Posted on March 12, 2011 by Socialism and Democracy Online
There are many points of interest pertaining to the development of Marxist philosophy in contemporary China. This paper will focus on the following areas and problems: the debate about the criterion of truth; Marxist philosophical textbook reform; the inquiry into the human agent and subjectivity; Marxism and Confucianism; Deng Xiaoping’s theory; and the socialist market economic system. Let’s start with the debate about the criterion of truth, for this is the historical starting-point of contemporary Marxist philosophy in China.
1. The Debate about the Criterion of Truth
Academically, the real development of Marxist philosophy in contemporary China started in 1978. In that year, China’s intellectual life witnessed a great event. People in every walk of life were engaged in a debate: What is the criterion of truth?
Initially, the debate was related to the political struggle and the ideological debates within the Chinese Communist Party. Chairman Mao Zedong died in 1976, and the Cultural Revolution was officially declared to be ended. However, in ideology nothing seems to change much. The Chair of the Communist Party at that time was handpicked by Mao. As a way to maintain his position, he insisted on the doctrine of the “two whatevers”: (1) whatever policy decisions Mao had made must be firmly upheld; (2) whatever instructions Mao had given must be followed unswervingly. Hence, for the opposite faction, led by Deng Xiaoping (who was purged by Mao in 1975) to come back to power, it was necessary to break these “two whatevers.”
On May 11, 1978, a prominent Chinese newspaper, the Guangming Daily, published an article entitled “Practice Is the Only Criterion for Judging the Truth,” signed by “the Special Commentator.” The article argued that for all forms of knowledge, including Marxism, the nature of their truth must be judged and proved by practice. All scientific knowledge, including Marxism, should be amenable to revision, supplementation, and development in practice, in accordance with the specific conditions under which it is to be applied. This paper was widely echoed and provoked lively discussions throughout China. These led to a consensus that it is practice, not Mao’s words, that can tell us what is right and what is wrong. The immediate consequence of this great debate was that the advocates of the “two whatevers” lost their power, and Deng Xiaoping regained his power and started the Chinese economic reform. In contrast to the “two whatevers,” Deng’s motto is, “It does not matter whether a cat is black or white; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat.”
However, the debate has had a far-reaching influence on Chinese social science, in particular, on the study of Marxism itself. Since the Communist party came to power in 1949, Marxism, and its Chinese representative, Mao Zedong’s thought, has been regarded as the absolute and as a completed truth system. The only role philosophers could play¾and were required to play¾was to prove the rightness or truth of Marxism and Mao’s theory. Only political leaders, actually only Mao himself, could establish new truth and develop Marxism. Just as philosophy was the handmaiden of theology in the medieval West, so in China philosophy became the servant of Mao’s politics. Any question or criticism put to Marxism and Mao’s theory was regarded as a political challenge. For Mao, the most important thing that Marxist philosophy can teach is its theory of class struggle and the theory of proletarian dictatorship. Mao’s philosophy actually became a kind of “Struggle Philosophy.”
Now the debate about the criterion of truth and the establishment of practice as that criterion broke this myth of Marxism and of Mao’s theory. Marxism became a subject that could be reflected upon, examined, renewed, and developed. The truth-criterion discussion of 1978 was indeed a movement of enlightenment, a movement of thought liberation. It paved the way for contemporary China’s economic development, and it also paved the way for any possible new contributions to Marxism. It used to be the case that one could only “insist” on Marxism; now we could “develop” Marxism, and many now believed that only by developing Marxist philosophy could one really insist on it. It used to be the case that academic philosophy was always subordinate to the leaders’ thought and did not have any independent status. Since 1978, however, philosophical research has won a relatively independent academic position.
2. Reform of the Philosophical Textbook
The immediate effect of these developments for Chinese Marxism was the publication of new editions of the Marxist textbook. One would think that a new edition of a textbook is a matter of pedagogy, of the teaching of philosophy, rather than a matter of philosophical development, or development in philosophical thought. This is not the case in China, however. For, generally speaking, it is only the Marxism embodied in the textbook that is regarded as the orthodox Marxism, the “true” Marxism that should be learned. A change in the textbook means therefore a change of attitude towards Marxism. To a great extent, the changes of the textbook mirror the situation of Marxist philosophical research. To get a new edition of the Marxist textbook published, what is essential is not the approval of the referees, but that of the government. Now the situation has changed significantly, yet the reform and reconstruction of the official textbook is still regarded as an important aspect of the progress of Marxist philosophy.
Until 1978, the main textbook of Marxist philosophy in China was Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism (edited by Ai Siqi, the former leader of the Party School of the Communist Party). Its contents and structure were basically transplanted and transferred from the textbook of Marxist philosophy in the former Soviet Union, and it was deeply influenced by Stalinist dogmatism. Though political relations between the Soviet Union and China were broken in the early 1960s, this type of official philosophical textbook had remained unchanged.
Since 1978, Chinese philosophers have introduced important modifications or re-formulations to different aspects and levels of Marxist philosophy.
First, breaking away from the constraint of the traditional textbook, they returned to the original works of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. Many concepts have been redefined, such as matter, consciousness, existence, spirit, static, motion, ideals, struggle, social existence, social consciousness, knowledge, truth, practice. Various basic views and positions were re-evaluated, such as, “the basic problem of philosophy,” “the challenge of epistemological skepticism,” “the relationship between dialectics and metaphysics,” “the relationship between materialism and idealism,” “the basic contradictions in human society,” “epistemological methods,” and so on. Some Marxist theories were abandoned, whereas others were re-formulated.
Second, many new concepts and views, mainly derived from Western philosophy and/or sciences, were introduced into the Marxist philosophic textbook, including concepts such as: subject and subjectivity, object and objectivity, medium, element, structure, function, information, feedback, control, social system, social organism, purpose, emotion, will, cognitive model, thinking world, value, evaluation, and so on; and views such as: “the idealist way and the practical way of human understanding of the World”; “the interactive law between subject and object”; “the farsightedness, selection, and creativity of human cognition”; “subjective principle and the system principle in cognition”; “the unity of truth and value”, “the concrete and historical unity among Truth, Good, and Beauty.” Some new research methods were transplanted, and applied to Marxist philosophical research, for example, the methods of genetic theory, atomic analysis, constructive explanation, and functional analysis.
Third, many new domains have been explored, and many new branches have been introduced and developed, for example, axiology, theory of practice, philosophical methodology, philosophical anthropology, the theory of social organisms, the theory of social control, the genetic theory of cognition, the theory of cognitive evolution, philosophy of man, philosophy of science, philosophy of humanities and social science, scientific epistemology, social epistemology, philosophy of daily life, feminist philosophy, philosophy of environment and ecology, and so on.
These philosophical achievements provided the new foundation to the textbook reform and reconstruction of Marxism in China. There are many textbooks with different outlooks. I would like to mention briefly the following four that are the most influential.
a. Dialectic Materialism and Historical Materialism, editor-in-chief, Xiao Qian, a professor at the People’s University of China. The book maintains the main structure of Ai Siqi’s textbook but thoroughly absorbs the new achievements of the sciences. It includes sub-divisions such as materialism, dialectics, and epistemology, theory of society and history, and methodology. It is the most influential textbook of Marxist philosophy in China. The problem of this book is that some of the new contents of the philosophy could not find their suitable place in the old system.
b. The Basic Principles of Marxist Philosophy, chief editor, Gao Qinghai, a professor at Jilin University. It is based on the historical development of Western philosophy and of Marxist philosophy. The major strength of the book lies in its attempt to locate the historical sources of the main philosophical concepts and its emphasis on understanding Marxist philosophy historically. The problem of this book is its difficulty in distinguishing the content of Marxist philosophy from that of Western philosophy. The other problem is that it is too historical, and somewhat weak in the construction of philosophical arguments.
c. Professor Huang Danshen, of Beijing University, tries to compile a system of Marxist philosophy according to his understanding of Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks. The structure of his textbook system is based on 36 pairs of concepts. Since Lenin’s philosophical notebooks are his reading notes on Hegel’s Logic, Huang’s plan carries the obvious influence of Hegel’s philosophy. The other problem of his system is that 36 pairs of concepts are not enough to include all aspects of philosophy.
d. Professor Xia Zhentao of the People’s University of China, and Ouyang Kang [the present author], a professor at Wuhan University, have created another new system of Marxist philosophy according to their understanding to Karl Marx’s “Practical Materialism.” We understand that the major characteristic of Marxist philosophy is its emphasis on “practice.” This is also the basic point of difference between Marxist and non-Marxist philosophy. It is a fact that Karl Marx never called his philosophy dialectical materialism or historical materialism; instead he referred to it as “Practical Materialism” in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844). His most famous sentence was the one that appeared on his tombstone: “Philosophers only explain the world, but the problem is to change it.” Based on Marx’s ideas, we developed a comprehensive understanding of the concept of “practice” and redefined the nature of Marxist philosophy as a kind of Dialectical, Historical, Humanistic, and Practical Materialism. Marxist philosophy is a philosophy of the relationship between Man and the World. The highest function of Marxist philosophy is to help people to recognize, to understand, to evaluate, to control, to develop, and to deal with this relationship more rationally and more efficiently. The new outlook of Marxist philosophy will be a kind of new Subjective-Methodological system.
At the present time, the reform and the reconstruction of the textbook of Marxist philosophy is still going on. We believe that further developments of Marxist philosophy in China should be individualized and personalized, rather than following a unified pattern. Different Marxist philosophers should be encouraged to develop their own philosophical systems based on their own understanding of Marxist philosophy, and they should use their special research methodology.
3. Exploring the Human Agent and Subjectivity
In the past, human beings had little standing in Chinese Marxist philosophy. Even when the notion of man was mentioned occasionally, it mainly referred to the collective, group, class and nation, but not to the individual. This has been criticized as “stressing nature but forgetting man” – i.e., stressing the collective man but forgetting the individual person. Now it is agreed that the individual human being should be the main topic of Marxist philosophy.
With the publication of Marx’s newly discovered Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts,* Chinese philosophers have become more interested in the problems of humanism and alienation. Some claim that the individual human being should be the starting point of Marxist philosophy. Others think that problems of the individual human being should be the highest target, the primary task, the central subject-matter and the final destination of Marxist philosophy. Still others suggest that humanism can be included in Marxism if it is defined as a basis for ethical consideration. The discussion, however, suffered a setback in the anti-liberalism movement of 1984.
Another related topic is subjectivity. Both subject and object are new concepts of Chinese Marxist philosophy that did not appear in the old philosophical textbook. In the 1980s, discussion of this issue was not limited to Marxist philosophy, but was also found in the literatures of critical theory, ethics, aesthetics, and so on. Why were Chinese intellectuals so interested in the problems of subject, subjectivity, and the subjective principle? The answer is that in discussing subjectivity, the central philosophical position of the individual human being could be established. There are many different positions in the inquiry into subjectivity. Some argue against it on the ground that to emphasize subjectivity would lead to the denial of cognitive objectivity. Others, on the other hand, push the subjective principle to the extreme of advocating an absolute free will. My M.A. thesis is entitled “On Subjective Ability,” and I have published many papers on this topic. I believe that the subjective movement in contemporary Chinese philosophy was actually a thought liberation movement.
In May 1997, Professor Huang Danshen of Beijing University organized a National Association of the Philosophy of Man, which held its first conference in Beijing. The Philosophy of Man has become a very hot topic in China today. One strong feature is to connect this topic with the new outlook of Marxist philosophy. Some claim that the Philosophy of Man is the hallmark of contemporary Marxist philosophy. Others think that the Philosophy of Man is only a part of Marxist philosophy. Nevertheless, the efforts to establish the Philosophy of Man have stimulated much philosophical research and have greatly extended the development of Marxist philosophy in China.
4. Marxist Philosophy and Confucianism
How should Marxist philosophy deal with its relationship to the traditional Chinese value system?
The controversy between traditionalism and anti-traditionalism has been hot in modern China for many decades. Since the New Cultural Movement of May 4, 1919, anti-traditionalism was the main trend. To some, revolution means rejecting traditional Chinese culture, especially Confucianism. Mao Zedong was deeply influenced by traditional Chinese culture in his early years. But one of the most important aims of his Cultural Revolution was to get rid of Confucianism, and even of all traditional Chinese culture. Traditional Chinese culture is regarded as an obstacle to China’s modernization. Others looked down upon Chinese philosophy, and believed that Chinese philosophy was not mature, and that it lacked logic. They admired only Western civilization and philosophy. Meanwhile, the more traditionally-minded scholars insisted that Chinese culture and philosophy should be the mainstream in China. Now the problem is whether it is possible to combine Marxist philosophy with traditional Chinese culture. Can Marxist philosophy be developed without learning from Chinese culture and philosophy? How can Marxist philosophy become intrinsic to contemporary Chinese culture? How can Marxist philosophy find its foundation and roots in Chinese soil?Almost all Chinese philosophers now realize the necessity of combining Marxist philosophy and traditional Chinese philosophy. Integrating Chinese philosophy and culture into Marxist philosophy is the necessary way to develop Marxist philosophy in China. It is also the necessary way to discover and recognize the contemporary meaning of traditional Chinese culture and philosophy. There are many positive elements in traditional Chinese culture and philosophy that may be profitably absorbed into Marxist philosophy. Here we briefly list some of them:
The idea of the unity of Man and Heaven (Nature)
Now our entire world is deeply involved in the ecological controversy surrounding the relationship between Man and Nature. The sharp opposition between man and nature has been characteristic of much traditional Western culture and philosophy, and Marxism itself is a product of that tradition. To find possible ways to achieve a harmony of man and nature has from the beginning been a basic theme in traditional Chinese philosophy. Chinese philosophers insisted that nature is to be regarded not as the slave of man but as the equal partner in human life and in the formation of humanity. Man should stay on good terms with nature. Human beings should respect and protect nature. To protect nature is to protect the necessary environment of human life. Traditional Chinese philosophy is full of ecological insights and anticipations. The same ecological concerns can be found in Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts.
The outlook and method of the Mean (Zhong Yong).
The Mean, also called “the Impartiality” or “the Doctrine of the Mean,” is the Middle Way. Epistemologically, the method of the Mean seeks to master the object in a complete and rounded way by avoiding any kind of extreme, excess, and partiality. In the context of social life, the Middle Way prescribes that each human being should form his own judgment regardless of the opinions of others.
Harmony among peoples
Chinese philosophy emphasizes peace and harmony among peoples and condemns irrational and unnecessary conflicts and unjust wars. Chinese philosophers insisted that human beings should respect and help each other. And their harmonious relationship is to be based on the common understanding of virtues. Rulers should treat their people as they treat their children. To show respect to the old and to protect youth were regarded as the basic virtues in ancient China. Traditional Chinese virtues, such as diligence and filial piety, have their contemporary meanings in today’s human life and should become the intrinsic content of Marxist ethics.
Recently there have been heated discussions on Asian Values in the East and also in the West.. It is generally agreed that Confucianism is the main core of Asian values, which include in particular “Family Values.” Many Chinese philosophers believe that the teachings of traditional Chinese philosophy could still be applicable to human life today. They retain their relevance in contemporary world culture.
5. Deng Xiaoping Theory
Deng Xiaoping theory is regarded as the new stage and new outlook of Marxist philosophy in contemporary China. It is the guiding ideology in building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. Deng’s thought has been intensively studied.
I think that the most important contributions of Deng Xiaoping theory lie in the liberation of the human spirit in contemporary China. The core and key point of Deng’s theory is “emancipating the mind” and “seeking truth from facts.” Seeking truth from facts is the quintessence of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought. Deng emphasized this in 1978 and used it to counter the “two whatevers,” thus opening up a new area for China. It was called the first Spirit Liberation Movement in China. After the political incidents in 1989, there were some arguments about where China should go, especially whether China should continue its reform and open policy. Deng stressed the emancipation of the mind in his trip to South China in 1992. This affirmation cleared up many important misconceptions about Socialism, and advanced the reform to a new stage. This was called the second Spirit Liberation Movement, which initiated the socialist market system in China. After Deng’s death, there have been some debates regarding his theory and practice. Secretary-General Jiang Zemin and the central committee of CPC stressed these two aspects again in its 15th National Congress in September 1997. This was regarded as the third Spirit Liberation in today’s China.
Deng Xiaoping’s other important contribution to Marxist philosophy is to establish a new criterion for socialist theories. He claimed that the fundamental questions we should ask about socialism are what socialism is and how to build it. He raised three fundamental criteria for judging a proposal or a policy: whether it is favorable for promoting growth of the productive forces in a socialist society, whether it is favorable for increasing the overall strength of the socialist state, and whether it is favorable for raising the people’s living standards. The criteria were called the “three favorables.” By these three value criteria, people could actually evaluate all social policy and social administration and could judge between right and wrong and between good and bad.
Deng Xiaoping theory is a system with rich contents. He has greatly contributed to the contemporary development of China. His philosophical ideas give us enlightenment although they do not complete the development of Marxist philosophy in China. Deng’s theory itself should be developed in time.
6. Marxism and Chinese Socialist Market System
One special and current problem facing Chinese Marxist philosophers is how Marxist philosophy answers the challenges of constructing a socialist market economic system in China. In the past 20 years, the economic system in China has been changed from the central planning system via planned commercial system to a socialist free market system. The economy has developed rapidly. The new market system has thrown all traditional disciplines, such as philosophy, literature, and history into turmoil. As everyone knows, Marxism in China had a privileged political position in the planning of the social system. Now Marxist philosophical research has become a kind of academic research. The authority of Marxist philosophy can only be based on its content and function, depending on whether it is recognized by society. Marxist philosophers stand on the same level as other scholars. It is not only a kind of challenge but also a fair competition. This situation forces and stimulates Marxist philosophers in China to do their work better than ever. It is the motivating force underlying the development of Marxist philosophy as an academic discipline.
The socialist market economy, as a part of Chinese Marxism, is both a heritage and a development of Marxist economics. In our prior understanding of Marxism, socialism is the opposite of capitalism. The basic nature of capitalism is private ownership, free market economic system, and wealth distribution according to the ownership of capital. As the opposite of capitalism, the basic nature of socialism lies in the public ownership of capital, planned economic system, and wealth distribution according to work. The former Soviet Union, some Eastern European countries, and China had tried for many years to follow these criteria for socialism, and the consequence is not good at all. This situation led the Chinese Communist Party to re-think and re-understand Marx and Engels, especially the ideas of their later years. If one inquires more deeply into why they contrasted socialism with capitalism, one will discover that in their understanding, the highest goal of socialism is to create the higher productive forces, to get rid of social inequality, to destroy poverty, and to make all social groups richer. Socialism is thus a more advanced system than capitalism. But these ideas are not easy to actualize. Each country has to find its own effective and possible way according to its own history and reality. Only when your socialist theory succeeds can it be proved to be true socialism, and only then can your practice be accepted and followed by your people. Otherwise socialism will have no reason and no power to attract the people. Here we should insist that practice is the only criterion to judge the truth of socialism and of Marxism.
The Chinese socialist market economic system is based on following arguments.
1). Marxist socialism is not a kind of dogma but an active and practical movement. The highest goal of socialism is to develop productive forces in the most effective way. The basic doctrine of socialism is to enrich all members of society. To meet its goals, the development models of socialism in the world are not universal and unique but variable and multiple. In different countries, socialism requires different models and different ways. This is a necessary way to realize and to develop socialist theory.
2). The market, as an economic form, is neutral in relation to political and ideological systems. The market system does not belong only to capitalism but can also be used by socialism. Today’s world is basically a global market economic system. Any individual country should consciously join in the world market system if they want to become a member of international society rather than being isolated. This also applies to China.
3). It is impossible to complete the transition from capitalism to communism in one step. There are some middle stages between them. Socialism is a middle stage in the transitional process. It should contain the characteristics of these two societies.
4). The Socialist free market system with Chinese Characteristics is a new development of Chinese Marxism. On the one hand, it insists that the highest aims of socialism are to develop the productive forces and to enrich people’s lives to the greatest extent. On the other hand, it fits with the down-to-earth situation of contemporary China.
5). It has been proven through many years’ unsuccessful practice in China before 1978 that the pure central planning economic system was a way neither to develop productive forces nor to raise the people’s living standard. The fastest continuous economic development in China since 1978, especially since 1992, has strongly proved the benefits of the socialist market system.
Ai Siqi ed.: Dialectic Materialism and Historical Materialism, People’s Press, Beijing, 1970.
The Special Commentator: “Practice Is the Only Criterion for Judging the Truth”, Guang-ming Daily, May 11, 1978.
Gao Qinghai: The Basic Principles of Marxist Philosophy, Jilin Press, Changchun 1989.
Xiaoqian etc. ed. The Basic Principles of Marxist Philosophy, The Chinese People’s University Press, Beijing, 1992.
Ouyang Kang: An Introduction to Social Epistemology, China Social Science Press, Beijing, 1990.
Ouyang Kang: The Methodology of Philosophy Research, Wuhan University Press, Wuhan, 1998.
Ouyang Kang: From the Discussion of Truth Criterion to the Construction of the New Morphology of Marxist Philosophy, TIANJING SOCIAL SCIENCES, 1998(6)
The author: Prof. Dr. Ouyang Kang, Dean of the School of Humanities, Head of the Department of Philosophy, Wuhan University, Wuhan, Hubei 430072, P. R. China, Tel/Fax +86-27-87882755 , Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*[Ed. note: Although Marx’s 1844 manuscripts were first published in 1932 (in Berlin), it was not until 1979 that they were published in China.]
‘How was it, Marcuse asked, that the totalizing administered state, which he saw at work in western societies, got away with it?’ Photograph: Associated Press
By Peter Thompson
The Guardian, UK
April 15, 2013 – When the student generation took off in the 1960s across Europe, in Germany at least it was Herbert Marcuse who had the greatest influence. This is because whereas Adorno, with his highly pessimistic philosophical statements about historical development, could talk about a negative progression of humanity from the "slingshot to the megaton bomb", Marcuse continued to maintain a more optimistic view of what could be achieved. Indeed, when 1968 happened, Marcuse said that he was happy to say that all of their theories had been proved completely wrong. Also, Marcuse wrote in a far more accessible way about the ways in which philosophy and politics were intertwined.
Whereas the French structural Marxist philosopher Lois Althusser had been at pains to draw a clear dividing line between early and late Marx, Marcuse maintained that the themes of the early works of Marx, concerned as they were with estrangement and alienation, were carried over and indeed deepened in the later, more economic texts. As he puts it: "if we look more closely at the description of alienated labour [in Marx] we make a remarkable discovery: what is here described is not merely an economic matter. It is the alienation of man, the devaluation of life, the perversion and loss of human reality. In the relevant passage, Marx identifies it as follows: ‘the concept of alienated labour, ie of alienated man, of estranged labour, of estranged life, of estranged man.’"
Marcuse linked economic exploitation and the commodification of human labour with a wider concern about the ways in which generalised commodity production (Marx’s basic description of a capitalist society) was at one and the same time creating a massive surplus of wealth through economic and technological development and an acceleration of the process of reducing humanity down to the level of a mere cog in the machine of that production.
How was it, Marcuse asked, that the totalising administered state, which he saw at work in western societies, got away with it? It did this through what he called "repressive tolerance". This is the theory that in order to control people more effectively it is necessary to give them what they need in material terms as well as to let them have what they think they need in cultural, political and social terms.
Parliamentary democracy, he maintains for example, is merely a sham, a game played out in order to give the impression that people have a say in the way that society works. Behind this facade however, he maintained that the same old powers were still at work and, indeed, that through their tolerance of dissent, debate, apparent cultural and political freedom had managed to refine and increase their exploitation of human labour power without anyone really noticing.
Constitutional liberty and equality was all very well, he argued, but if it simply masked institutionalised inequality then it was worse than useless. As he put it in One-Dimensional Man: "Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves. Free choice among a wide variety of goods and services does not signify freedom if these goods and services sustain social controls over a life of toil and fear – that is, if they sustain alienation. And the spontaneous reproduction of superimposed needs by the individual does not establish autonomy; it only testifies to the efficacy of the controls."
This instrumentalisation of humanity could only be reversed, Marcuse maintained, by challenging the social processes which had led the governing value system to change from pleasure, joy, play and receptiveness to delayed satisfaction, the restraint of pleasure, work, productiveness and security.
Drawing on Freud, he maintained that this switch from the pleasure principle to the reality principle was stunting human potential just at the point where the objective economic conditions for human liberation had reached their high point. Again, this is where Marxist historical materialism is married up with the dialectic – and he sees the two as inseparable – by pointing out that the switch from the pleasure principle to the reality principle was absolutely necessary for the development of civilisation but that, in the process, the Eros of human fulfilment had to be sublimated.
In this dialectical sense, civilisation is both a negative and a positive step forward. However, the positive civilising process cannot be seen as the end of the dialectic, what Francis Fukuyama later called "the end of history", as long as the dialectic of human liberation was incomplete. As he puts it: "the true positive is the society of the future and therefore beyond definition and determination, while the existing positive is that which must be surmounted."
It is easy to see how this forward-looking and optimistic philosophy could appeal to the political radicalism of the 1960s generation, and how the call for the liberation of humanity as both individual and collective could help to unleash new social movements who no longer had any faith in the ability of the traditional and conservative parties of the left to bring about significant political change in either east or west.
Next week I shall track back to take a look at the work of Walter Benjamin, the lost prophet of the Frankfurt School.
Hugo Moldiz interviewed by Coral Wynter and Jim McIlroy
April 24, 2013 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Hugo Moldiz is a respected Marxist journalist and author living in La Paz. He has written several books, including Bolivia in the Times of Evo, published by Ocean Sur in 2009. He is editor of the weekly La Epoca and has also contributed many articles to the magazine America XXI. We interviewed him during a recent visit to La Paz, Bolivia. Translation from the Spanish by Coral Wynter.
* * *
What is the significance of the election of an Indigenous president in Bolivia?
The very fact of the election of an Indian to the highest level of government, to the presidency, was a revolutionary act. This may not mean so much in other parts of the world, but when we understand the nature of the social formation in Bolivia, it is very significant. This is due to the way the republic was established [in 1825] and its development based on the past colonial period, involving the development of forms of capitalist control over work and the stealing of our natural resources (the source of the original capital).
Successive governments further entrenched this by the almost total exclusion of the majority of people, the Indigenous people, from political participation. It was a double exclusion for the Indigenous people — from political power as well as from participation in society. If you want to look at it in class terms and also from the point of view of the national culture, capitalism in countries like Bolivia has been sustained by colonialism. Thus from this perspective, the arrival of Evo Morales was very significant and resulted from the emergence of an Indigenous, peasant and popular movement and the formation of a new power bloc that is moving to displace the old power structure.
What is the proportion of Indigenous people among the overall population of Bolivia?
In the last census in 2001, 64% of the Bolivian population was recognised as Indigenous. The proportion could be even higher because, before the victory of Evo Morales, before the inclusion process, the Indigenous and peasant movement was only just emerging. From about 2000, or even a little before, there was a process of construction of collectives, of an increase of Indigenous self-esteem. In the previous census of 1991, there was a minimal percentage of Indians who considered themselves Indigenous. This happened not only because the census didn’t ask the question whether people identified as Indigenous. On top of this, people of Indigenous origin viewed the census as an instrument of oppression in society.
For Indians who lived in the city, they considered themselves anything but Indian, because the word “Indio” was a bad word. If I were Indian, I had to present an identity card as an Indian, which would not open doors for me, but rather close them.
I think in this census [which was held on November 21, 2012], the number of people who identify as Indian will be more than 64%. When we speak of “Indio”, we are not just speaking of peasants: we are talking about the Indigenous people. Peasant is a concept of class: we are talking about Indigenous people who live in both rural and urban areas.
In addition, we are going to see the planning of the economy in the period up to 2025. A second major aim is to have a better distribution of national wealth. Until now, the distribution of wealth in Bolivia has been regulated by the number of people who live in a certain area. Today the proposal is to change that criterion, or at least complement it, to establish a better basis for access to basic services, which is one of the 2025 objectives of the president.
The battle of ideas is central to the struggle for world socialism. Leaflets, newspapers, books, theatre troupes, radio, film and television have all played an important role in ideological warfare over the last 100 years. Recently the Internet has facilitated the rapid mobilization of rebellions in North Africa and the Middle East, which shattered apparently stable regimes.
However, what Marx wrote in 1845 remains true:
“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”
The world hegemony of capitalism remains a fact. It is backed by powerful instruments of propaganda, which constantly seek to anchor the outlook of the ruling class within wider society. This continues despite a profound transformation in the balance of power that has accompanied the world economic crisis.
Analysts working for the People’s Liberation Army have long understood the need to study and develop methods of “people’s warfare in the information age.” As early as 1996, the Liberation Army Daily carried an excellent article by Wei Jincheng, where he explained that: “A people’s war in the context of information warfare is carried out by hundreds of millions of people using open-type modern information systems.” The era that he prophesied is now reality. But the tools available are inadequately used to transform global consciousness. Today’s world of network-centric information war, where public perceptions and attitudes are shaped by interaction with the Internet and the global mass media, necessitates a constant struggle to explain reality, and to win hearts and minds to the socialist cause.
Capitalist governments are waging war against their own people in the name of everyone “tightening their belts” meanwhile the super-rich have stashed away US$32tn in offshore tax havens. The justification for the system of wealth distribution is undermined by ruthless cuts targeting the working classes and poor. Nevertheless a barrage of absurd and persistent propaganda seeks to blame the poor for being poor. It accuses public sector workers of being selfish and lazy and promotes the concept of national-patriotic unity to confuse people during times of crisis.
A group of volunteers wave green handkerchiefs as they ride their bicycles in Beijing on November 21, 2012 for the launch of a world-tour to promote low-carbon lifestyles. The activity, which will see volunteers set off on a global tour from Libo County in Guizhou Province, was launched under the themes of bringing back the handkerchief, using less tissue paper, travelling by environmentally friendly means, and living a low-carbon lifestyle. / Xinhua (Photo by Zhao Jing)
By Jiang Chunyun
From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal. a publication of the CCP Central Committee
Vol.5 No.1 January 1, 2013
As the old Chinese proverb goes, “To return a kindness with gratitude is a good deed, the act of an upright man; to treat a kindness with ingratitude is a bad deed, the act of a petty man.” These words, “good” and “bad,” “gratitude” and “ingratitude,” have long been the most fundamental criteria for judging the morality and action of an individual. Do children treat their parents with respect out of gratitude for the loving care their parents have given them? Do countrymen serve their motherland wholeheartedly out of gratitude for everything their motherland has afforded them? And do human beings have awe for and cherish their green home out of gratitude for the life that nature has granted them? Everybody on earth, individuals and groups alike, must find rational answers to these questions, regardless of their nationality, race, gender, class, and occupation, and must require both themselves and others to act in accordance with a just code of speaking out for good and doing good instead of evil.
Life on earth began as early as several hundred million years ago, while the story of human evolution started only several million years ago. This means that humans are latecomers. At every step of human evolution—from our transformation from Australopithecus to Homo erectus, and again from archaic Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens—we have been cared for by nature, which, like a great and holy mother, has allowed humankind to grow from a species with few members to one with several billion members. In comparison with family and country, the care that nature has bestowed on us is more fundamental, more worthy of our gratitude. Yet how have we treated nature? This may be a difficult question to answer, but it is one that we must answer as a matter of conscience.
Frankly speaking, there are many people who are able to show appreciation towards nature. These people have made active contributions to ecological protection and the improvement of the environment. But at the same time, there are also people who have no sense of gratitude towards nature. These people are indifferent towards the changes that are affecting nature and the environment. Moreover, there are even people who are so ungrateful towards nature that they would wantonly damage the environment. These people are by no means few in number, and their violations against nature are on the increase. This is the root cause of the ecological degradation and environmental deterioration that has plunged the human race into a survival crisis.
Ecological and environmental issues began to emerge with the advent of agricultural society, although at that time the impact of human activities on the environment was gradual and relatively minor. However, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the rapid development of science and technology, human beings began to deal serious damage to the environment as they created great material wealth and cultural achievements. This damage has become increasingly serious in modern times. Air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, desertification, global warming, the melting of the glaciers, the depletion of the ozone, the spread of acid rain, the sharp drop in biodiversity, and the frequent occurrence of fatal diseases and natural disasters—these startling facts are a warning that the earth’s biosphere, which mankind relies on for its survival, is damaged. They tell us that the major ecological systems supporting the earth’s biosphere, such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, farmlands, mountains, the atmosphere, and oceans, are bruised all over, weakened, and that untold dangers lurk amongst them. The biosphere is like a cracked fish tank which is losing its water. As the water seeps out of the tank at an increasing rate, the survival of the fish inside is coming under threat. Therefore, if we are unable to repair the biosphere quickly, the damage will only become worse and worse. This will continue until the biosphere eventually ceases to function, being no longer able to operate, and when that happens humankind will descend into a desperate struggle for its survival. This is not alarmist talk, but a real depiction of a hidden crisis that will threaten the survival of the human race.
In an effort to address the human crisis that has been triggered by environmental deterioration, the international community and the countries of the world have frequently convened meetings, signed conventions and accords, issued declarations, made commitments, and taken action. While in some cases these efforts have led to positive results, in overall terms our efforts to restore ecosystems and rectify environments have yielded few results. At most we can say that there has been partial improvement. The trend of environmental deterioration on a global scale is yet to be reversed, and there are even signs that it is becoming more serious. James Speth, the Dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University and former Administrator of the United Nations Development Program, says that the trend of environmental decline, which has made the international community uneasy, is yet to be fundamentally mitigated. Ill omens still exist, and these problems are becoming more ingrained, bringing about immediate danger. Speth believes that problems such as global warming, environmental pollution, resource depletion, ecological degradation, and the loss of biodiversity are much worse than we are able to understand, willing to admit, or tend to estimate.
The reasons for global environmental deterioration are deep-seated. Though we cannot rule out the influence of reverse ecological succession, the fact remains that the most fundamental cause of global environmental deterioration is humankind’s failure to treat nature correctly. Human beings have made irreparable mistakes due to their biased understanding of the relationship between humans and nature. The predatory exploitation of resources and irrational modes of production and lifestyles that came with the Industrial Revolution have had a devastating impact on ecosystems and the environment. Traditional industrial civilization was undoubtedly a revolutionary step forward from agricultural civilization, creating much higher productivity, huge material wealth, as well as technological and cultural achievements. However, the shortcomings of industrial civilization are not difficult to see: it is extremely profit-driven, greedy, predatory, aggressive, and even crazy in nature, its values and approach to development being the rapid accumulation of wealth and capital at any cost. In recent centuries, under the influence of these ideas, developed industrial countries in the West engaged in an unprecedented campaign to conquer, plunder, and destroy nature. With this came a long succession of colonial wars which not only saw millions die and hundreds of millions become slaves, but also caused the world’s ecological environments to suffer on an unprecedented scale. Many of those who plundered the world’s natural resources were proponents of anthropocentrism, the view that human beings are the masters of nature and that all other things in the natural world are mankind’s possessions, consumables, and servants. Guided by these notions, they robbed, seized and destroyed without restraint, and led extravagant, luxurious, and extremely wasteful lifestyles. In more than 200 years of industrial history, developed countries in the West have consumed around half of the world’s non-renewable resources, which took billions of years to form.
Fact has repeatedly warned us that we cannot rely on traditional industrial civilization to correct its own mistakes when it comes to the environment. Traditional industrial civilization has therefore come to a dead end. Despite this, however, certain developing countries have failed to break away from the developmental mode of traditional industrial civilization as they have sought to industrialize. As a result, within the space of just decades, they have encountered the kind of environmental pollution and ecological degradation that took one or two hundred years to emerge in the West. These countries must now meet the challenge of maintaining a balance between economic development and environmental protection.
Since the latter half of the last century, we have come to the profound realization that industrial civilization is unsustainable. Drawing from the lessons of the past, we have proposed the creation of an ecological civilization, which is characterized by sustainable development and harmony between mankind and nature. Ecological civilization provides us with broader prospects for resolving the environmental crisis and maintaining balance between development and the environment. It represents a substantive step forward from industrial civilization, because it not only embodies the strengths of industrial civilization, but is also able to address its weaknesses and failings by applying brand new ideas. The basic features of ecological civilization can be summarized as follows.
First, human beings are a part of nature. The relationship between human beings and other creatures should be one of equality, friendship, and mutual reliance, as opposed to a relationship in which humans are supreme.
Second, since it is nature that has given us life, we should feel gratitude towards nature, repay nature, and treat nature well. We should not forget the debt that we owe to nature, or treat nature and other creatures violently.
Third, humans are entitled to exploit natural resources, but we must take the tolerance of ecosystems and the environment into account when doing so in order to avoid overexploitation.
Fourth, human beings must follow the moral principles of ensuring equity between people, between countries and between generations in resource exploitation. We should refrain from violating the rights and interests of other people, other countries, and future generations.
Fifth, we should advocate conservation, efficiency, and recycling in the utilization of resources so as to maximize efficiency whilst keeping consumption and the impact on nature to a minimum.
Sixth, we should view sustainable development as our highest goal, rejecting the overexploitation of resources and short-sighted acts aimed at gaining quick results.
Seventh, the fruits of development must be enjoyed by all members of society and not monopolized by a small minority.
It is essential that we correct the way we treat nature and assume our rightful position in nature. As the wisest of all creatures, we should give full play to our intelligence and capacity for thought by shouldering the responsibility of caring for, protecting, guiding, and strengthening nature, and ensuring that all of nature’s creatures are able to live in harmony and develop in a balanced, orderly, and continuous fashion.
It must be noted that while China has made remarkable achievements in socialist modernization during more than 30 years of reform and opening up, it has also encountered serious environmental problems that are undermining its sustainable development. Fact has demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate that we must take Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics as our guide, commit to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, implement the Scientific Outlook on Development, which puts people first and seeks to promote comprehensive, balanced, and sustainable development, and build a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society. These are not only the essence for promoting ecological progress and realizing the transformation of human civilization, but also a prerequisite and solid foundation for ensuring the sound and rapid development of economy and society, the balancing of economic development and environmental protection, the establishment of a harmonious society, and the improvement of people’s wellbeing.
There are two old Chinese sayings which, through their dialectical materialism, reveal to us the key to success in any undertaking. The first is: to go undefeated in a hundred battles, you must know both the enemy and yourself. The second is: success belongs to those who are prepared, and failure to those who are not. If we are to reverse the trend of environmental degradation and save the biosphere, we must correctly assess the state of our living environment, face up to environmental problems instead of trying to conceal them, use scientific means to anticipate dangers that lurk ahead, and sincerely reflect on our maltreatment of nature. Once we have acknowledged our errors we must take action to correct them. To do this, we must enhance our sense of mission, danger, and responsibility, and take the necessary measures to turn a precarious situation into a favorable one, so as to realize a sound balance between development and the environment.
It is about time that we changed our way of thinking and discarded our concept of a traditional industrial civilization in favor of a modern ecological one. It is about time that we put an end to our irrational modes of development and consumption, and made efforts to save the earth’s biosphere.
The struggle to save the biosphere and transform our civilization from a traditional industrial civilization to a modern ecological civilization will be an endeavor more magnificent than any seen before in human history, and a complex social undertaking of huge proportions. It will require that we humans carefully consider, correctly understand, and answer a series of questions, some of which are as follows: What is the relationship between human beings and nature? Is it one of the conqueror and the conquered, the dominator and the dominated, and the ruler and the ruled? Or is it one of equality, friendship, harmony, coexistence, and mutual flourishing? Why is earth the only cradle of life among the vast number of celestial bodies in universe? What is the earth’s biosphere, and how will ordinal or reversed ecological succession affect the survival and development of human beings? Which biological systems support and maintain the earth’s biosphere? Is it inevitable that the survival and development of the human race will come at the expense of ecosystems and the environment? How should we understand the relationship between promoting an ecological civilization and transforming our modes of development and consumption? How should we deal with the contradiction between limited natural resources and limitless human desire? Should we make up for the huge damage caused to nature by long-term overexploitation? If so, how do we repay this debt? Should we let nature rest and regain its strength like humans do when they become old or ill? What is the role of science and technology in saving the biosphere? What is the relationship between population growth and resources, environment and sustainable development? What do the constant wars of human beings mean to nature? How do we give full play to the role of law and ethics as effective means of guaranteeing environmental protection and the salvation of the biosphere? Why must we improve our methods and standards for evaluating economic and social development? How should the countries of the world cooperate and coordinate with one another in saving the earth’s biosphere and developing ecological civilization?
Drawing lessons from both our successes and failures in interacting with nature, we must see the global environmental crisis for what it is, and work out the relevant theories, ways of thinking, and countermeasures as we commit ourselves to the path of promoting ecological civilization.
Author: Former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China
Note: This article is a slightly abridged version of the preface of the book Saving the Earth’s Biosphere—Concerning the Transformation of Human Civilization, which was edited by the author and published by Xinhua Press in September 2012.
By Liu Shangxi
Caixin.com March 29, 2013
In theory, public ownership, including ownership by all the people and collective ownership, is conducive to narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. In reality it’s not.
In the planned economy under public ownership, China appeared to have achieved social equity, but this was accompanied by low efficiency and slow development. After reform and opening up started in the late 1970s, China implemented a market economy, though one that was still dominated by public ownership. Economic efficiency improved, but the income distribution gap has exceeded that of many other market economies dominated by the private ownership system. Why has the public ownership system failed to close the gap between rich and poor and instead widened it?
In fact, whether a public ownership system can enhance social equity depends on whether there is a sound property rights system in place.
Under a planned economy, the system of ownership and the system of property rights are made one. Property rights, operating rights, usage rights and the right to financial gain are all of the same entity.
Under a market economy, however, the system of ownership and the property rights system are separated, and operating rights and usage rights fall under different entities. For instance, farmers have the right to use farmland but no ownership. Their financial gain is shared between farmers and the rural collective. All the land, mineral resources, forests, water, and other factors of production of the country are also split off into operating rights and use rights, forming independent property rights entities that share revenue rights with the ultimate owner – the state. In this way, public resources can be better allocated under the push of the market, and each property rights entity can obtain corresponding revenue. Then, revenue obtained from collective and state ownership can be shared by its members. In theory it looks good.
London Review of Books
One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructible. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao’s attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism, ended up in its triumphant return.
Today’s Left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global capitalism and its political supplement, liberal democracy. It might, for example, accept the hegemony, but continue to fight for reform within its rules (this is Third Way social democracy).
Or, it accepts that the hegemony is here to stay, but should nonetheless be resisted from its ‘interstices’.
Or, it accepts the futility of all struggle, since the hegemony is so all-encompassing that nothing can really be done except wait for an outburst of ‘divine violence’ – a revolutionary version of Heidegger’s ‘only God can save us.’
Or, it recognises the temporary futility of the struggle. In today’s triumph of global capitalism, the argument goes, true resistance is not possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global working class is renewed is defend what remains of the welfare state, confronting those in power with demands we know they cannot fulfil, and otherwise withdraw into cultural studies, where one can quietly pursue the work of criticism.
By Samir Amin
Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal. His books include The Liberal Virus, The World We Wish to See, and The Law of Worldwide Value (all published by Monthly Review Press). This article was translated from the French by James Membrez.
The debates concerning the present and future of China—an “emerging” power—always leave me unconvinced. Some argue that China has chosen, once and for all, the “capitalist road” and intends even to accelerate its integration into contemporary capitalist globalization. They are quite pleased with this and hope only that this “return to normality” (capitalism being the “end of history”) is accompanied by development towards Western-style democracy (multiple parties, elections, human rights). They believe—or need to believe—in the possibility that China shall by this means “catch up” in terms of per capita income to the opulent societies of the West, even if gradually, which I do not believe is possible. The Chinese right shares this point of view. Others deplore this in the name of the values of a “betrayed socialism.” Some associate themselves with the dominant expressions of the practice of China bashing1 in the West. Still others—those in power in Beijing—describe the chosen path as “Chinese-style socialism,” without being more precise. However, one can discern its characteristics by reading official texts closely, particularly the Five-Year Plans, which are precise and taken quite seriously.
In fact the question, “Is China capitalist or socialist?” is badly posed, too general and abstract for any response to make sense in terms of this absolute alternative. In fact, China has actually been following an original path since 1950, and perhaps even since the Taiping Revolution in the nineteenth century. I shall attempt here to clarify the nature of this original path at each of the stages of its development from 1950 to today—2013.
The Agrarian Question
Mao described the nature of the revolution carried out in China by its Communist Party as an anti-imperialist/anti-feudal revolution looking toward socialism. Mao never assumed that, after having dealt with imperialism and feudalism, the Chinese people had “constructed” a socialist society. He always characterized this construction as the first phase of the long path to socialism.
I must emphasize the quite specific nature of the response given to the agrarian question by the Chinese Revolution. The distributed (agricultural) land was not privatized; it remained the property of the nation represented by village communes and only the use was given to rural families. That had not been the case in Russia where Lenin, faced with the fait accompli of the peasant insurrection in 1917, recognized the private property of the beneficiaries of land distribution.
Why was the implementation of the principle that agricultural land is not a commodity possible in China (and Vietnam)? It is constantly repeated that peasants around the world long for property and that alone. If such had been the case in China, the decision to nationalize the land would have led to an endless peasant war, as was the case when Stalin began forced collectivization in the Soviet Union.
The attitude of the peasants of China and Vietnam (and nowhere else) cannot be explained by a supposed “tradition” in which they are unaware of property. It is the product of an intelligent and exceptional political line implemented by the Communist Parties of these two countries.
By Mark Solomon
Published by Portside March 6, 2013
On February 4, 2010 The Gallop Poll released its latest data on the public’s political attitudes. The headline read: “Socialism Viewed Positively by 36% of Americans.” While the poll did not attempt the daunting task of exploring what a diverse public understood socialism to mean, it nevertheless revealed an unmistakably sympathetic image of a system that had been pilloried for generations by all of capitalism’s dominant instruments of learning and information as well as by its power to suppress and slander socialist ideas and organization.
In sheer numbers, that means a population at the teen- age level and above of tens of millions with a favorable view of socialism.
Why then is the organized socialist movement in the United States so small and so clearly wanting in light of the potential for building its numbers and influence?
That is a crucial question. At every major juncture in the history of the country, radical individuals and organizations in advance of the mainstream have played essential roles in influencing, guiding and consolidating broad currents for social change. In the revolution that birthed this country, radical activists articulated demands from the grass roots for an uncompromising and transforming revolution to crush colonial oppression. Black and white abolitionists fought to make the erasure of slavery the core objective of the Civil War while also linking that struggle to women’s suffrage and trade unionism. A mass Socialist Party in the early 20th century fought for state intervention to combat the ravages of an increasingly exploitative economic system while advancing the vision of a socialist commonwealth. In the Great Depression, the Communist Party and its allies fought the devastations of the crisis – helping to build popular movements to expand democracy, grow industrial unions and defend protections for labor embodied in the historic New Deal.
Small left and socialist organizations in the sixties supported a range of progressive struggles from peace to civil rights to women’s liberation to gay rights and beyond. The limited resources of those groups were effective in galvanizing massive peace demonstrations and in campaigns against racist and sexist oppression. But the Cold War and McCarthyism had eviscerated any hope for a major influential socialist current. Consequently, no large and impacting force existed to extend to the peace movement a coherent anti-imperial analysis that might have contributed to its continuity and readiness to confront the wars of the nineties and the new century. Nor was there a strong socialist organization to contribute to the civil rights struggle by advocating for reform joined to a commitment to deeper social transformation. Had such a current existed, it might have contributed to building a broad protective barrier against the devastating FBI and local police violence against sectors of the movement like the Black Panthers.
There should be little debate today on the left over the need for a strong socialist voice and movement in light of festering economic stagnation, war on the working class, looming environmental catastrophe, a widening chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us, massive joblessness and incarceration savaging African Americans and other oppressed nationalities, crises in health care, housing and education. Such a strong socialist presence could offer a searching analysis of the present situation, help stimulate a broad public debate on short term solutions and formulate a vision of a socialist future that could begin to reach the minds and hearts of the 36 percent who claim to be sympathetic to that vision.
By Noam Chomsky
Alternet.org, March 5, 2013
There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.”
The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks.
The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book “Digital Disconnect.”
“Capitalism” is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support – both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.
Some might even use the term “capitalism” to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America’s leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Dewey called for workers to be “masters of their own industrial fate” and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”
The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority “down below” has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.
There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.