Comparative Revolutionary History
In the English Civil War, and the Great French Revolution the bourgeoisie lacked the class consciousness, as well as the economic and social power to exercise direct political power. The same was true of the proletariat in 1917. But, the Russian and Chinese bourgeoisie are not lacking in class consciousness. They would be quite capable of ruling directly via a fully functioning bourgeois democracy. It is not that they are not capable of doing that, but that they are not allowed to do that by the existing State apparatus, and that calls into question just how dominant they really are as social classes within both societies. In many ways then the current regimes in both Russia and China could be compared with that stage of the Restoration Monarchies in England and France. They are representing the interests of the old ruling class – in Russia and China, the bourgeoisie – and in so doing reintroducing the economic and social forms of the old regime, but they are doing so within the context of changed social relations. The experience of the 1917, and 1949 Revolutions cannot simply be wiped from the collective consciousness. Still less can the lessons and experiences of decades of non-capitalist society – for good or ill. Yeltsin and Deng can be seen as occupying a similar place in this process as was held by Charles II, or Louis XVIII.
But, of course, neither of these restorations happened immediately. Neither represented a direct counter-revolutionary overthrow of the political power of the bourgeoisie. Before they were possible, a period of Bonapartist rule had to exist. In the case of the English Civil War, that was just the period of the Protectorate. In France, the transition was more complex before Bonaparte ultimately takes power. Similarly, between the period of the Russian Revolution and the Yeltsin Restoration there is a more complex process through which political power is exercised on behalf of the working class and peasantry by the Bolsheviks under Lenin, and where the power of the workers and peasants is still capable of exercising pressure upon it – rather as did the Diggers and Levellers and Fifth Monarchists on the Bonapartist regime of Cromwell – increasingly coming into conflict with it, and the reaction to that pressure by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the hollowing out of what workers democracy did exist – which mirrors Cromwell's own response to the pressure from the Levellers etc – and the subsiding of that pressure, and transformation of the Bonapartist regime of Lenin to that of Stalin, and his heirs.
There are similarities between the Revolution in China and that in Russia in 1917. A basic tenet of Marxist theory is that the Peasantry as an intermediary class, and whose conditions of existence prevent it from acquiring a sufficiently homogeneous identity and class consciousness, is incapable of becoming a ruling class in its own right. That has not prevented the peasantry performing a revolutionary role in history, or of engaging itself in violent rebellions. In both Russia and China the peasantry made up the vast mass of society, whilst the working class was tiny, and relatively young and inexperienced having itself only just entered the towns and cities from the countryside itself. In Russia as Trotsky says, the revolution was essentially a workers insurrection in the cities, supported by a Peasant War in the countryside i.e. in the vast majority of the country. For that reason, again as Trotsky says in his History of the Russian Revolution, for the first few years of the revolution, it could not truly be described as a proletarian revolution, but was only a bourgeois revolution. The vast majority of those taking part in it were not workers, but were peasants. In fact, as a result of the Civil War, the numbers of workers, including many Bolshevik workers were severely depleted – not because they were killed in the fighting as the mythology would have it – because in order to escape the starvation and pestilence raging in the cities, they went back home to their villages, where they could have at least some hope of finding food, and more sanitary conditions.
The same was true in China. A huge, and massively oppressed peasantry – having been doubly oppressed both by Chinese Landlords and Japanese Imperialism - is mobilised by a Communist Party that has recruited on the basis of a fight against that Imperialism, and on a programme of land reform coupled with a Programme of Socialist Revolution. In short the Peasants overcome the problems of lack of homogeneity etc. by placing themselves under the leadership of a Party of another class, even though that other class is itself largely absent from the revolutionary struggle. Unlike, the 1917 Revolution, in which the Bolsheviks under Lenin at least begin with the perspective of mobilising the working class – and peasantry – and of involving them directly in the political process via the Soviets – though we should understand that the Bolsheviks from the beginning manipulated the Soviets in order to obtain a majority within them, and where they could not by passed them in favour of those Factory Committees where they did have a majority – Mao has no such intention. The masses are merely the instrument by which the Party effects the overturn, to be manipulated to meet the party's requirements as necessary, whilst the Party bargains and manoeuvres at a political level in order to achieve its aims at least cost to itself, and in order to ensure it retains maximum control. In many ways the process can be compared not to the revolutionary overthrow of Cromwell or the Great French revolution in this respect, but is more akin to the coup of Louis Bonaparte, or the regime of Bismark. Louis Bonaparte has been much derided, not least by Marx, but under his regime, as much as under Bismark in Germany, the tasks of industrialisation, upon which was based the power of the French and German industrial bourgeoisie, was completed. It was an example, of that kind of development referred to earlier by Engels, in which
“The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree....”
It is not necessarily the successful battles waged, or ideas developed by the class in any one country that is decisive here. Those battles waged, the ideas developed, the political superstructures created once they have arisen can be used elsewhere and in different conditions too.
By working backwards from the current reality it is possible to analyse these regimes within their process of development, and thereby to cast light on what they were by understanding what they have become. It is possible, whilst bearing in mind all historical differences, to compare that process of development with similar processes from earlier history, and the transition from one Mode of Production to another.