Different ways to interpret the Marxist tradition

In recent discussion in China, I have become more aware of different ways the Marxist tradition can be interpreted. You can take any core feature, such as the dictatorship of the proletariat, the withering away of the state, the distinction between socialism and communism, the nature of the socialist state, and many more.

For example, Marx uses the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ 11 times, where he means a coercive force of the state that crushes class opponents. This is in tension with his treatments of the Paris commune, where he praises the diminishment of state power and its continuance only as apparatus. Engels, by contrast, does not use dictatorship of the proletariat, but coins the phrase (only in 1894), the dying or ‘withering away of the state’. Lenin develops the argument further, distinguishing between two phases, the dictatorship of the proletariat and then the state’s withering. He pushes this into a distant future, but Stalin argues that it would take place only after global communism had been achieved and communism had become second nature – which may take 1000 years or more. And in Chinese Marxism, dictatorship of the proletariat becomes ‘democratic dictatorship’ in Mao’s hands and then ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’ with Deng Xiaoping, now as an inclusive category operating in terms of non-antagonistic contradictions.

What about socialism and communism? This distinction is not in Marx and Engels. Only in the late notes, ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’, does Marx distinguish an initial stage of communism and a further stage. He leaves open the possibility of more. Lenin then distinguishes these as socialism and communism, with socialism still bearing many features, such as state, classes, law and so on. Only with communism will the earlier prescriptions of Marxism begin to appear. Stalin takes this further, pushing communism into a very distant future, while socialism has a strong multi-national state, tensions between forces and relations of production continue, people are rewarded according to work, equalisation (a petty-bourgeois idea) has no place, and the state’s domestic responsibilities, affirmative action and fostering of anti-colonial struggles play huge roles. In a Chinese situation, they take an even longer view, with the preliminary stage of socialism lasting 100 years, after which a next stage emerges, the moderately prosperous, peaceful and stable society. During this process, a whole spate of new approaches emerge.

How do we interpret these developments? Here are some possibilities:

  1. A narrative of betrayal. Engels betrays Marx; Lenin betrays Marx and Engels; Stalin betrays all of the former; Mao betrays them; Deng betrays Mao … Pick your place, but betrayal of Marxism happens at some point. I find this approach quite common among ‘western’ Marxists.
  2. Continuity, sometimes radical. A smaller number take this line, arguing that all of the ideas found in Stalin, Mao or Deng have precursors in the Marxist tradition.
  3. Clarification. Each stage of the tradition and each of its different branches constitutes a clarification of some idea or practice that was not so clear before. This is a more common Chinese approach.
  4. Changing historical circumstances, which may be connected with the first or third approach. Obviously, specific circumstances, cultural histories, political realities and so on produce new problems, which require new solutions. This is what the Chinese call ‘seeking truth from facts’ (drawn from Mao).
  5. The differences between socialism seeking power and socialism in power. As Lenin and Mao pointed out repeatedly, winning a revolution is relatively easy; infinitely more complex is the effort to construct socialism. This is obviously connected with the fourth point, but plays a crucial role.

Socialism in Power Workshop

Renmin Workshop on Socialism in Power

23-24 September 2017

Paper Abstracts

Roger Markwick

(School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle)

Failures and Successes: Soviet and Chinese State-Socialist Reforms in the Face of Global Capitalism

Abstract: The demise of the Soviet Union and the seeming success of China’s reforms in the 1980s and 1990s is a study in contrasts. This paper will compare the approaches adopted by the Soviet and Chinese Communist Parties to the reform of state socialism and why one ended in collapse and the other in resurgence. In undertaking this comparison, the paper will consider the specific challenges each state faced, international and domestic, in the context of neo-liberal capitalism; the intellectual compasses that guided their respective party leaderships; the parts played by domestic social forces in the reforms; and what light all these considerations cast on the role of the strong socialist state in the transition to world socialism.






YU, Min

(School of Public Administration, Nanjing Normal University)

National Governance in the “Transition Period” According to Classical Marxist Writers: Theoretical Exploration and Historical Praxis



Abstract: Marx and Engels assert that the functions and tasks of nations in the “transition period”, i.e., the dictatorship of the proletariat, are to establish public ownership by the entire society, to develop productive forces, to offer conditions to eliminate classes, and step into a classless society. The entire transition period from capitalism to communism, according to Lenin, should be through the guidance of the proletarian dictatorship. This proletarian dictatorship is democracy for the majority and dictatorship over the few exploiters. After the October Revolution, the practice of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia strictly followed the leadership of Communist Party, the construction of a proletarian army and supervision from the people and within the Party. This develops Marx’s theories of the “transition period” and the dictatorship of the proletariat.


Key words: “transition period”; proletariat dictatorship; Party leadership; management and governance; supervision





Cheng Enfu

(Director, Academic Division of Marxism, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; Editor-in-Chief, International Critical Thought)




A Few Theoretical Points on the Socialist State

Abstract: This paper explicates the concept of “socialist state” from five aspects. First, in any class society, state is a non-neutral tool utilized by a particular class or an alliance of classes. A socialist state is such an organization that is led by the progressive working class (through the communist party as its vanguard), based upon the worker-peasant alliance, and characteristic of the solidarity among a wide range of classes and social strata in favor of socialism. It is also a political power that organizes and administrates economic, political, cultural, social and military affairs. Second, class is of primary importance in the analysis of state, given that class, class struggle and hostile forces exist both domestically and internationally. Third, the concepts of worker-peasant dictatorship, people’s democratic dictatorship/constitutionalism, proletarian dictatorship/constitutionalism, and socialist constitutionalism share the same essence, but may differ in concrete ways of their realization. Four, the communist party necessarily assumes a decisive leading role in the governance of socialist state, with possible adjustments in concrete systems and mechanisms of such governance. In general, the governance model of socialist states such as China and the former Soviet Union had their successes, but in the meantime leave us with serious lessons, and therefore require further improvement through reform. Five, different from capitalist states, there must be small yet strong socialist states, i.e., state that has small number of governing bodies and personnel, but strong functions in economic, political, cultural, social, and national defense development and administration.




Yuan Fang

(Party School of Shanghai Committee of the C.P.C., Second Branch Campus)



摘要:伴随着世界社会主义由一国到多国、一种模式到多种模式、一个中心到去中心的跌宕起伏,社会主义与国家的关系一直演绎着理论与现实的双重变奏。自马克思创立科学社会主义理论,到列宁通过十月革命将这一理论变为现实,再到中国的社会主义革命和建设,直至当代的中国国家治理现代化创新——依法治国,社会主义国家理念在中国正在发育和发展出一种既有别于也高于近代以来所有的政治形式的国家形态。十八届四中全会在最终意义上确立的全面依法治国的当代社会主义国家建设的伟大实践,这一从“法制”到“法治”的变化,并非只是国家治理方式和理念的变革,更深层次是自马克思科学社会主义理论创立之时所蕴含的社会主义国家理念的现代发展和彰显。 本文将从诞生于革命相连的社会主义国家、国家消亡:国家仍具有经济和政治方面的职能、社会主义国家的政治承诺:对政治异化的批判和消除、从“法制”到“法治”:中国特色社会主义国家权力法治化的创新四个方面进行解读。



The Modern Development of the Socialist State as a Concept: from “Rule of Law” to “Rule by Law”

Abstract: As global socialism has moved from one state to many states, from one model to multiple models, from one center to decentralization, the relation between socialism and the state has demonstrated both theoretical and practical developments.  It was initiated through the the establishment of scientific socialist theory by Karl Marx, became reality through Lenin’s October Revolution, developed through China’s socialist revolution and construction, and is now embodied in the modernisation and innovation of China’s contemporary state governance. According to rule by law, the concept of a socialist state in China has flourished and developed into a distinctive and superior political form. The Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, in a comprehensive sense, established the goal of building a socialist nation through rule by law. The change from “rule of law” to “rule by law” is not simply a change of mindset concerning national governance; the deeper connotation concerns the modern development and demonstration of the socialist state concept. This concept is embedded in the birth of scientific socialist theory by Marx. This article contains four aspects: first, the birth of socialist countries through revolution and the concept of the withering away of the state; second, the continuing economic and political impact of the state; third, the political commitment of the socialist state and its critique and elimination of political alienation; fourth, the move from “rule of law” to “rule by law”, which entails the innovation of rule by law in a socialist country with Chinese characteristics.

Key words: Marx; socialism; state; political alienation




Zhang Shuangli

(School of Philosophy, Fudan University)

Social Transformation and the Socialist State: On Reassessing Georg Lukács’ Theory of the Proletarian State in a Contemporary Chinese Context

As for Marx’s theory of the state, it is widely held that it is just the reversal of the Hegelian model about the relationship between the state and civil society. However, in his controversy between Rosa Luxemburg on the Russian revolution, Georg Lukács pointed out clearly that Marx’s theory of the bourgeois state and that of the proletarian state was qualitatively different. While the former is characterized by the insight of the secondary position of the state in its relation with civil society, the latter is rather characterized by the insight of the primary position of the proletarian state in the process of social revolution. In this paper, I will firstly explicate how Marx has reversed the Hegelian model in his theory of the bourgeois state. Secondly, I will try to articulate Lukács’ development of Marx’s insights about the proletarian state, especially his arguments about the primary position of the proletariat state in the process of social revolution. Finally, I will try to illustrate the relevance of Lukács’ theory of the proletarian state in the contemporary Chinese context. It will be argued that maybe we could borrow the Hegelian model (the state-civil society-the state) again to grasp the position of the Chinese socialist state in the process of social transformation.


近40年以来, 政治哲学一直是中国理论界的热点,社会主义政权的正当性问题又是所有政治哲学讨论的焦点。之所以如此,是因为改革的过程在中国带来了市场经济领域的相对独立发展,怎样理解市场经济领域与社会主义国家之间的关系成为当代中国思想必须回应的一大难题。

我们要在思想上回应这一重大现实难题, 尤其是直接回应关于社会主义国家政权正当性的问题,就必须首先超越对马克思国家理论的简单化理解。长期以来, 中国学界一直把马克思的国家观简单看作是对以黑格尔为代表的唯心主义国家观的颠倒。如果说在黑格尔那里是现代国家决定市民社会, 那么在马克思这里则是市民社会决定现代国家,或, 经济基础决定上层建筑。如此一来, 国家在与社会之间的关系中就被明确认作是附属性的、第二位的。如果我们停留于这一简单理解, 将根本无从把握社会主义国家与市场经济领域之间关系的复杂规定性, 更不可能在当代语境中来回应关于社会主义国家政权的正当性问题。

针对这一理论困境,本文将着力指出我们可以借助西方马克思主义思想家卢卡奇的无产阶级国家理论来更好地把握马克思主义国家理论的复杂性。在与卢森堡关于俄国革命的争论中, 卢卡奇试图从马克思、恩格斯的国家理论出发,并同时借助韦伯关于社会统治的正当性理论思想,来对苏联的无产阶级国家实践(苏维埃)进行理论分析。

关于马克思、恩格斯的国家理论, 卢卡奇从两个方向进行了发挥:首先,卢卡奇指出, 关于政治与经济的关系, 马克思和恩格斯都明确指出了资产阶级国家与无产阶级国家的根本不同:由于社会主义国家肩负着社会革命的使命, 它在与经济之间的关系中不是处于附属性的地位,而是正好相反,一直处于主导性的地位。其次,不同于马克思、恩格斯仅仅强调无产阶级国家必然灭亡,卢卡奇在韦伯关于国家政权的正当性思想的影响之下特别强调无产阶级国家政权的正当性问题。他强调指出无产阶级国家必须把确立其统治的正当性当作当务之急,苏联的苏维埃政权之所以能够取得成功, 恰恰是因为她很好地解决了这一问题。

借助于卢卡奇对马克思的无产阶级国家理论的进一步发挥, 我们可以更好地理解中国关于社会主义国家的具体实践。首先是,在1949-1978年间,中国的社会主义国家实践为什么带来一个高度政治化的社会。 其次是, 1978年改革开放之后, 中国的社会主义国家实践为何又会带来对整个社会的“非政治化”。 最后是,在以社会主义国家为主导的改革实践中,为何又会出现一种“黑格尔”式的国家与社会之间的关系:在国家与社会之间的关系中,国家是处于主导地位的主体,它带来了相对独立的市场经济领域的发展,制造出了国家与市场经济领域之间的相对分离,它同时还致力于把两者之间的关系纳入国家的统摄之下。当然也正是在这个层次上我们才能够更好的反思内在于这一关系中的一些结构性的缺陷和难题。


Roland Boer

(School of Humanities, Renmin University of China; School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Australia)




From the Bourgeois to the Socialist State

This study focuses on the theoretical development of the socialist state. It does in two parts. The first part argues that theories of the bourgeois state stem from Engels, from whose initial theory two paths open up. One moves via Weber and results in a range of theories concerning the European nation-state (the specificity is important), while the other runs through Lenin to influence a large number of Marxist theories of such a state. The second part analyses the origins of a theory of the socialist state. For this investigation, we need to work carefully through Stalin’s texts, for he was the first to develop the framework for such a theory. The pertinence of this theory for a Chinese situation should not be under-estimated, given the complex influence of Soviet thought on Chinese Marxist thought during the Yan’an period in the 1930s and even 1940s. The paper concludes with a comparison between the definitions of Engels and Stalin to illustrate the significant differences between them.


本文主要从两个方面来研究社会主义国家的理论发展。第一部分论证资产阶级国家的理论 起源于恩格斯,从他最初的理论又发展出两条不同的路径,一条通过韦伯,形成了关于欧洲民 族国家的一系列的理论(差别是很重要的);另一条经由列宁,影响关于俄国的很多马克思主 义理论。第二部分分析有关社会主义国家的一个理论的起源。因为这个调查,我们需耍仔细研 读斯大林的文本, 因为他是最初发展这一理论框架的人。这一理论和中国形势的相关性不应该…


Tom Griffiths

(School of Education, University of Newcastle, Australia)

Cuban Socialism in Power: Transforming the World-System

Cuban socialism in power has been subject to a huge scholarship, focused on multiple areas of public policy and governance, which continues 58 years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959. This work includes the predictable polarised positions for and against the Cuban Revolution, and arguments for and against Cuban socialism in power. It extends to debate amongst those sympathetic to socialism but taking issue with Cuba’s particular forms and practices, such as critiques of Soviet influence, questions of leadership, or the functioning of democratic centralism within the Cuban Communist Party. Some particular critiques come from broader, historical, sectarian positions characterising Cuba as a deformed workers state and / or an example of State Capitalism.

Seemingly against all odds, socialism remained (and remains) in power in Cuba post-1989. Cuban socialism prevailed throughout the resultant “special period in peacetime” with extreme economic recession and deprivations for the majority of Cubans, the disruption and inversion of social scales via economic reforms designed to gain hard currency, the ongoing system of dual currencies, the ongoing dislocation of families through migration, and the recent death of Fidel Castro. The formal and constitutional commitment to building socialism has remained in place, with no so-called transition to capitalism, notwithstanding minor reforms to allow self-employment and small-scale independent businesses in some industries.

This paper considers Cuban socialism in power by examining a selection of instances of significant political debate within Cuba, including: the 1986 response to particular Soviet publications; the post-1989 case of the Centre for American Studies (CEA); the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in 2016 and associated pre-Congress discussions; the case of Cuban intellectual and scholar Esteban Morales; and the recent critique of Cuban State media at the Cuban Journalists Union conference in 2016.

With reference to these and other historical examples, I argue that they indicate a significant failure of Cuba’s socialist education, or at least a perceived failure by the leadership, expressed as a lack of trust in citizens to draw the right conclusions and to make and win the argument for socialism. At the same time, such events show a preparedness of Cuban militants and citizens, at particular moments, to indeed put forward arguments for change within a socialist framework. The paper concludes with some reflections on this phenomenon from a world-systems analysis perspective, centred on the potential contribution for Cuba and the region to contribute to a socialist transition of the capitalist world-system, as part of a broader movement to define and build twenty-first century socialism.




本文通过选取在古巴内部进行的重大政治讨论的例子来考察执政中的古巴社会主义,这些例子包括: 1986年回应苏联的特殊出版物; 1989年之后美洲研究中心的个案; 2016年古巴共产党第七次会议和会议前的相关讨论;古巴知识分子和学者埃斯特班·莫拉莱斯的个案; 2016年古巴最近的记者联合大会上对古巴国家媒体的批判。




(中国人民大学 哲学院)

Zang Fengyu

(School of Philosophy, Renmin University of China)


摘  要:马克思在研究共同体的古典形式与现代形式的过程中归纳了共同体的基本形式,提出超越“虚幻的共同体”并实现“自由人的联合体”的合理方案,为构建中华民族共同体和人类命运共同体提供了深远的理论启示。深入理解马克思共同体思想的核心要义、中国语境与当代价值,把握当今时代人们的共同利益、共享发展的必要性和可能性以及从中形成的共同价值观,在价值多样性的互动中凝炼当今人类价值观念的最大公约数,有益于更好地满足人们日益增长的物质文化需求。以此解决全球化时代棘手的公共危机和全球性问题,促进世界各国合作与发展,实现我们时代共享发展的理想图景。


Karl Marx’s Concept of Community: Its Essence and Chinese Context

Karl Marx summarized the fundamental forms of community in his research on classical and modern versions of community. He proposed to go beyond the “illusory community” and realize “free union.” This proposal offers profound theoretical insights for the construction of the Chinese national community and a community of shared future for humankind. To deepen the understanding of the essence of a Marxian community, its Chinese context and its current value, to grasp the necessity and possibility of shared benefits and development, especially the shared value therein, to pursue the common grounds of human values in the multivalent interaction—these will be conducive to the satisfaction of the people’s increasing demands both materially and culturally. Such is the solution to the challenging public crises and global issues. It will also promote cooperation and development for every country in the world; the ideal landscape of shared development, in this procedure, will be realized accordingly.

Key words: community; essence; Chinese context; current value; public life




Lu Shaochen

(School of Philosophy, Fudan University)





The Common via Social Common: Capital in Post Capitalism

After the financial crisis that exploded in autumn 2008, the dominant views of capitalism and socialism were rearranged. However, Michael Hardt has claimed that we need to look outside this alternative, as too often it appears as though our only choices are capitalism or socialism via the privatisation or publicisation of the means of production. We need to explore another possibility: neither the private property of capitalism nor the public property of socialism but the common in communism. Hardt was heavily criticized by David Harvey, but for me, the common is really the third way by which we can overcome the division of the private and the state.

The common in post capitalism appear not as the means of production, such as factories and machines, but as the common wealth which every citizen has the ownership. But different from Hardt, I think the common should be controlled by the state for the common service. That means socialism should not be defined by the abolition of private property and commodity, but by the common ownership of the major social wealth. I call it Social Common Capital controlled by state. In this sense, it means the state and civil society are not two parts any more, they are united by social common capital.

In the third volume of Capital, Marx does not directly use the phrase ‘Social Common Capital’. He notes the rise of the joint-stock company, in which private property is conceptually transformed into social property, as stocks came to be held by people. He also notes how the credit system and the abstract wealth on the one hand intensifies capitalist exploitation of labour and the exploitation of ‘social wealth’ by the few, while on the other hand it ‘constitutes the form of transition towards a new mode of production’. For me that means the social common capital controlled by the state

Out soon: Stalin: From Theology to the Philosophy of Socialism in Power

My book on Stalin will be published soon by Springer Beijing. This book was far more work than usual, since it required a a complete rebuilding of my categories of analysis, from the ground up. It has also provided the basis for my current project on ‘Socialism in Power‘. In other words, it is arguably the most significant study for the development of my thought.


It is due out in October, but preliminary details can be found on the Springer website, here and on Amazon.

Endorsements come from Zhang Shuangli, from Fudan University, and Domenico Losurdo, from the University of Urbino:

Starting from a sympathetic attitude toward socialism in power, this book provides us with an extremely insightful interpretation of Stalin’s philosophy of socialism. It is not only a successful academic effort to re-articulate Stalin’s philosophy, but also a creative effort to understand socialism in power in the context of both the former Soviet Union and contemporary China.

——- Zhang Shuangli, Professor of Marxist philosophy, Fudan University

Boer’s book, far from both “veneration” and “demonization” of Stalin, throws new light on the classic themes of Marxism and the Communist Movement: language, nation, state, and the stages of constructing post-capitalist society. It is an original book that also pays great attention to the People’s Republic of China, arising from the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, and which is valuable to those who, beyond the twentieth century, want to understand the time and the world in which we live.

——-Domenico Losurdo, University of Urbino, Italy, author of Stalin: The History and Critique of a Black Legend

Chinese Marxism at the Melbourne Trades Hall

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

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

Farewell to China … for now

A belated farewell from a place that has really become my second home. We paid our respects to Chairman Mao (me for the second time) and had a bon voyage party. But I will be back in September, with a fancy title (distinguished research professor) and a new project with some of China’s leading Marxist scholars on socialism in power.

This is a photograph of Mao at al, acquired after visiting the mausoleum in the centre of Chinese communist power in Tiananmen Square:

IMG_20160610_092505 (2) (640x440)

And these are some of the students at the bon voyage party:

IMG_20160613_234251 (640x480)

Many of them will become the leaders of China in the future.

On the completion of reading Stalin

I have at last completed my careful reading of the published works of Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili (Stalin). On the way, I have found that few actually do so, for the attitudes to Stalin seem to be set. This is especially so among the many on the Left, for whom Stalin is the great betrayer. The assumption is that he was not a socialist at all, so one may conveniently neglect any serious engagement. The problem is that one simply misses the rich history of socialism in power, with all of its mistakes and achievements.

I have also found that the name ‘Stalin’ generates a profound polarisation, between veneration or demonisation. The latter is usually the case, whether one is engaging with the closed circles of thought in European Marxism, liberals who seek to find yet more reasons to condemn Stalin while engaging in ‘objective’ research’ and even in China, where one would expect a somewhat different approach and interest given the long Chinese experience of socialism in power. On my part, I am more interested in the dynamics of such polarisation rather than falling into its trap.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of reading Stalin and posting items from his works is the way preset assumptions concerning Stalin influence how my own perspective is understood. Simply because I have been intrigued by his works and posted quotations that reveal unexpected dimensions of his thought, some have assumed that I am a ‘Stalinist’, whatever that means. (Stalin himself merely identified as a Marxist-Leninist.)

Above all, my interest in Stalin emerged as I became increasingly drawn to understanding the experiences of socialism in power. This began when I was studying Lenin and I found the time after the October Revolution the most significant. Lenin was the first who was able to say – from direct experience – that working towards a revolution and achieving power was the easy part. Far, far more complex and fraught with problems was the exercise of power. Stalin too found this a reality, and Mao soon found that Lenin’s observation was correct. The strange thing is that many on the Left avoid dealing with this topic. This is a profound shame, since there is a wealth of experience from which to learn.

Goulash and solidarity

This piece by Zsuzsanna Clark reflects on growing up under communism in Hungary and compares it to her life in the UK today. It is cross-posted from the Prole Center, and apparently appeared first in the Guardian, of all places. I am intrigued by this piece (although not persuaded by its conclusion), since I am increasingly interested in communism in power. Most analyses we have today analyse bourgeois and capitalist power and modes of resistance to it, but relatively few deal with communism in power. More is needed.

When people ask me what it was like growing up in Hungary in the 1970s and 80s, most expect to hear tales of secret police, bread queues and other nasty manifestations of life in a one-party state. They are invariably disappointed when I tell them that the reality was quite different and that communist Hungary, far from being hell on earth, was in fact rather a good place to live.Victor Orban, the recently defeated rightwing Hungarian prime minister, described my generation – those whose fate was sealed by the “failure” of the 1956 uprising – as “the lost generation”.

But Hungarians like myself, who grew up in the years of “goulash communism”, were actually the lucky ones. The shockwaves of 1956 bought home to the communist leadership that they could only consolidate their position by making our lives more tolerable. Stalinism was out and “Kadarism” – a unique brand of liberal communism (named after its architect, Janos Kadar) from which Mikhail Gorbachev would later draw inspiration for perestroika – was in.

Instead of a list of achievements in health, education, transport and welfare, let me offer some personal observations on what living under goulash communism was really like.

What I remember most was the overriding sense of community and solidarity, a spirit I find totally lacking in my adopted Britain and indeed whenever I go back to Hungary today. With minimal differences in income and material goods, people really were judged on what they were like as individuals and not on what they owned.

Western liberals may sneer at such movements as the Young Pioneers, which sought to involve young people in a wide range of community activities, but they reflected an ambition to build a cohesive society – in contrast to the atomisation of most “advanced” nations today. I was proud to be a Pioneer; contrary to popular belief, we did not spend all our time sitting round campfires singing songs in praise of Lenin, but instead learned valuable life skills in social interraction and building friendships.

I was also privileged to be bought up in a society where the government understood the value of education and culture. Before the war, in the Hungary idolised by snobbish, reactionary writers like Sandor Marai, secondary education was the preserve of the wealthy classes. My mother and father had to leave school at 11; under the Kadar regime, they were given a second chance to resume their studies as adults. Communism opened up new opportunities for people of my background and led to a huge increase in social mobility.

A corollary of the government’s education policy was its commitment to the arts. Again, the emphasis was on bringing the maximum benefit to the largest number of people, and not just the wealthy in Budapest. Theatres, opera houses and concert halls were all heavily subsidised, bringing prices down to a level everyone could afford. The government opened up “cultural houses” in every town and village, so that provincially based working class people, like my parents, could have easy access to the arts.

Book publishing was similarly supported, so that prices remained low and bookshops proliferated. With 1 forint (1.5p) editions of a wide range of classic works available, reading became a national obsession. For those who believe a rigorous censorship existed, I can tell you that among the most popular published foreign writers were PG Wodehouse, Aldous Huxley and W Somerset Maugham, hardly Marxian propagandists.

Now, 13 years after “regime change”, much of this cultural heritage has been destroyed. Museums, theatres and galleries have had to sink or swim in the new economic “realism”. As ticket subsidies have been withdrawn, once again it is only the rich (and German tourists) who can afford to go to the opera. Hundreds of smaller art cinemas have been forced to close, while the big Hollywood multiplexes move in. Television has dramatically dumbed down, too. When I was a teenager, Saturday night prime time meant a Jules Verne adventure, a poetry recital and a Chekhov drama; now it means the same dreary diet of game shows and American action movies as in Britain.

Reform politicans sarcastically refer to Kadar’s “velvet prison”, yet they have surely created a prison of their own, where large sections of the population have been sold to the foreign-owned multinationals, which control 70% of the nation’s production and threaten to pull out of the country if wages or workers’ rights are improved. My best friend’s husband works for such a company, and tells how visits to the toilet are strictly timed and taking a full lunch break is seen as showing lack of commitment to the firm. It’s all a far cry from the paternalistic state-owned companies of 20 years ago, with their nurseries, subsidised canteens, holiday homes and free sports facilities.

Communism in Hungary certainly had a downside. While trips to other socialist countries were unrestricted, travel to the west was problematic and only allowed every second year. Few Hungarians (myself included) enjoyed the compulsory Russian lessons. There were petty restrictions and needless layers of bureaucracy and, of course, we were living in a one-party system where freedom to criticise the government was limited. Yet despite all of this, I firmly believe that, taken as a whole, the positives outweighed the negatives.

Today Hungarians have the theoretical right to travel to the west whenever they like, yet the fall in real wages has been so dramatic that few of them can now afford even to go to Lake Balaton. The “patriotic” politicans who shouted so loudly about Hungary’s “occupation” by a foreign power under communism, are now strangely silent when the country is effectively controlled by New York financial institutions and unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

As a young adult in Hungary, I grew accustomed to a diet of news stories about the “imperialist” west and its wicked plans for global domination and control of the world’s resources. We were all aware that this was the official party line and so its effectiveness as propaganda was limited.

Now, more than 10 years on, with the US (and Germany) having connived in the breakup of Yugoslavia, colonised Afghanistan and now planning to invade Iraq for control of the world’s oil supply, it is surely obvious that what we were told about western intentions was true.

I have seen both communist and western news management and know which is the more devious – and therefore the more effective. I witnessed the way media manipulation works in the “free world”, when we were told the Stop the War march I went on in London recently was attended by just 150,000 people and in the dismissive coverage Britain’s biggest-ever peace demonstration was given in most newspapers.

Education, or rather the denial of it, is the key to all attempts at social control. Gorbachev said that education, in his view the greatest achievement of 70 years of communism, also paradoxically helped bring about its downfall. Put simply, the communist regimes educated their people to such an extent that they developed the critical faculty to challenge, and eventually overthrew the system. After three years of living in Britain, I see no danger of that happening here.