Return to the Source, May 20, 2014
Deng Xiaoping: A People’s Hero
After the fall of the Soviet Union, most of the socialist countries tragically fell to the onslaught of Western imperialism. Among the horrific blows dealt to the international communist movement, five socialist states resisted the tide of counterrevolution and, against all odds, maintain actually existing socialism in the 21st century.
Though each face very specific obstacles in building socialism, these five countries–the Republic of Cuba, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the People’s Republic of China–stand as a challenge to the goliath of Western imperialist hegemony. Among them, however, China stands unique as a socialist country whose economic growth continues to supersede even the most powerful imperialist countries.
Though an embarrassing number of Western “left” groups challenge the designation of any of these five countries as socialist, no country raises greater opposition than China. Many Western “left” groups claim that modern China is a full-fledged capitalist country. Owing their ideological heritage to bogus theoreticians like Leon Trotsky, Tony Cliffe, and Hal Draper, some groups argue that China was never a socialist country, claiming instead that the Chinese state is and has been state capitalist.
I counter their outrageous reactionary assertions with six theses:
First, Chinese market socialism is a method of resolving the primary contradiction facing socialist construction in China: backwards productive forces.
Second, market socialism in China is a Marxist-Leninist tool that is important to socialist construction.
Third, the Chinese Communist Party’s continued leadership and control of China’s market economy is central to Chinese socialism.
Fourth, Chinese socialism has catapulted a workers state to previously unknown economic heights.
Fifth, the successful elevation of China as a modern industrial economy has laid the basis for ‘higher’ forms of socialist economic organization.
And sixth, China applies market socialism to its relations with the Third World and plays a major role in the fight against imperialism.
From these six theses, I draw the conclusion that Marxist-Leninists in the 21st century should rigorously study the successes of Chinese socialism. After all, if China is a socialist country, its ascension as the premiere world economic power demands the attention of every serious revolutionary, especially insofar as the daunting task of socialist construction in the Third World is concerned.
Market socialism is a method of resolving the primary contradiction facing socialist construction in China: backwards productive forces.
Comrade Deng Xiaoping
The Chinese revolution in 1949 was a tremendous achievement for the international communist movement. Led by Mao Zedong, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) immediately charted a course of socialist reconstruction in an economy ravaged by centuries of dynastic feudalism and imperial subjugation from both Europe and Japan. The CCP launched incredible campaigns designed at engaging the masses in constructing socialism and building an economy that could meet the needs of China’s giant population. One can never overstate the incredible achievements of the Chinese masses during this period, in which the average life expectancy in China rose from 35 years in 1949 to 63 years by Mao’s death in 1976. (1)
Despite the vast social benefits brought about by the revolution, China’s productive forces remained grossly underdeveloped and left the country vulnerable to famines and other natural disasters. Uneven development persisted between the countryside and the cities, and the Sino-Soviet split cut China off from the rest of the socialist bloc. These serious obstacles led the CCP, with Deng Xiaoping at the helm, to identify China’s underdeveloped productive forces as the primary contradiction facing socialist construction. In a March 1979 speech at a CCP forum entitled “Uphold the Four Cardinal Principles,” Deng outlines the two features of this contradiction:
First, we are starting from a weak base. The damage inflicted over a long period by the forces of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism reduced China to a state of poverty and backwardness. (2)
While he grants that “since the founding of the People’s Republic we have achieved signal successes in economic construction, established a fairly comprehensive industrial system,” Deng reiterates that China is nevertheless “one of the world’s poor countries.” (2)
The second feature of this contradiction is that China has “a large population but not enough arable land.” Deng explains the severity of this contradiction:
When production is insufficiently developed, it poses serious problems with regard to food, education and employment. We must greatly increase our efforts in family planning; but even if the population does not grow for a number of years, we will still have a population problem for a certain period. Our vast territory and rich natural resources are big assets. But many of these resources have not yet been surveyed and exploited, so they do not constitute actual means of production. Despite China’s vast territory, the amount of arable land is limited, and neither this fact nor the fact that we have a large, mostly peasant population can be easily changed. (2)
Unlike industrialized Western countries, the primary contradiction facing China was not between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie–the proletariat and its party had already overthrown the bourgeoisie in the 1949 revolution–but rather between China’s enormous population and its underdeveloped productive forces. While well-intended and ambitious, campaigns like the Great Leap Forward would continue to fall short of raising the Chinese masses out of poverty without revolutionizing the country’s productive forces.
From this contradiction, Deng proposed a policy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” or market socialism.
By Harry Targ
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS)
For presentation at the upcoming “Moving Beyond Capitalism” Conference, Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico July 29-August 5, 2014
The deepening 21st century crises of capitalism-from growing economic impoverishment to neo-fascism to literal destruction of planet earth-demand movements and visions of change unparalleled in quantities and qualities of response. Anti-capitalist responses to these crises range from helplessness to spontaneous activism. Often political reactions ignore the history and context of the crises and the movements that have come before that have planted the seeds of fundamental social change. This paper will survey movements of social change in the era of neoliberal globalization suggesting both the breadth of such movements and the historical context from which they came. The tasks for today still require an analysis of the nature of existing systems and responses, visions of desirable alternatives, and contextualized discussions of moving from here to there. “Moving Beyond Capitalism” requires such a grounding of the future in the past and the present.
21st Century Imperialism: Post-Cold War Perspectives on Global Political Economy
The collapse of the Soviet Union transformed world affairs, scholarly analyses of international relations, punditry, and rationales for imperial foreign policies. A new buzzword became part of political discourse to describe the international system: “globalization.” Almost immediately a large literature was generated suggesting that the world had changed. Globalization was replacing the system of often hostile nation-states that had characterized the world since the sixteenth century.
While interpretations of globalization varied, the common conception of the term suggested that a process of relations was occurring in which interactions between nations, business and financial organizations, groups, and peoples had become so frequent and intense that they were creating one global society. Major globalizing institutions included multinational corporations, especially the 200 largest global corporations with production, distribution, and decision-making facilities in many countries, and international financial institutions engaged in speculative activities all across the globe. At the cultural level a handful of media conglomerates produced a large percentage of the cultural products, images, artistic endeavors, and print and electronic information that the world consumed. Finally, international institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the newly created World Trade Organization brought international influence to bear on states that resisted the globalization process.
Photo: Workerless Factory
[Editor's Note: The author skims the surface of capitalism's endemic problem of the growing organic composition of capital (better tools) in relation to the decrease in living labor (fewer workers and less labor time). One reason noted by Marx is that it has no strategic reform solution , but it does set the conditions for socialism, and beyond that, the classless society of communism].
By Jason Perlow
SolidarityEconony.net via Tech Broiler
Open Source. The backlash against Software Patents. Cloud Computing. Bitcoin. 3D Printing. Post-PC. Cord-Cutting. Electric Vehicles and Alternative Energy.
There are ideological and social drivers that are unique to every single one of these things, and yet there is a common thread that ties them together. I call this trend “anti-spendism”.
Anti-spendism is not necessarily a social movement that is tied to the betterment of society as a whole. It’s not like socialism or communism, where we are talking about a desire to more equitably distribute wealth to the have-nots.
It is by definition, the personal, self-centered desire not to expend capital at all. Or to put a more modern take on it, rapid advances in technology have so lowered our perceptions of what things should cost, that ultimately many goods and services have become devalued far below what people are willing to pay for them.
To put it bluntly, anti-spendism is “Hell no, we won’t pay” syndrome.
And while a case could be made that thriftiness in the trade of goods and services has always existed, even before money itself existed, there has never been a time in our history where thriftiness has overwhelmingly been driven by technology itself, or vice-versa.
The rise of FOSS
It is difficult to say where this all began, but I suspect that it emerged as a confluence of events beginning with the rise of the Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) movement in the late 1990s which planted the seeds among the technorati that you could get something of value (Software) for free.
Posted by Comments Off
By Joseph Stiglitz
Social Europe Journal
March 3, 2014- No country in recorded history has grown as fast – and moved as many people out of poverty – as China over the last thirty years. A hallmark of China’s success has been its leaders’ willingness to revise the country’s economic model when and as needed, despite opposition from powerful vested interests. And now, as China implements another series of fundamental reforms, such interests are already lining up to resist. Can the reformers triumph again?
In answering that question, the crucial point to bear in mind is that, as in the past, the current round of reforms will restructure not only the economy, but also the vested interests that will shape future reforms (and even determine whether they are possible). And today, while high-profile initiatives – for example, the government’s widening anti-corruption campaign – receive much attention, the deeper issue that China faces concerns the appropriate roles of the state and the market.
When China began its reforms more than three decades ago, the direction was clear: the market needed to play a far greater role in resource allocation. And so it has, with the private sector far more important now than it was. Moreover, there is a broad consensus that the market needs to play what officials call a “decisive role” in many sectors where state-owned enterprises (SOEs) dominate. But what should its role be in other sectors, and in the economy more generally?
Many of China’s problems today stem from too much market and too little government. Or, to put it another way, while the government is clearly doing some things that it should not, it is also not doing some things that it should.
Worsening environmental pollution, for example, threatens living standards, while inequality of income and wealth now rivals that of the United States and corruption pervades public institutions and the private sector alike. All of this undermines trust within society and in government – a trend that is particularly obvious with respect to, say, food safety.
Such problems could worsen as China restructures its economy away from export-led growth toward services and household consumption. Clearly, there is room for growth in private consumption; but embracing America’s profligate materialist life-style would be a disaster for China – and the planet. Air quality in China is already putting peoples’ lives at risk; global warming from even higher Chinese carbon emissions would threaten the entire world.
There is a better strategy. For starters, Chinese living standards could and would increase if more resources were allocated to redress large deficiencies in health care and education. Here, government should play a leading role, and does so in most market economies, for good reason.
America’s privately-based health-care system is expensive, inefficient, and achieves far worse outcomes than those in European countries, which spend far less. A more market-based system is not the direction in which China should be going. In recent years, the government has made important strides in providing basic health care, especially in rural areas, and some have likened China’s approach to that of the United Kingdom, where private provision is layered atop a public base. Whether that model is better than, say, French-style government-dominated provision may be debated. But if one adopts the UK model, the level of the base makes all the difference; given the relatively small role of private health-care provision in the UK, the country has what is essentially a public system.
Likewise, though China has already made progress in moving away from manufacturing toward a service-based economy (the GDP share of services exceeded that of manufacturing for the first time in 2013), there is still a long way to go. Already, many industries are suffering from overcapacity, and efficient and smooth restructuring will not be easy without government help.
China is restructuring in another way: rapid urbanization. Ensuring that cities are livable and environmentally sustainable will require strong government action to provide sufficient public transport, public schools, public hospitals, parks, and effective zoning, among other public goods.
One major lesson that should have been learned from the post-2008 global economic crisis is that markets are not self-regulating. They are prone to asset and credit bubbles, which inevitably collapse – often when cross-border capital flows abruptly reverse direction – imposing massive social costs.
America’s infatuation with deregulation was the cause of the crisis. The issue is not just the pacing and sequencing of liberalization, as some suggest; the end result also matters. Liberalization of deposit rates led to America’s savings and loan crisis in the 1980’s. Liberalization of lending rates encouraged predatory behavior that exploited poor consumers. Bank deregulation led not to more growth, but simply to more risk.
China, one hopes, will not take the route that America followed, with such disastrous consequences. The challenge for its leaders is to devise effective regulatory regimes that are appropriate for its stage of development.
That will require the government to raise more money. Local governments’ current reliance on land sales is a source of many of the economy’s distortions – and much of the corruption. Instead, the authorities should boost revenue by imposing environmental taxes (including a carbon tax), a more comprehensive progressive income tax (including capital gains), and a property tax. Moreover, the state should appropriate, through dividends, a larger share of SOEs’ value (some of which might be at the expense of these firms’ managers.)
The question is whether China can maintain rapid growth (though somewhat slower than its recent breakneck pace), even as it reins in credit expansion (which could cause an abrupt reversal in asset prices), confronts weak global demand, restructures its economy, and fights corruption. In other countries, such daunting challenges have led to paralysis, not progress.
The economics of success is clear: higher spending on urbanization, health care, and education, funded by increases in taxes, could simultaneously sustain growth, improve the environment, and reduce inequality. If China’s politics can manage the implementation of this agenda, China and the entire world will be better off.
Posted by Comments Off
Is China’s extraordinary rise a model of economic reform without political reform? Is China’s Achilles’ heel its political system? Is China’s one-party governance doomed in the face of mounting challenges from a more diversified economy and demanding society?
China’s political governance, adapting itself constantly to new challenges through many minor reforms, has proven crucial for China’s economic success.
These are questions in many Western minds whenever China is mentioned. But the assumptions behind these questions may be misplaced, as one’s understanding of China could be vastly different if a Chinese perspective were adopted. China’s political governance, adapting itself constantly to new challenges through many minor reforms, has proven crucial for China’s economic success. The following five aspects of China’s political governance merit special attention:
First, one-party governance. In fact, there is nothing new about one-party governance in China: in most of the past two millennia since its first unification in 221 BC, China almost always practiced a kind of one-party rule, or rule by a unified Confucian ruling elite selected through public exams (the Keju), claiming to represent — or genuinely representing — most if not all under heaven. Furthermore, in most of the one-party-rule era, China was arguably a better governed country and a more prosperous economy than Europe of the same epoch. China only began to lag behind Europe when it closed its door to the outside world and missed the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, but the country is now catching up fast.
The Communist Party of China has to a great extent followed this tradition and built an impressive system of selecting its leaders based on merit and performance. For instance, its top decision-makers (6 out of 7 Politburo’s Standing Committee members) all worked at least twice as much as party secretaries or governors at the provincial level, which means they have on average administered a population of about 100 million before being promoted to their current positions in Beijing.
The CPC today, like its predecessors in China’s long past, also claims to represent the whole nation, but with a mission to restore the country’s premier world-class status. Key independent surveys, including those by the Pew or the Asian Barometer over the past decade, show a consistent pattern in which the Chinese central authorities command a high degree of respect and support (above 75 percent) within the country. Depicting China’s polity as being on the verge of collapse, as appears so often in the Western media, is out of touch with China’s reality.
Posted by Comments Off
By Heiko Khoo
March 6, 2014 – The leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) view the battle against corruption as a struggle of life and death that will determine China’s fate. The Party’s capacity to control the abuse of power is the defining issue that will shape future relations between the Party and the masses. To avoid the type of collapse that brought down Communist Party rule in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the CPC must stamp out corruption and empower the working masses to create a socialist future.
Last year, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, vowed that the "color of red China will never change." Strict measures to clean up the behavior of officials were released and enforced, and many displays of official extravagance eradicated. Xi explained, "The Party cadres should be firm followers of Communist ideals, true believers of Marxism and devoted fighters for the socialism with Chinese characteristics." State and Party leaders initiated the campaign by self-criticism and pledged their support for the "mass-line:" to connect as closely as possible with the masses and promote a frugal, honest, hardworking and clean government.
Xi explained that an understanding of revolutionary history is the "best nutrient" for Party members. In Mao Zedong’s time, China’s revolutionaries and state functionaries were known worldwide for their Spartanic lifestyles and their closeness to the masses. Wage inequality was minimal and a collectivist spirit pervaded society. This anchored communist ethics deep in the minds of workers and peasants. So, even when catastrophic policy errors occurred, the Party could draw on deep wells of social support. The people and Party believed they were transforming China, and that the world was moving towards a communist future.
Deng Xiaoping’s policies permitted markets, foreign investment and indigenous private ownership. This provided access to foreign capital and technology and actually developed indigenous capital: generating the most rapid modernization — as well as economic growth and reduction in poverty — of any major economy in world history. This happened because the CPC retained its control over the macro economy by means of the public ownership of the banks and the commanding heights of the economy.
However, the accompanying rise in inequality produced grotesque disparities in life styles and opportunities. Urban life in China appeared to become similar to that of many developing capitalist countries: beggars and billionaires pass each other in the country’s great cities; capitalists in Ferraris race past migrant workers who build five star hotels on poverty wages. However, in the minds of broad layers of the working classes, capitalism is associated with technical advance and dynamic development. The working class has become China’s largest social class. Workers with urban registration have adjusted to new forms of global, private and state capital investment, as well as to new types of employment. Migrant workers have been drawn into the global chain of production and consumption.
Posted by Comments Off
By Michael Lebowitz
March 2014 — Monthly Review — It is now one year since the unfortunate death of Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2013. Shortly after, the editors of Monthly Review quoted a letter from István Mészáros to John Bellamy Foster which described Chávez as “one of the greatest historical figures of our time” and “a deeply insightful revolutionary intellect” (“Notes from the Editors” in the May 2013 Monthly Review). Whether Chávez will be remembered over time this way, however, depends significantly on whether we build upon the foundations he began.
As important as his vision and his deep understanding of the necessary path (so clearly demonstrated by his focus upon communal councils as the basis of a new socialist state—“the most vital revolutionary achievement in these years,” as the editors indicated) was Chávez’s ability to communicate both vision and theory in a clear and simple way to the masses. As demonstrated by Chávez’s articulation of the concept of “the elementary triangle of socialism,” that is what revolutionaries must learn to do.
Following Marta Harnecker’s long interview with Chávez (later published as Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution by Monthly Review Press), he asked her to come to Venezuela in 2003 to serve as his advisor and explained that he wanted someone around him who would not hesitate to criticize him. And that’s how we ended up in Venezuela. At the beginning of 2004, I became an adviser to the Minister of the Social Economy and, during that year, Marta and I became convinced that it would be important to create a center which could bring together foreign advisors who supported the Bolivarian Revolution. Accordingly, she proposed to Chávez that an institute be established for this purpose; he agreed, and, after we assembled people and found a home for the Institute (ultimately in the Ministry of Higher Education), the Centro Internacional Miranda (CIM) was formed in early 2006.
Since it was clear that Chávez would be re-elected in December and would be thinking seriously about directions for the new mandate, those of us involved in CIM decided to prepare a series of papers proposing initiatives which we felt could advance the process of building socialism in Venezuela. Although several of us engaged in these discussions, ultimately only three of the CIM directors (Marta Harnecker, Haiman El Troudi, and I) completed papers for transmission to Chávez in early December. In what follows, I include an excerpt from one paper I prepared plus a second paper subsequently developed in response to Chávez’s reaction to the first.1
Everyone understands that it is impossible to achieve the vision of socialism for the twenty-first century in one giant leap forward. It is not simply a matter of changing property ownership. This is the easiest part of building the new world. Far more difficult is changing productive relations, social relations in general, and attitudes and ideas.
Posted by Comments Off
By Yang Yang
Feb 17, 2014 – has been made, gender stereotypes and a lack of specific laws continue to foster discrimination against women. [China Daily]
While progress has been made, gender stereotypes and a lack of specific laws continue to foster discrimination against women, Yang Yang finds out.
In 1968, Mao Zedong presented an inspiring vision of the role of women in society when he declared they "hold up half the sky".
His words have resonated across the decades, inspiring many Chinese women to aspire to greater heights of personal achievement, both at home and in the workplace.
But lingering sexist attitudes – leftovers from a patriarchal past – and outright gender discrimination in education continue to impede their progress.
Undeniably, significant improvements have been made for women, and in today’s China people frequently mention gender equality in a variety of contexts including education and employment – not just when the unavoidable biological reality of childbirth comes up.
Yet, on the whole, women remain at a disadvantage and there is still a long way to go, according to advocates for women’s rights.
For them, nothing demonstrated that fact more clearly than remarks by a male member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Guangdong province in January.
In a discussion with other members, Luo Biliang, a distinguished professor, compared women to a commercial product with a limited shelf life. Studying for a doctorate degree would devalue a woman, he said, if she has failed to sell herself to a husband in a timely fashion.
Women, especially educated ones, were incensed by the comment.
Adding fuel to the fire, another male CPPCC member, Chen Riyuan, also a professor, said that if a woman seeking to enter an advanced degree program had no husband or boyfriend, he would advise her to get one before taking the entrance examination.
Such insertions of marriage into virtually any discussion involving women is commonplace in China, where cultural expectations and assumptions run deep – so deep that many people don’t even notice the built-in patronizing sexism that separates women from men.
Posted by Comments Off
China Brief Volume: 14 Issue: 1
January 9, 2014
By: David Cohen
Chinese President Xi Jinping honored the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth on December 26, using the occasion to speak at length about the significance of the founder of the People’s Republic in Chinese and Party history (Xinhua, December 26). The speech was generally laudatory but made brief references to his “mistakes”: launching the Cultural Revolution and, in a possible reference to the Great Leap Forward, “simply copying Leninist theory and imitating the experience of Russia’s October Revolution, causing grave harm to the Chinese Revolution.” However, Xi quoted Deng Xiaoping’s verdict on the legacy of Mao to argue that his failures came second to his achievements: uniting the Chinese nation and achieving its independence, solving “difficult problems about the relationship of the Party and the people,” and establishing the “basic socialist system.”
The speech is Xi’s most detailed effort yet to explain the legacy of Mao, and it demonstrates two important aspects of his vision for China: first, that his alternating evocations of Mao and Deng do not represent vacillation, but an effort to reconcile the “two undeniables” of Chinese politics. As Xi put it in the speech, deploying a slogan: “Without Reform and Opening, there could be no China today; if we abandon this path, China can have no tomorrow” (for more on the speech, see “Xi invokes Mao’s image to boost his own authority” in this issue of China Brief).
Second, the speech—and, even more, its explication in the Party’s ideological journals—suggest strongly that Xi’s vision of China’s future has been shaped by the group of academics known as the “New Left.” The group is associated with nostalgia for Mao and especially with Bo Xilai’s experiments in Chongqing—making the resurgence of the New Left’s ideas after Bo’s downfall all the more interesting. In attempting to understand his plans for China’s future, his borrowings from Mao should be read not as ersatz efforts to justify policy, but as belonging to an established discussion about the future of China’s social and political systems.
The New Left—a controversial name rejected by many of the academics to whom it is applied—emerged in the 1990s as a criticism of unfettered capitalism, and emerged as a major player in the Hu Jintao-era debates about the idea of a “China model.” Essays such as Wang Hui’s (Tsinghua University) “Contemporary Chinese Thought and the Question of Modernity” expressed reservations about the dislocations of rapid economic change, while Pan Wei’s (Peking University) “Toward a Consultative Rule of Law Regime in China” examined Hong Kong and Shanghai to envision a future without Western-style democracy (Tianya, Issue 5, 1997; Journal of Contemporary China, Volume 12, Issue 34, 2003).
While the movement contains a great deal of ideological diversity—including some adherents sympathetic to forms of representative democracy—it is generally defined by an effort to challenge the account of the Reform and Opening Era as one of salvation from failed policies. Rather, they argue, the legacies of Mao and Deng are complementary: where Mao provided equality and a strong, “spiritual” version of Chinese identify, Deng and his successors created a powerful economic base at the cost of social and spiritual dislocation. They deploy Marxist dialectics to argue for a reconciliation, describing Mao and Deng as a thesis and antithesis in need of synthesis. In a particularly ambitious version of this story, Wang Shaoguang’s 2010 article on “Socialism 3.0,” the author observes that Mao’s rule and the period of Reform and Opening initiated by Deng had each lasted for 30 years—inviting China’s leaders to declare a new era uniting the two (for more on this, see “Socialism 3.0 in China,” The Diplomat, April 25, 2011; original article republished in English in China 3.0, European Council on Foreign Relations 2012).
While this school of thought was closely associated with Bo Xilai’s policies in Chongqing—Wang proposed them as a model for the next stage of socialism in China, while the distinguished New Left academic Cui Zhiyuan joined Bo’s government as an official—the careers of its proponents do not seem to have been adversely affected by his downfall, in contrast to the recent firings of liberal intellectuals associated with Charter 08, such as Peking University Professor Xia Yeliang (South China Morning Post, October 20).
Explanations of Xi’s speech in Party ideological journals, and of his earlier mentions of the “two undeniables,” reflect this account of Party history. A November 8 article in People’s Daily, signed by the CCP Central Committee Party History Research Department, provided a guide to help readers “Correctly Deal With Both Historical Periods Before and After Reform and Opening,” a theme that has been heavily emphasized in the last weeks as journals such as Qiushi (Seeking Truth) and Hongqi (Red Flag) have published articles on Xi’s speech, covering the historical appraisal of Mao, a “30-year Vision for China’s future” (an interview with Pan Wei), and “The China Road and the Chinese Communist Party” (Qiushi, December 9, 2013; January 1).
Xi’s New Year’s address to the nation likewise played upon themes drawn from New Left literature, with the title “Making a More Just and Equal Society” (Xinhua, December 31, 2013).
The ideas of the New Left are visible not only in Xi’s rhetoric but in his political efforts—his emphasis on national confidence and the unique historical circumstances of the “China Dream” and his combining economic reform with Maoist rectification. Looking at Pan Wei’s 2003 article may even help to understand the conundrum of the rise of “rule of law” rhetoric coming at the same time as a crackdown on advocacy of “constitutional government.”
If Xi is using New Left theory as a political guide, the current ideological crackdown is unlikely to be lessened, and indeed we may expect to see greater efforts at mass participation. Democratic political reform and large-scale privatization of state-owned industries will likely remain off the table. However, a certain set of long-promised reforms, targeting social inequality, corruption, and the privileges enjoyed by the Communist elite and state businesses, may play a central role in Xi’s plans for the future.
By Gavin Mendel-Gleason & James O’Brien
January 1, 2014
(Part I of II, for Part II see: ‘The Strategy of Attrition:
Conquest or Destruction of the State?’ further down)
Right from its beginnings in early 19th century, socialism has been bedevilled by debates over strategy in a way that right-wing ideologies have not. Would salvation come, as Fourier dreamed, from wealthy benefactors funding new communist colonies or maybe, as Proudhon envisaged, through workers founding their own mutualist enterprises and bypassing politics altogether? Or perhaps a more aggressive stance was necessary, as advocated by the proto-syndicalist wing of the British Chartist movement in the 1830s, who even then were cognisant of workers’ leverage at the point of production and supported the use of a Grand National Holiday — aka a general strike. Or was the mainstream Chartist emphasis on political action, i.e. taking control of state-power after having won universal suffrage be the centre of socialist activity the best way forward.
These strands and more were already manifest in England, then the most advanced capitalist country, in the 1830s — a long time ago. And they remain with us to this day because the problem to which they attempted to solve, namely minority rule, remains very much with us. The various tendencies correspond to available oppositional niches in a society dominated by capitalist production and therefore elite influence.
It seems obvious that an adroit mixture of the strategies, one which combined the strength of labour, the potential wealth of co-ops and the leverage of mass parties, is the goldilocks of political strategies and indeed that is the position we advocate. However, once we get into the details the obvious quickly becomes very blurry indeed. It’s hardly surprising that socialists have lacked the clarity of the right-wing since they, unlike us, are in driving seat and don’t need to change a whole lot while we are searching for a way to achieve our goals.
And it turns out that a combined arms strategy of unions, co-ops, and political party is not, in fact, the dominant orientation on the radical left, and has not been since 1917, at least in the English speaking world. There are, for example, proponents of an exclusively non-state orientation and there are supporters of political means, but who both deny that co-operatives can play a meaningful role before the working class has seized power and that tightly knit revolutionary groups are the key to success.
In this essay we are going to focus on the political arena and make case for a robust mass party strategy that aims to win political power via democratic elections, and only touch upon the role of trade unions and co-ops.
The Democratic Road
The case for choosing the democratic road is best teased out in comparison with alternative approaches, which for our purposes is going to mostly be the strategy of insurrection pursued by Anarchists and Trotskyists that is common amongst the revolutionary groups in the Anglo-phone world.
If the basic strategic choices first emerged in the 1830s, they became permanent features of the political landscape in the era of the First International (1864 – 1873) when the Anarchists and the Marxists parted ways replete with their own theoretical justifications. The Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, which saw the emergence of workers’ councils, moved the debate from being one that separated Anarchists and Marxists and landed it into the heart of Marxism itself.
Let us lay our cards on the table at the outset: the political strategy advocated here involves attempting to win state power in the advanced capitalist countries through legal means, taking the democratic road if you will. In practice, this involves winning a majority through competition in elections which are broadly considered free and fair.
However, a simple description of this approach isn’t sufficient. In order to evaluate its worth, we need to compare it to alternatives, of which there is no shortage, from anti-consumerism, to back to nature primitivism, NGO lobbying, Third Worldism, and Occupyesque protesting to name some of the lesser lights. For reasons of space, we’re going to limit the alternative to the principal one offered by revolutionary socialists since 1917: the smashing of the existing state and its replacement by participatory workers councils, i.e. the primary strategy offered by both the Trotskyists and the Anarchists. Moreover, we need a way of choosing between the alternatives. As the debate between them has gone on since the days of the First International, it seems likely that both sides have valid points to make. For instance, James Bierly, in a recent article on the North Star catalogued the many practical advantages of electoralism, such as the opportunities to engage with regular people that simply aren’t there when you are hawking the Socialist Worker at a demonstration. On the other hand, the anti-parliamentary left highlights the limitations of parliament in being able to bring capital under control given the strength of the unelected bureaucracy.