Although, I studied the Economics of “Socialist” countries as a special subject during my degree, my knowledge of most of the countries outside the former eastern block is no where near as extensive as that of Eastern Europe, though I have recently been studying contemporary China. For that reason I am loathe to say too much on any of the issues raised by Mike in this section, and whatever I say is entirely provisional.
I tend to agree with Mike that in respect of China the actual revolution is not that significantly different from Russia. A look at what Trotsky says, about Russia, including the quote I gave in the last section demonstrates that what transpired was a workers revolution with the support of a Peasant War. Even in terms of the workers revolution aspects a great deal of reliance was placed on the role of the army, which was essentially a peasant army. What I think is different, certainly from the initial outbreak of the revolution, is the ideology of those leading it. There is a clear difference between the ideology of Lenin and Trotsky, the idea that this is a Workers revolution, and that the workers must lead the peasants, and the ideology of Mao, which flows from Stalin of a revolution, which is essentially a peasant revolution carried through by a disciplined peasant army, which overcomes the problem of the peasantry as an atomised and diffuse class, by utilising in distorted and mangled form the ideology of another class – i.e. Marxism. As Trotsky says, in the quote I gave earlier, the Bolsheviks themselves for the first couple of years were really only carrying through a bourgeois revolution whose main result was land reform. The same is true of Mao, but given the weight of the peasantry in this movement there is a necessary effect on the further development of the revolution. Unlike Pol Pot, who never had any intention of aiming for economic development, but who looked instead to return Cambodia to some past peasant economy, Mao did seek to develop China, and an inevitable aspect of such development is that industry must develop, and with it the working class. There is a necessary logic to the process of industrialisation, and the greater homogeneity of the working class compared to the peasantry, I think means that although such regimes begin as based on the peasantry, the increasing social weight of the working class eventually changes the nature of the regime. They provide a model for other similar transformations, for example, in Vietnam.
What they have in common with other Workers States such as those in Eastern Europe is the fact that the old exploiting classes are swept aside. For me it is this fact that as most decisive in determining the class character of these states. Unless, we are to overturn the whole of Marxist class theory it is necessary to identify the State as being the State of some ruling social class. The State Capitalist and Bureaucratic Collectivists answer that by claiming the existence of some new class unheard of before in history. For a Marxist, the advocation of such a new phenomenon – especially one, which must have some remarkable characteristics given how quickly this class is supposed to have developed from nowhere, and reached a stage of development by which it could carry through a social revolution! – requires a considerable body of evidence to support it. Yet, all advocates of new class theories are very light on providing any such evidence. Whenever, they are asked to be specific about who this new class are there theory crumbles to dust on contact with the facts. Marxists are left then with an analysis of the classes we know exist, and what Marx and later Marxists have said about the nature of such classes.
In sweeping away the old exploiting classes these societies are left with the working class, the peasantry, and the petit-bourgeoisie. But Marxist theory tells us that these latter two classes are transitory, and heterogeneous. They lack the basic requirements for moving beyond being classes in themselves, and becoming classes for themselves. If we look at the revolutions in China, Vietnam etc., we indeed find that the revolution is carried through on the basis not of a peasant or petit-bourgeois ideology – whatever that might or could be – but on the basis of the ideology of the working class, albeit in heavily deformed shape.
In essence what we have is a vindication of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. These were societies, which were overdue for a bourgeois revolution, but the bourgeois revolution could only be carried through by a social force other than the bourgeoisie. In classical bourgeois revolutions it is the cohesiveness, and ideology of the bourgeoisie which provides the basis of the revolution, the banner around which the rest of society can gather around, even though it is in the main – as it was in Russia – the peasantry, which provides by far the greatest numbers for actually effecting the revolution. Absent the bourgeoisie to fulfil that function some other ideology around which the whole of society can rally is required. That can only be the ideology of the working class.
What we have then is a society in which the great mass of the population are peasants, who are drawn behind the banner of a different class, and an alien ideology, organised around a Peasant Army, which adopts that Programme, and the bourgeois democratic programme of land reform as the basis for mobilising all of the dispossessed classes. As Marx tells us the dominant ideas of every age are the ideas of the ruling class, and that is true even when those ideas are mangled and deformed as Stalinism has done with the ideas of Marxism. In the aftermath of the revolution we have a society in which the only homogenous class is the working class, the class under whose ideological banner the revolution has been won, even though – as in Russia – this class constitutes a very small proportion of the population. We have a peasantry, which is very large, but differentiated, and differentiating further, which is geographically dispersed and atomised apart from its existence in local village communes, and so is incapable of putting itself forward under its own banner as ruling class, and whose immediate aims are in the process of being fulfilled by the revolution. We have a small petit-bourgeoisie which is likewise incapable of putting itself forward, as a new ruling class, but is by its social status well placed, again as was the case in Russia, to find places for itself within the apparatus of the new regime.
In short we arrive at societies which although the initial basis of the ideology under which the revolution is begun differs, inasmuch as the Stalinist ideology begins with a recognition of the leading role, which the peasantry can play in the revolution, we arrive at a deformed workers state similar to that of Russia or Eastern Europe, for the simple reason that the only social class that can under such circumstances occupy the role of ruling class, the only class which can provide the kind of unifying ideology for the State – and ideology as much as the State has to be the ideology of a class – is the working class. But, as with Russia that class is very weak, not just relative to the peasantry but in absolute terms, certainly compared with the world bourgeoisie. It finds itself as the Russian working class did unable to rule politically, and political power becomes enshrined in the hands of the State, a State which from the beginning is in the hands of the Party/military force which was the spearhead of the revolution – just as was the case with Cromwell, just as was the case in Russia, read his comments in the previous quote about the soldiers Soviets elbowing aside the workers soviets.
Beyond that I would not want to comment greatly except to refer back to my previous comments in respect of the famine etc. which I think can be explained by the same factors which led to a similar situation in Russia. That is that the undeveloped nature of the economy, and its economic isolation makes capital accumulation very difficult, and so industrial production and consumer goods production in particular cannot rise as quickly as agricultural production rises as a result of land reform. The result is that peasant living standards fall, whilst the regime is forced to use coercive measures to provide food for the cities, where the greatest potential for social conflict exists.
“It thus remains as true in China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea as it was in the USSR and the other former ‘socialist’ countries that the idea of a workers’ revolution against the bureaucracy before the full restoration of capitalism is illusory.”
For the reasons I have given previously in relation to Eastern Europe I think this perspective is too defeatists. But, I think it is wrong for other reasons. Some time ago the BBC ran a story, perhaps on their website, about the privatisation of Chinese State owned companies. A considerable number had in fact been sold to village communes, which probably meant to local PLA’s. The level of saving amongst Chinese workers is incredibly high around 20%, and with rising inflation its no wonder that some of this finds its way into the Chinese Stock Market. Given the state ideology for the last 60 years, and the experience of many Chinese workers of having grown up in peasant communes, it is not at all unreasonable to see the prospect of workers co-operatives arising in China as an alternative to capitalist exploitation, by either Chinese or foreign Capital. The potential for obtaining further credit for such co-operatives, which would operate within the context of China’s market does not seem in any way to contradict the interests of the bureaucracy, and indeed given as Mike says, its continued need for legitimacy in terms of ideology, and the concept that it represents the interests of workers it would seem difficult for it to refuse such funding, or other assistance for such development. Of course, the same comments I have made about Co-operatives elsewhere apply in respect of the need for such organisations to be linked together rather than operating as simply isolated worker owned capitalist enterprises. But such a development would provide the basis for a centre of workers economic and social power, and of political organisation that could arise spontaneously out of the collective interests of workers organised through such bodies. Finally, unlike the condition of workers in eastern Europe in the 1980’s there is now a vast network of worldwide communication through the Internet, and mobile phones, which means that ideas now spread in a tiny fraction of the time required even a decade or twenty years ago. Chinese workers now have access to many more options as to how to proceed than did their Russian and East European counterparts. I was watching a Newsnight programme a week or so ago, about China’s involvement in the Congo. In return for raw materials, China is building a complete infrastructure including roads, and railways, but also a large number of hospitals, schools and Universities. One of the Chinese workers involved commented that although the higher wages paid for being away from home for many months were an incentive, he felt that many Chinese workers also felt they had a revolutionary duty to assist their fellow workers in Africa to develop. I didn’t get the impression this was some propaganda, but simply reflected a world view that had been absorbed by these workers.
“The second is the possible contingency that the imperialist centres’ current juggling act fails, and global financial markets, and with them the banks and the dollar seigniorage system, collapse before the failure of the surviving bureaucratic regimes.”
This isn’t going to happen for the reasons I have given elsewhere. The world economy is at the beginning of a 20-30 year Long Wave Boom. The Credit Crunch has acted to slow economic growth, but that is all. Throughout Europe, particularly Germany, growth has already led to labour shortages and increased strikes and militancy. Economic growth in China and much of Asia continues to roar, and even in the world’s most sclerotic economy in the US, growth has only slowed rather than ceases – I am a complete and utter loss as to how the AWL at its recent Conference could vote for a World economy document which begins by describing current conditions as being one of a recession, obviously their subjectivism applies now to economic analysis as well as political analysis!. It seems to me very unlikely that the Stalinist regimes will make a return to planning other than in the very general form in which bourgeois states operate an overall plan, or the way China now operates its planning methods. Personally, I think that is a good thing, because I think that the fetish with planning has been detrimental to Marxism. What is likely to continue is that in Russia the present course of drawing back economic operations to State control, and in China too, the State has been careful to ensure that it has large share ownerships of strategic, and very large companies, where it does not own them entirely.
Go to Part VIII