the existence and economic activity of cooperatives worldwide today. This shows that the cooperative is not an unachievable fantasy that disregards the objective and subjective requirements of viable economic activity. Thus, the experiences of cooperatives in the Basque Country, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela that are summarised in the third part of the book demonstrate that cooperatives can be more efficient than capitalist enterprises, even on the basis of the hegemonic capitalist conception of efficiency that ignores externalities, i.e. the impact of any enterprise activity on third parties.
The efficiency of cooperatives is greater still if we take into consideration all of the positive outcomes inherent in their management model, which can be summarised as the full human development of its members and, potentially, of local communities. The democratic abilities and attitudes that cooperative members develop through their participation in its management can be utilised in other social spaces and organisations. Moreover, genuine cooperatives free us from some of the worst of the negative externalities (dismissals, environmental contamination, loss of ethical values) generated by enterprises oriented towards profit maximisation rather than the satisfaction of the needs of their workers.
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April 24, 2015
On April 12, 2015 the wildly popular Game of Thrones returned to HBO for a fifth season. No doubt, this season, like all the others, will break ratings records and encourage endless speculation and debate by fans. The television series, based on a projected seven novel series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, has a devoted following among viewers who are willing to wade through intricate plots, an enormous cast of characters and a world as rich as our own. The series is set in a fantasy world resembling feudal Europe and on the surface feels like many other “sword and sandal” epics, such as Lord of the Rings. However, the series is more than beach side reading — drawing extensively on history, mythology and literature.
Part of the appeal of Game of Thrones (especially for Marxists) is that, unlike Lord of the Rings, there are few clear cut heroes or villains; instead everyone is a shade of gray and presents a harsh view of the feudal world and its sharp class divisions, bourgeois revolutions from above, subordinate status of women, and brutal realpolitik. 
A historical materialist analysis of Game of Thrones has been the subject of two essays “Can Marxist theory predict the end of Game of Thrones?” by Paul Mason and “Game of Thrones and the End of Marxist Theory” by Sam Kriss (focusing heavily on the collapse of feudalism with arguments we will discuss in detail below). Kriss’ essay also argues that part of the appeal of Game of Thrones is that the series undermines any idealization of feudalism where “its kings aren’t just cruel and stupid but powerless, trying to bat away rapacious financiers and ghoulish monsters with both flapping, ineffectual hands…[and that this] was the last time that all the mystical creatures that hid in the dark places of society were known, named, and understood.” By contrast, capitalism presents itself as rational, while it shrouds real social relations beneath commodity fetishism and the mysteries of the market. The use of Marxist analysis to fantasies such as Game of Thrones, as Kriss rightfully points out, “helps explain our own demon-haunted world.”
The main settings for Game of Thrones are the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos. Westeros is made up of seven kingdoms — the Kingdom of the North, the Kingdom of Mountain and Vale, the Kingdom of the Isles and Rivers, the Kingdom of the Rock, the Kingdom of the Reach, the Kingdom of the Stormlands and Dorne. The Seven Kingdoms have existed for thousands of years largely as a feudal society and undergoing periodic dynastic shifts, civil wars and invasions (the dominant religion known as the “Faith of the Seven” forbids slavery).
One of the major plots of the series is a civil war by the noble kingdoms for control of the Iron Throne following the death of the King Robert Baratheon. The “War of the Five Kings,” which begins at the end of the first season initially involves five separate claimants to the Iron Throne (currently reduced to three by the end of season four) involves bloody battles, massacres and dynastic upheavals which devastate Westeros.
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By Bruno Cava
Translated by Devin Beaulieu
The difference between populist discourse and classic liberal discourse is based in that, for the former, the “people” is something that should be constructed, while for liberals the “people” is something already given. In this first case, the construction of the people implies the construction of a new representation. In the second case, the representation is only made to consider a society that precedes it, the pre-existent, is already formed.
In populism, the history of the construction of a people occurs through the division between “us” and “them.”
Populism denounces the false universal of the existing representative order, which does not represent us anymore, in order to directly demand a new universal. During the bourgeois revolutions this was the struggle against theancien regime according to which it was possible to liberate from the parasitic aristocracy in order to form the nation and bourgeois citizen, now considered a universal category. During the anticolonial struggles, this was the struggle against the metropole and imperialism in the name of unity, for national liberation. According to Antonio Gramsci, the construction of the people, the folk, unites intellectuals, workers, and peasants through the national-popular collective consciousness in order to liberate themselves from the bourgeois.
The Construction of the National-Popular
In Brazil, ideas of the national-popular were present in developmentalist versions, where national modernization combined with popular emancipation by means of mobilizing, pedagogical, and organizing actions. The conquest of power would not take place simply as the capture of the State, but would happen through the laborious cultural and ideological dissemination of national formation from the bases. The task of underdeveloped intellectuals in this project consists in leading the process of illumination of the masses, in agreement with an emancipatory program. Thus, whereby, sufficiently industrializing the country to form a conscious proletariat would overt falling into some form of economic determinism. Without the militant work of popular emancipation, modernization, invariably, will produce further class domination.
The political theory closest to this national-popular promise, although elaborated in the context of industrialized societies of the economic center, is Gramscian theory. According to Gramsci, who wrote in the first half of the past century, the exercise of power in capitalism is not sustained only through coercion and fear. It has to produce, above all, a diffuse legitimacy that, through innumerable collective cultural institutions, continually captures the consent of the majority. The representative field in its ensemble, composed of governments, parties, and unions can, in this way, operate as if representing the “general interest,” closing fissures and stopping deviations.
Ideology, then, does not appear as a system of systematic mystification. As if ideology were a veil opposite to reality, a mystical curtain that separates the people from the truth about the real relations of power. Further, ideology has a material character: that determines behavior and penetrates habits. Capitalism, in essence, does not fool anyone. Perspectives that capitalism can lose strength by means of denouncing its mystifications are naïve. Individuals already know that capitalism is a complex of exploitation that generates, at one extreme, luxury and waste and, at the other, misery and violence.
Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony
This is what Gramsci named hegemony: the normal form of politics in developed and complex societies, in which representative democracies prevail. Hegemony is a cultural operation on a large scale, which precedes a unity forced by the state, determining the existence of a hegemonic group that emerges as the bearer of “general interest.” In terms of hegemony, the crux of the question is not to question how capitalism functions, but rather, how we, ourselves, make it function. Capitalism possesses an evidence and emotion, permeated, in which we are involved in elaborating in our daily lives, our plans and ourselves.
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Yanis Varoufakis: ‘Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day.’
By Yanis Varoufakis
The Guardian / UK
Feb 18 2015 – In 2008, capitalism had its second global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day. Europe’s present situation is not merely a threat for workers, for the dispossessed, for the bankers, for social classes or, indeed, nations. No, Europe’s current posture poses a threat to civilisation as we know it.
If my prognosis is correct, and we are not facing just another cyclical slump soon to be overcome, the question that arises for radicals is this: should we welcome this crisis of European capitalism as an opportunity to replace it with a better system? Or should we be so worried about it as to embark upon a campaign for stabilising European capitalism?
To me, the answer is clear. Europe’s crisis is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath, while extinguishing the hope for any progressive moves for generations to come.
For this view I have been accused, by well-meaning radical voices, of being “defeatist” and of trying to save an indefensible European socioeconomic system. This criticism, I confess, hurts. And it hurts because it contains more than a kernel of truth.
I share the view that this European Union is typified by a large democratic deficit that, in combination with the denial of the faulty architecture of its monetary union, has put Europe’s peoples on a path to permanent recession. And I also bow to the criticism that I have campaigned on an agenda founded on the assumption that the left was, and remains, squarely defeated. I confess I would much rather be promoting a radical agenda, the raison d’être of which is to replace European capitalism with a different system.
Yet my aim here is to offer a window into my view of a repugnant European capitalism whose implosion, despite its many ills, should be avoided at all costs. It is a confession intended to convince radicals that we have a contradictory mission: to arrest the freefall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.
Why a Marxist?
When I chose the subject of my doctoral thesis, back in 1982, I deliberately focused on a highly mathematical topic within which Marx’s thought was irrelevant. When, later on, I embarked on an academic career, as a lecturer in mainstream economics departments, the implicit contract between myself and the departments that offered me lectureships was that I would be teaching the type of economic theory that left no room for Marx. In the late 1980s, I was hired by the University of Sydney’s school of economics in order to keep out a leftwing candidate (although I did not know this at the time).
After I returned to Greece in 2000, I threw my lot in with the future prime minister George Papandreou, hoping to help stem the return to power of a resurgent right wing that wanted to push Greece towards xenophobia both domestically and in its foreign policy. As the whole world now knows, Papandreou’s party not only failed to stem xenophobia but, in the end, presided over the most virulent neoliberal macroeconomic policies that spearheaded the eurozone’s so-called bailouts thus, unwittingly, causing the return of Nazis to the streets of Athens. Even though I resigned as Papandreou’s adviser early in 2006, and turned into his government’s staunchest critic during his mishandling of the post-2009 Greek implosion, my public interventions in the debate on Greece and Europe have carried no whiff of Marxism.
Given all this, you may be puzzled to hear me call myself a Marxist. But, in truth, Karl Marx was responsible for framing my perspective of the world we live in, from my childhood to this day. This is not something that I often volunteer to talk about in “polite society” because the very mention of the M-word switches audiences off. But I never deny it either. After a few years of addressing audiences with whom I do not share an ideology, a need has crept up on me to talk about Marx’s imprint on my thinking. To explain why, while an unapologetic Marxist, I think it is important to resist him passionately in a variety of ways. To be, in other words, erratic in one’s Marxism.
If my whole academic career largely ignored Marx, and my current policy recommendations are impossible to describe as Marxist, why bring up my Marxism now? The answer is simple: Even my non-Marxist economics was guided by a mindset influenced by Marx.
By Yang Chungui
Translated by Jiang Yajuan and Zhang Hongyan, from Zhongguo shehui kexue, 2000, no. 1 Revised by Yu Sheng and Su Xuetao
January 9 2012
Tremendous changes have taken place in the history of mankind during the twentieth century. In the first half of the century socialism shocked the world with its great successes over large areas of the earth. However, in the final years of the century its setbacks also astounded the world, especially its failure in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. These great changes raised the question of the future and destiny of socialism.
In view of the ecstatic response of Western hostile forces to the "grand failure of communism," and the pessimism of those who once believed in socialism, Deng Xiaoping said categorically, "After a long time, socialism will necessarily supersede capitalism. This is an irreversible general trend of historical development…..Some countries have suffered major setbacks, and socialism appears to have been weakened. But the people have been tempered by the setbacks and have drawn lessons from them, and that will make socialism develop in a healthier direction."[i] This conclusion has been borne out by the successful practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics in China and will be further borne out in the coming century by socialist practice throughout the world, including that in China.
I. Socialism Is a Historical Process With Twist and Turns in Its Development
Dialectical materialism tells us that things develop with a combination of progress and reverses. The general trend in towards progress and development, but the road is full of twists and turns. This is the case in the natural world and also in social life. Every new social system undergoes numerous difficulties during its birth and development. Capitalism was finally substituted for feudalism after 48 years of struggle against the restoration of feudalism in Britain, and 86 years of repeated trails of strength in France. It took two to three hundred years for capitalism as a whole to grow from its infancy to a mature stage amidst continuous economic and political crises. This was the case in the development of capitalism, in which a new form of exploitation replaced the old, let alone the socialist movement that will destroy all systems of exploitation. It is entirely impractical to expect socialism to enjoy a favorable wind all the way and encounter no resistance.
Socialism has experience many setbacks and low ebbs, but the general trend towards socialism replacing capitalism has never changed. During the more than 150 years since the appearance of the theory of scientific socialism, it has developed from the conception of revolutionary teachers into the guiding principle of the workers’ movement all over the world, from theory into practice, and from the practice in one country into that in many countries, presenting a constantly growing dynamic movement. It is inevitable that there will be local reverses and temporary low tides or even reverses during this process. Marxists who keep a clear head with regard to the development law of human society do not feel puzzled by these outward phenomena, but unswervingly believe in the final victory of socialism and communism, and face the harsh realities with high morale, calmly taking up the gauntlet.
In 1987 during the Paris Commune uprising, Karl Marx scientifically predicted that, "whatever therefore its fate in Paris, it will make le tour du monde."[ii] More than forty years later, the victory of the October Revolution in Russia confirmed Marx’s brilliant foresight. When the first socialist country in the world faced grave crises due to armed intervention from fourteen imperialist states, in addition to domestic rebellion, Lenin firmly pointed out that, "Only a proletarian socialist revolution can lead humanity out of the impasse which imperialism and imperialist wars have created. Whatever difficulties the revolution may have to encounter, whatever possible temporary setbacks or waves of counter-revolution it may have to contend with, the final victory of the proletariat is inevitable."[iii] The revolutionary road followed by the Chinese people was even more difficult and convoluted. In the 28 years before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese democratic revolution suffered repeated setbacks and failures. On 12 April 1927, Jiang Jieshi staged a bloody coup d’etat against the revolution and threw the Chinese people into bloodshed. But the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese people were neither cowed, conquered nor exterminated. They picked themselves up, wiped off the blood, buried their fallen comrades and went into battle again. Furthermore, they learned to use armed revolution against armed counterrevolution and went to the countryside to build rural base areas. In the beginning, in the face of a very powerful enemy, some people asked: "How long will the red flag fly?" With foresight comrade Mao Zedong pointed out that, "A single spark can start a prairie fire." But the prairie fire also experienced many ups and downs and, particularly the last days of the land revolution, Wang Ming’s "Left error led to the loss of 90 per cent of the Party and revolutionary forcers in the base areas and an almost complete loss in the Guomindang-controlled areas. However, after the Red Army arrived in northern Shaanxi, the CPC summed up its experiences and lessons learned and went on to defeat all its enemies and win the final victory of the democratic revolution.
The road to socialist construction was equally uneven. In addition to minor upheavals, there were two events of major significance; the three-years Great Leap Forward beginning in 1958, and the ten-year "cultural revolution" beginning in 1966. These errors caused enormous losses and led to grave crises in China. However, after the Third Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the CPC we became more mature and initiated a new phase of constructing socialism with Chinese characteristics. History is a mirror and tells us that no matter how difficult the situation, and whatever setbacks the revolution may experience, it will win in the end because it follows the law and direction of historical development.
Violent changes took place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 90s. The communist parties lost their ruling position, socialism was abandoned, and the world socialist movement suffered its greatest setback this century. Hostile forces in the West were excited and asserted categorically that Marxism and socialism were bankrupt. The future and destiny were pregnant with grim possibilities and some people became pessimistic. Confronted by local failure and temporary setbacks, Comrade Deng Xiaoping solemnly stated with the foresight of a great statesman, "Don’t panic, don’t think that Marxism has disappeared, that it’s not useful any more and that it has been defeated. Nothing of the sort!"[iv] When socialism was at a low ebb across the world it radiated vigor and dynamism in China. China’s economy has been developing rapidly and in a healthy manner, the living conditions of the people have been improving and the overall capacity of the country has been strengthened. All these indisputable achievements have been highly appreciated by all those who harbor no prejudice against China. The great cause of building socialism with Chinese characteristics under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping theory is not only a pioneering undertaking in. China but also of world significance. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that if we can achieve the strategic goal of reaching the level of moderately developed countries by the middle of the next century, "we shall not only have blazed a new path for the peoples of the Third World, who represent three quarters of world’s population, but also – and is even more important – we shall have demonstrated to mankind that socialism is the only path and that it is superior to capitalism."[v]
Complex objective and subjective reasons account for the twist and turns in the development of socialism. First, the long-term existence of class struggle both at home and abroad. "The tree desires stillness but the wind will not cease." Class struggle exists independent of man’s will. Where there is a struggle there will inevitably be fluctuations, and high and low tides, victory and defeat, and progress and setbacks are just normal phenomena and are not unexpected. Second, the socialist system is a completely new social system in the history of mankind and its development has to undergo a long historical process from inexperience to experience, from imperfect to perfect, from immature to mature. It is hard to completely avoid mistakes, twists and reverses during this process. We can try to arrive at a correct understanding by following the patter, "practice, knowledge, and then back to practice, knowledge," constantly summing up our experiences and moving step by step from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom. Third, if the party and government leadership of a socialist country cannot earnestly correct their political errors or effectively combat corruption within their ranks, the situation will become complex and grave, and major reverses or even great historical retrogression will follow. The first two are objective in nature, while the third is subjective. If no major problems occur with regard to the leadership, the wheel of history will not be turned back even though it is impossible to avoid minor setbacks. However, from a long-term perspective, no matter what twists and turns may take place, these only constitute a link in the whole chain of historical development, they do not, and cannot, after the general trend of historical development. This is just like the, Yellow River: it has many turns and meanderings, but it nevertheless continues to flow into the eastern seas. In this regard we must pay attention to the following points: 1. Do not take the temporary setbacks as the end of point of historical development. On the contrary, we should observe things from the perspective of historical development and take the setbacks for what they reality are, a temporary phenomenon and a link in the chain in human history. We must be firm in our faith and conviction in the face of any difficulties and grasp the general trend of historical development. 2. We should earnestly summarize our experience and the lessons learned and try by every means to avoid losses that could be avoided. The pivotal point in this connection is to strengthen the building of the Party and maintain the correctness of leadership. 3. We are convinced that even in the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries in which there have been great historical reverses, the broad masses and the true communists will re-select the socialist road after conscientious reflection – this process may be and painful, but undoubtedly things will develop in this direction – this is a historical law independent of man’s will.
II. Summarizing the Historical Experience of Socialism in a Scientific Way
Engels pointed out that, "There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than to learn by one’s mistakes, durch Schaden klug werden."[vi] Deng Xiaoping said, "In building socialism we have had both positive and negative experience, and they are equally useful to us."[vii] "The experience of successes is valuable, and so is the experience of mistakes and defeats. Formulating principles and policies in this way enables us to unify the thinking of the whole Party so as to achieve a new unity: unity formed on this basis is most reliable."[viii]
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Interviewer: Liang Weiguo
Chinese Social Sciences Net (CSSN)
[Introduction to the Interviewee] March 31, 2012 – Cheng Enfu, born in Shanghai in 1950, is a professor, PhD candidate supervisor, and representative to the Eleventh National People’s Congress, as well as the director of the Marxist Academy, an affiliate of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
In May 2004, Prof. Cheng gave a lecture in a study meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee presided by Hu Jintao, general secretary. In February 2002, he presented a report on how to reform in a theoretical symposium presided by Jiang Zemin, former general secretary. He has been seen as “one of the representatives of the fourth generation of China’s economists” and “one of the most creative economists in China” by some influential newspapers in China and Japan.
Prof.. Cheng is also a member (academician) of CASS, member of the CASS Academic Division Presidium, director of the Academic Division of Marxism Study in CASS, chairman of the World Association of Political Economy (a global academic community), chairman of the Chinese Society for Studies of Foreign Economics, president of the Institute for Studies of Regularities in China’s Economy, and an “Expert of the Marxism Discipline Appraisal Group in the Academic Degree Commission” of the State Council. He enjoys a State Council Special Allowance.
Cheng Enfu, the director of the Marxist Academy in CASS, is describing the current situation of China’s ideological field.
It is the premise of a firm political belief to keep ideologically sober. What ideological trends are there in the ideological realm in China today? What are their key ideas? How to understand and treat them? How to develop the philosophy and social sciences with Chinese characteristics and Chinese style? Liang Weiguo, CSSN reporter, had an interview with Prof. Cheng Enfu recently for the answers to the questions.
To Resist the negative effects of Neoliberalism on reform
Interviewer: It is a must to identify the true and the false through comparisons among various ideologies if we want to get clear on what are Marxism, socialism with Chinese characteristics and the socialist core value system. Director Cheng, what ideological trends are there in our society today?
Cheng Enfu: In fact, there are seven important ideological trends in the ideological realm in China today: Neoliberalism, Democratic Socialism, the New Left, Eclectic Marxism, traditional Marxism, Revivalism and Innovative Marxism. By ideological trend, I use it as a neutral concept and various studies of Marxism can also be seen as ideological trends.
In the 1870s, the UK suffered from a serious economic crisis. T.H. Green firstly created a theory which maintained the tradition of UK’s liberalism and implemented state intervention to bring the role of state into full play. After the 1890s, many radical intellectuals — who called themselves “collectivists” — within and outside the Liberal Party contended to build an equal and cooperative new society. “Neoliberalism” was the popular word which represented the theory they held. Could you please give us your understanding of “Neoliberalism”?
Neoliberalism is the ideology, economic theory and policy proposal of the monopolizing capitalist classes. Its theories and policies can be summarized as “four de- or -izations”.
Firstly, Neoliberalism stands for de-regulation of economy. It believes that planning of economy and regulation of distribution by state would ruin economic freedom and kill the enthusiasm of the “economic man”. Only by letting the market run freely can we have the best result.
Secondly, Neoliberalism stands for the privatization of economy. It contends that privatization would become the basis on which the role of market could be brought into full play, and private enterprises are the most efficient ones, and the public resources should be privatized. Neoliberalism tends to reduce public sectors, state-owned sectors and institutions to the minimum, or none.
Thirdly, Neoliberalism stands for the liberalization of economy. It claims that free choice should be the most essential principle of economic and political activities. We should have the right to possess personal property and carry out free trade, consumption and employment. But it denies the free flow of the labor force. The nature of its liberalization of economy is to protect the unfair economic globalization dominated by the US and the unjust old international economic order.
Fourthly, Neoliberalism stands for the personalization of welfare. It stands against building a welfare state and improving the welfare of the laborers. And that is a typical feature of Neoliberalism. However, it has not been clearly stated in the academic circles both in and outside China.
Zhang Weiying and Yao Yang, professors of Peking University, are leading figures of China’s Neoliberalism.
The diversification of guiding ideologies advocated by Democratic Socialism
The concept of Democratic Socialism was first put forward in the book “The Preconditions of Socialism” by Eduard Bernstein in 1899. In June 1951, the Socialist International passed the declaration “Aims and Tasks of Democratic Socialism” as its principles when it was founded. It clearly set “Democratic Socialism” as its program and standed openly against the scientific socialism of Marxism.
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Photo: Interesting lineup. Stalin dropped, Chou En-Lai and Deng added
By Li Hongfeng
Literature of Chinese Communist Party, Issue 4, 2014
Abstract: As the chief architect of China’s reform and opening up and socialist modernization drive, Deng Xiaoping created a new historical period of reform and opening up. During the historical process of advancing reform and opening up, Mr. Deng thoroughly demonstrated a strategist’s strategic thinking, judgment, design and decision. He created a new historical period, starting reaffirming and reinstating the Party’s ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts. After deeply studying the profound changes of domestic and foreign situations, Mr. Deng gave two important strategic judgments: China being and to be in the preliminary phase of socialism; and peace and development being two great issues of the contemporary world. On the basis of such two judgments, he made a series of far-reaching strategic decisions centering on his belief in socialist and communist causes. Mr. Deng suggested leadership should have principles, systematicness, foresight and creativity, which reflected Deng’s understanding of regularity in leadership and essential characteristics of his leading style.
In Deng’s life, he fell three times and rose up again. After Mr. Deng was reinstated at the third time, his career ushered in full swing and he created a new historical period of China’s reform and opening up. Looking back on the great historical process of Deng Xiaoping boosting reform and opening up and learning about his strategist’s wisdom in strategic thinking, judgment, design and decision can be beneficial to deepening reform comprehensively and carrying forward reform and opening up and socialist modernization drive.
I. Strategic starting point of defining ideological guidelines
The “cultural revolution” resulted in a ten-year-old turmoil and brought about severe calamities, incurring great costs to our Party, country and nation. The “left” wrongdoings can’t be continued and it is a must to correct those mistakes.
Deng Xiaoping undertook duties in a dangerous situation. As soon as taking office, Mr. Deng manifested a great strategist’s foresight. Facing the complex situation of many things waiting to be done, Deng Xiaoping grasped the most important link – starting from establishing the ideological guideline.
For Deng’s creation of a new historical period, it is a strategic starting point to reaffirm and reinstate the Party’s ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts.
Seeking truth from facts is our Party’s ideological guideline in both correctly understanding and changing the objective world. The China’s revolutionary process has fully proved: only on the basis of the guideline of seeking truth from facts, our Party could create the China’s revolutionary path of encircling the cities from the rural areas; our Party could find the three valuable approaches of the armed struggle, united front and party building; our Party could correctly resolve a series of basic problems on the nature, objective, driving force, goal and transformation of Chinese revolution; our Party could establish the correct political, military and organizing guidelines; our Party could build up a Marxist working-class vanguard in a semicolonial and semifeudal society with a large rural population and a small working-class population; our Party could successfully Sinicizing Marxism and create and develop Mao Zedong Though; our Party could surmount numerous hardships, overcome mistakes and frustrations in the progress, correctly sum up experience and lessons, unite all Party’s members and the whole Chinese nation and continuously accomplish new achievements. As the Party and Chinese people were armed with the ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts, the Chinese revolution embarked on the path to successes.
After become the ruling party, our Party had various mistakes and errors, especially the all-round wrongdoing of the “cultural revolution,” which was caused by various complex reasons but basically, resulted from the diversion from the ideological guideline of seeking truth from facts.
After smashing Gang of Four in 1976, the whole Party and nation were inspired. However, the wrong proposition of “two whatevers” remained restricting people’s thinking. The discussion on the criteria of truth succeeded in breaking the barriers of “two whatevers.” To support and promote the discussion on criteria of truth, Deng Xiaping made 26 remarks and speeches in less than two years in order to repeatedly expound on the essential reasons of seeking truth from facts.
Mr. Deng definitely pointed out: the “two whatevers” are wrong and don’t comply with both Marxism and Mao Zedong Thought. Marx, Engles, Lenin, Stalin or Mao Zedong proposed any “whatever.” It is not allowed to impair the whole Mao Zedong Thought with several or partial words and sentences. To follow Mao Zedong Thought shouldn’t focus on citations of Chairman Mao’s remarks but highlight the exertion of Mao’s essential thought.
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By Robert Ware
University of Calgary
Posted on April 5, 2014
Socialism and Democracy Online / sdonline.org
Few outside China would think of China as a socialist, or Marxist, society. Inside China the views vary widely, but few would say, without qualifiers, as the Constitution does, that China is socialist. No one – anywhere – now sees China as a model for socialism. Nevertheless, socialism is a strong force in China and Marxism a subject of continuing investigation. Just how significant a role socialism and Marxism play is not easily determined, but the importance of that role and some of its complexity is well worth considering.
Recently I have taught Marxism in Beijing and have had occasion to see some of the strengths and weaknesses of the theory and its application. After some remarks on my experiences there, I will discuss my observations about the nature of Marxism in China in theory and practice. Whatever one says about China’s problems and about how Marxism is discussed there, a large role for studying, developing, and applying Marxism in China remains.
I argue here that the significance of Marxism in China can be compared to that of democracy in the west, especially in North America. In both settings, the relevant practices are dysfunctional in significant ways, but both Marxism and democracy give a rationale and a tissue of support – and, consequently, a locus of struggle – for efforts to improve life for the majority. Their actual influence can be depressingly weak, but both are worthy of investigation, for political as well as intellectual reasons. I will consider some questions about the kinds of socialism and Marxism that prevail in China, but also, importantly, what topics are rejected or simply ignored.
Visits, courses, and socialists
Teaching Marxism in China is fascinating, although the same can probably be said for teaching most other subjects there, primarily because of China’s great development and energy, as well as its complexity and chaos. My observations here come largely from recent visits to China, including three weeks in the fall of 2007 (accompanied by my wife, Dr. Diana Hodson), a month at Renmin University in Beijing in July 2010, and two months at Peking University (again with my wife) in September-November 2011. I have also learned much from many helpful correspondents and subsequent contacts, both inside China and out.
In 2007, I visited five academic institutions in Beijing and Shanghai, lecturing on analytical Marxism and libertarian socialism and discussing Marxism and democratic theory, in China and abroad. (I was revisiting universities, where I had taught analytical philosophy in 1984-85 [Fudan University in Shanghai] and 1986-87 [Peking University and the Institute of Philosophy in Beijing]. In the 1980s, I also lectured on analytical Marxism at a variety of universities and institutes throughout the country.) I also participated in a conference in 2007, at a Communist Party university in Shanghai, celebrating the 140th anniversary of Marx’s Capital with over a hundred economists, mostly Chinese, and a few theorists from other disciplines. In 2010, I taught a summer course at Renmin University of China (RUC) in Beijing and served as a commentator at a conference at the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (CCTB) celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Grundrisse.1
At Peking University in the fall of 2011, I taught a small undergraduate philosophy course on analytical Marxism and a graduate philosophy seminar on Marxism and radical politics. G.A. Cohen’s philosophically acute and influential studies were the central texts for the seminar. We looked at new approaches to historical materialism, the core of Marxist studies in China, and at equality and freedom, which are generally not discussed as Marxist topics.
The first reading assignment I gave for my summer course in 2010 on analytical Marxism at RUC2 was Albert Einstein’s “Why I am a Socialist” and two introductions to analytical Marxism. The first short writing assignment was to answer the question “Why I am a socialist,” or alternatively “Why I am not a socialist.”3 From the start, I had a good opportunity to learn about young people’s views in contemporary China through this small group of university students in Beijing. Of the thirty students, twenty gave reasons for why they were socialists and ten gave reasons for why they were not. In the twenty, I include one who became socialist later, after reading the Communist Manifesto (I assume again) in English. I also include two who said they were not socialists because they were communists.
Given what I had heard previously in China, I was surprised that two-thirds of my students were socialist, but of course I could not conclude anything in general about young people from that exercise. Certainly, that the course was on Marxism would be a factor, although there were students in the course who were there for the credits, out of curiosity, and for the opportunity to develop their English. After the assignment was handed in, we talked about what young people in universities and in the country generally think about socialism. Before telling them the results, I asked them to guess the division of the class in the exercise. There was a fair amount of variation about the class and greater variation for figures about the views of other groups. Afterwards, I learned, through quizzing many friends and contacts, that there is little idea of how many people, young or old, are socialists.
I know of no good studies of the number of Chinese who are socialists, but it is also difficult to know what a good study would be. Much depends on how the question is asked and what the meaning of socialism is in the relevant context. The same is true for understanding what significance to give to the 2009 Rasmussen poll that ‘found’ that one third of US young people under 30 believe that socialism is superior to capitalism. What do the people polled think socialism is? In the case of the Chinese, young people would naturally think of Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong thought or socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The reasons that people give, however, tell something about what they mean when they think of socialism. Quite a few of my students explained their allegiance in terms of their beliefs about human nature. Several said that they were socialists because it is human nature to be altruistic or collectivist, and a similar number were not socialists because, they said, people are self-interested by nature. Of course, this was a good topic for discussion in the class on a topic that is usually given short shrift in Chinese Marxist studies.
Many students were socialists because of parents or grandparents who were members of the Communist Party or had fought in Korea or the War of Liberation. And there were a variety of personal reasons, including moral reasons. An interesting rhetorical question was: if not a socialist, what would you be? The suggestion was that capitalism is not a viable alternative. The dominant question is what kind of socialism should there be.
With even cursory contact, it is obvious that there are millions of socialists in China. There were twenty in my class, and if two thirds of the adult population were socialists, China would have about 500 million socialists. That surely wildly overestimates the numbers, even for a country with a constitution that proclaims its socialism. For a more plausible estimate, consider first that the Communist Party of China has about 80 million members. There is certainly a lot of opportunism and cynicism amongst them, but on the basis of my private queries of many members, I cannot imagine that more than a quarter of them would actually reject socialism, even in their hearts.4 That leaves at least 60 million socialists in the Party.
Then there are surely several million socialists outside the Party. Many people are principled Maoists – some who see positive aspects of the Cultural Revolution – for example those involved with the Utopian Bookstore in Beijing, which has a wide variety of socialist and anarchist books in translation, where lectures are given, and with a widely followed Chinese website – until early 2012 when it was closed down after the detention of Bo Xilai. Bo, the former mayor of the megacity, Chongqing, is thought to have had millions of socialist followers because of popular social policies with Maoist trappings. These days there are also many “Marxologists” and other socialist theorists who do not want to be Party members. Some committed Marxists reject membership for principled reasons. Some socialists prefer not to undergo the strictures and discipline of the Party. Many lack the enthusiasm and happily go on with their own private lives. I would add another 10 million socialists outside the Party.
Thus, my very rough guess is that there are at least 70 million socialists in China. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who observes the intellectual scene in universities, institutes, and the media. Socialism is a known ideology that many take seriously and many more are curious about. (I also heard of many who scoffed at fellow students studying Marxism and socialism.5 There is a lively diversity of opinion.)
This is not to deny that there is also strong interest in capitalism and ideas of neoliberalism in some circles, although there are ways in which such interests are against the grain, historically and politically. Economic decisions might favor private ownership and individual entrepreneurs, but rarely would they be justified on the basis of capitalist ideology or neoliberal theory. Occasionally, ideas are drawn from western “capitalist” thinkers, but almost always in support of socialism with Chinese characteristics.