Chinese Marxism at the Melbourne Trades Hall

Last night I had the opportunity to speak and engage in discussion at the International Bookshop (at Melbourne Trades Hall) on the subject of Chinese Marxism. I talked about contradiction (socialism and capitalism), socialist democracy, a Chinese Marxist approach to human rights, and the form of the state, but our discussion ranged over much else.

As expected, a few among the group took the well-known position that China is a Stalinist state, with the CPC hell-bent on lining their own pockets and the people repressed, sullen and resentful. My response was simply to lay out more facts and it became clear to most that this position is quite untenable. Apart from the tendency among some to dismiss any form of socialism in power, which is both convenient and reflects a perspective from ‘before October’, I was struck my the way it simply does not measure up to reality. If one summarily dismisses something like Chinese Marxism, then it is easy to avoid reality. But it is also a profound pity that some among the left block out almost a century of the rich experience of socialism in power, in terms of both its stunning achievements and notable failures. You can’t learn much if you don’t engage with it.


17 thoughts on “Chinese Marxism at the Melbourne Trades Hall

      1. I have read some of your scholarly and blogg texts, Roland, and I don’t understand this reply. How is it possible for anyone who has been studying history and is a socialist ,not to view Stalin as the tyrant that not only terminated the dream of socialism but also killed many of best communist of that time!? Totally bewildering for me, and sad…

      2. Stefan, I am very interested in the extremes of veneration and demonisation of Stalin, and in the extraordinary contradictions during his tenure. For example, as historians have shown very well, the massively disruptive and often violent time of the 1930s was also when the world’s first and as yet unsurpassed ‘affirmative action state’ was enacted. Telling only one side of the story misses much.

      3. “Tell one side of the story” is hardly a good thing, but to point out that some things beneficial for some people occured during the rule of Stalin, can’t change our overall evalution, can it? Otherwise it will be difficult to judge any historical person of importance (Hitler built useful motorways…).

  1. Would love to hear you on China sometime. On reality: Alexander Cockburn always said that his favourite quote from V I Lenin came from a comment he made to a young radical in Switzerland who was accusing Lenin of not being radical enough. Lenin’s reply was along the lines of “I don’t know how radical you are my friend, I don’t know how radical I am. All I know is that I am not radical enough. We need to be as radical as reality”. Seems apposite?

  2. Hi Roland,

    I agree very strongly with your view of socialism in practice and the perfectionism of academic (in the broader sense of the word) leftists. I was wondering if you could recommend something you (or anyone else) has written on this subject in a more in-depth manner?

  3. These bourgeois ultra-left types are really confused. They and others confuse socialism with some old-fashioned and traditional notions of morality and ethics. I heard a guy talking on Counterpunch Radio the other day saying that socialism was all about respect for all living things or something to that effect. That’s a nice sentiment, but I didn’t know that’s what socialism was all about. All this time I thought it was about the working class seizing state power and using that power to crush the bourgeoisie and other reactionary elements while working to build communism – a classless society.

    1. I never understood this position: why would anyone care about the future of the working class if not out of ethical concerns? Or about any political stance (or its opposition) what so ever? Why do you want the working class to seize power if you don’t believe people will have a better life (=ethical judgement) after that takeover?

      1. What I meant was that socialism is not the same thing as animal rights or gay rights and religious and other mystical and touchy- feely notions of right and wrong, good and evil. I think socialism will ensure a happier and healthier life for billions of people. Morality is just a set of rules about what is good or bad, right? I think my support for socialism basically makes me good, but others think I am evil for being socialist and especially for being atheist. It depends on who you ask.

      2. I think it is quite possible to make an argument for the improvement of people’s lives without resorting to ethics (as Ken Surin pointed out in an earlier discussion). Otherwise we are always ambushed by ultimate determination of ethics.

  4. How do we tell what is “improvement” if we don’t make moral evalutations? I’m affraid my English (or intelligence) is to poor to undertand what “ambushed by ultimate determination of ethics” means.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.