Saturday, 3 July 2010

Chinese Workers And The State - Part 5

Social Transformation

The 1917 Revolution in Russia, was a proletarian political revolution carried through with the support of a Peasant War. In that respect it was similar to the English Civil War. Both were premature revolutions carried through by political elites with the backing of a small, weak revolutionary class, and a large peasantry in rebellion against an oppressive autocratic regime. In both cases, the political leadership comes from a determined minority that has glimpsed the future destiny of the revolutionary class they represent. Unfortunately, in neither case is that revolutionary class sufficiently developed, economically and socially powerful enough, or sufficiently conscious of its class interests, or historic role to be able to fulfil its destiny at that time. It can overthrow the old society, but cannot create a new one. Unable to rule politically in its own name, that function passes initially to the elite which acted as its spearhead, and then to the State itself, which rises up above the contending classes.

In China, a premature Proletarian Political Revolution is again carried through by a political elite that mobilises a large Peasantry through a Peasant War. Whereas in Russia this political elite commences the revolution in the honest belief that the forces it is setting in motion will assume the reigns of power – as did Cromwell – the experience of that revolution, and assumption of power by the bureaucratic state apparatus conveys the idea to those elites established in its image that the tasks of this revolution can only be accomplished by such an elite acting to control and manipulate the masses. In this respect it is like the transformations carried through on behalf of the bourgeoisie in Germany, France and elsewhere by a bureaucratic state apparatus. In both these cases the lessons of the industrialisation in England are learned, and the perceived weakness of the bourgeoisie to efficiently carry through such a transformation is overcome by this bureaucratic state. In England, the Political Revolution is carried through by an elite on behalf of a revolutionary class, who subsequently lose power back to the old rulers. The process of economic and social transformation, however, continues through a prolonged period of class struggle, during which the Capitalist forms of property have to prove their superiority over the feudal forms. Two hundred years pass between the initial Political Revolution, and the eventual economic and social domination of industrial Capital. But, once achieved the force of that dominance asserts its historical power. In the words of Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto,

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

In fact, as Engels was to admit later at the time of this writing the only country to which this properly applied was England. But, the words here apply equally to France and Germany, and the United States, and later Japan in terms of the need to industrialise “..the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary” as Engels had put it. And this nature of the social transformation, of an economic and social transformation, from the beginning, by a bureaucratic State under the political domination of the old ruling class is what gives these transformations their specific character, and also explains the subsequent character of the Capitalist regimes established within them, regimes in which the State continued to play a more central, and directing role. Where in England the bourgeois political revolution had given way to the restoration, and only after a long period of class struggle, and the eventual absorption of the old ruling class into the bourgeoisie, gives way once again to bourgeois political rule, in France and Germany under Louis Napoleon and Bismark there is no further restoration because the old ruling class in these countries is itself forced to carry through that transformation, via the bureaucratic state, on pain of their own extinction at the hands of British Capital.

In China as in Russia, the tasks of industrialisation are carried through by a bureaucratic State apparatus, but a bureaucratic state apparatus not of the old ruling class, but one that rests upon the social power of the revolutionary class, and the peasantry. The difference here with the transformations in France and Germany is that they sought only to effect an industrialisation as part of a bourgeois revolutionary economic and social transformation. Both of these societies had reached a stage where such a transformation was not only possible, but overdue. Not as overdue as Engels believed, however, who mistakenly felt that the bourgeoisie was rising in Germany at the very moment when it was in the descendant in Britain! In both cases an existing exploiting class could effect a de facto alliance with the new exploiting class in order to bring that transformation about, as was happening by that time in Britain itself.

In Russia and China no such alliance between the existing ruling class, and the revolutionary class could be effected for the purpose of this transformation, precisely because the working-class is not an exploiting class. In conditions where these societies were barely capable of a bourgeois transformation, and rapid industrialisation – both societies would have likely succumbed to imperialist domination had their respective revolutions not occurred – it was not likely that the socialist transformation of these societies, which was the prospectus upon which they had been undertaken would be possible.

As Engels described this situation in his The Peasant War in Germany,

“The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply. What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do, what his party demands of him, again depends not upon him, or upon the degree of development of the class struggle and its conditions. He is bound to his doctrines and the demands hitherto propounded which do not emanate from the interrelations of the social classes at a given moment, or from the more or less accidental level of relations of production and means of communication, but from his more or less penetrating insight into the general result of the social and political movement. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost. We have seen examples of this in recent times. We need only be reminded of the position taken in the last French provisional government by the representatives of the proletariat, though they represented only a very low level of proletarian development. Whoever can still look forward to official positions after having become familiar with the experiences of the February government — not to speak of our own noble German provisional governments and imperial regencies — is either foolish beyond measure, or at best pays only lip service to the extreme revolutionary party.”

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