socialism


One of the great myths concerning socialist collectivisation of agriculture is that it produced ‘man-made’ famines, since it is supposedly less ‘efficient’. This story is perpetrated by friend and foe alike.

Example 1: The famine of 1932-33 in the Soviet Union, which is supposed to have been ‘man-made’.

Let me set the context. During the ‘socialist offensive’ of the late 1920s and 1930s in the Soviet Union, a massive process of industrialisation and collectivisation took place.

The Soviet Union did not have access to and did not want to use capitalist modes of accumulating funds, namely, colonial expansion (dispossession of others) and international loans. So the industrialisation process had to rely on internal, or socialist accumulation. In order to generate such accumulation, the government set higher prices for the increasing abundance of manufactured goods, as a type of super-tax that would flow back into industry. Meanwhile, prices on agricultural goods were set lower, albeit with fluctuations depending on seasonal shortages and in light of the constant efforts at speculation. This tensions of this ‘scissors’ method of generating revenue for further industrialisation generated obvious problems, but these were exacerbated by a famine in 1927-28, requiring enforced requisitions of grain in response to some peasants withholding agricultural produce for speculation (Withholding of grain for the sake of raising prices was an old practice, appearing not only during the NEP of the mid-1920s, but also much earlier). Obviously, something had to be done, since the ‘scissors’ method could not continue – it was always conceived as a temporary measure.

Another persistent problem was that traditional Russian farming methods were inadequate in light of new developments and a rising population. I mean not the subsistence survival agriculture practised in many parts of the world for millennia, but the practice of landlords extracting food necessary for survival by farmers. In fact, rural famines were endemic to Russian life. In more recent memory, famine hit in 1890-91, the revolutions of 1905 and 1917 had taken place in the context of widespread famine, which added to socio-economic chaos. Famines also blighted 1918-20 and were exacerbated during 1920-21.

So the process of collectivisation was at one level an effort to deal with endemic famine.

Many of course will point to the famine of 1932-33, with some even suggesting it was a deliberate policy of ‘genocide’ focused on the Ukraine (the ‘Holodomur’). But the famine also affected Northern Caucasus, Volga Region and Kazakhstan, the South Urals, and West Siberia. Enough research has been done to show that the famine was the result of significant weather conditions (drought), low harvest, international blockade, and the profound turmoil and frequent violence of the 1930s.

Were there famines later? Yes. One could argue that the food shortage during the siege of Leningrad was a famine, but the reasons are obvious here. And after the devastation of war and the effort to defeat Hitler, a famine took place after a drought in 1947. Most importantly, despite the drought cycle, no further famines were experienced.

Obviously, collectivisation had a distinct result in dealing with the endemic problem of famines. Why? Collectivisation enabled mechanisation and increase in the amount of land under cultivation, so much so that in 1932 many farmers worked harder to ensure greater crop yield and overcome the famine by the next year.

Example 2: The Chinese famine of 1959-61, during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, is also described as ‘man-made’, a result of the ‘foolhardy’ effort at collectivisation.

Once again, famine was endemic to Chinese agriculture (see Losurdo’s War and Revolution, pp. 271-72). Restricting ourselves to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, famines occurred in 1810-11, 1846, 1849, 1876-79 (9-13 million died), 1896-97, 1907, 1911, 1920-21 (again in northern China), 1928-30 (3 million people died), 1936 (5 million), 1940-41 (2-3 million). In famine was a persistent problem.

If we add the semi-colonisation of China, invasions, insurrections, along with droughts, the deaths in China between 1850 and 1950 were by far the highest in the world.

Again, something obviously had to be done. Having seen the long-term success of the collectivisation in the Soviet Union in overcoming the persistent cycle of famine, collectivisation was also undertaken in China.

The problem now was not only the devastation of decades of civil war and Japanese occupation, but a deliberate policy of economic warfare and strangulation by the Truman regime. This included schematic bombing from Taiwan of any industrial facilities built on the eastern seaboard. The deliberate aim was to keep the new communist country below subsistence level so as to produce a catastrophic economic situation, if not disaster and collapse.

We need to add Mao’s impatience. Seeing the dire situation of the country in light of economic devastation and US policy, he sought to leap over stages of development in order to escape from the desperate trap. Again, the US regimes made the most of situation, seeking to exacerbate the situation and cause widespread devastation. By the early 1960s, the Kennedy regime, looking back on the famine of 1959-61, gloated that they succeeded in retarding Chinese economic development by decades.

Were there famines after this time in China? Again, no. The long history of endemic famine and the tragic lesson of 1959-61 meant that China has managed to put famine behind it.

While working on another project, I came across a couple of statements that embody one of the core principles of socialism with national characteristics:

Hence, in order not to err in policy, in order not to find itself in the position of idle dreamers, the party of the proletariat must not base its activities on abstract “principles of human reason,” but on the concrete conditions of the material life of society, as the determining force of social development; not on the good wishes of “great men,” but on the real needs of development of the material life of society.

The result:

Hence Socialism is converted from a dream of a better future for humanity into a science.

As Losurdo often puts it: the move from utopia to science is the move from populism to socialism.

Footnote: the quotations come from none other than an interesting and under-studied work called History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course.

Following on his statement that philosophy and the social sciences should flourish in China, Chairman Xi Jinping has made a major statement on the nature of socialism with Chinese characteristics (you can use the automatic translator in some search engines if needed).

Carla Stea has written a great piece on the DPRK (North Korea) and UN Security Council Resolution 2270. It is called ‘The Crucifixion of North Korea, The Demonisation of the DPRK’ and is published in the Australian Marxist Review.

Is there a theory of the socialist state? We can draw together a theory from a careful study of the experiences and statements of the Soviet Union and China, the two places where a socialist state has begun to emerge. Why? They are the two largest countries where socialism has been and is in power, after a successful revolution. Let me put the proposal in a series of theses, premised on the point that a socialist state is not a federation, not a nation-state, not an empire, not a colonising power, whether externally or internally, but an entirely new state formation.

  1. A socialist state is based on the international category of class, which enables a new approach to the ‘national question’. Only through a resolute focus on class is the recognition of and equality between nationalities fully achieved. To be clear: by ‘national question’ I mean not the ‘nation’ as it is understood now (as an imagined community) but the question of nationalities (minzu), which should not be translated as ‘ethnic minorities’. In each state a number of nationalities exist together. One may approach such a reality either by prioritising ‘cultural-national’ factors (what may be called ‘culturism’) or by focusing resolutely on class. Only with class does one enable the dialectical position in which class unity produces not merely recognition and equality, but a whole new level of diversity. In other words, a socialist state enables a new approach to the dialectic of the universal and particular.
  2. This dialectic is embodied in the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants. This is a totalising unity based on class that produces new levels of diversity, and it requires a linking of liberation from class oppression with liberation from national oppression. When this link is made, the role of the dictatorship of the proletariat becomes clear: it is the necessary foundation for the equality between and indeed diversity of peoples of different nations, after liberation has been achieved. The dictatorship of the proletariat does so by guaranteeing the rights of national minorities.
  3. A socialist state is the source and embodiment of what may be called affirmative action (polozhitel’naia deiatel’not’). This was first enacted in the Soviet Union on a vast scale and has been followed, with modifications, by all socialist states since – especially China. The program involves a comprehensive effort at social, cultural and economic recreation. Nationalities, no matter how small, are identified, named and established in territories, where local language, culture, education and governance are fostered. Dispersed minorities with no territory are provided with strong legal protections. I use the term ‘recreation’ quite deliberately, for it is very much a creative act entailing the creation of groups, peoples and nations – to the point of creating new nationalities out of groups that had never dreamed of such an existence. The process involves the deliberate intervention by socialists into the process of producing and developing a new society, among which national groups play a central role.
  4. A socialist state undertakes cultural revolution. By this I mean the raising of the many people of the state to a new socialist level. In the Soviet Union ‘cultural revolution’ meant ‘the cultural development of the working class and of the masses of the working peasantry, not only the development of literacy, although literacy is the basis of all culture, but primarily the cultivation of the ability to take part in the administration of the country’. In China, we need to reclaim the meaning of cultural revolution in this sense, and not in terms of the period of the 1960s and 1970s. In other words, cultural revolution means Marxism’s influence on and infiltration into social and cultural assumptions. This is increasingly clear in China, where Marxism is becoming a cultural force, indeed a part of the long history of Chinese culture.
  5. A socialist state is anti-colonial. This crucial insight first appeared in the Soviet Union: the October Revolution and the affirmative action program of the Soviet Union functioned as a microcosm of the global struggle against colonialism. This insight is a logical extension of the argument I noted earlier, in which a focus on class provides a distinct, dialectical, approach to the national question that leads to the world’s first affirmative action program. Once this logic is applied to national minorities, it also may be applied to gender, religion, and then anti-colonial struggles. The logic is clear: socialism has led to a new approach to nationalities, liberating them and fostering them through the affirmative action program; further, socialism is opposed on a global scale to capitalist imperialism; therefore, global socialism engages in and fosters anti-colonial struggles throughout the world. No wonder the Soviet Union actively supported anti-colonial struggles around the world, so much so that what we call post-colonialism, as both an era and a theory, could not have happened without such anti-colonial action. This also applies to China, whose socialist revolution was also an anti-colonial revolution, finally throwing off European semi-colonialism (which dated from the nineteenth century) and Japanese colonialism. China’s involvement today in formerly colonised countries in the world is a continuation of this anti-colonial policy by the most powerful socialist state in history.
  6. A socialist state must deal with counter-revolutionary forces within and especially international efforts to undermine it (the two are often connected). Whenever a socialist revolution happens, we do not find international capitalist countries saying, ‘Wonderful! Go ahead, construct your socialist country. We will leave you in peace; indeed, we are enthusiastic bystanders’. Instead, historical reality reveals consistent efforts to undermine and overthrow socialist states, including the fostering of counter-revolutionary forces within. We need only recall the ‘civil’ wars in Russia and China, the international blockades, sabotage, efforts at destabilisation in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and the international pastime – found even among international Marxists – of ‘China bashing’.
  7. The communist party is integral to a socialist state. This is a relationship of transcendence and immanence: the party arises from and expresses the will of the masses of workers, farmers and intellectuals, while it also directs the masses. From the masses, to the masses – as Mao Zedong stated. If the relationship is broken, the party loses its legitimacy and the project is over. Thus, the party undergoes constant renewal and reform in order to maintain legitimacy. If a communist party accedes to a bourgeois or liberal democratic system, it is soon out of power, for bourgeois democracy is one of the most effective weapons against socialism.
  8. A socialist state develops socialist democracy. Integral to socialist democracy is the communist party in terms of transcendence and immanence in relation to the masses. In contrast to Greek democracy, liberal (or bourgeois) or illiberal democracy, socialist democracy includes the majority of the population – workers, peasants and intellectuals. Socialist democracy is a constantly evolving process and may, as Mao Zedong pointed out, include – among others – stages of new democracy, democratic dictatorship and democratic centralism. The latter is the reality in China today.
  9. 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. Instead of this alienation, 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.

A final question: will the socialist state ‘wither away’, as some elements of the Marxist tradition suggest? Perhaps, but only in a future situation in which the majority of countries are socialist. However, even in this situation is more realistic to see that the socialist state will take on new features so that it becomes a communist state.

I rather like this article, even though it uses the problematic term ‘West’. The original article can be found at thew CPC’s flagship newspaper, The People’s Daily. I would also mention the Taiping Revolution, in terms of religiously inspired revolutions, in relation to point 7, although this was in many respects the precursor to the communist revolution of the twentieth century.

BEIJING, March 5 (Xinhua) — China’s ongoing annual political high season has provided a key window through which observers can better understand China’s development and its outlook.

However, if the nation and the annual two-week events are still viewed with rigid impressions offered by the West, then conclusions drawn are likely to be defective.

Observers should avoid a series of biases seen in the past if they seek true objectivity when understanding China today.

BIAS NO. 1: CHINA IS “NOT A DEMOCRACY,” MAJOR DECISIONS DO NOT REFLECT PEOPLE’S WILL

The essence of democracy is to be responsible for the people.

In some nations, the checks and balances of power have resulted in a political stalemate in which bitterness between parties has worsened and opposition is raised simply to disagree, rather than to discuss.

They have also seen a handful of families and hidden interests exercising influence on elections via their wealth. This kind of democracy can hardly lead to the sound governance badly needed by the people, though it may look “beautiful.”

From a realistic perspective, China’s democratic decision-making has displayed relatively high quality and efficiency.

As a multi-ethnic nation with a large population and territory, China values reaching consensus through broad consultation before taking measures.

The formulation of the 13th five-year plan for the national economy and social development is exemplary of this effort.

It took about nine months for a team formed by the Communist Party of China (CPC) to draft the plan’s proposal, which marks priorities for national development from 2016 to 2020.

During the period, which started in January 2015, the team solicited and analyzed opinions from all walks of life and tried to include as many opinions as possible.

The proposal guided the creation of the 13th five-year plan. A draft of the plan was produced later after rounds of top-to-bottom and bottom-to-top consultation that covered all aspects of the society.

The draft plan will be submitted to the National People’s Congress (NPC) for review during its ongoing annual session.

Once adopted, the propositions of the CPC will be elevated as the nation’s will and implemented across the country.

Scientific and effective decision-making and implementation is a huge advantage forChina’s democratic system.

Currently, China is focusing on realizing the goal of finishing building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, which is the people’s biggest concern. One objective is tolift more than 70 million people out of poverty by the end of 2020, a number bigger thanthe population of either Britain or France. This goal not only conforms to the fundamental and long-term interests of the people but also safeguards human rights.

BIAS NO. 2: “ONE-PARTY RULE” NATION CAN NOT ELIMINATE CORRUPTION

Historically, corruption is not the result of a political system, but is related to phases of economic development. In the process of industrialization, the Western nations all witnessed spreading corruption due to fast accumulation of wealth and lack of supervision. Sure, there are problems with the CPC, which boasts more than 87 million members. Fortunately, it has been increasingly aware of the fact that if the violators are not punished, then it is offending the 1.3 billion population. Therefore, the CPC is highlighting the governing of Party members strictly.

Over the past three years, investigations into violators including Zhou Yongkang and Ling Jihua have demonstrated the CPC’s determination to take a zero-tolerance stance against corruption.

China has also been carrying out cooperation with the international community to facilitate repatriation of corrupt fugitives, leaving no haven for those hoping to escape punishment.

The CPC’s campaign against corruption is gaining ground, which not only enhanced the Party’s soft power, but also offered experience for the international community to jointly stem corruption.

BIAS NO. 3: CHINA’S DEVELOPMENT MODE IS UNSUSTAINABLE

It is true that China is continuously facing problems and challenges in its development,but the cliche prediction of a “coming collapse in China” made by speculators overseas has never come.

It seems unlikely such rhetoric will end this year however.

Over the 30-plus years since China’s reform and opening up, every five-year development plan has been perfectly fulfilled. This is thanks to China choosing realistic development paths, which relies on the CPC’s strong governance capability.

China’s economic fundamentals remain sound and steady and the economy stays within a reasonable level. The political and social conditions are stable as well.

The CPC has put forward the five development concepts of innovation, coordination, green development, opening up and sharing and the “Four Comprehensives” strategy keeps making progress, facts that ensure the constant unleashing of benefits from the country’s reforms.

BIAS NO. 4: CHINA’S ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN DRAGS DOWN WORLD ECONOMY

This argument ignores the opportunities brought about by China’s economic scale and potential.

China is the world’s second largest economy, and a 6.5 percent growth is a huge propeller for the world’s economy, whereas the Organization for Economic and Cooperation Development (OECD) in its Interim Economic Outlook Forecasts put the growth rate of the United States at 2 percent this year and 2.2 percent for next year. The growth of Japanthis year and next is expected to be 0.8 percent and 0.6 percent respectively.

In China, however, despite a slowing growth in some better-developed coastal areas, the development room for many inland regions remains broad.

China’s drive to solve the economic imbalance among different regions provides huge potential for future economic development. Besides, China is encouraging and stimulating new dynamics with a new round of high-level opening-up, offering greater opportunities for investors all around the world.

Many observers also believe that the current slowing growth signals an increasingly mature Chinese economy, a “new normal” situation that should be adapted to by both China and the world. They believe China will continue to be a major “engine” for the world economy.

BIAS NO. 5: CHINA’S INCREASED MILITARY SPENDING THREATENS WORLD

To help better understand China’s military spending, it may be advisable to first listen to U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address. “We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” the U.S. president said. “No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.”

On the contrary, China’s military expenditure has long been at a low level, putting the building of national defense under great pressure. The current defense spending rise reveals tremendous restraint by China.

The blame by some major countries on China is, no doubt, out of ulterior motives.

China implements an active defense military strategy. It will never attack others unless being attacked first and it will not waive the power to strike back if it is under attack from others.

The peaceful development of China has significantly reduced the risk of a world war.

BIAS NO. 6: IRRATIONAL NATIONALISM IN CHINA

In a sense, many localities in China are turning into “cities of immigrants” where more foreigners are investing and living in. Chinese people always welcome them, despite the fact that Chinese have suffered century-long humiliation inflicted by foreign aggressors since the outbreak of the Opium War in mid-19th century till the founding of the New China.

Today, the comprehensive strength of the country has become increasingly stronger and the national pride and cohesion are also rising.

However, Chinese people are keeping a sober mind and understand that patriotism should be expressed in a rational, peaceful and inclusive manner and they are making their patriotism a motive to work hard and seek peaceful development.

China will never allow the emergence of any extreme nationalism, knowing that such mentality will put the nation in peril. It is incompatible with the CPC’s peaceful ideology.

Moreover, the inclusive trait in Chinese culture is a powerful antidote to the parochial nationalism.

BIAS NO. 7: NO RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN CPC-RULED CHINA

People holding this view should visit China to see the fervor during Christmas or observe the devout prayers at mosques. If the government had really oppressed religions, such scenes could never occur.

The Chinese government’s respect for religious freedom lies, to a great extent, in this country’s profound culture and traditions. Historically, hostility between different religions hardly existed in China, not to mention a religious war. Such respect is also stipulated in the law to protect people’s religious freedom.

According to international consensus, the choice of whether to worship and what to worship adheres to a country’s law. If an individual commits crime or conducts terrorist activities in the name of religion, they must be handled in accordance with the law.

BIAS NO. 8: CHINA HAS NO INTERNET FREEDOM

China has more than 600 million Internet users, the most in the world, and has fostered such Internet giants as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent.

If one understands Chinese and lives in China, he or she will find diversified topics on Chinese websites and heated online discussion. As a political stage that welcomes overseas media, the ongoing annual sessions of the country’s national legislature and political advisory body have also drawn a huge amount opinions and suggestions from Internet users.

As a sovereignty, China doesn’t allow the Internet to be outside the law. Overseas Internet companies are only permitted to enter the Chinese market if they obey Chinese laws. The Chinese government has tightened management on illegal remarks posted on the Internet and it won’t tolerate the West using the Internet to set agendas to interfere in China’s economic and social development.

Many countries have laws to manage the Internet and China will improve its network management.

BIAS NO. 9: CHINA PURSUING MILITARIZATION IN SOUTH CHINA SEA

Islands in the South China Sea were first discovered, named and used by the Chinese, and China was the first and continues to exercise sovereignty over these islands.

As a matter of fact, peace, security and stability are the common wishes for all countries in the region. China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are actively and steadily pushing forward consultations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea under the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

Since the United States presented its Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy, the region that had been generally peaceful for many years has fallen into tumult. U.S. aircraft and ships have perennially conducted surveillance on countries in the region with increasing frequency, escalating regional tension. This is the greatest danger for “militarization” in the South China Sea.

China has never held back freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Ironically, the United States urged China to obey the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the United States itself is unwilling to accede into.

BIAS NO. 10: “BELT AND ROAD” GEOPOLITICAL TOOL

The Belt and Road Initiative doesn’t solely belong to China. It rather belongs to the whole world.

Without exclusivity, the initiative is a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road routes and radiating across the oceans to America. Any interested country or region can join the network.

China’s efforts to push forward progress for the Belt and Road Initiative, set up Silk Road Fund and call for the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have received positive responses from many countries. Future cooperation will be conducted under the principle of joint consultation, construction and benefits so as to realize common development and prosperity.

Following on from my last post, a chart of the major issues dealt with at the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC):

13th five year plan

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