Rural China and the French Revolution

The perhaps apocryphal comment attributed to Zhou Enlai, is that it is too early to tell what the impact of the French Revolution has been.  Superficially this seems like a cryptic or even ignorant remark, but it is actually quite the opposite, it was an observation with acute contemporary relevance for modern Chinese politics.

Firstly, it is necessary to understand that Chinese political culture is much better informed than ours in Britain about history and political philosophy; and that there is a modern tradition of comparing China’s developmental model with other countries. So for example any discussion about agricultural policy is likely to also compare Chinese experience with Soviet collectivisation, the Stolypin reforms in Czarist Russia, and the experience of smallholder settlement in the USA. So Zhou’s remark would be that of a person knowledgable about the French revolution, and of Marxist commentaries upon that event.

Let us look at the economic and social context of eighteenth century France, drawing on the account from Isaac Ilyich Rubin, in the “History of Economic Thought” [Pluto 1979, originally published Leningrad, 1929]. France was locked in a global war of military and economic competition with England, that forced the development of the most modern manufacturing techniques and technological developments onto an essentially feudal social system. Starting with the administration of Colbert (1661 to 1682) the French monarchy had pursued a rigorous mercantilist policy, characteristic of early capitalism in Holland and England, using the state to promote trade, shipping and industry; as well as strictly regulating manufacturing processes. The French state used its regulation of foreign trade to ban manufactured imports, and subsidise manufacturing industry for export. There was of course also a substantial state industry in the construction of shipping and military materiel.

The political reform of the Bourbon monarchy had moved away from classic feudalism towards absolutism, and the growth of a centralised state; the nobility were compensated for their loss of political power by a complex and rich court life, based upon prestige and material luxury.

But France had an extremely limited internal market, and the industrial sector and the court were sustained by cripplingly high taxes on the peasantry: and although serfdom had been abolished, the peasantry were still subject to innumerable feudal obligations. In the eighty years prior to the revolution, France experienced thirty severe famines, and the desperately low standard of living of the French peasantry was legendary – bare foot, emaciated and clothed in sack-cloth. So industrialisation on a state sponsored mercantilist model produced increasing grinding poverty alongside obscene wealth.

It is worth considering at this point the intellectual impact of China upon seventeenth century and eighteenth century Europe. The most widely read account of Chinese society at this time were the works of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who idealised Chinese society, and regarded it as both an ethical and political model for Europe. Leibnitz was highy knowledeable about Chinese society, and was in regular correspondence with Jesuits in China, and through them had followed Chinese philosophy, science, mathematics and political theory. The Jesuits translated most major Chinese texts into Latin. China was at this time considered in advance of Europe, and indeed Chinese society was even closer to God, as the Lutheran pastor Andreas Müller announced in 1674 that key to mastery of the Chinese language, was to recognise that it is the God given Universal language of Adam and Eve. In 1601 the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci had entered the Chinese court, and at this period the Jesuits even argued that Confucianism was a form of innate Christianity with Chinese characteristics – as shown by the seventeenth century St Paul’s church in Macao with it distinctive Chinese iconography. (It is worth pointing out that there is no reference in European thought to Chinese people being racially different from Europeans until the mid nineteenth century)

Leibniz was in particular concerned about the slide of the French monarchy towards absolutism, and the extreme luxury coexisting with ruinous exploitation of the peasantry; in his own terms he saw this as being government unconstrained by any mediation from natural law deriving from God, and he compared French absolutism unfavourably with the rule of the Chinese emperor. But more significantly, this theme of China being exemplary was taken up by a number of other major enlightenment thinkers, from Voltaire to François Quesnay, who were concerned with maintaining absolutist government, but using it as a vehicle for progressive and transformative social change; and who saw democracy as mob-rule that challenged the integrity of the state to carry out such necessary reforms.

The key thinker here is the Physiocrat, François Quesnay, who described the absolutist monarchy as “the only power standing above all the different exclusive interests, which it must restrain”, their economic programme was to abolish all remnants of economic feudalism, and concentrate upon increasing agricultural production, which they regarded as the sole source of wealth. In Theories of Surplus Value, [Volume I, Chapter 2] Marx credits the Physiocrats with being the first to understand that labour and not trade generates wealth: “The Physiocrats transferred the inquiry into the origin of surplus-value from the sphere of circulation into the sphere of direct production, and thereby laid the foundation for the analysis of capitalist production. Quite correctly they lay down the fundamental principle that only that labour is productive which creates a surplus-value, in whose product therefore a higher value is contained than the sum of the values consumed during the production of this product.”

Abolition of the economic legacy of feudalism in agriculture could follow two paths; either the peasants would be dispossesed from the land and become labourers, which was the English model creating large estates; or the peasantry would become the owners of their own plots, as small capitalists – which was in fact the result of the French revolution. The Physiocrats looked to establish the English model in France, through the enclosure of the land and the proletarianisation of the peasantry; that would then attract capital investment into agriculture, and the development of modern capitalist farming.

But this would be done in the context of a non-capitalist society in two important aspects. Firstly, political power would reside with the feudal monarchy and its absolutist state, with no democracy; and secondly, the Physiocrats saw the capitalist class itself as having no inherent virtue, in great contrast to the whig tradition in England, and its successor theories that even today conflate capitalism with democracy.

As Marx explains (Theories of Surplus Value, Chapter II) “Profit is seen by them as only a kind of higher wages paid by the landowners, which the capitalists consume as revenue (and which therefore enters into their costs of production in the same way as the minimum wages of the ordinary workmen); this increases the value of the raw material, because it enters into the consumption costs which the capitalist, [the] industrialist, consumes while he is producing the product, transforming the raw material into a new product.”

So in the Physiocratic tradition – that sought to reform the absolutist French monarchy as an alternative to revolution – the capitalist class were seen as a parasitical burden upon production, and the role of the state was to encourage the generation of wealth through providing the conditions to reward investment in agriculture. What is more, social wealth was measured by the success in producing use values and not profits or money.

While Voltaire and the Physiocrats praised Chinese monarchism as a model for enlightened government, in contrast the writing of the French political theorist, Charles de Montesquieu, popularised the concept of Asiatic despotism; Montesquieu became an influential inspiration through the American and French revolutions, and the victory of these revolutions and the historical eclipse of the reforming tradition within absolutism that held China to be exemplary, has coloured the popular perception of China and the Chinese ever since. China was seen as undemocratic, and democracy became the hallmark of progress. In particular it marked the end of the era of European thinking that looked to China as a more advanced society to which Europe should aspire.

So the debates in pre-revolutionary France not only have an echo in contemporary Western views of China; but they also have current echoes in modern Chinese politics.

The French revolution identified economic progress and individual liberty with the conquest of state power by the capitalist class, and therefore the concept of a political revolution that coincides with a bourgeois social revolution became regarded as normative. Currently, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is seeking to expand capitalist investment in the context of what still remains a partially state directed economy, and without ceding political power to the capitalist class; and without the democratic forms of liberal democracy. In its own eyes, the CCP stands in the tradition of enlightened dictatorship.

According to Li Changping, in his essay “The Crisis in the Countryside”, in Chaohua Wang’s anthology “One China, Many Paths” [Verso, 2003] the economic and social situation of the Chinese peasantry is currently disastrous, precisely because they bear both the burden of asymmetrical trading relationships with the cities (that is worsened by World Trade Organisation membership), and also arbitrary and punishing taxes set by unaccountable local authorities.

As Li explains: “A key development was the decision in the mid-nineties to split fiscal planning into disconnected levels (fen zao chifan ) … When there was a planned economy, budgetary balances were controlled from above. Now with the abandonment of vertical checks, the financial situation at all levels of government is a tightly guarded secret. …. Dividing up fiscal administration without supervision or transparency has, in effect, led to a vicious growth of short term calculations and irresponsibility”. The local government farming communities ( xiang ) used to be collectively financed by taxation on the collective farms, and the taxation was regulated from above. Now the tax burden falls on individual farmers, and there is no regulation, so that each xiang imposes its own, often punitive taxes, to fund a rapidly expanding state payroll – a paradoxical result of the introduction of the market into the countryside. What is more, individual rather than collective taxation has priced many peasant families out of education and health services, that were previously provided by the collective farms.

Not only does China share with eighteenth century France the condition of an impoverished and over taxed peasantry, it also shares the economic problem of an under-developed internal market, and export led growth based upon state regulation, which is not developing that internal market.

One solution based upon the French revolution model would be to fully privatise the land, which is currently state owned, and leased to households in perpetuity. This would allow the peasantry freedom to abandon agricultural work, because currently there is no legal mechanism for peasants to leave or re-enter the rural economy. Land privatisation would also provide some respite from arbitrary land confiscation for industrial projects, that is a serious cause of grievance in the Chinese countryside. This would also solve the problem of the unregulated labour market of peasants who have gone to work in the cities without official work permits, and who are the most exploited and abused workers in China; because privatisation of the land would also require full citizen rights for the peasantry. Naturally, this course does have many advocates within the People’s Republic, and within the Communist Party.

But the key here is what the context of privatisation is. This would not be a Jacquerie, allowing the peasantry to seize the land and wipe off their debts, it would be a managed process that sustained and reproduced the current low economic and social status of the peasants. As Wang Hui points out in “China’s New Order” [Harvard, 2003] “if privatisation is carried out under undemocratic and unjust circumstances, this “legitimisation” will guarantee only an illegitimate process of distribution”. Wang recognises that while the formality of bourgeois society is political equality, economic equality undermines it, so privatisation does not solve the problems for the peasantry, rather it would exagerate them further.

Currently, rural households are hugely in debt, often to the tune of several times their annual income, so land privatisation would not lead to an egalitarian distribution based upon current land holdings, but would force indebted farmers off the land to repay money lenders – who are often state officials, and even CCP members, and who would be the very people supervising the privatisation! Land privatisation would therefore create a serious threat by transforming a layer of local government officials into private agricultural landlords, and rather than gaining a more secure land tenure, indebted farmers would actually be forced off their land by the money lenders.

The alternative is to restore greater state direction in the rural economy; but at this stage a return to farm collectivisation is impossible, not least because it is firmly associated with lower agricultural yields and famine.

One mechanism that the CCP could employ would be to control the prices for agricultural produce to guaranteeing a minimum income for rural communities. But the vital tasks are for the government to organise a debt cancellation programme; and an expansion of rural consumption. Li estimates that China has 230 million rural households, and an expansion of net income by just 1% would lead to an increase of consumption by 100 billion Yuan, creating an overall additional internal demand in the economy of 236 billion Yuan; making the People’s Republic less dependent upon exports.

To overcome the rural crisis requires government action. As Li explains “excessive concentration of power [by local government officials] without effective democratic supervision is the root cause of corruption … The most efficient way of countering corruption is to entrust authority to the people. It is democratic supervision and administration that can exercise effective control over the power of officials”.

The restoration of rigid central government supervision of local government would of course be desirable, but the entire culture of the current Chinese government militates against a model of “good governance”; the state is not too strong, it is too weak to stamp out corruption and self-interest.

There are significant voices within the CCP arguing that the Party can only solve the countryside’s economic and social problems by local democracy, based upon empowering the peasantry; but this requires the peasantry themselves to own the political process, and for them to resist the further exposure of their plight to the market.

Is China inevitably on the road to capitalist restoration? Too early to tell.

59 comments on “Rural China and the French Revolution

  1. I suspect neither of them – it is attributed to both Deng and Zhou with equal dubious authority.

    It doesn’t change anything who actually said it!

  2. Greensleeves has been attributed to Henry VIII, he is also credited with a Chess opening later known as “The Reti Opening” after Richard Reti. It basically involves fianchetto-ing both knights/bishops and holding back your pawns to tease out your opponent, it is based on the principle that defense is the bset form of offense.

  3. Returning to the state cap argument, if the USSR was state capitalist by virtue of its economy being governed by the law of value via the need for it to engage in military competition with the West, where does this analysis sit with China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Albania etc? Were they/are they state capitalist by virtue of something else?

  4. I know your trying to tempt me Andy but it won’t work. In any case I really do not follow what you are trying to say here at all. One way in which the famous quote can be taken is related to the view that the French Revolution was the beginning of the experiment called the modern world, and we’ve yet to understand the significance of that experiment. Its also been taken as a repudiation of the idea that those possibilities are exhausted by European history. This presents an open view of the future which doesn’t sit too well with continuing to see capitalism as a static system unchanged since the 19th century, essentially your main way of attacking state cap theory. But that wouldn’t be the only reason why most people (and not just state caps) would be a bit confused about your discussion of the possibility of capitalist ‘restoration’ (in a situation where land reform already happened in 1949 and contemporary critiques of further reforms are couched in terms of the limits of equality in bourgoise society). China has at present the fastest growing capitalist economy in the world. One reason for its contemporary success has been the State’s refusal to relinquish its control of certain central mechanism’s of control in line with neo-liberalism, a capitalist strategy which is only about twenty years old. To cling onto the idea that state control equates with socialism just flies in the face of common sense never mind Marxist theory.

  5. The most common version of the anecdote has Henry Kissinger ask the question to Zhou Enlai on one of his visits to China in the early 1970s. (Zhou lived in France in the first part of the 1920s, so it was an obvious question to ask him.)

    It’s nice to see Leibniz and the Physiocrats being discussed at Socialist Unity.

    Montesquieu did think that China was a despotism, and he was highly sceptical of the missionaries’ accounts that painted China as a beacon of orderly, harmonious government that helped to foster the pro-China opinions Andy describes. But he also thought that China was relatively well governed because the incentives lined up in the right way: bad government would generate famine and famine would generate riot, and riot would result in the Emperor being deposed.

    This link takes us to one of his (short) discussions of China:
    http://www.constitution.org/cm/sol_08.htm#021

  6. JOhn

    The questions are:

    i) if external military and commercial competition with capitalist England was sufficient to force Bourbon France towards accumulation of the means of production and military power, why wasn’t this a form of capitalism in your eyes? Surely by analogy with your arguents about the effect of military competition upon the USSR, the same could be argued about eigtheenth century France?

    ii) if China is already capitalist, then surely socialists should be indifferent to whether the state assets are sold off. If we are not indifferent, then surely we hold that state ownership does make a difference?

  7. #9 i think the issue is Chris, that neither Montesquieu nor Quesnay were really interested in China at all – it was all a coded argument about France.

  8. Andy — I completely agree that the real argument for Leibniz and Montesquieu is about France.

    On another part of the post, are you getting the timescale right? You give 1661 to 1682 as Colbert’s dates, but that doesn’t seem to me to be an especially intense period of Franco-British rivalry. Britain was tied up with its own internal problems in the 1640s and 1650s, and the restored Stuart monarchy from 1660 wasn’t especially concerned to make war on France — indeed, the 1670 Treaty of Dover looks like a military alliance with the French King (who was Charles’ first cousin) against their shared rivals in the Dutch Republic.

    The period of really sustained geopolitical competition between Britain and France (which puts massive pressure on the public finances in both countries) comes after the (so-called) Glorious (so-called) Revolution in 1688, with William of Orange bringing Britain back into a Protestant Anglo-Dutch alliance against France, and continuing through the reigns of Anne (Blenheim, etc) and the early Hanoverians (War of the Austrian Succession, Seven Years’ War, and so on).

  9. I always understood that the quote was from Zhou Enlai when he was asked the question by a Western diplomat (very likely Kissinger).

    While sympathising with China’s need to feed a billion people, I find it hard to accept that a country that has produced 3,000 billionaires in a few decades can be socialist. Peasants and workers are worse off than under Mao when at least their healthcare, housing and education was free or close to free.

    However, perhaps they are close enough to the socialist aspirations of their past to allow them to retrieve some of it. (OK, maybe not.) State ownership good, but in whose interests?

  10. Mark Anthony France on said:

    When I was in Cuba in 1991 the Cuban State had just taken delievery of 400,000 Bicycles [two types “the flying pigeon” and “forever”] no money exchanged hands between the Chinese State or Cuba. I think cuba had some minerals like nickel and copper that were directly exchanged. The bicycles were not sold but distributed to key workers [decided usually at the level of workplace or “mass organisation” level]

    The cuban minerals are probably in some of the older electronic appilances that were the sold to us ‘consumers’ in england when Chinese commodities first began to penetrate western markets.

    The bicycles dominated the streets of Habana for years afterwards and the ever ingenious cuban’s made some interesting modifications…. there was even an explosion of “sole trader” bicycle repair businesses anyone with access to Glue and thin strips of rubber where able to occassionally by meat or tootpaste or soap on the black market for exchanging puncture repair skills for what ever they could get.

    Exsisting on opposite sides of the planet these two vastly different ‘transitional societies’ [Cuba, a small island crucible, melting pot of racial and cultural influences with a tradition of expansive gestures, great dancers, fast talkers and big families vs China, vast culturally homogenous in comparison, a place of slow ritual and small gestures with a rigid ‘one child policy’]collaborated economically outside of the framework of capitalism.

    Rural Chinese peasants used to prefer the forever bicycle because it was sturdier than the flying pigeon with a parcel rack that could carry a medium sized pig if it was strapped down well… Cuban urban workers also prefered the ‘forever’ bike because they could put a seat on the front for kids up the age of about 12 and make a more comfortable seat for their partner/cousin/grannie on the back.

    Without the arrival of the bycycles at the most difficult period in Cuban history we could have seen the complete breakdown of social cohesion and economic activity in Havana providing fertile soil for counter revolutionary conspiracies to grow.
    Instead Cuba survived and is the most progressive and vibrant society on the planet. Thank you China!

  11. Andy
    what type of society was the soviet union thenif not state capitalist? is this the same as north korea, albania? is china still non capitalist?

    In my opinion the State Capitalist arguement was proved totally correct in the events of 1989. The idea that these regimes soemhow represented a differnet mode of production needs to be proved. Andy has given us absolutley nothing. But i would be interested in Andy’s reply t0 the above particlarly some definition of the type of society operating in the soviet union post 1930’s.

  12. charlotte badger on said:

    what is the president of china or is it who. Who was at the Birds Nest Stadium opening ceremony or was it what??

  13. mark anthony france on said:

    #17… charlotte, you are mistaken who is the president of china and when is the prime minister. I think is was when who opened the olympics not what.

  14. Well Andy you seem, on this subject, to be a great one for laying down the rules about what the key questions are and then refusing to engage with anyone else. The question of 18th century France (actually not an uncomplicated question if you read the historical literature on the subject, but then nor is the question of when exactly capitalism ‘happens’ in Britain) might have something to do with the fact that there was not a global capitalist economy at the time (its worth remembering that corsairs from morocco were raiding southern ireland and cornwell at the time if you believe some historians). But one absurdity I’d like to nail (and its one that seems to lie at the bottom of a lot of your polemic). The notion that because state ownership does not equal socialism, but is in many historical circumstances simply another form of capitalism (widespread enough for such impeccably orthodox Marxists like Engels to talk about ‘state capitalism’ in relationship to Germany for instance, although not to cause unneccessary confusion, this is not a forerunner of theories about the kind of class society the Soviet Union was) this means that socialists don’t take sides between different kinds of capitalism. A moments reflection which reveal this to be utter nonsense. Do we not take sides when imperialism occupies countries? Do we not take sides in battles against neo-liberalism? Do we not take sides when attempts are made to undermine collective health care provision?

    What this seems to be Andy, rather then a technical discussion about the use of Marxist catagories, is a rather crude attempt to portray adherents of the state cap tradition as wild ultralefts unwilling to fight for reforms in capitalist society. Its utterly without foundation and politically cynical as well.

  15. it seems to me that Abdy is incapable of telling us what form of society the stalinist/maoist regimes were/are? If Andy really is the font of all wisdom on these issues then he could give us his alternative to state capitalism theory

  16. It is worthwhile remembering mind you, that it is perfectly possible for people to have different ideas about China without therefore being a) raging stalinists or b) lunatic ultralefts. Actually I think in Andy’s case it relates to a desire to move the left towards practical policy proposals of the old alternative economic strategy model, and he wrongly thinks he has to bash those who always opposed stalinism or on the other hand didn’t think old style social democracy was the terminus of socialism, to do so. I think its exactly the wrong moment to move in this direction personally, at the moment when there is a whole new audience for both socialist ideas on the one hand, and radical critiques of the system we live in on the other. I’ve just read a story about workers for a multinational in Delhi who in the midst of a confrontation with their boss ended up killing him. No doubt there will be massive repression across the labour movement as a result. Many of the articles make the point that violence is on the rise in terms of labour and land issues in India, and give as examples repeated agitations by peasents across the country against the setting up of SEZ’s on their land, including one associated with the Tata ‘peoples car’ much trumpeted in the media. Its important to say that this pressure on ordinary people and the desperate resistance that its provoking is a feature right across India across a range of state governments with different political parties in power. But one of the saddest things about it is that a section of the left, having embraced a position on contemporary China rather similar to Andy’s have actually been driving these policies through referring to China as a model: they are hence unable to offer the kind of clear alternative to what is happening across the nation that many of their best activists, with a fine record of struggle, would, I’m sure, want to do. Its really not the way to go. Not that comrade Andy will be sending in the police against trotsky-fascist wreakers of the progressive section of the english national-bourgoisie any time soon I’m sure (JOKE..JOKE…JOKE).

  17. Chris #12

    Mercantilism was introduced as French economic policy under Colbert, in the period I mention. However, the intensification of military and commerical rivalry between England and France developed as you say from a later period.

    Mercantilism was the economic orthdoxy of the day, shared by the new capitalist states of Holland and England, but also in the late fuedal states making the transitioon to absolutism, not just France, but particularly also Habspburg Austria

  18. Madam Miaow.

    As you identify, the practical problem for the Chinese government is a rural population of 840 million peasants who have an extremely low standard of living.

    Any progressive Chinese government would therefore prioritise economic and social development to lift a billion people out of poverty.

    Certainly the capitalist roaders flourished under Deng and Jiang Zemin, where the main strategy of the government was incentivising the private sector and laying off state industry. They made the decision to allow a private capitalist class to enrich themselves, but not to control state policy. However, under Hu Jintao the pace of privatisation has slackened.

    With regard to Tiananmen Square, the interesting thing is that the often pro-Western democracy protests primarily inspired by intellectuals and students kicked off a widespread revolt in the working class , particularly in beijing. But the driving force behind the workers protests was opposition to the economic deregulation, and the attacks on state industry. So while the intellectuals were often linking the market with democracy, the workers protest was actually in defence of the gains of the revolution against Deng’s attempts to dismantle them. Hence the mixed signals coming from different parts of the CCP that allowed the protests to grow, and the initial paralysis of the PLA.

  19. JOhn #18

    “Well Andy you seem, on this subject, to be a great one for laying down the rules about what the key questions are and then refusing to engage with anyone else. “

    Well that is because I have a life, children to take to their Tai Kwon Doh class, and I need to eat and work and make merry as well as respond to questions on the blog. You can’t read anything into a failure to reply, other than i probably haven’t read what i am being expected to reply to.

  20. Ok ll

    I have answered this already. The Comecon countries, and other centrally planned economies were societies transitional between socialism and capitalism.

    In short, the USSR post 1030 was essentially the same as it was in the 1920s, despite the terror instigated by Stalin, this didn’t fundamnetally change the social base of the economy.

    Becasue these societies are or were transitional, then there were multiple outcomes depending upon what the government’s and the peoples did.

    But surely the burden of proof lies with you, who argue that the fundamental nature of the society changed in 1928? and who have to reject most of marx’s definition of capitalism in order to defned your theory.

  21. Ok JOhn

    Of course what happened in France is straightforard enough to explain, based upon the historcial record.

    The main form of economic exploitation was by tax farming of peasants, whether they were sharecroppers, or tennants with a feudal obligation (cens), and the social structure was feudal, with pockets of highly advanced state-protexcted capitalist production, employing the most advanced technology in the world – except where the mercantilist regulation of manufacturing forbade various technical innovations.

    So it would be a nonsense to describe this as a form of state capitalism, despite the fact that the state was compelled to accumulate via military competition, there was economic explitation, and no democracy. The reason it is clearly not a capitalist society is that the majority of labour was no wage labour, and there was no self expansion of capital through workers selling their labour power, and then imparting surplus value to commodities that was the realised as capital by capitalists selling those commodities on the free market. That is it lacked all the defining economic features of capitalism, despite pockets of capital, and the existence of wage labour.

    But it would be an equal nonsense to describe the USSR as a form of capitalism when it also lacked all the defining features that Marx ascribes to capitalism.

  22. Andy
    One is inclined to suggest you take a very selective view of old Karl Marx to justify your position.
    But lets put this arguement. As far as I can see it you are arguing that those countries which we can describe as stalinist/maoist were in transition between capitalism and socilaism. It suggests of course that in all these countries capitalism had been defeated and the politcal and economic power rested with a new class which if we are to take one Karl Mark seriously must be the working class. I am interested for example if Andy could let me know when the owrkers revolution took place in Albania which led to the overthorw of capitalism and put the Albanian workers in power. Secondly if socilaism is to mean anything then its must be an advance econmically on capitalism, higher stage of development etc. Can Andy lets me know how come stalinism collapsed? why didn’t the workers of these countries rush to the defence of stalinism. The usual answer is the workers were brainwashed by USA radio.. which frankly translates to the workers are a bit thick and can’t understand when they have it so good.
    What Cliff and others did was to re assert genuine marxism which was to talk about which class was in control, who controlled production, distribution and exchange. It certainly wasn’t the workers in any of these countries. Andy must have a problem looking at china, at what stage is their a counter revolution whuich leads to him describing such societies as capitalist, and those who lead this counter revolution were and are todays communists, likewise across Russia and Eastern bloc. No doubt according to Andy’s anaylisis Norht Korea is somne form of workers state, indeed Pol Pot with Andy’s method is an advance on capitalism, why because Pol Pots state owned everything, or perhaps it was “In transition towards socialism”. Frankly which ever way you put it it agrees with the western ruling class that stalinism was socialism, what an alternative vision for the future of humanity. Socilaism if it means anything has to do with putting thjose who create the wealth in power, stalinism did no such thing. Mark often talked baout not acceting the appearance of things and looking at the essence, Andy has done just the opposite.. the formal legal expression of property rather than the social relaitons of production and what underlies those relations.

  23. ll

    You seem to have substituted religious faith for scientific analysis.

    I don’t take a selective view of marx to justify my definition of capitalsim, I base it on Capital, Wages, prices and Profit and his other economic writings.

    Why is the only mechanism by which capitalism can be defeated a “workers revolution”, whatever that means??? Capitalism is a specific form of economic and social system, and as we have seen societies existing that do not have the distinctive features of capitalism, then they must be something else. Where that something else is a socialist government seeking to promote emancipation and equality through state planning, then that something else is society that is partially socialised.

    Marx would never have argued that history has to follow a prescriptive recipe. The mechanism by which a revolution occured in Albania was quite clearly the guerilla war by Enver Hoxha’s peoples’ army, and that swept away the old regime, and then the government – in a desperately poor and underdeveloped country – restructured the economy. The limitations of what could be acheived were the combinations of a deeply flawed political model from the Albanian communists, the distorting effects of Russiana nd Chinese infleunce, the immense poverty and cultural backwardness.

    the interesting thing about ll’s position is that he argues that socialism must be an advance on capitalism, but if that is the case, then surely the Russian revolution in October 1917 cannot have been socialist? Not only did the working class not exercise power (as early as June 1918 the Bolshevik party had decided that supreme sovereignty resided with the party, not with the All Russian congress of soviets), but the economy was shattered. Does this mean that The Russian government of Lenin was not a socialist government.

    It is of course puerile for ll to claim that he is looking at the essence of things rather than the appearnce by describing the former Comecon countries as capitalist, when it is entirley the appearance that the Stata cap theory looks at. The essence is that the explanding use values of the means of production was not accumulated capital in the technical sense, and there was no sale of labour power as a commodity. Tony Cliff agreed that labur was not sold as a commodity, and thereofore hs theory was simply incmpatible with marxist definitions of capitalism.

    The question is a simple one, by what mechanism does modern day Cuba import the concept of value into its own state related economy?

    At the same level of abstraction that argues that workers should have defended the centralled planned economies (of course many did oppose privatisation, but a critical mass was lost), we can argue that trade unions should always win strikes, and that scabbing can never happen.

  24. Wanting to keep the focus on class, I’m inclined to view capitalism as rule by capitalists which is why the term state-capitalism has always troubled me (as well as the concept, which is distinctive to johng’s tendency). The anarchist writer Michael Albert has come up with the word coordinatorism to describe the power of the bureaucracy in transitional/state-capitalist societies. Those ‘military marxist’ regimes that existed primarily in Africa have always interested me – the way in which the independent action of the working class was hampered by the regimes. Were these societies in any sense transitional? The terminology of Soviet writers was “socialist-oriented” (not sure what the Chinese equivalent was).

    Regarding local democracy: if you go to the Chinese Communist Party’s website you’ll not find much on theory – as you’d expect I suppose, it being a governing party – but there seems to be an eagerness to move towards competitive elections. The case of neighbouring Nepal, where the Maoists have won political office in competitive elections and intend to have a multiparty socialism, we perhaps find a model for China.

  25. But the Soviet Union DID have many of the features associated with capitalism. Hence the debate. But increasingly I think this is an argument unlikely to be resolved (partly because Andy doesn’t seem to want to respond to any arguments which counter his, despite writing interesting things sometimes).

  26. which argument have I not responded to?

    The question of course is not whether the USSR had features associated woth capitalism, but whether it had those features that define capitalism as a distint mode of production: labour power sold as a commodity, and surplus value embodied in commodities that must be realised as capital through exchancge on the market.

    All you comparisons with the NHS and multinationals don’t work, because they d rely upon labouor sold as a commodity, and even those workers who do not add value to commodities spend their own wages on commodities in the market. This did not happen in the USSR – and this is the whole of Capital Vol 1!

  27. Oh and Andy, making the claim (with no evidence or argumentation) that the theory of state capitalism is purely descriptive and concentrates on the surface of things (non-Marxists should understand that these are ‘boo-words’ amongst Marxists, to be contrasted with ‘essence’ and underlying reality etc which are ‘hurray words’: much of this discussion is really just state capitalism ‘BOO’) is not only simply to repeat standard insults but also rather unconvincing given that your opposition to the theory is based on a ‘technicality’ (as you put it yourself. It doesn’t settle anything of course, but this would suggest that it is you who are focusing on the descriptive and surface appearences (BOO!) and in fact us who are penetrating the real essence and moving beyond surface appearences (HURRAY!).

    Incidently if Capitalism was defined by Capitalists ruling there would be very few countries which could be described as capitalist. Generally speaking capitalists tend to influence governments and dictatorships indirectly as opposed to directly ruling as a corporate body. The phrase ‘managing the common affairs of the bourgoisie’ describes the relationship quite well, in the sense that most States relationship to Capitalists involves representing the interests of Capital rather then individual capitalists (at least in theory). There is thus a problem not only with the idea that capitalists directly rule but even with the idea that they indirectly do so: or in other words it is not this which makes States capitalists (hence anti-Marxist attacks on the idea of capitalist states as capitalist usually take the form of proving empirically that policy is not set by individual capitalists. On the other hand misunderstandings lead to the kind of conspiracy theories which, as Gramsci put it, lead to people thinking that the secret of the capitalist state can be garnered by rummaging through laundary lists in journalistic fashion. You’ll find a lot of corruption and ‘special interests’ of course, but you won’t find the ‘essence’ of what makes the state capitalist or even why it behaves as it does. Indeed if you do uncover a real ‘scandal’ its quite likely that the State will take action, and if its not in a position to do this, your probably talking about a weak and not a strong capitalist state).

    Hence the possibility of clashes and contradictions (some of which we are seeing in the US today of course). Of course some might like to say that the capitalist class delegates its functionaries to do this common managing but this is historically very misleading although theoretically neat. Capitalism as a system exerts the decisive pressures here which may make the state amenable to the pressures of sections of capitalists at different times but can on occassion lead to a serious clash between the needs of Capitalism and the behaviour of actual Capitalists (hence the statism of a number of developmentalist regimes which later became highly successful capitalist powers: South Korea for example). It has even been suggested that the capitalist class play are capable of playing a highly destructive role in any attempt to develop capitalism in developing countries (one writer suggesting that in fact the state in South Korea was not nearly as autonomous as some have suggested, succeding in building a developmental state only because the capitalist class could profit from it due to access to the American market: otherwise, as in the Indian case, they would have sabotaged it. I have to admit to not being sure about this), orthodox versions of this argument existing on the left in relationship to terms like ‘comprador’ etc, although its a moot point how different these compradors are in motivation or composition from so called ‘national’ bourgoisie’s.

    So in general the logic of capitalism into which the state is inserted tends to have a determining role in its behaviour rather then the direct intervention of an actual capitalist class. This of course is not directly related to the question of bureacratic state capitalisms which emerge in one case as the outcome of the pressure of global capitalism on a failed workers revolution and in the other case as a consequence of the developmental strategy imposed by the same system on a national revolution which never had much to do with workers but gradually found that its program of development was incompatible with direct intergration with the global capitalist economy and abolished the bourgoisie as a class quite late in the day. The State set goals of development (the term ‘development’ ought to be a suspicious one for any marxist familiar with the term in relationship to such wholly ideological disciplines ‘Development studies’) which have today resulted in China being equipped to be the fastest growing capitalist power in the world: integrated into the market.

    Incidently the fact that Andy quoted Deng rather then Xhou is, as they say, no co-incidence. It was a covert signal of his REVISIONISM.

  28. Andy in the last thread you made three points I had to answer. I answered all of them. Possibly you didn’t see them but you then simply raised others (which made it a bit like one of those debates on HP). I think somewhere up on the thread above the same thing happens again. Obviously its possible to miss peoples arguments but it becomes annoying after a while. Suffice to say you make a number of bold claims about arguments which the tradition is unable to answer, which it does have answers to, and which have indeed been the subject of heated discussion and development almost from the beginning of the tradition. You say that arguments about multi-nationals and the NHS do not work because the worker sells his labour as a commodity. Thus for you because exploitation does not directly take the form of a distinction between what the worker creates in the workplace and what it is sold for on the market, this means that the worker cannot be said to be living under capitalism. But this would be true of the NHS as well. The process of exploitation has an indirect relationship to these processes but is unimaginable without it. For me what is essential about capitalism is that it is driven by competative accumulation. In the 20th century we see the increasing involvement of the state in this, and indeed, a resulting merging of state and capital, and indeed between economic and military competition. This is a univeral tendency. Russia was however a special case because of the co-incidence of its origins in a workers revolution. And its pretty clear that once you concede this principle you are no longer in the realm of 19th century capitalism.

  29. mark anthony france on said:

    #28 charlie marks…. the thing you said about Nepal is interesting…. especially the fact that the leadership of the Guerilla struggle against the corrupt Monarchy now has an overwhelming electoral mandate to tranform Nepal. The leaderships perspective is basically to consolidate power intergreate their mlitary cadres into the national army and gradually socialise the economy returning to electoral mechanisms to ratify this process while maintaining political pluralism and giving space in both politics and the economy for the both bourgeois layers and petit bourgeois types to operate.
    There is no “Red Terror” or rush to rupture a fragile economy.

    Becuase imperialism has no interest strategically in Nepal it might just be possible for huge advances to be made and because the clear electoral mandate of the Nepalese CP is overwhelming unlike the tentative minority government of Allendes Popular Unity… this could actually work out well. The key here is an educated, mobilised, politicised peasantry with recent successful experience of victory in the field of battle and access to arms.

    Now millons of rural chinese peasants have been uprooted to fuel the new industries with unbelivable levels of exploitation back home in the countryside their families are on the rack and often it is the local CP bureaucracy that is turning the screws. In this emmensely complex situation… the way forward includes a focus on ‘Democracy’ and ‘Accountability’ and using the written constitution of the state and legal system to defend the interest of the oppressed. A move towards political pulralism in the countryside might give the emerging capitalist class an opportunity to lie and bribe their way to direct political power via elections but equally would be an oppurtunity for the voices of the oppressed and their demands to be articulated…the CP would in the face of ‘competition’ have to undergo profound changes.

    The exsistence of ‘transitional’ forms of socialised poperty in China is what has enabled China to make spectactular economic growth. Many of the affulent young in the cities have been dazelled by the promise of capitalism… but today with the world wide crisis maybe this is no longer as attractive as it once was. Their pride in Chinas national achievements launching people into space, the olympics, and the huge new metropolises growing up is not tempored by an ‘internationalist’ outlook. Many young middle class Chinese Students I have met are as ignorant of the world outside of china as affluent middle American Students….While white middle americans rejoice in the war on terror against Islam without even knowing where Irag or Iran are…many Chinese I have met look forward to the day when the Nation can pay back Japan for the rape of Nanking they have an ‘imperialist’ mentality with not a shread of ‘proletarian internationalism’. Given that these young people also have no ‘brothers or sister’ [due to the ‘one child per family’ policy they are amongst the most self contained, selfish and potentially psychotic young people I have ever met. This anecdotal ‘evidence’ may be of no value but the future of China if it ends up being run by this arrogant, agressive would be capitalist class is a very scary prospect.
    That is why to mobilise the rural peasantry to reign in these monsters is so crucial for China and the rest of us.

  30. “Where that something else is a socialist government seeking to promote emancipation and equality through state planning, then that something else is society that is partially socialised.”

    If Andy thinks this describes the regimes of Pol Pot and albania.. marbles and lost come to mind. If only those workers in romania had had the wisdom of Andy to know they were living in a socialist paradise. The Gulags were really holiday camps, well the 20,000,000 – 30,000,000 who straved to death in the great leap forward in china were really just living healthy lives in view of Andy pathetic justification of stalinism (galloway). Of course Stalins anti semitism is no doubt part of the move towards equality!!! what a dreadful arguement from Andy, he doesn’t seem to think mass murder of workers going on strike is a problem if its state owned.

  31. For a good analysis of East Germany from a state-cap perspective look up the work of Gareth Dale. Cheers, Adamski

  32. The contribution from ll seem designed just to rasie the temperature, without addressing any arguments.

    This is a bit silly, as the “state cap” view is held by only a minority of either the left or the wider population – so it woould be sesnible for ll to try to defend it without calling everyone else an idiot or a supporter of Pol Pot.

    Actually, I seem to remember quite a good argument from pete Binns about Cambodia that located Pol Pot as the reductio ab adsurdum of applying a national development model of autarchic state planning to a desperately poor and war ravaged country, and that the Khmer Rouge’s genocide had a scary logic – this is where the State Cap tradition is at its best, as providing an account that explains in rational terms of institutional self interest why some of the crimes of the Stalinist bureuacracy can be understood as an interaction between their own ideology with external and internal pressures, as opposed to relying on the idea that it was the individal wickedness of Pol Pot/Stalin.

    Incidently, it was ll who started talking about surface appearnces, and the essence of thngs, which of course is what I repsonded to, and which JohnG then castigates me for raising! this just shows the deliberate efforts by ll to disrupt debate.

  33. No Andy. You argued that the theory of state cap just focuses on surface appearences. It might do a lot of things, but this is something it can’t be accused of doing. Unless of course your one of these people educated within a cult to believe that the whole problem can be reduced the fact that the dillante’s of the SWP had not read volume 1 of capital. Generally speaking people who argue like this probably have’nt even read that. Not your good self of course Andy.

  34. little black sister on said:

    State capitalism is an absurd theory. China is a workers’ state and must be defended by socialists. Its having a bureaucracy does not change this. Capitalist states take various forms and so do socialist ones. It is NOT innately un-Marxist to use the market to stimulate the economy.

    Of course Marxists would prefer direct democracy through workers’ councils, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t defend China against imperialism.

    Fortunately the confusion of British ultra-leftists is completely irrelevant to the progress of the Chinese economy.

  35. Actually whilst its true that formally the position isn’t held, I think Andy will find that it fits better with most peoples preconceptions then either the soft stalinism he espouses, or the kind of deranged sectarianism that on another thread suggested that all those who did not believe that Cuba was socialist should be made to work in fields. No doubt this does not involve gulags but instead western tourists discovering with amazement that working on the land in a developing country is hard work, and then feeling like they’re doing something in the struggle for socialism. You could not, as they say, make it up.

  36. John

    I am pretty sure that most people think that Cuba is a socialist country, and the idea that it is capitalist is counter intuitive.

    The reason that my argument is not a technicality is because Cliff recognises that the internal dynamic of the USSR’s economy did not lead to competative accumulation – and that surplus value was not embodied in commodities traded on the free market.

    The issue of Cuba is very important, because Cuba simply doesn’t have the symmetrical military competition with the West that the USSR had. Yet it broadly retains the social and economic structure of the old Comecon countries.

    But doesn’t this mean that according to Cliff’s logic, Cuba doesn’t have the external pressure towards competative accumulation. What is more, as Cuba maintains the state monopoly of foreign trade it is able to protect and manage its interface with the outside world. This is when the “technicality” (as you call it) asserts itself, in that labour power is not sold as a commodity, and therefore there is no competitive accumulation of competing capitals. What we have instead is a managed society that concentrates mainly on use values.

    Of course this is of vital importance, because if we recognise that Cuba actually has a socialist government, then that also has a big impact on how socialists relate to the other left governments in the Americas.

  37. Andy the whole point about the Pol Pot reference is that if you hold that state ownership is the defining feature of the smashing of cpaitlaism and a new mode of production which is higher than cpaitlism and called socialism then I am afriad you have to argue Pol Pot oversaw a socilaist state which in your words were looking to transform society for the masses!! An old debate in 1968 I think in the ISJ when it was a magazine was with Caldwell who argued that Cambodia was the bees knees and went there shortly afyter his debate with the IS as was, he was arrested by the regime and murdered.
    The comment above about China above shows how bankrupt these ideas are. China is ruthless towards its own workers, particularly migrant workers, ring any bells, it accumulates huge profits, yes extracted from surplus value from its workers. In Africa it has a colonial relaitonship with a number of regimes, it chosses to bring chinese nationals into africa for contracts because to quote directdly…it desn’t then have to deal with things like trade unions, strikes, and higher wages rates. Of course the chinese national leadership talk about how hard chinese workers work caompared to Af5rican ones!!!!!!!!! sound familiar. Of course Andy and the comment above this is all signs of progress and a socialist regime. It must be defended with regards to TIbet as they and Galoway really believe its a communist country. Problem is no one int he chinese Communist Party agrees with Andy. China’s frowth hads artially been built on exports and direct foriegn investment with massive tax breaks for multi national capital.. sounds familiar. Anti Muslim rhetoric is increasing .. sounds familiar. Andy’s conversion to Stalinism is
    a) A bit late historically
    b) Is a coincidence that it also around the time one George Galloway said he was great and hand picked him for the national exec with no election of course.. sounds familiar lol

  38. Karl Stewart on said:

    Is it not possible to have a different view on the respective class/political natures of China one the one hand and Cuba and Venezuela on the other? For what it’s worth, I would be supportive towards Cuba and Venezuela in terms of their overall orientation towards socialism, but I would broadly agree with those who see China as taking a capitalist path, that’s how it appears to me.

  39. mark anthony france on said:

    #39 johng… a little clarification of a misunderstanding… I assume it is me that you are refering to “deranged sectarianism that on another thread suggested that all those who did not believe that Cuba was socialist should be made to work in fields.”

    I do not belive that. I feel that you would personally benefit from working to aid food production for a few months in Cuba. Why because this would enable you to; 1.meet and talk with Cuban workers.
    2.swap abstractions for concrete experience of reality
    3.Learn something.

    I cannot make you work in fields…. But if you lived in Cuba in the late 60’s you may well have found yourself pressed in labour for spouting essentially counter revolutionary absurdities.

    On the island next door to Cuba, Hispanola, you have two alternate economic, political and social models for carribean islands to emmulate if they want to….
    Haiti….. who lost hundreds of citizens during the recent hurricanes [to Cuba’s zero deaths] or the Dominican Republic successfully saved from ‘communism’ by the US invasion in 1965 and now having its new consitution basically written by the vatican.

    If cuba is state capitalist ….. then its model of social organisaton is ace…. and we should popularise it’s achievments anyway. It makes far more sense to recognise that Cuba is a transitional society and a huge gain for oppressed people everywhere. It’s leadership is not an ossified bureaucracy living the high life on privaledges stolen from the workers….. and johng if you did do some voluntary work in agriculture in Cuba you might be working alongside those very same leaders knee deep in the rich red soil of Cuba. You might learn something.

    If encouraging you to educate yourself through labour makes me “deranged” then you must have misunderstood.

  40. Cliff did not say that Russia was not involved in competative accumulation. The subordination of consumption to accumulation is what vitiated the claims of ‘planning’, which was far from an orderly process. The orthodox free market critique of Stalinism (cf Nove etc) was that the market is the only way that decisions about investment can be taken. The State Cap tradition involved pointing to the integration of state planning into a regime of competetive accumulation making rational planning impossible. There were of course at lower levels of abstraction all kinds of other mechanisms (lying, fear, repression) that vitiated the rationality of planning, but fundementally it was the subordination of the entire economy to competative accumulation via arms competition which was the generative mechanism of all these things. In the course of this however it became a particular model of accumulation, especially for late developers with a weak indiginous bourgoisie, subject to imperialism. If the origins of the system in Russia lay in arms competition there is no special mystery about why Cuba adopted this model (one thing sustaining it beyond the 1970s when this ceased to be a successful model of development elsewhere being the bulk buying of Cuban suger by the Soviet Union).

    But most fundementally the general tendency towards state capitalism was not restricted to the Soviet Union or its satilites. It took different forms in different places including here in the west. It was this which explained why the degeneration of the Russian revolution took the form it did. Its also why, from the early 1970s onwards, these strategies were increasingly being ditched everywhere. Capitalism as a system changes and developes different strategies to resolve its own contradictions in the absence of its overthrow. At present we’re in the final throes of the era opened by Thatcher and Reagen, who in turn replaced the era associated in this country with Keynes and Beveridge, who had in turn come to the fore after the disasters of the 1930s. This is not a pendulum (ie state intervention versus less state intervention in relationship to a static unchanging capitalist order) but reflects successive restructuring of capitalism in the face of its contradictions. The story of bureacratic state capitalism, its rise and its fall, need to be located in this progressive story of the development of global capitalism. Its why for our ruling class a simple return to Keynes won’t work. Whether or not the present crisis allows for socialist advance is up to all of us. Thats because capitalism will transform itself to survive if we don’t intervene. Some understanding of these past transformations is neccessary to understanding the kind of crisis we are currently seeing and therefore how to intervene in it. Its not purely a technical question about the former socialist countries. But there is a problem if anyone becomes so confused that they think today in China the main battle is about ‘capitalist restoration’ or believes that peasents provide a bulwark for state ‘socialism’, or on the other hand fail to notice that the main impact of China’s success internationally has been the imposition of SEZ’s from Mexico to the Bay of Bengal. Its a kind of myopia we can ill-afford.

  41. ll #41

    “An old debate in 1968 I think in the ISJ when it was a magazine was with Caldwell who argued that Cambodia was the bees knees and went there shortly after his debate with the IS as was, he was arrested by the regime and murdered.”

    In 1968, didn’t Cambodia have a right wing government under Lon Nol?

    The Khmer Rouge didn’t take power until 1975 did it? It did control some territory before then, but only highly rural areas, and while it was waging a guerilla war, that was itself a spill over from the Vietnam war.

    There is no doubt that a generation of activists wrongly idealised societies that they knew little about.

    The problem for ll is that there is nothing inherently unsocialist about allowing the growth of private capital – NEP for example. Does ll think that workers were not exploited under NEP?

  42. In other words global capitalisms history involves successive regimes of accumulation on a world scale. Ultimately at the highest level of abstraction the emergence of the Stalinist system was an adaption to one regime, the period of the merging of capital and state competition analysed by Bukharin in the early 1920s, which had a long history in the west from the growing importance of planning which dates from that period and itself involves different stages subsequently. As the wheels started to come off this model in the 1970s and the suppression of previous contradictions yielded new ones, calling for the wholesale restructuring we’ve come to call globalisation, this restructuring produced a much harder landing in the Soviet Union then the not entirely soft landing we saw in the west in the time of Reagen and Thatcher. This also meant catastrophe in many developing countries. China steered these rapids rather better making the transition in a more controlled way: but the result was not a stage in the development of socialism but in the development of capitalism.

  43. #44

    But John, the main battle in China today is precisely the opposition to the expansion of the market, and defence of those parts of society that are still outwith the market, and defence of what remains of the iron rice bowl. There is also the question of transfroming the trade unions to cope with their new role in representing workers in private industry, and there has been a genuine debate in the CCP that the unions need to change to be less reluctant to interrupt production.

    This is the actually existing debate both inside and outside the CCP.

    And the limits of that debate are firmly set by the shared experience of the cultural revolution – we see the differeing reactions to a play a few years ago celebrating Che Guevara in beijing, that was both applauded bu ome, and condemned by others, allowing a real debate; but compare that to one or two academics who have tried to rehibilitate the cultural revolution – who have been met with massive hostility from everyone.

    Any attempt at arguing that there needs to be a working class revolution in China to overthrow the CCP and bring in “real socialism” would be regarded as both ludicrous and dangerous. What is more, such trotskyist accounts are totally off the radar for Chinese people, who have no interest in learning ideas from tiny groups of people in the West who have achieved nothing.

  44. Andy the cultural revolution was not a workers revolution. It was an internecine fight within the bureacracy that spilled out of control due to real discontent and tensions in the society. Mao’s voluntarism was ideologically the product of his developmentalist agenda of proving that you could create an economy capable of competing with the west even in a backward country like China. Such a view has nothing in common with Marxism in my view, but also ran into tensions with existing sections of the bureacracy, who saw it as unrealistic. Its bizarre that you keep trying to assimilate my views or that of the SWP to views which are actually an integral part of Chinese State Capitalism. Of course people would be horrified by a rhetoric that appeared to echo that of the Cultural Revolution. It was a terrible period (even if misguided socialists from various parts of the world saw it as an alternative to Stalinism: it was in reality a HARDER kind of Stalinism precisely because of the obstacles it had to surmount). Struggles to preserve the iron rice bowel I would support in the same way as I would support struggles to defend the welfare state in Britain. Its just that I don’t look to the CCP as the only legitimate arena of debate, or start denouncing anyone who doesn’t as wanting to return to the ‘cultural revolution’ (what an appalling argument in practice Andy!). And actually Andy, despite your new position as representative of the global proletariat on SUN I shouldn’t think there would be a great deal of interest in your views coming from the CCP either.

    What is appalling here is the complete absence of any sense of perspective. Why are these ideas important to me? Well just at the moment, as I’ve said, a chunk of the left in India are defending policies associated with a particular strategy of neo-liberalism because they are associated with the strategy embraced by China. This has caused chaos and dismay internally on the Indian left. Its the result of the stranglehold of rotten ideas of a kind you are purveying and many people, whether or not they are Trotskyists, want some kind of a way out (very unfortunately some of them gravitate to the other wing of the ‘achievements’ you refer to and embrace armed struggle as that alternative: equally unlikely in contemporary India to do anything else but lead to large scale deaths of cadre and increased state repression: although I’m sure its possible to get very excited about it in hampstead). In China to there will be many both now and in the coming period interested in things like trade union rights, interested in the various social struggles unfolding etc, who need this kind of self righteous attempt to innoculate them against ‘western errors’ from western leftists like a hole in the head: do you not think the Chinese State does not do a good enough job Andy?

    And Andy until you respond to something I actually say, as opposed to just pompously rant on in this Stalinoid way I’d suggest you read Pete Binn’s pamphlet on Cuba which goes through the argument.

  45. The lack of perspective incidently is that you think you are in some strange way part of an international movement which includes the Chinese ruling class, as opposed to an international movement which includes both some of those oppressed and exploited by that class and others trying in a fragmented way to overcome the disasterous legacy of the ideas represented by it, whilst facing global imperialism. It might make you feel big Andy but it just recalls to me the CP of the 1940s who thought that if they’d lost Bethnal Green they’d just gained Bejing.

  46. JOhn, you refer me to Ppete Binn’s, I have the pamphlet in front of me now.

    Pete Binn’s pamphlet, written in 1983, says: “But unlike Russia or China, Cuban State capitalism is at the present time a completely dependent formation. … As indisustrialisation proceeds, more and more based upon Russian technology, this dependence is bound to grow further. … Cuba has become an international tentacle of Russian state capital”

    Binns argues that Cuba is state capitalist because:

    i) the government prioritised economic growth
    ii) it was an adjunct to the Russian economy
    and iii) there is “a seperation between the masses and the state through a network of organisations which mobilise the masses but do not provide forms of direct and permanent involvement in the whole process of political life”

    We can immeditaly see that the question of how Cuba is state capitalist is linked in this analysis to a dependency linkage with the USSR that no longer exists. So whereas you could – in pete Binn’s time – argue that the law of value was introduced into Cuba via a proxy relationship with the USSR, and that Cuba was part of a global system of armaments competition, the facts that such an argument would have been based upon have been overtaken by events.

    in short, the state cap argument from Cuba was underdeveloped, because it simply assumed that the pressure Cliff describes upon the USSR also translated onto Cuba – in fact this was probabbly never the case, but it is now an untenable argument.

    yet there is no attempt by the SWP to explain in economic terms how Cuba’s socity is state capitalist after the special period.

    If you rely upon the prioritistation towards growth, well that is not really the case any more, where the emphasis of the government has been much more towards sustainability – and in any event, in the USSR it was the Trotyskists in the CPSU who were most insistent on the priority of economic growth.

    With regard to Pete Binn’s point that there is “a seperation between the masses and the state through a network of organisations which mobilise the masses but do not provide forms of direct and permanent involvement in the whole process of political life”.

    On this basis the Russian state was never socialist, from about the spring of 1918 onwards.

  47. John,

    With regard to the debates in India – i simply haven’y been following them; though I have kept an eye on the debates in the African left, where the issue of Chinese involvement has been a hot question; as has the wisdom of African SEZs.

    In developing countries with high levels of poverty, different models of developmental economics are debated, and most of the left are generally supportive of economic growth. You can’t rule out that a left goverment might find the SEZ model an acceptable compromise to jump start economic growth, and also to by-pass the requiements for deregulation and lack of national sovereignty that the world bank imposes.

    But there is a genuine argument and debate in China, involving millions of people – and within the CCP – about the wisdom of the currect economic and social policies. So just be recognising that China is not yet a fully capitalist country doesn’t mean that you agree with the trajectory being adopted. Those in the Indian left who propose SEZs, I suspect are more motivated by the prosects of economic growth in their own land than they are worried about whether or not China is capitalist.

  48. John

    You consistently ascribe positions to me that I do not hold, based upon things I have not said.

    Of course the cultural revolution was as you describe a faction fight in the CCP spilling over, based upon competeing views of basically national developmental politics. But it has neverthless left a very deep political and cultural legacy that pretty much blocks out any politics that sound like overthrowing the CCP by working class rebellion. Thjis is simply the political context that prevails in China today.

    With regard to the accusation that i only propose debate going through the CCP – that simply isn;t the way Chinese society works. There is a plethora of debate that goes on via publications, think tanks, quasi-offficial advisors, etc, much of which is outside the CCP. there is also a robust tradition of protest and popular mobilisation around single issue campaigns.

    What I am siuggesting is that you shouldn’t exclude the importance of debate within the CCP, and need to recognise that the CCP is itself an arena of political contest.

    And of course i don’t expect people in China to be influenced by what i say – what i am trying to do is develop a more informed debate about China here in the British left.

  49. Going back to #45 and Cambodia, in 1968 Cambodia had a ‘neutralist’ government headed by Prince Sihanouk, which had included some Cambodian CP members until 1967. Sihanouk was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup in 1970 by Lon Nol, which sparked off the Khmer Rouge’s resistance and the American bombing war. And it was 1978, rather than 1968, when the Khmer Rouge murdered Malcolm Caldwell.

    The Pete Binns article that Andy refers to in #36 was, I think, actually Pete Goodwin in International Socialism Journal2:5 ‘Razor-sharp factional minds’ – the Fourth International debates Cambodia. I built on this analysis in ISJ 2:50 Vietnam and Cambodia – winning the war, losing the peace. Cambodia is of course an extreme example, but I think it’s a very useful illustration of why the concept of ‘post-capitalist’ is so wrong.

  50. `And of course i don’t expect people in China to be influenced by what i say – what i am trying to do is develop a more informed debate about China here in the British left.’

    And your efforts should be appreciated. This deformed workers state is being eyed greedily from both West and East and by a growing Chinese middle class internally.

  51. The Khmer Rouge govt was overthrown by Vietnam. Maggie Thatcher justified supporting Pol Pot in this situation by saying that there were some good Khmer Rouge…

    Apparently, the Vietnamese communists sent hundreds of copies of Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism for the Khmer Rouge guerillas to read. Didn’t do much good, alas.

  52. IIRC margaret Thatcher revealled that the SAS were training and advising the Khmer Rouge in the war with Vietnam while being interveiwed on Blue Peter!

  53. Halshall on said:

    My view on Cuba has more in common with the concept of an independent left reformist/collectivist state run with popular support, but few trappings of bourgeois/liberal democracy.
    Is it a ‘worker’s state’? Well it couldn’t have survived in the face of a 50 year US blockade without both popular support, and some economic sustainability.
    However it’s both relatively poor but provides well for it’s workers.
    I don’t know how it does it but it clearly does. Perhaps this basic material provision, helthcare, education, relative class equality, and a relative freedom from oppression; compared to most of the US dominated dictatorships of Latin America and the Caribbean has a key part to play in this?