On State Monopoly Capitalism

This is the second part of a lecture I am preparing on why foreigners are still unable to understand a socialist market economy. This part examines state monopoly capitalism, which was a significant part of Soviet and European Marxist debates up to the end of the 1980. The text is as follows:

State monopoly capitalism is first and foremost a Marxist category, arising in Soviet thought (abbreviated as stamocap) and gaining widespread usage after the Second World War. Notably, in this tradition ‘state monopoly capitalism’ is used almost exclusively to speak of capitalist countries in light of the evolving stages of capitalism. With one exception: I have been able to find one example – an implicit one – where a certain type of state monopoly capitalism has been used more recently in relation to socialist countries (among others). I will deal with this exception towards the end.

State monopoly capitalism may be defined as a ‘distinct stage of capitalism characterised by the fusion of monopoly forces with the bourgeois state to form a single mechanism of economic exploitation and political domination’ (Jessop 1982, 32).[1] I have taken this definition from Bob Jessop, who provides what is arguably the most comprehensive critical overview of the theory. The date of publication is also telling, for in 1982 the theory was still relatively widespread. There were two main components: a new stage of capitalism in light of its internal crises, which entailed a closer alignment of monopoly capital and the bourgeois state; a development of communist strategy to exploit the contradictions through popular front activities.

The theory initially arose in the Soviet Union (Varga 1964, 1964 [1968], 1934) and became dominant from the 1950s to the 1980s, so much so that The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia has a major 1979 entry (Cheprakov 1979). The origins may be traced back to Marx and Engels, concerning the contradiction between competition and monopoly, and Lenin’s relatively undeveloped observation that imperialism entails the growth of state monopolies (Lenin 1916 [1964], 1917 [1964]-b),[2] so much so that – and here he quotes a resolution – ‘monopoly capitalism is developing into state monopoly capitalism’ (Lenin 1917 [1964]-a, 305; 1917 [1969]-b, 443).[3]

During its heyday, the theory of state monopoly capitalism developed in a number of directions, depending on the emphasis and context. Jessop identifies four, with copious references:

1) General crisis approach, in which the capitalist world faced yet another stage of crisis, generated by the increasing number of socialist countries, the collapse of European colonialism in light of anti-colonial liberation struggles. The response of a decaying capitalism was to find new domination through the merging of the state and monopoly capitalism.

2) Monopoly-theoretical tradition (strong in the Soviet Union and Germany), in which the contradiction of competition and monopoly leads to a permanent domination of the latter. This was seen as a new stage of capitalism, beyond imperialism – as Lenin had initially argued (Lenin 1916 [1964], 1916 [1969]). Here too we find the challenge of socialism, but now seen primarily in class terms: the international challenge of socialism leads to the fusion of monopolies and state, with resultant militarism and a focus on technological development.

3) The capital-theoretical tradition (England, but also in Germany and the Soviet Union), which focuses on the basic laws of capitalist motion. This approach emphasises that state monopoly capitalism is a crisis-driven response to the contradiction between the increasing socialisation of the forces of production and private nature of the relations of production. The state’s active role at multiple levels effectively further socialises the relations of production through the state. On the British side (Fine and Harris 1979, 120-45), this entails not a new stage of imperialism (see above), but a third stage in the capitalist mode of production, after laissez-faire and monopoly capitalism. The state’s active role – through nationalisation, taxation, and state credit – not only negates working class access to real state power through direct control, but also internationalises productive capital by working with multi-national companies and establishing international organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

4) The French ‘overaccumulation’ approach, which was framed in terms of the contradiction between private monopoly capital’s overaccumulation and its revalorisation through the state. Basing its approach on the cyclical crises of capitalism, which at times reach a crescendo so that structural changes are needed, the French approach identified the increasing role of the state in ensuring that the falling rate of profit (which leads to overaccumulation) is arrested for a time by comprehensive structural changes. Thus, state monopoly capitalism becomes a necessary development to ensure, through the state’s central role, that private monopoly capital is able to produce surplus-value. And it does so through reorganising the relations of production, with the resultant increase in exploitation and polarisation of classes.

To sum up, most approaches agreed on a few basics: state monopoly capitalism was a new stage, either beyond imperialism or a third stage in capitalism (after laissez-faire and simple monopoly); this new stage was yet another systemic effort to deal with unsolvable contradictions, whether in terms of the relations of production and globalised class conflict or in terms of the means of production; it entailed new types of exploitation for workers and efforts to suppress of socialism. But they also differed in many ways, with a core difference determined by whether the focus was primarily political or economic. Thus, those who saw the development in political terms (monopoly-theoretical) were keen to find new approaches to political agitation, but they ran the risk of determining the economic analysis through such an agenda. By contrast, those who preferred to focus on the internal laws of capitalism (capital-theoretical and overaccumulation approaches) at times seemed to come close to Marxist ‘book worship’ and thus a type of economism.

I would like to close with two final questions. First, are there any abiding insights from this material? At a deeper level, it was very useful in identifying the inescapable role of the bourgeois state within a capitalist economy. Debates may continue as to the changing ways this happens, but it is a useful corrective to the neo-classical (and indeed neoliberal) approach which sees the market as a separate entity, within which the state intervenes from time to time.[4] One way of seeing the tensions within capitalist economics is in light of these two theoretical approaches: while the state is deeply and structurally involved, there are at the same time constant moves to delink the state, to privatise state assets and seek a ‘small state’. Periodically – such as during wartime or extensive economic crises – one approach dominates, but then we find a reactive move in the other direction.

This point brings me to the second question: why did state monopoly capitalism as a theory virtually disappear among foreign Marxists after 1989 and the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe? One reason is that it was due to the tensions within capitalism outlined above: the drive to state monopoly capitalism produced a reaction in the 1980s, with the revival of laissez-faire economics under the label of ‘neoliberalism’. Another reason is that many of the theorists saw a major contradiction at a global level between capitalism and socialism. The latter was growing at the time, with successful revolutions in Asia, anti-colonial struggles and national liberation in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, while the capitalist world was shrinking. The counter-revolution in Eastern Europe seemed to suggest that this analysis was wrong. Instead, socialism seemed to be in retreat and capitalism was gaining momentum.

Or that is how it seemed to Western eyes in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, of course, much has changed. Socialist countries, especially China, are now more powerful and influential than they have been for a very long time. Many formerly colonised countries have found that the economic models borrowed from the West have not worked and they are looking for alternative models adapted to their own conditions. And these countries have also been active in international bodies, from the United Nations to the World Trade Organisation, transforming them from within to suit the conditions of a rapidly changing world.

Indeed, I suspect that ‘state monopoly capitalism’ may make a comeback as a category of analysis, albeit in a different way. Thus far, state monopoly capitalism has not been applied to socialist countries,[5] but there is a beginning of efforts to do so, albeit without any awareness of the Marxist origins and development of the term. Let me give one example, although it is implicit rather than explicit. It appears in the recent work by the neo-classical economist, Kurlantzick, who works within the framework of state capitalism but seeks to delimit its application. Realising that ‘state capitalism’ potentially applies to all states, he offers this definition: ‘countries whose government has an ownership stake in or significant influence over more than one-third of the five hundred largest companies, by revenue, in that country, a situation that gives these governments far greater control over the corporate sector than a government in a more free-market oriented nation like the United States or the United Kingdom’ (Kurlantzick 2016, 9). This definition is extremely intriguing, for Kurlantzick must work very hard to exclude a number of countries – such as France, Japan and the United States – from his list. In order to so, he adds:

  1. The ownership and control of key enterprises must be direct and not indirect (since the United States provides massive indirect subsidies to its military and automobile industries)
  2. This ownership and control must be long-term and not during economic crises, as we found after 2008 in some countries.
  3. Direct government spending on items such as welfare is also excluded.
  4. Sovereign wealth funds are excluded.

Only in this way can he focus on what are implicitly seen as state-monopoly capitalist countries. A major reason for the restrictions is that Kurlantzick is desperate to save mostly Western countries from being versions of state (monopoly) capitalism, for he sees their ‘free market’ approach and its attendant liberalism as under severe threat and failing. But even with these restrictions, the number of state monopoly capitalist countries is quite large, as the following table indicates (Kurlantzick 2016, 28):

More monopolised                    Hybrid           Less monopolised

Two socialist countries make the list, China and Vietnam, although they are by no means the most ‘monopolised’ according to Kurlantzick’s criteria. The question arises as to why this implicit state monopoly capitalism should be recurring now, albeit without awareness of the Marxist tradition. Has the effort to revive laissez-faire economics under the label of ‘neoliberalism’ run its course? I will say more on this question in the section on state capitalism.

Bibliography

Bollana, Primo. 1981. ‘Some Characteristics of State Monopoly Capitalism in the Soviet Union’. In Soviet Revisionism and the Struggle of the PLA to Unmask It, edited by Institute of Marxist-Leninist Studies at the CC of the PLA. Tirana: “8 Nëntori” Publishing House.

Cheprakov, V.A. 1979. ‘Gosudarstvenno-monopolisticheskiĭ kapitalizm’. In Bolʹshaia sovetskaia ėntsiklopediia. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia.

Fine, Ben, and Laurence Harris. 1979. Rereading Capital. London: Macmillan.

Herzog, Phillippe. 1972. Politique économique et planification en regime capitaliste. Paris: Editions sociales.

Hoxha, Enver. 1978 [1985]. ‘Imperialism and the Revolution’. In Selected Works, 358-707. Tirana: “8 Nëntori” Publishing House.

Jessop, Bob. 1982. The Capitalist State: Marxist Theories and Methods. Oxford: Martin Robertson.

Kurlantzick, Joshua. 2016. State Capitalism: How the Return of Statism is Transforming the World. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lenin, V.I. 1916 [1964]. ‘Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline’. In Collected Works, Vol. 22, 185-304. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1916 [1969]. ‘Imperializm, kak vysshaia stadiia kapitalizma (Populiarnyĭ ocherk)’. In Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Vol. 27, 299-426. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury.

———. 1917 [1964]-a. ‘Speech in Favour of the Resolution on the Current Situation, April 29 (May 12), 1917’. In Collected Works, Vol. 24, 305-8. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1917 [1964]-b. ‘War and Revolution: A Lecture Delivered May 14 (27), 1917’. In Collected Works, Vol. 24, 398-421. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1917 [1965]. ‘The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It’. In Collected Works, Vol. 25, 323-69. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

———. 1917 [1969]-a. ‘Groziashchaia katastrofa i kak s nei borot’sia’. In Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Vol. 34, 151-99. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury.

———. 1917 [1969]-b. ‘Rech’ v zashchitu rezoliutsiia o tekushchem momente, 29 aprelia (12 maia)’. In Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Vol. 31, 443-46. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury.

———. 1917 [1969]-c. ‘Voina i revolutsiia: Lektsiia 14 (27) maia, 1917g’. In Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Vol. 32, 77-102. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury.

Varga, Evgenii. 1934. The Great Crisis and its Political Consequences: Economics and Politics, 1928-1934. London: Modem Books.

———. 1964. Ocherki po problemam politékonomii kapitalizma. Moscow: Gospolitizdat.

———. 1964 [1968]. Politico-Economic Problems of Capitalism. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

[1] Compare the definition in The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia: ‘new, more developed form of monopoly capitalism, characterized by the joining of the forces of capitalist monopolies with the power of the state to preserve and strengthen the capitalist system, enrich the monopolies, suppress the workers’ and national liberation movements, and unleash aggressive wars’ (Cheprakov 1979).

[2] Lenin speaks of ‘the beginnings of state-controlled capitalist production, combining the colossal power of capitalism with the colossal power of the state into a single mechanism and bringing tens of millions of people within the single organisation of state capitalism’ (Lenin 1917 [1964]-b, 403; 1917 [1969]-c, 83). For a comprehensive assessment of Lenin’s contribution, see Jessop (1982, 32-36).

[3] Lenin is, however, not entirely consistent in his usage and the theory remains somewhat undeveloped. Before the October revolution, he saw state monopoly capitalism as a development, especially in the context of war, to a new level of capitalism itself, although even here it was already seen as a step towards socialism (Lenin 1917 [1965], 361-63; 1917 [1969]-a, 191-93). Later, he quotes from this 1917 text – ‘The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It’ – in ‘The Tax in Kind’ from 1921, where he argues for the need for a muted verison of state capitalism during the New Economic Policy. In other words, he subsumed state monopoly capitalism under state capitalism (see below), which he saw as a (major) step towards socialism. This inconsistency is most likely due to different circumstances: the initial proposal was made before the October Revolution during the last phase of Russia’s engagement in the First World War, while his later development of the idea took place after the revolution and Civil War, particularly in light of the need to develop the New Economic Policy.

[4] Indeed, one of the debates over state monopoly capitalism concerned the relation between state and economy: were they fused under state monopoly capitalism, distinct, or did they function in terms of ‘contradictory separation in unity’ (Herzog 1972, 125)

[5] One does find very occasional accusations internal to the former Eastern Bloc that the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia had descended, from the time of Khrushchev, to a type of state monopoly capitalism (Bollana 1981; Hoxha 1978 [1985], 414-15).

Non-political elections

In Engels’s key work, ‘Dell’ Autorità’, which was originally published in Italian in the midst of the struggle with the Anarchists (who were popular in Italy) and their ‘anti-authoritarian’ push. Engels writes: ‘All socialists are agreed that the political state [Stato politico], and with it political authority [l’autorità politica], will disappear [scompariranno] as a result of the coming social revolution, that is, that public functions [funzioni pubbliche] will lose their political character [carattere politico]’. But what, exactly, does political character mean?

The answer is simple enough: by political character both Engels and Marx mean the reality of class struggle and its manifestation in the state. Thus, the manifesto observes, immediately after mentioning the political character of public Gewalt absorbed into the state: ‘Political Gewalt, properly so called, is merely the organised Gewalt of one class for oppressing another’. I do not need to reiterate the details of Engels’s work on the state as a separated public power here (emphasis on separated), except to point out that if public Gewalt – with the senses of power, force and even violence – loses its political character, it ceases to be a manifestation and instrument of class struggle and thus coercion. Clearly, public Gewalt is not necessarily separated from society, for it may take other forms.

The formulation may be relatively simple, but the implications are far-reaching. On this matter at least, Marx offers a couple of hints, of which the second is the most interesting.

In his cryptic notes on Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchy, Marx refers to what may be called non-political elections. How is this possible? Are not elections inherently political? This is so for those who have been indoctrinated by the Western liberal tradition, in which elections are the manifestation of regulated class conflict within the bourgeois state. So let us see what Marx suggests, all too briefly. He begins by pointing out that the character of an election depends in its ‘economic foundation [ökonomischen Grundlage]’, on the ‘economic interrelations [ökonomischen Zusammenhängen] of the voters’. That is, if economic relations are antagonistic, and if classes have formed and are engaged in class struggle, then elections will be ‘political’. What if this situation does not apply and economic relations are not antagonistic? Then ‘the functions have ceased to be political [die Funktionen aufgehört haben, politisch zu sein]’.

Marx then specifies the sense in which he uses politisch, or, rather, its absence. First, there are ‘no ruling functions [keine Regierungsfunktion]’. I have stressed the sense of rule and reign that are part of the semantic field of Regierung, since ‘government’ or even ‘administration’ (also senses of the word) are too weak and do not capture Marx’s sense. This meaning appears in the second point: ‘the distribution of general functions has become a routine matter [Geschäftssache] which entails no domination [keine Herrschaft]’. By this point, Marx is not speaking about the period of the proletarian dictatorship, but afterwards, when antagonistic contradictions have ceased. Now we come to third point, where he observes: ‘elections have nothing [hat nichts] of today’s political character [politischen Charakter]’. If political character means what pertains to antagonistic economic relations and class conflict, characteristic of the bourgeois state and its electoral system, then without that context, elections will lose, will have nothing of the political character of today – not only in Marx’s context where the bourgeois state was gradually being implemented across Western Europe, but also in those parts of the world today that are influenced by this tradition, either in Europe itself or in some of its former colonies.

Do non-political elections already take place today? Let me offer an example drawn from elections in China. Elections are held more regularly than in bourgeois states, both direct and indirect. Thus,  elections internal to the Communist Party are held at all local branches. In a village, in a small company, in a school – wherever there are three or more party members a branch is formed and elections are held for local posts, especially the local branch secretary. Why three? Only then can you have elections to such a post. In society as a whole, elections are held for the local National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC). These elections are held annually, are direct and include candidates from all nine political parties.

At higher levels – from the provincial to the national – elections are indirect. That is, people are elected from the lower and local bodies, and are subject to assessment as to whether they have the appropriate skills and experience. Thus, the national NPC and CPPCC require significant electoral processes each year. Thousands of representatives from across the country, from all classes, minority nationalities, religious groups and other sectors of society, are elected to the two bodies. I cannot go into more detail here, but the question remains: do these elections have a political character? No, for the system is known as a ‘multi-party cooperation and political consultative system [duodang hezuo he zhengzhi xieshang zhidu]’, which designates that the system of elections that is not based on class conflict but on non-antagonistic relations among the different groups and their representatives.

Thus, in many respects elections have already lost their political character in China.

Introduction: Friedrich Engels and the Foundations of Socialist Governance

With some intense work over the last few weeks, this book will be complete by the weekend. It is called Friedrich Engels and the Foundations of Socialist Governance and will be published initially in Chinese as part of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Engels’s birth, which happens to be next year, 2020.

What follows is the introduction to the book.

This work began as a larger project on socialist governance. The study of Engels was to be its second chapter, after Marx and before Lenin. Stalin, Mao and others. However, as I began to write the chapter it became apparent that Engels has far more to offer than Marx’s relatively cryptic formulations. As I read further, particularly in relatively unstudied material of the 1880s, I began to realise it was Engels, rather than Marx, who provided the main groundwork for a historical and dialectical materialist theory of the state. More than the state, which he defines as a separated public power, for he also provides the basic philosophical principles for what may be called socialist governance. The result was a book in itself, focused on Engels. Indeed, so important is Engels on this matter that I have reversed the usual order of referring to ‘Marx and Engels’ to speak of ‘Engels and Marx’ when it comes to co-authored material. This is not to disparage Marx’s contribution, for it remains very important (Boer 2019) and much of the material that came from Engels’s pen arose from discussion between them over such matters. But when it comes to socialist governance, Marx left us with an unresolved contradiction, between the Paris commune and the dictatorship of the proletariat. He made some tentative moves to resolve the contradiction, but his energy was on other projects rather than the state as such. It fell to Engels to develop such a theory, especially when Marx’s energy had waned and after he died in 1883. This book is an effort to explicate this theory in light of all the relevant material.

Rather than leaving the question begging to the very end, let me state here what Engels proposes concerning socialist governance. It entails that public power (Gewalt – a term we will meet frequently) loses its political character and focuses on the administration of the stuff of life and conduct of the economy for the good of the whole community (Gemeinwesen). This means that such a public power stands in the midst of society, rather than separate from and opposed to it. Far from being simpler and local (as the Anarchists would have it), this approach is even more complex and detailed than anything we have seen before, so much so that it constitutes a whole new level of authority, sovereignty and power. This is not all, for in extensive research later in life, especially into the German ‘Mark’, Engels argued for a dialectical transformation, an Aufhebung to a whole new qualitative level of original or baseline communism and its democracy. These concise points require a significant amount of explanation and exegesis of Engels’s texts in order to show how he arrives at such formulations.

In a moment, I will offer an outline of the arguments of each of the four chapters of the book, but first a word on secondary literature. It is quite sparse, particularly work that focuses on Engels’s distinct contribution.[1] Most of the material available focuses on Marx, with either dismissals of Engels’s contribution or at most deploying Engels to fill in some gaps. Further, the works referenced here tend to be highly selective in the range of texts discussed, with the result that the conclusions reached are somewhat skewed. This is particularly so with the ‘dying away’ of the state, which is seen as either an expression of the core ‘anarchist’ position of Marxism itself (Kelsen 1949, 12; Tucker 1967); or somewhat of a fig leaf for ‘authoritarianism’ (Bloom 1946; Adamiak 1970); or as a dismantling of the structures of governance very soon after a proletarian revolution (Medalie 1959; Hunt 1984, 231-46). At times, the selection emphasises one feature at the expense of others – the most notable being a liking for the Paris commune and a down-playing of the proletarian dictatorship, let alone socialist Gewalt (Miliband 1965; 1991, 151; Avineri 1968, 202-20; Johnstone 1971; Balibar 1977, 58; Jessop 1978; Hunt 1984; Draper 1986, 175-306; Paolucci 2007, 233-37; Van Ree 2015, 77, 115; Ware 2019, 161-63). In other words, there is very little that engages with the important material Engels produced in the late 1870s and especially the 1880s. There are one or two exceptions, although now somewhat dated: the first is the work of Hal Draper, especially those relevant to the current study (Draper 1970, 1977, 1986, 1990). While Draper has worked with much of the relevant material and his work is helpful as a beginning point of research, like many others he focuses overwhelmingly on Marx and sidelines Engels. Further, his conclusions have a tendency to confirm his presuppositions and are not always so helpful. The second is Richard Hunt (Hunt 1984), whose exhaustive study does at least deal with some of the relevant texts by Engels, although not crucial ones such as ‘The Mark’ or ‘The Role of Force in History’. Yet, Hunt’s study is vitiated by an assumption found in much of the material mentioned above, namely, that subsequent historical experiences of socialism in power and the arduous task of constructing socialism somehow departed from what Engels and Marx had thought. This book should go at least part of the way to show how erroneous such an assumption is.

Now for a synopsis of the content to come. The first chapter deals initially with Engels’s programmatic observations on hitherto existing states, which would set the subsequent agenda not only for Marxist studies of such states, but also the Weberian tradition (Weber’s definition of the state borrows heavily from Engels). Apart from noting the key features of this analysis, which involves the core idea of the state as a ‘separated public power’, the chapter focuses on Engels’s shifts between seeing such states state as semi-autonomous, as instruments of a particular class in power, or as shaped in their very nature by the class in question. Engels moves between these three overlapping approaches, depending on the point he seeks to make, but he tends in more detailed work to opt for the third: that the nature of the state is determined by the class in power. This position emerges particularly in a relatively ignored work, ‘The Role of Force in History’ (1887-1888). Here Engels offers an analysis of Bismarck in Germany that is a close companion to Marx’s ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’ (1852), with the specific point that the bourgeoisie was able to shape the state in its image indirectly, even when it did not hold the reins of power. Even more important is the emergence of a core category, Gewalt. The word is difficult to translate; its semantic field includes the senses of force, power and violence, so I leave the word untranslated. This provides a rather new angle, not only on his proposal that hitherto existing states may be defined as a ‘separated public Gewalt’, that a ‘public Gewalt’ exists that is not so separated, and that it is necessary for the workers’ movement to exercise socialist Gewalt.

This point leads to the second chapter, concerning socialist Gewalt and the dictatorship of the proletariat. The key finding of this chapter is Engels’s emphasis on proletarian Gewalt, in both the revolutionary process and in the early stages of the construction of socialism when power is gained through a revolution. The concrete manifestation of this socialist Gewalt is the dictatorship of the proletariat, which Engels (like Marx) defines carefully not as an individual dictatorship (as with Bakunin) or by a small band (Blanquist), but as a collective dictatorship by the majority, the workers. On this basis, Engels’s important contribution was to go beyond Marx in identifying the Paris commune with the proletarian dictatorship. The context was a struggle with the moderates of the increasingly large German Social Democratic Party, which tried to dispense with the dictatorship of the proletariat in its program and work within bourgeois democracy. In light of later tendencies in European communism to downplay the proletarian dictatorship and idealise the Paris commune (for example, with ‘Eurocommunism’ and the tendency among some European Marxists), Engels explicit argument that the commune was the exercise of the proletarian dictatorship, even that it did not go far enough in exercising such a dictatorship, is a timely warning. The chapter concludes by analysing Engels’s explicit usage of ‘socialist Gewalt’ itself, both before and after a revolution. Crucially, Engels points out that political power also has economic influence and potency (Potenz).

The third chapter focuses on the ‘dying away’ of the state, in contrast to its ‘abolition’ as promulgated by Bakunin and the Anarchists in the late 1860s and 1870s. Given the many misunderstandings that surround the idea of the ‘dying away’ of the state, this is the longest chapter in book since it analyses in significant detail all of the relevant material. It begins by studying the wider context in the 184os among German socialists, finding that while they spoke of the abolition (Abschaffung), annihilation (Vernichtung) and dialectical transformation (Aufhebung) of private property, money and inheritance, they rarely, if ever, spoke of the state as such. Instead, they envisioned alternative structures, either of a new state or of a new form of social organisation. This is true even of Proudhon, who deeply influenced these early German socialists. There is one notable exception: Max Stirner in his liberal anarchist work, The Ego and Its Own (1845), urged that the state should be abolished and annihilated. Thus, only when Engels and Marx (and others like Moses Hess) engage with Stirner do they speak of the abolition of the state, finding Stirner’s proposals wanting since its focus on an act of pure will.

It is only in 1850 that Engels (and Marx) speak directly of the ‘abolition [Abschaffung]’ of the state for the first time. Notably, this is a critical response to what had become a popular slogan in all manner of circles, including bourgeois ones where such an ‘abolition’ entailed a bourgeois order in which they would be left alone to pursue their private gain. Crucially, this piece – which borrows the language of the slogan – identifies Stirner as the source and introduces the need for a delay in such an abolition. This delay is an early result of the method hammered out in the years before and expressed clearly for the first time in the manifesto of 1848: the primary concern should be socio-economic matters. Thus, a communist revolution would have these as its main task, while any ‘abolition’ of the state would follow as an outcome of such activity. This would be the position, refined and sharpened, that both Engels and Marx would hold in the struggle with Bakunin, who first formulated a somewhat coherent Anarchist position in the late 1860s and particularly in 1870s.

For Bakunin, the state was the prime cause and foundation of all exploitation and oppression, whether political or economic. Thus, the first task of a revolutionary movement upon attaining power should be to abolish (Abschaffung) the state, as a willed and conscious act. Bakunin struggled to show why the state should have this foundational role, at times connecting its quasi-sacred status with the role of the Christian church. But for Engels and Marx, this approach simply did not make sense: in light of their approach, the state was a secondary phenomenon, arising from economic conditions and class struggle. Thus, a communist revolution would need to enact wide-sweeping changes to the means and relations of production before aspects of the superstructure, such as the state, could be addressed. In this context, we find an increasing emphasis that one of the final results of the process of constructing socialism, after other tasks had been achieved and the counter-revolution had been defeated, would be not the ‘abolition’ of the state, but its falling away, disappearance, going to sleep – the terms all appear in works of this time. Finally and as a way to sum up this position, Engels coined in the third edition of Anti-Dühring of 1894 the famous slogan: ‘the state is not abolished, it dies away’. The influence of this slogan is due to its appearance in the extracted material that appeared as ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’, which was read and studied by all communists of the second and third generations.

The final chapter begins by addressing a contradiction that has arisen in light of the previous two chapters: between socialist Gewalt and the dying away of the of the state. The initial narrative of the former passing to the latter, which is part of Engels’s approach, addresses neither how authority and Gewalt would continue, nor the nature of governance in a communist society. Dealing with these questions is the focus on this chapter, although I undertake the task with an important caveat: Engels, and indeed Marx, never experienced the actual exercise of power after a communist revolution. They were fully aware of this reality, warning to such analysis can be undertaken only scientifically, only from actual experience. As Engels points out on a number of occasions, he and Marx were not in the business of creating utopian systems for the organisation of future of society.

The chapter has two main sections. The first part analyses a number of brief statements by Engels and Marx that may be collated as follows: public Gewalt loses its political character and becomes the administration of things and conduct of forces and relations of production, for the genuine good of society. The statements are notably brief, even formulaic, for the good reason that they had in their context no extensive data on the actual practice of socialist governance. There was, however, an abundance of information from another source: pre-state forms of social organisation that existed in many parts of the world. It was precisely to this source of information that Engels devoted considerable energy in the 1880s. Here he found complex and many-layered types of what he carefully called ‘social organisation’, which was not separated from but stood ‘in the midst of society’. They were not separated from society, not manifestations and means of class struggle, and thus did not constitute a state. Here, I seek to develop a terminology based on Engels, which speaks of the ‘enmeshed governance’ of ‘baseline communism’, with its attendant and indeed first form of human democracy. This is all very well, based as it was on the available historical anthropological material of the time, but what relevance does it have for the enmeshed governance of socialism, let alone communism? To answer this question, I focus on the remarkable work from 1882, ‘The Mark’. Here Engels outlines his research into this feature of German social life, from its earliest days to the present. The point – directed explicitly at peasant farmers – is that the communism of the future would entail a dialectical transformation (Aufhebung) of this baseline communism. Far from a hankering for the rural socialism of the European Middle Ages, or for an idealised ‘primitive communism’, or even for a secularised version of the religious return to Paradise, this dialectical transformation would both negate this baseline communism and transform its core features into a qualitatively different reality. Given that such a form of governance would stand in the midst of society, it cannot be called a ‘state’; indeed, we reach the limits of the language derived from the Western European tradition, for with this type of enmeshed governance it becomes increasingly difficult to speak of the separation of state and society.

The conclusion to the book outlines the way Engels’s contributions provide the philosophical basis for future developments of the historical reality of socialist governance. These insights include: the need for socialist Gewalt in constructing socialist society and economics; the dying away of the state – understood as a separated public Gewalt – as a secondary, long-term and gradual process; the development of de-politicised governance, which means that class struggle in no longer a feature of social and economic life, even if non-antagonistic contradictions persist; the enmeshment of governance within society, so that it is becomes increasingly impossible to distinguish between state and society or between state and economy. That this would entail new forms of governance is obvious, but at this point a question arises concerning continuity and discontinuity. On this matter it is important to strike a realistic balance: to suggest that Engels and indeed Marx foresaw, or perhaps should have foreseen, all of the developments in later efforts to construct socialism is simply unrealistic; to propose – as some of the literature mentioned earlier does – that later historical realities departed significantly from the original thoughts of the founders is even more extreme and simply not sustained by the evidence. Far better is a balanced approach. Thus, there is clearly significant continuity, much more than one might expect, between the initial philosophical foundations and the historical realities of socialism in power. At the same time, in the actual construction of socialism, from the Soviet Union to China, one would expect to face new problems for which new solutions were and are needed – albeit based on the initial principles and the method through which they were derived.. As Engels put it in 1890, ‘So-called “socialist society” is not, in my view, to be regarded as something that remains crystallised for all time, but rather being in process of constant change and transformation like all other social conditions’.

Finally, a word on the approach to citations. In all possible cases the primary citation is to the original language text by Engels (and Marx where relevant). These are in German, French and Italian, mostly available in the standard collections (Gesamtausgabe and the Werke), but at times they are not, since neither collection is complete. Where necessary, I have found the original language source outside such collections. In most cases, I provide my own translation to highlight particular features of the text, or at least a modification of the standard English translation found in the Collected Works. At the same time and for ease of reference for readers, I provide a reference to the English version, even if the translation offered does not conform to this version.

[1] In this work, I do not engage with Chinese language material, for that is the main focus on another work called Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.

Increasing international (and Muslim) support for China’s human rights achievements in Xinjiang (updated)

Update: the letter mentioned below initially had 28 signatories, but it now includes 50 signatories, from countries whose population totals 2 billion. Of these, 28 are Muslim-majority countries.

‘No investigation, no right to speak [meiyou diaocha jiu meiyou fanyanquan]’.

This Chinese saying is particularly relevant for some in a small number of former colonising countries who like to make unfounded statements about China. That they have been used to seeing the world in their image is obvious; that they misunderstand much of the rest of the world is also obvious. But times are changing fast, for the voices from precisely such parts are increasingly strong and being heard.

Xinjiang and its highly successful counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation programs are a case in point. In contrast to the former colonisers, many foreign delegations and journalists from other countries have visited Xinjiang and undertaken proper investigation. Notably, this includes investigators from Muslim-majority and developing countries, which support China’s approach.

One recent result of this process of investigation is a joint letter from the ambassadors of 51 countries (and counting), which was sent to the UN’s human rights council. The letter indicates strong support for China’s successes in Xinjiang and its promotion of a Chinese Marxist approach to human rights.

Why Is Chinese Governance Better?

Recently, Martin Jacques observed that Chinese governance under the CPC is a better, more efficient and higher form of governance than we have seen thus far. To begin with, Jacques is correct. This is particularly obvious if we compare it with bourgeois (liberal) democracy, which is now obsolete and quite clumsy. The latter arose in a specific context, in eighteenth and nineteenth century Western Europe, and may have been appropriate in that part of the world in the wake of the bourgeois revolutions. It has also been transplanted to some former colonies in North America, Australia and New Zealand. But the system is rather crude, with nearly every feature of public life politicised, with antagonistic political engagement in which one policy is promulgated by a particular political party only to be undone by the next. Chaotic, clumsy and outdated.

As is usually the case with Martin Jacques, he tries to explain this reality by going back into China’s more distant past. Strangely, he skips past the central role of Marxism in shaping the current practice of governance in China. So let us see what such a focus indicates (this article is also useful).

Here I draw on a book I am writing on Engels, for it is precisely Engels (more than Marx) who provides the philosophical basis for socialist governance. The book has taken longer than expected, since I need to work carefully through material few consider. In the final chapter, I examine Engels’s ideas concerning what a socialist form of governance might be.

There are two main points.

First, the organs of governance ‘stand in the midst of society’. Engels draws this insight from his careful study in the 1870s and 1880s of what he calls ‘pre-state’ societies, but which may also be called ‘base communism’ and ‘base democracy’. Why ‘pre-state’? For Engels, the state is a ‘separated public power’, which arises from class conflict and stands over against society. By contrast, base communism does not have this separation. All the various organs of governance – and there are many – stand in the midst of society. They are woven within social structures, being part and parcel of society as a whole. In my book, I have developed the category of ‘enmeshment’ to understand how this might work: society, state and economy are not separated from one another, but rather enmeshed within one another.

One might respond: but Engels is dealing with ancient societies, in a historical and anthropological way, so these insights are not relevant for how socialism today functions. The answer: in a crucial but under-studied piece called ‘The Mark’, Engels points out that this type of base communism would be dialectically transformed under socialism, so as to become the type of society and governance that would be appropriate.

This point I have realised for some time, but the second is relatively new: ‘public functions will lose their political character and be transformed into the simple administrative functions of watching over the true interests of society’. This text is quoted from Engels’s 1873 piece, ‘On Authority’, in which he castigates the impractical proposals of the Anarchists, especially under Bakunin’s leadership. But the core idea of political character disappearing and being replaced by an efficient administration focused on the public good is crucial (it appears elsewhere in Engels’s work and is voiced by Marx).

Let us begin with political character. Under bourgeois democracies, a whole spate of areas are political footballs: education, health, environment, public transport, immigration and refugees, economic policy, and so on. They are the subject of election campaigns, of bewildering changes in policy with changes in the party in power, of implementation and winding back. But if they lose their political character, they cease to be tossed back and forth depending on the whims of political parties.

In place of this political character is efficient administration focused on the public good. Let me give three examples drawn from China. In education, the long-term plan is to improve the already impressive educational system in all respects. This entails careful research, significant funding, trials of new methods in some areas before extending them to the rest of the country, and so on. For this reason, people with whom I speak in China find it unbelievable that the Australian government – as one example – has been reducing funding for education for quite some time now.

Another example concerns public transport, which is reasonably well-known internationally. Simply put, the Chinese rail system is now the best in the world. Three levels of high-speed train operate across the country, while the slower ‘green skin’ trains ply local routes. In cities across China, world-leading metro systems are being implemented at a breath-taking pace. One that I know well is in Beijing, where they are working towards increasing the total kilometres covered from about 500 km to 1,000 km. Currently, it caters for 6 billion passenger trips per year, but this will increase. Again, this is seen as a public good, requiring long-term planning and efficient implementation.

Finally, environmental policy and action, which is called in China ‘ecological civilisation [shengtai wenming]’. The term refers to the modes of life and their relation to the environment: only when this is sorted out can we speak of wenming, which is not so much ‘citification’ (as the Latin origins of ‘civilisation’ suggest) but the just, peaceful, healthy and stable nature of culture. In China, the realities of climate change are not politicised; instead, they needs to be addressed directly. I have seen this with my own eyes, in what may be called the greening of China. The country leads the world in reafforestation, the water, plants and air of major cities have been improving year on year, and green technologies are leaping ahead. Again, this is efficient administration for the public good.

So yes, Chinese governance is clearly the highest form we have seen thus far, precisely because of the CPC and the socialist road. We should of course be careful: Engels’s formulations are not the final word on the matter. He had never experienced the actual process of constructing socialism, let alone a successful communist revolution. But it is rather striking how he and Marx provide the philosophical basis of socialist governance in terms of the disappearance of its political character and the development of efficient and careful administration for the public good. That the Chinese have developed these much further, in light of their conditions and the actual experience of constructing socialist governance, should be clear.

Colonial Policy by Other Means: Losurdo on Hong Kong’s Supposed ‘Self-Determination’

A small number of former colonial powers are fond of trotting out the mantra of ‘self-determination’ for parts of the world they would like to control. Hong Kong and Taiwan are good examples (even though the USA has the world’s strongest measures against self-determination of its own states). In the last few days, deliberate misinformation concerning Hong Kong has been peddled in a small number of places. If you want to get a fuller picture, see the reports here, here, here, here and here.

So it is worth recalling Losurdo’s observations on such a matter. The first comes from his essay, ‘Lenin and Herrenvolk Democracy’ (2007):

Colonial domination has left its mark: on the economic level, the inequality of development among different regions has been accentuated; while the hegemonic presence at every level of the great powers and the policy of ethnic engineering, often promoted by them, has accentuated cultural, linguistic, and religious fragmentation. Secessionist tendencies of every kind are once again lying in wait, regularly fed by the ex-colonial powers. When it wrested Hong Kong from China, Great Britain certainly did not conceive of self-determination, and it did not remember it even during the long years in which it exercised its dominion. But, suddenly, on the eve of Hong Kong’s return to China, to the motherland, the governor sent by London, Chris Patten, a conservative, had a species of illumination and improvised conversion: he appealed to the inhabitants of Hong Kong to claim their right to ‘self-determination’ against the motherland, thus remaining within the orbit of the British Empire.

Analogous considerations are true for Taiwan. When, at the beginning of 1947, the Kuomintang, which had fled from continental China and the victorious People’s Army, let loose a terrible repression that provoked about ten thousand deaths, the United States was careful not to invoke the right to self-determination for the inhabitants of the island; on the contrary, it sought to impose the thesis according to which Chiang Kai-shek’s government was the legitimate government not only of Taiwan but also of the whole of China. The great Asian country had to remain united but under the control of Chiang Kai-shek, reduced to a simple pro-consul of Washington’s sovereign imperialism. As the dream of reconquering the mainland slowly faded away, and the stronger became the aspiration of the whole Chinese people to achieve full territorial integration and independence, ending the tragic chapter of colonial history, so the presidents of the United States experienced an illumination and a conversion similar to that of Chris Patten. They too began to caress the idea of ‘self-determination’. Incoherence? Not at all: ‘self-determination’ is the continuation of imperial policy by other means. If it was not really possible to get their hands on China as a whole, it was, meanwhile, convenient to secure control of Hong Kong or Taiwan (249-50).

 

And as he writes in one his last books, Class Struggle (2016):

 

Perhaps it would be better to learn the lesson of old Hegel, who, with the Sanfedista and anti-Semitic agitation of his time in mind, observed that sometimes ‘courage consists not in attacking rulers, but in defending them’. The populist rebel who would be bound to consider Hegel insufficiently revolutionary could always heed Gramsci’s warning against the phraseology of ‘primitive, elementary “rebellionism,” “subversionism” and “anti-statism,” which are ultimately an expression of de facto “a-politicism”’ (337).