China’s socialist model enriches global governance philosophy

I rather like this piece from the Global Times yesterday:

The most discussed challenge to liberal democracy in the West nowadays is the perceived threat of China’s rise and the “Chinese model.” That China has rapidly risen in a development model different from that of the West has startled and upset the West. Does China attempt to overthrow the Western liberal order? Would it spread its development ideas, values and political system to other countries? Such worries haunt many Western scholars, politicians and media outlets.

To figure out whether China is a threat to liberalism, the Economist initiated a debate “Should the West worry about the threat to liberal values posed by China’s rise?” as if liberal values are paramount standards that couldn’t be challenged.

After the Cold War, Western liberal democracy and the market economic system, which are built on core liberal values such as individual freedom, equality and capitalism, gained their momentum. Francis Fukuyama, an acclaimed American political scientist, even declared free-market liberal democracy would become the world’s “final form of human government.”

However, it’s absurd to hold Western liberal democracy was the “end of history.” Since the 2008 financial crisis, the Western world has undergone serious economic, political and social turbulence. Political polarization in the US, the European migrant crisis, Brexit and the rise of populism on both sides of the Atlantic all indicate the West has been mired in a liberalism crisis.

Fukuyama was compelled to revise his original opinion and turned to fear for the future of liberal democracy. He called to examine the deep structural reasons for dysfunctional democracy. Unfortunately, a more prevailing view is to blame external threats for the fall of liberal democracy, regardless of what deserves more attention is not threat from outside, but from within.

The West should make self-introspection for the liberalism crisis. Liberal ideas and institutions failed to solve the problems facing developing countries. Many developing governments found it hard to govern their country well after copying Western political systems and were plagued by political and social woes. More newly emerging countries have become skeptical about the Western model. In sharp contrast, the Chinese model is gaining popularity and giving hope to those countries longing for rapid development while maintaining independence.

The Chinese model has undoubtedly raised questions over liberal values, but it also enriches development philosophy. There is neither “end of history” nor “end of evolution” for development model. Now it’s the time for the West to seriously reflect upon its own problems and reconsider its values. What it needs to do is to improve and move forward, rather than be obsessed with past success. If it continues to defend its internal decay by fabricating external threats, liberal democracy and institutions will face a bigger crisis.

If you wish to read further, there is also an intriguing article about a Nigerian proposal to change to a one-party system and socialist economy in Nigeria.

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Friedrich Engels: The State as a ‘Separated Public Power’

A perfect society, a perfect ‘State [Staat]’, are things which can only exist in the imagination [Phantasie]. On the contrary, all successive historical states [Zustände] are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society (Engels 1886 [1990], 359, 1886 [2011], 126).

The following material comprises an initial draft concerning Engels’s thoughts on actually existing states. It will eventually form part of a chapter in a book called The Socialist State: Philosophical Foundations. Some of the material may be well-known, but other material I examine has often been ignored. Since what follows is a prolegomenon to Engels’s potential contribution to understanding the socialist state, I have shaped the analysis with this in mind.

Engels’s reflections on ‘the state’ can best be summarised as a series of theses, following which I provide analysis of the key points that are relevant for the focus on what might happen to the state after a communist revolution.[1]

1. Engels repeatedly asserts that the state is a ‘public power [öffentliche Gewalt]’ that is ‘separated [getrennte]’ from society (Engels 1884 [1990]-b, 201, 210, 213, 221, 269-70, 1884 [1962], 95, 103, 107, 115, 165-66). This definition is based on the assumption that political ideas and practices ‘in the final instance [in letzter Instanz]‘ (Engels and Kautsky 1887 [1973], 494) derive from economic conditions.[2] It determines all of his observations concerning the nature and history of the state, from the ancient Athenians to his own day, as well as his initial thoughts on the state under socialism.

2. Thus, it follows that the state is not imposed from without, but arises from a society riven with ‘irreconcilable opposites’, which are ‘classes with conflicting economic interests’.

3. So that society does not tear itself to pieces, a Gewalt is necessary to ‘alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of “order”’.

4. This Gewalt ‘alienates itself more and more’ from society, so that it becomes ‘separated’, ‘alienated’ and ‘above’ society.

5. While the initial manifestation of this Gewalt may be in terms of an armed force that is no longer coterminous with the people (as a militia), it is also comprised of ‘material adjuncts, prisons and institutions of coercion of all kinds’. In short, these are instruments of repression.

6. Alongside such institutions are what Engels calls ‘organs of society [Organe der Gesellschaft]’. These are not part of society, standing in its middle, but are ‘above’ and ‘alien [entfremdenden]’ and need to be asserted through a system of laws and sustained through taxes. Although he does not use the term ‘apparatus’, he here describes an apparatus that is both above society and mediates between state power and society.

7. Is the state an instrument of the ruling class, a structure determined by this class, or it is somewhat autonomous? The question arises from three different emphases in Engels’s text, emphases that set the boundaries of subsequent Marxist debate:

a. ‘As a rule’, Engels writes, the state provides the means whereby the economically dominant class also becomes the politically dominant class. Engels speaks of the state being a ‘means of keeping’ down the oppressed, an ‘instrument [Werkzeug]’ for exploitation.

b. At the same time, he speaks of the state as an ‘organisation of the possessing class [Organisation der besitzenden Klasse]’, so much so that we have the ‘state of slave owners’, the ‘feudal state [Feudalstaat]’ and the ‘modern representative state [Repräsentativstaat]’ or the ‘state of the capitalists’,[3] implying that specific states are imbued with and even determined by a specific nature.[4]

c. At times a state gains relative autonomy, especially when class conflict reaches a certain balance, with neither dominating. In this situation, the state acquires temporarily a ‘certain degree of independence of both’ classes. The pertinent example, in relation to Engels’s detailed study on the ‘The Role of Force’, is Bismarck’s Germany.

Since my concern with the state after a revolution and during the construction of socialism, I emphasise the following in relation to actually existing states. The crucial distinction is between separation and integration/ enmeshment. This distinction appears a few times in the points above, especially when Engels contrasts the nature of the military and the ‘organs of society’, which are different from the ‘organs of the gentile constitution [Organe der Gentilverfassung]’, or ‘organs of gentile society [Organe der Gentilgesellschaft]’ that stand ‘in the midst of society [eben mitten in der Gesellschaft]’ (Engels 1884 [1990]-b, 270, 1884 [1962], 166). Indeed, the definition of the state relies on this contrast, which runs through The Origin of the Family. Engels casts it primarily as a historical narrative, in which the unseparated or integrated nature of pre-state formations contrasts, but also provides the conditions for, the separated nature of the state that follows. While this is a rather standard narrative of differentiation,[5] moving from an undifferentiated state to one that is clearly differentiated (thus the Athenian state provides the pure form of this narrative[6]), it opens a theoretical possibility that is ultimately not reliant on the narrative: communism entails a de-differentiation, if I may put it that way. Or in terms of the distinction between separation and integration, communism is clearly closer to the integrated and enmeshed condition. The implications for understanding the state under socialism and indeed communism (to borrow Lenin’s distinction for a moment) are profound.

At the same time, the distinction produces some tensions in Engels’s presentation. He seeks to be sensitive to historical variations, which appear most obviously in the question I posed in place of thesis 7. Let me begin with the third answer to the question, concerning the autonomy of the state, even though Engels suggests that this situation is only temporary, found at certain moments when class conflict is evenly balanced. In some respects, this would seem to be the most logical outcome of his initial proposal that the state arises from irreconcilable class conflict and that a Gewalt is needed to ameliorate the conflict and keep it within bounds (so that the system is not torn apart).[7]

The first and second answers to the question are more intriguing. Is the separated state a relatively neutral ‘instrument [Werkzeug]’ in the hands of the dominant class? Engels tends in this direction with his comment, ‘as a rule [in der Regel]’.[8] Yet this position can slip into another: the ruling class may determine the nature of the state in question, shaping it into a particular form. One can see how the connection may be made, for an instrument may take on a distinct shape, having been constructed by its wielder. Yet an instrument and a distinct form are not necessarily the same: the former is more neutral – an instrument, means or tool – and the latter indicates a particular nature, determined by the ruling class in question.[9]

Engels’s text struggles with this distinction, at times seemingly connecting instrument and nature,[10] while at others suggesting that they are distinct. A notable example is the fascinating paragraph towards the close of The Origin of the Family,[11] where Engels explores the historical variations of distinct types of states. Here he writes of an ‘organisation of the possessing class [Organisation der besitzenden Klasse]’ for the sake of protection against the non-possessing class.[12] An organisation is already more than a mere instrument, suggesting structures, shaping and the nature of the state itself. It may take the form of property or wealth qualifications for the right to participate in the state (from Athens and Rome to the early parliamentary systems of his own day), or direct corruption of government officials, or an alliance between the government and stock exchange for the sake of building infrastructure. Tellingly, at each suggestion Engels notes that such mechanisms are actually not necessary for the ruling class to determine the state: neither property qualifications, nor corruption, nor alliances between government and stock exchange are needed. Why not? A crucial sentence indicates the direction of his thought, especially in light of the bourgeois state and its emerging practice of apparent universal suffrage. In this situation, how does wealth control the state? It ‘exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely [seine Macht indirekt, aber um so sichrer aus]’. One may object that he writes only a few sentences later that the possessing class rules ‘directly by means of [direkt mittelst]’ universal suffrage. The initial impression is that he seems to slide back to an instrumental position. But he does not simply write direct, adding immediately afterwards mittelst, which indicates an intermediary, a ‘medium’ (as the MECW translation has it), through which direct rule must operate.

Let me press more heavily on the term ‘indirect’. To begin with, in a piece written with Kautsky called ‘Lawyers’ Socialism’, Engels observes that in the European transition from feudalism to capitalism, the Church was replaced by the state as the arbiter of all matters economic and social – or at least this was how people saw the situation. Crucially, it was the rise of a ‘legal world view’ that signalled such a shift. While we may quibble that the Church had developed its own complex legal system since the ‘lawyer popes’ of the eleventh century, the point I seek to draw out is that the bourgeoisie sought a legal system controlled not by the Church but by the state. The bourgeoisie’s battle cry was equality before the law, pressing more and more legal demands so that a new form of the state arose, the ‘classical one of bourgeoisie’ (Engels and Kautsky 1887 [1990], 598, 1887 [1973], 492). The clear implication is that this form developed without direct power held by the bourgeoisie, but rather as a process of transformation from without.

Further, in the paragraph I have been exegeting in the paragraphs preceding the last one, Engels mentions Bismarck as an example of the indirect rule of the bourgeoisie. Only a few years later, he would come to devote more attention to Bismarck in the extremely insightful (albeit largely ignored) work, ‘The Role of Force in History’.[13] This text is worthy of detailed study in its own right, not least because it offers a worthy complement to the myriad twists and turns of Marx’s ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’. While Marx deals with Louis Napoleon (III), Engels focuses on Bismarck’s rise to power and Germany’s dialectical leap into becoming a significant European power. Crucially, Engels argues that no matter how much Bismarck – like Louis Napoleon – may have sidelined the bourgeoisie from the reins of power, he enabled the very structures of a bourgeois state in political and economic terms. Since the bourgeoisie, especially since the 1848 revolutions, had expanded as never before the network of industry and international trade, it needed not the many individual states but a unified German state, with uniform laws and regulations and currency, to facilitate the process even further – including the easy mobility of labour.[14] Bismarck obliged, since he desperately needed for his own ‘Junker’ agenda all that the bourgeoise demanded, so much so that he shaped the new German state in their image. As Engels puts it, the ‘bourgeoisie triumphed without having to put up a serious fight’ (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-c, 472, 1887-88 [1973]-a, 423).[15]

While this argument reinforces Marx’s similar conclusion in ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire’, with the significant implication that the nature of a particular state is shaped and even determined by the dominant class even when it does not have direct political power, Engels also develops a unique insight of his own. It concerns Gewalt, a topic which I have belatedly left until now, since it will become important for Engels’s potential contribution to understanding the socialist state (and is central to the dictatorship of the proletariat in the work of both Marx and Engels). The semantic field of the term includes power, force and violence, although translators tend to shy away from the stronger senses. In analysing the term, I leave aside the vexed and well-nigh impossible task of determining what an author intended at a particular moment. Instead, I prefer to examine how Engels’s text elaborates on the term.

In the opening sentence of ‘The Role of Force’, Engels indicates that he seeks to analyse contemporary German history and its ‘Gewaltspraxis von Blut und Eisen’ (Engels 1887-88 [1973]-a, 407).[16] The practice of Gewalt entails ‘blood and iron’. It may be very well to speak in abstract terms of ‘power’ and even ‘force’, but the reality is clearly in the direction of the violence of weapons and blood spilled in conflict. The broader topic concerns Germany’s belated reunification under Bismarck, the class dimensions (see above) and ideological realities, let alone their dependence on the economic situation.[17] But the thread that weaves it all together is that of Gewalt in action. Let me backtrack a moment to set the context in terms of Engels’s writings. Already since 1842, military matters had been close to Engels’s thoughts and occasionally actions. In that year, he enlisted in the 12th Foot Company of the Guards Artillery Brigade in Berlin, to be followed by military action during the 1848 revolutions (at first in Elberfeld and Barmen and a little later with the militia in the Palatinate and Baden). These experiences, with their insights and disappointments, led him to deeply insightful articles as a military correspondent and then analyst of the history and present realities of all aspects of military forces, such as training, equipment, discipline, morale, fortifications, tactics and the first real contribution to the need for a good and decisive military force for any revolutionary movement.[18] Thus, it should be no surprise that, in his schematic depiction of the rise of the state as a ‘separated public power’, a military force distinct from the people should be the first sign of this development, or indeed in his reply to Dühring that he should dig into his knowledge of military matters (Engels 1877-78 [1987], 155-61, 1877-78 [1973], 155-61).

As for ‘The Role of Force’, military machinations constitute the line of blood that draws the many parts together,[19] defining the sense of Gewalt. While Engels invokes the full range of the term’s semantic field,[20] the weight of his usage falls on the hard edge of the term. It may be ‘forcible [gewaltsamen]’ Danification, or ‘forcibly [gewaltsam]’ dispelling liberal self-delusion, or keeping one’s subjects ‘forcibly [gewaltsam]’ in check, or Austria’s expulsion ‘with violent force [mit Gewalt]’, or doing ‘violence [Gewalt]’ with the truth, or simply ‘police power [Polizeigewalt]’ (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-c, 475, 477, 480, 495, 507, see also 476, 487, 1887-88 [1973]-a, 426, 429, 431, 432, 446, 459, see also 427, 438). Simply put, the emphasis is on ‘brute force [brutale Gewalt]’ as the guiding principle (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-c, 495, see also 494, 1887-88 [1973]-a, 447, see also 446). Thus, German political and economic unity had to be ‘won in struggle [erkämpft werden]’ against both external and internal enemies (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-c, 460, 1887-88 [1973]-a, 412). Externally, it required wars, realignment of alliances, temporary settlements and new wars.[21] The turning point – for Engels’s analysis – is when reunification takes the path of Prussian hegemony (in contrast to the two other possibilities of genuine abolition of differences between all the German states and Austrian hegemony). This process was kick-started by humiliation at the hands of Denmark in the mid-nineteenth century, which spurred Bismarck to undertake a wholesale reconfiguration of the armed forces, leading to decisive defeat of Denmark in a little over a decade. From there, the path led eventually to the conquest of France, at which point the new German empire became the ‘first power [erste Macht]’ in Europe, with all power (Macht) concentrated in the dictator Bismarck’s hands (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-c, 498, 1887-88 [1973]-a, 449). Internally, the first hint is provided by Engels’s use of ‘dictator’ to speak of Bismarck. In a crucial paragraph, he speaks of the tensions and collaboration between the bourgeoisie and Bismarck. The former demanded a revolutionary transformation of Germany, but this could be achieved ‘only by force [nur durch die Gewalt]’, which he immediately defines as ‘only by an actual dictatorship [nur durch eine tatsächliche Diktatur]’. Two types of Gewalt exist in the modern state, namely the ‘elemental power of the popular masses [elementare Gewalt der Volksmassen]’ and ‘organised state power [die organisierte Staatsgewalt]’. The latter is embodied in none other than the army. While the German bourgeoisie had grown deeply suspicious of the force of the masses, it also did not have the army at its disposal. ‘But’, Engels points out, ‘Bismarck had’ (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-c, 479, 1887-88 [1973]-a, 431).

The implications for insights into possible forms of the socialist state should be obvious. To begin with, the revolutionary process itself and the dictatorship of the proletariat entail the use of Gewalt – the meaning of which should be in no doubt. Further, if we assume Engels’s emphasis on the state as a ‘separated public power’, then the forms of governance – or apparatus – under socialism and communism will be of an unseparated or enmeshed form. To understand how this might work, I will in later parts of this study focus on Engels’s extensive work on ‘pre-state’ or ‘primitive communist’ formations. This task remains to be done, but we should also keep in mind Marx’s point that concrete research on these matters requires evidence and experience, for it can be done ‘only scientifically’.

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NOTES

[1] The best summary may be found in The Origin of the Family (Engels 1884 [1990]-b, 268-72, 1884 [1962], 164-68), from which the quotations in the following theses are drawn.

[2] Engels stresses the economic determination of the state in his piece on Feuerbach (Engels 1886 [1990], 391-93, 1886 [1973]-b, 302-3).

[3] The final quotation comes from Anti-Dühring, where he adds by way of clarification, ‘the ideal personification of the total national capital [der ideelle Gesamtkapitalist]’ (Engels 1877-78 [1987], 266, 1877-78 [1973], 260).

[4] This tendency is expressed well in his comment in the introduction to Borkheim’s pamphlet concerning the 1848 revolutions: ‘the state is becoming more and more estranged from the masses of the people and is now well on the way to transforming itself into a consortium of landowners, stockbrokers and big industrialists for the exploitation of the people’ (Engels 1887 [1990], 450, 1887 [1973]-a, 350).

[5] The most sustained example of such a narrative of differentiation appears in the final section of The Origin of the Family, but this section also summarises the whole treatment of the state in this work (Engels 1884 [1990]-b, 256-76, 1884 [1962], 152-73, see also Engels 1877-78 [1987], 166-69, 1877-78 [1973], 166-69).

[6] With the rise of the Athenian state Engels finds various commercial, money and property relations that develop class relations and thereby the state, with the constitutions articulating the new conditions (Engels 1884 [1990]-b, 213-22, 1884 [1962], 107-16). While he is guilty of a classicist narrative in such a position, finding the Roman and especially the German situations less ‘pure’ (the latter taking full state forms only with Charlemagne and the rise of feudalism (Engels 1884 [1990]-b, 252-54, 1884 [1962], 147-49)), my focus is on the theoretical potential of Engels’s texts in relation to the socialist state. For this reason, it is beyond my remit to delve into Engels’s fascinating studies of the rise of the feudal state, both in his study on the Frankish period and Charlemagne and in his draft concerning the decline of feudalism (Engels 1882 [1990], 1882 [1987], 1884 [1990]-a, 1884 [1973]).

[7] Many subsequent Marxist analyses of the bourgeois state follow this line, offering a range of variations (Carnoy 1984, 50, Esping-Andersen, Friedland, and Wright 1976, Holloway and Picciotto 1978, Evans 1995, Offe 1984, 1974, Skocpol 1979, Evans, Rueschemeyer, and Skocpol 1985, Block 1980, Mann 1986-2013).

[8] A number of later Marxist analyses of the (bourgeois) state agree, suggesting that the concentration of capital in relatively few hands enables the ruling class to have material and ideological control over the levers of power (Sweezy 1942, Miliband 1969, Baran and Sweezy 1966, Domhoff 1979).

[9] I would also locate Lenin’s proposals in the tension between instrument and determined nature (Lenin 1917 [1964], 392-94, 1917 [1969], 7-9), but since a subsequent study will deal carefully with Lenin, I leave this analysis for later.

[10] So also Engels’s comment in Anti-Dühring, where he speaks of state-ownership (the example given in a footnote is to Bismarck’s nationalisation of the railways). He writes that the state is ‘the organisation that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine [kapitalistische Maschine], the state of  the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital’ (Engels 1877-78 [1987], 266, 1877-78 [1973], 260).

[11] The quotations that follow are drawn from this paragraph (Engels 1884 [1990]-b, 271-72, 1884 [1962], 167-68).

[12] In Anti-Dühring Engels sides more strongly with this position: the state is ‘an organisation of the particular

class which was pro tempore the exploiting class’ (Engels 1877-78 [1987], 267, 1877-78 [1973], 261).

[13] ‘The Role of Force in History’ was written in draft in 1887-1888 and was initially planned as the fourth and final chapter to a work with the same name (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-d, 1887-88 [1973]-b, 1887-88 [1990]-a, 1887-88 [1973]-d, 1887-88 [1990]-b, 1887-88 [1973]-c, see also Engels 1886 [1995], 529, 1886 [1973]-a, 574-75, 1887 [2001], 126, 1887 [1973]-b, 730, 1888 [2001]-a, 142, 1888 [1973]-a, 15, 1888 [2001]-e, 1888 [1973]-e, 1888 [2001]-b, 1888 [1973]-b, 1888 [2001]-d, 1888 [1973]-d, 1888 [2001]-c, 1888 [1973]-c). The preceding part was to include three chapters from Anti-Dühring on the theory of force (Engels 1877-78 [1987], 146-71, 1877-78 [1973], 147-71). As with a number of works in the 1880s dealing with the state and German history, ‘The Role of Force in History’ remained unfinished, with the draft chapter published as a stand-alone piece in 1894-1895.

[14] We may identify here the seeds of Wallerstein’s (2011 [1974]) later argument that capitalism needed strong states with unified economic and legal frameworks to ensure the passage of goods across borders.

[15] Or more dialectically, Engels later speaks of carrying out ‘the will of the bourgeoisie against its will’ (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-c, 480, 1887-88 [1973]-a, 431). In his draft on the decline of feudalism, Engels’s insightfully connects the rise of absolute monarchies with the rise of the bourgeoisie (Engels 1884 [1990]-a, 1884 [1973]) – a point I have argued in my own way (Boer In press). Perhaps the closest that subsequent Marxist analyses come to this approach to the bourgeois state is the proposal that such a state is a structure – divided between apparatus and power – that is shaped to provide a relatively stable environment for capital, which it does so by ameliorating and regulating class struggle, as well as the inherent crises of capitalist economics and its uneven development (Mandel 1975, Poulantzas 1978, 1980 [1978], Therborn 1978, Wright 1978, Jessop 1982, Przeworski 1985).

[16] Or, as Engels puts it in Anti-Dühring, ‘Force [Gewalt ], nowadays, is the army and navy’ (Engels 1877-78 [1987], 154, 1877-78 [1973], 154).

[17] In his polemic against Dühring, Engels stresses the importance of economic might (Macht) as a determining feature of political Gewalt. In this case, he sets out to undermine Dühring’s hypothesis that political Gewalt is primary and economic realities secondary (Engels 1877-78 [1987], 146-71, 1877-78 [1973], 147-71). ‘The Role of Force in History’ may therefore be seen as Engels’s answer at a more comprehensive level: this is what Gewalt really entails (and not the mythical tale of Robinson Crusoe and Friday, beloved by Dühring).

[18] This material is rarely appreciated, even though it forms a substantial amount of Engels’s published work. The items are too many to cite here, but an interested reader may consult frequent items on military correspondence from MECW 11 and MEW 11 onwards (from the 1948 revolutions to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71), as well as analyses of military forces in MECW 18-19 and MEW 14-15. In these cases, MEW generally has less articles than MECW.

[19] In his draft treatment of the decline of feudalism, Engels traces – among other elements – the changes in military technology and strategy (Engels 1884 [1990]-a, 562-64, 1884 [1973], 398-400).

[20] On a few occasions, he speaks of ‘executive power [Exekutivgewalt]’ and the strengthening of ‘state power [Staatsgewalt] (Engels 1887-88 [1990]-c, 499, 507, 1887-88 [1973]-a, 451, 459).

[21] Albeit not determinative, as Tilly’s selective approach would have it (Tilly 1985, 1990).

The Socialist State: Philosophical Foundations

This book outline deals with the socialist state, examining an alternative path through the Marxist tradition in order to understand the realities of the socialist state, with a focus on China. These realities include a many-layered enmeshment of state and society, the nature of the multi-party system, the practices of socialist democracy, and future directions, all in light of distinct emphasis that Marxism – as a guide for action – is front and centre in China. The method is simply working very closely with the texts in their original languages, especially texts or aspects of texts that have been sidelined or even forgotten.

Chapter 1: Marx’s Ambivalence: State, Proletarian Dictatorship and Commune

I begin with Marx, who struggled with a tension concerning what happens after a communist revolution: between the proletarian dictatorship, with its force and violence (Gewalt), and the commune, based on the Paris experiment (1871). One entails strengthening the state and the other its breaking down – a tension bequeathed to the tradition. Marx also begins to offer a possible resolution, in terms of a narrative from one to the other, and in his struggle to delineate the forms of governance under communism. But he is reticent to speculate, aware that without the experience of constructing socialism, he could not undertake a ‘scientific’ study of what might happen.

Chapter 2: Engels: Enmeshed Governance

While Engels set the agenda for subsequent approaches – Weberian and Marxist – to theories of the bourgeois state, his real contribution is in the ‘enmeshed apparatus’. This arises from a contrast: while the state is a separated ‘public power (Gewalt)’ that – in this form – will in theory ‘die away’ with communism, non-state societies have complex patterns of organisation and governance that are not separated but enmeshed within society. This ‘enmeshed apparatus’ (my term) provides a potential theoretical model for understanding the state under socialism in power, although it also entails redefining ‘state’.

Chapter 3: Lenin and the Early Socialist State

In The State and Revolution (1917) Lenin tackled the tension bequeathed by Marx and Engels, between the strong state of the proletarian dictatorship and its ‘dying away’ under communism. His solution was to introduce the crucial distinction between socialism and communism. Socialism was the ‘transition period’ with many relics of earlier state forms and potentially lasting a very long time. Only after communism had become a global reality would conditions arise for the natural ‘withering away’ of the state.

Chapter 4: Stalin and the Socialist State

Since Lenin’s work remained incomplete, it fell to Stalin to develop a fuller theory. His texts (and debates at the time) reveal the importance of a strong state, for the purpose of establishing a comprehensive welfare system, the world’s first ‘affirmative action’ program for minority nationalities, fostering international anti-colonial struggles, and dealing with internal and especially external enemies. But what is this state? It is not a ‘nation’, but a redefined ‘Soviet people’ constituted by workers, collective farmers and intellectuals. Philosophically, this required the breakthrough of non-antagonistic contradictions – classes and tensions continue, but in a non-antagonistic manner. Stalin concludes: ‘We now have an entirely new, Socialist state [sotsialisticheskoe gosudarstvo], without precedent in history’ (1939, 336).

Chapter 5: Mao Zedong’s Contradiction Analysis

The second part of the monograph focuses on the Chinese situation. It begins with Mao’s ‘On Contradiction’ (1937, see also 1957), which is inescapable for understanding the philosophical basis of Chinese political forms. The main insight for my purposes is reframing non-antagonistic contradictions in light of the Chinese idea that contradictions not only oppose but also complement one another (xiangfan xiangcheng), that continuity is enabled through change (biantong). This approach enables a unique development of Marx’s problem – proletarian dictatorship versus commune – and Engels’s enmeshed apparatus, in terms of state-society envelopment, cooperative multi-party system, and socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics. Today, ‘contradiction analysis’ continues at the heart of government policy: a new primary contradiction was announced at the CPC’s 19th congress in 2017.

Chapter 6: State-Society Envelopment

This chapter investigates the envelopment or enmeshment of state and society (and economy), beginning with the proposal that the origins of civilisation and society in China are inseparable from the emergence of that state (Yi 2012). I take seriously the position that China is in the first, or long transitional stage, of socialism. Thus, the state is in some respects separate, as a relic of earlier forms, but also deeply enmeshed within society in all manner of complex ways. Ridding ourselves of the notions of ‘intervention’, the approach – drawing on both Engels and Mao – enables a new understanding of how this envelopment takes place.

Chapter 7: Consultative Multi-Party System

Here I set aside the notion of ‘party-state’ and investigate the philosophical implications of ‘consultative governance’ of the multi-party system (Wang and Wei 2017). Based on the reality of nine political parties, I examine the philosophical implications: political parties operating in a context of differences based on a complementary common ground; robust ‘criticism and self-criticism’ (at the intersection of Chinese and Marxist traditions) in contrast to agonistic models; the nature of the supreme decision-making National People’s Congress (NPC) and the consultative Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC); the separation and enmeshment of powers.

Chapter 8: Theory and Practice of Socialist Democracy

Does China practice democracy, and if so, how? In contrast to a universal notion of ‘democracy’, I begin by distinguishing between ancient Greek, liberal, illiberal and socialist democracies. Focusing on ‘socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics’ (Yu 2008, Yang 2009, Li 2013, Li 2015, Ma 2015a, 2015b, Fang 2015), I examine how ‘democratic centralism’ and indeed ‘democratic dictatorship’ are possible (contradiction analysis) and how they can be mutually reinforcing – as already seen in the Soviet Union (Kokosalakis 2018). This also requires analysis of the permanence of the communist party, feedback mechanisms, and wide-ranging direct and indirect elections.

Chapter 9: The Governance of China

The most recent development is found in Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China (Xi 2014, 2017), core texts in increasing number of works that now comprise ‘Xi Jinping Thought’. Xi carries on a communist tradition of the leader as philosopher, but also the Chinese tradition in which the leader is also tutor. Critical analysis reveals elaborations on the themes already discussed, but also a distinct future focus. Important here are the two centenary goals of a ‘moderately prosperous society (xiaokang shehui)’ by 2020 and a ‘great modern socialist country’ by 2049, as well as the new primary contradiction between uneven and unbalanced development and people’s desire for a ‘better life (meihua shenghuo)’. This 4-character saying has deep resonances in Chinese tradition, which is now being elaborated in light of Xi Jinping’s sustained emphasis on Marxism as the guiding principle of China’s transition into a ‘new era’.

Conclusion: The Socialist State with Chinese Characteristics

The conclusion draws together the themes of the book and delineates what is meant by a socialist state, especially with Chinese characteristics. Here I also broach issues for potential future work, concerning the socialist market economy and international relations. While the former entails further development of the category of enmeshment, historical analysis and distinguishing it from a capitalist market economy, the matter of international relations raises important questions. For example, is the Belt and Road Initiative another form of imperialism, or does it spring from Chinese tradition and older socialist practices of anti-colonialism? Does the ‘community of shared destiny for humankind [renlei mingyun gongtongti]’ – which underlies the BRI (Fu 2017) – really enable moving past geo-political zero-sum rivalry for the sake of ‘win-win’ solutions?

The Socialist Welfare State: A Brief (and Intriguing) History

‘Do you think Europe – especially Scandinavia – is more socialist than China?’

This question used to be more common 7 or 8 years ago. But it came up recently while I was in Yunnan province, in the far southwest of China. It is of course connected with the impression that Scandinavia had a developed welfare system, which some seem to think indicates a socialist influence. And Scandinavians love to cite this one, although by now it is wearing quite thin.

The ‘Scandinavia had’ is quite deliberate in my earlier sentence, but to understand why requires a brief history.

The first country in human history to develop what I have elsewhere called a ‘domestic state’ was the Soviet Union. It happened under Stalin’s watch. In the 1920s, many regulations had been promulgated concerning education, healthcare, pregnancy preparation, maternity leave, childcare, divorce, guardianship and so on (although not unemployment benefits, since there soon was full employment) – the full gamut of matters that had been regarded until then as the domain of the ‘family’, no matter how extended it may have been. But it was only in the 1930s that they could be enacted in a realistic manner. Why? Only with the massive ‘socialist offensive’, with its twin programs of comprehensive industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation, did the Soviet Union have the economic resources to implement them in full. This is not to say that many problems did not happen, for the Soviet Union was making a tumultuous leap to becoming a superpower. As Mao put it later, ‘Progress and at the same time difficulties – this is a contradiction’ (1957). But the contradiction was a feature of a leap into the future.

What did some of the capitalist countries do? They realised that workers were increasingly drawn to the Soviet Union’s model. So the bourgeois governments borrowed some features and sought to institute what became known as the ‘welfare state’. But it was a warped version, predicated on the slogan, ‘from the cradle to the grave’. The state would take care of you, especially if matters beyond your control dealt you a bad hand.

Why warped? The way it was implemented in Europe (and even in the United States for a while with the ‘new deal’) was to neutralise any push by workers and peasants to alter the system itself. A bourgeois state would provide, so why bother with any revolutionary desires. Even more, it became a mechanism for ensuring that everyone in the state’s population remained – or could be retrained – to be productive, and thereby also remain consumers. Crucially, this altered form of the welfare state was restricted to full citizens, producing the framework for the xenophobic charge that ‘immigrants’ want to avail themselves of the benefits of a system to which they were not entitled.

This history has a further twist or two. After the symbolic ‘fall’ of the Berlin Wall in 1989, most countries that had a version of the bourgeois welfare state no longer felt the need to support it. The alternative model of the Soviet Union had imploded, so country after country systematically began to dismantle the ‘welfare state’. So-called ‘cheats’ became the target, such as the demonised ‘single mother’ with multiple offspring who ‘milked’ the system for her benefit. The rhetoric was relentless, ensuring that one plank after another of the bourgeois welfare state was removed. Even Scandinavia began to follow suit, albeit belatedly with the turn of the millennium.

Meanwhile, what was happening in China? Let us deal with the facts rather than mythology. After the communist revolution, a system had developed that may be called ‘Owenite’ (after Robert Owen’s model factories in the UK of the 19th century). Large conglomerates were established, around factories, publication houses, state-owned-enterprises (SOEs) and so on. In these conglomerates, people had everything: accommodation, jobs, dining halls, hospitals, shops, childcare facilities, funeral services … It was dubbed the ‘iron rice bowl’ – a term that originated outside China.

But they were grossly inefficient, sucking up resources, breeding familial corruption and giving little back to the overall system. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, Deng Xiaoping bit the bullet: the conglomerates would have to face the realities not of a ‘planned economy’ but of a ‘socialist market economy’ that has its own distinct Chinese articulation. Many went bankrupt, since they could not manage in the new order. Others thrived, like the Xinhua News Agency. In the process, mistakes were made: workers lost their jobs and were not compensated; farmers lost the healthcare to which they had become accustomed; retirees could no longer rely on the conglomerate to provide for them.

China first had to get its economic act together. As it did so and the resources became available, a whole new system began to be implemented. Farmers who had lost healthcare found a different model in its place. Retirees began to notice that the state was offering a leaner and more efficient system for their security. Workers who had lost their jobs were compensated. In short, a new model of the socialist welfare state was being systematically and carefully rolled out, with an eye on accountability and efficiency. But it goes much further, with a concentrated effort to lift the final 30 million people out of poverty. In short, it is clear that the socialist state has to ensure that it has the resources before implementing such policies.

The upshot: in the current situation we find ourselves at an important crossroads. As the neo-classical model of a capitalist market economy seeks to dismantle ever more vestiges of a bourgeois welfare state that was a response to the appeal of the Soviet Union (of increasingly distant memory), China is gradually and patiently implementing a whole new version of a socialist welfare state.

It should be no surprise that over 87 percent of people in China approve of the direction in which the most powerful socialist country in human history is headed, even while fully aware of the many problems they face.

Why Is So Much Research on the State Inadequate for Analysing the Socialist State?

While researching my book on the socialist state, I have been digging into the literature. There is plenty of it, although I have been focusing on theoretical material and on research relating to specific features of the Chinese state. To my dismay, I have been struck by the inadequacy of most of this research.

Why? The philosophical assumptions are determined by the nature of the European liberal nation-state, or more accurately, the bourgeois state. In what follows, I deal with three topics: research on state theory; research on state practices; and the ways researchers dismiss work that comes from within socialist states.

Research on State Theory

Despite significant research on state theory, little deals with the philosophical question of the nature of the state when communist parties are in power.

A major reason is that most research focuses on the bourgeois state, especially those influenced by Weber’s definition of the state as ‘the form of human community [Gemeinschaft] that (successfully) lays claim to the monopoly of legitimate physical violence [Gewaltsamkeit] within a particular territory’ (Weber 2004, 33, 1919, 6).[1] While Weber speaks of the specific history of European nation-states, those who follow him are not always so careful and universalise, speaking of ‘the state’ in general (Corrigan and Sayer 1985, Tilly 1985, Giddens 1985, Tilly 1990, Elias 2000, Adams 2005, Bourdieu 2014, 4, Foucault 2014). The concern with the bourgeois state is also evident among Marxist scholars, who remain – perhaps surprisingly – relatively silent on what happens to the state under socialism (Sweezy 1942, Baran and Sweezy 1966, Miliband 1969, Poulantzas 1969, 1978, 1980, Offe 1974, Mandel 1975, Esping-Andersen, Friedland, and Wright 1976, Holloway and Picciotto 1978, Therborn 1978, Wright 1978, Domhoff 1979, Skocpol 1979, Block 1980, Jessop 1982, Carnoy 1984, Held and Krieger 1984, Offe 1984, Alford and Friedland 1985, Evans, Rueschemeyer, and Skocpol 1985, Przeworski 1985, Held 1989, Jessop 1990, Barrow 1993, Evans 1995, Jessop 2007).

The few who deal theoretically with the state under socialism restrict themselves to selective interpretations of Marx and Engels (Miliband 1965, Jessop 1978), try to locate the theoretical origins of a repressive regime (Harding 1984), or speak in negatives: not a federation, not a nation-state, not an empire, not a colonising power but an entirely new state formation (Suny 1993, 85, Martin 2001, 15, 19, 461, Weeks 2005, 567). But what type of state? A detailed analysis remains to be done.

Research on State Practice

In contrast with theoretical research, there is significant work concerning many socialist state practices, from parliamentary structures, through welfare and security, to minority policies. Since I have undertaken earlier research concerning the USSR (Boer 2013, 2017), the material analysed in this section focuses on China.

Research on socialist state practice is largely the preserve of political scientists and historians. While it has shed light on many aspects, with some useful overviews (Guo 2013), the underlying theoretical assumptions are inadequate. Scholars continue to deploy notions derived from the bourgeois state: separation of state and (civil) society, ‘intervention’ of the state in society and economics, ‘party-state’, authoritarianism and ‘totalitarianism’, nationalism, and universalising notions of ‘democratisation’ and ‘free-market capitalism’. The way such frameworks dominate may be also seen with longer histories of state formations, from the ancient Near East to the present. They inevitably end with the European nation-state without proper consideration of other contemporary state forms (Mann 1986-2013, Gill 2003).

Let me focus on four core assumptions. First is the distinction between state and society, with a number of consequences: a) deploying the category of ‘civil society’ (Yu and Guo 2012, Fu 2018) without considering its specific history as bürgerliche Gesellschaft (later back-translated as Zivilgesellschaft (Kocha 2004)), which arose only with the bourgeois state; b) assuming that a state involved in all layers of society must be authoritarian to some extent (Teiwes 1984, Harding 1987, Pei 2000, Shambaugh 2000, Weatherley 2006, Perry 2007, Blecher 2009, Wright 2010, Landry 2012, Hildebrandt 2013); c) the category of ‘developmental state’ in which the state drives economic activity (Deans 2004); d) the ‘intervention’ of the state in an ‘independent’ capitalist economy (Chen 2007, Dickson 2008, Huang 2008). The core problem is precisely the distinction between state and society/economy (Womack 1992, Saich 2004, Tsai 2007, Gries and Rosen 2010), without considering alternative models, especially socialist ones.

Second and closely related is the use of ‘party-state’ to indicate that political power is held exclusively by the communist party, entailing centralisation and bureaucracy (Lieberthal and Lampton 1992, Li 2014). While the concept has the benefit of indicating a focus of power, it neglects political structures. Thus, the multi-party system receives scant attention, the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference become ‘rubber stamps’, and ‘socialist rule of law’ remains a puzzle (Peerenboom 2007, deLisle 2014).

Third is the assumption that ‘democracy’ is a universally applicable concept and that China is not ‘democratic’, although may occasionally have made some moves towards ‘democratization’ (Friedman and McCormick 2000, Ogden 2007, Tsai 2007, Nathan, Diamond, and Plattner 2013, Huang 2013, Weatherley 2014). The problems are many: universalising from the particular form of liberal democracy that emerged in Europe; neglect of this specific history and location, with efforts to apply it to very different locations; a lack of effort, apart from some Chinese contributions (Yu 2008, Yang 2009, Li 2013, Li 2015, Ma 2015a, 2015b, Fang 2015), to understand what the different form of socialist democracy entails.

Fourth and underlying these misunderstandings is a core philosophical question: how does one deal with contradictions and tensions? Does one side cancel out the other, as is the tendency with European or ‘Western’ approaches to contradictions? Much of the work surveyed assumes that the state is alienated from and opposed to society, that dictatorship is opposed to democracy, centralised authoritarianism to freedom (Hayek 1960, Arendt 1976) – although there are occasional challenges to the framework (Losurdo 2011, Mulholland 2012). Or are there alternative approaches to contradictions, in which they can be both antagonistic and non-antagonistic, where they not only oppose one another but also complement one another (Mao 1937, Tian 2005)? We find this approach particularly in a Chinese context, where socialism became sinified with profound implications for understanding the state.

From Ideology to Betrayal Narratives

The previous material has identified key philosophical shortcomings in much research concerning the state under socialism in power. How does such research deal with viable alternatives, especially from within socialist states? The milder effort designates such analyses as ‘ideological’ rather than ‘scientific’, with an obvious favouring of the second (Joseph 2014). The distinction is convenient for justifying one’s own approach, but it neglects the interweaving of the two terms, as well as the ideological framework of the bourgeois state that determines what counts as ‘scientific’.

A stronger approach deploys the terminology of ‘myth’, ‘coded’ language and even ‘betrayal’. For example, ‘sinified Marxism’, ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, ‘socialist democracy’ and ‘socialist market economy’ are seen as codes for ‘authoritarian capitalism’ (Kluver 1996). Stronger still is a betrayal narrative that derives from the paradigmatic biblical story of the ‘Fall’. For example, in a Chinese context some hypothesise that Deng Xiaoping and the whole ‘reform and opening up’ have betrayed Mao and Marxism, abandoning socialism in the exercise of power and replacing it with capitalism, nationalism and even Confucianism (Misra 1998, Gregor 2000, Deans 2004, Zhao 2004, Gries 2005, Bell 2006, Huang 2008, Wang 2016). The problems are many, including the need to postulate a massive conspiracy, with ‘codes’ that need to be ‘deciphered’, ossification of the idea of socialism rather than seeing it as a living tradition, and a form of orientalism.

In sum, the almost untranscendable horizon of theoretical, political and historical research is that of the liberal state. It matters not whether one is influenced by the Weberian or Marxist traditions, or if one engages in specific analyses of functions and features (even with many of the Chinese scholars cited here, although most work outside China). Why? The disciplines deployed – especially political science and modern historiography – arose in the context of the bourgeois state, subsequently asserting its framework as universal and using this to analyse all forms of the state (Wallerstein 2011, 264). The upshot is that – with few qualified exceptions (Sun 1995, Wang 2004, Wang 2012, Lynch 2015) – many do not take the variety of Chinese arguments and statements seriously.

As Pan Chengxin observes, ‘China watching has had a lot to say about what China does, but very little about what China says or thinks’ (Pan 2012, 154). This is especially true of socialist China.

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[1] I leave aside the classical tradition, which saw the state in implicit (and at times explicit) theological terms as arising from a state of nature and entailing specific limits for the sake of the common good.

Engels and the revolutionary potato

Every now and then you say or write something you may well come to regret. Engels was a mortal like the rest of us. As I have been rereading his flawed gem, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, I came across this gem:

Iron came to be utilised by man, the last and most important of all raw materials to play a revolutionary role in history, the last—if we exclude the potato (MECW 26: 262).

Of course, in the context of brutal British imperialism, especially in Ireland, the potato might have loomed larger in 1884 than it does now. Even so, I suspect he may have laughed at this had we been discussing it this evening.

Engels and the Secret of the Socialist State

I am always amazed by what careful study of texts does to you. Even if you have read the same text over and over, thinking you know what it says, a patient rereading leads you along new paths.

This is precisely my experience at the moment as I work through Engels’s texts on the state from the 1880s. Many of them remained unfinished, due to the onerous task of editing Marx’s scattered notes into the second and third volumes of Capital. But the material that he did write is rich indeed.

It seems to me that the secret of the socialist state, or rather, one crucial element, can be found in these texts. Now, it may seem strange to speak of a ‘socialist state’, since Engels insists again and again that a state is a ‘public power [öffentliche Gewalt]’ that is ‘separated [getrennte]’ from the people. The origin of this idea I have still to find – Hegel held to it, but it is older than Hegel. Engels sees it appearing with the emergence of classes, economic exploitation and so on.

So much is reasonably well-known. However, when we look at his considerations of pre-state formations, we find two important features. The first is that such formations have quite complex forms of ‘social organisation’ (Engels’s term). These include councils, which either included the whole adult population or were representative, elections, leadership roles (even the early Greek basileus and the Roman rex) and multiple organisational functions for the ordering and governance of society. The best term for these functions is an apparatus, albeit one that works within the social fabric. All of this, insists Engels, is not yet a state – assuming the earlier definition.

Why not? The reason – and this is the second point – is that the whole apparatus is enmeshed with the people. Social structures and mores, policing, war, marriage, burial, inheritance, religious practices and ritual – these and more were ordered through this enmeshed system. Engels can even describe this system as a ‘sovereign power [Gewalt]’.

How does all this provide a crucial angel into the socialist state, or should I say the communist state? Engels is famous for coining the phrase, in the third edition of Anti-Dühring, of the state ‘dying away’, or ‘withering’ as it is often translated in English. By this he means the notion of a separated power (Gewalt). Fair enough. But he and Marx are also quite clear that many functions of social organisation would continue, indeed that they would need to continue. This is where his proposals concerning pre-state formations come into play. I mean not the idea of some restored ‘primitive communism’, but rather a dialectically transformed situation in which the apparatus of governance is enmeshed with the people in a new way. Obviously, any idea of ‘bourgeois society [bürgerliche Gesellschaft]’, which is the German original of what is called ‘civil society’, has no place within this enmeshed system.

Two caveats are in order. First, socialism is clearly a transitional period, as Lenin was the first to point out. That it is an exceedingly long period Lenin already began to see, with Stalin then providing a rather robust theoretical foundation. Such a transitional period, which is really a phase in its own right, has forms of governance which may be seen as hybrid. Here a state as a separated power may continue, although it will do so in hitherto unforeseen ways. It will already exhibit many of the features of an enmeshed system that I have outlined all too briefly.

The other caveat concerns the tradition of Chinese dialectics (for I have Chinese socialism also in mind). This is a rich tradition indeed, including the complex philosophical dimensions of the yin-yang, the military insights of Sunzi’s The Art of War, let alone the original breakthrough of Mao Zedong’s ‘On Contradiction’, which was itself an intersection between Marxist and Chinese dialectics, transforming both in the process. This tradition is another key to understanding the socialist state, although my research concerning it is ongoing.

Can we indeed speak of a socialist state? I think we can, although it may be better to speak of an enmeshed state, which we already find in many ways in China.