I am developing a sustained research project with some leading Marxist scholars in China – at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Renmin University and Fudan University. It is simply called ‘Socialism in Power’ and reflects a major development of my recent work. We seek to provide the philosophical framework for some underdeveloped categories of Marxist analysis in the crucial period of socialism in power, or what may be called ‘After October’. This is very much an international project, with key Marxist critics in China, Europe, Russia and Australia engaged for the long term.
At this early stage of our thought, the project involves the following topics.
Chairman Mao’s works, ‘On Contradiction’ (1937) and ‘On Correctly Handling Contradictions Among the People’ (1957) remain very relevant, if not more relevant for today. Contradiction theory is a central feature of Marxism, running through the thought of Marx and Engels, Lenin, Mao and beyond. In particular, Chairman Mao’s contribution was to show how contradictions would continue under socialism. Reinterpreted for today, this has profound implications for understandings the contradictions between socialism and capitalism, as well as with other modes of production. (Note: in March-April of 2017 I will be running a postgraduate seminar at Renmin University on contradiction.)
The period of the reform and opening (gaige kaifeng) in China has has not only intensified the contradictions between socialism and capitalism, but it has also raised the crucial question of justice (and equality) for China today. This should be understood in light of both Marxist thought and China’s specific historical experience – in which justice and equality are major concerns. As a result, such a theory of justice will make a new contribution to China’s current situation and to international Marxist theory.
3. Socialist State
Relatively little systematic work has been undertaken on the theory of the socialist state, which differs significantly from the bourgeois nation-state, or indeed any other form of the state. The experience of the socialist state in China provides ample material for constructing a theory of such a state – well beyond Lenin’s The State and Revolution (1917). The major features of this analysis will include: whether the state is a neutral tool used by one or more classes, or whether the state changes its deeper structures in light of capitalism or socialism; the primacy of class in analysing the state; reinterpreting the category of ‘dictatorship of proletariat and peasants’; nationalities policies (here the question of justice is central); reconsidering the cultural effect of Marxism; the role of a socialist state in anti-colonial struggles; the need to deal with the ever-changing nature of anti-socialist forces; the integral role of the communist party in governing a socialist state; the need for a strong state.
4. Socialist Civil Society
In a socialist state we find the growth of socialist civil society. This is in contrast to bourgeois civil society, which entails a basic alienation between private individual and the state, as well as a systemic exclusion of the majority. The constant danger of bourgeois civil society is that it easily becomes a lynch mob. Instead of this type of civil society, socialist civil society operates in a new way, in the dialectical space between official discourse and individual expression, in which the individual finds freedom through the collective. Indeed, socialist civil society is based on a redefinition of freedom, which provides a new universal based on the particularity of the majority, in an explicitly open way. This freedom is a freedom from bourgeois civil society and freedom for the socialist project. Eventually, the category of freedom itself will become an everyday habit.
5. Socialist Democracy
A socialist state develops socialist democracy, which must be understood in a very different way from other forms of democracy. It stands in contrast to Greek democracy, liberal (or bourgeois) or illiberal democracy, or indeed a warmed over bourgeois democracy championed by Social-Democrats and indeed some Marxists. By contrast, socialist democracy includes the majority of the population – workers, peasants and intellectuals. It is a constantly evolving process and may, as Mao Zedong pointed out, include – among others – stages of new democracy, authoritarian communism, democratic dictatorship and democratic centralism.
6. The Party
Integral to socialist democracy is the communist party, which should be understood in light of the dialectic of immanence and transcendence. Against a common Marxist (and indeed liberal) tendency to focus on immanence in the modern era, this project investigates the role of transcendence within the dialectic. At the same time, we also distinguish between ontological and temporal transcendence in seeking to reconfigure the importance of the party.
7. Need for Comparison
It will become necessary to undertake historical comparisons between different types of Marxist socialist theory. While the core principles of Marxism remain the same, their expression, language and practice develop different types of Marxism with national characteristics. Thus, comparison with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe will be helpful, as also comparison with Latin American socialism. This will require specialists in these areas. We envisage that the first step in comparison will be to include specialists in Soviet-Chinese studies, who will form a distinct part of the larger project.
To sum up, the concern of this long project is with the theoretical implications of socialism in power. This means the complexities, developments and changing conditions of socialism after it has achieved power in a revolution. As both Lenin and Chairman Mao pointed out repeatedly, it is one thing to win power through a revolution; it is a much more difficult and complex task to construct socialism in a global context. Today, China provides the richest example of this process, so it is the task of philosophers, political theorists and social scientists to develop theories by examining the realities and facts and perhaps point the way forward for Marxist theory in the context of socialism in power.