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]
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.
Part of the CCDS team at the conference: Kathy Sykes, Janet Tucker, Harry Targ, Paul Krehbiel
By Paul Krehbiel
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
"The capitalist class is in a serious crisis without solution," said David Schweikart at the Moving Beyond Capitalism conference held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from July 30-August 5, 2014. "But there is a solution," he said, "economic democracy, democratic socialism." Over 200 people from 15 countries discussed how to make this happen, organized by the Center for Global Justice.
Chronic high unemployment, depression of wages and benefits, cuts in social services, and growing inequality and repression, and social and political resistance are endemic to nearly all capitalist countries, said Schweikart, a Philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago, and author of After Capitalism.
Schweikart’s model of democratic socialism calls for a regulated competitive market economy, socialized means of production and democratic workplaces (he advocates worker-run cooperatives as an example), non-profit public banks to finance projects, full employment, and a guarantee that human needs will be meet for everyone.
Cliff DuRand, a conference organizer, said people are creating alternatives to capitalism today all over the world. "If we’ve built these alternative institutions, the next time the capitalist system collapses…we will be able to survive without it."
Gustavo Esteva, a former Mexican government official, founder of the University of the Land in Oxaca, and an advisor to the Zapatistas in Chiapas in southern Mexico, gave a good account of how the indigenous people of this region are creating a new democratic and socialist-oriented society that they control, within the borders of a capitalist Mexico. The Zapatistas launched an armed uprising in the mid-1990′s to stop NAFTA and the Mexican government from allowing multi-national corporations to come into Chiapas to extract minerals to enrich the corporations and destroy their lives and their local economy.
Ana Maldonado of the Venezuelan Ministry of Communal Economy could not attend, so University of Utah Professor Al Campbell filled in for her. Campbell has worked in Venezuelan with the Community Councils, a new form of grassroots democracy and socialism. Created in 2006 by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez, there are 20,000 Community Councils today, each holding meetings in neighborhoods where all residents can attend, discuss, and vote on decisions for their community.
Private, for-profit banks came under sharp attack for causing the 2008 Great Recession, and for ripping off billions of dollars from people world-wide, primarily through charging high interest rates. Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute based in California, declared, "Without interest payments, there would be no national debt," which now stands at over $15 trillion. Politicians use the debt as an excuse to cut funds for education, health care and other social programs. An example of local bank rip-offs is a bank loan for the purchase of a house, where the homeowner pays the bank 2-3 times or more than the cost of the house due to interest payments.
Brown said the solution is to set up not-for-profit public or state banks — like the Bank of North Dakota. She describes how to do it in her book Democratizing Money: The Public Bank Solution. Since the 2008 economic crash, 20 other states including California have introduced bills to study or establish publicly-owned state banks.
"The US controls third world countries," Brown explained, "by putting them in debt and then forcing repayment with high interest rates," which they can’t afford to pay. Brown said the book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, by John Perkins, explains how devastating this is.
Coops in Cuba
Camila Pineiro Harnecker, a leader of the cooperative movement in socialist Cuba, explained that her country is giving much more attention to the development of worker-run cooperatives as a way to help workers create jobs for themselves, and learn how to become masters of their work and work lives. The state socialist sector dominates the economy, but coops now comprise 12% of the workforce and are expected to increase in number.
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By Liu Zhenying
CHINESE SOCIAL SCIENCES TODAY
September 24, 2014
The Chinese version of Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) by French economist Thomas Piketty hasn’t been published for good reason. It is inappropriate for Piketty to associate his book with Das Kapital, the 1887 critical analysis of political economy by German philosopher Karl Marx.
Difference in political tendency
The political leaning of Capital in the Twenty-First Century can be classified as left-wing. It suggests imposing a progressive tax each year ranging from 0.1 percent to 10 percent on returns on capital, or 80 percent of punitive capital holding tax on the revenue of over $5oo,ooo. This has led US right-wing pundits to label Piketty a Marxist. But Piketty isn’t a Marxist in the conventional sense, which can be seen from his proposition of not scrapping the capitalist system.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century examines the relations between rate of returns on capital and rate of economic growth, explaining the former is higher than the latter with existing materials. This indicates an analytical framework of confrontation between capital gain and labor income, whereby the increased portion must be the reduced portion of workers’ labor income. It is the same as Das Kapital, which is based on confrontation between labor and capital, specifically paid employment. This doesn’t prove Piketty is a Marxist, however, because classical political economics are also based on labor-capital conflicts.
Conflicts between labor and capital are common in classical political economics. Based on these conflicts, Piketty pivots from the stance of contemporary Western mainstream economics to classical political economics. He doesn’t draw such a conclusion from self-contradiction of the capitalist mode of production as Marx did in Das Kapital, which urged the overthrowing of the capitalist system and establishment of capital public ownership.
Piketty once asserted that he has returned to the stance of classical economics due to his dissatisfaction with mainstream economics. However, it is a big leap to go from classical economics to Marxist economics.
Piketty imagines solving the problems caused by capitalist fundamentalism without solving core contradictions, which indicates he hasn’t realized the gap. Commentators accuse him of being a “utopian.” Indeed, Piketty makes the case that the bourgeoisie would rather see the collapse of capitalism than adopt his proposed tax reforms.
Difference in research methods
Capital in the Twenty-First Century shouldn’t be considered a modern Das Kapital. Both books differ in research subjects. More importantly, they have different research methods and both therefore draw inevitably different conclusions. Capital in the Twenty-First Century explains “polarization” with data, strongly refuting theories that distort so-called facts.
No matter how reasonable Piketty’s ideas are, the bourgeoisie will never acknowledge he is right nor accept his proposed policies.
Piketty’s proposed policies have historically been adopted and are even being implemented in some North European countries. However, whether these proposals will be adopted on a greater scale doesn’t depend on whether the ruling classes are clear that the rate of return on capital must conform to economic growth rate. It instead depends on whether their interests can be guaranteed. The capitalist system defines human nature as individualistic and selfish, with the bourgeoisie only caring about their own interests without considering greater mankind.
Without attempting to persuade the bourgeoisie to become reasonable, Das Kapital proposes not having any illusions about them. For this reason, Das Kapital presents an insurmountable critique without comparison.
This isn’t to say that Das Kapital, as a 19th-century book, can explain all phenomena in the 21st century. Marxist theorist Ernest Mandel thought Das Kapital was more suitable for the 20th century. Based on the inherent negativity of capitalism, however, it is in the 21st century that the logic of Das Kapital has been actually realized.
Marx researched virtual capital, but there was no virtual economy in his era. Marx realized the self-denial of capital would inevitably result in socialism, but he didn’t seesocialism which would have the same level of productivity under capitalism and even has lower level of productivity than developed countries . If a 21st-century adaptation of Das Kapital is written, its logic should follow Marxist theory.
The author is a teacher at the Shanghai Party Institute First Branch School at the Communist Party of China’s Shanghai Administration Institute.
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Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro with Marta Harnecker at the award ceremony.
The speech was given by Marta Harnecker on August 15, 2014, accepting the 2013 Liberator’s Prize for Critical Thought, awarded for her book, A World to Build: New Paths towards Twenty-first Century Socialism; translated by Federico Fuentes
By Marta Harnecker
August 24, 2014 – I completed this book one month after the physical disappearance of President Hugo Chávez, without whose intervention in Latin America this book could not have been written. Many of the ideas I raise in it are related in one way or another to the Bolivarian leader, to his ideas and actions, within Venezuela and at the regional and global level. Nobody can deny that there is a huge difference between the Latin America that Chávez inherited and the Latin America he has left for us today.
That is why I dedicated the book to him with the following words:
To Commandante Chavez, whose words, orientations and exemplary dedication to the cause of the poor will serve as a compass for his people and all the people of the world. It will be the best shield to defend ourselves from those that seek to destroy this marvellous work that he began to build.
When Chávez won the 1998 presidential elections, the neoliberal capitalist model was already foundering. The choice then was whether to re-establish this model, undoubtedly with some changes such as greater concern for social issues, but still motivated by the same logic of profit-seeking, or to go ahead and try to build another model. Chávez had the courage to take the second path and decided to call it “socialism”, in spite of its negative connotations. He called it “21st century socialism,” to differentiate it from the Soviet-style socialism that had been implemented in the 20th century. This was not about “falling into the errors of the past”, into the same “Stalinist deviations” which bureaucratised the party and ended up eliminating popular participation.
The need for peoples’ participation was one of his obsessions and was the feature that distinguished his proposals from other socialist projects in which the state resolved all the problems and the people received benefits as if they were gifts.
He was convinced that socialism could not be decreed from above, that it had to be built with the people. And he also understood that protagonistic participation is what allows people to grow and achieve self-confidence, that is, to develop themselves as human beings.
I always remember the first program of “Theoretical Aló Presidente”, which was broadcasted on June 11, 2009, when Chavez quoted at length from a letter that Peter Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, wrote to Lenin on March 4, 1920:
Without the participation of local forces, without an organization from below of the peasants and workers themselves, it is impossible to build a new life.
It seemed that the soviets were going to fulfil precisely this function of creating an organization from below. But Russia has already become a Soviet Republic in name only. The party’s influence over people … has already destroyed the influence and constructive energy of this promising institution – the soviets.
That is why very early on I believed it necessary to distinguish between the socialist project and a model. I understood project to mean the original ideas of Marx and Engels, and model to refer to one form that this project has historically taken. If we analysis Soviet-style socialism, we see that in those countries that implemented this model of socialism, one that Michael Lebowitz has recently called the socialism of conductors and conducted based on a vanguardist mode of production, the people were no longer the protagonist, organs of popular participation were transformed into purely formal entities, and the party was transformed into an absolute authority, the sole depositary of truth that controlled all activities: economic, political, cultural. That is, what should have been a popular democracy was transformed into a dictatorship of the party. This model of socialism, that many have called “real socialism” is a fundamentally statist, centralist, bureaucratic model, where the key missing factor is popular participation.
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By John Ross
China.org.cn, August 22, 2014
August 22, 2014 is the 110th anniversary of the birth of Deng Xiaoping. Numerous achievements would ensure Deng Xiaoping a major position in China’s history – his role in shaping the People’s Republic of China, his steadfastness during persecution in the Cultural Revolution, his extraordinarily balanced attitude even after return to power towards the development and recent history of China, his all-round role after 1978 in leading the country.
But one ensures him a position among a tiny handful of people at the peak not only of Chinese but of world history. This was China’s extraordinary economic achievement after reforms began in 1978, and the decisive role this played not only in the improvement of the living standards of Chinese people but the country’s national rejuvenation. So great was the impact of this that it may objectively be said to have altered the situation not only of China but of the world.
China’s economic performance after the beginning of its 1978 reforms simply exceeded the experience of any other country in human history. To give only a partial list:
• China achieved the most rapid growth in a major economy in world history.
• China experienced the fastest growth of living standards of any major economy.
• China lifted 620 million people out of internationally defined poverty.
• Measured in internationally comparable prices, adjusted for inflation, the greatest increase in economic output in a single year in any country outside China was the U.S. in 1999, when it added US$567 billion, whereas in 2010 China added US$1,126 billion – twice as much.
• During the beginning of China’s rapid growth, 22 percent of the world’s population was within its borders – seven times that of United States at the beginning of its own fast economic development.
Wholly implausibly, it is sometimes argued that this success was merely due to "pragmatism" and achieved without overall economic theories, concepts, or a leadership really understanding the subject (particularly with no knowledge of U.S. academic economics!). If true, then the study of economics should immediately be abandoned – if the greatest economic success in world history can be achieved without any understanding of the subject, then it is evidently of no practical value whatever.
In reality this argument is entirely specious. Deng Xiaoping’s approach to economic policy was certainly highly practical regarding application – the famous "it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white provided it catches mice." But it was extremely theoretical regarding foundations – as shown clearly in such works as In Everything We Do We Must Proceed from the Realities of the Primary Stage of Socialism, We Are Undertaking An Entirely New Endeavour, and Adhere to the Principle to Each According to his Work. Deng Xiaoping’s outstanding practical success was guided by a clearly defined theoretical underpinning, which can be understood particularly clearly in its historical context and in comparison with Western and other economists.
As is generally known, after 1949 the newly created People’s Republic of China constructed an economy, fundamental elements of which were drawn from the Soviet Union. It is important to understand that there was nothing irrational in this – the USSR, up to that time, had the world’s most rapidly growing economy.
Indeed, the immediate post-1929 success of the USSR was of extraordinary dimensions. During 1929-39 the USSR achieved 6 percent annual GDP growth, which until then was by far the fastest ever achieved by a major economy, and almost twice the historical growth rate of the United States. Despite colossal destruction in World War II, by 1949 the USSR had already regained its prewar production level.
The elements which produced such historically unprecedented economic growth were clear. From 1929, Stalin, with the First Five Year Plan, launched the USSR on an economic policy never previously attempted in any country – construction of a national basically self-enclosed administered economy. Resources were not allocated by price but by material quantities – a steel factory did not buy iron ore on the market but had it allocated by administrative decision. Foreign trade was minimized. State ownership was applied even to small scale private enterprises such as restaurants. Farmers’ small holdings were eliminated and agriculture organized into large scale collective farms.
Despite verbal claims that this policy was "Marxist," Stalin’s economic structure was in fact radically at variance with that of Marx himself. To use the Marxist terminology common to both China and the USSR, Soviet economic policy in 1929, in a single step, replaced economic regulation by prices (exchange value) by allocation by material use (use value).
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Schafik Handal, Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro and Evo Morales, in Havana in 2004
By Roger Burbach
Telesur, July 1, 2014
Something remarkable has taken place in Latin America in the new millennium. For the first time since the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, radical left governments have come to power in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, raising the banner of socialism. The decline of the US empire, the eruption of anti-neoliberal social movements, and the growing integration of the region on its own terms have created a space for the rejuvenation of socialism after the dramatic setbacks of the last century. Cuba is part of this transformative process as its leadership moves to update the country’s economy while the Cuban people experience new freedoms.
In what follows, the theoretical debates and the praxis of socialism in the twenty-first-century socialism will be explored. The intent is not to provide a singular theory of the new socialism, but to put forth some of the interpretations of the contemporary struggles that are taking place in Latin America.
Theories of Twenty-First-Century Socialism
Drawing on the wide-ranging discussions of twenty-first-century socialism taking place in the hemisphere, political theorist Marta Harnecker, who served as an informal adviser to Hugo Chavez, outlines five key components of what constitutes socialism. First, socialism is “the development of human beings,” meaning that “the pursuit of profit” needs to be replaced by “a logic of humanism and solidarity, aimed at satisfying human needs.” Secondly, socialism “respects nature and opposes consumerism – our goal should not be to live ‘better’ but to live ‘well,”’ as the Andean indigenous cultures declare. Thirdly, borrowing from the radical economics professor Michael Lebowitz, Harnecker says, socialism establishes a new “dialectic of production/distribution/consumption, based on: a) social ownership of the means of production, and b) social production organized by the workers in order to c) satisfy communal needs.” Fourthly, “socialism is guided by a new concept of efficiency that both respects nature and seeks human development.” Fifthly, there is a need for the “rational use of the available natural and human resources, thanks to a decentralized participatory planning process” that is the opposite of Soviet hyper-centralized bureaucratic planning.(1)
To construct a socialist utopia along these lines will be a long endeavor, taking decades and generations. Today different explorations, or counter-hegemonic processes, are at work throughout the hemisphere. As Arturo Escobar – a Colombian-American anthropologist known for his contribution to post-development theory– writes in ‘Latin America at a Crossroads’:
“Some argue that these processes might lead to a re-invention of socialism; for others, what is at stake is the dismantling of the neo-liberal policies of the past three decades – the end of the ‘the long neo-liberal night,’ as the period is known in progressive circles in the region – or the formation of a South American (and anti-American) bloc. Others point at the potential for un nuevo comienzo (a new beginning) which might bring about a reinvention of democracy and development or, more radically still, the end of the predominance of liberal society of the past 200 years founded on private property and representative democracy. Socialismo del siglo XXI, pluri-nationality, interculturality, direct and substantive democracy, revolución ciudadana, endogenous development centered on the buen vivir of the people, territorial and cultural autonomy, and decolonial projects towards post-liberal societies are some of the concepts that seek to name the ongoing transformations.” (2)
Orlando Núñez, a leading Marxist theorist from Nicaragua, amplifies our understanding of the long transition to socialism with a more orthodox approach. Rejecting 21st century socialism as a concept to describe what is occurring in Latin America today, he asserts that the region is in a very preliminary phase of “transitioning to socialism in which we should not pretend we are constructing socialism.” Rather we are confronting neoliberalism and each country in Latin America is “facing different conditions.” He adds, “new flags are appearing in the social struggle against the dominant system that cannot be resolved by the logic of capitalism.” It is “a post-neoliberal or post-capitalist struggle” against woman’s inequality and patriarchy, racial and ethnic discrimination, and the degradation of the environment. More fundamentally it is against “savage capitalism,” and “neo-colonialism,” both internally and externally. (3)
The Brazilian political scientist Emir Sader, in The New Mole: Paths of the Latin American Left, argues that the setback for socialism in the 20th century was so severe that it is still recuperating to this day. Socialism can be part of the agenda, but the priority must be on forming governments and political coalitions to dismantle neoliberalism, even if that means accepting the broader capitalist system for the time being.(4) This in part explains why the construction of socialism in the coming years and decades will be a diverse process – differing widely from country to country. There is no single definition or model–we are indeed witnessing, two, three, many transitions to socialism..
Part 2: Rise of the Social Movements and New Theories of Social Struggle
The origins of twenty-first century socialism are found in the wave of social movements led by peasants and indigenous organizations that swept the rural areas of Latin America as state socialism was collapsing. By the mid-1990s they had assumed the lead in challenging the neoliberal order, particularly in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil. These new organizations were generally more democratic and participatory than the class-based organizations that traditional Marxist political parties had set up in rural areas in previous decades. In general, they came to fill the gap left by a working class that was fragmented, disoriented, and dispersed due to the assault of neo-liberalism. With a broad range of interests and demands, including indigenous and environmental rights, these new social movements transcended the modernist meta-narratives of both capitalism and traditional socialism.