On David Harvey’s Neoliberalism (‘with Chinese Characteristics’)

The is the third part of my lecture text on why foreign scholars as yet do not understand China’s socialist market economy. This part focuses on David Harvey’s influential yet deeply flawed book, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005).

The reaction to state monopoly capitalism was – as indicated already on a few occasions – the rise of neoliberalism at the end of the 1970s and its aggressive promotion in 1980s and 1990s. It may be defined as a ‘theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade’ (Harvey 2005, 2). I have taken this definition from David Harvey, since his work is the main focus of this section. The elaboration on this definition sounds very much like a reiteration of Adam Smith (1776 [2000]) as interpreted through the neoclassical economists (Alfred Marshall, William Stanley Jevons, and Leon Walras): minimal state presence, except for guaranteeing the basic institutional environment for a capitalist market economy, the inherent value of ‘self-interest’ and so the primacy of the private individual, with the addition that any state with too many possessions should ‘privatise’ them. In fact, for Harvey the process of privatisation is enough to designate a government’s project as neoliberal.

A Brief History traces the way this liberalism was rediscovered as neoliberalism (Friedrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman and others) and applied with gusto first in the UK and the United States under Thatcher and Reagan, two of the places where Western liberalism itself first arose (Losurdo 2011). In the 1980s and 1990s it was copied by like-minded countries and forced on others not so like-minded, through the standard mechanisms of United States colonial power play – known as ‘regime change’. Of course, states enacting neoliberal policies are bound to be quite ‘interventionist’, as Harvey notes, as were the international bodies such as the IMF and World Bank, which were tasked with the authoritarian imposition of such policies on less-than-willing countries.

All this is reasonably well-known, although Harvey is keen to emphasise the regular crises generated by neoliberal policies. The book was published before the major Atlantic crisis of 2008, so he was unable to realise that the crises were not merely due to internal causes, but also external ones. I mean here the cumulative effect of China’s Reform and Opening Up, which was beginning to have a global effect by the 1990s. Countries following the neoliberal agenda could not help being affected by the Chinese return to being a global power of some weight. This point, of course, brings us to Harvey’s most wayward chapter, ‘Neoliberalism with Chinese Characteristics’ (2005, 120-51).

Before I engage with this chapter, we need to pause for a moment to identify some problems that have already arisen. The key problem is that Harvey refuses to countenance both Marx’s theory of labour value and the falling rate of profit in capitalist enterprises. He has been criticised for such omissions (Harvey 2017; Roberts and Harvey 2018; Das 2017), although I do not need to engage with such debates here. More significant is the ramification: what is the cause for the move to neoliberalism? For Harvey, it is nothing more than the result of the political will of the capitalist ruling class (Harvey 2005, 19; see also here). It is a voluntary act by the ruling capitalist class that makes such decisions in order to respond to economic challenges and threats from anti-capitalist opposition. Not only is this approach focused on relations of production and determined by political rather than economic factors, but I am reminded of Marx and Engels’s criticism of Bakunin. At one point, Marx observes: ‘Willpower [Der Wille], not economic conditions, is the basis of his social revolution’ (Marx 1875 [1973], 633; 1875 [1989], 518).[1]

To be sure, Harvey likes to call his approach ‘uneven geographic development’, along with the invocation of multiple, complex and interwoven factors in the capitalist market relations. But he is unable to provide an adequate Marxist reason for the turn to neoliberalism and away from state monopoly capitalism (which he calls ‘embedded liberalism’). By contrast, had Harvey deployed the falling rate of profit (from Marx), he may have been able to account for the turn to neoliberalism. The earlier tendencies towards state monopoly capitalism  – popular in the context of two World Wars with states becoming active players in social and economic life through widespread militarisation, capitalist welfare states, and a spate of nationalisations of banks, railways and public utilities – had run to its limit in terms of the ability to extract more profit. A response was needed from the Western liberal tradition: the state had to retreat so as to enable ‘private’ capital to seek new fields to generate profit. Already I have invoked another possible reason in light of the previous section: the tension between bourgeois state control of the capitalist economy and its retreat to enable private capital to come into its own for a while.

With this point in mind we come to the China chapter. Harvey espies a neoliberal turn with the Reform and Opening Up, launched by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Why? The only answer I can find in Harvey’s work is that it was due to the political will of the CPC, which decided for some unaccountable reason to move to private enterprises alongside state enterprises. I have said enough on the inadequacy of such a voluntarist approach and have more criticisms to make, but let us pause for a moment to see how Harvey unfolds his hypothesis. To begin with, he explicitly connects the Reform and Opening Up with the neoliberal turn elsewhere in the world, although he is careful to point out that it may also have been due to issues internal to China (he does not elaborate).

Harvey is perfectly willing to admit that the result has been stunning, with one of the fastest periods of economic growth in human history, the lifting of hundreds of millions out of poverty, and China’s re-emergence as a major international power. He also notes problems that arose, such as socio-economic inequality, exacerbation of city-country differences, environmental pollution, and labour unrest (his information is limited to the period up to the early 2000s). And he notes that the government has been adept at dealing with new problems that arose. However, Harvey is committed to the idea that this is neoliberal capitalism.

Apart from the fact that Harvey neither cites any reputable Chinese language material on the topic, nor engages in careful study of what Deng Xiaoping actually said and did (apart from some decontextualized ‘sound bites’), the key problem here is that he assumes that a market economy is the same as a capitalist market economy. This may seem like a simple point, but it is fraught with implications. It is also – and unfortunately – quite common among Western economists, social scientists and philosophers – Marxists included. But it is wrong, since a market economy is not by definition a capitalist market economy. I will return to this issue later, save to point out here the multiplicity of different types of market economy is supported by Marx’s own work in Capital, historical investigation, and Chinese research. It is perfectly feasible to have a socialist market economy, which unleashes the forces of production and which is not a capitalist market economy. But Harvey is unable to make this point.

David Harvey has been profoundly influential through his lectures – worldwide – on Marx’s Capital. His method in such talks is simple yet profound: he offers a careful reading, an exegesis, of a few pages of Capital, which he invites the audience to study once again. But the problem of influence is twofold: while Harvey may have encouraged a good number to study Capital once again, this very same influence has encouraged the perpetuation of a number of profound mistakes.

Bibliography

Das, Raju. 2017. ‘ David Harvey’s Theory of Uneven Geographical Development: A Marxist Critique’. Capital and Class 41 (3):511-36.

Harvey, David. 2007. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 2017. Marx, Capital, and the Madness of Economic Reason.

Losurdo, Domenico. 2011. Liberalism: A Counter-History. Translated by Gregory Elliott. London: Verso.

Marx, Karl. 1875 [1973]. ‘Konspekt von Bakunins Buch “Staatlichkeit und Anarchie”‘. In Marx Engels Werke, Vol. 18, 597-642. Berlin: Dietz.

———. 1875 [1989]. ‘Notes on Bakunin’s Book Statehood and Anarchy‘. In Marx Engels Collected Works, Vol. 24, 485-526. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. 1845-1846 [1973]. ‘Die deutsche Ideologie. Kritik der neuesten deutschen Philosophie in ihren Repräsentanten Feuerbach, B. Bauer und Stirner und des deutschen Sozialismus in seinen verschiedenen Propheten’. In Marx Engels Werke, Vol. 3, 9-530. Berlin: Dietz.

———. 1845-1846 [1976]. ‘The German Ideology: Critique of Modern German Philosophy According to Its Representatives Feuerbach, B. Bauer and Stirner, and of German Socialism According to Its Various Prophets’. In Marx and Engels Collected Works, Vol. 5, 19-539. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Roberts, Michael, and David Harvey. 2018. Marx’s Law of Value: A Debate between David Harvey and Michael Roberts. In The Next Recession. thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2018/04/02/marxs-law-of-value-a-debate-between-david-harvey-and-michaelroberts.

Smith, Adam. 1776 [2000]. The Wealth of Nations. London: Modern Library.

[1] See also the earlier observation on Max Stirner. who was – write Marx and Engels – committed ‘to mere change of will [eine bloße Veränderung des Willens]’ (1845-1846 [1973], 317; 1845-1846 [1976], 335). This is nothing more than the ‘domination of arbitrariness [Herrschaft der Willkür]’ (1845-1846 [1973], 317; 1845-1846 [1976], 335).

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).

On Bureaucratic Capitalism

I am preparing the text for an invited lecture on why foreigners are still unable to understand the socialist market economy in China. The main focus will be on a number of concepts that have been applied to China, but which are mistaken. The first of these concerns ‘bureaucratic capitalism’, which has an intriguing history. The concept arises from Max Weber, who saw it specifically in terms of the peculiar developments in Western Europe. The small number who apply ‘bureaucratic capitalism’ to socialist countries, such as China, are simply unaware of Weber’s work and indeed the realities of these countries. The text is as follows:

Let us begin with ‘bureaucratic capitalism’.[1] The term derives particularly from Max Weber, who made it a central category of his analysis of the rise of capitalism and the modern European bourgeois state (Weber 1921 [2015]; 1947, 324-40; 1968, 956-1005). Bureaucracy is the key, which Weber sees as a detailed and often hierarchical division of labour in which all follow objective and explicit rules that are applied impersonally. A bureaucracy is staffed by full-time professionals, who have developed the necessary skills but who live from a salary and do not in any way own the ‘means of administration’ or make a profit. This is, of course an ‘ideal type’ favoured by Weber, an abstract category used for analysis rather than a concrete description of a real life bureaucrat.

For our purposes, two features are important in Weber’s analysis: bureaucracy as a manifestation of rationalisation; and bureaucracy as crucial for the rise of capitalism in Europe. As for rationalisation, Weber speaks of three types of legitimate authority: rational, traditional and charismatic (Weber 1947, 328-29). Charismatic authority is derived from the Christian tradition and designates a system in which followers are devoted to a gifted or heroic leader. Traditional authority also entails being subject to an individual leader, but now because of tradition itself and its assumed duties. Whoever occupies the position of chief is regarded as legitimate due to tradition. By contrast rational authority is not personal but impersonal. It relies on a distinct set of laws that have their own moral legitimacy or are socially agreed to be legitimate. Weber calls this ‘legal authority’ and it is based on the Western approach to rule of law.

This ‘rational authority’ obviously relies on reason, but what type of reason. Weber (1947, 115) identifies two types:

  • Goal-rationality (Zweckrationalität]’, with Zweck meaning end, purpose or goal. Thus, one’s behaviour is rational if it works appropriately towards achieving a specific purpose or purposes. For Weber, this includes the careful weighing up of different purposes, considerations of the best means to achieve the purpose, and the relationships between the means and ends. Thus, if one’s purpose is the pursuit of profit, then one will – where reason is the assumed framework – seek to identify the most appropriate means to achieve this end. By contrast, if the goal is to serve the good of the community (gongtongti fuwu), then the very nature of the means will shift to enable this outcome.
  • Value-rationality [Wertrationalität]’, in which behaviour is determined by ‘some ethical, aesthetic, religious, or other form of behaviour, entirely for its own sake and independently of any prospects of external success’ (1947, 115). Contrary to one’s initial impression, this too is a rational approach, but now predicated on an absolute value that determines the appropriate action. For example, if an absolute value is Western liberal ideology and its attendant capitalist system, then one will engage in a series of actions to realise this value. By contrast, if the absolute value in question is communism, then the nature of rational actions will come out very differently.

Obviously there is an overlap between the two types of rationality, and Weber is not always clear about their relationship (with rationality often coming to mean efficiency), but I have deliberately used economic examples since they lead to the second implication: for Weber, bureaucracy was crucial to the growth of capitalism in Western Europe. The reason is that a bureaucracy based on rational authority, on the impersonal observation of a code of laws, and so it is more efficient than other forms of organisation. As Weber observes:

‘The decisive reason for the advancement of bureaucratic organizations has always been the purely technical superiority over all other administrative forms … A strictly bureaucratic administration produces an optimal efficiency for precision, speed, clarity, command of case knowledge, continuity, confidentiality, uniformity, and tight subordination. This is in addition to minimization of friction and the costs associated with materials and personnel’ (Weber 1921 [2015], 96; see also Weber 1947, 337).

He finds this new form of bureaucracy dominating across many fields, whether army, state, church, political parties, clubs, private associations, and – crucially – economic enterprises. It is nothing less than the ‘most crucial phenomenon of the modern Western state’ (Weber 1947, 337). In other words, for Weber, bureaucracy plays the foundational role in the development of the bourgeois state, bourgeois civil society and capitalism. It may be compared to Adam Smith’s focus on division of labour and Marx’s surplus value, although it also raises a number of questions.

First, Western analyses of Weber tend to focus on his influential work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905 [1992]), in which the vanishing mediator of capitalism was Reformed Protestantism. This focus is rather imbalanced, since for Weber the religious dimension was a means for achieving a rational bureaucratic organisation. Second, I have emphasised that Weber saw modern rational bureaucracy as the most efficient form developed thus far. He also balances this appreciation with the other side, in which rational bureaucracy dominates to the exclusion of all other, higher concerns (Adler 2012). However, critics too often stress the negative dimension and miss the balance of Weber’s analysis. Third, a more fundamental problem concerns the cause of the rise of rational bureaucracy. By now it is clear why one can speak of bureaucratic capitalism in light of Weber’s work, but it begs the crucial question: from where does such a system arise? Weber is willing to admit that ‘capitalism is the most rational economic basis for bureaucratic administration and enables it to develop in the most rational form’ (Weber 1947, 338; Stanisevski 2004). But Weber does not provide the type of systemic analysis of capitalism that we find in Marx.

Weber’s focus was strictly on Western Europe, particularly when he was analysing rationality, bureaucracy and capitalism. Thus, when he speaks of bureaucratic capitalism (to use a shorthand), he speaks of the Western European context for capitalism. And despite his misgivings over rationality and bureaucracy, he saw it as the highest form of political, social and economic organisation. As for socialism, it ‘would, in fact, require a still higher degree of formal bureaucratization than capitalism’ (Weber 1947, 339; see also Weber 1968, 224).

This final point brings us to a question I will ask on each occasion: has ‘bureaucratic capitalism’ been applied to socialist countries, including China? It has, but – crucially – without awareness of Weber’s balanced insights. One example is Cornelius Castoriadis, who follows a Trotskyite line (Trotsky 1937 [1972]) in hypothesising that the Soviet Union during Stalin’s time became a form of ‘bureaucratic capitalism’ (Castoriadis 1956 [1988]). Here ‘bureaucracy’ has only a negative sense (unlike Weber) and the use of ‘capitalism’ indicates a sneering dismissal of the Soviet project to the construct the world’s first socialist system.

We find similar, if not more extreme and unrealistic, proposals from a small group who inhabit the ‘grey zone’ of the internet. Self-described ‘activists’, they feel they are changing the world one blog post at a time. Their core approach is not merely to hypothesise that China turned towards capitalism with the Reform and Opening Up (itself a profound misinterpretation), but to deny that China has ever been socialist at all (La Botz 2012; Yu 2009; Yu et al. 2012; Lin 2017, 2019). This entails an all-out denial that the Communist Party of China is communist, a denial that the Liberation was in any sense communist, a denial that Mao Zedong was a Marxist, and a denial that China at any stage has attempted to construct socialism. How is this fanciful narrative constructed? It is based on the assumption that CPC is an evil and secretive organisation, terribly afraid of its own people and seeking world domination. ‘Bureaucracy’ thus means for them absolute control by the CPC – a position that is empirically wrong as well as being profoundly voluntarist and thus at odds with the Marxist dialectic. With this assumption – much like believing in ghosts – they can construct a narrative of bureaucratic control over the many phases of the New China of the last 70 years that is based on speculation, twisting of information and simple falsehoods.

To sum up, for Max Weber bureaucratic capitalism described the highly efficient yet ambivalent nature of capitalism in Western Europe and its attendant bourgeois state and society. He certainly did not apply the idea to other contexts, except to point out that socialism would require a whole new level of rational organisation. By contrast, a small number of ‘grey zone’ internet ‘activists’ apply the term in a purely negative way to speak of China – albeit without any sense of Weber’s work and without seeking truth from facts.

Bibliography

Adler, Paul. 2012. ‘The Sociological Ambivalence of Bureaucracy: From Weber via Gouldner to Marx’. Organization Science 23 (1):244-66.

Castoriadis, Cornelius. 1956 [1988]. ‘The Proletarian Revolution Against the Bureaucracy’. In Political and Social Writings, Vol. 2, 57-89. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

La Botz, Dan. 2012. ‘China: From Bureaucratic Communism to Bureaucratic Capitalism’. New Politics 2012 (20 November). https://newpol.org/china-bureaucratic-communism-bureaucratic-capitalism.

Lin, Kevin. 2017. ‘Remoulding the State Sector: Back to the 1990s?’. In Made in China Yearbook 2016: Disturbances in Heaven, edited by Ivan Franceschini, Kevin Lin and Nicholas Loubere, 20-23. Canberra: ANU Press.

———. 2019. ‘How Should the U.S. Think About China?’. New Politics 2019 (5 September). https://newpol.org/how-should-the-u-s-left-think-about-china.

Stanisevski, Dragan. 2004. ‘Economy and Bureaucracy: Handmaidens of Modern Capitalism’. Administrative Theory & Praxis 26 (1):119-27.

Trotsky, Leon. 1937 [1972]. The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going? Translated by Max Eastman. New York: Pathfinder.

Weber, Max. 1904-1905 [1992]. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. London: Routledge.

———. 1921 [2015]. ‘Bureaucracy’. In Weber’s Rationalism and Modern Society: New Translations on Politics, Bureaucracy, and Social Stratification, edited by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, 73-128. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

———. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Translated by A.M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons. New York: Oxford University Press.

———. 1968. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology. Edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. New York: Bedminster.

Yu, Ao Loong. 2009. ‘China: End of a Model … or Birth of a New One?’. New Politics 12 (3):31-56.

Yu, Ao Loong, Ruixue Bai, Bruno Jetin, and Pierre Rousset. 2012. China’s Rise: Strength and Fragility. London: Merlin.

[1] We should remember the different senses of the term ‘bureaucracy’ in English and Chinese. The English term ‘bureaucracy’ has two parts, ‘bureau’ (desk) and ‘cracy ‘from the classical Greek kratia, rule). Thus, ‘bureaucracy’ is rule conducted from a desk or office, that is, by the writing and sending or receiving of written documents – now their electronic equivalent.

An end to GPS dominance? Beidou and GLONASS begin to work together

I have begun wondering why – for example – the European Union has not developed its own type of computer chips or operating systems. Instead, they have simply ceded dominance to US-based systems, which have the explicit agenda of controlling the global internet. Thus far, it is only China that has the wisdom, brainpower and economic basis to do so.

When we come to navigation systems, the EU does have Galileo, despite the efforts by GPS to dominate. And we also have GLONASS in Russia and Beidou in China. I prefer to use Beidou navigation on my phone, since it is more stable and accurate than GPS-based maps. But now a new step has been taken, with comprehensive collaboration and synergy between Beidou and GLONASS – as the following article from the People’s Daily reports. Good move, as far as I am concerned, not least because it will eventually knock GPS off its perch.

BeiDou-GLONASS synergies will offset dominance of US GPS

China and Russia will soon put in place an agreement involving their respective satellite navigation systems, aiming to promote the compatibility and interoperability of the BeiDou and GLONASS systems.

As synergies between the two navigation systems are in full swing, industry observers said that such an alliance, which would yield more accurate positioning and have wider applications, could rival the US-based global positioning system (GPS) navigation system’s dominant positions and safeguard nations’ security in the face of US bullying practices that may extend to the navigation sector.

The agreement on cooperation in the use of the GLONASS and BeiDou Global Navigation Satellite Systems for Peaceful Purposes was confirmed by the two sides during the sixth meeting of the committee of the Russia-China Project Committee on Important Strategic Cooperation in Satellite Navigation (RCPCISCSN) over the weekend. The agreement will take effect soon, according to an official press release for the event.

Industry insiders have hailed the agreement as a major step that provides a legal framework for deeper cooperation between China and Russia, signaling a transition to real and comprehensive bilateral cooperation not only in application promotion but also within navigation systems.

The agreement, which was signed in November 2018, specifies bilateral cooperation between China and Russia in the development and manufacturing of civil navigation equipment that supports both the BeiDou and GLONASS systems, according to media reports.

Under the agreement, each country will deploy three monitoring stations within their own territories for the other country to correct navigation signals, according to Russian news site sputniknews.cn in August.

During the meeting, the two sides also considered reports by four working groups involving compatibility and interoperability, satellite-based augmentation systems, the building of stations, supervision and assessment, and combined applications. Major development in these areas has been achieved.

China and Russia also signed an inspection certificate regarding the location of monitoring stations and approved a feasibility study report on agricultural projects.

They agreed on the text of the cooperation agreement on the timing compatibility of BeiDou and GLONASS during the meeting. Multi-modal, multi-frequency radio frequency chips that support both BeiDou and GLONASS were also released during the meeting, with the two sides jointly analyzing the business prospects of more chip application and cooperation in research.

The two countries will maintain close communication on development plans and the project implementation of both systems. They will also actively explore new cooperation areas and projects to promote result sharing and cooperation for mutual benefit between BeiDou and GLONASS.

Rivaling US GPS

The deeper synergies have far-reaching implications for the US GPS navigation system amid a US crackdown on China’s technology rise, observers said. GPS has for decades claimed a monopoly in the global satellite navigation market and it now accounts for the largest market share.

“Bilateral cooperation between China and Russia will create a larger, broader, more stable and more robust satellite network, with more accurate positioning to challenge GPS,” Cao Chong, a Beijing-based industry analyst, told the Global Times on Monday.

The basic composition of navigation signals in BeiDou and GLONASS network is similar, which means users could switch seamlessly from one system to another, Li Ning, member of the Precision Application Committee under Global Navigation Satellite System and Location Based Service Association of China, told the Global Times.

While the GLONASS network mostly serves high-latitude regions, China’s BeiDou navigation system mainly focuses on providing networks for the low-latitude areas, analysts said. The combination would give birth to the optimal world navigation system.

China has launched 46 satellites in the BeiDou constellation. Russia has put 26 satellites for GLONASS into orbit. The GPS had 31 satellites operational as of April 2019.

The partnership will also give China and Russia an advantage in pushing forward the landing of massive applications to compete head-to-head with the US GPS, Cao added.

Some industry insiders also view the tie-up as a way for both China and Russia, traditional partners with mutual trust, to jointly defend national security and counter US hegemony.

“The US has been using its national power to suppress China’s technology rise. What if US suspends GPS service to rising economic powers, just like it ordered Google to cut Android supplies to Huawei? What if GPS sends wrong signals to disrupt normal economic activities?” an industry insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Global Times.

“China and Russia cannot give up their location rights to the US and they must have something in hand that can replace the GPS if needed for national security concerns.”

In 2015, China and Russia set up the committee of RCPCISCSN to establish a government-level mechanism and platform for deeper synergies between their respective navigation systems.

Lest we forget: the Red Army defeated fascism in the Second World War

One of the gains about taking one’s time in east Germany is that we are reminded of a simple fact: the Soviet Red Army defeated fascism in the Second World War.

The background: over 400 divisions battled on a 1600 km front for four years, compared to 15 each for the Germans and allies on the western front at its most intense time. 88% of German military dead fell on the eastern front, and the battle that first broke the Wehrmacht was Kursk, in July and August of 1943. Here the Soviets showed everyone how to beat a blitzkrieg – with a meticulously planned, flexible and in-depth defence. This was followed by Operation Bagration in Byelorussia, in June-August 1944, when the Red Army inflicted on the Wehrmacht the greatest defeat in German military history. By comparison, the contribution on the western front was a sideshow.

How is at least some of this remembered in east Germany? Many towns have memorials to Red Army soldiers who fell. I have earlier provided some images from the extraordinary Treptower Park in Berlin, but the following come from Frankfurt (Oder), Eisenhüttenstadt and Gartz.

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.